Food & Drink

Restaurant Review: R-Gang Eatery

If R-Gang Eatery owner Richard Sweeney looks familiar, that’s because he is: The chef was unceremoniously booted from the fifth season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” in the show’s third episode. Sweeney, whose catchphrase on the show was “Keep it simple, stupid!” opened R-Gang with the aim of adding international flavor to retro-American dishes like burgers and macaroni and cheese. Sweeney hasn’t had the smoothest sailing — after his bumpy road to chefdom (he was a waiter and gym manager before getting into the culinary arts), and an even bumpier exit from “Top Chef,” the New York native opened R-Gang in June 2010 after serving as an executive chef for Confidential Restaurant + Loft, in downtown San Diego. R-Gang Eatery, located about 20 minutes from campus in Hillcrest, has a metallic exterior that doesn’t shy away from décor-kitsch with a massive neon sign. The cramped, aggressively under-lit interior doesn’t square with the exterior — the menu’s scrawled on the wall in hasty freehand; the old tablecloths evoke mom’s kitchen. The printed menu expounds on the exterior’s gimmick, with a prominent “As Seen on TV!” label. The food seems confused, too: dry, ground lamb Salisbury steak ($16) drenched in a heavy pool of cabernet and wild mushroom pan gravy shares the same “Supper” section on the menu as a mushy vegetable-infused duck potpie ($14) with an inconsistent crust. The heavy sauce of the former drenched the tender steak; it would have fared better with a lighter sauce. The potpie was equally difficult to eat, as the crust detached from the bottom half of dish as a single unit, rather than breaking off with a forkful of the homogenous and almost gelatinous interior. On the other hand, a menu frontrunner is the duck fat tater tots ($8). Stuffed with sautéed mushroom, roasted garlic and fontina and fried in duck fat, the potatoes bear little resemblance to their lumpy, undercooked schoolyard cousins. And they finally got the texture right — soft white filling contrasts nicely with a golden-brown and crispy breading, which came accompanied by a thick rosemary Dijon dipping sauce. R-Gang’s extra fixings fare no better than the entrees. The seasonal gingerbread vodka martini ($8) was an unsettling mixture of vanilla vodka, Frangelico, Bailey’s and ginger beer, which separated from the vodka a few minutes into the meal. The sweets selection follows the bacon-for-dessert trend of the moment: a chocolate-covered bacon sundae with vanilla gelato ice cream ($6), consisted of undercooked, leathery bacon coated with chunky semi-sweet chocolate that curdled with the ice-cold vanilla of the gelato. Occasionally over-attentive and zealous, rattling off entrees and desserts with practiced memorization, the wait staff would later disappear for 20-minute chunks of time. For the $20 that a regular sized meal would cost, the average penny-pinched college student would hope for better service. Sweeney’s restaurant doesn’t provide the comfort it professes to offer, but constitutes a confused, fussy and unsettling dining experience. While it’s a restaurant that’s quick to boast, we’re not sure what the fuss is all about. 3683 5th Avenue San Diego, CA  92103 (619) 677-2845 Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 5p.m. – 11 p.m. Price Range: $5-$19 Recommended: Duck Fat Tater Tots ...