Buzz is back after a much needed hiatus. So here we go with the latest in San Diego’s ever growing food scene.

Notable is the explosion of new restaurants in Little Italy, with the latest additions at Beech Street and Kettner Boulevard in the 22 story Ariel Suites luxury apartments.

Baja’s celebrity chef Javier Plascencia secured the corner ground and balcony level (balcony with views of the bay and city), while Pan Bon comes from Italy to open their first US outpost, with a bakery and fine dining spot in the bi-level space. Should anyone want to cook at home, Hanson Market will occupy a large space for organic and natural foods. Don’t expect to be eating too soon as it will likely be some months before the spots open for business.

Also on Kettner, a bit north between Juniper and Ivy Streets is one of the hottest new places: Juniper & Ivy featuring some very good and innovative food from Atlanta’s celebrity chef, Richard Blais.

For a perfect espresso or cold brewed coffee in a tranquil setting on north India Street is James Coffee.  The coffee bar is in Vi-Star, a unique large space, filled with unique gifts for babies, dogs, people and homes. You can browse as you sip or sit and eat a very light, classic quiche Lorraine supplied by a local chef named Mark. 2355 India St. San Diego, coffee Monday to Friday, 7am to 4pm and weekends 8am to 4pm.

ICYMI: For those of you who may want to delve deeper into food related news stories, here are a few that Buzz found worthy: Mark Bittman on “Rethinking the Word Foodie”; and Paul Greenberg on “Why Are We Importing Our Own Fish?”. Both stories worth contemplating. And finally, some great press for San Diego from The Wall Street Journal on four top places to buy and drink wine.


CLARIFICATION:  Chef Sinsay sent this in an email that I received after I posted:  ” I was never let go from enlightened hospitality. I left on my own accord on good terms. I was offered the opportunity to stay on as exec chef of Searsucker but explored opportunities elsewhere.”  Also, Sinsay will be chef de cuisine under executive chef Brian Malarkey.

In the ever changing world of who’s cooking where, chef Anthony Sinsay will likely take his knives to Los Angeles.  Sinsay lost his job at Brian Malarkey’s Burlap just a few months ago when  Malarkey unceremoniously closed the restaurant and reopened it in July as Searsucker. (Staff had to reapply for their job with the new restaurant.) Within weeks Sinsay became chef a La Villa in Little Italy, replacing Chris O’Donnell.

Now Sinsay is back with the guy (and the company Enlightened Hospitality Group) who let him go, and we hear he will be executive chef at what could be Herringbone,  Malarkey’s next venture at the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles.  The Hollywood Reporter talked with Malarkey as noted by Eater San Diego about the restaurant that will replace Asia de Cuba. If this is where Sinsay lands, it should be an interesting ride for him as the restaurant also serves breakfast and lunch along with dinner and room service.

Note that I reached out to Enlightened Hospitality Group’s public relations firm for comment and have not heard back from them.

 

 


Chef Robert Hohmann leaves his culinary mark at 1500 Ocean as he moves to Los Angeles to work with The Next Idea and Sogno Toscano.  Together the companies intend to consult, impact and contribute globally to the areas  of food, beverage and hospitality concepts.

Chef Matt Gordon expands his Solace Restaurant collection with Sea & Smoke in Del Mar’s redone Flower Hill Mall.  Some of my favorites:  the West Coast open-face omelette with house cured salmon and dill creme fraiche ($11.5), sides ($6 each) of skillet cornbread, house-cut Kennebec fries and sweet and sour heirloom carrots, small and served whole, perfect finger food.  If I lived closer I’d be there daily just to relax on the quiet large back patio, or at the lively bar.   The front of the restaurant decor gives credence to the  American brasserie style menu that Gordon created.  It’s a comfortable restaurant with food you can relate to no matter what the time of day.  If you’re in the area, know that happy hour runs seven days a week from 3 to 6pm. 2690 Via de la Valle, Open daily from 7:30 am,  858-925-8212.  Note that I know Chef, and for the record, he does not comp even his friends. Thankfully.

Recently sighted, ex San Diego chef Jason Shaeffer (original Laurel Restaurant & Bar, and 1500 Ocean)  who moved to Windsor, CO and opened Chimney Park Restaurant & Bar.  Should you find yourself in Fort Collins, Windsor is a few miles away and worth the short drive for an evening of  Shaeffer’s award-winning food.


Through the years the north east corner of Scott and Canon Streets housed a strip joint  named Fast Eddie’s Booby Trap, then morphed to an Italian eatery, La Scala, with opera singing and pasta, and for a short time, The Lighthouse.  For the past few months a makeover occurred in the building.  And it’s pretty swell.

Two tenants occupy the corner:   Jennifer Marie creates chocolates, heavenly angel food cakes and more at The Elegant Truffle, now five and half years old.   Along with terrific chocolates, Jennifer will, in about a month, serve espresso made with coffee from Italy’s Caffe Barbera.  She’ll bake a daily scone to go with the coffee and will open at 7:30am.  The only other place to find this coffee is in Hillcrest at Cafe Barbera on Fifth Avenue.  On Saturday, July 20, Jennifer will cook at Macy’s Home Store kitchen with Chef Bernard Guillas (Marine Room).

In the Lighthouse space  comes Pommarola (same owners as its neighbor Pomodoro).  The restaurant  opens this week with Neapolitan pizza–yes, the real deal with imported flour and other ingredients, along with the oven visible in the open kitchen.  There will be a few other dishes, but the star of the restaurant will be pizza.  Stay tuned as I’ll soon report on the food.


Little Italy: Wandering along India Street in Little Italy one quickly realizes the overwhelming number of restaurant choices.  If you want to go beyond the familiar spaghetti and meatball fare, La Villa is your place. The restaurant belongs to  a group that began in 2000 with Trattoria Itrulli in Encinitas and now includes other venues in Little Italy: Buon Appetito, Tazza D’Oro, Sogno di Vino and The Market by Buon Appetito. It’s a Buzz favorite for many reasons.

First, they finally got their website up and running and now you can see the menu of innovative dishes from chef Chris O’Donnell.  He uses locally sourced seasonal ingredients to create–without fussiness–interesting and approachable food with a rustic Italian touch.  O’Donnell enjoys changing the aspects of some of his dishes almost weekly which can be a frustrating for diners who come back for a favorite only to find it revamped within weeks.  At times, even the kitchen can’t keep up with a tweaked dish. One recent night the wild mushroom pizza changed that day to include fresh morels and other ingredients, but the kitchen  delivered the original version first, then rectified the error.

There’s patio seating, (with heaters and even a cozy corner sofa), a chef’s table in the bustling kitchen (seats 12 or so, but just two can dine there too) and an interesting wine list that includes a small (and growing) selection of half bottles.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Reasonably priced, real half bottles, not carafes masquerading as “half bottles.” Among the choices you’ll find a 2008 Schramsberg sparkling wine ($27) and a delicious 2009 Storybook Estate Zinfandel ($26).

Cocktails go well with my favorite (thankfully unchanged) avocado bruschetta–toasted baguette slice with a smear of avocado, topped with sliver of hard-boiled egg and dotted with capers ($10). A recent meal included that Storybook along with a fresh morel, baby chard leaves, ramps and a sprinkle of fresh English peas pizza ($18), a perfectly cooked (that means not chewy) grilled octopus tentacle salad ($14) and squash agnolotti with fresh favas and squash blossoms delicately plated and lightly accented with tomato sauce and pesto ($17). Fish, meats and chicken preparations vary as noted above–sometimes more often than one might wish–all good however.

The front of the house offers effortless and helpful service.  A recent wine dinner seated the 65 plus diners at tables of 8 to 10 people. A smart idea that allowed a table to be completely served at once, thus the kitchen was able to work smoothly with the wine service and no one was left wondering when their food would arrive. Food paired well with the wines and more dinners are in the offing. Full disclosure: Though I know the GM and chef, I pay for my meals. La Villa, 1646 India Street, Little Italy, 619-255-5221, open daily from 11:30am.

Point Loma:  Word on the street about the construction in the long vacant building on the corner of Nimitz and Rosecrans that Vons once occupied:  It will soon be Ralphs.  Expect the new store to open about May 10.

 


Well-known San Diego chef Amy DiBiase will soon move to re-concept Baleen, the restaurant at Paradise Point Resort & Spa.  She leaves The Shores in a month.  DiBiase knows Baleen as she honed her brand of cooking there after she left Laurel Restaurant and Bar. Baleen’s interior as well as its menu will be redesigned completely, with DiBiase’s inventive food that earned the hotel accolades during her first stint there.


As we enter 2013, Buzz thought it would be worth a look back at the various issues that caught her attention while dining in San Diego during the year.  You too can add to this list.  Please feel free to comment.

**Demographics matter: Pushing 40 years old, Brian Malarkey is all over the map, literally.  He and partner James Brennan open fabric named restaurants faster than you can sharpen your kitchen knives.  So how good are they?  Well, Gabardine in Point Loma opened early in 2012 without much thought to the neighborhood and as Buzz wrote in June, the place needs focus.  These restaurateurs assumed diners–with an average age of roughly 35 to 45–would brave traffic and come to the nearly dead end of Rosecrans Street to dine.  We wish it would be so, but not in Point Loma.

**$20 and under menus:  This tag line for restaurants has had its day says Amy T. Granite at San Diego City Beat. Think about it, two items at $15 each makes a $30 tab for one and you’re just drinking tap water.  Restaurants, price your menus fairly and diners won’t wonder if they’re getting a deal, or not.

**Happy Hour:  What’s so happy about a $45 bill (with tip $53) for two that included happy hour prices for fish and chips ($10), shrimp and grits ($9), roasted Brussels sprouts ($4), Laird Pinot Grigio ($10) and Gingham Syrah ($9).   Portions  were large enough for dinner…so why call it happy hour Gabardine?  Instead, go to The Marine Room  where you can enjoy a swell view, lounge appetizers at $7 or at their sister restaurant The Shores, $6 plates.  Or try another Buzz favorite, The 3rd Corner for a $10 bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels with a pile of frites and a $3 draft beer.

**Noise: How about those restaurants with noise so great we can’t even hear the person next to you?  Here’s a clip from the Today Show that looks at restaurants and their noise levels.  Not everyone is 30 years old and high noise levels in restaurants such as Brooklyn Girl Eater or Searsucker, and others you may add, may have decent food, but if can’t hear the person sitting next to you, what’s the point?

**Wine: Restaurants take note:  Sparkling wine poured into a carafe at the bar, then poured into glasses at the table and called a “half bottle” on the menu just sucks.  So does serving red wine too warm–room temperature as many places do–either by the glass or bottle.  Don’t believe me? Ask America’s first master sommelier, Eddie Osterland.

**Ambiance comes in many forms at a restaurant: low light, music bass heavy and loud (as well as unknown composers). Other issues abound when it comes to menus.  If you can’t read the menu because of a meager table candle, print so small or a font so precious even the best eyes can’t decipher it, the meal could be off to a difficult start.

**Location and Name:  Yes, it matters, just ask the people at Location Matters who help restaurateurs expand, buy, sell or lease venues.  Restaurant names we don’t understand:  Sora (Japanese for Sky) with an Italian/Japanese menu in a tough downtown location that includes validated parking.

**Websites: Things we find unhelpful to the dining public:  Websites that are not current, in other words, show what you’re serving now, not last summer. That includes places like Buzz favorite La Villa. This restaurant, with the innovative and creative chef Chris O’Donnell at the helm, needs to post its menu not the website’s current one of their sister restaurant Buon Appetito.

**Photos: And what about diners constantly taking pictures, all the time, of every dish? Watch Eat it Don’t Tweet it  a video moment for levity and amusement from L.A. Chefs Column . As Barbarella (Diary of a Diva) notes here, we’re done with the food paparazzi.

**Service (or lack thereof) ought to be a bigger deal than it is in laid back San Diego. You’ll find extraordinary service at La Villa as happened on a wet cold night when we arrived without a reservation.  Quick thinking from GM, Derry Van Nortwick pulled a table from the patio into the warm packed room–where there was room for two of us as well as the 20 at the next table.  Other restaurants would have turned us away saying “sorry we’re full tonight”.

Miscellaneous musings for 2013:

**Tired yet of bacon in and on everything?  And you’d think craft beer was the only beverage in the city.  We’re happy to see San Diego as a top spot for beer; we hope food will follow.

**A reader wonders why salt and pepper shakers no longer appear on many dining tables…who says the kitchen knows best for a diner’s taste buds?  But then there’s this that lets you know who’s in charge!

**Speaking of tables…Do you dine with the smart phone strategically placed next to your plate?  Time to let that go and enjoy the reason you came to the restaurant…the food, the ambience and, hopefully, the company at your table.

**TV’s are everywhere and many times in the wrong place–fine dining isn’t a sports bar.

**Resolve for 2013 to try a new restaurant or a dish you’ve never experienced.

 

 

 


Coming soon at the corner of University and Fourth:  yet another pizza place, Project Pie.  Their recently opened first location is in the lower part of the MGM Grand in Vegas.  The local connection of this fast casual place comes with the James Markham, who created Knockout Pizza here in San Diego.  He sold those stores and went on to other ventures including Pieology in Fulllerton that he sold to his business partner.  3888 Fourth Avenue, Hillcrest.

 


Coming soon in Liberty Station, a revamp of the space that was Joao’s Tin Fish Bar & Eatery located  in the same block as Con Pane Rustic Breads & Cafe, Ace Hardware and Slater’s 50/50.  Look for Roseville Cozinha to open early November with Michaael Alves as the owner and executive chef.  Born and raised in Point Loma, his Portuguese heritage reflects his love of fishing and cooking (cozinha means kitchen in Portuguese).  Alves, with the consulting help of his childhood pals Pete Balistreri (Tender Greens executive chef), Craig Jimenez (formerly of Craft and Commerce) and Maurice DiMarino (certified sommelier for the Cohn Restaurant Group)  Alves will offer house-made salumi, local fish, meats and Neopolitan style pizzas from a wood stone oven.  Tony Gemignani  (nine- time world pizza champ in Naples, Italy) tutored Alves in that special culinary art.  Note that Alves is a licensee of the Tin Fish group and will move the Tin Fish concept to the DaKine’s spot he owns in Liberty Station where the menu will feature fish tacos, burritos and more.

One of the best places to find any and all spices, herbs, blends, rubs and more used to be only online: Penzeys Spices.  Now they are in San Diego at the corner of University Avenue and Richmond in Hillcrest.  You can find everything from A to Z starting with salt free adobo seasoning (garlic, onion,black pepper, Mexican oregano, cumin and cayenne red pepper) and ending with zatar (zahtar) that popular Middle Eastern blend (sumac, thyme, sesame and salt).  There is pepper in every color,  grind and blend from Szechuan to India.  Best part, you can buy small amounts from under an ounce to a pound, depending on the item. Penzey’s, 1274 University Ave, Hillcrest, 619-297-2777, Hours: Mon., Wed., Fri., Sat.: 10:00- 6:00pm; Tues and  Thurs.: 10:00- 8:00pm, Sun.: 11:00-5:00pm.


The perfect espresso shot can be an elusive drink in San Diego. It seems that many places (and Buzz has tried many), don’t train their baristas properly.  If it’s not the barista, it’s the espresso machine, the grind of the coffee and of all things, the weather that can affect getting that one ounce shot topped with crema (that creaminess you see on the top of the liquid).  A shot isn’t a four-ounce bitter cup of coffee that many places serve.  More isn’t better when it comes to a shot of espresso.

Barely a year old, Toma Sol sits at the corner of Washington and Albatross Streets.  Owner Seekey Cacciatore has trained staff that know how to pull a shot. A perfect shot.  The comfortable independently owned neighborhood café also carries a varied selection of foods that include breakfast wraps, lunch sandwiches, beers and wines and even gluten free brownies and cookies so good you’d never guess there’s no gluten.  Cacciatore books interesting events from art openings to fundraisers and the café is the drop off place for Garden of Eden’s  CSA box of fresh produce    The organic and sustainable coffee comes from Cafe Motto.  301 W. Washington St., Mission Hills, 619-291-1159, Monday to Friday 6:30am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 7:30am to 8pm.

Caffé Calabria in North Park roasts coffee for many places around town and is a Buzz favorite for the quintessential espresso.  They now serve Neapolitan style pizza Wednesday through Sunday from 5pm to 11pm.  Among the others with Calabria’s beans:  If you’re in Liberty Station, Con Pane Rustic Breads & Cafe makes the best cinnamon roll in the city along with great breads and sandwiches–that partner perfectly with the good coffee.  Con Pane’s staff is trained by Caffé Calabria to understand the intricacies that make a shot.  Gelato Vero Caffe at the corner of Washington and India Streets also uses Calabria’s coffee to make good shots.  Their espresso bean gelato in a shot of espresso makes a fabulous afternoon pick-me-up.

A morning espresso at Little Italy’s  Caffe Italia is almost like being in Italy.  Some of the locals hang at the end of the bar dishing in Italian while sipping a perfect espresso and commenting on everyone who picks up their just-made drink nearby.  The espresso bar uses LavAzza coffee–a company that began in 1895 in Turin, Italy and continues there today. They also carry Gelato Vero’s various gelato flavors, including Buzz’s all time fav espresso bean.  1704 India St., Little Italy, 619-234-6767.

A few places Buzz wishes for a better pull:   Ask for a shot at Red’s in Point Loma and unless you specify short, you can end up with half a cup of coffee–that is not a shot.  Buzz likes the vibe of Red’s, the roasted- in-house coffee at Red’s, even some of their morning pastries, but goodness gracious, please Cyndy Grace Savoy (owner), train your staff.  It’s a waste of really good coffee not to have each and every person know how to make a proper shot. Is  it because there’s an ever-changing morning staff who apparently are not trained on the espresso machine or have never heard the words short shot or proper shot or simply espresso? They also have beer and wine and good food long into the night.  1017 Rosecrans, Point Loma, 619-523-5540.

Across the street at Living Room Cafe ask for an espresso and you end up with nearly 5 ounces.  They will remake it to whatever you want, but that shouldn’t be the case for a proper espresso.  Come on Living Room, an espresso isn’t a vente!