From the Archives: Global Cuisine in San Diego 40 Years Ago
A 1977 restaurant review by former food critic Tom Gable
In April 1977, San Diego Magazine’s wine editor and restaurant critic, Tom Gable, reviewed a Point Loma establishment called Omar El Sharif (an unlicensed homage to the movie star, we assume). It was located in Scandia Plaza on Sports Arena Boulevard, where the Pet Kingdom and Dunn-Edwards Paints are today. The concept was unique and ambitious: “The menu changes every night featuring that of another country or mixture of countries. You must call that same day to find out what to expect.”
It’s a shame that no photographs accompanied this article. We would like to have seen the black-tie waiters waltzing along booths that were “imported from Belgium... winged and canopied—with fox and wolf fur on the inside above your head.... The tile on the floor is Italian, two Burmese riding saddles are hung nearby for decoration and the ceramic plaques on the wall are from Persia.”
Omar El Sharif offered a nine-course, fixed-price meal for $12.95 (about $52.99 today). The waiters never volunteered the price, but Gable saw other parties ask and then leave. This was a “Master Charge and American Express” sort of place.
The chef could handle fish but not meat, apparently, and the wine was lacking. “A veal cordon bleu was more like meat loaf wrapped around a cheese cube,” Gable wrote, continuing, “I find it hard to take a restaurant seriously when its wine list has just 20-odd selections, headed by products from Greece, and the waiters open them by turning the bottle instead of the corkscrew.” He did note, however, the “lone glamour listing” of Château Lafite for $45 ($184).
As a food critic, Gable would visit a restaurant three times before typing up the verdict on his IBM Correcting Selectric. “I had a tape recorder in my jacket pocket, with a wire down my sleeve to the microphone so we could talk about the food, decor, service, et cetera as the evening unfolded,” he recalls. “My wife is an award-winning cook, so she was very helpful, as were some other wine and food buddies who liked to come along, so I had many dishes to sample.”
As for Omar El Sharif, he says, “I don’t know how long it lasted, but I think most people enjoyed it once and didn’t return. It was more of a novelty.”
From our present-day perspective, it seems the global dining scene had a long way to go. “San Diego always had a wide array of good Mexican restaurants,” Gable explains. “The next waves seemed to be Japanese: Sushi Ota was one of the first to take sushi to the highest level; finer Chinese restaurants, with classic Sichuan dishes, for example; then French—Bertrand Hug had his San Diego debut as maître d’ at Mon Ami in Solana Beach—then the Italian explosion; and finally quality Thai and Vietnamese restaurants around the county.”