Queenstown Public House (1557 Columbia St., Little Italy) is a new addition to the surprisingly robust set of Eastern Antipodian (e.g., New Zealand) culinary and drinking options in San Diego. Under common ownership (P.J. Lamont and Matt Baker) with Raglan Public House (1851 Bacon St., Ocean Beach) and Bare Back Grill (4640 Mission Blvd., Pacific Beach), Queenstown Public House is the slightly upscale cousin in the family.
The menu features some of the same crafty burgers (lamb and beef) as Raglan and Bare Back, but also branches out with some more overtly foodie offerings such as a duck confit bánh mì—which is, oddly enough, named “Thai Stick.” We get the drug reference (there’s also a mahi sandwich called “Sensimilla” on the menu), but Thai rather than Vietnamese? Do Kiwis like being called Aussies? Other standouts on the menu include rack of lamb (Kiwi of course) with a port demi glaze and grilled salmon with a quinoa-faro risotto.
Then there's the fact that Queenstown is called a “Public House” rather than a “Restaurant.” The bar—with 28 taps (20 for beer) and an English-style beer engine for cask ale—features a wide var iety of local and not-so-local choices. The wine options (on tap as well as by the bottle) are good, if not deep, featuring some less-common selections.
Perhaps, though, the standout feature of Queenstown Public House is the physical plant. Designer Michael Soriano (Parallel 33, Uptown, The Pearl Hotel, Vin de Syrah) transformed the former Assembly district office into an exciting inside/outside space in a grueling build out that seemed to last forever. The design features puffy sheep grazing on third generation synthetic turf—on the ceiling. A bit more functional, but distinctly less fanciful, is the fire pit.
Rumor—albeit a well-sourced rumor—has it that Chef Daniel Barron (ex-Blue Point Coastal Cuisine) is "close" to scoring his own shop. That would be a good thing. A former James Beard Award nominee, Barron’s work with his Evolve Cuisine pop-ups showed that he richly deserves a permanent and stable forum for his creative and tasty offerings.