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San Diego’s Restaurant Week runs for two weeks in September and January–two generally slow months for restaurants. Much is made of the event that began in 2004, sponsored by the San Diego County Chapter of the California Restaurant Association (SDCCRA) that organizes and provides the press for the restaurants that serve a prix fixe two-course lunch for $10, $15 or $20  or a three-course dinner for $20, $30 or $40, all depending on the restaurant.  More than 200 restaurants took part in week one (just ending today, September 21), and week two runs from September 23 until the 28th with more than 150 dining choices.

The idea of restaurant week began in 1992 when the late restaurateur Joe Baum and Tim Zagat (yes, that Zagat) thought it would be a gesture of good will to the 15000 reporters in New York who were there to cover the Democratic convention. It was a four day affair–now counted in months rather than days–that grew to cities and towns around the country, many coordinated by city groups, restaurant associations or local community organizations. The various reasons for such events include: increase tourist traffic, help restaurants through slow months and allow diners to try places they may have heard about and want to try and hopefully return for another meal.

In San Diego, as in some other places, it’s “pay to play” for the restaurants. First, to participate a restaurant must be a member in good standing of the SDCCRA. The approximate membership price for a 50-seat restaurant with mid-range prices is $590, based on annual revenue.  As a member there is a registration cost for the restaurant’s inclusion for press and other publicity that ranges from $400 to $1000.  Those early bird prices depend on whether a restaurant serves lunch, dinner or both, and wants to participate in one or two months. The Association also presents those Gold Medallion awards we hear about in May after their annual dinner.  And you can’t get a medallion if you’re not a member, so how important is the award when it’s insiders voting yearly for the same restaurants?  (Buzz wrote about this a few years back).

Second, while that special menu for dinner or lunch may be $10, $30 or $40, etc., remember that price does NOT include gratuity, tax or beverage.  Thus you may end up with bill closer to $20, $40 or $50 (or more).  Is it a bargain?  You can decide.  Is it a hassle? Perhaps.  Is the food as good during this special week?  Maybe, or maybe not, because the restaurant tends to be full, service may suffer, and so could the food. Jan Borkum (“proud mom” of Tracy Borkum) at the SDCCRA said they have stressed to restaurants to put their best food and service forward  after complaints in earlier years of skimpy portions and lousy service.  And based on the experience of one meal during a busy week, does that bring repeat business to the restaurant as many restaurateurs expect?

Third, note that many restaurants choose not to be an Association member, so they don’t participate.  In North Park, such places as Urban Solace‘s chef/owner Matt Gordon prides himself on serving terrific food all the time and years ago knew that joining the lobby group (the primary function of the California Restaurant Association), was not for him. Jayne’s Gastropub and  Finch’s Bistro and Wine Bar in La Jolla aren’t members either.  Instead, Gordon and many other restaurants around town serve their regular menus or their own their versions of a prix fixe menu during the week. Many times you may spend less and eat well, with good service at the non-member places.

Farmhouse Cafe however, decided this year to join the Association for the benefits and help it gives small business owners especially when it comes to understanding the constantly changing laws, rules and regulations affecting the industry. They, along with many other participants, have the prix fixe special menu along with  their regular menu during the two weeks.

A final observation:   San Diego’s restaurants depend on the support of us, the diners, whether we’re eating a fish taco or a filet mignon, during restaurant week or not.  Buzz wants to know your experiences during this restaurant week–whether a diner or a restaurateur.  Diners:  Did you try a new place?  If so, would you return?  Restaurateurs:  Was the week successful for you, staff and do you expect to see new faces once the hoopla dies down?  Oh, Yelpers take note:  Please don’t ding a restaurant you’re trying for the first time during restaurant week…it’s just not nice.

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At the Hotel Del Coronado’s signature restaurant, 1500 Ocean, the search for a new chef de cuisine is finally over with the arrival of Robert Hohmann who worked with Thomas Keller, Mario Batali and most recently in Napa at Michael Chiarello’s famed Bottega.  Expect Hohmann’s new menu to debut October 1, using Southland Coastal ingredients to create contemporary Mediterranean dishes that highlight the flavors of Italy, France and Morocco.

Those of you who miss chef Chad White (ex of Gabardine and Sea Rocket Bistro), his toque landed  in Golden HIll at Counterpoint.  The menu for this wine bar says “food for people” and “wine for people”  (who else besides people?), and features an eclectic collection of items from fried bologna and cheese on white bread and plum barbecued tofu to a cheeseburger and rabbit confit.  We’ll see what changes chef White creates in the next few weeks and months.

In Mission Hills, Brooklyn Girl Eatery‘s opening chef, Tyler Thrasher moves on and sous chef Colin Murray takes over the kitchen duties.

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In Kensington, a “uber  fun, cool and eclectic” new wine bar , Village Vino, opens  (softly) June 28 at the corner of Adams Avenue and Kensington Drive in the same block as the Ken Theater and Kensington Grill.  Owner  Rita Pirkl will feature wines from around the world from small producers, many family run.  There will be classes too.  Buzz has seen the space and it offers all of the fun and none of the pretense of so many other wine bars in this town (no sofas either!).  4095 Adams Ave., 619-546-8466, open Sunday to Thursday 11am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday until midnight, closed Monday.

If you’re looking for a restaurant to buy, here are two you might be interested in:  Avenue 5 Restaurant and Bar in Bankers Hill is on the block as is City Deli in Hillcrest.  For additional information, 858-792-5521.

More Malarkey for his minions:  The empire spreads  to Scottsdale with a second Searsucker  for those hungry “zonies; waived c orkage Tuesdays and half off selected bottles at all five venues; and happy hour arrives at Burlap  from 4 to 6pm.  Growing pains at the three-month-old Gabardine where chef Chad White is out and Malarkey is in with a pared down menu (unfortunately not yet posted online) and appetizers that include mac n’ cheese, shishito peppers and fries (they were sides before).   Is  Malarkey trying too hard here with a new brunch hook at Gabardine? Disco? Kind of odd for this old Point Loma neighborhood.

Herringbone just opened in La Jolla, making it the fifth in the fabric named restaurants.  If you love noisy, be-there-be-seen places, you’ll be right at home here as you watch nimble wait staff juggle food and drinks around a packed bar and 100-year-old olive trees planted inside the huge ex-warehouse space.  Expect a pricey dinner meal with most mains in the high $20’s and starters in the high teens.

And a final thought on Malarkey:  Is the expansion too fast and furious given his turnover of chefs (Burlap and Gabardine)?  Gabardine certainly needed more thought when it opened (and still may) as the elements of decor, dark corners at the bar, noise and a mish mash of a menu were not cohesive for the four times I visited.  (The place is a mile from my home.)  Time will tell if he can get the locals hooked.

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GABARDINE UPDATE:  As of June 14,  Brian Malarkey’s Point Loma restaurant:  Chef Chad White and Malarkey have parted ways.  Malarkey will be at in the kitchen–perhaps to stay closer to home when he moves here this summer?  (See post below and his email note to Gabardine patrons.)

Buzz took a  hiatus from writing to host a gaggle of overseas friends passing through San Diego. Now it’s time to get things revved up with my recent observations while dining in San Diego’s eclectic restaurants.

A few weeks ago at The Shores I dined with a Parisian couple that I had only met that day (friends of friends) and we ordered a “half bottle” of Domaine Carneros sparkling wine ($31, glass $15).  (Note the online menu still shows NV J. Brut Cuvee 20, Sonoma, CA). What a surprise when the Carneros arrived  in a carafe, poured into glasses at the table by our server. Yep, a carafe, not a special carafe, just a regular wine carafe. We were stunned–everyone too polite to say a word.

To be fair, you’ll find these words on the wine list*Our HALF BOTTLES are better than a half bottle!!  It is 2-1/2 glasses per carafe! Perfect if you want more than a glass and less than a bottle.”  But usually carafes are for red and white wines.  One doesn’t expect bubbles in a carafe, especially in a place where the sommelier is studying to become a master sommelier.

My curiosity got the best of me to learn more about serving bubbles in a carafe. I checked with Parisian friends who pour (and drink) Champagne nearly daily–they were not familiar with such service–and online I found a video showing Michel Drappier decanting his vintage Champagne into his specially made chilled decanter.  Charles Heidsieck also weighs in on the subject, noting that Riedel makes a uniquely designed decanter for vintage Champagne.

For The Shores “offering the best in neighborhood American cuisine” with unobstructed ocean views (including kayakers, surfers and marine life) carafe service for sparkling wine “half bottle” is an affectation that doesn’t do justice to the customer, the restaurant or the bubbles. How about selling real half bottles of good California NV sparkling wine (prices range from $20 to $35) rather than make the customer wonder how long a bottle had been open before it reached the carafe (and possibly lost its effervesce along the way).  I’d bet a lot of locals and travelers from distant lands would rave about the classy and comfortable dining experience.

Two more Malarkey venues opened (Gabardine and Herringbone), adding swatches to his growing love affair with fabric named restaurants (Searsucker, Burlap and Gingham).  One can only wonder when he gets to Nylon, Velcro, Polyester and Spandex.  He’s opening a new place in Uganda in the summer…yes, Uganda, as noted here.  When will Malarkey have time to move to Point Loma as he mentions in a Gabardine email message that also includes menu changes.  Buzz will delve more into Gabardine and Herringbone in a separate post…there’s lots to tell.

Full disclosure:  I know the executive chef, chef de cuisine and sommelier at The Shores.

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Brian Malarkey did the Today Show, here’s the clip.  It’s a tough gig when you’re upstaged by a producer’s birthday.

Paris Driggers, not a chef, but a wine guy, left Winesellar & Brasserie to resume his business as a broker selling wines to restaurants and wine stores.  He started a small winery called Forgotten Barrel (using wines from well-known Napa vineyards)  and sells under the label Sika Wine.  For more information:  858-342-0298.

Aaron Martinez, chef de cuisine at  1500 Ocean at the Hotel Del Coronado just left  for a position in northern California.  San Francisco diners will find him at the Michelin two-star Coi–an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.

Anthony Sinsay last week  left Harney Sushi after a good three year stint.

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Wade Hageman of the very successful Blue RibbonPizzeria in Encinitas (west of the I-5) will add another venue when he opens The Craftsman New American Tavern.  After Mother’s Day takes over the spot that is Savory Casual Fare also in Encinitas (east of the I-5).  Expect a late June/early July opening with a menu of “Hand Crafted Comfort” food emphasizing house made sausage, charcuterie, artisan cheese and Hageman’s farm to table approach with ingredients from local farmers, breweries and wineries.  Savory Casual Fare, 267 El Camino Real Suite A & B, 760-634-5556, Blue Ribbon Pizzeria, Lumberyard Shopping Center, 897 S. Coast Highway 101, Suite F102, 760-634-7671.

When Savory closes after Mother’s Day,  owner, Pascal Vignau moves to Chandler’s Restaurant in the soon-to-open Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort & Spa.

Go French for a week and dine at some of San Diego’s best:  The Marine Room, Vagabond, Bleu Boheme, Winesellar & Brasserie to name a few.  The Second Annual Tour de Cuisine (French Restaurant Week) runs from March 24 to April 1.  Click here for more information and to see the three-course menus.

The Red Door Restaurant & Wine Bar named Miguel Valdez, who has  been with the restaurant for a year and a half, their executive chef.  On April 4 and June 20, Valdez will accompany guests on a tour of the Mission Hills Farmers Market, buy ingredients for the dinner, then return to the restaurant to enjoy an inspired meal.  Four courses $45, with wine $70, and evening includes one of Chef’s recipes.  For information:  619-295-6000.

 

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Point Loma Seafoods new building (on the same site as the original), opened Monday, March 19…and it’s a swell place.  The menu is bright, large, easy to read and in color (note the fish in the blue background) while the cases (arranged in a large horseshoe) show the large selection of fresh fish, seafood, sushi and more.  There is a corner for wines by the bottle, a large selection of tap beer, as well as self serve case for their tuna salad and other small take away food.

The place hasn’t gone totally new–you still don’t take a number to place your order so there’s that hustle and shuffle of people asking “Are you in line?” but that’s part of the charm of the place.   For a treat, take your food upstairs to the patio area and soak in the sun and gorgeous view of the boats and the city.  Those who pay with plastic can now do so, a big plus for many customers. 28o5 Emerson St., Point Loma, Open daily 9am (Sundays 10 am) to 6:30pm (later closing hours coming soon), 619-223-1109.

Tracy Borkum (Cucina Urbana and Kensington Grill) recently opened Cucina Enoteca in Irvine Spectrum, and gets a nice nod for its interior and furniture from the Los AngelesTimes.

 

 

 

 

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Show your love with a yummy chocolate bread teddy bear from Con Pane Rustic Breads & Cafe in Liberty Station.  Last minute orders for a heart shaped baguette or a teddy bear can be made by calling 619-224-4344 or at the cafe, 2750 Dewey Road at Old Historic Decatur.

Many restaurants offer special menus available in the next few days so you can avoid the crush of the 14th.  Check out Wine Vault & Bistro‘s 5-course Valentine’s dinner  for $59.50 plus tax and gratuity includes all five courses and all five wines.  Menu includes fried oysters, chicken, short rib and of course chocolate, bubbles and California wines.  For reservations:  (619) 295-3939.

Get a bottle of Champagne from your favorite wine merchant.   One of my go- to places:  The Third Corner where the selection is large and the staff knowledgeable.  In Mira Mesa, don’t forget Winesellar & Brasserie for an equally good selection of libations.

Chocolate goes with Champagne:  Eclipse Chocolat makes unique confections in North Park, while David Bacco creates an unusual selection of award winning delicacies.  Call 888-560-5535 to order or find a few locations to purchase his chocolates.

 

 

 

 

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New places  set  to open in the next few months:

Pacific Beach, Lamont Street Grill sold (Location Matters handled the transaction) and the new owner is Gina Champion-Cain.  The place will be gutted and renamed The Patio on Lamont Street.  Expect a May opening (or sooner)  with Sheila Tracy in place as the General Manager.  Stay tuned for who will fill the chef position.  4445 Lamont Street, Pacific Beach, 858-270-3060.

The Cohn Restaurant Group moves forward with a new place in North County called Vintana Wine+ Dine.  Located in a Lexus showroom, at 1205 Auto Park Way in Escondido, Cohn staple and chef Deborah Scott will create the menu.  Look for it to open in the next few months.  And molecular leaning chef  Daniel Barron said goodbye to his chef position at Blue Point…one can only guess that his desire to put a creative spin on his menu didn’t mesh well with the Cohn convention pleasing formula.

Brian Malarky gets an interview in Inc.   where he outlines his ambitious restaurant vision.

In Point Loma, Harbor Town Pub will start breakfast in March.

Look for Towne Bakery to open in March in the Del Mar Highlands shopping center.  Owner/chef  Jason Sigala loves pastries so expect to see the vintage 40’s and 50’s celebrated in decor and in pastry choices that will include pies, cookies, puddings and cheesecakes. 12925 El Camino Real, Suite AA5. For more information, please call 858.794.7001.

March 11, grab a few tickets for  Family Winemakers of California Tasting 2012.  This tasting showcase features wines from California’s small, family-owned wineries. Taste wines from more than 150 wineries in California for a ticket of just $45 if purchased before February 20.