Dieting and birthdays do not go together. In fact, they are something of an oxymoron. So after having lost 25 pounds over the last 5 months, it was time to break training and celebrate my brthday.
The plan was for 4 of us to meet at the new Marriott by Petco Park and have drinks and apps. at Altitudes, the bar on the 22nd floor and then see where the evening took us. Altitudes is a very stylish, very trendy open air lounge on the roof of the Marriott, populated by hip 30-somethings and very large men in black who most likely were there to provid *security*. Decor is sparse, limited to a wall of water framing the bar, large, wide white lounges with small rolled pillows as back support, and a chrome railing and ledge capping the edges of the building. The chrome ledges make a great vantage point for taking in a Padres game since it looks directly down into Petco. Upon discovering that the best wine being poured was Canyon Crest and that apps weren't going to be readily available, the four of us beat a hasty retreat back to street level to regroup and change plans.
The Solamar Hotel by the Kimpton Group was only 1 block away so we cruised over, the JBar on the pool deck being our targeted objective. Once again we were in a very stylish, very chic boutique hotel. Okay, the Marriott can hardly be described as "boutique", but the Solamar fits that niche perfectly. The lobby is done in dark wood, soft colors, sleek lines, furniture with clean edges, all of which works to project an air of sophistication and elegance, something San Diego, and especially downtown San Diego has not always been known for.
Unfortunately, luck, again, was not working with us. The JBar was closed for a private party. Since one in our group (not me) had subsisted on only a banana for the entire day, we were seriously in need of food and drink, and very quickly. Once again, we found ourselves back down at street level making a chance in plans. Rather than tempt Mercury Retrograde to dash our plans yet again, we decided the best thing was to stay put and have drinks and dinner at JSix, the restaurant attached to the Solamar Hotel.
As with the hotel, JSix packs a visual wallop. The room is an interesting mix of shapes -- curves, straight lines, arches, pillars and embossments on the ceiling. A soothing pallete of colors, ivories, creams and yellows accented with bolder rusts and maroon florals. And an eclectic melange of textures, from wood, to stucco, to glass mosaic tiles, gauzy drapery dividers and woven reed chair backs. All set off by an improbable wall of fezes with bright yellow tassles all hanging in unison, perfectly straight. There is no reason all of this should have worked as well as it did, but the restaurant and small bar that both street level doors lead into, are both airy and inviting.
The menus, wine list, and a small basket of fresh bread and dish of tapenade all arrived at the table almost immediately. The tapenade, a blend of olive oil, parsley, kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes and other seasonings had that addicting quality that makes it go down far too easily and with far too much of some very good bread. Coconut Fried Calamari startd us off as we made the rest or meal selections . Unlike most versions of calamari, this one is not made with the usual rings and tenacles, but rather from calamari steaks and coated with a light and greaseless breading that had been enlivened by the addition of sesame seeds and dried orange peel. Thai chili sauce came on the side and was a good foil for the tender calamari, though it did render the coconut in the breading tasteless.
The calamari was followed by 2 items not on the menu. Both are bigger than an appetizer, but smaller than an entree and easily shared. The first was a duck breast marinated in pomagrante molasses, lightly seared and served with a mound of well dressed fresh greens. The duck, though cooked a little past medium, was still tender, flavorful and well suited to the dressing on the greens. The second dish was Wagyu Beef that had been thinly sliced, grilled and served with a potato skewer and salad. Wagyu beef has earned a well deserved reputation as some of the tenderest, finest beef on the face of the planet. The slices on this salad literally melted in the mouth. The tiny potatoes were a nice touch, but I didn't care much for the dressing on the salad. I'm not exactly sure what was in it, but while it didn't work for me, others may find it just fine.
Moving on to the entrees. The four we sampled were - Lemon Garlic Chicken, which came with a warm vegetable slaw and some waffle cut sweet potatoes. Halibut that had been marinated in achiote, wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf. Short ribs that had been braised in soy and red wine and accompanied by a couple of well roasted carrots and a two-potato mash. Grilled Kobe Beef Flatiron Steak, served with atop a bed of spinach sauteed with garlic and a garnish of finely chopped tomatillo and avocado. All four entrees were excellent but the Kobe flatiron and the braised short ribs were outstanding. This kitchen does extremely well with beef.
The halibut was wild Northern Alaska, but the portion seemed a bit on the small side compared to the other entrees. The achiote, however, was a good choice for flavoring as it worked well with the firmness and mildness of the fish. The short ribs were probably the best entree. As trite as this will sound, the only way to describe them is meltingly tender, and infused with a deep, winey flavor that could do nothing but enhance the full beef flavors. I wasn't wild about the two-potato mash served with the short ribs, but it didn't matter, the ribs were clearly the star of this dish.
For dessert we split the chocolate fudge layer cake and the date and macadamia nut cake with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch sauce. The chocolate layer cake was a bit pedestrian, but the warm date and mac nut cake was spectacular. Oh, and we also managed to kill 3 bottles of a 2002 Ridge Zinfandel. Whoo-Hoo, birthday celebrations are really worth it.
But, my birthday wan't quite done yet. Yesterday, I ended up back at JSix with my mother and aunt for brunch. This time, along with a basket of house baked bread and that addictive tapenade, we started with a very generous plate of Grilled Korean Beef Ribs, definitely suitable for sharing. The ribs had been quickly grilled and then bathed in a honey, chipotle and scallion sauce which gave them a sweet, smokey, tangy zing. Served with a side salad of long strands of julienned cucumber and red pepper in a light vinegar dressing, the dish was superb.
My aunt had the Lemon French Toast. Two thick slices of egg bread had been dipped into a lemon scented egg wash and then grilled so that the inside was more a souffle texture than breadlike. Poached dried apricots with slivered almonds topped the french toast, which was richer than it had originally sounded or had any right to be.
I had the Angus Chuck Burger with Blue Cheese and my mother the Grilled Herb Chicken Sandwich. Sandwiches come with a choice of french fries or a salad of baby greens. There is not a potato on the face of this Earth that does not have my name on it, and being my birthday, french fries were the only option. The burger was a patty of loosely packed beef, cooked medium rare as requested and served on a soft bun with wasabi aioli and spicy ketchup on the side. Blue cheese probably wasn't the best choice of cheese as a little goes a long way, but it was still a tasty and satisfying combination.
The grilled chicken sandwich came with an avocado sauce on a soft, oval roll with a chewy crust and sprinkling of coarse salt, as well as the wasabi aioli and spicy ketchup. This is a fabulous sandwich. The chicken breast was quite tender and whatever herbs were used on the chicken set it off perfectly as did the salt in the sandwich roll. The spicy ketchup was basically regular ketchup to which chunks of mango and chutney had been added.
For dessert my mom and aunt split that wonderful date and madademia nut cake and I tried the guava creme brulee. I'm not a huge fan of creme brulee, but I am a fan of guavas. We also decided that with a name like Satanic Brownie we needed to give it a try too, so we got an order to go on the brownie.
The guava creme brulee didn't taste much like guava, in fact, I couldn't taste any guava at all, BUT.......this was a tremendously good version of the dessert. It was rich and creamy with excellent texture, and not overly stiff. The sugar crust on top was perfect, and garnished with strawberries that had been macerated with basil chiffonade. I'm not a fan of strawberries and basil, and I don't think it worked all that well with the creme brulee. The Satanic Brownie turned out to be more like a cross between a flourless chocolate cake and a brownie, but boy was it good. It was gooey, dense with chocolate flavor and topped with a sinfully good ganache and served with vanilla ice cream and berries. The brownie was another winner.
The service staff is young, genial and well trained. The waiter we had for dinner was knowledgable about every item on the menu, suggested items not on the menu when he realized he had 4 serious diners, and was well informed about the wines on the wine list. Our waiter for brunch was equally as personable and also well trained. Side staff were efficient and unobtrusive. For a restaurant that's only been open a few months, they've done great job in training service staff.
JSix is located downtown at the corner of Sixth Ave. and J Street, within walking distance of the Gaslamp. Prices are moderate to expensive, wine list is small, well selected and fairly priced. Food is interesting, well prepared and fun to eat. The kitchen does exceptionally well with meat items. Two big thumbs way, way up from me and everyone who shared the two meals with me.