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Restaurants & Bars 4

C Level Lounge - San Diego

Gayla | Aug 11, 200501:32 AM

..........And birthday week continues.

All it took was 1 sentence buried deep within recesses of an article in the U/T food section this morning for me to decide where to have dinner tonight. And since I had previously reported in error that Island Prime was open I did feel somewhat compelled to investigate now that 1/2 the restaurant is really up and running. It didn't matter that C Level Lounge had only been open a week, I knew immediately that's where I wanted to go for dinner.

C Level Lounge is located on Harbor Island in half of what used to be Rueben's. For those of us that grew up here, or have spent many years in America's Finest City, there are long and deep memories of family and celebration meals at Rueben's on Harbor Island. It was a big old barn of a building that never lost that early 70's "fern bar" look or feel, never produced a really bad meal, but on the other hand, never really produced an exceptionally good meal either. In other words it was safe, predictable and a perennial favorite for San Diegans. The whimpers, groans and shutters were heard countywide when it suddenly closed in 2004.

Say what you will about the Cohn Group restaurants, but they do know how to put a restaurant together and the new C Level Lounge is no exception. Occupying the east half of the old Rueben's it is a hip, inviting and attractive space, improving greatly over what had been there. Look in every direction because there is either architectural, color, shape or texture interest at every juncture. Starting with the stained concrete (or at least I think it's concrete) walkway leading into the restaurant and the oversized wood and glass door that swings on a midline axis, to the melange of wood and assorted shades of green surfaces, trendy stainless steel bathroom fixutres, the whole space has been given a much needed overhaul which has brought it into the 21st century. The one thing that hasn't changed, though, is the view. It is still as magnificent as ever and visible from just about every seat in the house.

Chilepm, Phee and I met there after work for an early dinner. We were warmly greeted and led to our patio table that was set only a few feet from the Bay. What a relaxing place to be!! Tables are well spaced, the chairs comfortable and the view unmatched. One can watch planes landing at Lindbergh, container ships passing under the Coronado-Bay Bridge, America's cup style racing boats sliding through the water, sportfishers and the occassional helicopter from North Island. But most of all, it's the perfect place to just sit and watch the world go by and let your cares and worries wait for you in the parking lot. You'll also discover that San Diego has a beautiful skyline, a far cry from the twin salmon colored Holiday Inn towers and the El Cortez that comprised the skyline when the place was originally built. The Holiday Inn towers have long since been eclipsed by dramatic new structures and the El Cortez isn't even visible. Nostalgia reins on this terrace.

There is a selection of specialty martinis and cocktails ($10 +/- for either) and a list of wines by the glass (mostly $9-$24) and bottles (around $30 and up). Phee decided to open with the Skyliner Martini which was a quite good blend of Raspberry Stoli, Chambrod and berries. I opted for the El Pescador Martini which was really just a stirred Margarita served in a martini glass. Both were delicious and the bartenders were not singy with the liquor.

The C Level Lounge menu is casual and heavier on appetizers than entrees. But if you've ever eaten at a Deborah Scott restaurant, you know that her appetizers can be entrees unto themselves. And there are some interesting choices on this menu.

Chilepm had the Steak Tartar. It arrived perched on a parmesan crisp, two large and tasty caperberries, crostini and a pile of nicely dressed arugula (at least I think it was arugula). It was a nice rendition of steak tartar, rich, meaty and satisfying. Phee had the signature Brie starter. The brie had been shaped into a long cylinder resembling an ear of corn and enrobed in a nut crust. A small heap of crostini had been artfully arranged at the wide end of the cylinder to look like corn husks that had been pulled back. A roasted garlic puree and jalapeno jelly provided point and counter point to the nuts and brie. For those who have tried the signature brie appetizer at either Kemo Sabe or Indigo Grill, the version here is simpler, with fewer components, but no less delicious. I had the calamari accompanied by a zippy, okay it's HOT, thai-style dipping sauce. The tempura coating was crunchy, the calamari tender and the dipping sauce really good.

Other appetizer options include an artichoke and crab fondue, mussels, clams, peel and eat shrimp, crab cakes, pot stickers, pan roasts of oysters, clams, or crab, truffled fries, chips or onion rings as well as the infamous Skirts on Fire. Most appetizers were in the $9 - $15 range. Portions were sane, not immense, but the apps are suitable for sharing.

There are 4 or 5 salads, none of which I can recall because - 1) I've eaten far too much salad over the last 5 months and 2) the Margarita kicked in.

The entrees are straightforward and mostly casual and not fussy. There was a Lobster Mac & Cheese served in a flat silver casserole. Halibut Fish & Chips with the chips being served in a large cone. Phee selected the Grilled Ahi Sandwich which came with an interesting assortment of chips - potato, lotus and a mystery chip (maybe yucca). Chilepm had the Grilled Chicken Sandwich which arrived with fat, crumb breaded onion rings (though I suspect these come frozen and are not housemade) and I had the Blackened Prime Rib sandwich with a crispy tangle of red onion rings and an undressed mound of spring greens. All 3 plates came adorned with some housemade chow-chow. All 3 entrees were also over cooked, the worst being the Prime Rib which had been ordered medium rare and arrived very well done and the rub used for seasoning didn't really enhance the flavor all that much.

None of the entrees were as well executed or as good as the 3 starters had been. But to be fair, this is a restaurant that has only been open for 1 week and had 100 dinner reservatiosn for tonight. I'm guessing this is also a kitchen that is still trying to find it's rhythym and legs. I would expect issues such as overcooked fish, chicken and beef to be resolved as the kitchen develops it's timing and gets used to working together and producing high volume.

We split a Chocolate Bundt Cake with Pistaschio Ice Cream for dessert and it was very good. Service was not bad for a brand new staff and some time had obviously been spent getting the waitstaff up to speed. They're young and eager with a few rough edges that time and seasoning will probably wear in.

Phee and I each had 2 cocktails, we had 3 appetizers, 3 entrees and 1 dessert. Total tab NOT including tip was $135, and the 4 cocktails accounted for about $40 of that total.

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