The small empire that is Whisknladle Hospitality started with a serendipitous meeting of French Laundry vet Ryan Johnston and aspiring restaurateur—and undaunted cooking-school dropout—Arturo Kassel. Their vision? Gourmet comfort food, with none of the guilty excess that term might imply. Just about every ingredient at Whisknladle, down to buttermilk dressings and canadian bacon, would be prepared from scratch, filling a menu that would change with the finest gradations of the seasons. "We want to find that balance of making our guests comfortable and pulling one foot out of their comfort zone," Johnston recently told San Diego Magazine—which means the french toast might exude lemon and lavender and the fried chicken might nest on purslane.
In a 2008 review, the Union-Tribune described "delightful, soul-satisfying" dishes such as "juicy, perfectly roasted chicken" at "one of the most exciting restaurants in San Diego." The crowds agreed. So Johnston and Kassel decided to expand the experience, inspired, as their website says, "by our desire to eat Whisknladle-quality food on a regular basis while sticking to our restaurant-employee budgets." Prepkitchen is a little simpler and more casual, but dishes such as porter-braised short rib and biscuits with chorizo gravy prove the new venture takes the same care as the original when it comes to sourcing ingredients and clearly labeling sugar and salt containers.