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Bay Park’s European Union

By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review

Name a country on the European continent and you’ll most likely find a beer or dish representing that nation at Dan Diego’s Euro Café and Pub. Festooned with an array of international flags on its façade and roof, the converted house, built in the 1940s, stands out like a culinary oasis along this restaurant-deprived stretch of Morena Boulevard.

The exterior of Dan Diego's in Bay Park (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

The exterior of Dan Diego’s in Bay Park (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

Inside, visitors are greeted by a central bar accented in green, recessed lighting. Celtic spirals are painted on the ceiling. Homey curtains frame the old windows, and a stained-glass panel incorporating a shamrock further attests that house-cured corned beef and lots of Guinness and Smithwick’s rule the day.

Chef-owner Ryan Fulton opened the establishment two years ago, naming it in part after his late brother, a successful sound engineer who was known within the industry as “Dan from San Diego.”

Fulton, a passionate self-taught chef, previously worked at Fiddler’s Green in Shelter Island and The Dana on Mission Bay. His menu reflects not only his half-Irish, half-Italian heritage, but a desire to spotlight classic dishes from other European countries as well, such as French-style cheese boards, German wiener schnitzel, and English-style shepherd’s pie.

Dan Diego's open faced Reuben (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

Dan Diego’s open faced Reuben (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

The ambitious concept also folds in American cuisine, should you prefer meatloaf and mashed potatoes over black-and-white pudding, which are sausages infused with pork blood that Fulton imports from Ireland. Other links, such as bratwurst, chicken liverwurst, and bangers with white pepper and sage, are crafted in-house and without casings.

In addition, more than 150 bottled beers of every style and origin join up with a variety of local crafts on draft. Equally impressive is the list of specialty ciders, some of them not easily found such as Rekorderlig Wild Berries and Sir Perry Pear.

From the few Italian dishes on the menu, we tried the wedding soup as a starter. It wasn’t the traditional recipe I grew up with, which as a kid would excite me with its mini pork meatballs and earthy escarole. This featured one large and under-seasoned beef ball that broke into granules the moment my spoon touched it. And the cabbage I detected floating within threw it way off course.

A cup of Irish stew (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

A cup of Irish stew (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

A cup of Irish beef stew we ordered was extraordinarily better as it captured tender chunks of beef, carrots and potatoes in a thick, dark Guinness gravy. The flavor of the beer rang through exquisitely.

Another starter, French-Canadian poutine, didn’t disappoint, although it too veered from its roots.

Basically fries covered in cheese curds and brown gravy, the potatoes were cut into thicker-than-usual wedges. The curds were more cheddar-y than most. And the gravy was gluten-free and oddly gelatinous, but flavorful nonetheless. Not listed in the menu description was the surprise crowning of cubed pork, which resulted in a heartier outcome that isn’t really needed in poutine.

Poutine (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

Poutine (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

To our disappointment, the same gravy appeared on my companion’s wiener schnitzel. The classic beauty of these pounded-out and breaded pork filets are that they need nothing on them except for a spritz of fresh lemon. The gravy basically killed the potential crispiness of the breading.

Served alongside was tender red cabbage sporting excellent sweet and sour notes, as well as German potato salad that tasted unrecognizable compared to others I’ve had in Europe and the U.S. The sour and hammy notes were absent.

Fulton cures his corned beef for two weeks and then braises it in water, Guinness and cider. He also makes his own soda bread and uses it as the foundation for an open-face Reuben, which I found deliciously novel. Also, instead of the usual Thousand Island dressing, he smears in tangy horseradish sauce to keep it lively and beer-friendly.

We skipped dessert, which includes house-made fruit cobbler, spumoni ice cream, and naturally, bread pudding with Jameson’s caramel sauce.

webFulton describes his venture as a “word-of-mouth” restaurant, adding that his goal is to give the residents of Bay Park a cosmopolitan dining experience suited for families and beer drinkers alike. Depending on what benchmarks you apply to some of his international dishes, a culinary journey to the Old World possibly awaits.

—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at fsabatini@san.rr.com.

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