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SPARKLING NONSENSE: It was a wonderful moment for creative speech when a server at New York’s Grammercy Tavern rejected a request for Perrier by saying, “Sorry, we don’t carry it. We pour a Swiss sparkler with a frothier mousse of effervescence.” Since peddling bottled water turns tidy profits, creative restaurateurs scam their clientele (golly, it even happens in San Diego!) by teaching servers the phrase “Do you prefer still or sparkling water?” Guests who do not respond “Just tap water, please” will be poured bottled water, upping both tab and tip. Savvier servers quickly empty the first bottle and crack another.

BOW-WOW OR BOO-HOO? Never ask a question unless you want an answer. “How many do you sell on a good day?” I asked the hot-dog cart guy in front of the Union Bank at Fifth and University. “Not enough,” he replied. “Tomorrow’s my last day here.” That’s a dog-gone shame . . . Right down the block, the famed, venerable and thoroughly decrepit Jimmy Wong’s Golden Dragon is being “reawakened” (that’s what the sign says) as Golden Dragon, the Asian Bistro. Okay, but will they still serve until 3 a.m.? . . . Yeah, it’s a restaurant row, too— University Avenue, that is. Next door to Ortega’s, a Mexican Bistro (what’s next—Carl’s Jr., a Burger Bistro?), the restaurant formerly known as The Abbey has been chicly remodeled by newcomer Richard Wood into Talus Café, a cozy joint that offers a refreshingly original menu . . . If you haven’t tried to park in Hillcrest lately and crave adventure, other good bets on or near University are Sambuca for Italian, and India Princess for spiffily spiced specialties.

EATIN’ GOOD IN THE ’HOOD: Antica Trattoria, a fine Italian eatery in a humdrum La Mesa shopping center, serves the occasional wine dinner. Although they start too early (6 p.m.), the meals flow pleasurably. A recent one pleased with smoked duck breast, savory pheasant cannelloni, juniper-flavored venison chops and a suave goat-cheese cake. Distinguished Italian wines, too.

SIGNOR MAMA: Word has it that Paolo Pedrazzani, the whiz who gave us the Via Italia trattorias in Clairemont Square and Encinitas, has sold the Clairemont eatery to spend more time with his children, since his wife, cancer researcher Mara Gerloni, has heavy work obligations.

MOORE NEWS: Ed Moore, who got fat and happy with Thee Bungalow and Nick’s at the Beach—and blew it with 3rd Corner—is converting the latter into an inexpensive French bistro (not fad-driven; the French invented bistros). Moore and partners also will transform Qwiig’s into a second Nick’s at the Beach—this one with a great ocean view.

BAR NONE: Many former servers miss the romance of the biz, but Rochelle Bioteau, an attorney by day who serves drinks at Laurel at night, couldn’t give it up. “From one bar to the other,” says she of her daily routine . . . It will be called MO, but Modus Operandi is the actual name given the former Liaison by partners Nathan Coulon, his fiancée, Kayo Tsunenari, Region sommelier Scotty Johnson and his wife, Martini Ranch bartender Ariana Johnson. Coulon, who currently cooks at his mom’s place, Michele Coulon Dessertier in La Jolla, says MO will feature the French menu popularized by grandfolks Don and Arlene Coulon at The Belgian Lion. The partners hope to open the Bankers Hill “bar, lounge and supper club” by Christmas. “I’d have been very disappointed if Nathan were content to stay in this tiny shop for the rest of his life,” says mama Michele, who’ll continue serving lunches . . . Teddy Bear Teas are being served December 11-24 in the Westgate lobby as a way of teaching tykes to juggle teacups, napkins and sandwich plates to the accompaniment of harp music. Separate menus offer banana-and-cream cheese and PB&J sandwiches for kids ($22), sugarcane scones and watercress sandwiches for non-kids ($28).

Side Dish
Taters on Top

EAT YOUR VEGETABLES, they’re good for you” is the new motto at Barona Oaks Steakhouse, the swanked-up dining room at the Barona Valley Ranch Casino, where colossal shrimp cocktails precede slabs of peppercrusted prime rib. Casino executive chef Dean Thomas, a former culinary director at a Vermont cooking school, has gone local by featuring produce from San Diego specialty growers like Be Wise Ranch (certified organic) and Connelly Farms (love those tomatoes!). Nice things happen to nice veggies: Delicious flash-fried heirloom tomatoes are drizzled with Banyuls vinegar; tomato marmalade and mint-rum vinaigrette dress the lobster “mojito”; and “Connelly’s Vegetable Pick of the Day” can accompany Colorado lamb rack with rosemary garlic sauce. Good option—but I’d bet my shirt diners flush from the slots prefer the hulking baked potato ($14!) “loaded” with lobster, crème fraîche, chives and bacon.

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