On The Waterfront
BALI HAI, WE HEAR YOU CALLING, from Shelter Island, so close by... San Diego’s original “Tiki temple” was perhaps 10 years old when a seventh-grade visitor accustomed to Midwestern meat-and-potatoes meals first met dishes like “chicken of the gods” and, more prosaic but equally delicious, tomato beef. Had he encountered Shakespeare, he might have exclaimed, “What foods these mortals eat!” As it was, he begged for a rerun on a subsequent visit. Warned of impending disappointment, he ventured it anyway (the occasion was his 13th birthday), and he learned to listen when his elders counseled that the joint had gone downhill. Opened as The Hut in 1953 and renamed Bali Hai in 1955, the restaurant undertook a rebuild this year. An early March drive-by disclosed that the roof decoration Bali Hai calls “the goof on the roof” (a grinning, cross-eyed, somewhat crazed-looking figure) remains as sentinel. Two questions: Will the new eatery offer great fare, maybe chicken worthy of the gods, so that locals will claim Bali Hai as their own? Or will the dandy location render it just another tourist haunt like those found on picturesque waterfronts everywhere?
MARCH THREATENED TO BE the cruelest month of 2010 for Mike and Victoria McGeath, who had been told that their lease for Trattoria Acqua in La Jolla’s Coast Walk would not be renewed. A last-minute reprieve, spurred by customer protests, spared the 16-year-old landmark for at least one year. However, the news came too late to retain longtime chef Damaso Lee, who took to his feet before the threatened closing bell and dashed to Point Loma’s Liberty Station to join proprietor Stefano Ceresoli in the kitchen at Solare. Dismayed by empty tables in his stunning dining room, Ceresoli invested in new points of view to elevate the customer tally. Lee and consultant Dani Gonzalez overhauled the menus, which feature reduced prices. The lunch list includes a panino stuffed with a zucchini frittata; at night, a $35 four-course menu offers multiple choices. Lee rolls his own pasta and grinds a tasty sausage that spices thin-crust, mouth-watering pizzas ... At Bencotto in Little Italy, the Bologna-style fried dough puffs called gnoccho frito will gnoccho-out your taste buds.
SO HEY, IF THE GAP couldn’t make it on the southwest corner of Fifth and University, who can? Hillcrest’s prime corner has defeated myriad tenants in the past 20 years, but Chocolat seems here to stay. An offshoot of Alessandro Minutella’s Gaslamp location—which copies the chichi Chocolat in Milan—the place percolates from a.m. to late night. Fans clamor for pastries, gelati and handmade chocolates, and pastas and panini too. Good looks (owned by both décor and patrons) heighten Chocolat’s attractions, but the crêpe with mixed berries and chocolate generates its own star power ... Hillcrest restaurant locations don’t stay empty long. Frank Terzoli, a one-time Top Chef semifinalist, serves New Orleans fare at The Big Easy in the 100 block of University Avenue, where The Better Half operated on the half-baked premise that a wine list restricted to half-bottles would fill the space. Across University, Charisma serves la cucina autentica in a magical red-and-black room lighted by candles and personable Italian servers. A block away on Fourth, the awkward space once occupied by India Princess has been reworked into the pretty, welcoming Kip’s Café, resuscitating an establishment that served Chinese and Japanese cuisine in El Cajon from 1956 to 2008 ... Paradise Point may be as big a patch of dry land as new Baleen executive chef Megan Barnes Reichman cares to inhabit. Formerly chef aboard chartered yachts up to 180 feet, Reichman headlines her dressy menu with the “Three for Thirty Dining Stimulus Package,” in which 30 bucks buys salad, California-style cioppino and “black bottom” crème brûlée.
How Sweet It Is
He’s been called Billy, but William Bradley much prefers the formality of his full first name. Should you dine at Addison, the signature restaurant at The Grand Del Mar, don’t challenge him on this point, since the remarkable young chef might decline to send a pre-dessert, a post-dessert or any of the sweet seductions he uses to sway patrons into returning.
Few need much persuasion, since Addison stands alone in San Diego County in providing the sort of experience found at haute cuisine restaurants in France, New York, Tokyo and other well-fed places. Bradley’s seasonal menus offer a choice of three or four courses at $80 and $98. Counting to four doesn’t take into account the numerous extras that elaborate dinner into a feast of many flavors, or the little sweets (red beet sorbet, of all things, and handmade caramels) that revolve around the main dessert. Tablecloths stained by the sauces of licorice-roasted endive and butter-braised sweetbreads are whisked away and replaced with clean linens that the staff actually irons on dining room tables. All is perfection in William Bradley’s serene corner of the universe.