Jack’s La Jolla redid their upscale dining room to an Italian venture called Viaggio. The menu features chef Tony DiSalvo’s homemade pastas and much more. Haven’t tried it, as it apparently just opened with little fanfare.

La Jolla based Burger Lounge comes to Coronado and will open their third location at the end of July in the old Island Wok space at 922 Orange Avenue. If you want an organic beef burger with hand-cut in house fries, this is your place. To top it off, they are now one of a handful of green certified restaurants in San Diego.

The Cohn Restaurant Group, that many say sets the bar in the city for middle-of-the-road food and service aimed at the mass market/convention customer, is expanding. They’ve partnered with Sunroad Harbor Island (a subsidiary of Sunroad Enterprises) who just got the go ahead from the Board of Port Commissioners for a $9 million overhaul of the former Reuben E. Lee floating restaurant, currently at the end of Harbor Island. Located conveniently next to the Cohn owned restaurant, Island Prime, the LEED certified restaurant will be designed by Graham Downes Architecture whose eclectic portfolio includes Nine-Ten, Chive, and the redo of its sister property Laurel. Along with Lesley and David Cohn, chef/partner Deborah Scott will operate the Lee. Expect construction to begin late 2009 and finish about 2011.

While we’re on the subject of the Cohn collection, as Buzz reported in May, David’s supposedly best-kept-secret-that-everyone-knew-about is finally out. Hard Work, Inc. (Cohn Restaurant Group) signed a 10-year lease for The Corvette Diner to relocate to the old Officers Club at the Barnett entrance end of Liberty Station. Renovation is underway on the space. And further up the coast, in the coming-on-oh-so-hip Oceanside, the Cohns will open a steak and seafood place called 333 Pacific in the Wyndham Oceanside Pier Resort on Pier View Way and Pacific Street. Expect to see the restaurant open by the end of the year.

The Cohns join others who find Oceanside the newest area ripe for restaurant expansion. Old Town’s popular Harney Sushi just opened their second very contemporary spot on the corner of Mission and Cleveland close to the pier. They have a sake bar, lots of sushi rolls and more. The place was very hip and hopping at their opening just last night.

A wonderful new restaurant named Roseville opened last week in the Point Loma community known as Roseville–one of the first areas settled by Louis Rose in the mid 1800’s. It’s the first restaurant for George Riffle, long known in this town from his stints managing the original Laurel Restaurant & Bar to opening Blanca in Solana Beach and Ivy Hotel in the Gaslamp.

He and his wife Wendy took the space next to the Point Loma-Shelter Island Drug store at Rosecrans and Canon that, in the 1960’s, was the gourmet market called Jurgensens. After the market closed, Italian restaurants came and vacated. Now Roseville brings to the area French-Mediterranean brasserie food and an eclectic wine list. The transformed space features booths, banquettes, a beer and wine bar and open kitchen–a lively room with a comfortable decibel level.

Executive chef Amy DiBiase, a graduate in culinary arts and food service management at Rhode Island’s Johnson & Wales University, gives a talented hand to the kitchen. She worked with Riffle and under then executive chef Jason Shaeffer at Laurel to eventually become top toque. When Laurel sold, she moved to Baleen at Paradise Point resort and now Roseville. Pastry chef Heather Fangon rounds out the original Laurel team with desserts that wow, now at Roseville.

And the food? It’s terrific. The Buzz disclaimer: I know the Riffles, DiBiase and Fangon, and have followed them since their days at Laurel many years ago.

Of the recent meals I have eaten with friends (and yes, I paid), the classic duck confit with shell beans (currently cranberry beans) comes with crisp skin and well-seasoned beans cooked with smoky bacon. Or, try the lighter flat iron steak, sliced and served on bed of cherry tomatoes with French feta cheese and light vinaigrette. Start with Carlsbad mussels steamed with flavorful fresh fennel and finished with a fresh herb salsa…and use a piece of Con Pane’s bread to sop up the juices. A deliciously zippy spring salad brings all fresh fava beans, corn kernels and blanched artichoke hearts mixed with an addictive grainy mustard dressing. Lamb, scallops, halibut, veal cheeks, daily specials and sides of frites, asparagus and other seasonal vegetables round out the menu. Ethereal desserts include a lemon chiffon parfait, a dark chocolate pot au crème and more. Service still has a few minor bumps, but the polish is nearly there-small things to be expected in a restaurant open not even a week. Prices range from $6 to $30. Roseville, (website soon) 1125 Rosecrans in the Village of Point Loma, 619-450-6800 for reservations. Dinner from 5:30pm, Closed Sunday

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.

When Buzz picks up restaurant news that doesn’t come from the local public relations offices it’s news that is heard more than a few times from good sources but may not immediately be fact checked or found in main stream media.   So begins a new category: Buzz From the Bar.

Insiders have known for quite sometime that Jonathan Pflueger’s Currant American Brasserie, while garnering terrific food reviews, has been a mess behind the scene. At least three managers have come and gone and now comes news that the chef, Mr. Pflueger–a guy who loves his alcohol–was more than over-served at last week’s restaurant awards dinner. So much so that he and his equally inebriated date were removed from the event. So, what is, or maybe it’s who is, cooking at Currant?

Rumors persist about the Cohn empire moving Corvette Diner to Liberty Station…along with another unamed Cohn themed eatery. If so, look for them to be down at the Barnett Street entrance near the soon-to-open Ace Hardware and Wine Steals venues.

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. 

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.

Blanca‘s chef Wade Hageman heads east to New York to cook at the prestigious James Beard House.  He’ll be there on Saturday, March 8. If you’re in New York it is worth the trip to enjoy what is being billed as Hageman’s French-Inspired California Cuisine that will feature his porcini-lobster bisque among others of his signature dishes. Hageman was named one of Esquire’s Four Chefs to Watch in 2006.

In the original post about Gavin Kaysen, Buzz neglected to mention restaurant reviewer Steve Silverman of San Diego Home/Garden magazine who was way ahead of the curve in recognizing Kaysen’s talent. In June 2007, Silverman gave him a special Gilded Silver Fork Award and said this about him:  

We championed the cooking of Chef Gavin Kaysen more than a year ago in this magazine…and how right we were! In 2007 Kaysen represented the United States in a world culinary competition in Lyon, France. He’s since gotten a full-page write-up in Time Magazine and was featured on NBC’s Today Show.  In April of this year, Kaysen was chosen as one of Food & Wine Magazine’s “Best New Chefs for 2007.”  That’s a lot of tribute for a 27-year-old, but it all goes to one single point: the kid can cook.  To sample what he can do, head for the Rancho Bernardo Inn.

Heresy you may say to drink a white wine with a gutsy red meat.  Not so as Buzz learned during a couple of dinners that featured dry German wines not usually found here in San Diego.  One dinner paired a dry Riesling from the Rheingau area of Germany with braised lamb shanks and the diners were happily surprised with the duo.  If you’re one who thinks (as many do) that all German wines are sweet, prepare yourself for a great awakening.  While many fall into that taste category, many others are dry and quite comparable to those from France, California and Australia. 

Where can you find such wines and have a quick German wine 101 tutorial while you taste?  Right here at Truly Fine Wine, Inc. on Morena Boulevard (just south of Costco).  Owners Damon and Sabrina import a select group of high quality, small production German wines that include pinots, Rieslings and even some very good sparklers.  Buzz dragged a couple of skeptical pals (they were sure all the wines would be sweet) to meet Damon and Sabrina at the shop.  We tasted and talked and the skeptics became believers!  

Still not a believer?  Then trust your taste buds and come try the wines this Saturday, February 9 at the San Diego Wine & Culinary Center. Truly Fine Wine will present a tasting on the wines they import.  Golden Gourmet Mushrooms is also a part of event where the fun runs from 4:00pm to 6pm. For more information call 619-231-6400.  If the 9th doesn’t work, Firefly Grill and Wine Bar in Encinitas will host a German wine dinner on February 19th.  Call the restaurant for reservations: 760-635-1066.