Lick the Plate: Gather round the Campfire for some smoky goodness

Lick the Plate: Gather round the Campfire for some smoky goodness
Executive Chef Andrew Bachelier in the dining room of Campfire, a new restaurant in Carlsbad. Photo courtesy Lyudmila Zotova

I usually like to let the hype of a highly anticipated restaurant subside a bit before venturing in for a full on Lick the Plate experience, but that did not look like it was going to happen any time soon at Carlsbad’s Campfire.

They are still packing them in with no signs of letting up, and for good reason, it’s a one-of-a-kind gem with a stellar team committed to the concept.

It’s an ambitious undertaking from owner John Resnick, whose previous endeavors included Craft & Commerce and Ironside Fish & Oyster. The first thing I noticed was the amazing aroma of burning wood.

Campfire is a contemporary take on camping culture with its communally inclined, 185-seat indoor/outdoor space, including a 25-seat copper bar and a kid-friendly custom teepee. In the glass-enclosed kitchen, Executive Chef Andrew Bachelier, who cut his chops at Blanca, Addison and Cucina Enoteca, is tending the fires.

His oak-fueled custom wood grill is the foundation of the menu, which showcases seasonal, product-driven fare across its shareable lineup of lunch and dinner plates. On a side note, during our LTP radio interview, Bachelier listed a wide variety of woods that he uses, including fig and peach. I’ll be on the lookout for both to use in my home smoker.

Leigh Lacap heads up the fabulous cocktail program, centered on fresh ingredients and influenced by the live fire kitchen with smoky elements included in many of the cocktail offerings.

As mentioned, Bachelier brings a fine resume to his role at Campfire.  His first food memories are from his early years in Guadalajara, Mexico. The full-sensory experience he encountered there made a lasting impression. His time in Arizona revolved around his grandparent’s house that included hand-made pits, grills and ovens. Bachelier became enthralled by the culture and cuisine of his heritage.

He worked alongside his family as they split wood, built and tended the fire, and used nothing but cast iron to produce meals. These experiences would prove formative and serve him well in his role at Campfire.

Bachelier conceived Campfire’s California-driven menu centered on the idea of a shared guest dining experience. He taps the potential of their custom Grillworks grill in the heart of the restaurant where he uses wood, charcoal, embers, and ash to create technique-driven and deceptively simple dishes that let the ingredients speak for themselves.

OK, so back to the cocktails, which we started our experience with. We had to go with the one called Campfire that consists of bourbon, scotch, roasted malts, demerara, smoke and chocolate. Trust me on this one folks, it’s a beauty of a cocktail.

I asked our server to suggest a wine that would go with our wide variety of courses that included fish and red meat. She was spot on with a suggestion of Vesper McCormick Ranch Rosé — so nice.

The parade of goodness started shortly after when the crudo of Steelhead trout with ginger, shisito, onion, cucumber, soy and rice cracker arrived to our delight. It was light and wonderful. On the darker end of the spectrum, the duck liver paté with a grilled date, pecan, red wine and griddled Prager bread was actually lighter than anticipated as the paté was whipped into a foam-like consistency.

Next up was the long bean salad that was similar to a nicoise but with a smoky tinge on the beans, ahi, soft boiled egg, and shallot.  Love this salad.

The whole fish was a striped bass on the night we dined and was prepared with a black garlic romesco, torpedo onion and charred lemon. Again, they nailed it.

I’ve been a bit burned out by lamb shanks of late, but this one was different. The light, smoky flavor and fall-off-the-bone tenderness was lovely.

Dessert included a suggested sherry that paired perfectly with our pick of s’mores and macaroons, that had graham, chocolate, marshmallow and five spice. So fun. The smoked avocado leaf panna cotta was the finale of a spectacular, fun, and adventurous dining experience. What else could you ask for in a restaurant?

Get here now.

Campfire is at 2725 State St. in Carlsbad. Call (760) 637-5121 or visit thisiscampfire.com for more information.

David Boylan is the founder of Artichoke Creative an Encinitas based integrated marketing firm. He also hosts Lick the Plate Radio that airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. on FM94/9, Easy 98.1, and KSON. Reach him at david@artichoke-creative.com or (858) 395-6905.

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