Blame It on the Bossa Nova
THOUGH MANY SAN DIEGANS instinctively know how to hang at beach bars (“Dude, another Bud Light!”), riptides of indecision imperil first-timers at Ivy Ultra Lounge & Wine Bar. Behind the lobby of downtown’s newly designated Andaz hotel, the plush playground features 20 wine dispensers, arranged along a wall like four-armed bandits in a casino. The challenge: making them spill the juice without appearing uncool.
Taken step by step, it’s easy. First, walk the line, studying the 88 selections. The wines range from comfortingly modest—for the Andaz, that is—to sensational and costly vintages that underscore the hotel’s taste for luxury. Make your choice, buy a WineStation SmartCard, and insert it in the machine’s slot, arrow facing inward. Select a proper-size stemmed glass and position it under the spout. Choose among the taste, half-glass and full-pour options, press the appropriate button, and pay attention while wine gushes from the spigot. Ignore the micro-minis and buffed-out guys until a mechanical gasp signals the last drop has been expelled. Go socialize.
San Diego’s hippest hotel has installed an Automat of wines while retaining a premium list (one super-deluxe Champagne costs $30,000 a bottle) and personable bartenders; Nathan Coulon’s kitchen supplies exceptional bar fare. It’s a dicey den for amateurs—double-check your cool quotient before entering—but savvy night prowlers agree that Ivy Ultra Lounge & Wine Bar is ultra-hot, even when the pianist bawls “Blame It on the Bossa Nova.”
COURTESY OF HOMELAND SECURITY, signs directing San Diegans to head for the hills when a tsunami threatens (isn’t this obvious?) now adorn coastal areas. They don’t mention the wave of new burger joints washing through the same neighborhoods. The latest, Daddy-O’s on West Point Loma Boulevard, describes itself as a “’50s-’60s, hot rod, honky tonk, rockabilly, retro diner.” That the 1950s and American burger culture remain joined at the hip owes to the drive-ins of long ago, and Daddy-O’s re-creates the mood while offering novelties undreamt of by ’50s burgermeisters ... Roseville proprietor George Riffle shudders when regulars call Monday evening “burger night” in honor of the beloved $16 weekly special, a masterpiece of the genre. Until now a well-kept secret: Riffle took possession of the Lubach’s name years ago, in hopes of eventually resuscitating this San Diego landmark ... In East Village, El Vitral charges $12 for a weekday fixed-price lunch of house salad, sultry tortilla soup, a half-torta with sweet-potato fries and, to conclude, churros ... Born in Colombia and raised in New York, Frederick Mackenzie seems an unlikely chef for the Puerto Nuevo–style Ortega’s in Hillcrest. Even so, the California Culinary Academy grad says, “I’m going to make sharper presentations and heighten the flavors.” ... Patrick Ponsaty intends to do the same for Mistral, the room with a view at Loews Coronado Bay Resort. Most recently at Diana and Bernard Mougel’s charming Bernard’O, Ponsaty earned his local chops as chef in Rancho Bernardo Inn’s El Bizcocho ... Well, of course: El Biz sous-chef William Geiger has traded up to top toque at Bernard’O.
OKEY-DOKEY, AHI POKE stars at a raw-fish festival the evening of April 20 at Bali Hai. Celebrities and judges from the surfer and foodie communities help present some 25 types of poke, accompanied by entertainment, a live auction and fashion show. The novel event is presented by Musabi Map, a guide to California retailers of all things Hawaiian, put out by Motu Hawaii in Pacific Beach.
RED CHILIES HEAT the Kerala curries at Banana Leaf, the Bombay group’s new South India–style restaurant in Hillcrest ... If the savors at Banbu Sushi Bar & Grill recall Café Japengo, it’s because chef James Montejano brought along his flair for East-meets-West fare when he left the Golden Triangle for this impressive eatery near Grossmont Center. The menu’s remarkable scope expands further at the sushi bar, whose chefs prepare traditional favorites and house specialties like the monkey roll, a banana-wrapped composition of shrimp tempura, cream cheese, avocado and eel sauce.
Gaetano in Your Kitchen
DINING AT CICCIOTTI'S in Cardiff-by-the-Sea frankly is so much fun that loyalists might scoff at cooking Gaetano Cicciotti’s specialties at home. On weekend evenings the dining room jumps, and the bar jives with wanna-be virtuosi joining the pianist in a local version of karaoke. Long celebrated for specialties like veal scaloppine alla pizzaiola and a wonderful “cake” of eggplant and cheeses in brandy sauce, chef/restaurateur Cicciotti teamed with new San Diego publisher Chefs Press to produce Cicciotti’s Kitchen, a nearly 100-page compendium of handsomely photographed favorites from the restaurant. The easy-to-follow recipes rarely require hard-to-find ingredients. If somebody special always orders the spaghetti alla carbonara at Cicciotti’s, this satisfying dish now can grace your own table in a matter of minutes.