Surprise your Valentine with a special dinner in the dark at the US Grant Hotel.  Experience a three-course dinner from February 11 to 14 presented by Opaque Dining.  Your sense of taste, smell, touch and sound will be heightened as you eat in a totally dark dining room served by blind or visually impaired  individuals trained to serve in the dark. The cost for the prix fixe dinner menu is $99 (+tax)/person.  Drinks and tip are not included in the ticket price. Tickets for this event must be pre-purchased and are available online at

If you’d rather stay in and have dinner delivered (no, not pizza), but a menu that is aphrodisiac centric, check out Dining Details.  Just think, no worries about drinking and driving…you can toast your honey in the privacy of your own home.

Arterra finally has a new executive chef, Tony Miller who comes from the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, Latitude 41 in Columbus and Wailea Beach Marriott Resort.  He kicks off his new menu (and redone dining room) on February 17th from 5:30pm to 8pm with Taste of Arterra where you can sample signature dishes like lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, Moroccan braised beef short rib and avocado butter cake with almond crunch. The event is free with a $10 donation per guest to Feeding America San Diego’s Farm2Kids program. Advance reservations required at Opentable or directly at 858.369.6032.

A few days ago we heard there was a wholesale dismissal of the restaurant team at Del Mar’s  Arterra Restaurant that included executive chef Jason Maitland and others in management.  It seems that the powers that be have long wanted to re-concept the restaurant.  It’s unclear what that concept will be and who will be at the helm, but their website does say (under Jobs at the bottom of the site) that the hotel is looking for people to be “part of an exciting team while learning and using your culinary skills.”  Good luck.

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.

Splash enters the wine bar scene in North Park, sometime in November.  What makes it unique is the way the wine will be stored and dispensed.  According their website, there will be 72 wines available in a one-ounce pour, glass or bottle.  With a pre-paid plastic card, patrons can taste any number of wines, a “splash” being one ounce.  Stay tuned for more information. 3043 University Ave, North Park.

Fall brings with it cooler weather and seasonal menu changes for many restaurants.  Among them, Point Loma’s Roseville with executive chef Amy DiBiase at the helm, features the Sunday special of braised short ribs–a gorgeous hunk of boneless meat, braised and cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, served with a celery root puree, some braised celery and a dollop of a zippy rhubarb confit to counterbalance the richness of the Meyer beef.  For $30, it’s the perfect Sunday comfort dinner. For reservations:  619-450-6800.

Urban Solace in North Park offers chicken liver paté and an intriguing item called crab pop tart as part of their fall lineup. The restaurant recently celebrated their one year anniversary.  In a few weeks, Buzz will be at a media dinner featuring these and other fall items from chef Matt Gordon.  Look for my update after the dinner.  For more information: 619-295-6464.

Up at Arterra in Del Mar, chef Jason Maitland goes where many other chefs don’t dare.  His fall menu includes seared beef tongue, truffled popcorn sweetbreads and roasted bone marrow.  Sounds quite good and kudos to Maitland for stretching beyond the conventional.  Also at Arterra is a three-course dinner for two for $79 plus tax and tip.   For information and reservations:  858-369-6032.

The thought that Arterra could become a steakhouse–a rumor reported October 17 by Maria Hunt in the Union Tribune–is just not true.   Changes in the kitchen, yes, as Jason Maitland takes the helm as chef de cuisine–he has been with the restaurant from opening day.  The menu focus continues with local, seasonal ingredients.  New additions include butternut squash tortellonis with bitter greens, sage froth and walnut brown butter and an appetizer of forest mushrooms and brie strudel while the famed short ribs remain on the menu. 

December 1, executive chef Ciaran Duffy arrives from Charleston, South Carolina’s Tristan .  He will oversee catering and room service among other things.  Along with General Manager Tom Mastricola, wine director Ted Glennon and Jason, they will further refine the art of creating top notch food to go with spot-on service–an art barely mastered by a handful of San Diego’s fine dining restaurants.  All of November, they will offer many wines at half price including some selections from Ramey, Talley and Jarvis.

San Diego is about to host the 2008 Winter Fancy Food Show  this January 13 to 15 at the Convention Center.  This worldwide show features everything from beverages and baked goods to soups and salad dressings along with candy, cheese and coffee–nearly 100,000 specialty food items.  Attendees from specialty food, wine, gift and department stores, supermarkets, restaurants, mail-order and other related businesses, walk the three day show to sample and buy products. 

Buzz wonders where these 20,000 to 30,000 vendors and attendees will spend their restaurant dollars as the show usually occurs in San Francisco or New York City–places known for great eating.  Let’s be clear:  right now, San Diego does not have great eating.  Sure, there are lots of restaurants with fair to good food and service but for the most part, not near the caliber of the other show cities. 

If attendees pull out their Zagat for 2007  they’ll find a handful of places rated no higher than 27 out of 30–far fewer than other cities.  They’ll spend nearly $50 per person (or more) , they will need a taxi or car to get to, among others,  WineSellar & BrasseriePamplemousse Grille, Arterra and El Bizcocho  and will they know the chefs are gone from the latter two? They may find a way to La Jolla for the Marine RoomTapenade or George’s at the Cove.  Close to the Convention Center, they’ll find Ruth Chris Steak House and Rama . Or they’ve heard about others such as Parallel 33,  Modus Supper Club (no working link), but do they know the chef/partners of both have moved on or that  Laurel Restaurant & Bar got a new owner, chef and decor a few years back?  What is clear from reading comments on Zagat, and from the Zagat’s themselves–service is subpar across the country–and San Diego is no exception. 

The recent months have seen chefs who garnered good or great local and national raves–Gavin Kaysen of El Bizcocho (one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2007),  Riko Bartelomo of Asia-Vous, Jason Shaeffer of 1500 Ocean, and the most recent, Brian Pekarcik of Arterra– ditching San Diego for New York, Hawaii, Colorado and Pennsylvania, respectively.  They move on for various reasons, but underlying anything personal is the lack of support from the local press who, for the most part, don’t really educate the readers to what makes a great restaurant–be it the hole in the wall or the jazzy newcomer.  Nor does the local chapter of the California Restaurant Association further an atmosphere of greatness either as Buzz noted in July.  Of course, cities like New York and San Francisco have public transportation and are not spread out in the manner of southern California and that does make a bit of a difference.  How far and long are you willing to drive for a meal–at any price– especially if you want to have a drink or two?

So, where in San Diego would you send these food savvy souls to eat?  Besides the usual collection of downtown hotel and convention eateries (and themed Cohn restaurants on nearly every corner)  tell Buzz where you think the show goers ought to spend their restaurant dollars–be it upscale or down–do you have a favorite you think should get some notice?