What’s hot. What’s not. Who’s in. Who’s out
By Patricia Walsh
GRATUITY NOT INCLUDED: Karl Strauss Brewery downtown was the site of a reelection fund-raiser for San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy. The mayor told the crowd of restaurant owners he opposes mandated wage (the city is reviewing a proposal of $11.95 an hour plus health benefits from the unions), and he encourages tipping of 20 percent. (It’s unknown whether Murphy left a tip.) ... Proposition C on the March ballot —asking voters to raise the transient occupancy tax on visitors from 10.5 to 13 percent—is backed by a cadre of organizations, including two public safety unions and the California Restaurant Association. The measure secures funding for organizations such as San Diego police and fire departments and the Convention & Visitors Bureau, which reports that visitors to San Diego spend most of their money on food and beverage—$972 million in 2002.
CHEF SHUFFLE: Fans of chef Fabrice Poigin’s cuisine will have to go to Chive for a taste of his cooking. Poigin has left Bertrand at Mr. A’s to team up with Tracy Borkum, owner of Chive, Kenisington Grill and Urban Kitchen. Stephane Voitzwinkler, formerly of Sally’s, replaces Poigin at Mr. A’s. Only fitting; Voitzwinkler also replaced Poigin at Sally’s when Poigin went to Mr. A’s ... Chef Hanis Cavin, fresh from Chive, is the executive chef at the Hilton Gaslamp’s New Leaf restaurant, which undergoes a $300,000 renovation this year ... Pat & Oscar’s has a new CEO.John Wright takes the helm of the breadstick chain, started by John Sarkisian and family here in 1991 as a small takeout. Now 21 restaurants strong, it’s owned by Worldwide Restaurant Concepts, which has holdings in Sizzler and KFC.
Entrées: The Eastern art of sushi gets a Western home at the new RA Sushi Bar Restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter. RA is spread over 4,000 square feet, with 45 seats at the cocktail bar, 13 at the sushi bar and seating for 100 in the dining area. San Diego is its first California location ... Blocks away at Fifth and F, David and Lesley Cohn will open Mister Tiki Mai Tai lounge this spring. The Polynesian-theme eatery replaces 14-year Gaslamp flagship Fio’s ... Thirty-four years after Michael and Barbara Morton opened the Brigantine on Shelter Island, they welcomed the newest addition to their family of 11 restaurants. Miguel’s in EastLake boasts the chain’s first-ever rotisserie ... San Diego State University grad Wing Lee is the proud father of his family’s 32nd surfer-inspired Wahoo’s Fish Taco in Mission Valley.
IN MEMORIUM: December 2003 marked the passing of restaurant industry forefathers Joseph Di Rienzo, 87, Rockin’ Baja Lobster cocreator, and Nicholas Vitalich Sr., 89, whose family founded Chesapeake Fish Company. In the 1960s, Di Rienzo bought the Old Bonita Store. In 1985, he and his son Rick converted the property into the lobster house. Soon after, they expanded to open five Rockin’ Baja restaurants. As a teen, Chesapeake’s Vitalich would start work at 4 a.m. before going to school at St. Augustine High. Both men will be remembered for the indelible marks they made on San Diego and the restaurant industry.
Resorting to Food
When Estancia Resort & Spa opens at Torrey Pines, its dining offerings are sure to be as talked about as its new-age technology facilities ensconced in an old California coastal rancho of low-rise adobe buildings and open-air arcades.
In June, Giuseppe Lama, who spearheaded Hotel del Coronado’s renovations, will open the new 200-room, 10-acre resort adjacent to the Salk Institute, with a food-and-beverage team from the Del. Chef James Footit and food-and-beverage director Beresford Wall have joined Lama at Estancia to open Adobe El Restaurante, featuring Southern California coastal cuisine with Mexican influences, and Bodega: Wine Bar & Library, which will have a signature wine selection from California and other western states. Don’t expect anything Italian or French from this chef or sommelier: “The vast selection of wines and food in this region leave no reason to look elsewhere for inspiration,” Lama says.
Turn up the heat on Valentine’s Day with a seat by the fire. The only fireside table for two at J. Taylor restaurant in L’Auberge Resort & Spa in Del Mar is sure to spark any flame. Sofia’s Italian Table at the Aventine has a monument of an outdoor fireplace that beckons diners with its sheer presence. At Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe, a two-sided fireplace spreads the warmth. For casual cozy, the Fish Market downtown has a fire ablaze in its lounge to enhance the bay view. ... February 14 falls on a Saturday, but don’t feel you have to dine that day. Celebrate before or after, and the romance factor rises—without all the amateurs in the room.