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Kassel puts heart into his food

Arturo Kassel is a full-fledged foodie with a passion for all things fresh, pure and authentic. He recently opened Whisknladle, a charming and uncharacteristically relaxed eatery in the heart of La Jolla that is the physical embodiment of his core food and business ideologies.

“My favorite restaurants are those that are an extension of the proprietor and from the food to the stylistic aspects, Whisknladle is me to a tee,” said Kassel, who personally selected every piece of furniture and steered the interior design concept during renovation. The resulting atmosphere defies any singular classification, though one word sums it up quite capably - white.

From the walls of the vaulted dining room to the barstools lining the granite bar to the bright flames burning from votive candles stationed throughout the space, Whisknladle’s decor, like its white plates, comes across as a blank canvass; a minimalist starting point from which extraordinary things may emerge. And they do, with impressive regularity via the double doors leading from the kitchen.

“We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel,” explained Kassel who describes Whisknladle’s offerings as upscale comfort food. When developing the menu, Kassel advised Executive Chef Ryan Johnston to cook for himself. The son of a butcher, and therefore no stranger to bringing food from the farm to the table, Johnston paired his knowledge with Kassel’s vision to create an operation where everything is prepared in-house. They make their own cheeses, cure their own meats, pickle their own vegetables, make their own preserves, churn their own ice creams and sorbets, infuse their own spirits and bake their own bread (which is served fresh from the oven and comes across as hot-buttered heaven on a plate).

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“For us, it’s important that there is love in the food.” proclaims Kassel, who believes that by constructing menus incorporating only fresh locally-harvested ingredients and putting in the labor-intensive hours to single-handedly prepare their food from start to finish, Whisknladle will not only provide diners with food of the highest quality, but also food for thought.

Whisknladle’s menu is split into two sections - “food” and “more food” - and offers no shortage of variety and unique flavor combinations.

Smaller plates, which range in price from $9 to $16, include squid ink risotto with calamari, seared Maine scallops with sweet potato and chutney, roasted sweetbreads, butternut squash ravioli in hazelnut brown butter and a fondue of Raclette cheese served with house-made bresola, cornichons and potatoes.

The dinner entrees, which ring up between $17 and $27, are equally eclectic and incorporate the finest seasonal ingredients. Current items include spicy Ahi tuna with a zesty piquillo pepper Romesco sauce, papperadelle with a traditional Bolognese sauce, hangar steak au poivre with crispy, thin-cut fries and the WNL burger with spicy onions, gorgonzola cheese, bacon and egg. A stand-out on the current menu is the slow-braised lamb shoulder, which is tender, but not overly so, and served with decadent mashed potatoes, warm broccoli raab and a garnish of mixed citrus zest that further punches up the dish’s already succulent flavors.

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Whisknladle also offers a full lunch menu, happy hour items and a Saturday and Sunday brunch service that has been very well received. “It’s been consistently at capacity,” notes Kassel. “We wanted to do a New York style brunch with county style food. Nothing fru-fru.”

There’s certainly nothing dainty about the Big Dog breakfast, which is simple, straightforward and stick-to-your ribs - a heaping helping of eggs served with home-made sausage, bacon and bread. And then there’s the rosemary bacon waffles, which have the bacon baked inside the waffles and come embellished with apple butter and maple syrup, both of which are, of course, made on the premises.

And don’t forget the eye openers - prosseco mimosas, passion fruit sangria and Bloody Marys with “the works.” It’s a pleasant first sip of Whisknladle’s full drink menu, which includes exotic cocktail such as smoked pear and bay leaf rum with house-made tonic, ginger-infused sake with lychee juice and a lavender, blueberry and cassis cosmo.

Though it might not be easy, you are advised to save room for dessert. Sweet indulgences such as a marzipan and sweet almond cake with light goat cheese filling and pan-fried cornmeal pound cake with rosemary apples and crème chantilly await.

With so many options, one might think Kassel and Johnston want to be everything to everyone, but one visit to Whisknladle makes it abundantly clear that what they really want to be is something special for everyone from dining enthusiasts looking for the next big thing to everyday people looking for a comfy, unpretentious place to enjoy quality food at a fair price. That said there is a particular distinction they would like to earn.

“We want Whisknladle to be a Mecca for foodies and the destination where chefs go to have good charcuterie and exotic items like bone marrow and sweet breads,” Kassel decrees. “If we can do that, it will be a measure of success for us.”

So foodies, come one, come all … and keep on coming. Word has it Kassel and Johnston have gotten their hands on a ham leg they are preparing in traditional Spanish style, which requires 16 months of aging. But don’t wait until June of ’09 to stop in. Rather than changing their menu as often as necessary, they intend to change the menu as often as possible, adding new delicacies and delights for visitors to feast on.

Whisknladle is located at 1044 Wall Street. Call them at (858) 551-7575 or visit

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www.whisknladle.com

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