What’s hot. What’s not. Who’s in. Who’s out.
And San Diego is as fresh as it gets: "We’re the number-one produce provider in the United States," says chef-restaurateur Ed Moore of Thee Bungalow and The 3rd Corner. "With growers like Chino and independents throughout the county, San Diego has the most eclectic and diverse selection of produce in the United States."
Vanity Fair magazine got fresh with the most famous local grower—Chino Farm—in its December issue. In Volume 1 of "The Food Snob’s Dictionary," Chino is described as "Unassuming, smallish ... renowned for produce so exquisitely flavorful that even die-hard local-foods enthusiasts like Alice Waters resort to air-freighting it hundreds of thousands of miles to their kitchens."
Entrées: "More" is a key word in 2004. In November, superstar chef Michael Stebner opened his own restaurant— Region in Hillcrest. The 30-year-old chef concentrates on using local products. Region fills the spot where Mixx was left vacant by Deborah Helm, who will be opening the third of her successful Mission Cafés this spring on J Street at 12th in East Village. "It’s a great place to come into—it’s kind of hallowed ground," Stebner says. Three years ago, he brought Nine-Ten on-line at La Jolla’s Colonial Inn, and he spent the four previous years as chef de cuisine at Azzura Point at Loews Coronado Bay Resort, teaming with James Boyce, now executive chef of Studio at Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach ... Parallel 33, the award-winning boutique eatery opened three years ago in Mission Hills by chef-owner Amiko Gubbins and partner Robert Butterfield, is expanding to add the Blue Lotus Room, with 30 more seats and a before-theater menu of nosh from Gubbins, who cooks for Pink and Sting when they’re in town ... Just across the street, City Wok, an L.A.-based concept of fast, fresh Chinese made-to-order, opens its fourth unit in the States ... This spring, David and Lesley Cohn are crossing the bay to Harbor Island, partnering again with chef Deborah Scott of Indigo Grill and Kemo Sabe to take over the former Ruben’s. The 300-seat waterside seafood restaurant promises to be unique, like its planned name: One Fish, Blue Fish.
Food Fight: After building and operating Bazaar del Mundo and its signature Mexican restaurants for 30-plus years, Diane Powers has lost her lease, which was awarded to an out-of-town vendor. However, since the announcement by state parks director Ruth Coleman, more than 1,000 people have mailed Powers letters of support, which she is using as ammunition to get the decision overturned.
The Critic: I am frequently asked, "What’s your favorite restaurant?" My answer: "My favorite restaurant for what?" Instead, I tell people about favorite dishes like the Polynesian crab stack at Roppongi in La Jolla. Bursting with flavor, it has fairly few carbohydrates for Atkins diet loyalists (37 grams from a 12-ounce, 350-calorie serving) ... Moderation is my mantra, so Atkins cramps my style. It’s not doing Pacific Beach veteran Lotsa Pasta any good, either. Owner Carol Blomstrom, who’s been serving up fresh handmade pastas and sauces for 14 years, has seen sales slide with the Atkins fad and lately has been touting her vegetarian and heart-healthy offerings. Still, try the timpano—a pastry with layers of penne, roasted vegetables, meatballs, sausage and fresh herbs.
The Glass Is Half-Full
Arterra at the Marriott Del Mar has a new squeeze on winemaker dinners. On January 15 and 16, a “Wine of the Earth” tour led by wine director Dan Chapman takes diners to the Guadalupe Valley in Baja California. On return to San Diego, guests will enjoy a four-course meal —paired with wines from the valley—by Arterra chef de cuisine Carl Schroeder ... The WineSellar & Brasserie is one of 89 U.S. restaurants to receive the coveted Grand Award from The Wine Spectator. The magazine’s highest annual honor lauds restaurants that typically offer 1,250 selections. The Brasserie has 1,700. In the Best of Award of Excellence category, Donovan’s Steak & Chop House, El Bizcocho, Laurel Restaurant & Bar, Pamplemousse Grille, Rainwater’s and Top of the Cove were fêted. Forty-one other San Diego restaurants received the Award of Excellence. The count for Los Angeles: one Grand Award, seven Bests and 45 Awards of Excellence. For San Francisco: four Grand Awards, 12 Bests and 34 Awards of Excellence. L.A. and San Francisco do have more restaurants ... Azul in La Jolla makes it easy to try new varietals with its Wine Wednesdays, when most bottles and half-bottle varietals are half-price. At The 3rd Corner, Wednesdays are “Bring Your Own Bottle,” and the Ocean Beach eatery waives the corkage fee for diners.
Patricia Walsh is executive director of the San Diego County chapter of the California Restaurant Association.