What’s hot. What’s not. Who’s in. Who’s out
By Patricia Walsh
Let’s Do the numbers: San Diego has 1,008 more restaurants than it did 10 years ago and 566 more than it did five years ago. San Diego’s Department of Environmental Health chief, Liz Quaranta, reports that America’s Finest City is now home to 7,041 restaurants. North County had the largest number of new food-facility plans submitted to DEH: 221 between July 2002 and July 2003; 187 are on record for central San Diego County, 180 for South County and 52 for East County.
New and of Note: Hawaii-born Martin T. Batis is the new chef de cuisine at Azzura Point at Loews Coronado Bay Resort. He was joined by chefs from three other Loews hotels at Lot 1224 in Beverly Hills—their newest hotel and restaurant—to showcase the chain’s prowess as a culinary place-to-stay. Batis’ cuisine was a standout for its San Diego fresh approach; he handpicked ingredients from Chino Farm for his creations ... Brigantine is one of the few restaurants capitalizing on the EastLake boom. Since its New Year’s opening, the South Bay restaurant has been serving 800 to 1,200 dinners a week ... Sheraton Harbor Island has reopened its bar in the East Tower. Tapas are the star at Tapatini, a scenic marina-front bar. Martinis, a mojito bar and flights of wine are the accompanying beverages offered ... Orion Balliet is the new head chef at Azul in La Jolla. Balliet comes to San Diego from Napa Valley ... George’s at the Cove has finished a $225,000 remodel that can be enjoyed during a new business-lunch special, conceived by executive chef Trey Foshee and offering a choice of two appetizers, two entrées and a dessert for a fixed price.
Wine Not? San Diego State University’s College of Extended Studies tapped local restaurateurs for its newest certificate course beginning in July. “The Business of Wine” classes will be held at sites around the city. Advisory board members include Ian Lutes, Cohn Restaurant Group; Sean Magee, King’s Seafood; Jeff Rossman, Terra Restaurant; and Derek Alten, Nine-Ten ... You can test your knowledge after class at La Jolla’s Tapenade. With its newly installed Cruvinet, a wine-dispensing system, San Diego’s premier French restaurant now has a wider selection of wines by the carafe and glass to pair with chef Michel Diot’s creative cuisine. Or take your taste test to perennial favorite Humphrey’s by the Bay. The restaurant’s wine list—a Wine Spectator magazine Award of Excellence winner—is half-price on Tuesday nights in the dining room.
I Love the Nightlife: Maloney’s, which opened in the Gaslamp Quarter on St. Patrick’s Day three years ago, has expanded upstairs. The 3,000-square-foot addition is more refined than the traditional tavern basement. California all the way, the spiral staircase from the downstairs tavern takes you right into the middle of the bar upstairs.
The Critic: Don’t make the mistake of passing up multi-unit concepts when you’re in an Epicurean mood. The Cheesecake Factory’s sweet-corn tamale cakes are a gourmet treat at a budget price. If it’s a martini you crave, order up the “Well-Mannered Dirty Martini.” The blue cheese–stuffed olives practically make a meal of the Ketel One: briny, to be sure, but savory to the last sip.
Times They Are A-Changing: In response to the Atkins craze, Rubio’s Baja Fresh Mexican now offers a trademarked Lettuce Taco, a build-your-own taco using chicken or carne asada, handmade guacamole, grated cheese and salsa fresca between lettuce leaves. Three Lettuce Tacos equal 7 carbs, if you’re counting. … But still remain the same: When Zócalo replaced Old Town’s Brigantine in 2002, fish tacos were eliminated because the kitchen didn’t have the capacity for the tacos and its new menu. Due to popular demand, new kitchen equipment has been installed, and the fish taco has been reinstated. Now there are six tacos from which to choose (swordfish is my favorite).
Restaurants to the Rescue: San Diego’s restaurants provided more than $500,000 in food to firefighters and victims during last October’s fires. Local eateries then donated another $12,000 in dining gift certificates to people who lost their homes through San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy’s Give the Gift of San Diego campaign. Most recently, a Star of the Sea fund-raiser netted $61,000 to help rebuild Mama Ghio’s Kitchen at the Whispering Winds family conference center, which was destroyed in the fires. Chef Paul McCabe and team donated their time to create a six-course dinner matched with fine wines.
Asia-Vous in Escondido is the newest restaurant to be opened by a San Diego chef who served time on the line. Riko Bartolome, who brought Rice at the W on line, as well as 150 Grand Café, just blocks from his new restaurant, brings the region another worthy independent eatery.
With 44 seats inside, 10 on the patio and a five-seat bar, Asia-Vous features French dishes with an Asian edge. It’s strategically situated on the revitalized Grand Avenue in Escondido, just two blocks from the California Center for the Arts, walking distance to art galleries and newly opened movie theaters, and minutes from the fresh local ingredients Bartolome uses for his dishes. They’re worth the trip.
Patricia Walsh can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.