I wish I had set a timer to see how long the busser took to set the table next to ours at Trust one recent night.
Leaning over with the precision of a surgeon, he laid the silverware down just so, then the napkin and glassware. Done? Not quite, but almost. He started measuring the distance between the end of the fork to the table's edge and began spacing each place setting at identical intervals. He'd move one item a fraction of an inch and then adjust another so they'd be perfect.
That kind of meticulous attention to detail runs through every inch of Trust, a stellar addition to San Diego's dining scene.
Open in Hillcrest for about a year, Trust succeeds on every level - creative, flavor-packed cuisine, strikingly knowledgeable and attentive service and a dining room scene that buzzes with hip, foodie energy, with nary a pretentious preener to be found.
Over two meals, I tried 14 dishes and only one was a letdown. Each and every one of the other 13 weren't just good, they were outstanding. The kitchen, helmed by chef and co-owner Brad Wise, must be doing the cooking equivalent of the busser's ballet of table exactitude.
Whatever else you order, do not miss the wood-grilled lamb meatballs, the black truffled ricotta angolotti and the profiteroles for dessert. Gun to my head, I might make that my last meal.
The meatballs are moist rounds of ground lamb, expertly seasoned with Middle Eastern spices, served on a bed of lentils with creamy tzatziki, tart pickled shallots, Fresno chiles for modest heat and mint for a burst of freshness. My colleague Pam Kragen aptly described them as, "little flavor bombs."
The tender, yet al dente, agnolotti are a decadent departure from a menu that features less heady, stripped-down versions of ingredients. These pasta pillows practically float in the velvety panna cream and - despite my fears - the black garlic streusel doesn't overpower the black truffles. I don't think anything could. And - here's that preciseness again - crispy sunchokes give the dish just the right amount of bite.
The fluffy, warm profiteroles come dripping with caramel and impaled on a spike, à la Great Maple's maple bacon doughnuts, and just like those fried spheres, once you sink into the profiteroles' yeasty, gooey goodness, you'll never want to come out.
Trust's seasonal dinner menu is divided into "farm," "ocean," "ranch" and "more," with the first three categories essentially sharable plates, while the limited "more" section are entrées.
Where: 3752 Park Blvd., Hillcrest
Phone: (619) 795-6901
To maximize the number of dishes I could order, I zeroed in on the smaller plates, with one notable exception: the smoky wood-grilled burger. Wise's version, with tangy asiago, salty-sweet bacon-tomato jam, briny pickled onions, peppery arugula on a perfect poppy seed bun, is simply one of the best burgers in town.
Ditto the Brussels sprouts - if this dish isn't leaving San Diego restaurants anytime soon, at least they can be as inventive as Trust's. Given a feisty Mexican accent, they come in a jalapeño vinaigrette, with cotija cheese, Tajín and tortilla strips.
What else was exceptional? Mornay fries with onion aioli and duck egg, scallops with farrotto (farro prepared like risotto) and house-cured guanciale, wood-fired cauliflower with golden raisins, mint serrano aioli and curry vinaigrette (somehow those flavors meld well), crunchy spring rolls filled with savory pork sausage, and the crispy hush puppies with diaphanous slices of house-made ham so pristine, I realized I'd never had real ham before in my life.
I feel the same about pastry chef Jeremy Harville's carrot cake, with goat cheese, carrot ginger puree and carrot spears emerging from the generous slice. Cream cheese ice cream supplies just enough sweetness to the otherwise garden-fresh tasting dessert.
The lone disappointing dish was the uni pasta, which had a inexplicable gummy texture. A friend found the sauce unpleasantly fishy; it was just OK to me.
The noise level at Trust can also rise to unfortunate heights, in spite of the acoustic panels added to the high ceilings and walls. The din emanates from the open kitchen, all the hard surfaces in the industrial chic space, the bustling bar area and the animated banter from diners who are clearly thrilled to have found Trust.
My friends and I blamed the noise for turning their normally serene, restaurant-frequenting toddler into a fretful whimperer. Yet not for one second during his best whirling dervish impersonation did our waitress display anything but charm and professionalism.
Credit Trust's stable of polished employees to co-owner and general manager Steve Schwob, whose bio on the Trust website reveals a credo that so many restaurants in San Diego could use in their DNA:
"For Steve, providing great service is everything because he knows that is what takes a memorable food experience to the next level."
Which brings us back to the fastidious busser. Reveling in his painstaking table setting, I asked him what the deal was. Was he OCD or just neurotic? "No," he said proudly, "I've worked with Steve for years and he wants everything to be perfect."
Is Trust perfect? Not quite, but almost.