By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
We expected a gimmicky themed establishment replete with images of hirsute men and silver daggers when entering Werewolf. But we were greeted instead just outside the entrance with an enlarged, vintage photograph of writer Hunter S. Thompson, of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” fame.
Inside, the aesthetics turned even more curious, ranging from portraits of Chuck Norris and Tom Hanks to incongruous artwork and an obsessive number of beer labels plastering a large booth against the back wall.
Combined with an impressively large bar and colored party lights hanging from the high ceiling, you quickly realize this is a joint where good times roll.
Werewolf is first and foremost a party bar that happens to serve contemporary, and in some cases, complex food. It’s co-owned by Chad Cline, who also has stakes in Little Italy’s historic Waterfront Bar & Grill, Banzai Bar in Loma Portal, Harbor Town Pub in Point Loma and the Morena Club near Bay Park.
His wife, Maja, is the author of Werewolf’s menu as well as those for some of the other places Cline runs. Her artichoke tacos, for example, are also available at Banzai.
“We came up with the name Werewolf based on our customers at The Waterfront; they’re normal during the day and kind of go crazy at night,” Cline said with a chuckle.
A friend and I visited for lunch several hours before the howling started, which is often fueled by karaoke from 9 p.m. to close Monday through Friday.
He began with a whiskey sour and chased it enthusiastically with a second one, rating it among the top 10 he’s had all over the country. The froth was elegantly creamy, the whiskey was discernible and the overall flavor was somewhat buttery, probably from the addition of walnut bitters.
An appetizer named “papas balls” sounded too kooky to pass up. They turned out to be seriously delicious orbs of mashed potatoes, cotija cheese, bacon, scallions and cilantro with semi-spicy house sauce drizzled on top. We loved the contrast of textures as well — irresistibly crisp on the outside, moist and squishy on the inside.
The aforementioned artichoke tacos didn’t thrill us as much. Though dressed nicely with fresh cabbage, pickled onions, and a superb scallion cream sauce that adorned a flavorful chicken sandwich I ordered, the thickly battered chokes reminded me of county fair food. I’d vote for grilled chokes over fried in this experiment.
We braced ourselves for a riot of flavors when trying the bulgogi beef nachos, which were non-greasy wontons strewn also with kimchi, julienne veggies, Sriracha and Dojo sauces. The latter is a puree of carrots, ginger and plums.
To our delight, the ingredients were brilliantly cohesive, leaving us to believe a lot of taste-testing must have occurred before this dish and others were approved for public consumption.
My chicken sandwich, called The Foghorn, was no exception. Somehow the flavors of the scallion cream gelled with chimichurri sauce, crispy onions, cheddar, tomatoes and whatever marinade so thoroughly tenderized the breast filet.
From the burger list, which includes a mushroom melt and the “triple threat” crowned with a fried egg and maple-glazed pork belly, we gravitated to the “full boar.” The patty is made of 100 percent wild boar meat that jives with jalapeno-blackberry compote, garlic aioli, jack cheese, wild greens and pickles — enough garnishments to quell the gamy essence but without obliterating the subtle pork flavor.
For those yearning for a classic Waterfront burger with requisite grilled onions, the menu offers them as sliders.
Werewolf’s environment provides a casual escape from many of the chic and trendy establishments dominating the Gaslamp Quarter. It also serves breakfast from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily.
“We’re fun and whimsical — not trying to have a theme. We just want to make our customers smile,” said Cline.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.