THE FIFTIES NEVER DIED, they just retired to Escondido. For several years, “Cruisin’ Grand” on summer Friday evenings has been an organized revival of the venerable California tradition of patrolling the town’s main drag for fun. On Grand Avenue, the 150 Grand Café observes the occasion with a Fifties fave: a root beer float composed of Hank’s Root Beer and handmade vanilla-bean ice cream, with Galliano making it an adult version. It’s a treat, even if the $5.50 price fuels more nostalgia for the Happy Days era.
THEY POUR MORE than root beer in North County. Stone Brewing Company borrowed a page from Tom Sawyer for a fund-raiser at its new Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, which may open by year’s end. Escondido civic officials and others paid to place stones in the massive wall of the brewery/eatery on Citricado Parkway; proceeds went to four North County charities . . . In May, El Bizcocho chef Gavin Kaysen sold out a dinner at New York’s James Beard House, and served the 90 patrons Maine lobster, Alaskan halibut cheeks, Washington Bing cherries and wines from everywhere.
IT’S CREAMY, IT’S DREAMY—and it’s probably fattening as hell. Even so, the “mac & cheese” on the small-plates menu at the new Blackhorse Grille in Del Mar is, to resuscitate a phrase, “to die for.” Young chef Ryan Johnston, an acolyte of the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller, was hired by Sami Ladeki to create a new cuisine for the former Prime 10 Steakhouse, and his $6 boat of macaroni, Cheddar, bacon and scallions redefines the concept of comfort food. The charming menu is oddly affordable, which suggests that the old gambit of increasing liquor sales by offering affordable fare may be in play.
JUST PEACHY quite describes the peach cornmeal shortcakes with basil ice cream and candied ginger decadently confected by pastry star James Foran at Arterra . . . Also sweet: Sunday night “Jazz au Chocolat” evenings in the Lobby Lounge at Four Seasons Resort Aviara, which pair live music and a chocolate dessert buffet.
IF BILL OWNS IT AND TONY’S COOKING, why is it called Jack’s? Bill Berkley scored a coup by recruiting chef Tony DiSalvo of Jean-Georges in New York as chef-partner in La Jolla’s new Jack’s, a multi-venue eatery that features casual fare in Jack’s Grille and upscale chow in The Dining Room at Jack’s. But no Jack-in-the-Box . . . Tapenade has designated Sundays “corkage-free evenings,” so bring your own Yquem to pour with dessert . . . A bar-wit eying the “Wall of Fezzes” at J-Six in downtown’s new Hotel Solamar recently said, “I’ll have a gin fez.” . . . Youngsters in yellow “SECURITY” shirts are on duty at all hours at the House of Blues, although middle-aged patrons lunching on the Fifth Avenue terrace never spoon gumbo in a menacing manner . . . HOB features a hot Gospel Brunch on Sundays, but across from the club’s Sixth Avenue entrance, freelance jazz artists gather outside a coffee shop on Sabbath morns and wail some pretty mean melodies. You can buy a Krispy Kreme and a java, and jive along for free.Side Dish
The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea
ON A DALLAS-PARIS FLIGHT a few years back, two men in cowboy hats spent hours talkin’ ’bout bass fishin’. Had Vincent Grumel been aboard, he would have penetrated the Texan- Franglaise language barrier with fish tales of his own. “When I can, I fish on Mondays,” says the chef-proprietor of Vincent’s, the near-perfect French restaurant in Escondido. “It’s my therapy.” Grumel takes deep-sea “Gone fishing” excursions on a Seaforth boat whose captain looks forward to the annual July overnight trips that attract up to 20 cuistots (“kitchen dudes”). “We put the boat’s cook ashore and make good food, and the captain loves it,” says Grumel. “Usually all he gets is breakfast burritos and burgers.” In July, les pecheurs troll for yellowtail and albacore, and if they catch bluefin, “We make sashimi right away.” They bring a little wine along, too, but even so, “I never get seasick,” says Grumel. “But of course, some always do. The ocean, you cannot know its intentions. Sometimes the waves throw you from your berth.” When Grumel hauls home a catch on Monday afternoons, wife Lisa fires the barbecue and invites a few others for calico bass au facon du Vincent.
“I baste the fish with fresh herbs, olive oil and a little soy sauce,” says the chef. “And I make a spicy tartar sauce. But no cream sauce—that’s restaurant cooking. We also have salad and grilled Japanese eggplant, all from our garden.” No bones about it: Grumel likes fish.