Saturday Night Fervor
LOTS OF FOLKS in the restaurant biz call Saturday “Amateur Night” because it’s the one night of the week when just about everybody goes out for dinner——bad tippers included. Not that owners, servers and bartenders exactly discourage the crowds, since on Saturdays, the bucks flow like the marinara sauce on a $5.95 spaghetti special. Or do they? In downtown San Diego, conventions have come to dominate the market in a way unenvisioned by the pioneers who transformed the down-at-the-heels quarters from lower Fifth Avenue to Little Italy into one of the sweetest city centers in the United States. As Laurel Rainwater scrambled to accommodate the dressy throngs jamming his landmark Rainwater’s on Kettner one recent Monday evening, he took time to comment, “It’s different from the old days. Business depends a lot on when groups are in town. These days, Saturday can be the slowest night of the week.” But don’t tell that to the locals waiting for admission a few blocks away at the more-than-60-years-old Filippi’s, where weekend lines that snake through the deli and down the sidewalk often number 100 or more patient souls.
DISHING THE DIRT is not quite the aspiration of new Dussini executive chef Frank Manikowski, hired by the Mediterranean-theme Gaslamp eatery for his talents as a “food anthropologist.” In his role as culinary historian-cum-sleuth, Manikowski will unearth recipes to expand Dussini’s selection of Moroccan, African and Middle Eastern dishes . . . Just next door at the under-construction Hard Rock Hotel, big-time Atlantic City casino veteran Victor Tiffany will develop the dining, bar and entertainment venues. He presumably won’t have the staff of 1,500 he supervised at the luxe Borgata Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, but he will be joined by such international talents as Nobu Matsuhisa and Rande Gerber in the creation of a distinctive restaurant, flashy lounge and poolside bar . . . If you’ve been by the Hard Rock lately, you may have stared in bemused wonder at the Alamo-like structure at the southeastern corner of the building. It’s a re-creation of the 1880s-era train station built in National City——but why?
“NUEVO LATINO” seems the latest kind of fusion to hit San Diego, in this instance at the engaging Zócalo Grill in Old Town. Unlike long-gone nouvelle cuisine, whose worst practitioners insinuated kiwis into everything, nuevo Latino reworks the spectrum of Latin American recipes and ingredients into some amazingly complicated creations, such as a coconut-and-palm sugar-grilled pork chop with Jamaican piccalilli salad and a pungent potato gratin enriched with manchego cheese . . . At the Golden Triangle’s enduringly popular Café Japengo, new executive chef Jay Payne can’t touch the sushi——that’s the job of chef Jerry Warner, who’s been sushi impresario since 1990——but the San Diego native and Culinary Institute of America grad supervises all hot dishes on the admirably varied menu . . . Given some of the more egregious forms of sushi on the market these days, it’s comforting to tuck into the old-fashioned turkey croquettes at Hob Nob Hill.
LOCATION, LOCATION: A daring two blocks distant from India Street, Pappalecco serves colorful gelatos, light meals and beautiful pastries (the lemon-filled torta della nonna deserves four stars) at the corner of State and Cedar Streets. Like so many fresh and exciting new establishments, Pappalecco is run by earnest young entrepreneurs from the old country.
Getting in on the Ground Floor
Bradley Ogden knows his way around San Diego County——and soon, locals are going to know him a whole lot better. As chef/partner at Arterra in the San Diego Marriott Del Mar, Ogden achieved what many doubted was possible: the creation of a truly fine restaurant in a Marriott hotel. (To be fair, this chain’s local eateries score with the cutting-edge cuisine served at Molly’s in the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina, and Soleil @ K in the Marriott Gaslamp Quarter.) Early in 1992, the Bay Area–based Ogden put in a very, very brief (two weeks, maybe) stint as consulting chef at Rancho Valencia, where his adroitness at creating simply delicious American fare evidently was, shall we say, underappreciated. The talented toquist has spent the past couple of months residing in a Little Italy high-rise while noodling menus for the potentially landscape-altering Anthology. This megaclub/restaurant opened in June on the ground and mezzanine floors of MetroWork, an office-condo project on India Street, south of Ash. Jim Phillips, most recently of Pamplemousse Grille, wears the executive chef’s toque, and here’s hoping he enjoys music, since MetroWork developer and Anthology owner Howard Berkson designed the approximately $15 million club as a major music venue showcasing pop music, jazz and big bands as well as upscale dining. With Bradley Ogden animating the kitchen, can we hope for a San Diego–style version of the Stork Club?