By Frank Sabatini Jr.
I’m always interested to learn where restaurants source their breads from, given the range of reputable wholesale bakeries sprinkled across our region. Though until lunching at Zinqué recently, I had never encountered a San Diego kitchen that receives loaves directly from France.
For the tartines, which are open-face sandwiches topped with various proteins and spreads, the bread hails from Poilane Bakery in Paris. The long-established business is famous for its slow-fermentation technique using natural sourdough leaven. It arrives baked, packaged and ready for consumption.
What you get are dense, rustic slices of goodness, which paired swimmingly to our tartine of choice — one that’s topped simply with butter, salami and cornichons. Other options include tuna nicoise, tomato-avocado, and smoked salmon with crème fraiche, egg and fresh dill.
From yet a different bakery in France is where the croissant dough originates. The buttery, flakey beauties are baked onsite and serve as vessels for chocolate or prosciutto with Gruyere cheese. They’re available on the breakfast-brunch menu.
As a twosome focused on lunch, we dove straight into an order of green curry soup made greener with broccoli and spinach. The curry notes were subtle. Thus if you don’t like curry, you could end up cherishing this because of its upfront flavor of fresh-squeezed lime and faux creaminess from coconut milk. Fresh cilantro and hints of spiciness made the recipe all the more alluring.
Most of the fare at Zinqué is lightly armed with dairy, which reflects the Mediterranean cuisine that owner Emmanuel Dossetti grew up with in his native Marseille, France. Where payloads of cheese, cream and butter exist in other regional types of French cooking, they’re replaced here often by olive oil, vinegars, fresh veggies and fish.
The “le bowl” is where France meets wellness-minded Southern California. Brown rice serves as the bedding for arugula, avocado and shavings of nutty-tasting Comte cheese. It features a choice of chicken or egg-white frittata. We chose the latter, which harbored the salt given to the dish.
My favorite sandwich in the world (aside from a hefty Reuben) is France’s signature croque-monsieur — or “madame” if choosing a sunny-side egg on top. Zinqué offers both, using bread in this case from a Los Angeles bakery.
I ordered the madame, which contained the obligatory layer of ham inside, as well as the right measure of bechamel sauce. The egg was perfectly cooked, although the amount of toasted Gruyere on top fell short. Perhaps it is in keeping with the menu’s lighter, healthier approach. But ideally the cheese should encase the entire sandwich, and the consumer should suck up the guilt.
Other lunch items include steak frites with chimichurri or peppercorn sauce; mussels in white wine and herbs with frites; smoked salmon carpaccio; zucchini quiche, and the unexpected findings of prawn and pork belly tacos.
The dinner menu features many of the same items, with the additions of a charcuterie plate, assorted flatbreads and ratatouille.
Cocktails, and French wines and bubbly are in abundance from a full bar sitting at the center of a modern-industrial layout that opens to the street.
Zinqué operates daily starting at 7 a.m. It closes at midnight Sunday through Thursday, and at 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It also offers happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, when select drinks and small bites are discounted.
2101 Kettner Blvd. (Little Italy)
Lunch prices: Soups, salads and bowls, $10 to $15; tacos, burgers, sandwiches and tartines, $6 to $17; quiche, $13 and $14; entrees, $14 to $33
— 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 email@example.com.