The newest entry on Laurel Street, Stamp Bar & Grill, only opened a few weeks ago, but it is has had a strong start judging by the fairly consistent crowds both inside and outside (and, at least as of this writing, has gotten some good buzz on Yelp). In a city filled with its share of Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean, Japanese, and all other kinds of cuisine, Stamp is clearly looking for a different niche. It’s hard to categorize the cuisine here other than what the owner described to me as “Mexican Fusion.”
The City of Good Eating has visited Stamp twice since it opened – once for appetizers and drinks on the outdoor patio and once inside for a proper dinner. The atmosphere itself is very nice — the inside is sparsely decorated but inviting with bright colors framing a small bar at the back of the restaurant. The patio is decently-sized with a number of heaters and patio chairs with their own bright pillows. It’s a nice spot to drink some wine and enjoy our downtown.
Presumably by design, the menu is a bit eclectic, with sufficient hints on the menu that it has a Mexican base, but with enough twists to make it clear that this place is different. The menu is organized with a number of smaller dishes up top, including appetizers, sopes, tacos, and ceviches. Then there is a selection of quesadillas, soups & salads, and entrees. It’s only a one page menu, but there is a good mixture of meat, seafood, and vegetarian dishes. You’ll find items as diverse as queso fundido, lamb riblets, heirloom tomato salad, chile relleno, grilled salmon, rotisserie chicken, smoked salmon quesadilla, and oxtail stew. Because of the diversity of the menu, it’s hard to give an overall assessment to the food other than to say the dishes we tried were all elegantly prepared but understated. If you’re imagining the spice and punch from more traditional Mexican flavors, you may find some of the dishes a little bland.
Like the decor, the plating of the food is clearly intentionally thought-out, with dishes presented in a fairly elegant way consistent with their moderate to premium prices. The seafood ceviche (served surrounded by a circle of wonton chips) was very good, as were the tacos and quesadillas (we tried the vegetarian one, which was very tasty and not spicy, even with the supplied salsa). The lamb riblet appetizer was very flavorful, but could have probably used some sauce. The chile relleno was very elegantly presented and also very tasty (with prawns and calamari), but you’ll notice right away the difference in presentation and flavor from its taqueria counterpart. Although we love ahi poke, this dish also was very understated compared to the many others available in San Carlos.
They have a modest sized wine list (by San Carlos standards), but perfectly sufficient for dinner. When we went on a Friday night, the restaurant was packed and there was at least one very large party. That slowed down the service a bit, but the wait staff was very friendly and responsive, and it was a fun place to hang out.
Although there was some flaws (some of which are typical of new restaurants experimenting and adjusting as they go along), there is a lot of promise for Stamp to leverage its excellent location and diverse and eclectic menu to keep the locals coming back to try something new at each visit.