Last week chef James Montejano parted company and moved on from his opening gig at the popular downtown Asian-inspired Jade Theater. No news on where he’s going to land. Chef George Anthony (who worked at Cafe Cerise with Jason Seibert) will bring his French/Asian influence to the restaurant’s menu while keeping some Montejano favorites such as the Jade Bites.

Speaking of Jason Seibert, he’s been on the road with Wolfgang Puck. Could he be in training for Puck’s soon-to-open eatery at the La Jolla Playhouse? Stay tuned.

Over at Currant in the Sofia Hotel, Jonathan Pflueger, whose name remains on the restaurant though nowhere on the website, departed and in his stead Geoffrey Yahn moves up from sous chef to executive chef.

Regardless of price, it seems that high-end wine dinners are all the rage. Even if $200 per person for a Rhone wine dinner seems steep, wine geeks will love this lineup at Winesellar & Brasserie‘s June 5th event. Four courses and six spectacular wines that include 2006 Yves Cuilleron, Les Chaillets, Condrieu, 1996 Chapoutier, Le Pavillon, Ermitage and many others. For reservations and information call 858-450-9557.

And by the way, another well attended $200 dinner took place at Blanca where Caymus wines were paired with seven courses from chef Wade Hageman.  Buzz heard about this dinner from an attendee who raved about it….

Rather spend your money for a good cause? Then check out the Wine & Roses charity event on Sunday, June 8 at the Westgate Hotel. $65 per ticket before June 5 and $75 at the door. It’s a terrific outdoor event (Buzz has been to a couple) with food and wine from many of San Diego’s best restaurants and wine purveyors.

Encinitas wine lovers now have Ed Moore’s second The 3rd Corner location in the Lumberyard shopping center. Buzz loves the original spot in Ocean Beach–great wine selection with an educated staff to help you choose your favorites. 897 South Coast Highway, Encinitas, 760-942-2104.

Taste tequila from Herradura at The Palm restaurant on June 12. The dinner is $95 plus tax and tip. For reservations: Cathy DeLeon, 619-702-6500.

Service. There’s a lot of Buzz about it lately from local diners out for a for a business or pleasure meal.  In these tight economic times when customers think twice about where to spend their dining dollars, San Diego restaurants–new and old–need to be ever more vigilant about service.  Mind you, service begins the moment you enter a restaurant, how you’re treated–from the hostess and servers to the bartender, busser and manager–good service will keep customers, even if there’s an off night in the kitchen.  One word about bad service spreads faster than many good words about food. 

A word of caution here.  Bad service stories are not something Buzz fact checks; it’s not about he said, she said. The customer needs to let the restaurant know when there is a problem, right then and there.  Depending on the issue, a manager or owner can right a wrong, and how the restaurant handles the situation at that moment further defines service.  What did they do to make it okay for the customer who–without some sort of positive acknowledgement such as a comped dessert or drink…something…anything– will go out and tell ten pals never to patronize the place again.

A few examples: A reader sent a note to complain about Zenbu, a La Jolla mainstay for fresh sushi, a Buzz favorite and a place that doesn’t take reservations.  The customer revealed that a new hostess and the manager continuously gave their party of six the wrong wait time for their table–told 35 minutes, waited nearly 2 hours.  Why not leave?  Well, the party believed the hostess who kept saying they’d be seated any minute.  When finally seated, they waited more than an hour for food, even though other tables seated after them were served.  Management offered no comps to appease but did add 18% gratuity to the check.  Not the way to treat customers, no matter how busy your restaurant may be.

Red Marlin, a recent arrival to the Mission Bay area, caught the ire of another local who wanted to bring in a bottle of wine.   The comment by Carlo posted in Solare and Red Marlin explains the situation, and how management missed the cue from a customer looking to buy a bottle from the list and still bring his own for a special evening.  

On the positive side, Buzz popped in for the first time to Urban Solace. I sat at the bar while most diners were on the patio enjoying the warm day.  The bartender/server helped me decide my order–no on the fabulously rich the mac and cheese and yes on the light, flavorful salad of grilled ahi pieces, diced cucumber, red pepper and avocado, innovatively served with not a leaf of lettuce–a balance of texture and flavor in a mouthful.  Sure the bar wasn’t busy, but many times that can lead to poor service when staff does chores or just stands around. Even the hostess, though not perched at the door, had it right. Every time the door opened, she was front and center to greet guests.  Good food coupled with good service makes a winner.  

Buzz would like to hear your stories:  Service–good and bad–and what the restaurant did to be sure you would return. 

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. 

In the past few weeks Buzz has been to a couple of press events.  What this means is that new restaurants and their public relations firms invite press for a menu sampling and a glimpse of the place.  Sometimes, as happened last night at Solare Ristorante & Lounge, it’s a fun, crowded bar with the kitchen sending out small plates, the chefs working the room and the public relations people meeting and greeting the invitees. Other times, as was the case with Red Marlin it is a seated dinner.  And no, press doesn’t pay at these events.  So, here’s the quick Buzz on both places. 

Locals in Point Loma can now dine at Solare Ristorante & Lounge, a top-notch northern Italian restaurant with a great vibe in a comfortable setting, slightly off the beaten track in the NTC Historic area at the corner of Historic Decatur and Roosevelt.  That means a nice alternative to Old Venice and the other red sauce and pizza standbys.  The lively and inviting room, designed by owner and co-executive chef Stefano Ceresoli, includes terrace seating that overlooks the Promenade. Ceresoli and his wife Roberta also own Caffe Bella Italia in Pacific Beach.

The food reflects Stefano’s Milan roots co-executive chef Mark Pelliccia’s more than fifteen years cooking experience in Italy and Europe (he owns a house in Italy with a small vineyard).  Think butter instead of olive oil, a Slow Food appreciation, homemade pastas, desserts and food that is approachable and well presented. Among the small plates we tasted: a smooth carrot timbale, a Colorado lamb chop and a feather light croquette of cod. 

Open for lunch only until April 14 when they begin dinner service as well.  In the meantime, from April 1 to 13, they will have two tasting menus available:  A four course ($50) or six course dinner ($69) with wines that will be available from 5pm to 11pm, reservations are necessary at 619-270-9670.  The lounge is open and tapas can be ordered there. 

Want to watch the sunset with views of Mission Bay without the mess of beach sand?  Then follow Quivira Road (to the right around the newly renovated Hyatt Regency Mission Bay) where it dead-ends into a parking lot and where you can enter Red Marlin that is part of the hotel.  Large picture windows surround the room with seating that allows for views of the marina and at night the lights of Mission Bay.  The top of the slightly tiered room has a large chef’s table (where the 16 of us were seated) and where the view is of the wine wall and the the sunset or the marina.  There’s a terrace and an indoor-outdoor bar that looks towards the hotel pool area. 

And the food?  Chef de cuisine Danny Bannister comes to the kitchen with an education from the French Culinary Institute in New York and local experience at Laurel, Pamplemousse and 3rd Corner.  Our meal included seared ahi and a slaw flavored with a ponzu vinaigrette and spicy aioli; smoked salt and chli dusted scallop with a fava bean edamame puree and sweet chili sauce, and a grilled filet with five-spiced sweet potato mash.  Wines were paired for the courses, but unfortunately the menu forgot the vintages.  Bannister uses good local ingredients including breads from Con Pane, but I wished for a more assertive hand in his food.  Would I have chosen to have a puree and a mash in the same meal, likely not and in particular the fava bean one needed a seasoning jolt, even with the scallop’s nearly oversalted edge.   The service was gracious and attentive.

Hotel cooking can be difficult for a chef with good ideas–most of the time the chef has to find a middle ground to satisfy his or her creativity yet cater to guests who may not be familiar with food beyond steak.  Would I go back to Red Marlin?  Absolutely, and I hope Chef Bannister finds his stride as he settles in.  It’s a great place for locals.  Reservations:  619-221-4868.

Buzz continues around Wolfgang Puck’s venture at the La Jolla Playhouse due to open about mid-June in a spot next to the Mandell Weiss Forum and across from the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre.

According to Puck’s bio on the company website, this restaurant will be part of his Wolfgang Puck Catering company that provides exclusive, premium dining and catering to venues around the country including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Nokia Theatre Dallas, St. Louis Art Museum and LA’s Pacific Design Center’s Red Seven restaurant.

A recent story in The Wall Street Journal addressed in depth the popularity of tasting menus paired with wines.  The paper’s wine writers, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher dined anonymously at four of New York’s top restaurants (Le Bernardin, Jean George, Per Se and Daniel) to report on tasting menus and their pairings with wine.  The results were startling.  Not only did the writers have day-0ld, sometimes uninspired and pre-chosen pairings, the cost was over the top at $280 for two at Le Bernardin (separate from the the $180 per person for the food tasting menu).  Per Se and Daniel came out the best of the bunch, for service, wines and food pairings. While San Diego isn’t quite as pricey, tasting menus can be found at some of our top restaurants.  How good are they?

What do you think about tasting menus?  Are they worth ordering or are they passé ?  Do you order the wines suggested or do you order by the glass or bottle?  Does the service feel rushed because you’re ordering a set menu? Well, Buzz would like to hear from you.  Let’s see how San Diego’s chefs and sommeliers show their stuff. 

In Ocean Beach, The 3rd Corner jumps on the Sunday brunch bandwagon with five specials all priced at $14.95.  From 11:30am until 3:00pm the specials include stuffed French toast with mascarpone, duck machaca, mushroom and onion flan, goat cheese omelet and an eggs Benedict variation.  All dishes include chocolate bread from Point Loma’s Con Pane bakery, roasted potatoes and fresh seasonal berries. Make your own mimosa with a pitcher of orange juice for $8.00, then choose a bottle of Champagne for an additional charge, with the corkage fee waived–only for sparkling wines and Champagne.

Over in University Heights, newly opened Farm House Cafe serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 9:00am to 2:00pm with a menu that features everything from French toast ($5)  to house smoked salmon ($9) and a FHC hamburger with fries ($10).  Buzz disclosure:  I know the owners Olivier and Rochelle Boiteau and I’ve eaten there a few times–and yes we pay.  The vibe in the tiny place (46-seats) reminds me of a French cafe anywhere in France…it bustles, customers know each other, it’s a comfortable gathering place and most important the food is good and priced under $20 for everything on the dinner menu.  They’ll start lunch this Friday, February 22.  2121 Adams Ave, 619-269-9662.

Downtown in the Gaslamp, Quarter Kitchen at the Ivy Hotel offers some fun events on Mondays and Tuesdays at 6pm.  Mondays you can slice and dice with executive chef Damon Gordonas he shows you how to prepare one of his signature dishes.  Tuesdays also at 6pm join sommelier Jared Seitzer for tasting and pairing wines with food.  For more information, 619-814-1000.

A few weeks ago on a sold out night at Copley Symphony Hall (Beethoven, Royal Orchestra and Pinchas Zuckerman), the Sheraton’s lobby bar’s experienced its worst nightmare, a train wreck that could have been avoided with a bit of foresight.  

A few things the Sheraton’s restaurant management should have known before that evening:  First, find out if the event is sold out.  Second, schedule more than one server for all the tables in the bar area.  Third, explain to servers that taking all the drink orders for all the tables, delivering all those orders, and then coming around to take food orders, is practically certain to stress the kitchen–and customers.   Many in the room waited up to an hour for the simple and good $8 saffron risotto with scallops (not overcooked) or sliders, among other items on the short bar menu.  Fourth, be prepared when the kitchen printer goes out (as it did that night) and orders have to be sent by voice rather than computer.  To their credit, one of the managers, George, explained the kitchen printer issue, and smartly discounted our bill.  Would we try the place again?  Maybe, but only if we see more than one server on the floor.

If the Sheraton isn’t your idea of a place to meet before the show, try Jade Theater, on Seventh and C at the trolley tracks.  Barely a block from Copley, this restaurant, bar and club on weekends serves contemporary Asian-style food, complete with chopsticks and a sleek, albeit noisy room.  Hint:  Eat early before a show, and upstairs in the one smaller quiet room, otherwise the restaurant’s balcony seating looks down on the bar area and the music and conversation can be overwhelming.  The menu features titillating and amusing titles for their menu items: Tease Me (small appetizers) Taste Me (larger appetizers) and Eat Me (main courses).  The food is good (jade shitake bites, ungreasy Asian fritto misto) entree portions huge (two tender legs and thighs for the duck char sui), and the service attentive though two of my pet peeves persist:  Clearing plates before all at the table are finished and a server telling me their name.  These two issues ought not to show up in better establishments such as Jade Theater.  Feel free to weigh in with your comments.

Fresh sea urchin roe (uni) as Buzz noted isn’t just a sushi bar treat.  If you want to taste uni done the way Italians like it, Baci Ristorante plans an all uni (or ricci as it is known in Italy) dinner on March 5 that will include dishes featuring ricci: seafood bisque, pasta, seabass with lemon cream and more, all paired with Italian wines.  The dinner is $85 and includes tip and tax.  For information and reservations:  619-275-2094.

If black truffles are your thing, Cavaillon Restaurant‘s owner/chef Philippe Verpiand has created a menu to feature this lovely fungus. You can order a set menu for $95 or order à la carte.  Everything from asparagus with poached egg, port wine sauce and shaved black truffle to duck breast with black truffle sauce is available for dinner from February 15 to March 15.  Call the restaurant for reservations and information: 858-433-0483.