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WHAT’S NEW: Sage Grill brings fresh, casual California dining to fast-food-saturated Encinitas. The uncomplicated concept is the brainchild of Rick Campbell and John Blackman, who between them have 27 years of restaurant experience, many with Kipp Downing at Pacifica Del Mar.

Items on Sage’s all-day menu range from $8 to $22. Executive chef Philip Jordon, 25, who trained at the California Culinary Academy, helped develop the menu of what he calls “straightforward food.” His favorites are pan-fried buttermilk catfish and the signature double-cut rotisserie pork chop.

Campbell, who believes he has tapped a niche of dining for people “tired of higher-end hype who just want good food in an understated experience,” plans to make his “everyday gourmet” eatery into a multi-unit concept.

OLDIE BUT GOODIE: The Hotel del Coronado Cookbook is back. To celebrate, author and former Del food-and-beverage director Beverly Bass is hosting book signings and food demonstrations. First printed in 1993, the 280-page coffee table book is in its fourth printing and includes never-before-published recipes of meals served to some of the world’s most famous.

During her lectures, Bass shares what went on behind the scenes of the National Historic Landmark hotel—anecdotes too risqué for print. Get the dish May 6 at the Coronado Historical Association, and June 4 at Robinsons-May Oasis in Fashion Valley.

FEEDING THE ARTS: When the Joan & Irwin Jacobs Center for La Jolla Playhouse is complete, it will include a 4,500-square-foot restaurant and cabaret. The facility is slated to partially open this fall at the University of California at San Diego as the centerpiece of a permanent year-round theater village. The restaurant is expected to be on-line in 2005, and will give theater patrons a chance to enjoy preshow dining on site or to picnic in the adjoining Gregory Peck Park.

CRITIC’S CHOICE: The cannoli at The Godfather in Kearny Mesa is reason to order dessert before dinner. Isidoro Balistreri, who owns and operates the restaurant with his wife, Marie, and son, Anthony, came to San Diego from Palermo, Sicily, in 1964. Ten years later he opened The Godfather, serving up family recipes, including his uncle’s cannoli and tiramisu. Little-changed over the years, the restaurant is an unpretentious and unexpected place to get great food, admirable service and world-class cannolis. Isidoro is the only one who knows the recipe for the dough shell with the sweet cheese inside, and he’s not sharing. Twice a week he makes the traditional Italian treats in solitude. Son Anthony concedes ignorance of the recipe’s details, and jokes that maybe someday his father will sell him the secret.

TEMPIS FUGIT: In an industry with a 75 percent failure rate after one year, a restaurant that’s been open for five years is a veteran. The venerable Chez Loma French Bistro has more than made the cut and is celebrating 30 years in Coronado. Chef/owner Ken Irvine is marking the milestone with a series of events, the first a chef dinner at Loews Coronado Bay Resort’s Azzura Point on May 13. Other notable restaurant anniversaries this year are survivors and success stories Mille Fleurs and Rubio’s Baja Mexican Fresh, both celebrating 20th birthdays.

BEST OF THE BEST: The San Diego Restaurant Association marks 20 years of dining with its annual Gold Medallion Banquet May 17. “The Academy Awards of Dining” are the industry’s vote of the best of the best in 25 categories. Chez Loma’s Irvine is nominated for Restaurateur of the Year (he won for Chef of the Year in 2002). Also nominated are Bernard Hug of Mille Fleurs and Bertrand at Mr. A’s, and Charles Kaufman of Bread & Cie, who left Los Angeles and the making of B-rate horror flicks to bring good bread to San Diego. Nominees for Chef of the Year are Trey Foshee of George’s at the Cove, Jeff Thurston of The Prado at Balboa Park and Martin Wolse of Mille Fleurs. So who cooks for San Diego's restaurant elite? Sheraton Harbor Island executive chef Steve Black has been called on again this year to create a memorable meal.

chocolatesSide Dish

For Mommy Sweetest: Chuao Chocolatier lashes back at mall mediocrity with a new shop in University Towne Centre, its second in San Diego. Chuao (pronounced chew-wow) is named after the cacao-producing region in Venezuela. Its handcrafted chocolates are made with traditional Belgian and French techniques, and they would sate even Juliette Binoche customers. The artisan chocolate outlet is stocked with chocolates, confections, an affordable boutique-wine selection and a handy wine/chocolate pairing list. Unlike the flagship shop at The Lumberyard in Encinitas, the new UTC store also serves coffee drinks. Not to be compared with your everyday joe-to-go, these beverages are more like truffles in a cup. One look at the queue of moms winding out Chuao’s door, and it’s easy to see that those delicate delectables could be that perfect little gourmet gift for Mom on her special day.

Patricia Walsh can be reached by e-mail at patricia@sandiegomag.com.
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