When I heard late last year that local hospitality group Whisknladle had sold its Prep Kitchen brand to a Las Vegas hospitality group, my gut response was, “What will happen to the Bolognese?”
250 North City Drive, San Marcos
That would be my favorite Bolognese in the city. And, maybe because I’ve never been to Italy, still my favorite of all time. Meaty and aromatic, with fresh herbs to accompany its light tomato tang, I’ve ordered Prep Kitchen’s version at least a dozen times. On more than one occasion I’ve ordered it just to share with friends as an appetizer before moving on to eat seafood at a different restaurant.
The group that bought Prep Kitchen apparently had eyes on expansion, planning a Los Angeles location to add to those it bought in Del Mar, La Jolla, and Little Italy. But first, earlier this summer, it launched a new location at the North City development in San Marcos.
I should say, a gorgeous new location. Massive glass pane roll-up doors allow air and light to fill a long, rectangular space, well designed with pale wood accents, plants, and shelves displaying vintage hardcover books (I’m glad they’re at least gaining popularity as a design element if no one’s reading).
The menu at Prep Kitchen always tended towards seasonality, so I couldn’t immediately sense what if any wholesale changes had been made, aside from a new layout to go with a new logo. But there it was, Bolognese, a 15 dollar item ($19 for dinner), ready to bear the weight of my expectations.
When the dish arrived, I had a sense something about the recipe had changed. Which is to say, I noticed an unfamiliar, frothy, white sauce covered the red Bolognese. A parmesan espuma, according to the menu; espuma being the Spanish word for foam, adopted by molecular gastronomy to indicate an eggless emulsion. It did look like something had been spilled on top of my Bolognese, but that’s okay, it’s a fancy spill.
The pasta itself had been updated, no longer a corkscrew shape, but the less usual Campanelle, a short pasta shape that sort of resembles a ruffled tulip petal.
Neither of these things on their own would have made much difference to my enjoyment: a change in texture, yes, and added creaminess to parmesan that would have otherwise been grated and melting over the dish anyway. I dug in, still half expecting to taste that distinctive savory comfort I’ve often recommended to friends the past five years.
It wasn’t the same. Still mouth-watering beef and pork, still aromatic vegetables cooked into rich sauce. Very close, maybe only lacking the hint of herb that put the old recipe over the top. Something I can’t quite identify. Rosemary maybe.
Here’s the thing, though: this Bolognese is still very, very good. I can’t fault the new chef for wanting to make a dish his own, especially when the results taste this good. I found it a bit heavier than the previous iteration, and I’m not sure switching to the Campanelle shape improved the experience, but I could not have complained for a moment were it not for my borderline obsessive history with this dish.
They might still serve it at Whisknladle.