Eat This: 3 Great Tastes of North County
House on the Hill
Poway residents swear this charming little mountaintop bistro is one of their upscale town’s best-kept secrets. A favorite among the city’s well-heeled players, House on the Hill is the culinary showpiece for Neal Bomze, a chef who grew up in the restaurant business (his dad ran the old Sea Thief seafood eatery in La Jolla). House on the Hill, near the intersection of Poway and Pomerado Roads, offers a small but compelling selection of seafood, steaks and specialty dishes, as well as an extensive international wine list with a bonus: Every wine can be ordered not just by the bottle but also by the half-bottle. My favorites include the fresh Canadian salmon (grilled and served with pesto sauce) and the Angus beef rib-eye steak. Come spring, House on the Hill again offers Wednesday-evening wine tastings, when guests get to sample five reds and five whites. I can’t wait. house-on-hill.com.
Cool new restaurant alert: Oceanside now has its first Guamanian restaurant, which opened about three months ago in a Ralphs-anchored strip mall. If you’ve never had cuisine from the island of Guam, you’re missing out. The Guahan Grill specialty is barbecue (beef short ribs, pork spare ribs or boneless, skinless chicken), but I prefer to sample the appetizers because they are just so out-of-this-world good. Among my favorites is kelaguen, a ceviche-like dish consisting of raw sliced tuna or chunks of shrimp or barbecue chicken mixed with green onions, lemon juice and hot pepper. Order the kelaguen sampler for a taste of all three, served with freshly made tortilla chips. I’m also partial to the lumpia (ground beef sautéed with onions, cabbage, carrots, and soy sauce and then wrapped in dough and deep-fried) and the empanada (chopped chicken stewed with onions, hot pepper and garlic, wrapped inside a corn masa shell and deep-fried). It’s always gratifying to try a new cuisine, and Guahan Grill does Guamanian food right. guajangrill.com.
Baker & Olive
Gourmet food stores are all the rage these days. I don’t know anyone who does all of his or her grocery shopping at Vons or Albertsons anymore; stores like Trader Joe’s, Henry’s and Whole Foods are siphoning off customers from the huge chain supermarkets. Perhaps the most unique gourmet market I’ve stumbled across in my travels through North County is a little establishment called Baker & Olive, which specializes in two things: fresh olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Vats of the stuff greet customers, along with a carefully chosen selection of artisan breads and other specialty foods like L’Epicurien confits, Fallot Dijon mustards and Terre Exotique spices. I’d heard of olive oil tastings in Napa Valley, so I wondered if there was a connection. Sure enough, owners Paul and Marion Johnson, alums of the corporate world, own two wineries in Napa and opened their store here late last summer as the very first Baker & Olive. Will there be more elsewhere? “We’re working on that right now,” Marion says coyly. bakerandolive.com.