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Kung Pow!

There is often something about a restaurant that keeps one returning. It could be atmosphere, maybe a familiar face that remembers your name or more simply a dish you can’t get anywhere else that wows your sense of gastronomy. I have my favorite haunts for this or that, but today I was having a particular craving.

Based on this craving, we opted for lunch at Vagabond. This quaint, ecclectic bistro stands at the northern gateway of the South Park neighborhood right across from Maeve Riley Boutique and Plum Pottery, adjacent to Mazara Trattoria, an italian dive that I will have to inspect on another occasion. The facade definitely distinguishes itself apart from the surrounding buildings, but once you walk in you are truly transported, the problem is that it is particularly difficult to tell exactly where. This quandary is also part of the fun. There is a rag tag assortment of well crafted wooden chairs and tables, some covered in white butcher paper and table cloths. On each table there is a jar filled with cutlery and chop-sticks to use throughout your meal.

There is a far and away appeal to the decor, something like Morocco meets France meets China. There are some farming implements hanging from the walls by the windows, as if to give a sense of the european countryside. I really like the overhead vintage workshop lamps in green which dimly illuminate when you are here at night. We chose a table in the corner along the pillared and arch entried banquette. These benches are laiden with pillows giving you the feeling of being in a tent on the Sahara desert. Complimentary bread service arrived with supple and soft sourdough accompanied by a vibrant yellow saffron aioli. Yum!

We ordered the Kung Pao Calamari, the aforementioned reason for my many returns. A succulent portion of rings and tentacles covered in a sweet and spicy sauce, tossed with crushed and whole peanuts, diced scallions and red chillies. This is perhaps the most perfect way to enjoy these sea creatures and I can’t get enough of them. I should mention that we walked into an empty restaurant at 2:30pm and they were closing at 3:00 for the dinner prep. There was no music on and I don’t believe they anticipated guests this late in the lunch hour. This was immediately visible on the face of the waiter, but he soon grew open to us as he realized we were to be quick and painless. Being a veteran of the industry myself, I could certainly feel his pain, but business is business.

We ordered an effervescent SanPellegrino and it was delivered with lemons. A purest, I was offended that the lemons were perched on my glass and left me no choice but to have some lemon quality in my unrequiriing mineral water. Please severs, if you are reading this, always bring specialty waters without garnish unless there is a request and never with house ice cubes!!! Fortunately, our glasses were bare of waters frozen counterpart and the Pellegrino was chilled perfectly.

For those craving something with a bit more punch, there is a great and well-priced wine list featuring wines from all over this blue planet. I especially noticed the chalked list of 12 wines by the glass for $6.00 from six countries. Clever advertising and seemingly winning choices from Chile, Argentina, Portugal, France, Italy and Spain. There is, also, a full bar with some specialty cocktails. I want to try their Caipirihna, a refreshing libation of lime, cane sugar and cachaca, to see if it pays tribute to it’s Brazilian bloodline. If prepared correctly, this concoction has the ability to transport me back to a sunlit day at Ipanema beach seven summers ago. Bust in some evening and ask Dave to mix you one from scratch.

We ordered our entrees and were pleased with the swiftness and presentation of our lunch. Rachel ordered the moules frites and was richly rewarded. A bountiful portion of black mussels swimming in a luscious broth of white wine and creme fraiche, joined by celery, shallots and fennel. I got to teach her the way a pro eats mussels without the assistance of a spoon, using the natural shape of the mollusk’s shell as a god given tool for such a purpose. This provided the iconic mediterranean eating experience, minus the warm tropical breeze. The frites came in an inverted cone shape charriot and were pleasantly seasoned with herbs-de-provence, giving them an uncanny sweetness which I loved and Rachel was slightly discouraged by.

I ordered one of the several paninis off the lunch menu. This one had tender chicken with sliced tomatoes, red onion, avocado, cheese and aioli sitting on the very same bread that was served as amuse. I wish I had known that and I wouldn’t have eaten so much of it beforehand. Oh well, it was quite delicious and far better than those grilled flat paninis you might get at any dozen places. I chose salad over frites since we had some at the table anyway, and received, caddy with my sandwich, fresh spicy greens with cherry tomatoes, finished off with balsamic vinegar and black pepper. This made a pleasant contrast in flavors from the bite of the salad to the gentle savoriness of the panini. What a great lunch.

I should mention that the bar is quite colorful with the sturdy Vagabond sign sitting over the bartop ringed by eight stools. There is also a globe that rests with the sign depicting the world wide heritage of this small and locally famous eatery. There is also a high top table cozily nestled against the window underneath some large french poster art of a joker card. So much wood around this place, as to make a lumberjack pleased at his occupation, and to console the hearts of the patrons so well ensconced. On any given Friday or Saturday night, this bar retains it’s own scene and livelihood.

I have eaten here several times with friends for dinner, too, and have been well sated over eats and drinks. This is a great spot for an impromptu and casual meal or a more organized and intimate date night. Make sure to ask your, likely, Brazilian server to translate the inspiring quote written in french upon the blue wall, and you may find their source for inspiration and your reason for a return visit.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-255-1035
  • Name: Vagabond
  • Address: 2310 30th Street