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Secret Revealed


THERE ARE SECRET SOCIETIES, and then there is the Secret Society, a sextet of chefs who gather every couple of months to prepare six-course feasts built around one deluxe ingredient. Truffles perfumed the first dinner, at Christian Graves’ Jsix, and a truffle’s best friend, foie gras, starred at a supper recently hosted by Antonio Friscia one block away at Stingaree. Serenaded by a jazz quintet, patrons of the $80-per-person feast in the glitzed-to-the-ceiling Gaslamp club shouted amicably at one another while tasting duck confit with foie gras from Oceanaire chef Brian Malarkey, and a memorable pasta in Maderia–foie gras sauce with black truffle shavings by Brian Sinot of Molly’s. The meal included Andrew Spurgin’s caramel-glazed foie gras and the fine tarte tatin with which Nathan Coulon of Modus sided his interesting foie gras crème brûlée . . . Café Chloe plans a gourmet market and event space catercorner from its Ninth and G location . . . Just how to tip remains a matter of controversy (if you work for a living, 15 percent still seems appropriate for the “good” service so elusive in this town), but more and more restaurants print “suggested gratuity amounts” on credit card slips. Twenty percent, they boldly suggest, might be just right.

FISHING FOR COMPLIMENTS is an activity discouraged by etiquette specialists, and one that chef Damaso Lee of Trattoria Acqua doubtless will find unnecessary during the La Jolla restaurant’s April-long seafood festival, when fish and shellfish from Italy shuttle in regularly. Each day, there are several featured presentations of such swimmers as orata, branzino, marmora (it’s a purple snap per), true scampi and, for those who think they don’t like them, the sardines known in Naples as accuga . . . La Jolla’s Spa MD, whose proprietors send out the most remarkable wall calendars——a recent year featured physicians dressed as Chippendale dancers——has teamed with nearby Roppongi to offer “sip and soothe” sessions during Tuesday Happy Hours: $25 buys a 15-minute chair massage on the outdoor terrace, which guests can accompany with such cocktail creations as the Zentini and Body Bliss . . . Martini madness does seem to be sweeping the town. At the U.S. Grant, the newly introduced “Tea & Tinis”——served 2 to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, in the main lobby——combines an elaborate meal (tea, dainty sandwiches, sweets) with a choice of house martini specialties like the Red Car and 326 Broadway. It’s $38 per person (plus tax and tip), and if you drive, be prepared to fork over an additional $9.28 for validated valet parking. Sometimes, it seems like we’re not in San Diego anymore . . .

A NEW GEOMETRY OF EATING has evolved at The Guild, an engaging new restaurant/wine lounge in Barrio Logan——a neighborhood, by the way, that The Guild chooses to designate “east downtown.” The New Haven BLT encapsulates chef Melissa Mayer’s Cubist impulses: two smallish, square-cut sandwiches filled with bacon, lobster, tomato and avocado anchor one end of a long, narrow rectangular plate, with square cups of wasabi mayonnaise and homemade ketchup arranged precisely in the middle, a black ceramic box of thin, crisp frites at the other end. The geometric shapes continue in the small rooms and alcoves carved out of a dreary old commercial building, with intriguing one-armed chairs (don’t fall out), cube-shaped vases that bloom with bright flowers, and patterns molded from resin, glass, wood, concrete and metal. The look is courtesy of co-owner Paul Basile of Basile Studio; Mayer’s truly eclectic, rather fun menu seems as New Age as the music that pulses through the rooms.

Side Dish

I Can't Believe He Ate the Whole Thing

SAN DIEGO SUPER-CHEF Gavin Kaysen missed his goal of finishing in the top three at January’s Bocuse d’Or culinary competition in Lyons, and probably will compete to represent the United States at the 2009 event. About 70 fans, mostly from San Diego, traveled to France for this year’s contest, and Kaysen enjoyed the support.

“They were amazing——like a cheering section, they were so loud,” he says. “I want to do it again. It’s the Super Bowl of cooking.”

Not to say he wasn’t thrown a French-style curve ball in the final moments of his appearance on stage. Each of the 24 chefs was assigned two apprentice cooks from the Institut de Paul Bocuse cooking school. While Kaysen scurried to arrange an elaborate platter of chicken ballotine for presentation to the judges, one apprentice strolled out of sight and devoured the garnishes required for the “guide” plates that show the judges how individual servings should look.

“I was dumbfounded,” says Kaysen, adding that a photo of him taken immediately after he discovered the theft is “a classic.” “What could I do?” asked the 27-year-old chef, who marched to the head judge to explain the extraordinary circumstance. Next time, a platter of ham sandwiches for the apprentices might be a wise precaution . . .

Kaysen’s role as U.S. representative at Bocuse d’Or won him a full-page Time magazine profile in January, and a February spot on the Today Show demonstrating Valentine’s Day cooking tips.

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