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San Diego Trip Report

SD downtown trip report - long


Restaurants & Bars 9

SD downtown trip report - long

Gin n Tonic | Jul 13, 2012 11:45 AM

After having started a thread or two and having read many more, I visited your fair city a few weeks ago. Here are my impressions; sorry for the length, but obviously you can skip this post if it’s too long.

I was in the Convention Center area and didn’t have (and didn’t want to rent) a car, so mainly just the restaurants in a walkable radius were in play. Since I travel and eat alone, I mostly sit at the bar if that’s available; since I don’t want to overeat late in the day, I try to stick mostly with small plates. Generally I only had free time after 6:00, so just dinners. With that as background:

Sunday night was Red Light District. Yes, I know Sunday night in the business is time for the B team, but this time I’m not sure even the B team showed up. The place was almost completely empty – I was the only person sitting at the bar, and there was one large mixed-age family group who seemed to be friends with the owner or manager on duty. Toward the end maybe two other couples showed up and took street-side booths. But anyway, the fail parade started with my drink order: I called for a Sapphire Gibson, the bartender clearly poured and shook it, then started searching around for a while only to come and tell me he had no onions, could he give me a piece of lime instead? I said then it wouldn’t be a Gibson, would it? So I called for a vodka gimlet, and he brought me a mixture of vodka and plain (unsweetened) lime juice. Being too polite to toss a second cocktail, I sucked it up. You’d think a place that tries to be sort of “cocktail culture” and, more importantly, charges an average of $12 for a drink would employ a bartender who knows something. But on to the food.

First was a creamy soup, as I recall spring onion and potato or something like that. Very nice flavor, just served at gas-plasma temperature. A fairly delicate, creamy soup does not need to be at a thousand degrees. Second was a “razor clam and asparagus salad.” Except the server came back to say they were out of razor clams, could they substitute littlenecks? I said sure. The salad, a few lonely spears of asparagus under a mountain of baby greens came with vaguely clam-shaped pieces of rubber. Folks, I was born and raised on Long Island; I’ve clammed in the Great South Bay, I know what littlenecks are. If you have to cut it up to serve it, it’s not a littleneck. If your teeth hurt from chewing it, it’s not a littleneck. Those pieces of bivalve flesh were borderline inedible. The only thing that kept the evening from being a total disaster was my last dish, the Wagyu bone marrow. Hard to do that badly, and it was served with some kind of crostini and a very good red onion marmalade. I felt I needed a bit more in my stomach so I had an order of fries as well, which were very good also, if way too much. Just about $75 with tax and tip, and I felt majorly ripped off.

Monday night, based on a recommendation I heard from someone in the hotel bar, was J Six. Again I sat at the bar, again it was nearly empty, although most of the rest of the place was taken up with a private party. Nice beer selection, as I felt like keeping away from cocktails just in case. Started with a charcuterie plate, which was good but not anything to go out of the way for, then had cavatelli negro with octopus and bacon, which was excellent. Rich, smoky, the octopus was tender, the bacon was artisanal, the cavatelli were just right. A clear winner; I considered going back later in the week, although that ended up not happening.

Tuesday night, based on my earlier inquiries and reading here, I went to Hane. It seemed a little closer on Google Maps than it actually was, and I walked there, which turned out to be mostly uphill and through some pretty barren neighborhoods. But anyway, I had to cool my heels for 15 minutes at the bar, then seated myself at the sushi bar in front of what looked like the most senior of the itamae. I said “it’s up to you, I eat everything”, and I was not disappointed. This was pretty much everything I was expecting from an upper-end sushi experience. Maybe he stuck a little on the conventional side in terms of ingredients, but this was my first time there and he didn’t know me. Quality and presentation were top-notch, and the uni and ikura hand roll he finished off with will stick in my memory for quite a while. The $75 omakase charge (plus tax and tip and wine, of course) was a bargain, as far as I was concerned. The idea of walking back after that didn’t appeal to me, so I had them call me a cab.

Wednesday night I went to Cowboy Star. Sweetbreads, a rib-eye and a glass of Pinot Noir. Hard to go wrong. Sitting at the bar was nice, too, to watch the kitchen working, although it was actually relatively slow that night. Only bit of a complaint was that to me, rare really means rare, with a cold center, dripping blood, and my steak spent at least a minute too long on the flame. But again, I’m polite, and it would have to be more egregious for me to send back a $30+ piece of beef. A very nice place, all in all, but there are good-quality steakhouses everywhere.

Thursday was my last night. I didn’t want to go far, but I didn’t want to head back to Disneyland (sorry, Gaslamp) so based on some reading here or elsewhere I walked up to Prep Kitchen in Little Italy. Having lived in New York, Boston and Providence this wasn’t much of a Little Italy, but no matter. However, I was genuinely expecting a restaurant, not a meat market. Had I been much younger and much singler than I actually am, it might have appealed to me. As it was, it was a very loud place with great eye candy (at least 70% unattached women, in my estimation, in groups of 2 to 5-6, aged from 20’s to 50’s) and so-so food. While a grilled squid appetizer was very good, the “WNL Burger” was a barely edible obscenity from the “more is more” school. I’ve had many kinds of “high-end” burgers in various craft restaurants, and no matter the price, they have to work as a burger, which is hand food. This thing fell apart completely as soon as I picked it up, and from that point knife and fork was the only way to get through the 50% or so of it that I was able to consume. Yes, gluttony is still one of the deadly sins.

That was my week. Some highlights, some lowlights. Off to put on my flame-retardant underwear. And thanks to the regulars on this board who answered my initial questions and gave me other leads (whether you knew it or not.)

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