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Where There's Smoke

BY Jackie Bryant | January 2, 2018 | Feature Features National

A string of recently opened camping-inspired restaurants channel all the rustic glamour of a bygone era without the commitment of cooking your own food. It's glamping for diners, and San Diegans can't get enough.
The rustic dining room at Campfire is a renovated Quonset hut

DINING ROOMS ARE channeling campsites, and chefs are ditching the gas flat top and harnessing live fire to cook their dishes. The idea falls perfectly in line with the way we love to entertain in Southern California, without having to scrape a grill later. Campfire, which debuted in September 2016 in Carlsbad, has been packed to the gills and receives rave reviews for its dishes, like roasted broccoli with chermoula and candied peanuts, manila clams and smoked pork belly with green tomato dashi and poblano chili, and the ever-changing roasted whole fish with jerk vinaigrette, charred onion and caramelized onion, all cooked on a 12-foot hearth powered by a Grillworks wood-burning grill. If it all sounds very throwback, well, that’s the point, explains Campfire’s owner, John Resnick. “In the last few years you’ve really seen two different trends taking off: live-fire cooking and camping. Cooking with wood is both an answer and is a bit of a pendulum swing coming off of trends like molecular gastronomy,” he says. “Chefs are now excited to use forward-thinking and modern techniques coupled with the ancient and primitive cooking that occurs when you try to harness a live fire.”

The design for the restaurant, which was inspired by camping on the California coast, was completed by Bells & Whistles, which has installed other San Diego spots Starlite and Sycamore Den, and Broken Spanish in Los Angeles. Think Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom: Camping gear adorns the walls throughout, and a 12-foot custom teepee sits just outside the hybrid indoor-outdoor, modern dining areas. Wood, copper and other natural elements round out the space. “I think the camping comeback has something to do with the inclination from all of us to get away and seek adventure, if even for a night,” Resnick muses. “A moment to turn off the phone and get back outside.”

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