Do something nice for others this holiday season.  Get down to Little Italy’s Mercato on December 12 with food for chronically hungry kids who don’t have food for the weekend.  Well-known local food bloggers Caron Golden and Alice Robertson are spearheading this year’s drive that is part of the San Diego Food Bank.  Essentially, for about $6 a week, the program fills backpacks with kid friendly snacks so the children have food for the weekend.  All the program info is here and if you’d like to donate money, Caron and Alice have a special link so that all donations go directly to the backpack program.  Their monetary goal is $5000 and they are half way there, but foods  such as peanut butter, mac and cheese and raisins as well as neutral colored backpacks are welcome on December 12.





Roseville now serves a Sunday brunch from 10am to 3pm.  And it’s not just your usual eggs, toast and bacon breakfast.  Chef Amy DiBiase dishes have creative twists to them: buttermilk pancakes with quince compote and cardamom cream ($11), potato-rosemary frittata ($12), duck confit stuffed crepes ($14), eggs Benedict with Con Pane’s focaccia and prosciutto ($14) and chive biscuits with linguica gravy ($12).  For reservations and information call: 619-450-6800.

Burger Lounge will open in Little Italy at the former site of Sushi Fix.  Expect to see burgers and those yummy fresh-cut fries available in the next few months.

If you love Tijuana Mexican style food but don’t love the drive to get it, Funky Garcia’s Mexican Eatery & Bar, opens soon in the Gaslamp.  It will feature mesquite grilled Mexican street tacos and a food menu with nothing over $5. Moe Sadighian, the chef and owner of Tabule around the corner has five other Tijuana based restaurants, so he knows his stuff when it comes to truly authentic TJ food.  421 Market Street, San Diego, 858-414-6654.

Look for the Hillcrest Corvette Diner to close on April 26 and reopen in Liberty Station early summer 2009.  Owned by the Cohn Restaurant Group, the new site features a gaming arcade, more seating and lots of parking.  Housed in a historic building that was the officers club, the new Corvette Diner & Gamers Garage will also give diners three different themed areas for family dining.  For adults who may need a drink beyond a milk shake, there will be a full bar.  The restaurant is located at the Barnett Street entrance to Liberty Station, across from the golf course.

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

Up in Little Italy at the new Porto Vista Hotel is The Glass Door restaurant. The hotel sits up on Columbia Street and the restaurant is on the fourth floor with an engaging view of the bay. There is a skinny outdoor patio that is perfect for a glass of wine and an appetizer as you watch the sunset.  A pal and I shared simple presentations of flat iron steak with arugula and cherry tomatoes ($14) and a composed blue fin tuna niçoise salad with house cured olives, capers, pan roasted haricot verts that could have used a little lettuce or green to tie the elements together on the plate ($12).  Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night snacking. For information and reservations:  619-564-3755.

Up on West Washington Avenue, Olivetto Cafe & Wine Bar (website not up yet) serves homey Italian food in a newly refurbished space in Mission Hills (across the street from the Lamplighter bar).  The room is comfortable, wood accents and walls without adornment (they look great).  A nightly special of risotto with chicken ($14) filled the bill for properly cooked rice, good chicken to make a nicely flavored, uncomplicated dish.  The restaurant makes a good addition to neighborhood eating. Open for lunch and dinner.  For information and reservations:  619-220-8222.

Tender Greens, in Liberty Station (on Old Decatur Rd, behind Trader Joe’s and Vons) is a unique concept that uses local ingredients whenever possible including fruits and vegetables from Crows Pass Farms in Temecula, Pacific Beach’s Pacific Shellfish, and Con Pane breads from Roseville.  This is the place you go when you don’t want to cook…but want good food at very reasonable prices.

At a recent media dinner we sampled some of the angus flank steak with Yukon gold mashed potatoes, the tuna noise salad with greens, potato, egg, olives and a zippy dressing, and a Chinese chicken salad with spicy greens and crispy wontons.  What is terrific about this place is all of these dishes are $10.  Yep, and they are satisfying and well made.  Desserts are $3 and are homemade with seasonal fruits by executive soups chef, Rain Brandenburg’s mother, Susanna.  While this is a casual and eco-friendly restaurant, the food is notches above many other local eateries.  The original Tender Greens is in Culver City.  Open daily from 11 am.  619-226-6254.

You’ve likely already heard about Wolfgang Pucks’ latest venture, jai at the La Jolla Playhouse complex.  Recently, Puck was in town for the media lunch and we sampled some of the menu.  The restaurant is contemporary, fits well with the UCSD campus…and is perfect for the theater-going public that longs for the ubiquitous Kobe burger ($16) or a tasty Chinese chicken salad ($8 or $14) or even a steak from Snake River Farm ($45).   One of the tastiest dishes is the miss sake broiled butterfish with noodles ($23).  This is Asian-fusion done with classic Puck oversight.  It’s not Sago in food or in price:  Most all of the mains are in the $20 range.  Great for a drink and bite before or after the show.  Catering available. For information 858-638-7778.

Wine lovers will be sad and glad to know that the famed Chateau Montelena winery in Calistoga is being sold to the house of Cos d’Estournel in the Saint-Estèphe area of Bordeaux.

Over at The Shores Restaurant and sister to the well-known Marine Room, Lisa Redwine is the new General Manager. Many may know her from Molly’s where she was the GM as well as the hotel wine director. Bernard Guillas is the executive chef for The Shores as well as the Marine Room. Both properties are part of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.

EXY, the downtown chic Greek restaurant and lounge is now open for lunch with items such as chicken pita sandwich, swell hamburgers, salads and other dishes from their dinner menu–sized for lunch–and priced between $5 and $9. Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and though Saturday for dinner. Also available for private functions on Sunday and Monday. Located at the corner of Sixth Avenue and F Street; phone: 619-238-0412.

The Saturday Little Italy Mercato grows weekly with new vendors that include rotisserie chickens from Grill Master, lots of seasonal and produce for locovores and bakery items too…I hope to get there this weekend. Located between Date Street and Kettner to Union and open from 9am to 1:30pm.

Enoteca Style in Little Italy bills itself as the best panini wine bar in San Diego. It’s the second concept from owners Maryjo Testa and Scott Thomas who created the popular downtown Salad Style for yummy salads that aren’t all lettuce.  The new place features a small menu with eight $9 panini combos named for the streets of Little Italy such as Date (honey baked ham, munster cheese, arugula, spicy whole grain mustard) or Ash (salami, mortadella, provolone cheese, pickled peppers garlic aioli).  Not a sandwich person?  Try their salads (duck confit, soba noodle and ahi tuna or peppered steak), artisan cheese plates and innovative bruschetta (beyond tomato and basil) and of course, wine.  Located on India Street between Ash and Beech, it’s an easy walk from Broadway so call your order ahead if you’re short on time.  Open from 11am, closed Sunday, 619-546-7138. 

Look for Point Loma’s newest addition, Roseville, to open by the end of the month. Executive chef Amy DiBiase’smenu will feature a French-Mediterranean twist using seasonal ingredients and seafood.  DiBiase arrived in San Diego some years ago and worked at the original Laurel Restaurant & Bar as sous chef to Jason Shaeffer.  When he left, she eventually became chef de cuisine and when the restaurant sold, moved on to Baleen at Paradise Point Resort.  Her food is approachable and innovative so expect dishes from $8 to $27 and nightly specials, all complemented with a worldly and eclectic wine list. 

No more Friday lunches at the popular Farm House Cafe.  Too bad, as it was a perfect ending after a long week when I met San Diego food lover and blogger Alice and then by chance other friends, well-known Barbarella and her photographer hubby David Fokos.  Buzz does understand the need to take a breath between service, especially in a small restaurant such as this so owner/chef Olivier Boiteau decided to keep it simple:  Dinner: Tuesday through Sunday, 5pm to 10pm.  Brunch: Saturday and Sunday, 9am to 2pm.  Reservations suggested:  619-269-9662.

Executive chef, Brian O’Connor, left his post at Laurel Restaurant and Bar to go north for a position in San Francisco.  Filling in and doing double duty from Laurel’s sister restaurant Chive is chef Joe Magnanelli.

Red Marlin now serves Sunday brunch from 10am to 2pm, buffet style, $39.95 per person, children (age 4 to 12) $19.  Great panoramic views of Mission Bay, lots of entrees, omelet, waffle and dessert stations and, of course, mimosas. 

Good fresh sushi can dent a budget so a couple of enterprising guys, grads from UCSD, Andrew Berlin and Gino Thiers, figured they could serve innovative sushi by deleting the customary sushi bar, thus saving on overhead. They created Sushi-Fix, in Carlsbad, a mostly take-out and delivery place, with a small sit-down area, in the Vons shopping center, just a few signals away from La Costa and the Forum shopping area. Thiers sold his share to Berlin and moved to San Francisco leaving Berlin solo. Their second location in Little Italy at the corner of Cedar and India Street is larger and perfect for the urban neighborhood.

A couple of things I really like about Sushi-Fix: you can order half rolls (4 pieces instead of 8) so you’re able to enjoy a greater variety of flavors; though they use surimi (imitation crab), you can substitute real crab for an additional $1.25 per roll; and they present many of the rolls a bit differently by putting some main ingredients on top instead of in the rolls. For example: the Red Head roll is shrimp tempura with crab and topped with spicy tuna and tempura shavings. The Cobra roll has spicy tuna and avocado with unagi on top and a slather of eel sauce. A salmon skin handroll is crunch with the skin, cucumber, avocado and spouts and a simple salad of peeled, seeded, halved and thinly sliced cucumbers with a light vinegar dressing makes a good counterpoint to the various rolls. Two pieces of hamachi (yellowtail) sushi are fresh and buttery…the rice under each piece is without the dab of wasabi, which is served on the side with pickled ginger so you can add your own level of heat. Most of the specialty rolls run $6.50 to $9.50 for 8 pieces, figure about half that for 4 pieces. Nigiri for 2 pieces runs $2.25 to $2.95. All the food is very fresh and made to order–just in the kitchen–not in front of you. If you do eat in, it’s on paper plates. 7720 El Camino Real, Suite B, Carlsbad, 760-632-8787, 1608 India St., Little Italy, 619-237-7878 www.sushi-fix.com.

Little Italy is one quintessential neighborhood with a unique mix of retail, residential and restaurants, all within walking distance of each other. The heart of this bustling area supports pizzas, empanadas, sushi and a corner pub, Princess Pub & Grille.

Lots of outdoor seating makes for good people watching as throngs of tourists and locals walk their dogs and kids along the street, especially on weekends. The Princess website boasts that it is the original British pub in San Diego, having opened in 1984. Inside you’ll find a large bar with comfortable chairs, lots of pub “stuff” on the walls for décor, and a lot of noise especially with the music turned up and people talking over it. It’s a happening place with a good vibe. Their menu while featuring fish and chips and bangers deviates to also include such things as baby back ribs and blackened Pacific salmon Caesar salad with Parmesan, not exactly my idea of authentic English pub grub. But as my sidekick remarked, they cater to a broader clientele given the location.

We ordered fish and chips and determined the chips, while thickly cut, were too soft and less flavorful than Shakespeare Pub & Grille in lower Mission Hills. For me, the fish batter also could have been crisper. The side of curry sauce for the chips is long on hot chile in the mouth, and reminds me of chile rather than a distinct curry. A meal of chips and curry is $6.50. I did like the Scotch egg as it was served warm, wrapped with flavorful sausage meat, cut in half and served with Branston pickles (a a finely chopped crunchy chutney of carrots and other vegetables flavored with vinegar, onion powder and lemon juice). 1665 India Street, Little Italy, 619-702-3021, www.princesspub.com.