With an economy that knows better days, we’d like to think that restaurants–from their PR representatives and front of the house management, to their servers and kitchen–would be all over good service.  Note to restaurateurs and management:  Service and food for a new place or one that’s been open for ages needs to be top notch when you’re competing for dining dollars as everyone is today.  Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes today about what restaurants are doing to show their appreciation to customers in these hard times.  The following three stories exemplify what Buzz hates to experience and hear about since we want every San Diego restaurant to succeed–it’s all in the details.

Why would Decanter Wine Lounge & Restaurant invite press (Buzz wasn’t on the list) to an opening that included the public at $45 a pop, for appetizers and main courses, according to the invite that went to Rancho Santa Fe residents?  One member of the invited press and a guest arrived to find the public relations person had neglected to add their names to the guest list so the hostess wanted $90.  Once in, they encountered a surprising series of food and wine missteps, which they found odd especially if the chef/owner, Jayson Knack (whose resume includes a stint at Nine-Ten Prospect) wants to make a good impression on potential customers including those who write about the place. Decanter officially opened January 30 and promises nearly 200 wines by the glass with 4500 bottles to choose from.

What’s up with downtown’s Currant American Brasserie? A couple of things:  Three of us on a recent Sunday night couldn’t figure out why the host only lit the candle at our table, leaving the rest of the tables looking forlorn and the impression the restaurant did not look open for business. The room lighting was dim at best and the bar TV blasted a sporting event while the room’s club music didn’t match the setting.  Plating and presentation on the dark and decorated dinnerware made deciphering the food difficult.  Carlsbad mussels with frites were a good choice, but a beet salad got lost on the dark plate.  The food works just fine, but the distractions make the enjoyment difficult.

The continuing problems at the Symphony Hall’s Sheraton Lobby Bar before Monday perfomances continues to confound pre-theater patrons who want a nosh before the performance.  The service as was reported here a year ago, still needs work as a reader reports “ When we attended the Monday December 15 performace of jazz trumpetist Chris Botti, the Sheraton Bar was entirely unprepared, understaffed. I was hoping it wouldn’t be that way, but based on the experience I had previously I braced for problems. We sat at the bar and got in our order early. I could tell there were problems with other customers though. Usually there are not performances on Mondays. But how hard can it be to go downstairs and get a symphony program from the box office?”

We’re hearing that the Gaslamp’s Dussini’s Mediterranean Bistro will convert the downstairs restaurant back to The Old Spaghetti Factory. Downstairs will close for remodeling February 1 and will reopen for dinner only.  Upstairs will continue to be the Dussini lounge and bar with a smaller tapas menu.

The Better Half, one the successful new restaurants of 2008 will see staff changes with the departure of its creator, Zubin Desai who sold the business to his executive chef, John Robert Kennedy.  Desai plans to relocate to the Bay area in the next few months.

Tommy Pastrami is coming to San Diego.  First location will be downtown with some of the best deli corned beef, pastrami, tuna and chopped liver sandwiches you will ever find in this town.  Last May Buzz mentioned them here.

Bankers Hill:  Fifth Avenue must be a magnet for sushi.  The area already has two sushi restaurants: Azuki Sushi Lounge and Mukashi within a few blocks of each other.  Now a third, Hane Sushi & Bar on Fifth Avenue at Olive arrives in the same block as Mukashi. For the non-sushi palate,  Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar sits between the two.  Buzz hasn’t yet  tried Hane or Azuki.

Gaslamp: The Gaslamp’s latest addition is Opera Caffe for Italian with a Tuscan twist from owner Roberto Bernadoni who had restaurants in Florence before he came to be the chef at La Strada for past 16 years. EXY Restaurant & Lounge downtown is closed for remodeling.

Stu Milner, formerly the bar manager extraordinaire at Paradise Point’s Baleen took his shaker and stirrer to The Royal Hawaiian’s upscale restaurant, Azure, on Waikiki.  The recently reopened Starwood property also houses the famous Mai Tai Bar that a friend  mentioned is the first place she visits every time she arrives in Oahu.

New: Beer lovers rejoice:  A pizza and brewery is set to open at 34th and Adams in Normal Heights called Blind Lady Craft Pizza and Beer and is a venture of Lee Chase and three partners.  Chase started Stone Brewery and worked there for nine plus years.For pasta and pizzas, Pastalini a casual pasta bar is open on Miramar Road.

If you’re still wondering what to do New Year’s Eve, here are some suggestions:  Support your favorite neighborhood restaurants where you may be able to sit at the bar if they’re already booked for dinner, or think about early drinks and then home with friends–you cook or get food to-go.   It’s a good way to stay close to home, enjoy the evening and support the restaurants. Party–even in these woeful economic times–and everyone wins.

The possibilities are numerous for celebrating with many venues offering early and late seating and prix-fixe dinners of three plus courses at reasonable prices. So rather than list every place that sent Buzz a release (and many who didn’t post anything on their websites or send an email), here are some of my top picks.

Downtown/Gaslamp/Little Italy: Crescent Heights Kitchen & Lounge, Quarter Kitchen, TabuleBacchus Wine Market (3 to 6pm tasting), Anthology and Enoteca Style for cheese, chocolate and Champagne.

Coronado: The Hotel Del celebrates the 50th anniversary of the movie Some Like It Hot,  Eno and 1500 Ocean also at the hotel, Candelas (Ferry Landing and Gaslamp).

East CountyBarona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino, Frida Mexican Restaurant and many other local area restaurants.

North Park: Urban Solace, Sea Rocket Bistro, Alexander’s on 30th and The Linkery, not to mention the newest wine bar Splash.  At the opposite end of 30th is Jaynes Gastropub and around the corner on Adams, the wildly popular Farm House Cafe.

Point Loma/Liberty Station:   The Pearl HotelRoseville, Solare RistoranteTender Greens (perfect also for a party at home as you can order online for take-away), The 3rd Corner (also in Encinitas) Pomodoro in the old Luna Notte spot, no website: Phone: (619) 523-1301) and Mellow A Wine Bar.

Hillcrest/Bankers Hill: The Better Half, Modus, Wine Vault & Bistro, Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar, Hexagone,(no website, 619-236-0467), Laurel Restaurant & Ba and Bertrand at Mr. A’s,

La Jolla/Del MarThe Marine Room, Nine-Ten Prospect, Market Restaurant & Bar, and The Grand Del Mar

The almost open Setai San Diego made a name change December 22, to Sè San Diego. The Asian word Sè loosely translates to color, quality, sensuality and physical attraction which the owners felt better defines the hotel and separates it from its sister Setai in Miami (owned by Lehman Brothers).  The idea is to brand the hotel and future properties in other cities (think Sè Las Vegas and you get the idea).  The hotel is in its soft opening and its signature restaurant Suite & Tender Bar, Lounge & Restaurant (a cute play on words, but will you think steak?) hopes to be open by Sunday, December 28.  Christopher Lee, from New York where he garnered two Michelin stars for Gilt, is the consulting chef and Bill Boyle is the executive chef for the mostly steak, raw bar and seafood menu.  1047 Fifth Ave., San Diego., 619-515-3000.

Looks like Tracy Borkum finally sold Chive, long rumored to have been on the market.  The site could become a Latin-inspired restaurant so stay tuned for more info on this Gaslamp spot on Fourth Avenue.

And in a sad sign of the times do not be surprised to see a couple of San Diego’s newer (and highly leveraged) establishments fall by the wayside as early as January.

Up in Napa, food lovers who thought about a visit to Copia will find it shuttered as of last Friday due to mounting debt on the property.

On a happier note, to support many of our local venues, check out the restaurants involved in restaurant week that runs January 11through 16, 2009.  Restaurant week is a good way to try new places or visit others you may already know.

If you’re in Washington DC, the popular Gaslamp restaurantAcqua al Due will open on 7th Street near the historic market building. Expect a spring 2009 opening.

The well-known Luna Notte in Point Loma will soon become part of Hillcrest’s popular Arrivederci Ristorante.  Luna Notte’s owners, Rob and Angela Scott have sold the restaurant and are moving to Bainbridge Island in Washington at the end of this month.  It will be interesting to see how locals at  Old Venice, La Scala, Pizza Nova and Solare in Liberty Station will take to their new neighbor.

Up in La Jolla there’s buzz that two well-known (and very good) chefs may be vying for Damon Gordon’s executive chef spot at the Gaslamp’s Ivy Hotel.

And up in Solana Beach, could it be that the chef from the area’s top eatery may be looking to move on?

Downtown has a new chic dining room:  Crescent Heights Kitchen & Lounge at the corner of India Street and Broadway.  The contemporary room (designed by the same firm that did Blanca in Solana Beach) matches the modern American menu that features mussels with flavored chorizo in an addictive broth, lovely charcuterie and cheese plates (and you can choose your meats and cheeses), along with Parmesan fries, skinny onion rings, sliders and lots more.  Three of us sampled most of the above on a quiet Saturday night…We’d all go back.  Open for lunch and dinner, closed Sunday.  655 West Broadway, 619-450-6450.

Arterra’s general manager, Tom Mastricola moves on for an, as yet, undetermined location.  Sara Hanson moves from The Pearl to take Tom’s place.

Up in Hillcrest, The Better Half can help get over the shock of the stock market drop and still eat well with a three-course dinner for just $15.  Called the “Stressed Economy Blue Plate Special” the dinners are available from 5 to 7 pm daily.  You can choose flat-iron steak, snapper, wild game meatloaf or pasta, along with soup or salad and, of course, dessert.  Pretty damn good deal at a place with a wonderful selection of half-bottle wines. 127 University Ave., Hllcrest, 619-543-9340.

Blue Boheme in Kensington will preview their Papa Nanou menu (even though the restaurant is not yet ready) on October 19.  It’s a prix-fixe menu for $48 and reservations can be made online or at 619-255-4167.

There’s a shakeup in the kitchen at the Ivy Hotel. Executive chef Damon Gordon moves on at the end of the month for a likely gig back on the east coast at another upscale hotel.  No word who will step into Gordon’s position.

In these tough economic times, we hope it isn’t true:  Could it be that a supper club in Bankers HIll  might be on the selling block?  Readers to this blog wonder if another restaurant/club near Symphony Hall may not be faring so well.  Up in Hillcrest, a reader wonders about a wine bar that may also be on the ropes.  Stay tuned.

Wine lovers will be sad and glad to know that the famed Chateau Montelena winery in Calistoga is being sold to the house of Cos d’Estournel in the Saint-Estèphe area of Bordeaux.

Over at The Shores Restaurant and sister to the well-known Marine Room, Lisa Redwine is the new General Manager. Many may know her from Molly’s where she was the GM as well as the hotel wine director. Bernard Guillas is the executive chef for The Shores as well as the Marine Room. Both properties are part of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.

EXY, the downtown chic Greek restaurant and lounge is now open for lunch with items such as chicken pita sandwich, swell hamburgers, salads and other dishes from their dinner menu–sized for lunch–and priced between $5 and $9. Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and though Saturday for dinner. Also available for private functions on Sunday and Monday. Located at the corner of Sixth Avenue and F Street; phone: 619-238-0412.

The Saturday Little Italy Mercato grows weekly with new vendors that include rotisserie chickens from Grill Master, lots of seasonal and produce for locovores and bakery items too…I hope to get there this weekend. Located between Date Street and Kettner to Union and open from 9am to 1:30pm.