At the Hotel Del Coronado’s signature restaurant, 1500 Ocean, the search for a new chef de cuisine is finally over with the arrival of Robert Hohmann who worked with Thomas Keller, Mario Batali and most recently in Napa at Michael Chiarello’s famed Bottega.  Expect Hohmann’s new menu to debut October 1, using Southland Coastal ingredients to create contemporary Mediterranean dishes that highlight the flavors of Italy, France and Morocco.

Those of you who miss chef Chad White (ex of Gabardine and Sea Rocket Bistro), his toque landed  in Golden HIll at Counterpoint.  The menu for this wine bar says “food for people” and “wine for people”  (who else besides people?), and features an eclectic collection of items from fried bologna and cheese on white bread and plum barbecued tofu to a cheeseburger and rabbit confit.  We’ll see what changes chef White creates in the next few weeks and months.

In Mission Hills, Brooklyn Girl Eatery‘s opening chef, Tyler Thrasher moves on and sous chef Colin Murray takes over the kitchen duties.

As the New Year approaches, it’s time to remember a few of the stories that got Buzz’s attention in 2011:

1.  The unexpected death of Naomi Wise, San Diego’s only truly anonymous food critic.  She wrote for the San Diego Reader and was scrupulous to keep her identity hidden.  I was an occasional member of her eating posse as she sometimes referred to her dining companions.  Back in 2007 a post appeared here and Naomi wrote a perfect comment about what she did to be the critical and (sometimes unpopular) restaurant reviewer in the county.   While San Diego does have writers and bloggers extolling the latest dish about a place, none are completely anonymous–ask any of the PR agencies that host media dinners.   These days, everyone thinks they know food, just look at Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and other social media.  Naomi’s  honest, food knowledgeable voice will be missed.

2.   National TV beckoned Nine-Ten‘s chef Jason Knibb who took on Bobby Flay in an Iron Chef America challenge.  Knibb lost but had a good time with the “all business” Flay who barely bothered to speak to Knibb after the show.  Riviera Magazine lost food writer and editor Troy Johnson to San Diego Magazine.  Along the way he had time to create and star in  Crave, a new show for the Food Network.  Bernard Guillas, executive chef extraordinaire at The Marine Room appeared twice on the Today Showand also was inducted into the Maitre Cuisiniers de France, a very high honor.

3.  Brian Malarkey who brought us Searsucker continues on a material tear, opening places all over the county, all named for fabrics that include Burlap and for 2012, Herringbone, Gingham, and Gabardine.  Interesting concept and Buzz wonders if he didn’t get the idea from Washington DC chef/owner Tom Power who, a few years ago, named his first restaurant Corduroy.  His second, Herringbone opens in 2012.  Malarkey picked up the shuttered La Playa Bistro and plans for it to become Gabardine. It will be worth watching how Malarkey unbuttons this small space located on a corner at the end of Point Loma’s business area.  For anyone other than area residents the restaurant’s location is nearly a dead-end destination.  And what about the food?  Will Malarkey’s name be enough to fill the spot?  Someone remarked the restaurant could have had a more nautical name such as Canvas, to reflect the neighborhood’s well-known tenant-–the San Diego Yacht Club is just two blocks away.

4.  Chefs making news:  Amy DiBiase now oversees The Shores in La Jolla, working with executive chef  Bernard Guillas; Paul McCabe left his executive chef duties at Del Mar’s Kitchen 1540 for a partnership with the owners of Rancho Santa Fe’s Delicias; Jason Maitland left Flavor del Mar and will open Red Light District in the old Sushi Itto in the Gaslamp while CIA schooled and highly credentialed Brian Redzikowski took Maitland’s spot.  Chad White jetted to Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park.  At the Hotel Del Coronado’s 1500 Ocean Brian Sinnott chose family over running the kitchen, Aaron Martinez is now in charge and wine director Joe Weaver just moved north.  Jason Shaeffer opened 1500 Ocean in 2006, then moved to Windsor, Colorado, bought a restaurant, named it  Chimney Park Restaurant and Bar and was just named one of OpenTable Diner’s Choice Overall Winners for 2011 (as was Addison at the Grand Del Mar).  Carl Schroeder made it to the semi-finals for a James Beard Foundation Award in the Best Chef Pacific region (as was William Bradley of Addison in 2010), neither made the finals…

5.  San Diegans like to drink.  According to a survey in The Daily Beast , San Diego ranks 9th in drunkest cities…This may not be an honor the city needs.

Happy New Year…May 2012 bring San Diego’s chefs, restaurants and diners great food (and service, too).  And perhaps this year will bring a James Beard Foundation award to a deserving chef and restaurant.  It’s last minute, but you can put in your own nominees for the awards here–just do it before December 31, 2011 at midnight.

One of the truly exquisite spots in San Diego is in Coronado at the Hotel Del Coronado.  It’s a place you can walk the promenade between the sand and ocean and then walk up the pathway a few steps for a drink at the firepit lit Sunset Bar or enjoy a lovely dinner at 1500 Ocean. Earlier in the year both chef de cuisine, Brian Sinnott and wine director Ted Glennon moved on and now there’s a new culinary team at the restaurant.

Chef de cuisine Aaron Martinez worked for three years at Addison under William Bradley at The Grand Del Mar , and most recently headed the kitchen at Rancho Valencia. We’ll wait to see what Martinez does with the menu as the current one online still reflects the work of Sinnott as well as his then position as chef de cuisine. 

Joe Weaver stepped into the wine director’s position after working with Glennon for nearly two years.  Buzz knows Weaver from his days at the short-lived (but very good) Crescent Heights Kitchen and Lounge that closed in 2009.   He is certified at the second level of the Court of Master Sommeliers as well as honors study at the  Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

Change comes quickly to 1500 Ocean with the news that chef de cuisine Brian Sinnott will leave effective April 1, and as he assured me in an email, it’s no April Fool’s joke.  He wants to concentrate on his family.

Supper club dining comes to San Diego:  Whisknladle Monthly Supper Club does it on the last Tuesday of each month as they begin their third year.  Bringing strangers together in celebration of food, wine & great conversation, the three-course family-style fixed-price dinner for up to 12 to 14 guests  served in Whisknladle’s private dining room includes paired wines.  Limited to four per group to spur mingling in their private dining room, the next dinner is March 29 and the cost is $75 plus tax and tip.  For reservations: 858- 551-7575.

Grant Grill Saturday Night Supper Club creates a jazz evening, with specialty cocktails and dinner.  Drink and dine and then spend the night at the hotel with their Saturday night escape package which you can find on their website after scrolling down seven items in the list.  (Note to hotel, make it a bit easier to locate on the website.)

The recent Union-Tribune front-page story by Peter Rowe features a good insight about the sad state of San Diego’s fine dining food scene.  It’s worth the read along with the eight comments and three letters to the editor including one from a guy who writes about restaurant management and service.

Buzz would add to Rowe’s story the elements of restaurant management and service (far too casual and rarely spot on), local media that rarely critically evaluates a restaurant and the many wannabe inexperienced “reviewers” who populate Yelp and Chowhound–many with price and quantity their only markers. As a result, diners miss understanding the finesse a chef needs to execute something more than a burger or what elements make truly fine service–and mediocrity becomes the given. Some of this may also be an issue of age and demographics, as baby boomers seem more interested in trying new foods as this article notes.

Service, in many cases, tends to be better at our ethnic restaurants where rarely a server announces his name A savvy diner (or an out of town food critic) with knowledge of superior service would likely cringe if the server introduced himself to the table with a “hi, my name is…” as continuously happens in San Diego. Even at a recent dinner at 1500 Ocean (a Buzz fav) that featured a high understanding of quality service and top-notch food, that one seemingly trivial and irritating announcement came from our server.

Sure we live in a casual spot, but that doesn’t mean the service needs to be on a first name basis.  The month-old Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern, a casual, comfortable and bustling dockside eatery comes with good tavern food and a five-star management team (Royal Hawaiian, Ritz-Carlton).  Service is attentive and in the five times Buzz visited, the server never mentioned his name.  You can ask if you choose to know.

Then there are the awards Rowe doesn’t mention.  San Diego’s idea of restaurant awards centers on two mainstays: San Diego Magazine’s yearly mentions with the critics and people’s choice awards…some hit the mark, though others are nothing more than a popularity contest.

Consider also the hilarious Gold Medallions given by and for members of the San Diego Chapter of the California Restaurant Association. A restaurant must be a member to even think about being nominated—and the same ones are nominated year after year. There’s nothing wrong with handing out insider awards such as “best hamburger” winner In-N-Out one year, though the next year the category changed and they won for “best fast casual”.  It’s ok to be part of a club, just don’t advertise it to the world so that diners believe these restaurants are the best in the county. Buzz wrote about this in 2007 and not much changed in 2008 or 2009.  The 26th Annual awards dinner will be held June 1.

Nor does it help that the few talented chefs mentioned in Rowe’s piece get very little, if any, local critical reviews. Good reviewing helps the dining public gain knowledge of food and service. That barely 100 people showed up to hear Frank Bruni (the ex-food critic for the New York Times) seems to indicate how so many care so little about how San Diego is seen (or not, as is the case) as a national player in the restaurant scene.

Some chefs, such as executive chef Bernard Guillas at The Marine Room, write a book, Flying Pans: Two Chefs, One World and then do their own PR for the restaurant as well as the book. Guillas just returned from New York events where he launched the book at a dinner for top dining and hospitality editors at the renowned Café Boulud (where ex-San Diego chef Gavin heads the kitchen). Most restaurants in San Diego do not have public relations firms (or a budget for such) to consistently pitch national media.  The standout is, as Rowe mentions, Addison where the chef was among twenty semi-finalists for the Beard Awards this year–due in great part to the hard work of a good PR firm that enlightens the national restaurant media.

Ask any public relations person in this town how many meals they comp to reviewers, and most will say they comp all the time. If not comped, then the reviewer may let the restaurant know they will be in, allowing the restaurant to put its best food and service forward—not necessarily the same for the general public.  (Full disclosure:  Buzz always pays for meals and expects the same service as the rest of the restaurant).  Steve Silverman, a longtime San Diego reviewer, believes “locals who moan that we’re not like New York should get over it and embrace the restaurants we do have.” Others say our food fits the laid back culture of the city and we ought not worry about national media recognizing our chefs.  What do you think?

**Popped into the latest pizza place to grace the University Heights dining landscape: Pizzeria Bruno.  Three of us arrived about 6:15 and asked to be seated in the bar area—two adorable, yet screaming children were enjoying pizza on the other side of the room.  The kids aside, this is terrific pizza as it should be made…a wood fire oven, very fresh ingredients and a pizza crust that is light, slightly chewy, blistered from the fire and worth every carb bite.

Try the house made mozzarella and tomato salad (ripe heirlooms) with a lovely little balsamic dressing served on the side to be dabbed not smothered on the cheese. ($8)  The handmade breadsticks (from the pizza dough) work to sop the cheese, fresh garlic slices and olive oil on the platter. ($6). The 11-inch Campania pizza included tomato sauce, mozzarella, fennel sausage, mushrooms and roasted onions ($15). The short Italian wine list features small boutique wines by the glass and bottle (nothing over $35). Service is spot on and smart (and our server didn’t need to announce her name, she was great). Open for lunch Thursday to Saturday, from noon, closed Monday. 4207 Park Blvd, (between Howard and El Cajon), 619-260-1311.

**Love wine, German wine in particular? Or never tried it, think it always just something sweet?  Well, here’s a chance to taste more than eight mostly white (in many styles) top notch German wines with Rudi Wiest, one of the best known German wine importers.  This rare event is happening at ENO and 1500 Ocean, two great venues at the Hotel Del Coronado.   Starting at 4pm in ENO with wines, cheese and charcuterie with a four-course dinner at 6:30  by chef Brian Sinnott at 1500 Ocean.

Cost:  $105 for both or ENO  $35, dinner: $70. Drink to your heart’s content and spend the night with 20% off a room at the hotel.  For information and reservations: 619-522-8490 or contact Ted Glennon, ENO wine director at