A friend in Los Angeles had the day off and wanted to cruise south to catch up over a meal, so I figured I'd meet him half way. I hopped on the Coaster in Old Town and rolled towards North County, letting him know to pick me up at the station in Oceanside.
2725 State Street, Carlsbad
I was doing a little work on the train, just as the ocean came into view in Del Mar, when he texted. He'd made it to Oceanside already, and wanted to know, "Where we going to eat? What's the bomb diggity lunch spot around here?"
Well, I'd been planning on fish tacos, so the bomb diggity designation got me searching online to see which of my favorites were open for lunch. I've eaten at spot Campfire a few times, always for dinner. I didn't even know it served lunch, but there it was on the screen, open for business. Better yet, it sits maybe 300 feet from the Carlsbad Village coaster stop.
"Change of plan," I texted back, "Meet me at this restaurant."
Campfire's dinner menu offers vegetables, fish, and other proteins roasted in the restaurant's wood fire kitchen. Lunch looks a bit different, with salads, and sandwiches including a smoked salmon and gruyere grilled cheese, and pork belly bánh mì.
There's brisket, which, our server pointed out, isn't available at dinner. That's interesting enough, because usually I see it the other way around: brisket only available for dinner. More intriguing, though, is how this brisket was being served: over rice.
Upon further inspection, the $18 dish is a peculiar mash-up of culinary traditions. It's loosely based on the Korean bibimbap, generally speaking a rice bowl topped by meat, fried egg, and assorted vegetables. The fried egg was there, and even some pickled radish — though watermelon radish instead of Korean food's go-to, daikon.
Of course, bibimbap doesn't typically feature a Texas style smoked brisket, particularly one garnished with togarashi, a seven spice chili and sesame seed blend popular in Japan. There were avocado and microgreens, and the dressing of the bowl with chimichurri, the green herbal condiment usually associated with Argentina and other South America cultures.
Of course Campfire doesn't add to any fusion confusion by addressing any of this on the menu. The restaurant simply calls it the red eye rubbed brisket, and leaves it to the diner to wonder where the heck all this came from.
That's not a bad move, because the star of the dish, and the center that holds it all together is that brisket. There's some smoke to it, but not so much to bury the beef, which shows off charred edges sealing in flavor and well-rendered fat that melts into each bite and really takes it over the top. Cooked tender moist, the big slices of brisket topping the rice bowl taste as utterly appetizing as they look.
At some point during the meal, my buddy looked up from enjoying his bowl, mouth too full of brisket to say anything. But I knew the two words he had in mind.