If you’re still wondering what to do New Year’s Eve, here are some suggestions:  Support your favorite neighborhood restaurants where you may be able to sit at the bar if they’re already booked for dinner, or think about early drinks and then home with friends–you cook or get food to-go.   It’s a good way to stay close to home, enjoy the evening and support the restaurants. Party–even in these woeful economic times–and everyone wins.

The possibilities are numerous for celebrating with many venues offering early and late seating and prix-fixe dinners of three plus courses at reasonable prices. So rather than list every place that sent Buzz a release (and many who didn’t post anything on their websites or send an email), here are some of my top picks.

Downtown/Gaslamp/Little Italy: Crescent Heights Kitchen & Lounge, Quarter Kitchen, TabuleBacchus Wine Market (3 to 6pm tasting), Anthology and Enoteca Style for cheese, chocolate and Champagne.

Coronado: The Hotel Del celebrates the 50th anniversary of the movie Some Like It Hot,  Eno and 1500 Ocean also at the hotel, Candelas (Ferry Landing and Gaslamp).

East CountyBarona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino, Frida Mexican Restaurant and many other local area restaurants.

North Park: Urban Solace, Sea Rocket Bistro, Alexander’s on 30th and The Linkery, not to mention the newest wine bar Splash.  At the opposite end of 30th is Jaynes Gastropub and around the corner on Adams, the wildly popular Farm House Cafe.

Point Loma/Liberty Station:   The Pearl HotelRoseville, Solare RistoranteTender Greens (perfect also for a party at home as you can order online for take-away), The 3rd Corner (also in Encinitas) Pomodoro in the old Luna Notte spot, no website: Phone: (619) 523-1301) and Mellow A Wine Bar.

Hillcrest/Bankers Hill: The Better Half, Modus, Wine Vault & Bistro, Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar, Hexagone,(no website, 619-236-0467), Laurel Restaurant & Ba and Bertrand at Mr. A’s,

La Jolla/Del MarThe Marine Room, Nine-Ten Prospect, Market Restaurant & Bar, and The Grand Del Mar

The almost open Setai San Diego made a name change December 22, to Sè San Diego. The Asian word Sè loosely translates to color, quality, sensuality and physical attraction which the owners felt better defines the hotel and separates it from its sister Setai in Miami (owned by Lehman Brothers).  The idea is to brand the hotel and future properties in other cities (think Sè Las Vegas and you get the idea).  The hotel is in its soft opening and its signature restaurant Suite & Tender Bar, Lounge & Restaurant (a cute play on words, but will you think steak?) hopes to be open by Sunday, December 28.  Christopher Lee, from New York where he garnered two Michelin stars for Gilt, is the consulting chef and Bill Boyle is the executive chef for the mostly steak, raw bar and seafood menu.  1047 Fifth Ave., San Diego., 619-515-3000.

In my post Buzz from the Bar below, I inadvertently elevated Addison’s advanced sommelier Jesse Rodriguez to master sommelier.  He has not yet joined the august group that includes, here in San Diego, America’s first master sommelier Eddie Osterland.

Addison, the over-the-top restaurant at The Grand Del Mar recently hosted a lovely media holiday party.  The restaurant just became San Diego’s first and only recipient of the AAA Five Diamond Award.  Executive chef  William Bradley (who is getting married next September) and master sommelier Jesse Rodriguez were on hand to meet and greet.  Locavores may not rave about Bradley’s use of Iranian caviar even though  he feels it’s the best.  I wonder, however, when it is served with chopped egg, onion and other diversions, as it was at the party, can one really detect the delicate quality of the eggs?   On the wine side, Rodriguez created some wonderful house blends–ones that he has traveled the world to make (with top producers) especially for the restaurant.  Addison’s service, as well, is worth the trip and the setting, especially at night, makes a lovely diversion from the hectic daily grind.  5200 Grand Del Mar Way, 858-314-1900.

Well-known ex-food critic of the Union Tribune, Maria Hunt has been named Wine & Spirits editor at Ranch & Coast Magazine.

More holiday cheer:

The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe celebrates its history with a new 200 page cookbook that features the culinary talent of executive chef John Beriker.  Written by Ranch & Coast’s Food Editor, Maria Desiderata Montana, the book includes many of the Inn’s famous dishes, all with photos to whet your appetite.  Sounds like a perfect gift and it can be ordered online from the Inn starting December 18, for $29.95.  For more information:  858-756-1131.

Ring in the New Year with dinner at Cafe Chloe.  Two seatings:  6pm seating features five courses for $65 and the 9:30pm includes six courses and a Champagne toast for $85.  Weekdays, they offer their Four, Five Six menu from 4pm to 6pm with appetizers and a small selection of wine and beer at $4, $5 and $6. 721 Ninth Avenue, 619-232-3242.

Over in North Park, Sea Rocket Bistro, has a three-course New Year’s Eve dinner for $25! Draft beers will be $3 and Champagne will be served at midnight.  You’ll be able to see New Year’s celebrations around the world on their large screen tv. 3382 30th Avenue, 619-255-7049.

Wine Vault & Bistro brings in the New Year with two seatings:  4:15pm starts the Champagne reception for the 5pm seating ($65) and the later one begins at 8:30pm with the reception and dinner at 9pm ($95).  For reservations and information:  619-295-3535.

Don’t forget if you have a favorite place, check with them to see what dining options they may have for the holidays.

The holidays can be crazy so why not take time out from the shopping frenzy and treat yourself to something a little different:

Eclipse Chocolat serves up a very interesting dinner for $40 on December 13:  A five course Creole Christmas Dinner that sounds very intriguing and includes fried plantain with chile-burnt caramel sauce and jambalaya with smoked beef-cocoa nib sausage.  Reservations and information:  2121 El Cajon Boulevard, 619-578-2984.

Roseville offers holiday lunch on Friday December 19, from noon to 2pm.  For reservations and information:  619-450-6800.

Tender Greens offers homemade cannoli (with house-made ricotta), pies and, all lovingly prepared by executive pastry chef, Sue Brandenburg who also happens to be the mom of co-owner Rian.  If you’ve not been to Tender Greens at Liberty Station, it’s very good food, nothing more than $10 and even a boutique wine list.

Down in the Gaslamp, Ivy Hotel calls it a Happier Hour.  it’s a good way to beat the down economy with $5 cocktails, half-priced bar menu items and select wines by the glass.  Available Sunday through Friday from 4pm to 9pm.  Ivy Hotel, 600 F Street, 619-814-2000.

La Hadas now occupies the former Chive location and offers happy hours from 5pm to 7pm as well as 10  pm to midnight that includes half off their seafood bar, some of their appetizers and of course, drinks.  558 Fourth Ave.

Looks like Tracy Borkum finally sold Chive, long rumored to have been on the market.  The site could become a Latin-inspired restaurant so stay tuned for more info on this Gaslamp spot on Fourth Avenue.

And in a sad sign of the times do not be surprised to see a couple of San Diego’s newer (and highly leveraged) establishments fall by the wayside as early as January.

Up in Napa, food lovers who thought about a visit to Copia will find it shuttered as of last Friday due to mounting debt on the property.

On a happier note, to support many of our local venues, check out the restaurants involved in restaurant week that runs January 11through 16, 2009.  Restaurant week is a good way to try new places or visit others you may already know.

If you’re in Washington DC, the popular Gaslamp restaurantAcqua al Due will open on 7th Street near the historic market building. Expect a spring 2009 opening.

Richard Sweeney, who recently was executive sous chef at Confidential before his short stint as a contestant on seaon 5 of  Top Chef, became the executive chef upon his return.

The Gaslamp’s Quarter Kitchen in the Ivy Hotel elevated one of their own, Nathan Coulon, to the executive chef position vacated by Damon Gordon. Gordon takes his toque (and his attitude) to the fairly conservative Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

San Diego foodies may wonder what happened to Michael Stebner after he closed Region, his popular Slow Food inspired eatery in Hillcrest.  Well, he returned to Phoenix.  Working with Dr. Andrew Weil and his recipes for the anti-inflammatory diet, Stebner is the executive chef at Weil’s new restaurant,  True Food Kitchen.  While in Phoenix for the day last week, Buzz tried the cold buckwheat soba noodles with wasabi dipping sauce ($9) and wild ahi sliders with wasabi, slivered radishes and cucumber on pumpernickel bread ($13).  Both were good as was the service, though as generous as the ahi was, the bread turned out to be a mushy Hawaiian flax white bread (they forgot to change it on the menu).  If I lived in the area, it could easily be a favorite place.

Should you find yourself in Windsor near Ft. Collins, Colorado, drop into Chimney Park Restaurant & Bar and savor the food of chef/owner Jason Shaeffer.  For those with short memories, Shaeffer had a stellar career in San Diego as executive chef at the orginal Laurel and opening chef at the Del’s 1500 Ocean.

Closer to home in Point Loma, Pomodoro, opened a week ago in the spot that was Luna Notte. The tiny restaurant’s menu is similar to its sister Arrivederci in Hillcrest with most notably all of the mains priced in the mid-teens.

A recent business lunch found Buzz at the new Fashion Valley location of Bing Crosby’s Restaurant & Piano Lounge (one of three in California).  The decor takes you back to the 30’s and 40’s swing era with an eye toward the glam of Hollywood–piano bars by night, golf courses by day–and, of course, the music of Bing and his cronies.

The website calls the menu innovative “California Country Club Cuisine”–whatever that means. The actual country club food (or yacht club) type cuisine that I’ve experienced over many years, centers on classic salads and sandwiches, Caesar, Cobb, tuna, roast beef, Reuben, BLT’s, club and more.  So when I see innovative I figure it means small twists of taste and presentation on classic dishes. There is nothing wrong with sticking to well-executed classic food especially in this theme restaurant.  To that end, I’m not sure that Bing’s namesake accomplishes that, at least for now.

We were very unimpressed with the half roast beef sandwich–roast beef with nary a lettuce leaf, mayo or anything on the thick French roll–part of the menu’s “The Lunch Trio”, that included a rich cup of chowder and a green salad.  “The Sandwich Combo” as does the trio, allows choices of sandwiches and salads.  The half Reuben fared better with the usual corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island–it was moist and gooey from grilling.  The whole leaf Caesar could be a favorite of mine because of the presentation but the dressing tasted more like a base of Thousand Island thinned out rather than the primary flavors of olive oil, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese with hints of anchovy and garlic generally associated with such a salad.  Prices are in the teens and up.

Our service was attentive, though a friend recently walked out on a Friday lunch about 1pm after sitting for more than ten minutes with no acknowledgment from a server, bus boy, anyone, while tables to either side of her were served.  She rightly told the hostess on the way out why they left.   Her feeling about the experience says it all: You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”  Words to be heeded by all in the industry.

Would I return?  Sure, for drinks and dancing to live bands nightly in the piano lounge. Happy hour runs from 3pm to 6pm Monday through Friday and for the industry from 10pm to midnight.  The restaurant closes at midnight on weekdays, 1am on the weekends so it would make a nice finish to an evening at the movies or shopping at Fashion Valley.  7007 Friars Road, 619-295-2464.

Treat yourself to a sumptuous dinner featuring truffles in dishes paired with German wines at 1500 Ocean at the Hotel Del Coronado on November 12. Chef Brian Sinnott and the boutique wine merchant, Truly Fine Wine created a five course menu that includes veal cheeks, halibut and more along with a reception.  Among the wines there is a  Barth Spatburgunder Rose, Brut from the Reingau and a yes, there are fabulous dry German wines, that, contrary to what you might think, are quite dry…not sweet.  The cost of the dinner is $130 and includes tax and gratuity. For reservations and menu information:  Call 619-522-8490.

The San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival has events, tastings, and enough food and wine to satiate a novice or gourmand.  It’s all happening November 12 to 16.

Celebrate the end of a long election year and support Taste of Little Italy on Wednesday, November 5.

Some of the best value wine dinners happen at Wine Vault & Bistro.  Get on their mailing list and learn about upcoming dinners and events.