TABLES FOR TWO: Ah, Valentine’s Day, when a young man’s fancy turns to panicky thoughts of a table for two at McDonald’s. Make no plans and you can plan on disappointment, since special- occasion restaurants sell out early. The big day has evolved into an extendable holiday, and couples unwilling to take a 10 p.m. booking on February 14 now celebrate the night before or after. It’s a good deal for eateries. Chef-proprietor Jeffrey Strauss of Pamplemousse Grille in Solana Beach says, “For me, Valentine’s Day is effortless. Getting the restaurant sold out New Year’s Day is difficult, selling a wine dinner is a challenge, but on Valentine’s Day, we’ll do 300 dinners—and could serve 1,000 if we had room.” Is Strauss a sentimentalist or a businessman? “On Valentine’s Day, we’ll open the restaurant at 4 p.m. and close it when people stop giving us money.” . . . That the calendar places this February 14 on a Monday creates a bonanza for restaurateurs; weekends do a good business, regardless. Altering the Thursday-Saturday night schedule he maintains at his mother’s Michele Coulon Dessertier in downtown La Jolla, Nathan Coulon will open on the jour de romance for fans of specialties from the old Belgian Lion. At his side will be girlfriend Kayo Tsunenari, although Coulon says, “I don’t know why she works with me. Her degree is corporate finance. It’s kinda crazy.” Maybe she likes his smile—but his duck with sauerkraut isn’t bad . . . It needn’t cost a bundle to feed your Valentine. Hillcrest’s diminutive The Abbey Cafe (127 University Avenue) offers four-course dinners for $30—for two. Nearby on West Washington Street, amiable Amiko Gubbins will spend the evening dishing up her distinctive “globetrotting” cuisine at Parallel 33. After concluding a longtime romance, the chef advises, “I’m an eligible bachelorette, that’s for sure.”
TURNOVER: Over at just-closed Trattoria Lorenzo’s—which replaced the long-running Trattoria Mamma Anna at 228 West Washington—the new Mission Hills Bistro will occupy what seems like a prime location . . . And quicker than you can say Meejanah, you can order a zaatar pie (dried oregano and other herbs, sesame seeds, olive oil and ground sumac) at this tiny Lebanese café at 3952 Fourth Avenue. Had Simple Simon baked such richly flavored cheese, meat, spinach, egg, et cetera pies (mostly $2.99 or $3.50 per serving), he’d still be in business. Mostly for takeout, Meejanah also serves the delightfully named foul moudamas, a mix of fava beans, garlic, lemon and olive oil that could be fair rather than foul.
CONFIDENTIAL BUT NOT SECRET: It won’t be a Hollywood Confidential, since Confidential, the newest restaurant to be helmed by respected chef Chris Walsh, will occupy the corner of Fourth and E in the Gaslamp Quarter. Walsh is well-known for his work at California Cuisine and, more recently, Café W, which closed more than a year ago after a fire—and, while slated to reopen, never did. He looks to open in late February or early March and specifies 10 or so partners, among them celebrity wine and tire-fortune heir Andrew Firestone, The Bachelor star who proved that money and looks still count for plenty in 21st-century America. “We’re trying to do what’s called a ‘Euro-lounge,’ ” says Walsh, explaining that Confidential will be “sort of a lounge, sort of a restaurant,” specializing in what he calls “elevated bar food.” Translate this to mean tapas and you’re on target—as Walsh always is with creative finger foods.
A TOP “PIC”: Save up for a trio of dinners to be given March 17-19 at La Jolla’s redoubtable Tapenade. Anne-Sophie Pic, the third generation of her famous family to run the multi-starred Restaurant Pic in Valence in the Rhône Valley, will prepare the benefit dinners for IMM Stem Cell Research at the University of California, San Diego. Cost: $325 person, of which $200 is a tax-deductible donation.
HITTING THE HEIGHTS: I’m going to write my novel at Café Chloe (Ninth Avenue at G Street)—gorgeous proof that blight is on the run in East Village. This café–wine bar would class up the Boulevard St. Germain, thanks to details like a richly molded bar and a series of tiny back rooms that include the Man Ray Room (hung with dramatic works by the American-in- Paris photographer) and a tiny, private garden. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are three advisable times to taste excellent, simple French fare, like a classic salad of frisée lettuce, poached egg, bacon bits and brioche croutons. . . . Atop the remodeled Clarion Hotel at Sixth and K—now the San Diego Marriott Gaslamp Quarter—the openair Altitude bar offers a fire pit (and a helicopter pad) 22 stories above downtown. It overlooks everything (and nothing), from the diamond at Petco Park to Tijuana. Manager Reggie Parks claims Altitude will not have attitude but will be friendly and welcoming —and that high-end drinks will cost $9, which is plenty, but not bad for this corner. We’ll see.