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As we enter 2013, Buzz thought it would be worth a look back at the various issues that caught her attention while dining in San Diego during the year.  You too can add to this list.  Please feel free to comment.

**Demographics matter: Pushing 40 years old, Brian Malarkey is all over the map, literally.  He and partner James Brennan open fabric named restaurants faster than you can sharpen your kitchen knives.  So how good are they?  Well, Gabardine in Point Loma opened early in 2012 without much thought to the neighborhood and as Buzz wrote in June, the place needs focus.  These restaurateurs assumed diners–with an average age of roughly 35 to 45–would brave traffic and come to the nearly dead end of Rosecrans Street to dine.  We wish it would be so, but not in Point Loma.

**$20 and under menus:  This tag line for restaurants has had its day says Amy T. Granite at San Diego City Beat. Think about it, two items at $15 each makes a $30 tab for one and you’re just drinking tap water.  Restaurants, price your menus fairly and diners won’t wonder if they’re getting a deal, or not.

**Happy Hour:  What’s so happy about a $45 bill (with tip $53) for two that included happy hour prices for fish and chips ($10), shrimp and grits ($9), roasted Brussels sprouts ($4), Laird Pinot Grigio ($10) and Gingham Syrah ($9).   Portions  were large enough for dinner…so why call it happy hour Gabardine?  Instead, go to   where you can enjoy a swell view, lounge appetizers at $7 or at their sister restaurant , $6 plates.  Or try another Buzz favorite, The 3rd Corner for a $10 bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels with a pile of frites and a $3 draft beer.

**Noise: How about those restaurants with noise so great we can’t even hear the person next to you?  Here’s a clip from the Today Show that looks at restaurants and their noise levels.  Not everyone is 30 years old and high noise levels in restaurants such as Brooklyn Girl Eater or Searsucker, and others you may add, may have decent food, but if can’t hear the person sitting next to you, what’s the point?

**Wine: Restaurants take note:  Sparkling wine poured into a carafe at the bar, then poured into glasses at the table and called a on the menu just sucks.  So does serving red wine too warm–room temperature as many places do–either by the glass or bottle.  Don’t believe me? Ask America’s first master sommelier, Eddie Osterland.

**Ambiance comes in many forms at a restaurant: low light, music bass heavy and loud (as well as unknown composers). Other issues abound when it comes to menus.  If you can’t read the menu because of a meager table candle, print so small or a font so precious even the best eyes can’t decipher it, the meal could be off to a difficult start.

**Location and Name:  Yes, it matters, just ask the people at Location Matters who help restaurateurs expand, buy, sell or lease venues.  Restaurant names we don’t understand:  Sora (Japanese for Sky) with an Italian/Japanese menu in a tough downtown location that includes validated parking.

**Websites: Things we find unhelpful to the dining public:  Websites that are not current, in other words, show what you’re serving now, not last summer. That includes places like Buzz favorite La Villa. This restaurant, with the innovative and creative chef Chris O’Donnell at the helm, needs to post its menu not the website’s current one of their sister restaurant Buon Appetito.

**Photos: And what about diners constantly taking pictures, all the time, of every dish? Watch Eat it Don’t Tweet it  a video moment for levity and amusement from L.A. Chefs Column . As Barbarella (Diary of a Diva) notes here, we’re done with the food paparazzi.

**Service (or lack thereof) ought to be a bigger deal than it is in laid back San Diego. You’ll find extraordinary service at La Villa as happened on a wet cold night when we arrived without a reservation.  Quick thinking from GM, Derry Van Nortwick pulled a table from the patio into the warm packed room–where there was room for two of us as well as the 20 at the next table.  Other restaurants would have turned us away saying “sorry we’re full tonight”.

Miscellaneous musings for 2013:

**Tired yet of bacon in and on everything?  And you’d think craft beer was the only beverage in the city.  We’re happy to see San Diego as a top spot for beer; we hope food will follow.

**A reader wonders why salt and pepper shakers no longer appear on many dining tables…who says the kitchen knows best for a diner’s taste buds?  But then there’s this that lets you know who’s in charge!

**Speaking of tables…Do you dine with the smart phone strategically placed next to your plate?  Time to let that go and enjoy the reason you came to the restaurant…the food, the ambience and, hopefully, the company at your table.

**TV’s are everywhere and many times in the wrong place–fine dining isn’t a sports bar.

**Resolve for 2013 to try a new restaurant or a dish you’ve never experienced.




11 thoughts on “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of San Diego’s Food Scene, 2012

  1. Marvelous article – coffee this a.m. with friend a)coffee house so loud could not hear, b) no seats or stools available, c) sold out of sconces, d) CELL PHONES…anyone that busy?

  2. As a Point Loma resident, I agree with the commentary on Gabardine – but other negatives are the noise level inadequate service there. It would be so nice for us to get a great restaurant in Point Loma. Old Venice is tired; the Lighthouse lacks focus; Fiddler’s Green is even more tired leaving the only restaurant worth positive mention: Pomodora.

  3. I’m worried about Gabardine. Went last night at about 9:30 for an after dinner drink and they had already closed. I wish we had better dining options in Point Loma.

    Concur on the prevalance of bad cell phone etiquette. Man seated next to me at dinner last night played video games and listeneed to music (loud enough for me to hear) throughout dinner – and he was dining with someone who was equally focused on their phone! Love the idea of cell phone roulette: who ever picks up phone first during dinner has to pick up the tab for the table.

  4. Interesting post on Garbardine. On a recent visit to San Diego, I stopped by Garbardine for happy hour and was disappointed – and confused. To me, the name implies a bit of casual sophistication which it lacked. Further, once inside the door, my first impression was not good. The hostess was on the telephone and, rather than ask us to wait or put the caller on hold, pointed us to a table. Excuse me? This isn’t Denny’s. My friend and I sat at a high table near the door, which put me in line with the television screens and the game. Again, not a good impression. If I wanted to watch TV while dining, I would have gone to the sports bar down the street, not Garbardine. On to the food: greasy, not interesting, and not inexpensive. A glass of wine + several appetizers cost as much as a full meal. So, the place is not cheap, is not well managed, and the food’s not impressive. It seems that the owner, who I understand owns a number of restaurants in the area, needs to put some focus on the Point Loma restaurant.

  5. How about stop using and abusing the over played out “Farm to Table” phrase.

    Pretty much everything is from a farm.

    Good trend: Places offering sub prime cuts of beef and other odd proteins is great. Flank steaks, beef or pork cheeks if done right are tasty and has a good price point.

    Tired trend: Pork Belly!

    Craft Beer Explosion: We have about 32 new start ups getting ready to open this year.

    • Completely agree re: your good trend, though cheeks seem to almost be in the pork belly trend. And about that farm to table phrase: For me the definition rests more with LOCAL farmers rather than farmers in Peru and Chile growing vegetables that for us are out of season. These show up on a restaurant’s menu in the dead of winter: asparagus, blue berries, and others. These are seasonal, farmers markets carry them in the spring and summer making them truly farm to table. I think the original meaning of that phrase was local…may not be so now.


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