If you’re not familiar with Slow Food San Diego it’s part of a an international educational organization dedicated to promoting bio-diversity, supporting the small farmer, bringing our hectic culture back to the dining table as a center of pleasure and preserving ethnic food traditions. To that end, San Diego’s Slow Food convivium will benefit from two terrific events. A portion of the proceeds from the both will benefit San Pasqual Academy for foster teens, an alternative residential and education option. Funds donated to San Pasqual will be used to continue the Academy’s sustainable farm which is successfully teaching teens about ecologically sound food production. This project gives them a sense of positive accomplishment through land stewardship.

On August 26, from 4pm to 8pm at Orfilia Winery, the 4th Annual Taste of Slow Food San Diego “Slow Food Nation” features a casual walk about with food stations manned by such restaurants at Cafe Chloe, The Marine Room, Waters Fine Catering, ChileCo. and many others. For ticket and other information go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/17042.

If you can’t make it on August 26th, aim for a spectacular dining experience at The Marine Room, where executive chef Bernard Guillas plans an October 10 dinner featuring all La Jolla chefs to raise money for San Pasqual Academy. The $95 (plus tax and tip) per person meal stars 11 terrific chefs-many are Beard House alums. The menu includes a spiny lobster roulade (Evan Cruz, Roy’s La Jolla); black truffle raviolini (Tony Di Salvo, Jack’s La Jolla), and a renaissance pasticcio of tortellini (Jeff Jackson, The Lodge at Torrey Pines), and much more. For reservations and information: The Marine Room, 858-459-7222.

Executive chef Judd Canepari moves from La Jolla’s ocean front La Valencia Hotel to its sister property Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, nestled in the hills of Rancho Santa Fe.  The menu features California-Mediterranean cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a brunch on Sundays.  Over at La Valencia, Vaughan G. Mabee moves up from sous chef to executive chef for the hotel’s various restaurants that include the newly renovated Sky Room. 

Delirios in the Bird Rock area of La Jolla has closed. Front of the house Jerome Astolfi (he opened Jack’s La Jolla and garnered a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence) and chef Aaron La Monica (Lodge at Torrey Pines, Nine-Ten and Region) look to open their own place.

 Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar is the latest addition to Bankers Hill.  Located on Fifth between Olive and Nutmeg, the restaurant celebrates its weekend opening (August 16 to 19) with a complimentary glass of champagne for diners during these opening days.  2760 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill, 619-542-0394.

ECR(named for the street it is on, El Camino Real) in the La Costa Town Center is the latest venture from Savory owner-chef Pascal Vignau.  The casual, creative concept includes house-made fries, pickles, ketchup and bbq sauce along with such various burgers as pastrami with grilled onions and brie or a breakfast burger of eggs, sausage patty and country aioli. 7740 El Camino Real, Suite F, Carlsbad, 760-436-6400.

Buzz loves this taco shop and market in Solana Beach.  It’s the closest thing to crossing the border without the hassle and it’s just around the corner from Fidel’s and Tony’s Jacal and up the street from the race track.   Located in a small strip mall along with a deli and pizza place, Rudy’s opens  at 7am so you can get your Mexican fix on breakfast burritos, tortas, tacos and more.  It’s a favorite of the local workers and there is a small area for seating (you order at the counter) in the small market that sells fresh tortillas and other staples.  Buzz loves the small street tacos ($1.25) and the burritos ($4.50 average) and chile rellenos ($3.50) that fill the tummy quite well also.  The carne asada, cabeza, al pastor, carnitas and lengua (yes, tongue) are all terrific.  524 Stevens Ave., Suite 1, Solana Beach, 858-755-0788.  Open daily.

San Diego’s restaurant scene loses one of its best and most creative chefs. Riko Bartolome, owner-chef of award winning Asia-Vous in Escondido will take his toque and family to Maui in October. The restaurant closed July 31 with a final dinner of Bartolome’s “greatest hits” that included a feather-light goat cheese tempura with a dice of roasted beets, cherry tomatoes and balsamic “caramel” (so yummy the balsamic, I nearly licked the plate), a scallop on saffron flavored potato risotto with a sprinkle of peas that made the plate as appealing to the eye as it was to the taste buds and a melt-in-your mouth kurobuta pork confit with croutons and fresh stonefruit.

Bartolome whose Asian fusion dishes wow everyone from Carolyn Bates at Gourmet magazine to our local reviewers, couldn’t get San Diego’s eaters to venture out of the safe confines of mostly mediocre food and service in this county to support innovation and spot-on service. And so, a terrific chef moves on to wow the island where he once cooked at the Grand Hyatt Wailea and in time expects deja-vu for Asia-Vous in Hawaii. Buzz wishes the Bartolome family the best in their life’s newest chapter.

Say what you will, Liberty Station scores big with two new wine bars.  Buzz and pal went tasting and found two distinctly different settings.  For civilized, grown up sipping where you can talk without shouting, Mellow lives up to its name.  This small, but comfortable space is among the strip of new buildings with restaurants that include Greek, Mexican, Thai, Italian, and the ubiquitous Starbucks, just off Harbor Drive near the airport. 

Its urban contemporary design and helpful staff make it a perfect place to settle down after a long hard day (or during the day, for lunch). Open barely a few weeks, the staff guides you through a small and growing list of interesting wines.  Paninis, cheese and desserts ($7 and $8) are presented on square china plates, while elegant wine glasses complement the pours. Thought went into the design of the room with  upholstered couches and bar stools for seating and a painted wall of wine-filled glasses.  Open from 11am. 619-223-3348

Down the road at the opposite end of Liberty Station, next to the golf course and off Barnett Street, is Wine Steals’second location (the first is in Hillcrest).  Housed in a historic building, this is the place to go if you like it loud.  Sip wine while you eat mediocre 18-inch pizzas, priced from $12.50 to $19.50 or $2.50 a slice, or salads or cheese plates– served on black plastic throwaway plates.  The very casually dressed waitstaff could be taken to be customers save for the fact they are behind the bar and knowledgeable about the wines.  Much larger than Mellow, with outdoor seating, a view of the golf course AND the roar of planes taking off from Lindbergh Field, it’s a place that reminded Buzz of her college beer and pizza joint, upgraded to include wine and beer.   Open from 11am, 619-221-1959. 

Commentary by Buzz Editor, Marcie Rothman 

Frequently I am asked what the “best” restaurant is for this or that.  And while “best” may be debatable, I was flabbergasted to learn that In-N-Out won the 2007 Gold Medallion award for Best Hamburger. A fast-food burger wins in a town with a nationally touted burger joint? While I’ve got nothing against a good fast-food burger, I do wonder about the yearly awards–who gives them, gets them and what they mean to San Diego’s food scene.

The San Diego Chapter of the California Restaurant Association gathered for its 23rd annual dinner May 9–an evening when local members bestow Gold Medallions on each other. This big deal industry-only event pays tribute to nominees and winners for Best Breakfast, Best Pacific Rim, Best Hamburger, among others. To be nominated, a restaurant must be a member of the association–non-members are non-grata—and, as such, many of the very “best” large and small restaurants go unnoticed for Gold Medallions.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t about the restaurants per se, but is about the incestuous good ol’ boy-and-girl coterie of board members that has run the chapter for seemingly eons. The voting membership includes vendors, restaurants and others who pay the membership fee.  The chefs, restaurateurs and managers I spoke with consider the awards, unfortunately, as a joke.  Why?  Because these awards do not reflect the true “best” of San Diego–how can they when membership is requisite for award nomination and voting includes all members (including vendors who supply favored nominees) rather than restaurants only?

Some background:  The Sacramento based California Restaurant Association (CRA) is a group with roughly 22,000 members.  The purpose of the 100 year-old association is to be the “definitive voice of the California foodservice industry and to protect and promote its success.”  This is accomplished through education, lobbying, and community involvement. Among the nine main regional chapters, each with a board of directors and each with its own member activities, Los Angeles has 7,000 members with a 20-member board while San Diego counts 1,200 members and a board of 56 members.

Presently, San Diego is one of the few chapters that lavish so many awards on its members.  Over the years San Diego’s categories have grown — from 19 in 2003, to 36 in 2005  to the current 44, not including restaurateur or chef of the year. Many of this year’s nearly 140 nominees appear yearly and are board members as is the case with the Best Breakfast nominees. In 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007, nominees were Cafe 222, Crest Cafe, and Hash House a Go-Go.  An amazing feat for these three well-known eateries, considering this town has good breakfast venues in practically every neighborhood.

Categories are added to keep many of the same nominees in the game each year, albeit in a slightly different area. Best Hamburger is a good example of the shifting category syndrome.  Best Hamburger category was added in 2006. In prior years Best Fast Food or Best Quick Service Restaurant were the rightful categories for In-N-Out Burgers, Jack in the Box and Anthony’s Fishette.  In 2006 and 2007, In-N-Out moved and won for Best Hamburger against nominees that are not usually thought of as fast-food establishments:  Ruby’s Diner and Boll Weevil Restaurants, Fatburger, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Ruby’s Diner.

San Diego strives to be a big league player but the publicity around these purely insider awards negatively influences the credibility and awareness of San Diego’s restaurant scene, both locally and nationally. When foodies arrive for the 33rd Winter Fancy Food Show next January 13 to 15, some may wonder how serious a food culture we have when they read that a fast- food burger is the best in town.  Such an accolade affects how the entire region is perceived (for more than just burgers) considering many people will have attended shows in food meccas such as New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

The line between editorial content and paid advertising is so vague in San Diego that many of us are unaware that restaurants can pay for the privilege of a favorable mention on many well-known websites as well as in print. How many readers noticed the nine-page paid advertising supplement in the June 14th Night & Day section of the Union Tribune listing those Gold Medallion winners?

So, is a fast-food burger really the Best Hamburger in San Diego? When well-respected, nationally-known food and restaurant writers Jane and Michael Stern wrote a about Hodad’s in Ocean Beach for Gourmet magazine (June, 2004), who would have known from that year’s local CRA awards? No one, even though the Sterns, best known for their Roadfood books, website, columns and well-honed palate, put the restaurant on their national top 10 list for hamburgers in the country. Hodad’s (not a CRA member) remains on that list after Sterns second visit last year.

While some may say there’s really nothing wrong with any of this, I believe the public deserves better when it comes to learning what is “best”. For San Diego to be taken seriously as a restaurant city, we need unbiased, anonymous and critical restaurant reviews from food savvy writers who can educate and explain what constitutes good and great food and service.  We need clear disclosure when advertising guarantees positive reviews on sites and in print.  And we need awards that recognize more than just a few favored players. Future commentary will address the people’s choice and other local awards.

Finally, why not consider an association of restaurants only, working together to recognize the “best” that San Diego offers?  

Chef Jason Shaeffer, ex-executive chef at 1500 Ocean,and recently mentioned in  here on Buzz, On the Move Part 2, landed in Windsor, Colorado, a tiny historic town near to Ft. Collins.  He’s buying Chimney Park Bistro and the deal is due to close in August. 

Closer to home, Claude Renner takes over as General Manager of 1500 Ocean at the Hotel Del Coronado.

Arterra opens a new outdoor lounge and patio area just off the restaurant’s bar.  Nibble from a menu of California Small Bites created by executive chef Brian Pekarcik, a recent Beard House chef.  And summer events feature weekend blues and all you can eat barbecue for $18. For information:  858-369-6032

The Pearl Hotel owned by the L.W.P. Group, a San Diego urban development company will open soon in the old Sportsman Lodge Motel on Rosecrans Street in Point Loma.  The 23-room boutique hotel will have a restaurant of the same name and under the direction of chef Corey Heath, who worked with Michel Richard at his many ventures including Citronelle Restaurants.  Look for non-fussy, upscale cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Buzz can hardly wait.   

Wando Shrimp Co.Just back from a three and a half day Southern Foodways Alliance trip to Charleston, SC to experience lowcountry cooking at its best. Lots of good food, including delicious riffs on southern favorites such as she crab soup, shrimp and grits and lots more. Fabulous food at Slightly North of Broad, aka SNOB, McCrady’s, along with a breakfast “Big Nasty” from Hominy Grill, and a fun dinner on-site at the Old City Jail with food from Magnolia’s, SNOB and Louis’s Charleston Restaurant. A gorgeous stroll, lunch and history talk at Middleton Place plantation with the oldest landscaped garden in the US, and lots of Charleston’s muggy, hot weather.

Imagine a Hurricane Hugo wrecked ship named Richard & Charlene that came loose from the dock during the fierce hurricane. The wreck sat impaled on the bare pilings for nine months until salvagers removed the remains. The Wreck of the Richard & Charlene is the funky restaurant that sits at the wreck’s site on Shem Creek as a reminder of Hugo’s destruction. Immediately next door, at the end of the road is Wando Shrimp Co. where workers sort just caught shrimp. The restaurant serves greaseless shell-on fried shrimp, so tasty you can eat the shell and this brunch was a perfect ending to the trip.

San Diego could take a page from the food and service that marks many of Charleston’s restaurants. Chef-owned venues serve fresh local ingredients in dishes that keep southern traditions, yet push taste and presentation to more modern creations. Southern hospitality can’t be beat in this wonderful city founded in 1680 that oozes history everywhere you turn.

Well-known (and Buzz favorite) chef Jason Shaeffer quietly moved on last week from 1500 Ocean at the Hotel Del Coronado.  Shaeffer opened the restaurant a year ago and received high praise from critics. Word is he’s moving to Colorado to open his own place.  The hotel has not yet named a new chef.

Chris Walsh, most recently of Confidential, is back in Hillcrest with his own place, Bite Modern California Bistro and Wine Bar on University Avenue.  Buzz hasn’t yet been in yet but hopes to soon. 1417 University Avenue, 619-299-2483 (BITE). Open from 5pm, closed Tuesday. 

Also in Hillcrest, Alex Thao, one of the best when it comes to Thai food, just opened Chow Noodle House in his original Celadon spot on University Avenue and Sixth.  He moved the popular Celadon around the corner to Fifth Avenue.  The restaurant features just noodles, rice and broth noodle dishes from the Pacific rim and is open daily from 11 am to 11 pm. Everything that owner Thao does is top notch and this is no exception. Most dishes are $8 or $9 and can be shared. 540 University Avenue, 619-269-9209, www.chowsd.com 

Learn something new at Acqua al 2 Ristorante’s wine dinner with winemaker Marco Caprai of Arnaldo Caprai Winery in Umbria.  The winery is well known for its award-winning and high scoring wines made from the Sagrantino grape. On Wednesday, June 13 at 7pm, you can taste the wines paired with a terrific dinner from Chef Martin Gonzalez.  Cost for the dinner is $80 plus tax and tip, and reservations can be made at www.acquaal2.com or by calling 619-230-0382 

The hottest new hotel to grace San Diego is Ivy. Open barely two weeks, the kinks continue to be worked out at this classy, cosmopolitan and chic venue.  It’s upscale to the nines, yet casual and certainly a place where you want to be seen. Buzz recently had a look at this latest entry into the Gaslamp’s lineup of upscale boutique hotels. Ivy is the only downtown member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts.

For Buzz, Ivy is all about textures, in sight and touch.  In the entry, notice the columns covered with woven brown leather that contrast with a nearby white upholstered bench done in what feels like soft sheared sheep skin. A colorful abstract covers a huge wall visible from the lobby.  The bars and lounges feature deep couches (some almost bed-like) that make you want to want to slip off your shoes and tuck up your legs–otherwise, unless you’re tall, sit sideways, or lay down, your legs dangle like a kid on a big chair.  So deep are the sofas you can give your abs a workout as you recline and then move forward to retrieve a drink on the table.

Downstairs, just off the lobby, a sleek casual bar backs up to the handsome presentation cooking area of Quarter Kitchen restaurant.  The eating bar, surrounding the open kitchen with its huge stainless steel hood, makes a perfect place to watch chefs cook while you eat. Modern and open, the restaurant faces the corner of F Street and Sixth Avenue and is done in muted black, gray, and beige. Also downstairs to the right through the lobby is Envy, an ultra lounge that opens at 5pm with a separate nightclub open only on the weekends. Upstairs, from the nearly all white rooftop bar named Eden you can practically watch a baseball game at Petco Park.     

Interesting touches to note:  Each venue has its own signature matches in small boxes that look like cigarette packs; don’t be surprised when you hit the bathroom for Eden–men and women share a common sink area; smoke if you must downstairs in sumptuous glassed smoking areas open to the sky (and the elements); ogle the fetching bar servers wearing lacey, low cut, mini skirts serving drinks while tottering in spike heels; and valet park for $30 or $20 if you eat in Quarter Kitchen.

More later about the food, it’s really too soon to speak fairly about it. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The evening menu features entrees that range from the upper $20’s to upper $30’s and beyond for such things as Kobe beef served by the ounce and priced accordingly.  Ivy Hotel, 600 F Street, San Diego, 619-814-1000.