By David Nelson
IT’S JUST AS WELL that Opera isn’t quite Les Deux Magots, where jostling tourists wait to dive on about-to-be-vacated tables. But it is the quintessential French café, from classical music and Auguste Renoir reproductions to a display case arranged like a jeweler’s window, pretty café tables and dainty chairs. Situated on a sleepy downtown block, Opera is a pastel showplace for the deft creations of master patissier Thierry Cahez, a native of Strasbourg whose résumé sparkles with stints at the Plaza Athenee in Paris and the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco. The color-coded macaroons (pistachio green, café au lait cappuccino) taste exactly like the artful mouthfuls at such Paris institutions as Laduree and Fauchon, the chocolate truffles melt like butter, and the swoon-inducing almond croissants (usually long gone by noon) are big enough to justify a second cup of powerful French espresso. Gorgeous pastries and a menu of quiche Lorraine, crudités, croque monsieur sandwiches and such make Opera a memorable temple of self-indulgence (1354 Fifth Avenue, 619-234-0425).
ON THE OTHER HAND, Java Jones jumps, jives and jams in a nicely converted Ninth Avenue warehouse that looks very much like a nicely converted warehouse. A barrel ceiling arches back from a wall of windows that lets the day stream in. No doubt about it, Java Jones brings New York’s East Village hipness to San Diego’s own East Village. Contemporary pop drives the mood almost as forcefully as the caffeine distilled from beans roasted in-house, in a glass-walled room filled with high-tech equipment and lumpy sacks of coffee from Java, Ethiopia and other distant places. Food runs to pastries and a lox-bagel combo in the morning, and simple sandwiches later, but such perks as espressos, lattes, cappuccinos and endless variations thereon are the simmering soul of Java Jones (631 Ninth Avenue, 619-696-9664).
EAST OF EDEN AND WEST OF I-5: West Steak & Seafood, the upscale Carlsbad eatery with a “bigger is better” philosophy, is set to raise the curtain on the neighboring Bistro West, which at 240 seats may increase congestion at the Cannon Road freeway exit. Chef Eugenio Martignago’s long, long menu is both eclectic——pastas, an international selection of sandwiches, formal entrées——and rich in comfort fare, such as ham-and-bean soup, a chopped iceberg “wedge” salad lavished with bacon and Gorgonzola, and a chicken pot pie with a puff pastry lid . . . Bradley Ogden, in town to design the cuisine for the ambitious Anthology restaurant/club opening near Little Italy, recently celebrated his birthday at La Jolla’s Nine-Ten with the five-course “Mercy of the Chef” dinner (a quintet of surprises, in other words), and by all accounts, chef Jason Knibb treated him kindly . . . Ellen Burke Van Slyke, an industry powerhouse who long ruled the food-service operations at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, is remaking the Loews Coronado Bay Resort eateries. Changes include discontinuation of the Market Café’s wildly popular Sunday brunch (did chow-happy guests eat up all the profits?) and redirecting Azzura Point into a more-casual, less-expensive destination for Mediterranean cuisine. Chef Martin Batis remains in place, as does the dreamy bay view up . . . Rain slickers are optional June 12-14, when the Marine Room offers three nights of high-tide dinners.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS exhibit opening June 29 at the San Diego Natural History Museum inspired Chuao Chocolatier to create a line of bonbons with names like “Land of Milk and Honey” (pistachio-honey crunch enrobed in dark chocolate) and “Song of the Desert” (the filling, surprisingly, includes tahini). They will be available at Chuao shops and online through the end of the year . . . In the ballpark: The $12 price tag for the imported-from-Australia meat pie and “middy” beer combo served at Bondi compares favorably with dog-and-suds duos at nearby Petco Park.
SIDE DISH:From the Ground Up
IT’S BEEN THERE, but it hasn’t quite “done that” just yet. The long-running Vincenzo Ristorante Italiano, which got in on the ground floor of the Little Italy renaissance, is repositioning itself with exceptionally good chow whipped up by new young chef Giuseppe Alioto. Wine dinners and other niceties reportedly are in the works, but these issues aside, Alioto’s cuisine defies argument. In San Diego, minestrone always includes tomatoes and beans, but his boldly shuns both in favor of a superb broth studded with broken penne and coarsely chopped, oh-so-tasty veggies. The ossobucco, served Milan-style on golden risotto, is beautiful in its simplicity: Carrots, onions and celery boost the flavors of the lovely sauce that moistens the buttery veal (enough for two) and al dente risotto. Tiramisu, often a deathly dull pudding, is creamy, sweet and scrape-the-plate perfect.