GASLAMP GOERS BEWARE: Bachelorette parties, Tupperware triathlons and other revels fired by frou-frou fondue will occur regularly at Fifth Avenue and E Street, where the former Dakota Grill will become San Diego’s second Melting Pot. The first local franchise, at the Aventine, has drawn double-dippers for a couple of years ... Biz tattlers have buzzed for months with an unsavory but titillating tidbit about the top-level chef who hightailed it out the kitchen door after his employer kicked him in a spot that no man would forgive ... In trade lingo, when the contents of one bottle are poured into another, it’s called “marrying” the two. Before ketchup came in squeezable containers, contents of many-married bottles often fermented and subsequently burst in the hands of diners preparing to bathe burgers with the vile stuff. Employees at one of the town’s better Asian restaurants regularly “marry” open bottles of wine, leading those who have witnessed this behind-the-bar ritual to order bottled beer—with the cap intact, please.
Chef Prognosticator Matt Gordon of Urban Solace shares predictions for 2010, suggesting that this is the year to learn all about turnips, celery root and Brussels sprouts, and forecasting that “fusion fare is on its way out.” Here’s hoping this oracle is no Cassandra. In early November, Gordon and business partner Scott Watkins announced plans to open a new “coastal comfort food” restaurant in Encinitas in the spring.
A recent lunch at the Whaling Bar was breathtaking because the food was delicious, something it hasn’t been in ever so long. La Valencia’s culinary renaissance should glow even brighter with the arrival of Sean Eastwood, a graduate of the Relais et Chateau chef program who has cooked at George V and Paul Bocuse.
By the numbers: One wonders if the backers of the Numero Water Boutique in Little Italy (above a yogurt parlor on India Street) thought they had rented a location in Babylon by the Bay. The place specializes in bottled waters from Japan, one of which is No. 29. There are also 51 and 76, but unlike Chanel, Numero doesn’t offer No. 5. In October, a $540 annual membership program restricted to the first 369 registrants (I don’t invent this stuff) promised such monthly perks as a delivered case of water; a “Foot Love Special” pairing a 20-minute onsen mineral footbath with a 20-minute reflexology session; 20 percent off assorted spa treatments, and complimentary in-store tea service—but only after the registrant purchases $20 worth of tea.
Even Del Mar Plaza has taken punches from the economy, but Pacifica Del Mar powers on proudly, 20 years after opening in late 1989. Longtime chef Christopher Idso still wears the tallest toque.
Some events feature a star of the day, but on a perfect Sunday afternoon in late fall, the day itself was the star of the seventh annual Celebrate the Craft, given at The Lodge at Torrey Pines as a showcase for noteworthy chefs, top local artisanal food producers and vintners. It was as if an alchemist had distilled the sun into a golden liquid and poured it over the sea-facing lawn on which some 500 guests assembled. The sea and sky melded into the perfect backdrop, and the breezes added amusement by hopscotching through the village of umbrellas that shielded participants from the benevolent sun.
“This is the only event we do,” said Charles Kaufman of Bread & Cie. “We participate because of the quality of the chefs, the quality of the food and the fact that Jeff Jackson [executive chef at The Lodge] always promises us a nice day.”
Jackson was everywhere, enjoying especially the wildly original fare served by buds like Christian Graves of Jsix, who cooked a novel, wonderful octopus Bolognese and served it over dainty pasta twists. Andrew Spurgin offered rabbit croquettes, Antonio Friscia plated lamb loin “souvlaki,” and Brian Sinott of Hotel del Coronado’s 1500 Ocean delighted attendees with a roasted baby-beet salad. There was much more, including choice wines such as a Tempranillo-based pour from the Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards in Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe. Squinting in the light, Jackson expounded: “The original idea of Celebrate the Craft was to connect our clientele with the sources of their food. This year, we also celebrate the success of the farm at San Pasquale Academy [for older homeless youths], which now sells produce to the chefs who support it. We have fun, and along the way we raise a little money for worthwhile causes.”
On the Waterfront
Do La Jollans like dining on the cheap? They do. So many local socialites populated the revamped, lower-priced Trattoria Acqua on the Cove one recent evening that air kisses darted like hummingbirds. The revised name highlights the pleasure of dining by La Jolla Cove, a less costly proposition now that 90 percent of the dishes on chef Damaso Lee’s rewritten menu cost less than $20. “We’re going after the locals with these prices, and they’re coming in,” says Mike McGeath, who with wife Victoria has made Acqua so 2010 by adding a tangy seafood pizza designed by a father-son team of Realtors, such user-friendly entrées as meat loaf with forest mushroom sauce and a “Mongolian” Kurobuta pork chop steeped in an Asian marinade. The Prince Edward Island mussels with Pernod are lovely and, like the daily stew simmered in red wine, mandate concluding dinner with the luxe banana profiteroles.