Hot Stuff What’s hot. What’s not. Who’s in. Who’s out.
IT’S DE-LOVELY to “’tini up” (just one, please, with a twist) at Po Pazzo when Little Italy’s new fave swings to live tunes. If guests join the pianist in a liquid “Night and Day,” everybody—even patrons forestalling a midnight–to–8 a.m. shift—knows that somewhere on the clock, true love waits . . . The admirable Americana, occupying the best downtown corner in the People’s Republic of Del Mar, is the obsession of Randy Gruber, a proprietor so intense that were he a knifemaker, he’d keep his nose to the grindstone. His new Baker’s Pride oven floats Gruber’s boat, since it allows him to serve jazzy pizzas (I want the one with caramelized figs, prosciutto, Gorgonzola and balsamic vinegar glaze).
“This is the Mercedes of ovens. It has stone on the bottom!” raves the third-generation restaurateur, adding dreamily, “I love making dough.” So who doesn’t?
SURE IT SPARKLES: At the November 10 “Dom Perignon and Caviar” dinner given in the swanky Le Fontainebleau at the Westgate Hotel, the quartet of rare champagnes poured by importer Schiefflin & Company’s “Consultant to the Stars” Bernard Gantner flowed from magnums of 1990 Dom Perignon Rose, as well from bottles of the 1990 Oenotheque vintage and two other ultra-choice bubblers. Nice if you were there—but if not, the toasty part is that San Diego, and San Diego alone, was chosen for the 2004 presentation of these wines.
LOCAL TALENT: Damaso Lee may be shy, but not about offering Trattorio Acqua patrons food they won’t find elsewhere. At the urging of restaurateur Mike McGeath, the Mexico City–born Lee spent a week at top Napa Valley eateries (The French Laundry, for one) prepping for Acqua’s 10th annual “Festival of Game.” Served through November, it features appetizers and entrées of quail, partridge, pheasant, pigeon, ostrich, wild boar and . . . you get the idea. All nicely paired with ritzy “reserve” wines offered affordably by the glass and even the (rather smaller) “taste.”
THE LANGUAGE MAVEN was bemused by the chalkboard special advertised outside The Cafe (1927 Fourth Avenue, 619-234-2016), a cozy Bankers Hill retreat you’ve probably never noticed (get out and walk, it’s good for you). “HACHEBAGELT, $5,” it read, suggesting a unique San Diego occurrence of French Yiddish, since “hache” means “minced” in French (surely you’ve heard of hash), and in Yiddish, “gelt” is gold. So The Cafe was serving a gilded hash for five bucks, right? Nah—an inquiry uncovered a scary contraction of “ham-cheese-bagelmelt.” Had they sold any that day? Of course not—nobody knew what it was . . . The swinging door at the somewhat-nonprofit (there are controversies) Beard House in New York admits a steady stream of top San Diego chefs who travel at considerable expense to showcase their talents. It costs big bucks, since they haul and donate all supplies for 100 or so dinners (for which the Beard House charges plenty), as well as pay their own airfare, hotels, etc. But le gratin of our corps de chefs delights in the “exposure,” they say, even if there is nothing novel about people exposing themselves in New York. In November, the low-key and oh-so-wonderfully gifted Carl Schroeder of Arterra at the San Diego Marriott Del Mar followed Bernard Guillas of the Marine Room (almost got through a Dish column without mentioning him) by three days. A chief advocate of glorious Chino’s Farms produce, Schroeder took peppers, “Cherokee purple” tomatoes, “tiny little beets,” cabbage, sweet potatoes and more to variously garnish in-season San Diego lobsters and pancetta-wrapped Colorado lamb. “If something goes wrong, I’ll go down with the ship,” Schroeder said before embarking. Was he worried? No. “I’m going big-time. It’s all going to be absolutely perfect!”
RUMOR, BLESSED RUMOR. Can’t live without it, but can’t enjoy it when it proves empty as a spent bottle of bubbly. A well-connected hotelier confided, in delightfully horrified tones, that one of the town’s better chefs had been rudely sacked from a long-held position. Nasty news—then the blood pressure ebbed when Deborah MacDonald Schneider came on the phone to say, “Rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Canadian-born, self-trained and seriously talented, Schneider has a 21-year local résumé that reads from Piret’s to Dobson’s, La Gran Tapa to Grant Grill and, for years, executive chef at the Hilton Torrey Pines—to which she gave eight weeks’ notice before leaving to write the book on eating and drinking Baja California–style. “It’s cool to write about Baja, flip-flops and fish tacos,” says Schneider, an occasional contributor to local publications whose prose makes full-time food writers sweat. “This won’t be a traditional burritosand- enchiladas Mexican book, but contemporary, with street food, seafood, the wines of Guadalupe Valley and the festivals of Cabo San Lucas.” Expected publication by Rodale Press is spring 2006. Like many Toronto natives, Schneider is conflicted but happy. “I miss the kitchen and the guys on the line,” she says. “But I think I was born to do this book.”