Regardless of price, it seems that high-end wine dinners are all the rage. Even if $200 per person for a Rhone wine dinner seems steep, wine geeks will love this lineup at Winesellar & Brasserie‘s June 5th event. Four courses and six spectacular wines that include 2006 Yves Cuilleron, Les Chaillets, Condrieu, 1996 Chapoutier, Le Pavillon, Ermitage and many others. For reservations and information call 858-450-9557.
And by the way, another well attended $200 dinner took place at Blanca where Caymus wines were paired with seven courses from chef Wade Hageman. Buzz heard about this dinner from an attendee who raved about it….
Rather spend your money for a good cause? Then check out the Wine & Roses charity event on Sunday, June 8 at the Westgate Hotel. $65 per ticket before June 5 and $75 at the door. It’s a terrific outdoor event (Buzz has been to a couple) with food and wine from many of San Diego’s best restaurants and wine purveyors.
Encinitas wine lovers now have Ed Moore’s second The 3rd Corner location in the Lumberyard shopping center. Buzz loves the original spot in Ocean Beach–great wine selection with an educated staff to help you choose your favorites. 897 South Coast Highway, Encinitas, 760-942-2104.
Taste tequila from Herradura at The Palm restaurant on June 12. The dinner is $95 plus tax and tip. For reservations: Cathy DeLeon, 619-702-6500.
A quick trip last week to Sacramento found Buzz eating with a local foodie at the newest addition to the city’s thriving restaurant scene. g.v.hurley’s restaurant & bar hops with a great vibe, comfortable room with high ceilings, dark wood, booths, large horseshoe shaped bar, and a snappy outdoor cantina style bar at the back of the main dining room. The kitchen, under the guiding hand of executive chef David Hill creates small plates of addictive kennebec potato truffle fries with shaved Parmesan (not the usual puffs of grated cheese) ($8), a trio of Kobe beef sliders with all the trimmings ($15), and a not so successful duo of lobster corndogs that we figure won’t stay on the menu. One terrific plate featured perfectly cooked scallops on a bed of fresh fava bean, corn and fennel succotash with a garnish of deep fried lemon slices. The combination worked perfectly. Mac & cheese poppers sounded so good, but we were out of stomach space! This six- week-old restaurant is absolutely worth trying. Lunch and Dinner, 2713 J Street, Sacramento, 916-704-2410.
At the Sacramento Airport, if you find your Southwest flight delayed as I did, wander through the food court to Vino Volo. It’s a comfortable wine bar serving wines by the glass or flight. The $9 glass of Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé hit the spot as I relaxed away from the hubbub. Definitely a spot to seek if you’re not into noisy sports bars. Other airport locations include Seattle, Baltimore, New York City and Washington, DC.
If you’re looking for honest, solid food Ritual Tavern, only a few months old, might be your place. It’s on 30th Street, a few blocks north of Lincoln. Buzz and pals made two visits to taste some of its small menu. Not fancy, but homey with dishes made with mostly local, organic ingredients. You might call the place a neighborhood Slow Food eatery. Owners Michael Flores and Staci Wilkens (alums, along with chef Glenn Farrington, from The Linkery) strive for dishes made from sustainable and organic ingredients. Niman Ranch provides their meats and Farrington makes his own catsup, mustard, pickles and slaw to avoid high-fructose corn syrup and other additives usually found in commercial brands.
A northern version of gumbo that adds carrots to the usual southern trio of onion, green pepper and celery is thickened with roux and the bites of spicy sausage, chicken and shrimp mix well in the bowl with organic wild rice. It’s a zippy, hearty dish that is just terrific, as a dish, regardless of whether it can be called gumbo in the strictest sense. A dish should be good on its own merits and this one is. Farm-raised catfish and house-made chips are light and crunchy though the fish could have used a moment more in the fryer to give it a firmer texture. A perfectly cooked medium-rare lamb sirloin flanked with fresh chard and potatoes du jour is the highest priced item on the menu ($19). There’s a delectable bread pudding with homemade bourbon sauce and a seasonal fresh fruit (apple and pear one night) that hit the spot–albeit with an unexpected heavy crust.
An extensive list of beers and a small eclectic group of wines by the glass make good beverage choices. You’ll find gluten-free dishes and the kitchen is willing to adjust a dish to meet your needs. That said, it can impact the kitchen and service. One night all went well, another time salad and entrees arrived together. One could argue it’s food you’d make at home, simple and tasty, but why bother if you’ve got a neat little tavern nearby.
Zensei in North Park is a favorite among the locals. Here you can sit at the sushi bar and listen to the chefs speak Spanish as they create nouveau fusion rolls (many with cream cheese–too over-the-top fusion for me). This restaurant, in 2005, was a finalist (along with winner Café Japengo) in the First Annual California State Sushi Competition where fusion reigns in the presentation and ingredients.
At this comfortable corner restaurant two of us found a menu with everything from oysters on the half shell and tempura jalapenos filled with crab and cream cheese to standard nigiri and quirky rolls such as pizza (baked smoked salmon, avocado and dynamite sauce) and yellow submarine (eel, crab, cream cheese, avocado, golden tempura and eel sauce, with a slice of jalapeno if you desire). Imitation crab is used, though the real thing can be substituted. Not your purist place.
We enjoyed crunchy roll with shrimp tempura, crab, cucumber, cream cheese (avocado substitutes for the cream cheese). Also pleasant was the crunchy salmon roll with cucumber, gobo and bonito flakes. These rolls run $ 9 to $11. If fish isn’t your thing, the kitchen produces a multitude of noodle, chicken and meat dishes with unusual twists. Service is attentive and the room is hopping most of the night. Monday through Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. is happy hour. 3396 30th St. at Upas, North Park, 619-546-6171. www.zenseisushi.com
Little Italy is one quintessential neighborhood with a unique mix of retail, residential and restaurants, all within walking distance of each other. The heart of this bustling area supports pizzas, empanadas, sushi and a corner pub, Princess Pub & Grille.
Lots of outdoor seating makes for good people watching as throngs of tourists and locals walk their dogs and kids along the street, especially on weekends. The Princess website boasts that it is the original British pub in San Diego, having opened in 1984. Inside you’ll find a large bar with comfortable chairs, lots of pub “stuff” on the walls for décor, and a lot of noise especially with the music turned up and people talking over it. It’s a happening place with a good vibe. Their menu while featuring fish and chips and bangers deviates to also include such things as baby back ribs and blackened Pacific salmon Caesar salad with Parmesan, not exactly my idea of authentic English pub grub. But as my sidekick remarked, they cater to a broader clientele given the location.
We ordered fish and chips and determined the chips, while thickly cut, were too soft and less flavorful than Shakespeare Pub & Grille in lower Mission Hills. For me, the fish batter also could have been crisper. The side of curry sauce for the chips is long on hot chile in the mouth, and reminds me of chile rather than a distinct curry. A meal of chips and curry is $6.50. I did like the Scotch egg as it was served warm, wrapped with flavorful sausage meat, cut in half and served with Branston pickles (a a finely chopped crunchy chutney of carrots and other vegetables flavored with vinegar, onion powder and lemon juice). 1665 India Street, Little Italy, 619-702-3021, www.princesspub.com.
One of my favorites for authentic pub experience, is Shakespeare Pub & Grille, located upstairs among the mini collection of restaurants on India and Washington Streets that include Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Middle Eastern and a wine bar and bistro. This very English pub sports dark wood tavern décor, wrapped with windows and simple wood tables. Out on the umbrellaed wood deck, my pub crawling pal and I sat on green plastic patio chairs and noted the dull roar of the I-5. The noise isn’t bothersome–consider it a version of white sound and inside seating can be noisy.
The menu includes shepherd’s pie (a melange of ground beef, vegetables topped with mashed potatoes and cheese), fish and chips (homemade), a few sandwiches, roast beef and bangers and mash (that would be potatoes and peas), among other things, none of which will bust your budget. Tap and bottled beers along with a full bar, make this venue a good hangout on a hot afternoon.
English chips typically are thick, not the skinny, limp wisps we call fries here in the states. At Shakespeare, those chips are long, crisp, thick and fleshy, and a meal at $4.95. Curry sauce can be ordered separately for $1.50 and must be something the English picked up when they owned India. This mildly spicy dipping sauce comes in a bowl and is a nice change from the usual catsup or malt vinegar. Scotch eggs are served hot or cold, and our server said typically they are cold. Now I happen to like cold sausage, but if you don’t, order it warm, as the sausage is wrapped around the hardboiled egg. Branston pickles with the quartered egg and sausage make a good mouthful. My half pint of black and tan (Bass and Guiness) washed it all down quite nicely. 3701 India Street, Lower Mission Hills, 619-299-0230, www.shakespearepub.com.
Ruby’s Diner, the fixture at the end of Oceanside Pier, is part of a restaurant chain, serving good typical diner food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ruby’s first restaurant opened in 1982 on the pier in Newport Beach. It’s a 1940’s diner atmosphere, with good hamburgers and. As the longest wooden pier on the west coast (1942 feet), you can get a good workout walking to the restaurant. 1 Oceanside Pier, 760-433-RUBY (7829).
For dessert or a pick-me-up espresso with Calabria coffee beans (my favorite roaster on 30th at University) Cow-a-Bunga, at the foot of the Imperial Beach pier, makes fresh ice cream and sorbet. About six months ago, former Loews Coronado executive chef Fabrice Gaunin and his wife Nelly bought the micro-creamery. Let’s just say this is really good ice cream, not overly rich or sweet and worth the visit if you’re in the area. Most popular flavors are, you guessed it: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, though I loved the chocolate chip (lots of chips, not chunks). 10 Evergreen Ave, Imperial Beach, 619-628-0508.
The Imperial Beach pier is home to The Tin Fish, with their other location in the Gaslamp next to the train tracks and the Convention Center. As you walk on the pier you get a spectacular view of the Coronado Islands, Mexico and to the north, Coronado.
The food is simple. You order at the counter, they call your number and you sit outside at tables or stools or inside. If you’re outside, watch that you aren’t sharing food with the greedy pigeons that pounce on your paper plate if you leave for even a minute. A half order of fish and chips (their most popular dish) brings three long pieces of cod fish, lightly breaded so much so that it reminded me of frozen fish sticks (they aren’t). They are good, along with hand cut, homemade, thick non-greasy crinkle fries and coleslaw with a vinegar-based dressing. Pier End, Imperial Beach, 619-628-1414
The T shaped Ocean Beach pier has my vote as a fabulous cheap date. Here you fish without a license, enjoy great views of the ocean and beach and just chill out from the city’s chatter. A bit more than midway to the T, stop at the Ocean Beach Pier Café owned since 1990 by the same family that owns the Fatboyz Pizza Mission Beach. This barely 20 seat wood and windowed room, outfitted with wood tables, captains chairs, a few patio chairs, and nautical pieces you can purchase, is just plain sweet. Sit at a window table and watch surfers below, or take in the coastline view north.
They open daily at 7 a.m. and serve breakfast all day. Don’t expect real plates, it’s paper and plastic all the way. Lobster fans will find an omelet and or taco, and the menu features a huge platter of nibbly nachos that two of us made a meal. Lemonade hits the spot in place of alcohol (it caused too much trouble on the pier) and white clam chowder comes in a bread bowl, (a smaller version comes in a small roll bowl). The rich chowder is creamy and filled with clams, potatoes and no thickener. Weekends, I’m told, there’s a wait for mango or blueberry pancakes. Scrambled eggs can be tricky if they are overcooked and dry. I had a single scrambled, perfectly cooked, egg with some really good homemade thickly sliced and cut crisp potatoes served with fresh salsa. Late in the day it made a perfect light dinner. Food can be ordered to go if you want to wander down to that T and watch the unobstructed sunset. 5091 Niagara, Ocean Beach, 619-226-3474.