The well-known Parallel 33, in Mission Hills, closed its doors last Saturday night after nine and a half years.  Look for a change of ownership in the near future.

Matt Rimel, the guy behind the very popular Zenbu Sushi Bar and Rimel’s Rotisserie in La Jolla, brings both to Cardiff-by- the-Sea.  They occupy two large spaces in the newly redone Cardiff Town Center next to the Seaside Market at Birmingham and San Elijo.  Zenbu opens late this week and will be, as its La Jolla sister, only open for dinner.  Next door, Rimel’s Rotisserie just started lunch and dinner this week. Zenbu: 760-633-2223, Rimel’s 760-633-2202.

Winesellar & Brasserie will soon open a yet-to-be-named cafe below their Brasserie. You’ll find healthy organic food to take away or eat there including many half bottles of wines to go with soups, salads and pastas made in the Brasserie kitchen.

Somehow, the space at the Aventine, that was most recently Blue Coral, never seems to get the right restaurant.  Numerous operations have come and gone and now another will give it a shot.  Opening in the next few weeks is a high-end Florida seafood restaurant:  Truluck’s Seafood, Steak, Crab House

Opening on Friday, Alchemy in South Park.  Not much on the website yet.  It’s on the corner of Beech and 30th.

A few years back I arrived in Paris on Valentine’s eve–a night that is a very big deal in France.  When I finally got a cab, my French driver told me that he and his wife considered every day Valentine’s Day…and I couldn’t agree more.  Here are some last minute suggestions for the day and don’t forget them (or your sweetie) the rest of the year.

For something other than dinner, consider picking up a few special items to share at home.  They could be anything from special cheeses, olives, crackers and a fabulous bottle of wine or Champagne to a decadent dessert or even a little chocolate bread teddy bear and coffee to start the day.  Venissimo and Taste Artisan Cheese & Gourmet Shop are two places where you can taste unusual seasonal cheeses and find condiments to go with them.

Order the chocolate bread teddy bear ($12.95) from Con Pane Rustic Breads, 619-224-4344.  Get something chocolate from Eclipse Chocolat or make a reservation for their Valentine dinner.  More chocolate from The Elegant Truffle (619-222-1889 and fusion flavors from  Chuao Chocolatier where you can order online (or at their locations around the county)  so you can remember others who may not live here in San Diego.  Extraordinary Desserts at 20 years old this year can help with a dessert or two to eat in or take home and the Union Street store and restaurant has a selection of kid friendly items, cookbooks and lovely candles if chocolate isn’t your thing.

Look for bubbles from any of the wine shops including San Diego Wine Co., Vintage Wines, Winesellar & Brasserie, and Grape Connections. Or sneak away to  Eno at the Hotel Del to watch the sunset, or pop by The 3rd Corner to choose a bottle or two to drink there or take away.

For dining you’ll find just about every restaurant doing either a prix fixe menu or something special for the big night.  Be sure to make reservations as already some places may be full.  Some possible places include Roseville, Crescent Heights, Sea Rocket Bistro, Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar, La Bastide Bistro, Solare, Farm House Cafe, and many others, in all price ranges, listed at Open Table.

It appears that some San Diego restaurateurs think of Restaurant Week as an easy way to fill seats without having to give good service or present a menu that showcases the regular menu.  And many customers are grumbling about the added 20 percent “service charge” or tip, especially at the $40 dinners.  Diners beware that a $40 dinner does not include tax and tip or beverages, so, at the bare minimum, your tab will be roughly $50 before you’ve sipped even a soda. With that tab, you might want to consider dining off the regular menu, if that is available.

Restaurants that put that 20 percent tip on the bill with service that doesn’t match, do themselves a huge disservice to diners. Why?  Because many people use this week as a time to try a new place, but if they feel they’ve been ripped off because of so-so service or an unispired menu, they won’t return, ever.

Let’s hear from you about your experiences during this week and what do you think of the three-tiered pricing?  New York, (where this idea began in the 1990’s) now has more than 250 restaurants at a fixed $35 dinner, plus tax and tip.  Would this be a better idea for San Diego’s Restaurant Week?

San Diego’s Restaurant Week starts Sunday, January 11 and runs until the 16th with more than 150 venues serving three-course prix-fixe dinners at $20, $30 and $40; check the website for menus and prices.  If you’ve been wondering about a particular place and just haven’t made there, this is the time to try something new.

Should you find yourself traveling to New York City soon, their restaurant week runs from January 18th to the 23rd and then again from the 25th to the 30th with more than 250 possible choices.  New York is the place the idea started back in 1992 and restaurants serve lunch for $24.07 and dinners are all $35 for three-course prix-fixe meals.

For political and foodie junkies, the bipartisan Senate committee that plans the inaugural luncheon after the president is sworn in, will be eating a seafood stew, pheasant and duck and apple cinnamon sponge cake washed down with California  wines from  Duckhorn, Goldeneye and Korbel.  Here’s the menu with recipes in case you decide to have a party.  And for the historical side of things, check out the 2001 Inaugural Luncheon.

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

The almost open Setai San Diego made a name change December 22, to Sè San Diego. The Asian word Sè loosely translates to color, quality, sensuality and physical attraction which the owners felt better defines the hotel and separates it from its sister Setai in Miami (owned by Lehman Brothers).  The idea is to brand the hotel and future properties in other cities (think Sè Las Vegas and you get the idea).  The hotel is in its soft opening and its signature restaurant Suite & Tender Bar, Lounge & Restaurant (a cute play on words, but will you think steak?) hopes to be open by Sunday, December 28.  Christopher Lee, from New York where he garnered two Michelin stars for Gilt, is the consulting chef and Bill Boyle is the executive chef for the mostly steak, raw bar and seafood menu.  1047 Fifth Ave., San Diego., 619-515-3000.

Richard Sweeney, who recently was executive sous chef at Confidential before his short stint as a contestant on seaon 5 of  Top Chef, became the executive chef upon his return.

The Gaslamp’s Quarter Kitchen in the Ivy Hotel elevated one of their own, Nathan Coulon, to the executive chef position vacated by Damon Gordon. Gordon takes his toque (and his attitude) to the fairly conservative Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

San Diego foodies may wonder what happened to Michael Stebner after he closed Region, his popular Slow Food inspired eatery in Hillcrest.  Well, he returned to Phoenix.  Working with Dr. Andrew Weil and his recipes for the anti-inflammatory diet, Stebner is the executive chef at Weil’s new restaurant,  True Food Kitchen.  While in Phoenix for the day last week, Buzz tried the cold buckwheat soba noodles with wasabi dipping sauce ($9) and wild ahi sliders with wasabi, slivered radishes and cucumber on pumpernickel bread ($13).  Both were good as was the service, though as generous as the ahi was, the bread turned out to be a mushy Hawaiian flax white bread (they forgot to change it on the menu).  If I lived in the area, it could easily be a favorite place.

Should you find yourself in Windsor near Ft. Collins, Colorado, drop into Chimney Park Restaurant & Bar and savor the food of chef/owner Jason Shaeffer.  For those with short memories, Shaeffer had a stellar career in San Diego as executive chef at the orginal Laurel and opening chef at the Del’s 1500 Ocean.

Closer to home in Point Loma, Pomodoro, opened a week ago in the spot that was Luna Notte. The tiny restaurant’s menu is similar to its sister Arrivederci in Hillcrest with most notably all of the mains priced in the mid-teens.

A recent business lunch found Buzz at the new Fashion Valley location of Bing Crosby’s Restaurant & Piano Lounge (one of three in California).  The decor takes you back to the 30’s and 40’s swing era with an eye toward the glam of Hollywood–piano bars by night, golf courses by day–and, of course, the music of Bing and his cronies.

The website calls the menu innovative “California Country Club Cuisine”–whatever that means. The actual country club food (or yacht club) type cuisine that I’ve experienced over many years, centers on classic salads and sandwiches, Caesar, Cobb, tuna, roast beef, Reuben, BLT’s, club and more.  So when I see innovative I figure it means small twists of taste and presentation on classic dishes. There is nothing wrong with sticking to well-executed classic food especially in this theme restaurant.  To that end, I’m not sure that Bing’s namesake accomplishes that, at least for now.

We were very unimpressed with the half roast beef sandwich–roast beef with nary a lettuce leaf, mayo or anything on the thick French roll–part of the menu’s “The Lunch Trio”, that included a rich cup of chowder and a green salad.  “The Sandwich Combo” as does the trio, allows choices of sandwiches and salads.  The half Reuben fared better with the usual corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island–it was moist and gooey from grilling.  The whole leaf Caesar could be a favorite of mine because of the presentation but the dressing tasted more like a base of Thousand Island thinned out rather than the primary flavors of olive oil, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese with hints of anchovy and garlic generally associated with such a salad.  Prices are in the teens and up.

Our service was attentive, though a friend recently walked out on a Friday lunch about 1pm after sitting for more than ten minutes with no acknowledgment from a server, bus boy, anyone, while tables to either side of her were served.  She rightly told the hostess on the way out why they left.   Her feeling about the experience says it all: You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”  Words to be heeded by all in the industry.

Would I return?  Sure, for drinks and dancing to live bands nightly in the piano lounge. Happy hour runs from 3pm to 6pm Monday through Friday and for the industry from 10pm to midnight.  The restaurant closes at midnight on weekdays, 1am on the weekends so it would make a nice finish to an evening at the movies or shopping at Fashion Valley.  7007 Friars Road, 619-295-2464.

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.

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.