TWO PASTRIES ON PUCCINI: If you play the slots at local casinos, you know some of them are themed for big TV hits of the past, such as Bewitched. They’re fun a dollar at a time, and the gambling revenues reportedly do mount up. What to do with it all? Investing in the fine arts is a rather good answer. For the second year in a row, Sycuan Resort & Casino has taken on sponsorship of the San Diego Opera’s season, a responsibility that extends to catering refreshments in the Bravissimo Patrons tent erected in the plaza outside downtown’s Civic Theatre (which lacks a private room for such functions).
Bravissimo Patrons, high rollers who contribute a minimum of $5,000, slip into the tent during intermissions to hob-nob, sip champagne and nibble delicacies prepared by Sycuan executive chef Paul Schwab and his crew. Most items presumably have yet to debut on buffets at the casino; during the recent run of Così fan tutti, choices included popovers filled with a mix of duck confit and dates, miniature “shooters” of balsamic vinegar–flavored shrimp in yellow tomato gazpacho, and vegetablestuffed pork roulades glazed with hoisin sauce. The sweets outnumbered the savories, and nodded to the Italian- language performance with panna cotta in wine-rich berry sauce.
GET OUT THE MAP: Not to be persnickety (which can be great fun), but yet another big-time, out-of-town chain about to open in downtown San Diego is fiddling with the boundaries of the Gaslamp Quarter. In a corporate press release, LA.-based House of Blues announces its newest club, slated to open in May, “is taking residence in the former Woolworth building on Fifth Avenue, extending the reach [italics mine] of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.” Huh? How’d they do that? Sorry, but the Gaslamp commences south of Broadway. If well-off types move to Pacific Beach, do they “extend the reach” of La Jolla?
REPAIRED PRICES: In Hillcrest, fixedprice dinners are becoming a Tuesday tradition. California Cuisine, a neighborhood delight on University Avenue for two decades, charges an easy-going $19.95 for the three-course “Tuesday’s Night Out” dinner. Chef Todd Atcheson writes a new menu weekly and always lists several appetizer and maindish options ... Nearby on Fifth, Region is serving a set three-course menu every Tuesday. Priced at $31 per diner, the meal may take an ethnic or regional theme.
THAT GREEN STUFF tasted pretty darn good and turned out to be arugula sorbet, molded into emerald eggs and placed at precise angles to racy red hillocks of spiced, marinated bigeye tuna. The sorbet sassed the well-traveled types who fancied up Tapenade on three successive March nights for the “Culinary Master Series 2005” dinners prepared by chefs from Maison Pic in Valence, France. The posh evenings benefited stem-cell research at the Institute of Molecular Medicine at UCSD, and offered rare local opportunities to experience cooking awarded two Michelin Guide stars. They were to have featured Anne-Sophie Pic, whose grandfather goldplated the family name, but doctor’s orders grounded the pregnant Pic. And so her husband and co-chef, David Sinapian, brought a team that Tapenade chef/proprietor Jean-Michel Diot nicknamed “The Incredibles.” Michelin-blessed cuisine strives not to build a better “steak-frites” but to create surprises that amaze the eye, palate and imagination—as did seared-golden Maine scallops in an astonishing foam of rum-perfumed milk. Definitely salty, the foam washed over the scallops like a warm ocean wave. Goat cheese– stuffed dates paired off with marinated, roasted lamb loin and were followed by pastry chef Phillippe Rigollot’s dark and silky chocolate tartlet with litchi sorbet. Enough? Not quite: Guests sashayed home clutching gilded paper minaudieres of Pic chocolate truffles.