By David Nelson
Four floors below the penthouse restaurant at the Porta Vista hotel, Little Italy melts into the bay-sailboats and grey Navy vessels, planes ascending from Lindbergh Field, the setting sun torching the ridge atop Point Loma.
The scene sizzles inside Glass Door, too, where votive candles flicker inside edible cylinders of baked, honey-glazed phyllo dough arranged on a long, tall table set for 10. The guests stand around in small groups, occasionally breaking off pieces of phyllo to scoop up a relish of cheese and roasted peaches. Candle smoke adds an unusual nuance, magnified by the Dubonnet (sweet, wine-based aperitif) beverage engineer Dean Powers invented to complement the dish.
The invitation to Ten Tastes of Glass Door-a 10-course dinner for 10 hosted on the 10th day of the month-advised the menu would be “a bit outside the box.”
“Chef Eric Smith and I like jumping off bridges,” announces general manager Christian Cardnuto. “We’re going for some shock and awe. There are no printed menus, because we don’t want to tip you off.”
But Smith lets the cat-reptile, actually-out of the bag when he wheels up a cart on which a recently living alligator smiles in repose.
One diner exclaims, “That’s waaay out of the box,” causing Smith to say, “Alligator’s pretty tasty, so don’t be scared.”
While Smith describes the pending feast, guests dig into Martini glasses filled with “deconstructed hamachi cocktails” of skewered fish with citrus soda, olive oil and crushed red pepper. For this, Powers concocted a spicy michelado of Pacifico beer, tomato, lime and salt. The idea: to pair the fish and beer in the mouth, like a bite of foie gras savored with a sip of Sauternes.
Continuing to “break it down and build it back up,” as Cardnuto characterizes the event’s gastronomic approach, the menu continues with Fennellini cocktails (fennel syrup, AquaVit liqueur, prosecco) and fennel-flavored yeast pancakes with coriander-dusted sweetbreads, agave nectar, microgreens, cumin and egg foam. Then, a caprese salad: savory cheese ice cream wrapped in basil and paired with a cocktail of strawberries, balsamico, Sauvignon Blanc and whiskey.
Given what’s come so far in this meal, it’s no surprise when lobster pastries show up with cocktails of pink cotton candy doused with white wine and butterscotch schnapps.
Then the moment arrives: big square white dishes brimmed with an orange stew of alligator, escarole and black-eyed peas. “A lot of stuff’s going on,” explains the chef before departing to prepare pheasant balls seasoned with minced gator, and a meatier entree termed “gator corn pudding.” Drinks crafted of beer and wine accompanied these, smoothing the way to a three-layer cake partially enriched with coconut ice cream.
“It’s all fun,” concludes a diner as she hoists herself from the four-hour culinary safari. “It’s this, or doing something ordinary.”
A to-go box of crocodile-would that be in the box or outside of it?
1835 Columbia St., Fourth Floor, Little Italy
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.