You know that feeling you get when a new neighborhood café opens up around the corner from your house and you think, “Wow, is this going to make my coffee habit even more convenient?” That's the feeling our team experienced when we heard that Clara was opening down the street from our office. If you’re a local to Carlsbad, California then you know that the bustling downtown village is opening up hit after hit. Ahem, we are looking at you Campfire, Park 101, The Goods Dougnuts and Jeune et Jolie. So, it was only natural that Clara would round out the Carlsbad dining scene with their seafood and vegetarian-heavy menu.
Upon opening night, our team was seated together at a table next to the open kitchen concept and quickly served the chili braised cauliflower tacos with crispy jicama slaw and red onions. This was the table favorite among vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Our table also got pretty excited about the skirt steak skewers which were perfectly cooked and seasoned – we recommend sharing this with your crew on a Friday night. You will get full, but not too full if you know what we mean. Plus, the interiors are serene, casual and comfortable making this spot pretty ideal for a dinner feast prior to heading out for a long night out with your friends. To be honest, the neutral interiors and menu offerings would also work for romantic dinners, awkward first dates and family feasts. There is a little something for everyone here.
We spoke with Jess Hicks, Clara designer, for more info about designing and opening Carlsbad’s newest place-to-be. Photography by Kimberly Motos, Nathan Mueller for The Venue Report
Can you tell us more about the design of the space?
"My plan for Clara was to create a beautiful space that would be inviting for everyone. I carefully developed an atmosphere that would equally appeal to locals, tourists visiting Carlsbad and the new, young craft cocktail crowd from all over San Diego.
I noticed that a lot of Carlsbad bars have more of a masculine, beer bar or divey feel, and I wanted to take Clara in the opposite direction. It was important to keep everything bright and fresh, with a modern, upscale feel. I wanted to design a bar in the neighborhood that could balance out what already exists.
My favorite piece in the space is the bar tower, behind the bar. The plan was initially was to use an Italian Terrazzo slab, but I decided to create my own interpretation that is inspired by Terrazzo. After hours of cracking, shaping and rearranging porcelain tiles... we have a really beautiful beer tower. We worked with Tap Craft to create our gold dipped backsplash, and finished everything with white porcelain handles.
Color played a huge role in this project. I tend to obsess over how colors work together and don’t think you can ever have enough of them. I asked the chef and bar manager to always keep color in mind when creating their recipes because I really wanted the bright colors from the space to also be reflected in the food and drinks served."
What can you tell us about Alex Carballo's menu and Seth Marquez's drinks?
"Clara’s executive chef is esteemed local talent Alex Carballo (Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Moto Deli), has developed the menu from a new California-centric point-of-view, putting the spotlight on fresh ingredients and bright flavors. Carballo presents a simple menu featuring of-the-moment, vibrant dishes that rely on the quality of their seasonal ingredients to deliver exquisite flavor. Guests can enjoy bar snacks, appetizers, flatbreads and mains starring vivid vegetables, local seafood and meats.
Bartender Seth Marquez (Campfire, Sycamore Den) is behind Clara’s innovative beverage program, focusing on a list of uniquely 'sessionable' cocktails featuring colorful and ingredient-driven drinks that are long, light and refreshing. Behind the expansive and inviting bar, Marquez has crafted a standout beverage program featuring handcrafted cocktails, eclectic wines and craft brews. Several of his cocktails will be shareable and uniquely served in communal porrons – classic Spanish barware traditionally used to allow everyone to drink from the same vessel without touching it to their lips. Marquez’ signature cocktails feature light, fresh flavors executed with classic technique and quality spirits paired with locally grown produce.
Taking note of San Diego’s perpetually warm climate, Marquez set out to create low ABV cocktails that can be enjoyed year-round. Utilizing liqueurs, fortified wines and sherries, Marquez has crafted tall-glass sippers that complement the flavor-forward dishes yet can stand alone to support the bustling bar scene at Clara."
What's the story behind the name Clara?
“When I was brought on to the project, my plan was to design a place for people who were tired of the gastro-pub/beer bar scene. After working in them for years, I decided that creating a place that I wanted to hang out at would be easiest and most genuine. I'm a big fan of small, tapas/wine bars back home in Philadelphia... which makes sense for a cold climate city, and wanted to figure out how to mimic that here.
The Carlsbad area is so bright and coastal so when I thought of what San Diego is, I didn't think the heavy bar food made much sense. I wanted our guests to not feel weighed down and tired after a meal. I wanted to focus on fresh products, with a seafood/vegetarian-heavy menu.
And when thinking about how to name a concept that tied in the coastal/beach feel, with lighter fresh food menu, I kept coming back to the words 'clear' and 'honest.' Which is how I came up with the name Clara. Feminine and clear – I thought it fit perfectly.”
Any special menu items that we need to know about?
"Thai CBJ: a strange combo of flavors that balance well. Spicy Thai Chili with sweet strawberries, nutty cashew butter and bright mint and cucumber.
Beet Flat: earthy beet flavors with a sweet agave/honey drizzle and crisp peppery arugula finish.
Fried Green Tomatoes: a simple and classic comfort dish. It’s bright and delicious – yet lite and crave-able.
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