Those of you who follow one of San Diego’s top talented women chefs, Amy DiBiase, won’t find her at Old Town’s Cosmopolitan Hotel & Restaurant as she left the restaurant due to creative and money issues with the management.  Many of the original hires have also departed since the restaurant opened.

She was hired to do food that bore the hallmarks of the time (1870’s) when Bandini’s home became a stagecoach stop and hotel.  The hotel’s management now wants to stray from their original concept as noted on their website and the reason that DiBiase came on as executive chef.

Buzz spoke with the general manager and it is expected that the food will change from the moderately priced yet upscale dining destination that DiBiase provided to a middle-of-the-road, broad appeal, and possibly less uninspired menu.

Red Leight isn’t a district but is a cleverly named and bottled Rosé.   The vineyards are in Malibu on 37 acres  and they have been producing since 2006.  Howard Leight created Red Leight which is under the Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate Vineyards label that produces award-winning Cabs along with a Syrah and Merlot.  Buzz was lucky enough to taste the Rosé and Syrah along with San Diego’s top sommeliers, wine directors and distributors–and the wines are notable.  You can purchase online at their website and soon (we hope) will have distribution here.

Just opened, Sessions Public, an odd name for a new contemporary place sandwiched next to the retro Catalina Bar at Voltaire and Catalina.  The tavern style food is good and if the Cat Bar (as the locals refer to it) is too retro, the restaurant’s  long skinny contemporary room features  a full bar to go with the eclectic yet approachable food.  There’s a mystery consulting chef who created the menu that includes an additive bowl of tender crispy chicken oysters ($9), duck confit with an Asian flair of udon noodles ($17),  Nueske bacon tempura lollipops ($8),  short rib sliders ($11) and lobster-scallop cioppino ($20). Happily, most of the menu is $15 and under.  Four of us feasted well though we weren’t impressed with the miniscule serving of Serrano ham and artisan bread ($6).

Buzz wonders if the mysterious consulting chef at Sessions Public  could be Jason Maitland who had been at Arterra for ages…until the axe fell on him and others of the dining management team.  Maitland, is  teaming up with Jerome Astolfi who just left the front of the house at Market Restaurant + Bar in Del Mar to become the general manager at Flavor.  They will open late summer in the old Epazote Steakhouse in Del Mar Plaza.

Chefs Confab (a group of 14 very good San Diego chefs)  hosts a week of sustainable seafood events that include dinners, talks, and more.  Check the website for information on the series that runs from May 31 to June 6  ending with a $125 dinner at 1500 Ocean created by many of the Confab chefs.

Executive chef Matt Smith, will move from Winesellar & Brasserie to The 3rd Corner’s soon-to-open third location in Palm Desert.  Smith is from Indio and this move will let him be closer to home as well as run Ed Moore’s newest restaurant that opens late June. Desert goers will find the restaurant at the junction of Highways 111 and 74 in the old Palomino site.

Blanca lost chef Jason Neroni who quickly realized that San Diego diners weren’t ready to expand their eating habits to include pork in a various ways or foods cooked sous vide, so he packed up and went back to his New York roots.  In his place,  Gavin Schmidt who just arrived from San Francisco with a resume that includes work as executive chef at the highly rated  Campton Place and chef de cuisine at the two-star Michelin rated  Coi.  We wish him well.

Executive chef Bernard Guillas of The Marine Room , just returned from New York where he launched his cookbook: Flying Pans: Two Chefs, One World.

Buzz fav, Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar on Fifth between Nutmeg and Oliver, decided to take on the burger craze in a more interesting way.  Every Wednesday is Bodacious Burger night from 5pm to close.  What kind of burgers?  Interesting round-the-world flavored burgers that arrive with six ounces of protein, a small salad, truffle fries and a dill pickle spear and range from $10.95 to $14.95 and include the Aussie lamb burger, the Scottish salmon burger, the Frenchie burger, portobello burger and others.  Closed Monday.

Tuesdays at Jayne’s Gastropub in North Park features a Jayne burger and any draft beer for $15.

Roseville in Point Loma has a new menu created by chef Chad White with prices $20 and under along with bar food choices and nightly specials.  They do need to get their website updated however, as former executive chef Amy DiBiase now heads the Glass Door (with a great view of the bay and Little Italy) at the Hotel Porto Vista.

Tommy Pastrami, with some of the best pastrami and corned beef on corned rye bread is finally opening this summer.  Buzz mentioned them a year ago but they clearly had some problems getting the space finished downtown at 555 West C at Fifth between Broadway and C.

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?

The newest place for Mexican food on Fifth Avenue at Nutmeg is an Isabel Cruz creation, Barrio Star, previously mentioned here.  The tag line on the menu:  “Mexican Soul Food” and Buzz would agree.  Let’s be clear here, tacos are a dime a dozen all over the city. And some would whine that they shouldn’t be more than a few bucks apiece.

If, however, you want house made tortillas from corn freshly ground daily to become masa for tortillas and tamales, or chunks of oven cooked pork for greaseless yet flavorful carnitas, or tamales with moist masa and lots of chicken, or fresh made salsas or interesting black beans and rice and even greens, then this is your place.

The brightly decorated room with a bar is modern with light from the windows that face Fifth Avenue. The attention to and use of high quality ingredients such as Brandt beef and local suppliers make all the difference from the run of the mill taco joint. Two street size tacos piled with carnitas and a side of beans $9.50 at lunch $13 at dinner with three tacos, or the chicken tamale loaded with succulent chicken  $10.  Open for lunch weekdays from 11:30 to 2:30 and dinner daily from 5 to 10pm.  Reservations accepted. 2706 5th Avenue San Diego, 619-501-7827

As noted here, chef Amy DiBiase recently left Roseville and we’ve learned just landed at the Glass Door in Little Italy.  Expect to see a new menu  (and hopefully a revamped dining room) very soon.  At Roseville, Chad White, who was DiBiase’s sous chef, continues in the kitchen and Buzz guesses there will be some new menu items here as well.

There’s some noise in Point Loma that a building at Garrison and Rosecrans (and backs up to the Dolphin Motel on Scott St.) is being remade to become a steak house…yep, that’s what we’re hearing…so stay tuned for more info.

The latest eatery to join Bankers Hill’s “gourmet gulch” opens Monday, April 5.  Barrio Star makes it six for the Isabel Cruz collection of eateries–three in San Diego and two in Oregon–she’s well-known in Pacific Beach for Isabel’s Cantina.  It will be a nice addition to the myriad of places available to diners in the area.  In just one block on Fifth Avenue between Nutmeg and Oliver, there’s Mexican (Barrio Star), American (Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar) or sushi (Hane).  Dessert is up a block or so at Extraordinary Desserts.  A few blocks south on Fifth at Laurel is Italian (Cucina Urbana) and French (Hexagone and Bertrand at Mr. A’s) and there’s more sushi (Azuki) and pizza (Pizzicato) to round out those few blocks on Fifth.

Two more soon-to-open places in Bankers Hill:  Gourmet on Fifth in the former space of a coffee and sandwich place (north across the street from Cucina Urbana) and Carl Schroeder’s much anticipated Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant at Ivy and Fourth Avenue.