The perfect espresso shot can be an elusive drink in San Diego. It seems that many places (and Buzz has tried many), don’t train their baristas properly.  If it’s not the barista, it’s the espresso machine, the grind of the coffee and of all things, the weather that can affect getting that one ounce shot topped with crema (that creaminess you see on the top of the liquid).  A shot isn’t a four-ounce bitter cup of coffee that many places serve.  More isn’t better when it comes to a shot of espresso.

Barely a year old, Toma Sol sits at the corner of Washington and Albatross Streets.  Owner Seekey Cacciatore has trained staff that know how to pull a shot. A perfect shot.  The comfortable independently owned neighborhood café also carries a varied selection of foods that include breakfast wraps, lunch sandwiches, beers and wines and even gluten free brownies and cookies so good you’d never guess there’s no gluten.  Cacciatore books interesting events from art openings to fundraisers and the café is the drop off place for Garden of Eden’s  CSA box of fresh produce    The organic and sustainable coffee comes from Cafe Motto.  301 W. Washington St., Mission Hills, 619-291-1159, Monday to Friday 6:30am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 7:30am to 8pm.

Caffé Calabria in North Park roasts coffee for many places around town and is a Buzz favorite for the quintessential espresso.  They now serve Neapolitan style pizza Wednesday through Sunday from 5pm to 11pm.  Among the others with Calabria’s beans:  If you’re in Liberty Station, Con Pane Rustic Breads & Cafe makes the best cinnamon roll in the city along with great breads and sandwiches–that partner perfectly with the good coffee.  Con Pane’s staff is trained by Caffé Calabria to understand the intricacies that make a shot.  Gelato Vero Caffe at the corner of Washington and India Streets also uses Calabria’s coffee to make good shots.  Their espresso bean gelato in a shot of espresso makes a fabulous afternoon pick-me-up.

A morning espresso at Little Italy’s  Caffe Italia is almost like being in Italy.  Some of the locals hang at the end of the bar dishing in Italian while sipping a perfect espresso and commenting on everyone who picks up their just-made drink nearby.  The espresso bar uses LavAzza coffee–a company that began in 1895 in Turin, Italy and continues there today. They also carry Gelato Vero’s various gelato flavors, including Buzz’s all time fav espresso bean.  1704 India St., Little Italy, 619-234-6767.

A few places Buzz wishes for a better pull:   Ask for a shot at Red’s in Point Loma and unless you specify short, you can end up with half a cup of coffee–that is not a shot.  Buzz likes the vibe of Red’s, the roasted- in-house coffee at Red’s, even some of their morning pastries, but goodness gracious, please Cyndy Grace Savoy (owner), train your staff.  It’s a waste of really good coffee not to have each and every person know how to make a proper shot. Is  it because there’s an ever-changing morning staff who apparently are not trained on the espresso machine or have never heard the words short shot or proper shot or simply espresso? They also have beer and wine and good food long into the night.  1017 Rosecrans, Point Loma, 619-523-5540.

Across the street at Living Room Cafe ask for an espresso and you end up with nearly 5 ounces.  They will remake it to whatever you want, but that shouldn’t be the case for a proper espresso.  Come on Living Room, an espresso isn’t a vente!

Troy Johnson, for those who don’t read Riviera magazine, is their senior editor for food and drink.  He’s also a pretty clever and funny guy in person as well as on the written page.  If you’ve ever aspired to be on the Food Network, check out Troy’s audition tape that got the Network to put him on the air.  The show, called Crave, is written and hosted by Johnson and  premiers June 20 at 10pm.  Here’s a short clip.

Caffè Vergnano 1882 opened this week in Hillcrest and Buzz has tried it and it’s good.  Owner Hector Rabellino comes from Genoa and soon you can also expect to find savory sandwiches, pizza and focaccia to munch while you enjoy an espresso.   If you want a proper coffee, espresso to be exact, this place (as well as Caffé Calabria in North Park and Little Italy’s  Caffe Italia) are the three best around–they understand that a shot isn’t a half a large cup of coffee but one that fits perfectly in a small ceramic cup.

Chef Chad White has joined Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park  as executive chef and partner. Look for menu changes in the next few weeks.


Every once in a while it’s good to get out of San Diego to see what the rest of the world is eating.  Recently, Buzz tripped up to the Monterey Peninsula.

In the Monterey/Pacific Grove area…great, fabulous coffee at Acme, in Seaside, two minutes north of Monterey.  Owner Larry Thurman opened this tiny place four years ago in a garage with the motto “Resist Corporate Coffee”.  Here you won’t find those over-the-top concoctions that mask the taste of good coffee.  You will find small batches of beans from small growers, roasted in-house, ground to order and made into espresso–properly, as shots–or as regular coffee made in a simple contraption called a drip bar that allows for the coffee to made fresh in the cup–with the coffee of your choice. No stale canister coffee here.  Thurman cleverly names his blends:  Motor City Espresso, Valve Job Blend, Road Dog Blend, you get the picture.  Try the natural Ethiopian as espresso, it’s rich, not burned and almost sweet but very satisfying.  Barista Chris and Larry both know how to make very good coffee.  Located just off Broadway on Contra Costa and Palm, Seaside, 831-393-9113, Monday-Friday 6:30am to 5pm, Saturday 7am to 3pm, closed Sunday.

Down in Pacific Grove, two minutes south of Monterey, you’ll find a walkable town with many historic Victorian homes and friendly people who acknowledge you with a smile or a good morning as you wander the streets to the ocean.  At the corner of Lighthouse and 18th you”ll find Fournier’s Bakery Café. Owner/chef Kevin Fournier turns out featherlight focaccia for sandwiches and panini, not too sweet dense cocoa brownies, almond paste bear claws and lots more including custom wedding and specialty cakes.  650 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove, 831-655-1447.  Open daily 8am to 5pm.

Just a few blocks away on Lighthouse, is Mélange, one of the very few places with small bar–if you don’t want to sit at a table.  Open for dinner only, the small menu changes with the whim of chef/owner David Frappiea and the seasons.  David describes his menu as world fusion (and I would add, without, thankfully any confusion).  He resists overdoing flavors but isn’t afraid to tempt the palate with an offbeat take on a dish.  Always great is the house-made fettuccine with wild mushrooms, simple and very flavorful with a mélange of seasonal ‘shrooms in a light butter sauce with tomato and fresh basil.  A lovely shrimp risotto and even veal sweetbreads and braised rabbit starters appear on this small and well-priced (mostly mid $20’s) menu.  A thoughtful and interesting wine list pairs with the food and  David’s fiancée Dorothy has a terrific palate for wine/food pairings.  For my taste, however, I prefer to have my reds not at room temp (usually 65 or 70 degrees), but slightly cooler, as if they came directly from the cellar, to enhance the wine’s flavors.  Dinner only from 5:30pm to 10:00pm, Closed Sunday, 542 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, 831-333-0301.

San Diego’s East Village has a new place to dine. Cowboy Star (link not working as of this post) opened last week on 10th Avenue between G & Market. According to the menu notes executive chef and co-partner Victor Jimenez is “committed to supporting local and regional farmers, fishers and producers by cooking food that recaptures the simple and pure tastes found in locally grown, natural and organic ingredients….” He features Meyer natural beef and hand-cut steaks from their butcher shop including a 14- ounce grass fed American bison rib eye from Oregon ($34) and a 21 day aged 40-ounce porterhouse for two ($82). If meat isn’t your thing, you’ll find buttermilk fried sweetbreads with green apple-savory slaw ($11), roasted cauliflower soup with toasted caraway seeds and truffle oil essence ($8) and a long-braised rabbit leg with house cured pancetta, carrot risotto and red radish ($26). The interior is cowboy leather, wood, white table linen, open kitchen and cozy bar seems at first glance quite a comfortable setting. Buzz hopes to get there soon. 640 Tenth, San Diego, (619) 450-5880. Lunch weekdays; Dinner Tuesday to Saturday and Sunday brunch.

Lots of action over in North Park as Sea Rocket Bistro moves into The Linkery’s original spot on 30th just off Upas. Expect them to start serving June 1, using lots of local seafood and other ingredients, including a sea urchin bisque…The Linkery moved down the street on 30th to a larger space and just reopened last weekend.

Over in the Roseville-Point Loma area, the nine year-old Con Pane Rustic Breads & Cafe now serves Buzz’s favorite coffee: Calabria from the coffee house and roastery that is a mainstay on 30th just north of University. Now Pont Lomans can enjoy the bakery’s breads breakfast pastries, sandwiches and cookies with a terrific cup of java. Con Pane, corner of Canon and Rosecrans, Closed Wednesday, 619-224-4344.

Speaking of Roseville, Roseville the restaurant opens late next week across the street from Con Pane and immediately next to the well-known Point Loma Shelter Island Drug. Reservations: 619-450-6800

And for chocolate lovers, The Elegant Truffle, just around the corner from Roseville on Scott Street and Canon, serves up luscious house-made caramels, truffles and feather light angel food cake, cookies and more. 1111 Scott Street, 619-222-1889.

Everyone is doing brunch these days and here are a couple more choices. In Point Loma, The Pearl, kicks off Sunday brunch on May 4 from 10am to 2pm with newly installed executive chef Trey Hartinger. This particular Sunday is called The Groove 24/7 Brunch Party because it’s not only about the $20 meal with bottomless mimosas. If brunch isn’t your thing, arrive after 2pm for $5 drinks and nibbles til 8pm. Hartinger also redid the dinner menu and when Buzz has a minute, will give it a taste–pork belly, sweet breads and other interesting dishes show off Hartinger’s stints at Azzura Point and Stingaree. 1416 Rosecrans, 619-226-6100.

North Park’s Cardamom Cafe and Bakery will open in the next few weeks for breakfast, lunch and bakery items. Owner Joanne Sherif’s fascination with this wonderful spice comes partly from her Ethiopian husband and the use of cardamom in various sauces as well as Scandinavian baked goods, Indian curries and more. Should be a terrific change of pace and it’s at the end of 30th at 2977 Upas, 619-546-5609.

For city views while you sip your mimosa and munch on an omelet Ivy Hotel features weekend Eden Rooftop breakfasts from 7am to 2pm with items from $5 to $17. Reservations: 619-814-2000.

Bankers Hill is getting to be a mini gourmet gulch. Very soon to open is Mukashi Restaurant and Seafood Market on Fifth Avenue at Nutmeg and in the same block there’s the popular Avenue 5). Just up the street at Fifth and Redwood is the wonderfully eclectic coffee house Cafe Bassam and of course Extraordinary Desserts

Spicy Pickle opened their first downtown location at Beech and Union serving paninis, sandwiches and that sort of thing. It’s a franchise, and their second location is due in Poway soon.