It may be early to think about school, but a group led by Alice Robertson and Caron Golden launched the second annual Food 4 Kids Backpack Program that provides food and backpacks for low income elementary kids at risk for hunger, especially on weekends.   NBC San Diego is their partner and they will donate the equivalent of the 7% cut First Giving takes so food4kids gets all the monies raised.

If you don’t want to donate money, then get to the August 21 Little Italy Mercato and donate neutral black or red backpacks (no logos, please) and kid-friendly non-perishable food. And there’s a raffle to boot on Saturday with swell items.

Or you can eat  at more than 40 restaurants this month and choose the “Dollar a Dish” item that features a specific dish for which the restaurant  will donate $1 every time it is ordered during the month. For a list of the restaurants and their dishes, go to San Diego Foodstuff.

Buzz donated…how about you?

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.

If you’re traveling the I-5/405 corridor to Irvine and Los Angeles and get a craving for a really good pastrami on rye, find your way to Tommy Pastrami New York Delicatessen, just off Bake Parkway near the El Toro merge. This new franchise with three stores and more on the way serves overstuffed, high quality sandwiches of the type you’d find at top New York or Los Angeles delis that were noted last September in Los Angeles magazine. Unfortunately, there isn’t a deli in San Diego (DZ Akins and others pale by comparison) that holds a corned beef sandwich to those LA institutions. The new comer, Tommy Pastrami, even though their outlets don’t have table service, could certainly be added to the magazine’s list.

Fat sandwiches at Tommy Pastrami come in three sizes: 4-ounce ($4.95) 6-ounce ($6.95) a nd 8-ounce ($8.95). Whether it’s melt-in-your- mouth pastrami or thinly sliced, slightly marbled and tender corned beef or tuna with finely chopped celery and just enough mayo not to intrude on the tuna, or chopped liver with bits of hardboiled egg that is light not heavy, the top quality shows in the food. The half- inch plus slices of crunchy-crusted corn rye bread, an integral part of a great deli sandwich, make the trip worthwhile. Thick fries, a zippy homemade chili, salads, chicken soup, even matzo balls, cheesecake and rugala are among other treats on the menu.

Tommy Pastrami knows the business and they’ve hired some seasoned deli guys. In chatting with Howard, who took my order, I learned his dad started Marv’s (long since sold), one of the top ten listed in LA magazine. Yes, it’s worth the trouble to detour off the freeway for a pastrami (or any sandwich) on rye.  At the Commons, 8685 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, (949)753-7445, Closed Sunday.

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.

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.

Buzz hears that San Diego Magazine’s contributing writer David Nelson (and restaurant writer) will be doing a piece about Gavin Kaysen who left El Bizcocho in October to take the prestigious job of executive chef at Café Boulud in Manhattan.  Isn’t it a bit late for the magazine to finally write about Kaysen who last year represented the US at the world chef competition called Bocuse d’Or (in Lyon, France) and earned national attention as one of Food & Wine magazine’s Ten Best New Chefs for 2007?  Too bad the cover of San Diego Magazine’s August 2007 restaurant issue didn’t include Kaysen next to Oceanaire’s executive chef Brian Malarkey–two of this city’s star chefs–while Kaysen was still in San Diego. Nowhere did the issue mention El Bizcocho or Kaysen.  Unfortunately it points up the provincial and political good-ol’ boy thinking that keeps San Diego’s restaurant scene static rather than cutting edge, and why chefs like Kaysen move on to grander cities with more appreciative diners and reviewers. 

A few weeks ago, executive chef Justin Hoehn took his toque from Del Mar’s Paradise Grille to Epazote.  The Grille plans to take its menu in a more casual direction, and Epazote offers Hoehn a broader arena for his creative cuisine.  Hoehn trained at the California Culinary Academy and has put his talents to work locally at Winesellar & Brasserie and La Valencia and Hayes Street Grill in San Francisco.

The Hyatt Regency on Mission Bay opened Red Marlin with chef de cuisine Danny Bannister at the helm.  Barrister formally trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York City.  In San Diego, his resume includes stints at Laurel, Pamplemousse Grille, and The 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro.   The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers bay-side views and a chef’s table near the wine wall of the restaurant.  It’s on Buzz’s list of places to visit.

Wine-guy Dustin Jones, the well-known sommelier at La Jolla’s La Valencia Hotel has moved on to work with Rob Barnett at  While we’re on the subject of La Valencia, it and its sister property, Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa are for sale.

North County will soon have The 3rd Corner in the Encinitas Lumberyard shopping center.  The restaurant will occupy the current Sbicca Bistro space, according to Dan Sbicca.  The 3rd Corner is the brainchild of Ed Moore, one of San Diego’s best when it comes to wine and food.  If you you are unfamiliar with his place in Ocean Beach, it’s a concept that works like this:  Mostly a well-stocked wine store, with about 50 restaurant seats and small bistro menu that includes everything from a cheese plate to fish, pasta and meat with nothing over $19.  For a modest $5 corkage, you can browse the restaurant for your wine to drink at the table.  Along with a full bar, the place also offers a good selection of wines by the glass. 

There are numerous wine events and wine merchants around town and if you’re not on their email lists, here are some good ones:  Downtown on G Street you’ll find Bacchus Wine Market & Tasting Room  and note on the website the downtown restaurants that don’t charge corkage when you buy bring in wine bought at their store.  Nearby, The Wine Bank on Fifth Avenue, has renovated the place and has tastings.  In Middletown there’s the Wine Vault & Bistro, with tasting and wine dinners–those in the know are on the email list.  

Off Harbor Boulevard in Liberty Station there’s Mellow, a small but sophisticated wine bar with an interesting wine selection. To the north at the Barnett entrance next to the golf course is Wine Steals, with a casual, post-college atmosphere, similar to their original site in Hillcrest.

Up in the Mira Mesa area Vintage Wines, San Diego Wine Co. and the Winesellar & Brasserie are all worth getting up-to-the-minute tasting and buying information.  

Do you have a favorite wine bar or wine store? If so, please share.  

Point Loma will soon have a comfortable place to eat, meet and greet when Roseville opens by the end of the year.  Look for owner George Riffle (he opened Blanca and Quarter Kitchen and was the general manager at the original Laurel Restaurant and Bar) to pick a well-known local chef for the 95-seat restaurant.  Buzz will keep you up to the minute on further details.

Well-known sommelier Ted Glennon recently left his position at the first rate Arterra to launch and direct a new concept at the Hotel Del Coronado Eno is due to quietly open towards the end of December.  Expect about 60 wines by the glass and a 500-bottle cellar that covers a wide variety of places and prices. The finest cheeses, charcouterie and chocolate will complement the wines that Glennon plans to serve in a casual, yet sophisticated, venue.  Buzz  figures that Eno will be a big hit with locals and guests, whether  novices or experts in the world of wine.  Why?  Because Glennon’s a wine wiz who shares with grace and wit his encyclopedic knowledge that includes a penchant for top-notch service–a combo Buzz experienced many times at Arterra.  Expect an update from Buzz in the near future. 

Buzz heard from a number of sources that the Union-Tribune’s restaurant critic, Maria Hunt, is moving on to pursue other projects.  Buzz called and emailed Hunt for clarification and information, with no response as yet. 

Steve and Gabriela Dow decided to find a way to get involved with the community as well as meet new friends.  Their company, Friends with Class, offers fun classes in everything from wine tasting and working at home (taught by Steve) to taking toddler snapshots and raising money for charity and nonprofits.  They have gift certificates available to make the holiday giving easier.

Another way to meet like-minded souls is through wine tasting.  Rob Barnett took his passion for wine and turned it into an online and community oriented business when he created The tagline “where wine lovers connect” conveys his idea for a social network of wine loving souls in their home cities and around the country so they can meet online via forums and in person for tastings.  The online store has wines from smaller producers not usually found in traditional wine stores. Designed to become national phenomenon, Barnett has some good people on his staff including Dustin Jones who is the sommelier at La Valencia.  Check out the site and join as the membership is free.

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.