There’s some buzz that the diva dessertier (her clever made up word) from La Jolla is in the permit stage for a place in Liberty Station.

From a reader comes a Wade Hageman (executive chef at Blanca) update: He’s looking to open a pizza place in Carlsbad…as noted in this comment from my earlier post.

A wonderful new restaurant named Roseville opened last week in the Point Loma community known as Roseville–one of the first areas settled by Louis Rose in the mid 1800’s. It’s the first restaurant for George Riffle, long known in this town from his stints managing the original Laurel Restaurant & Bar to opening Blanca in Solana Beach and Ivy Hotel in the Gaslamp.

He and his wife Wendy took the space next to the Point Loma-Shelter Island Drug store at Rosecrans and Canon that, in the 1960’s, was the gourmet market called Jurgensens. After the market closed, Italian restaurants came and vacated. Now Roseville brings to the area French-Mediterranean brasserie food and an eclectic wine list. The transformed space features booths, banquettes, a beer and wine bar and open kitchen–a lively room with a comfortable decibel level.

Executive chef Amy DiBiase, a graduate in culinary arts and food service management at Rhode Island’s Johnson & Wales University, gives a talented hand to the kitchen. She worked with Riffle and under then executive chef Jason Shaeffer at Laurel to eventually become top toque. When Laurel sold, she moved to Baleen at Paradise Point resort and now Roseville. Pastry chef Heather Fangon rounds out the original Laurel team with desserts that wow, now at Roseville.

And the food? It’s terrific. The Buzz disclaimer: I know the Riffles, DiBiase and Fangon, and have followed them since their days at Laurel many years ago.

Of the recent meals I have eaten with friends (and yes, I paid), the classic duck confit with shell beans (currently cranberry beans) comes with crisp skin and well-seasoned beans cooked with smoky bacon. Or, try the lighter flat iron steak, sliced and served on bed of cherry tomatoes with French feta cheese and light vinaigrette. Start with Carlsbad mussels steamed with flavorful fresh fennel and finished with a fresh herb salsa…and use a piece of Con Pane’s bread to sop up the juices. A deliciously zippy spring salad brings all fresh fava beans, corn kernels and blanched artichoke hearts mixed with an addictive grainy mustard dressing. Lamb, scallops, halibut, veal cheeks, daily specials and sides of frites, asparagus and other seasonal vegetables round out the menu. Ethereal desserts include a lemon chiffon parfait, a dark chocolate pot au crème and more. Service still has a few minor bumps, but the polish is nearly there-small things to be expected in a restaurant open not even a week. Prices range from $6 to $30. Roseville, (website soon) 1125 Rosecrans in the Village of Point Loma, 619-450-6800 for reservations. Dinner from 5:30pm, Closed Sunday

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.

Buzz did a quick roundabout of a couple of two new downtown restaurants that are worth a look.  Mind you both are barely a week old, but are a welcome alternative to the overdone pasta palaces and the Cohn’s collection of overpriced themed eateries.

In the space that was LG’s Steakhouse, at the corner of F Street and Sixth Avenue, George Katakalidis owner of Daphne’s Greek Cafe restaurants, created EXY, Chic Greek .  If you look closely, you will note that the E could be the Greek letter sigma…so call it sexy (and clever).  There is a large comfortable bar area that faces F Street (and Ivy Hotel).   The dining room features a well-priced Greek inspired menu with most entrees including braised lamb shank and a pan roasted whole fish in the mid $20 range.  The appetizers we tasted at the VIP opening party included grilled lamb chops and flat bread with grilled chicken and Greek cheese, and they were terrfic (and are on the appetizer menu.  When the dining room closes, the bar becomes a place for music and late night snacks from the bar menu.

Jade Theater is at the corner of Seventh Avenue and C Street, facing the trolley tracks.  There is valet parking for $15.  When I peeked in, there were two private parties in the bar area…if you love a noisy bar, this is your place.  The restaurant features small bites (Tease Me),  starters (Taste Me) and main courses (Eat Me).  Taste Me dishes range from $4 to $9-for yellowtail tataki with sake vinaigrette or crab kimchi with fried shiso leaf.  Asian fritto misto is $13 in the Taste Me column and a black bean ribeye with tempura vegetables is $39 under the Eat Me list.  Buzz didn’t have a chance to eat upstairs in the dining room, which is wonderfully simple in Asian decor and though open to the bar below, there are some areas that are quiet.  A server said that coming in early, before 7:30 or so, you’ll find it quieter.  

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?  

Commentary by Lynne Christopher :

Me thinks the editor does protest too much. The issue with SD Magazine has nothing to do with fact checking. It doesn’t matter. The issue is all about the perception by the people who read the magazine. No major publication, in any major food city around the country, would get away with what SD Magazine did.  The connection between the writer of the story, Ron Donoho, and his Hotel Del publicist wife, is widely known around town. And don’t the magazine editors ever meet to go over covers, reviews, etc. before publication?

This is just another example of why San Diego will never be a food city; the good old boys simply won’t let go. We need honest food critics who are able to write the truth without worrying about advertising dollars to the magazine. We need restaurant writers who don’t own or have investments in major restaurants in town. Terryl Gavre rings a bell. We need restaurant critics who pay for their own meals when they review and don’t accept or count on free meals. If we ever get there, maybe the city will improve.

And as for the fancy food show coming in 2008: Restaurants in town whose reputation is based on local reviewers, better take a long, hard look at what you are doing.  Why? Because the people who come to this show are very knowledgeable and sophisticated diners who are not afraid to tell restaurants exactly how they feel whether it’s good, bad or ugly.

Addison at The Grand Del Mar, the latest Doug Manchester creation just off Highway 56, is quite simply, unlike any property here in San Diego. Massive in scale, the stand alone restaurant almost feels like a lavish hotel with its high and ornate ceilings, intricate stone and woodwork, archways, porticos and views of the golf course. Named after a 1920’s Florida architect, Addison Mizner, the restaurant and its decor encompass much of Mizner’s work in Florida according to a book on Florida architecture given to the media. Buzz does wonder what the big deal is with Florida architecture in southern California…how did “Papa” Manchester become so entralled with Addison Mizner?

While we’ve not yet had a meal there, the menu is short as the restaurant gets up to speed with five entrees and five pre courses ranging in price from $14 to $46 and a six course tasting menu for $95. Some menu items: prawns with lemon-lime jam, white nectarines and sweet garlic confit, and bass with bacon-lobster fricassee, arugula and preserved lemon.

Buzz loved the staff who are trained in the European style of attentiveness and knowledge without being intrusive to the diner. The wine selection of nearly 2000 bottles is run by sommelier Jesse Rodriguez who arrived fresh from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. Management’s attention to details was noteworthy though the simplicity of the three page menu was marred by three glaring typos that we trust have been corrected. Addison, 5200 Grand Del Mar Way, 858-314-1900, Dinner only, Wednesday through Sunday.

Buzz is saddened by the huge change at the Wine Bank, a downtown institution serving savvy wine affectionatos for 30 years. Recently sold, the new owner added an ATM machine at the front door, lots of steel institutional looking shelving, a huge liquor assortment on the first floor, knocked out walls and has the place looking and feeling like a BevMo store rather than the comfortable and well-stocked wine store it used to be. We miss the cases of wine everywhere and the homey feel along with expert wine advice by the knowledgeable staff. Expect to pay more for wine and tastings too. You may still see prior owner Mike Farres at his familiar entry perch and his nephew Brian will be around for a while, but the change is hard to take. 363 Fifth Avenue, Downtown, 619-234-7487.

Chef Josh McGinnis, who opened Island Prime with the Cohn Restuarant Group, gave up his toque to be on the supply side of the restaurant business. He now sells produce for Los Angeles Specialty Produce. Another of the opening chefs, Daniel Bannister, is now sous chef at Pamplemousse Grille.

Solana Beach’s newest upscale dinner only restaurant, Blanca, has Zubin Desai (formerly of the University Club) as its General Manager watching over the house as Chef Wade Hageman does his magic in the kitchen. Bring your credit card, prices are steep.

And downtown at Dobson’s the long time watering hole and favorite landmark for San Diego’s movers and shakers, Michael Davis moves in to overhall the menu and add seasonal items. Davis comes from Pamplemousse Grille where he headed off-site catering.