Restaurant Revisit: Terra on Solid Ground


When Jeff Rossman moved his Terra American Bistro from Hillcrest to El Cajon Boulevard and 70th Street in 2011, you would have thought he transported the pioneering farm-to-table restaurant to El Centro.

Where is he going?

Isn’t that - gasp! - in La Mesa?

Such was the reaction from local foodies, that same dining crowd that loves to celebrate the independent, neighborhood restaurant - as long as the neighborhood is North Park or Hillcrest or Bankers Hill.

Terra chef/owner Rossman was taking a big risk, they said, asking who’d be willing to make such a pilgrimage to the nether-reaches of San Diego.

Three years later, Rossman can only have two words for the culinary naysayers: Ka-Ching.

On a recent Saturday night, Terra was packed. At 6 p.m., Aztecs fans chowed down before the game and families luxuriated in the kid-friendly time slot. As the night wore on, tables were turned and gussied-up couples on a triple date were seated. Groups of guys came in. Older couples. Friends. More families.

Where was everyone from? Who cares. The dining room buzzed with the energy of a restaurant providing well thought-out, flavorful, simply prepared, but elegant food.

The cabrilla fish special and half-roasted Mary’s chicken were each perfectly cooked, tender and moist and properly seasoned. Accompanying starches and vegetables were artfully balanced side-dishes: straight from-the-farm meets restrained saucing.

Roasted Brussels were not as excessively dressed as you see elsewhere around town; as leftovers, they actually benefited from a splash of balsamico the next day.

Desserts were decadent, none more than the chocolate “cigar,” a welcome holdover from Hillcrest. Slice into delicate, flaky phyllo to unleash a flow of warm chocolate. Fluffy whipped cream “ashes” rest in the playful ashtray-like plate.

The wine list offers varietal flights, something that, regrettably, you see less of these days.

Rossman works the dining room floor like a pro, warmly chatting up customers and treating first-timers like regulars.

I mistakenly left my scarf that night and had to go back the next day, a Sunday, to retrieve it. I got there at 2 p.m., just when brunch service was ending. Yet, the place was crowded.

If Rossman gambled by moving - to a neighborhood where parking is more plentiful, mind you - it looks like he hit the jackpot.

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Terra American Bistro

Where: 7091 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego

Phone: (619) 293-7088

Source: DiscoverSD