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TALK ABOUT FIRE SALES! There might have been one sizzling special on barbecued pork when Kearny Mesa’s Emerald Chinese Seafood Restaurant caught fire this summer. Lucky break that passing firefighters spotted the sparks and blasted the blaze. With repairs complete, soup’s on again at the corner of Aero and Convoy.

DO I HAVE THE WRONG JOB? On really good nights, a few local bartenders reportedly deposit $1K or more in their tip buckets. Maybe pouring Long Island Iced Teas trumps crossing t’s and dotting i’s . . . On the 29th of each month, Puerto La Boca, an engaging Argentine steakhouse in Little Italy, serves “noquis,” which, after a bit of thought, reveal themselves as “gnocchi.” Get ’em while they’re hot at 2060 India Street.

BEER’S LOOKING AT YOU, Kinder. Every Saturday in October, the $34 Oktoberfest menu at The Shores restaurant in La Jolla Shores pairs each of five courses with a small glass of Unibroue beer from Quebec. Named for French legends, the brewskis include La Fin du Monde (“World’s End,” to wash down seafood sauerkraut) and Trois Pistoles (“Three Pistols”), which, believe it or not, accompanies chocolate truffles.

HELL’S BELLS! Yes, that was San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman who pulled up to Deborah Helm’s The Mission SOMA (near Petco Park) on a golf cart one sunny morn. “It was 9 a.m., but he was dressed in a very spiffy suit,” gushed Helm. “He’s a good-looking guy!”

THEY GET AROUND: George Riffle moved to Pamplemousse Grille when Tracy Borkum topped his bid to purchase Laurel, but returned downtown in September to help develop two floors of lounges and eateries at the gutted-to-the-studs Maryland Hotel on F Street. The upscale boutique hostelry-to-be (no name yet) will boast a rooftop pool and a companion bar—another piece of Riffle handiwork. (How much will those barkeeps earn?) . . . Nearby at 750 Sixth Avenue, the new Chopahn Authentic Afghan Cuisine is a pleasant, bistrolike eatery.

THAT VISION THING: A few years back, a poorly conceived pan-Asian eatery opened at Sixth and Market. MoMo was “no mo’ ” in fairly short order. The prime space became Visions in August, and while it sports a sushi bar (yummy sashimi salad), there are steaks, chops and lobster pizza, too.

HEY, GANG, LET’S ROOT for the home team. In Encinitas, Melissa and Nino Zizzo felt the heat when Bucca di Beppo opened nearby at The Forum in Carlsbad. Profits at their delightful Zibbibo plunged after the national chain arrived with low prices and oversize portions that in no way resemble Nino’s so-good Sicilian fare—rigatoni with homemade sausage, the layered eggplant “tower,” shrimp with artichoke hearts. “They put three times as much food on the plate as we do but for the same price,” laments Melissa. “It’s ironic that the clients we’ve lost are families like ourselves.” Wood-fired pizzas and a new children’s menu are ammo in a battle in which Melissa claims a savory advantage. “We can step outside the stereotype of what’s considered Italian food to offer dishes no chain can produce.” That’s just one reason why I like the joint.

Side Dish

Chefs at Work

NOT CUCKOO, KoKo. In late August, chefs Amiko Gubbins of Parallel 33 and Riko Bartolome of AsiaVous paired off for the third annual KoKo Dinners, with complicated menus that pitted Gubbins’ globe-circling cuisine against Bartolome’s fusion fare . . . Fun to watch Jeff Thurston, chef at The Prado, cook upstairs one night at the Balboa Park Food & Wine School. The 14 guests in the demonstration kitchen licked their chops when Thurston presented a “knuckle sandwich” of Maine lobster salad (it included knuckle meat) on artisan rolls. “It’s a fun little summer menu with tomatoes, corn—everything that’s coming out of the fields right now,” he said, garlanding bowls of sweet-corn soup with popcorn that had been tossed with white truffle oil. Like nothing you’ve ever tasted . . . When winemaker Jim Fetzer of the famous family, now of Ceago Vinegarden in Nice, California, declaimed “Biodynamic farming is not an easy topic to tackle,” he said a mouthful. In short, it’s not just organic; it’s Mother Nature in full flower. Nice to drink his wines in tandem with a five-course dinner prepared at J. Taylor’s at L’Auberge Del Mar by chef Paul McCabe, who has no need to prove himself. He did anyway with a salad of Chino’s Farm beets, pan-roasted barramundi (it’s fish, you know) with Manila clams, and tooth-tender short ribs in a truffled sauce. With the cheeses, a handsome Ceago 2000 Petite Sirah—and yes, que Sirah, Sirah.


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