Hot Time, Summer in the City
IF AT LUNCHTIME some steamy summer day you witness a group of Superior Court judges skateboarding down Broadway, you’ll know they’ve been hanging 10 at Hodad’s. The celebrated Ocean Beach burger bar, which lives by the “No shoes, no shirt, no problem” creed that once made San Diego the coolest place on Earth, will chill downtown when it opens a branch at 10th and Broadway. The building Hodad’s shares with a senior healthcare clinic, the funky Chee-Chee Club and a couple of floors of apartments has successfully resisted glamorization, as has the intersection, through three decades of urban renewal. Since Hodad’s isn’t in the gentrification business, Hodadification is likely: the introduction of O.B. attitude, juicy double bacon cheeseburgers and fist-sized onion rings.
REST EASY — THE VIEW at the new, improved Bali Hai is better than ever, as is the food. Proprietors Susie and Larry Baumann replaced the south-facing wall with glass, and the nearly 360-degree view shoots not only to points all around San Diego Bay but straight to the Coronado Islands, which ride high above the Pacific on crystal-clear days. “In redoing the restaurant and the menu, we had to remember that everybody feels a little bit of ownership in Bali Hai,” says Susie. “Everybody had a birthday, an anniversary or some special occasion here.” Stakeholders relish killer mai tais made with mucho booze and no fruit juice, and the “chicken of the gods” that starred among Bali Hai’s Polynesian specialties. Chef Chris Powell, a Rancho Valencia alumnus recruited after some 700 applicants failed to spark interest, cooks a fine line between old and new, infusing subtle South Seas influences into contemporary fare that diverts attention from the view.
OUT WITH THE OLD, in with the new, such as R Gang Eatery, which chef/proprietor Rich Sweeney will open any moment in the Fifth Avenue site that for 23 years housed Busalacchi’s before its move up a block. Sweeney, one of San Diego’s Top Chef contestants, bravely plans updated American classics like chipped beef on toast, and will serve “night owl nibbles” along with drinks until 2 a.m....Just in time for summer, the beautifully designed, impeccably themed Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern opened on the wet side of North Harbor Drive, adjacent to acres of pleasure boats and equipped with vast terraces as well as a rough-wood interior divided by a peninsula-shaped bar. Co-owner David Wilhelm, responsible for numerous hits in L.A. and O.C., says, “It’s an everyday joint; it’s a neighborhood place,” an assessment ratified by scores of Point Loma families scarfing tasty fare such as the sandwich of fried chicken, Cheddar, bacon and thyme gravy served on a buttermilk biscuit. Bartenders blithely blend floradora cocktails with dry gin, fresh raspberry juice, lime, ginger ale and bitters.
SEE HOW HE RUNS, that vagabond Philippe Beltran. A bad boy among local restaurateurs, the Paris-born Beltran famously opens hip eateries — most recently Kensington’s Bleu Bohème — only to take to his heels on the wings of success. “Love ’em and leave ’em,” he said upon handing Bleu Bohème to Ken Irvine, once the chef/proprietor of Coronado’s tres romantique Chez Loma. Irvine promises few changes, other than a lower price-point and a broader wine selection. Beltran allows that maybe sometime this fall, perhaps, he possibly may open a little bistro in La Mesa...News that Andaz (formerly Ivy Hotel) hopes to lease Quarter Kitchen to an independent restaurant prompted chef Nathan Coulon to decamp to Orange County, where he’ll head the kitchen at a strictly fresh-and-sustainable place called True Food...Downtown Encinitas has grabbed the spotlight that shines on North County coastal dining. Two new places that glow: Barracuda Grill, whose chef/proprietor Mo Hani pleases with simple Moroccan and French specialties like braised lamb shank and steak-frites, and East Village Asian Diner, whose eateastvillage.com Web site is more fun than a barrel of Japanese robots. Daniel and Michiuru Bohlen’s wide-ranging menu plows the fertile fields of Asian comfort food.
Le Mistral Breezes Down the Bay
When the French version of the Santa Ana winds, le mistral, howls through Provence, it paints brilliant blue skies while driving some residents nuts. Balmier breezes blow down San Diego Bay, and they’ve been luring North County diners familiar with Patrick Ponsaty’s near-perfect cuisine (he formerly cooked in Rancho Bernardo) to Mistral. For reasons unclear to this writer, many locals find the Coronado Bridge an impassible barrier, which deprives them of the multiple pleasures of visiting Coronado, including this lovely, view-endowed room at Loews Coronado Bay Resort. Ponsaty’s new post reunites him with hotel executive chef Marc Ehrler; the two Frenchmen worked at a luxury resort in the Caribbean some 10 years ago. Their rather haute cuisine menu matches Mistral’s own high style and, they avow, will make the room an entrepot for San Diegans. Perhaps — and few could resist pretty presentations such as oven-roasted jumbo asparagus with fresh morels and walnut-Parmesan vinaigrette, and citrus-steamed Alaska halibut in a lively lemon-verbena broth. Delicate details distinguish every dish.