Rancho Valencia recently became an Auberge Resort, one of a handful of prime and unique properties.  With new management also a new chef, C. Barclay Dodge who comes with twenty years of culinary experience from training at the California Culinary Academy to apprenticeships at E Bulli in Spain and Jean Georges and Daniel in New York.  He recently moved from Santa Fe where he was chef de cuisine at Terra, the restaurant at another Auberge property, Encantado Resort.  Beginning June 1, to celebrate the property’s  twentieth anniversary, Dodge will have a $19.89 three-course lunch Chef’s Inspiration menu.  Each day there will be a choice of a soup or an appetizer and only one entrée that will be the chef’s choice.  Some examples of Dodge’s “coastal ranch” cuisine: sardines grilled with argan oil and escabeche of summer carrots; chilled English pea soup with fromage blanc and chive blossoms; and Valencia orange-scented lamb shank with house cut noodles and Moroccan pickled carrots.  Buzz hasn’t tried it yet.   For reservations and information: 858-759-6216.

It’s finally official from the buzz that’s been brewing (and from the looks of the cleared tables, no cloths and no setups), Laurel Restaurant & Bar is reinventing its concept and we hope this time it will include a new name.  Possibly small plates, possibly Italian, and likely we will just have to wait and see what happens in the next few weeks when the redo should be done.

The Marine Room features a number of interesting events including a Monday night lobster dinner for $40 and the thrilling high tide dinners June 19 to 24.  The restaurant offers a Fathers Day dinner as well, and with executive chef Bernard Guillas at the helm, the food is always a treat.

New on Fifth Avenue at Laurel Street, Pizzicato a franchise operation that began in Portland, Oregon. There’s also an Encinitas location. They use fresh local ingredients when possible, and Italian Parmesan too.   Haven’t tried either….While we’re on the subject of pizza, Pizzeria Luigi in Golden Hill currently tops my list with its thinner, New York style crust and quality ingredients.  North Park’s Lefty’s Chicago Pizzeria features thicker crust and equally good toppings along with sandwiches, sausages and pasta and opens its second location mid-June in Mission Hills–on Goldfinch– in the former home of Phil’s BBQ.

Just in time for race season and Wimbleton and the US Open, The Grand Del Mar offers five new cocktails in their Lobby Lounge and The Clubhouse Grill from June 1 to September 7.  Cleverly named for tennis and racing terms (Moonball Pimms Caipirinhi and Bearing Out Breeze, among others) you’ve just got to go try them yourself–especially if you love rum, vodka, Pimm’s Cup and tropical juices–creatively mixed, though not all together.

In Del Mar, the place that morphed from Scalini’s to Pasquales has done it again…now it’s  Flight.  Flight’s new chef is Aaron Martinez who just left Addison where he was sous chef under William Bradley.

A well-known Gaslamp hotel restaurant is hunting for a new executive chef…it’s all about personalities…

Syrah Wine Lounge opens downtown–a wine bar with more than just Syrah–and cheese and meat platters (no kitchen).  Located below the Cohn owned Dakota Grill & Spirits, we’d bet they have a interest in the place.

The building that housed The Guild, has been sold and Buzz is watching to see what will happen with the restaurant space.

And those wondering what happened to the Parallel 33 space in Hillcrest will soon have another restaurant by the same owners as Cafe Bleu at University and Fifth.  Renovations are underway.

For sale:  Twelve year-old La Vache in Hillcrest and the  La Jolla institution,  Sante on Hershel Avenue.

Up in Bankers Hill, another well-known eatery could be undergoing yet another makeover…possibly to Italian?

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

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.

Downtown has a new chic dining room:  Crescent Heights Kitchen & Lounge at the corner of India Street and Broadway.  The contemporary room (designed by the same firm that did Blanca in Solana Beach) matches the modern American menu that features mussels with flavored chorizo in an addictive broth, lovely charcuterie and cheese plates (and you can choose your meats and cheeses), along with Parmesan fries, skinny onion rings, sliders and lots more.  Three of us sampled most of the above on a quiet Saturday night…We’d all go back.  Open for lunch and dinner, closed Sunday.  655 West Broadway, 619-450-6450.

Arterra’s general manager, Tom Mastricola moves on for an, as yet, undetermined location.  Sara Hanson moves from The Pearl to take Tom’s place.

Up in Hillcrest, The Better Half can help get over the shock of the stock market drop and still eat well with a three-course dinner for just $15.  Called the “Stressed Economy Blue Plate Special” the dinners are available from 5 to 7 pm daily.  You can choose flat-iron steak, snapper, wild game meatloaf or pasta, along with soup or salad and, of course, dessert.  Pretty damn good deal at a place with a wonderful selection of half-bottle wines. 127 University Ave., Hllcrest, 619-543-9340.

Blue Boheme in Kensington will preview their Papa Nanou menu (even though the restaurant is not yet ready) on October 19.  It’s a prix-fixe menu for $48 and reservations can be made online or at 619-255-4167.

On Tuesday June 12, should you be in New York City, you can dine at the James Beard House with Brian Pekarcik, executive chef at Arterra Restaurant and Bar in the Del Mar Marriott.  His menu will be California Tasting: Three Ways to highlight his creative use of local California ingredients paired with California wines chosen by Wine Director Ted Glennon. 

If getting to NYC isn’t possible, visit Arterra and experience some of the dishes he will present.  From May 16 to June 9, Arterra will feature the seasonal variations of his Beard House menu. The cost is $72 including the wine pairing or $49 without wine, plus tax and tip.

You can also enter a drawing for an Arterra weekend in New York that includes the Beard House dinner.  For more information on how to enter the contest visit the restaurant, their website:  www.arterrarestaurant.com or call 858-369-6032. 

Addison at The Grand Del Mar, the latest Doug Manchester creation just off Highway 56, is quite simply, unlike any property here in San Diego. Massive in scale, the stand alone restaurant almost feels like a lavish hotel with its high and ornate ceilings, intricate stone and woodwork, archways, porticos and views of the golf course. Named after a 1920’s Florida architect, Addison Mizner, the restaurant and its decor encompass much of Mizner’s work in Florida according to a book on Florida architecture given to the media. Buzz does wonder what the big deal is with Florida architecture in southern California…how did “Papa” Manchester become so entralled with Addison Mizner?

While we’ve not yet had a meal there, the menu is short as the restaurant gets up to speed with five entrees and five pre courses ranging in price from $14 to $46 and a six course tasting menu for $95. Some menu items: prawns with lemon-lime jam, white nectarines and sweet garlic confit, and bass with bacon-lobster fricassee, arugula and preserved lemon.

Buzz loved the staff who are trained in the European style of attentiveness and knowledge without being intrusive to the diner. The wine selection of nearly 2000 bottles is run by sommelier Jesse Rodriguez who arrived fresh from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. Management’s attention to details was noteworthy though the simplicity of the three page menu was marred by three glaring typos that we trust have been corrected. Addison, 5200 Grand Del Mar Way, 858-314-1900, Dinner only, Wednesday through Sunday.

In North County, The Aniata Cheese Co., opened in 2003. When Bob Stonebrook opened the storein Flower Hill Mall, he started the whole cheese craze here in San Diego. His small store features cheese, salami, oils, jams and preserves, nuts, flatbreads, boutique wines and much more. Stonebrook created The Aniata Club for a modest yearly fee of $40 that includes cheese tastings, discounts on large wheel cheeses and more. You’ll find his cheese at such wine bars and restaurants as Confidential, Downtown, Gaffney’s Wine Bar, Encinitas, and Trisler’s Wine Bar, Mission Valley. 2710 Via de la Valle, #B-138, Del Mar, 858-847-9616, www.aniata.com.

The Grand Del Mar, located just off Highway 56 is hotel magnate Doug Manchester’s latest venture. Due to open September 2006 it features a restaurant called Addison, named after Addison Mizner, a 20th century architect known for his fanciful Mediterranean styled designs in Palm Beach and Boca Raton. According to the public relations info, the restaurant will feature photos and other memorabilia from Mizner’s life, in Florida, though he was born in northern California in 1872.

That Mizner’s designs inspired The Grand Del Mar is one thing, but name a restaurant after him? Interesting concept considering we’re in southern California. Don’t expect Florida cuisine however, as Executive chef William Bradley’s menu will feature, what else, California fresh ingredients in Mediterranean style dishes…to complement the hotel’s Florida resort architecture.