As the New Year approaches, it’s time to remember a few of the stories that got Buzz’s attention in 2011:
1. The unexpected death of Naomi Wise, San Diego’s only truly anonymous food critic. She wrote for the San Diego Reader and was scrupulous to keep her identity hidden. I was an occasional member of her eating posse as she sometimes referred to her dining companions. Back in 2007 a post appeared here and Naomi wrote a perfect comment about what she did to be the critical and (sometimes unpopular) restaurant reviewer in the county. While San Diego does have writers and bloggers extolling the latest dish about a place, none are completely anonymous–ask any of the PR agencies that host media dinners. These days, everyone thinks they know food, just look at Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and other social media. Naomi’s honest, food knowledgeable voice will be missed.
2. National TV beckoned Nine-Ten‘s chef Jason Knibb who took on Bobby Flay in an Iron Chef America challenge. Knibb lost but had a good time with the “all business” Flay who barely bothered to speak to Knibb after the show. Riviera Magazine lost food writer and editor Troy Johnson to San Diego Magazine. Along the way he had time to create and star in Crave, a new show for the Food Network. Bernard Guillas, executive chef extraordinaire at The Marine Room appeared twice on the Today Showand also was inducted into the Maitre Cuisiniers de France, a very high honor.
3. Brian Malarkey who brought us Searsucker continues on a material tear, opening places all over the county, all named for fabrics that include Burlap and for 2012, Herringbone, Gingham, and Gabardine. Interesting concept and Buzz wonders if he didn’t get the idea from Washington DC chef/owner Tom Power who, a few years ago, named his first restaurant Corduroy. His second, Herringbone opens in 2012. Malarkey picked up the shuttered La Playa Bistro and plans for it to become Gabardine. It will be worth watching how Malarkey unbuttons this small space located on a corner at the end of Point Loma’s business area. For anyone other than area residents the restaurant’s location is nearly a dead-end destination. And what about the food? Will Malarkey’s name be enough to fill the spot? Someone remarked the restaurant could have had a more nautical name such as Canvas, to reflect the neighborhood’s well-known tenant-–the San Diego Yacht Club is just two blocks away.
4. Chefs making news: Amy DiBiase now oversees The Shores in La Jolla, working with executive chef Bernard Guillas; Paul McCabe left his executive chef duties at Del Mar’s Kitchen 1540 for a partnership with the owners of Rancho Santa Fe’s Delicias; Jason Maitland left Flavor del Mar and will open Red Light District in the old Sushi Itto in the Gaslamp while CIA schooled and highly credentialed Brian Redzikowski took Maitland’s spot. Chad White jetted to Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park. At the Hotel Del Coronado’s 1500 Ocean Brian Sinnott chose family over running the kitchen, Aaron Martinez is now in charge and wine director Joe Weaver just moved north. Jason Shaeffer opened 1500 Ocean in 2006, then moved to Windsor, Colorado, bought a restaurant, named it Chimney Park Restaurant and Bar and was just named one of OpenTable Diner’s Choice Overall Winners for 2011 (as was Addison at the Grand Del Mar). Carl Schroeder made it to the semi-finals for a James Beard Foundation Award in the Best Chef Pacific region (as was William Bradley of Addison in 2010), neither made the finals…
5. San Diegans like to drink. According to a survey in The Daily Beast , San Diego ranks 9th in drunkest cities…This may not be an honor the city needs.
Happy New Year…May 2012 bring San Diego’s chefs, restaurants and diners great food (and service, too). And perhaps this year will bring a James Beard Foundation award to a deserving chef and restaurant. It’s last minute, but you can put in your own nominees for the awards here–just do it before December 31, 2011 at midnight.
In Liberty Station close to the Barnett Avenue entrance look for SOL Markets(Seasonal, Organic, Local) to open late January. According to one of the principals in the venture, Vincent Brown, “We will only carry products from local farmers/ranchers and other craft purveyors. The farmers market rotates its suppliers and appears part time. We will be open 7 days a week and are moving to open an exhibition kitchen and tasting room for beers and wine. We have a dedicated space there for community and education, we carry credit cards and fully vet our suppliers. We are not here to compete with the farmers markets, but to help grow the number of people who are interested in buying locally and eating seasonally.”
And beer buffs can get in on the festivities to celebrate and enjoy San Diego Beer Week that runs until November 13.
A quick note about Buzz’s absence on these pages: For the past year she’s been testing recipes for a friend’s cookbook due out next October, coupled with traveling far and wide. Expect to read about some of the meals she had in New York, Puerto Rico, Paris and soon Cuba. In the meantime, here are a few bites from Buzz about San Diego’s restaurant scene. Expect another post sometime after November 17!
If you’ve yearned to try a new restaurant, or one that’s been around and now has a new chef, check out San Diego Restaurant Week, September 18 to 23. This season, many restaurants offer $10, $15 or $20 lunches along with dinners for $20, $30 or $40. Places where a new chef is in place: 1500 Ocean (Aaron Martinez) and The Shores (Amy DiBiase). Some lunch spots include Bali Hai , Bertrand at Mr. A’s and Flavor Del Mar.
Point Loma loses La Playa Bistro and the cafe it recently opened next door. They closed their doors September 8, due to the economy (as noted on a letter posted on their doors).
Fellow writer Brandon Hernandez just posted an interesting piece that brings up some good points about menus and how they are written. His issue: Rather than list just the basic ingredients, he longs for a detailed explanation of each dish on the menu. Brandon (he’s a pal) where’s your sense of adventure and excitement for an evening of good dining? Risk adverse? You’re probably not alone especially in San Diego where–as you note–“we’re still finding our way where cuisine is concerned”.
If, in fact, each dish read as you might wish, including ingredients and cooking technique, it would almost resemble a recipe and the menu would read like a book. And consider that many ethnic restaurants don’t go deeply into specifics, but simply name a dish with a main ingredient (chicken quesadilla, sweet and sour pork, etc.).
Why not write the menu with just the main ingredients as many well-known restaurants do? Less is more in many places including Gramercy Tavern in New York or Scottsdale’s Posh where the diner is given a list of ingredients and asked to strike any that they wouldn’t want to eat. Posh embodies improvisational cuisine at it’s very best (Buzz has eaten there twice) and shows what chef/owner Josh Hebert can do daily with seasonal ingredients.
Spago and Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills provide some idea of what to expect when you order. Across the pond, the hotspot in Paris, Le Comptoir’s menu gives you the basics. In San Francisco, the year-old Prospect writes a succinct menu with ingredients. Here in San Diego, The Marine Room lists an expanded ingredient list while 1500 Ocean names just a few.
For many chefs writing the menu with few ingredients allows the kitchen latitude for presentation–sautéed snapper could be poached another night or Yukon potatoes could be mashed one night and steamed another. Same ingredients, different preparation. It’s up to the diner to let the server know about any allergies (if possible when making the reservation) and to ask the server about a particular dish. It’s not up to the diner to ask for a complete redo of a dish after it’s explained.
So on your next night out, take a chance with the chef, suspend imagining what a dish might be, ask a question or two if the ingredients sound intriguing, and may your taste buds tingle with an enlightened and inventive meal.
Change is part of life and on Fifth Avenue between Washington and University change is redefining life for some of Hillcrest’s locally owned restaurants. Not long ago Kemosabe and Corvette Diner left the area and now, across the street in the complex that houses the Landmark Theater and 24 Hour Fitness, Pizza Nova closes at the end of August after 17 years (and a doubling of rent) while next door Banana Leaf that served southern Indian food (owned by Bombay formerly in the space and now across the street), just closed.
Apparently the owners/developers decided to up the rents to be more in line with the current going rates on the street–anyone interested in $3.50 a square foot for these spaces? Interested parties can check with Location Matters for more information.
The new leases for the expected winter opening of Colorado’s Snooze (breakfast and brunch) and soon-to-open Texas transplant Freebirds World Burrito, (owned by the Tavisock Group out of Florida) are both just above $3, not $3.50. But in this economy, one wonders if prospective tenants (locals or out-of-town franchises) are beating down the doors to get into spots like Banana Leaf or Pizza Nova. Buzz hopes the area doesn’t discourage locals trying to compete with new franchises. Time will tell.
At the corner of Washington and Fifth, Brazen BBQ Smokehouse & Bar opened this week. It’s a casual spot with patio tables, a wash sink for sticky hands in the dining room, a full bar and eager staff. This is the soft opening so be patient if you try the place in the next few weeks as they work out the kinks and add menu items. Buzz popped in to see the place. Here you won’t find parboiled meat, just smoked. While I was waiting for my to-go order (3 meats and 3 sides $20.99) a big basket of chicken wings waited its turn in the smoker that’s right behind the cashiers. 441 Washington at Fifth Ave., 619-816-1990, closed Tuesdays, open daily from 11am
Finally, heard on the street that City Deli on the corner of Sixth and University is up for sale.
Chef Amy DiBiase will join La Jolla Shores working with executive chef Bernard Guillas of The Marine Room, La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club and the Shores. Great views, wonderful property…Can hardly wait to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner there after she settles in after August 22.
Other chef news: In Mission Hills, Tom and Trish Watlington who own The Red Door Restaurant & Wine Bar and The Wellington Steak and Martini Lounge have just promoted Daniel Manrique from sous chef to executive chef for the two properties. Best known for his role as the executive chef at Jayne’s Gastropub and sous chef at Parallel 33 (the prior incarnation of The Red Door), Daniel will oversee a menu that incorporates “earth to table” ingredients–many from the newly planted Red Door garden in Mt. Helix.
We’re hearing that Joseph Melluso, who brought life (and lots of drama) to the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Restaurant in Old Town, is out of that property and the kitchen he was running. He still has an interest in the place but has sold most of his shares to Catherine Miller who has been involved with the property for quite some time. Buzz left a message for Melluso for more information, but no word back, yet. We hear too that Melluso has some new projects in the fire.
There’s a new quarterly journal out that food lovers may want to read: Lucky Peach features such writers (and some chefs) as Ruth Reichl, Peter Meehan, David Chang and others. First issue looks at ramen. Check it out.
The Marine Room isn’t just for special occasions, and even on an overcast day, it’s got a drop dead view of the Pacific Ocean spotted with surfers, kayakers, boats and birds, not to mention people walking the beach. Just yesterday Buzz popped in figuring it would be as gorgeous at the ocean as it was inland. It wasn’t, but it didn’t matter. Watching the water and just relaxing during the restaurant’s 4pm to 6pm happy hour (appetizers and well drinks are just $7 each) makes the place a lovely respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. If you swoon for avocados, you must try (and share) the delicately tempura battered wedges of fresh avocado served with an ancho chile dip. Simple, delicious and not greasy!
Check out their August listing of dinners and classes with über award-winning chefs, Bernard Guillas and Ron Oliver. For sake lovers, Ichishima Sake is featured at a special dinner on August 3 for $95 excluding tax and tip. 2000 Spindrift Lane, La Jolla, (866) 644.2351 or 858-459-7222.
A tasting dinner at The Grill at Torrey Pines Wednesday, July 27, will feature beer from Petaluma’s Lagunitas Brewing Company. Here’s the menu and the cost is $65 including food, wine and valet parking. Reservations: 858-777-6645.
For the longest time Point Loma suffered from a lack of restaurant choices. But now things are popping as Buzz reported in February. The latest addition to the group is Lighthouse Bar and Grill that opened last week at the corner of Canon and Scott Streets with a full liquor license (beers on tap too) and a menu that includes 10-inch pizzas ($11.95 to $13) that might give Old Venice pause.
It’s a casual room with bar seating (comfortable seats, unlike those hard tiny ones at Old Venice), with tables on the perimeter of the rooms. Expect some hiccups as they settle in with their menu that includes everything from salads and crab cakes to pasta and pizzas. (A few menu items may look familiar but with a different twist, coming from their sister restaurant Pomodoro next door.) My take-out pizza arrived with no basil (but had a not too thick or chewy crust, hand formed and was good even minus the basil). Their crab cakes are good if you like the almost pâté style that they and many other places serve. Buzz prefers the chunky, light, with no or very little, cracker crumb filler.
I called to let the manager know about the missing basil so that he could alert the kitchen, and he thanked me for telling him. Yes, it’s good to nicely let a restaurant know about a problem as it helps them iron out the opening kinks. It’s not nice to slam a place in a Yelp comment without first letting them know the problem.
Observed at the bar single gals checking the scene with drinks as well as solo guys, locals, having dinner. Open for dinner and now, soon for lunch. 1101 Scott St., Point Loma, 619-224-2272.
A few blocks away on Rosecrans, between Canon and Talbot comes Westy’s Antique & Tavern at 1029 Rosecrans. Just posted the ABC notice, so it will be a bit of time before it opens. Local resident James West is listed as applicant for the beer and wine license.
And in the same block La Playa Café and Marketplace opens Thursday, June 30. Owner Cindi of La Playa Bistro, next door plans to serve gelato, smoothies, sandwiches and more.
On Kettner, in Little Italy just before Juniper, 98 Bottles expects to open this summer. Sounds like it will be a fun spot
Patrons of La Jolla’s Trattoria Acqua (that closed at the beginning of the year) can soon travel to Mission Hills where owners Michael and Victoria McGeath will open a new place named Brooklyn Girl Eatery. Their Trattoria Acqua blog says they signed a lease late last month for the space at the corner of Goldfinch and Ft. Stockton. They expect to start construction soon for a fall opening to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner with menus to feature locally sourced ingredients, craft beers, wine and more.