Sometimes, a restaurant opens and you don’t even need to experience it to know you’re going to love it. That’s how I feel about Finca, which opened in North Park yesterday.
The love affair started a few weeks ago, when I visited the space after it was nearly completed. One of its owners, Dan Valerino, invited me in because he knows I like to creative dishes in a convivial setting with excellent, somewhat hard-to-find wines from the Iberian peninsula and impeccable service. Basically, we both like dining in Europe.
That vibe is what he and his crew seeks to emulate with Finca. “The style of eating is about giving the power back to the guest,” Valerino says. “You can order a couple of things at a time and not need to plan out your whole meal because you can trust the kitchen to get things to you fast.”
In other words, it’s designed to be social. Not a “shared plates” experience that benefits the kitchen more than the guests, but a genuine Spanish-style tapas set-up, with a top-notch kitchen firing off dishes as orders come in. The way this kind of dining is meant to be.
And speaking of those wines, I also sampled some of Finca’s excellent list of 100-or-so bottles, which are rooted in Spanish and California small-grower selections. Valerino and I share a particular love for red wines from Catalonia’s mountainous Priorat region—there are plenty of shining examples on hand.
He’s also a leading voice on organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wines, so expect plenty of bottles in that vein. There’s also an impressive sherry section, as well as beer, cider, and vermouth. “We remain dedicated to making sure San Diegans have a place to drink vermouth on the rocks,” Valerino told me during my visit, echoing a deep belief I also share.
Another one of the reasons I’m so jazzed about this opening is because of the folks behind it, who I have known for years (and whose kitchens I’ve also enjoyed dining in). Finca is helmed by partners Valerino and chef Joe Bower, along with seasoned restaurateur Ricardo Dondisch. Valerino and Bower first connected during their time at Juniper & Ivy, where Valerino served as general manager and Bower as sous chef.
They’ve been locked ever since, with stints at the now-closed The Hake in La Jolla. They’re true pros who are obsessed with hospitality, which Valerino says has been sorely lacking since Covid. Both he and Bower were emphatic that bringing hospitality “back,” so to speak, will be a cornerstone of the Finca experience.
In the kitchen, Chef Bower created a menu with a selection of market-driven, California-inspired tapas at an accessible price point intended to complement Spain’s drinking culture. Dishes include Nashville Peanuts with chicken salt, chicken skin and spicy oil; Patatas Bravas with California pepper, jalapeño cream, garden herbs and roasted garlic cloves; Pork Belly & Cocoa Nibs with grilled banana and sourdough; Surf and Turf Toast with carpaccio of beef, shrimp sausage, horseradish and lemon aioli; and Fried Chicken & Caviar with crème fraîche dressing and ranch herbs.
In addition to dinner and drinks service, the roughly 3,000-square-foot Finca also features a bottle shop that will host a wine club in the future. The entire space is anchored by an open kitchen and wrap-around, illuminated 14-seat bar. Expansive ceilings offset floor-to-ceiling windows; the industrial space gives way to warmth via a color palette of burnt orange and amber hues, aqua and a variety of golden and wood accents.
Art by Patrick Bower (Joe’s brother) and Gabriela Dondisch (Ricardo’s wife) adorns the walls and the setting is completed by mismatched vintage serving ware, including ice buckets, plates and glasses scattered throughout. Outside, there are also 16 patio seats.
Finca is located at 3066 North Park Way, San Diego, CA 92104. Restaurant operating hours will be from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on weeknights and from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on weekends while the bottle shop will open at noon shortly after Finca’s opening.