The Wild Life
A “GAME CROSSING” SIGN probably should hang at the entrance to The Tractor Room, the jiving new joint next to Busalacchi’s that serves elk sausage ravioli and wild boar stew. Instead, this way-retro, Midwest-inspired supper club posts the slogan “Honest Cocktails & Meats” and notes on the menu that it is “The home of bourbon and meat.” Guess so: Of the unique fried-shrimp cocktail, the menu brags, “It’s got booze!” . . . Well-kept secrets include the small neighborhood shopping center near the top of Mount Soledad that houses the cozy new Trattoria Bella Vita (858-551-1150). Word is circulating that the family-owned Italian place deserves the description “reasonably priced” despite the tony surroundings . . . Like the little engine that could, Hawthorn’s bravely kept chugging along following the unfortunate passing of managing proprietor David Witt last August. Reviving a Fifth & Hawthorn tradition, the North Park restaurant prices three-course dinners, inclusive of a bottle of wine, at $65 per couple. The deal runs Sunday through Thursday, and yes, tax and tip are extra. (And if you happen to amble in on the right night, you’ll find live jazz with dinner. No extra charge.)
FOOD GOES IN OUR MOUTHS, words come out. Every year has its own ditzy catchword, and in an irony that distinguished 2006, the iconic word was “iconic.” This year’s replacement buzzword should surface any moment, but meanwhile, the new iconic restaurant type in the Gaslamp Quarter just might be Indian. Joining the district’s four established Indian eateries is Royal India. It will occupy Market Street quarters long ago graced by Bayou Bar & Grill. Since advance word promises “a kinglike setting reminiscent of the exotic palaces of old world India,” guests may don ropes of pearls before bopping downtown to swig Indian mojitos (very Old World, don’t you know) and taste house specials like lamb royal korma, a curry enriched with cashew paste . . . The herbs grow like weeds around the corner on Fourth Avenue, where Wild Sage soon will neighbor Chive. The sign advises “Restaurant—Metro Bar—Lounge,” and while the exact nature of a “metro bar” remains to be seen, at Wild Sage it might encourage sowing wild oats.
WHY DOES NICKY ROTTEN’S claim to have been established in 1978 when it opened in the fall of 2006? Because that’s the birth year of “old” Gaslamp pro Nick Tomasello, who claims, “My mom always told me, ‘You were rotten from birth.’ ” (She must love him—she does his books.) The gangster-theme sports bar and burger palace’s impressive memorial to Big Apple Mafioso John Gotti didn’t faze three cops who recently braved the uniform-staining potential of the homemade sauce dripping from their two-fisted “Bad-Ass BBQ” burgers . . . No burgers up the street at Bertrand at Mister A’s, but the dinner list has gone down-home with an appetizer of macaroni and cheese. It’s done “A’s style,” of course, and as the menu notes, chef Stephane Voitzwinkler creams the pasta with Comte cheese, minced black truffles and a pungent splash of white truffle oil.
OH, BERNARD! Or rather, Bernard Mougel showed his typical good judgement by bringing Patrick Ponsaty aboard as executive chef of his Bernardo’O in Rancho Bernardo. Without doubt one of the top talents in the county, Ponsaty has revamped the menus somewhat to reflect those things he does so well. (If steak/frites seems a lunch-hour commonplace, try his.) At night he serves his very own, perfectly made foie gras with black mission-fig chutney and toasted brioche; connoisseurs can buy foie gras for home enjoyment for a dirtcheap $75 the pound . . . Sundays through Thursdays, early diners (5-6:30 p.m.) at The Shores in La Jolla Shores pay $29.95 each to build their own three-course “Surf and Turf ” feasts by matching selected seafood entrées (shrimp beignets, anyone?) with such meat options as lamb loin and Kobe beef short ribs.
Giggling Through the Grapes
ARTURO KASSEL is a clever young man. Since purchasing Fresh Seafood Restaurant in downtown La Jolla from restaurant impresario Sami Ladeki, he has charged blithely down roads less traveled. Wine lists can be tedious, but his romps gleefully through such descriptions as “Elvis Circa 1977” (shorthand for a Meritage blend noted as “Full Figured & Still King”), and the evocative “Lightly Buttered Toast,” which perfectly evokes the savors of a well-balanced Chardonnay. Savvy guests have paid intense attention to the Fresh wine list ever since Kassel made the move to price selected premium wines just above retail. For example, a 1998 Napa Valley Dominus Estate vintage costs $110, rather than the $170 or more charged by places that use the typical restaurant markup formula. The policy applies to highly desirable, “collectible” wines only, but for spendthrift oenophiles it is manna from heaven. The wines blossom fully when paired with chef Ryan Johnston’s thoughtful and beautifully rendered menu.