Out with the New, in with the Old
IT WOULD SEEM RATHER CRUEL (if not altogether unsatisfying) to belabor Delaware North of Buffalo, New York, one last time for transforming Old Town’s wildly popular Bazaar del Mundo into the widely scorned Plaza del Pasado. The barren complex never had a prayer, but its party-on replacement, Fiesta de Reyes, should enjoy a long run. In the outdoor Casa de Reyes restaurant, new proprietor Chuck Ross (for years operations director for the Hard Rock Café chain) has restored the color, lively music, well-composed combination plates and memorable Margaritas that long made this space one of San Diego’s top destinations. Surly service may typify the age, but not here; the colorfully sashed servers smile the whole day through. A high-flying palapa roof opens up the scenery from the central seating area, and umbrellas, banned under the ancien regime, shelter new cast-iron tables and chairs. Good rice and beans usually indicate a menu of convincing SoCal-style Mexican cuisine, and Casa de Reyes delivers with reasonable prices, large portions and freshly made tortillas. Bring visitors from back East to ogle piled-to-the-sky bean-and-cheese tostadas, fat, filling burritos and savory carne asada and al pastor tacos. Find the whole enchilada, including a giant red- white-and-green–striped enchilada platter called “La Bandera de Mexico,” priced at $11.95.
THE HAPPIEST HOURS are those when we save major bucks while pursuing favorite daily habits like eating and drinking. Deals never have seemed so plentiful as in the waning days of 2009, but the trick is finding those with useful times. At present, special offers are all over the clock, and a 3-to-5 p.m. Happy Hour won’t benefit anybody who works 9 to 5. Late-evening promotions have arrived both as mild surprise in this not-so-late town and a boon to those who like to dine at 10 p.m. or later. Downtown, the deals beckon at Currant, the good-looking restaurant in the quietly stylish Sophia Hotel on Broadway at Front. Between 4 and 7 p.m. and again from 10 p.m. to midnight, the house halves all bar menu prices, resulting in tasty bargains like a sirloin burger swanked out with Brie cheese, applewood-smoked bacon and a brioche bun for $4.98. The highly sharable artisan’s plate of cheeses, European-style cold cuts, pickled vegetables and nuts runs a refreshing $7.98 ... Bargains are relative, and if you’ve cut down on dining at luxury restaurants but still crave (and occasionally can afford) the high life, Vivace has a deal for you. One of the prettiest rooms in the county, this Italian fave in Carlsbad’s owner-challenged Four Seasons Resort Aviara offers multicourse, fixed-price menus every night of the week. Prices commence at $44 for three courses and rise in $10 increments to a $74, six-course tasting menu that encompasses two appetizers, two pastas, an entrée and dessert ... In Encinitas, Savory Casual Fare hands out a new “$30 and Under” wine card that features 13 distinctive, highly drinkable bottles. The promotion runs all day, Tuesday through Sunday.
FARMERS, FORAGERS and flights of fancy are among enticements to escape over the Coronado Bridge. The peninsula’s two grande dame hotels, Loews Coronado Bay Resort and Hotel del Coronado, are offering such blandishments as dinners supervised by Loews corporate chef Marc Ehrler in the romantic candlelight of Mistral, and irresistible flights of cheese, wine and chocolates at Eno, the Del’s unique tasting room. At Loews, the monthly $48 “Farmers, Foragers and Fishermen” dinners proceed at a leisurely pace but are so entertaining that one evening’s guests were astonished to learn they’d spent four hours at the table. Ehrler, a certified master chef of France, creates multicourse menus he describes as “simple, yet not simplistic” based on local produce, sustainable seafood and natural meats, and his efforts keep you glued to your chair (as does the dramatic view up San Diego Bay). A recent meal traveled from marinated abalone with a Peruvian-style salsa to sea urchin memorably paired with sweet potato, tender-as-kisses Santa Barbara spot prawns, a surf-and-turf of chianti-braised halibut cheeks and Kobe beef short ribs and a “bento” box of miniature desserts ... At Eno, wine director Ted Glennon supervises unabashedly hedonistic tastings that pit coyly named trios of cheeses (the “Roaming Goats” flight herds Robiola Brunet, Dallenwiler Wychas and Garrotxa) against choice wines——which he also pours to complement superlative flights of chocolates confected by artisans such as Isabella Valencia of Dallman Confections in El Cajon and the well-known Jack Fisher of Imperial Beach. Henry James famously described afternoon tea as “an eternity of pleasure,” an epithet he might also have bestowed on an evening at Eno.
Lunchtime in the Park with Guiseppe
As niche restaurateurs go, Giuseppe Ciuffa has one all to himself. Long proprietor of the café at La Jolla’s Museum of Contemporary Art, he recently took over food service at San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. The result, the lengthily named SDMA Sculpture Court Café by Giuseppe, is a brightly polished gem that serves lunch Tuesday through Sunday and will offer dinner when the weather warms. Ciuffa calls the place “a new-style European bistro” with lighter, healthier cuisine, although the home-baked lemon bars and brownies deliciously belie these claims. A man with interesting opinions, Ciuffa says, “I think having a good glass of wine at lunch keeps you from having too much at night.” His well-chosen wines by the glass go well with menu stars like roasted-portobello pizza, the elegant cheese plate with Marcona almonds and truffled honey, and even the “ultimate grilled cheese” sandwich with top-grade San Daniele prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto.