Restaurant Update on recent long weekend to San Diego. We just spent four days in San Diego eating and drinking our way around our old favs and a few new ones. Here are the brief reviews:
The Mission downtown twice (J and 12th, EAst Village)
As long time diners at the Mission in all its incarnations (at mission beach and north park), we were pleasantly surprised at the downtown version. Not because the food was better than at the others (it wasn't better but it was just as good), but because the servers were actually friendly, helpful, patient, etc. What a change from our usual service at the other Missions! I say this while also saying that having eaten at the mission for over 13 years, we haven't been extremely bothered by the "rough" service and have occassionally met servers that seemed glad we were there. However, we have given up going to the North Park Mission because we've had such bad service--a combination of complete ignoring and rudeness.
Downtown was great. We ended up staying both visits for almost two hours which, if you've been to the mission, you realize is somewhat of a hardship to the servers in that they could be turning the tables much quicker with all the people waiting outside. However, they more than tolerated our long prescence (and hopefully we rewarded their tolerance with our large tip!).
The food was excellent--we ordered rancheros verde (tortillas with black beans, eggs, and a green chile sauce), pappos locos (crispy fried potatoes with jalapenos, black beans, salsa, avocado), blueberry cornmeal pancakes, chicken apple sausage, roast beef hash (with big soft chunks of roast beef and fried potatoes served with rosemary bread and eggs). We had tea and coffee as well (we always order our hot drinks in tall cups because the "bowls" they serve the tea in get cold so darn quick). The only disappointment was the side order of tortillas. They tasted stale and we didn't finish them.
The Linkery (30th and Upas, North Park; thelinkery.com)
THis was our third stop at The Linkery. We really enjoy this restaurant, but I say that while also acknowledging that their food is not always as good as we hope. Having tried almost everything on the main menu, we ventured to the specials this time. Our appetizers were great--a dip made of pepitas was tasty and unexpectedly creamy; and the sausage with sauerkraut was wonderful. I don't like sauerkraut (or, at least, I thought I didn't). But this was great. I would have eaten another plate of this. THe sausage was a spicy red pepper sausage (they make all of their sausages here and we've never had a bad one--although at times they are overcooked). I wish we'd ordered two sets of these appetizers and skipped the entrees.
For our entrees, we had beef belly which, while tender, did not have much taste at all. And, it was so fatty (which isn't the Linkery's fault, I don't think. I am guessing that's just a property of that cut). Our other entree were ribs that they smoke in house and serve with their own bbq sauce. They were tasteless and dry. What a disappointment. Dessert was also a disappointment. the pound cake was dried out and over cooked (we've had the pound cake before and found it much better). An olive oil ice cream sounded intriguing but tasted like a mediocre super market frozen confection. Finally, we did have one of the coffees off the coffee menu--they offer six or seven press pots of intricately described coffees. These are expensive but if you drink lots of coffee after dinner maybe it's worth it. I tried the coffee (which I don't really drink) and it was quite flavorful.
The wines were great. We selected a sauvignon blanc off the happy hour list, which I must say was a bit less refreshing then we would have liked but wasn't bad for $3.50. The other glass we had was the fox creek vixen sparkling Shiraz (or syrah) I can't remember which. And it was great. I'd drink the whole bottle of that stuff. The waiter suggested a nice bottle of Margo (or something like that--wish I'd written it down), that was wonderful. We also had a bottle of a mango beer which was surprisingly yummy.
We love this place and hope they keep improving the food as they fine tune the restaurant. Check out their web site and blog. It's a very friendly restaurant kind of slow food place that works hard to use only local purveyors or at least purveyors they know.
THe Guild (Barrio Logan at 1850 Newton; theguildrestaurant.com) This gem was recommended by the Linkery and a couple of web sites confirmed their reviews. We did see several bad reviews of the place as well. But we found nothing to complain about and lots to praise. First a note on location. Every review we read started out by saying: be careful of the ghetto location and the "gang bangers". However, we found the location to be fine. Having grown up in the midwest where "ghetto" means something quite different than in CA, it's hard to envision the area surrounding the Guild as "ghetto".
Almost next door is a school, small homes line the nearby streets with a few restaurants scattered around. We walked there from downtown and walked home in the dark at 10pm and while the streets may not be as well lighted as we liked, you are almost immediately in the vicinty of the east village once you head west from Barrio Logan. Maybe driving here takes you through areas that are "rougher".
When we arrived (early, about 5:30), there were five or six young kids (10-12 year olds) hanging out front on skateboards and scooters. my husband chatted with them for a bit. The staff at the restaurant seemed quite friendly with them and they rode up and down outside for several hours (we stayed here for at least four hours). The restaurant is open in that the front and back stores stand open, there are lots of windows, etc., so you feel both an inside/outside kind of atmosphere almost wherever you sit.
We sampled at least half the menu of food and quite a bit of the excellent half glass wine menu as well. Our waiter was quite helpful in giving us recommendations and bringing us small tastes of wine before we ordered a half glass. Our food favorites included a wonderful stuffed pasilla chile (like a chile relleno only not fried) with a bright, spicy green chile sauce on top; a cheese plate paired with three wines that nicely complimented one another. Interestingly, we had tried one of the wines (a rose) earlier and had found it unpalatable, but paired with the cheese it became not only drinkable but quite refreshing and quite a compliment to the cheese flavors. Whoever is putting these plates together is doing a great job.
The Kobe beef sliders and the pommes frites came highly recommended so we tried both of them. They were good, but I still liked the chile and cheese plate better. We also had the artichoke appetizer which are two small artichoke hearts covered in cheese (I think) and then broiled till they are like little creme brulees. We also had the crabcakes which were flavorful and full of crab. We had the smores for dessert. if anything did not live up to its expectations, it was the dessert: three marshmallows, a couple of pieces of hershey chocolate and not very good graham crackers.
The servings are small and they aren't cheap. However, we felt that we were getting value for our money. Nothing we ordered (except the smores) seemed over priced given the presentation, the wait staff, and the quality of the food.
I haven't mentioned the atmosphere. I would describe it as modern/art deco meets contemporary warehouse (you can literally see into a warehouse at the back of the restaurant). We really enjoyed the atmosphere, didn't find it loud or uncomfortable. Apparently, they will be opening an upstairs lounge at some point in the future. They don't currently have a liquor license so they serve cocktails with wine like liquor. All the wines we had by the half glass were good. We just ordered so many that we lost track!
Sogno di Vigno (India st., Little Italy)
We went here because it was located right around the corner from our hotel. We had a light dinner before departing San Diego. It was a great place for snacks and wine. WE sat in the window on a comfortable couch and had republic of tea iced tea (they were out of five of the six flavors) and we had a full glass of a sauvignon blanc (too oaky for us--they were also out of several of their wines) and two half glasses of red, one from Siciliy and the other from the Rhone region. Both were good and ran about $4 for a half glass.
We also sampled their cheese plate which was huge ($9). If the guild's portions are a tad small for most diners, this cheese plate is huge. The chef selects three cheeses and serves them with pecans, dried cranberries and wonderful flavorful olives (I would have eaten tons of these!). They come with very good bread. We also had the caprese salad ($11) which was fresh and good but nothing spectacular. THis place is casual almost to the point of a deli but then with fancy table linens and upscale food. Kind of a mixed atmosphere.
Star Lite (India st., near Washington; starlitesandiego.com) After walking to this restaurant which is in this kind of warehousey area on India (north of little Italy) we weren't quite sure what kind of food/wine we could expect. But the atmosphere alone was worth the visit. Inside the odd sexagon shaped door (I think it's a sexagon!), the lounge area is dark with dangling "star lite" chandelier over the sunken bar. It's comfy, 50ish maybe with dark booths. We started eating out on the patio which is more modern, think white plastic molded chairs and tables.
Our waiter was friendly but somewhat uninformed, telling us that the Brazilian Liquor Cachaca was made from grapes (not cane sugar). The cocktail list was what had brought us here--we wanted something other than wine this time. And it did not disappoint in terms of its unusualness and its flavors. We tried two bourbon cocktails pushed by the waitress who loves Bourbon. Not being Bourbon fans did not stop us. They were both unusual and quite flavorful: the Sazerac was soaked in Herbsaint, a licorice like liquor and was the bartenders creation. The second was the Starlite Julep, a mix of bourbon, mint, ginger syrup and bitters. I had the starlite mule (ginger beer, lime, vodka and bitters), kind of the house cocktail. It's served in a copper mug which is a nice touch, but the drink was too watery for me. I'm not a bitters person but these bitters did not bother me (the bartender makes them herself). Our last drink was the Cachaca Hemingway which was very good and sent us to the liquor store to buy some Cachaca and Maraschino (which the bartender let us taste on its own).
The drinks are better than the food. The food wasn't bad but it wasn't that stellar. The "pommes frites" were simply french fries with some parm on them (and they weren't hot enough). The sausage board was interesting but not anything like the Linkery. And it was quite a small serving for $15. We also had the bruschetta with parmigiana pudding (which just seemed like parmigian melted with butter). The bruschetta said it came with arugula but was served with regular greens. THis was the best appetizer we had and the only one I'd order again. We quit at that point, thinking we didn't want to risk ordering entrees. Maybe that was a mistake.
We sat inside at the bar for our last drink because we wanted to talk to the bartender who seemed to take pride in her concoctions. She was quite willing to talk with us about the drinks and certainly knew her trade. Unfortunately, she had other customers to wait on and we couldn't monopolize her!
Chloe (721 9th, cafechloe.com). We had brunch here on Sunday. We like the location, on the corner of 9th and G, and we like the casual, french like atmosphere. But the seats are so uncomfortable we can never stay here long (maybe that's the intention). Our waiter was being trained but he was quite friendly and eager to please. We had tea and coffee to start. A cup of tea is $4 and seems a bit high. The cappucino was good and is served in a traditional smaller cup. Our brunch dishes included a chive, brie omelet that was cooked to perfection, soft and light with some lousy breakfast potatoes and a small salad; and we ordered the truffle poached eggs with wild mushrooms. THe mushrooms were good as were the poached eggs but I couldn't detect any truffle. We like this place but don't know that we'll be back. It's quite expensive and uncomfortable.
We also made two trips up to Bread and Cie (University and 4th; Hillcrest). It was as good as usual. They seem to make new changes between our every visit. They are hoping to acquire a beer/wine license, and the lady who waited on us said they might be going to open in the evenings now. We tried a cupcake, something we haven't had in the past. It was fine, but nothing to write home about. The pastrami panini was excellent.
An unexpected stop was at the downtown Extraordinary Desserts which we literally stumbled over on our way home from the Guild. Like the Hillcrest version, this one is so overcrowded that I can barely stand to be inside it. There is a cop at the door who had to keep telling people to get out of the way of the door which was almost impossible because people are packed so tightly inside it's difficult to move THis is like a warehouse with tons of seating in this open corral area. No way could I bring myself to sit down there, but we got a slice of the chocolate shortbread (excellent even three days later when we got home) and the pavlova which was outstanding. I am going to hunt for a similar recipe. It had some kind of cream cheese or mascarpone filling. YUM! There is a take away order place that you can shove through the crowds to get too (most people seem to be trying to get a table).
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our eating trip