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Main Dish for January



Steak Sammy @ Carnitas Snack Shack

After 934 years as chef for Kensington Grill, Hanis Cavin finally opened a joint of his own. It's a walk-up window shack dedicated to the chef-iest of proteins: swine. Try a cavemannish slab of pork belly, a pulled pork sandwich (with fried pork and bacon), a pork rillette, pork poutine… you get the point. For an un-piggish treat? The steak sandwich. Most restaurants use sirloin, but Carnitas' is top-notch prime. Charred and placed on buttery semolina bread with pickled serranos, chipotle aioli, vine-ripe tomatoes and jalapeño cheddar, it's one heck of a way to make good on your New Years' resolution to insert more red meat and lipids into your life.  2632 University Ave., 619-294-7675, carnitassnackshack.com.

Spicy Garlic Wings @ Dirty Birds

Sometimes the football gods bequeath glory unto your team. Other times, you root for the Chargers. San Diego’s only football-related glory this year landed in Pacific Beach at Dirty Birds when The Daily Meal named them one of the top-10 wings joints in America. Ranch-happy man-boys called from every state looking for a bite. Naturally, I had to authenticate the judges’ decision. The verdict? Them’s some tasty wings, especially the spicy garlic and the honey-mustard. Crispy, not too thick or thin of a sauce. Housemade ranch and bleu cheese. My ice-cold beer came in a glass — y’know, quality. I couldn’t tell you if they’re America’s tenth best. I’ve been woefully under-buffaloed in my life and lack the wing acumen. Maybe you’re more adept at rating dwarf chicken. Hassle the owner for being a Ravens fan. 4656 Mission Blvd., 858-274-2473, dirtybirdspb.com.

Hamachi Tartare @ Donovan’s Prime Seafood

For February’s dining review, I spent quality time at the first chef-driven concept from Donovan’s. Long one of San Diego’s top Mad Men-ish steak houses, the restaurant group’s hiring of Addison’s Kemar Durfield is big news. It’s a drastic shift—from chef-less beef emporium to aspiring four-star French oceanaires. And Durfield's hamachi tartare is a thing of beauty. Uniformly cut chunks are dressed in lime vinaigrette and set in a short column. On top of that goes a layer of avocado mousse so soft you can barely feel it in your mouth. Topped with lime segments, cilantro, watercress and house-made chili oil, it shows how a talented chef can breathe with an overplayed San Diego classic.
 333 5th Ave. 619-906-4850, donovansprimeseafood.com.



Cooks Confab is splintering off with a series of "Go Rogue!" dinners. Three to four Confab chefs will pick an ingredient, give one-week notices, and restrict access to less than 25 people. The first dinner? Four courses of truffles—the Kobe beef of the fungi world. The chefs? Graves, Foshee and Andrew Spurgin (Campine). Jan. 12, 7-9PM, $125. They're only seating 12 people. So call 619-531-8744. Like, now. 

Tor Kenward Wine & Cheese Tasting 

Grand Del Mar is to wine what the Library of Congress is to books. Wine Director Jesse Rodriguez has invited Tor Kenward—known for phenomenal single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays—to the resort for a progressive tasting (with a cheese expert) through the Grand Del Mar library. Jan. 11, 6-8PM, $45 (plus tax and gratuity), 858.314.1900. 

Restaurant Week 2012

It's baaaaack. Restaurant Week is like ComicCon for food nerds. Restaurants cut you killer deals on set menus in hopes that you come back every day for the rest of your life. The list includes local stars like Bankers Hill, Mister A's, Bo Beau, Bice, Café Chloe, George's, Jsix… and that's only half the alphabet. So go, enjoy. Just don't invite that one friend who brings his own bottle of Two Buck Chuck, grumbles about the corkage fee and uses a calculator to tip 12 percent to the penny. 


After getting hit harder than any other burgh during the economic apocalypse, La Jolla is heating up. The biggest news…

“Papa” Doug Manchester is getting into the Prospect restaurant game. Earlier today I peeked into the construction on the 1200 block of Prospect (across from George’s, between Morgan Stanley and Westime). Three workers were hard at it, including a gentleman in a Grand Del Mar uniform. Addison South? Something completely different yet equally grandiose? Papa Doug’s people have confirmed they’re brewing something. Stay tuned…

Of course Thomas Schoos’ crews are working hard at the new Malarkey-Brennan outpost, Herringbone (7837 Herschel).

Two doors down from Whisknladle, a pair of brothers (both La Jolla High grads) are opening Puesto, a hip little street taco joint in partnership with longtime SD chef and reported taco genie Luis Gonzalez. A quick-and-dirty comparison is—looks like the Burger Lounge of Mexican food. Or Roberto’s for a farm-to-table world. They’ll also serve salads and bowls with grilled meats and veggies, making everything to order. Big-time S.D. graffiti artist Chor Boogie is doing murals and Studio MyID (Burger Lounge, Tin Leaf) is handling design. It’ll have old wood and brick, copper rails, roll-down windows and pops of yellow-green. Looks like an early February open and it seems like they’ve got the resources to multiply if the flagship works. eatpuesto.com.

In Downtown, work is underway on a massive new bar/club/good ole boy freak show at Culy Warehouse. The man behind it? Ty Hauter, who’s the busiest nightlife developer in East Village these days, a partner in Tipsy Crow, Double Deuce, Bootlegger, Bub’s and now this. The space will be called Block 16 Union & Spirits, what Hauter describes as “House of Blues meets Squid Row in Cabo. Everything will be bolted down. If someone wants to dance on furniture, go for it.” The plans include a gigantic LED Jumbotron (25’ by 35’) of for videos and a stage for DJs and live music. “It won’t be another Fluxx,” he says. “Maybe like Fluxx for good ole boys with whisky and cokes.” Next door at the former Dizzy’s jazz club, he’s putting in an old-school 1900s-style lunch counter with root beer on tap, pastrami and knockwurst sammies and gourmet hot dogs. Think Milton’s or DZ Aikens for the Petco Park set (he’ll also have a hot dog stand slinging wieners from midnight to 3AM for the wobbly-eyed among us). Hauter expects a May open. He’s also planning another project a few blocks away that we’ve agreed not to spill just yet. culywarehouse.com

High-end Mex is a tough sell in San Diego. Roberto taught us we can get rolled taco triplets for pennies. But El Vitral must be doing pretty OK, because they just took over the shuttered Frida restaurant in Chula Vista and plan to open their second El Vitral. The space, on the outskirts of the Otay Ranch Town Center, was designed by architect bigwig Graham Downes and boasts a killer central patio with a massive olive tree plopped in the middle. Owner Pablo Becker says he’s going to graffiti-up the place and do a few more street tacos, but keep the El Vitral mainstays (duck enchiladas, huevos benedictos with chipotle hollandaise). Expected open: Feb. 2012. Pick up the Feb. issue for more details in our interview with Becker. 2015 Birch Road, Chula Vista. Elvitralrestaurant.com.

Young gun Jason Maitland—fresh off a fairly contentious split with ownership at Flavor Del Mar—has signed on for Red Light District. The restaurant, formerly occupied by the mayonnaisy Sushi Itto, is owned by the same group from Toscana Café & Wine Bar. Maitland’s got loads of talent, especially with hoofed proteins. Expected open: Late Jan. 409 F Street, Downtown.

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