Little Italy: Wandering along India Street in Little Italy one quickly realizes the overwhelming number of restaurant choices.  If you want to go beyond the familiar spaghetti and meatball fare, La Villa is your place. The restaurant belongs to  a group that began in 2000 with Trattoria Itrulli in Encinitas and now includes other venues in Little Italy: Buon Appetito, Tazza D’Oro, Sogno di Vino and The Market by Buon Appetito. It’s a Buzz favorite for many reasons.

First, they finally got their website up and running and now you can see the menu of innovative dishes from chef Chris O’Donnell.  He uses locally sourced seasonal ingredients to create–without fussiness–interesting and approachable food with a rustic Italian touch.  O’Donnell enjoys changing the aspects of some of his dishes almost weekly which can be a frustrating for diners who come back for a favorite only to find it revamped within weeks.  At times, even the kitchen can’t keep up with a tweaked dish. One recent night the wild mushroom pizza changed that day to include fresh morels and other ingredients, but the kitchen  delivered the original version first, then rectified the error.

There’s patio seating, (with heaters and even a cozy corner sofa), a chef’s table in the bustling kitchen (seats 12 or so, but just two can dine there too) and an interesting wine list that includes a small (and growing) selection of half bottles.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Reasonably priced, real half bottles, not carafes masquerading as Among the choices you’ll find a 2008 Schramsberg sparkling wine ($27) and a delicious 2009 Storybook Estate Zinfandel ($26).

Cocktails go well with my favorite (thankfully unchanged) avocado bruschetta–toasted baguette slice with a smear of avocado, topped with sliver of hard-boiled egg and dotted with capers ($10). A recent meal included that Storybook along with a fresh morel, baby chard leaves, ramps and a sprinkle of fresh English peas pizza ($18), a perfectly cooked (that means not chewy) grilled octopus tentacle salad ($14) and squash agnolotti with fresh favas and squash blossoms delicately plated and lightly accented with tomato sauce and pesto ($17). Fish, meats and chicken preparations vary as noted above–sometimes more often than one might wish–all good however.

The front of the house offers effortless and helpful service.  A recent wine dinner seated the 65 plus diners at tables of 8 to 10 people. A smart idea that allowed a table to be completely served at once, thus the kitchen was able to work smoothly with the wine service and no one was left wondering when their food would arrive. Food paired well with the wines and more dinners are in the offing. Full disclosure: Though I know the GM and chef, I pay for my meals. La Villa, 1646 India Street, Little Italy, 619-255-5221, open daily from 11:30am.

Point Loma:  Word on the street about the construction in the long vacant building on the corner of Nimitz and Rosecrans that Vons once occupied:  It will soon be Ralphs.  Expect the new store to open about May 10.

 

For the longest time Point Loma suffered from a lack of restaurant choices.  But now things are popping as Buzz .  The latest addition to the group is Lighthouse Bar and Grill that opened last week at the corner of Canon and Scott Streets with a full liquor license (beers on tap too) and a menu that includes 10-inch pizzas ($11.95 to $13) that might give Old Venice pause.

It’s a casual room with bar seating (comfortable seats, unlike those hard tiny ones at Old Venice), with tables on the perimeter of the rooms.  Expect some hiccups as they settle in with their menu that includes everything from salads and crab cakes to pasta and pizzas. (A few menu items may look familiar but with a different twist, coming from their sister restaurant Pomodoro next door.)  My take-out pizza arrived with no basil (but had a not too thick or chewy crust, hand formed and was good even minus the basil). Their crab cakes are good if you like the almost pâté style that they and many other places serve.  Buzz prefers the chunky, light, with no or very little, cracker crumb filler.

I called to let the manager know about the missing basil so that he could alert the kitchen, and he thanked me for telling him.  Yes, it’s good to nicely let a restaurant know about a problem as it helps them iron out the opening kinks.  It’s not nice to slam a place in a Yelp comment without first letting them know the problem.

Observed at the bar single gals checking the scene with drinks as well as solo guys, locals, having dinner.  Open for dinner and now, soon for lunch. 1101 Scott St., Point Loma, 619-224-2272.

A few blocks away on Rosecrans, between Canon and Talbot comes Westy’s Antique & Tavern at 1029 Rosecrans.  Just posted the ABC notice, so it will be a bit of time before it opens.  Local resident James West is listed as applicant for the beer and wine license.

And in the same block La Playa Café and Marketplace opens Thursday, June 30.  Owner Cindi of La Playa Bistro, next door plans to serve gelato, smoothies, sandwiches and more.

On Kettner, in Little Italy just before Juniper, 98 Bottles expects to open this summer.  Sounds like it will be a fun spot

UPDATE:  More Buzz about the Roseville space:…We’re hearing The Waterfront (on Kettner) wants it–and a full liquor license–and will redo the restaurant with a different name, but same Waterfront concept.

Terra in Hillcrest will close and move to 7091 El Cajon Boulevard in a stand alone former Italian restaurant at 71st and El Cajon Boulevard.  They will open the first week in April.  In the meantime, you can enjoy a Valentine’s dinner at the current location, for just $59 plus tax and tip.  Their final “hoorah” party as Rossman put it in his email blast will be March 18. 3900 Vermont St., San Diego, 619.293.7088.

Other places we’ve been wondering about:  Mia Francesca’s in Little Italy, beset by construction issues, finally forging ahead again.  Their website says they expect to open Little Italy in May and in August a second location in Del Mar Highlands Town Center. 1655 India Street, San Diego, 619-237-9606 and 12955 El Camino Real, G-4, San Diego.

Brazen BBQ Smokehouse & Bar has their liquor license application posted. We should soon be seeing some good barbecue at 441 Washington and Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest.

Finally, should anyone want to buy the restaurant as well as the real estate of Lamont Street Grill is for sale, complete with a  type 47 liquor license and two rental units for $1,495,000.  For more information:  858-764-4223.

We’re hearing the Point Loma former site of Roseville (closed in August, 2010), might become a fun casual sports bar concept.  We say might since the landlords seems to be dragging their feet to get the place rented…or return phone calls from the potential lessee. 

In Mission Hills, Philippe Beltran (of Bleu Boheme in Kensington) gave up on a place next door to Lefty’s Pizza.  The building will now be a beauty salon: Cut.  Instead, Beltran will focus on redoing a former flower shop on Adams Avenue where he will then turn out pizzas.

At the corner of Rosecrans and Talbot in Point Loma, the nearly finished box of a building (certain to be nominated for an Onion award in design) will house La Playa Bistro due to open this June or July.  Expect traffic congestion–it’s a very busy intersection as the entrance to La Playa and the sub base.

Also in Point Loma, according to workers on the construction site next to the Dolphin Motel, the buzz is that the restaurant will be a coffee shop, not a steakhouse.  Stay tuned.

The Arrivederci restaurant group has been busy.  Along with their Ristorante Arrivederci and Arrivederci Pizza on Fourth Avenue, the group also owns the soon-to-open Au Revoir Bistro in the former La Vache location at Fourth Avenue and Robinson. They’ve just about made Monopoly on those few blocks of Fourth. The long awaited Il Postino by Arrivederci opened in North Park.  Haven’t been, but will as it is next door to Buzz favorite, Caffe Calabria.

East Village Asian Diner just opened in Encinitas.  With a chef trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York, the casual menu looks good and well priced.  Open for lunch and dinner. 628 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, 760-753-8700.

Luna Grill Neighborhood Kabobery opens its second location in Mission Valley—in the same complex as IKEA and Costco. The 65-seat restaurant features modern fast casual Near East/Mediterranean food, including the freshest kabobs, salads, wraps and sandwiches.  2245 Fenton Parkway, Suite 105, 619-516-5862.  Their first location is in the Albertson’s shopping center at the 56 Freeway and Torrey Highlands. Haven’t been, but Buzz loves their well-designed website.

Worth getting on the email list for the Hotel del Coronado for specials and coupons such as one that takes $25 off a the dinner bill (over $100) at 1500 Ocean, that Sheerwater now has a $30 tasting menu with lots of choices or that Eno has bubbly Thursdays and $5 Fridays.

Assuming you’re rooting for the Saints and watching the game with friends, plan and theme a  Super Bowl party with food from Mardi Gras Café and Marketplace. You’ll find the place on Midway, two blocks off Rosecrans at Riley in small mall that includes a Punjab Indian restaurant (haven’t tried it, looks good) and a 7-Eleven. The café features sausage subs, po’boys and entrees such as red beans and rice, gumbos and jambalaya, all under $10. The market in this tiny space carries pickled pig’s cheeks, crayfish, all variations of sausage, spices, hot sauces (they boast nearly 300) and alligator tail meat, Zapp’s chips, and Café du Monde coffee and beignet mix.  Open daily: 3185 Midway Dr., Point Loma, 619-223-5501.

Closed:  Bondi in the Gaslamp  and SanFilippo’s on Fifth in Hillcrest and according to their new phone number: 619-850-4802, they are looking for a new location.

Tuesday’s at Anthology feature chef Eric Bauer doing his own riff on American classic foods such as mac and cheese with braised pork and  pale ale seafood and chorizo chowder.  The pocketbook friendly “fresh vibe” menu changes every week to complement the house band’s music.

Downtown restaurant watchers will be happy to note that Bice, will open late October.  It is the latest location for the worldwide restaurant group that began 70 plus years ago as a small neighborhood eatery in Milan.  The  Northern Italian menu–well-known in New York, Orlando and Los Angeles (Cafe Med on Sunset)–will feature local ingredients.

Point Loma will soon have a wine bar in the hood, half a block from Roseville, Pomodoro and Old Venice.  Look for the Wine Pub to open in the next couple of months.  Details soon.

October marks the 14th annual Chefs Celebration series of dinners to benefit scholarships for culinary students.  Every Tuesday in October, including one in September (29), you can eat five course meals created by five chefs (each week a different venue and chefs) for just $65 ($35 goes to the scholarship fund). Pamplemousse hosts the September meal with guest chefs Jason Kniebb (Nine-Ten), Jeff Thurston (Prado) and Jim Phillips (Barona).  On October 6, Terra hosts Norma Martinez (El Vitral), Katie Grebow (Cafe Chloe), Danny Bannister (Red Marlin) and Amy DiBiase (Roseville).  Good dinners for a good cause.



Moving on:  Chef Wade Hageman, has left Blanca in Solana Beach to pursue a location of his own. He hopes to stay in San Diego.  Buzz will keep you posted.

Open for business: Burger Lounge (a Buzz fav) in Little Italy, across the street from Indigo Grill.  It is their fourth location (La Jolla, Coronado and Kensington round out the list).

Cucina Urbana:  Newly named, with a new menu and concept at Fifth and Laurel.  Food pals who recently dined there said atmosphere is fun; food working out the kinks.  Haven’t been, but do wonder why food and service kinks are not worked out before opening to the public, especially with a well-known restaurateur like Tracy Borkum (and others who seem to have the same issue).

Corvette Diner & Gamers Garage finally opened in Liberty Station.  On a recent Monday night, the wait for a table was an hour and a half…gotta love those burgers.  Tiny bar area. Lots of noise and very loud music; lots of  games in a separate area (kids and adults in that area) and an oddly darker dining area that seems a bit more civilized for eating. Oodles of parking and bring your patience while you wait for a table. We didn’t choose to wait.

Had a chance to lunch with out of town friends at Enoteca Style on India Street between Ash and Beech.  Well-priced paninis, and flavorful and inventive salads.  Loved the soba salad with ahi and a Caesar with fresh corn and grilled chicken cut into bite-size pieces.  Interesting wines and happily sold in 3 ounce pours if you so desire.

download eli movie

The corner of Laurel and Fifth is undergoing yet another makeover with Tracy Borkum’s newest venture, Cucina Urbana

.  Good to see that she’s finally changed the name of the restaurant she bought a few years ago.  The original Laurel Restaurant & Bar had a  gorgeous copper bar, understated decor (sure it needed updating) , great food, a very loyal following that came with top critical acclaim.  Borkum did away with that bar for something very white and added many other over-the-top decorative touches that made the room, for many, uninhabitable for eating.  She also went through many chefs trying to find a good food fit.  And, she forgot to change the name which might have helped her given the huge changes she made.   Now, with Cucina Urbana, she’s  soliciting twitterers to help with the menu planning.   We hope she finds success in the Italian venture.

One of the nicest little neighborhood eateries, The Better Half in Hillcrest, just began serving Sunday brunch from 10am to 2pm. Haven’t tried it yet, but my guess is it will be good, given the terrific press it’s been getting.

New in Liberty Station, stashed away near Trader Joe’s is Tender Greens that serves salads, sandwiches and plates for $10…and uses local produce, bakery goods (including Con Pane’s cibiatta), humanely raised meats and sustainable seafood. To drink you’ll find boutique wines and local microbrews. Haven’t had a chance to check it out…but certainly will soon.

Candela’s, the well-known downtown Mexican restaurant with sophisticated upscale Mexico City style food, opened at on Coronado’s Ferry Landing with views of the city. Note to the locals who live on the Island…you can get a 20% discount on your meals for a year. Check out the website.

Nearby at the Ferry Landing (and at their Del Mar location) at Il Fornaio, features a menu with regional dishes of Sardegna through July 20.


Fresh sea urchin roe (uni) as Buzz noted isn’t just a sushi bar treat.  If you want to taste uni done the way Italians like it, Baci Ristorante plans an all uni (or ricci as it is known in Italy) dinner on March 5 that will include dishes featuring ricci: seafood bisque, pasta, seabass with lemon cream and more, all paired with Italian wines.  The dinner is $85 and includes tip and tax.  For information and reservations:  619-275-2094.

If black truffles are your thing, Cavaillon Restaurant‘s owner/chef Philippe Verpiand has created a menu to feature this lovely fungus. You can order a set menu for $95 or order à la carte.  Everything from asparagus with poached egg, port wine sauce and shaved black truffle to duck breast with black truffle sauce is available for dinner from February 15 to March 15.  Call the restaurant for reservations and information: 858-433-0483.