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Aug 10, 2006 05:44 AM

The Prado (San Diego)

Back when gas was still only $.21 a gallon it wasn't unusual for families to take a drive on warm summer evenings like the ones we've been experiencing recently. And, of course, this was the era where it still took longer to actually drive to Los Angeles than it did getting out of North County ;-). Gas was cheap and traffic sparse. Destinations differed, but in my family it was usually one of two places. The bay to check out the Navy ships and tuna fleet, the lights and the then new Shelter Island, or Balboa Park. Particularly Balboa Park since my dad had been a musician and had done long stints in the Starlight Bowl orchestra.

We loved going to the park at other times to ride the carousel, which is still there and the minature train, which isn't. My aunt and uncle schlepped us through every museum possible including some of the lesser known ones like the Hall of Champions, Aerospace and all the little International Houses. Most of the time we had to get dressed up because this was, well, that's just what people did back then. And, because often times we'd end up eating at The Prado restaurant and if you were going to be seen, you had to be presentable enough to be seen. People still cared about that kind of thing back then too.

I hadn't been to The Prado in a very long time. Oh, sure, I'd taught some classes at the cooking school upstairs, but I hadn't had a meal there. And frankly, after having seen their back of the house after closing, I wasn't too eager to dine. But when my mother suggested trying it out for my birthday earlier this week I thought "why not". Why not, indeed. The meal was surprisingly good. From the housemade crackers with chipotle hummus that arrived shortly after being seated to the cream cheese flan that marked my birthday dessert, the meal was very good and the service even better.

Say what you will about the Cohen Group of restaurants, but with their flagship operation they've got things well in hand. The only clunker in what we ate was a chicken skewer on the appetizer plate that while flavorful from grilling, was also really too dry. The rest of the skewers on the plate were very well done with accompanying sauces that complemented them well. The beef dishes were remarkably tender. Portions are generous. I'm not a huge fan of either flan or cheese cake, but put the two of them on a collision course and voila, a flan with a denser texture and a cheesecake that less dense and moister.

Since I haven't figured out how to upload photos on this site yet, you can check out what we ate at this link --

Click on the photos to enlarge them. Since I'm still mastering my digital camera, they look better enlarge ;-D

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  1. I think they're a pretty good restaurant. I've eaten there on a few occasions, usually before a production at the Old Globe. Had the sea bass--excellent.

    Balboa Park has some great museums, the Aerospace not being one of them. I love MOPA, the Mingei, and the Japanese Friendship Garden, which I know doesn't count as a museum, but still... The Park's a fun place to wander around for a couple of hours and the Museum of Art's cafe is a great place for sandwhiches and soup at lunch.

    1. If you can find a parking space in or near Balboa Park on a fine, bright day (neither too hot nor too cold), the patio of the Prado, overlooking the lushly wooded canyon is one of the absolute best places to lunch in all of San Diego. An overchilled bottle of crisp white wine, and one of the Prado's superb salads can actually make me say the phrase "America's Finest City" with a straight face.
      . . . jim strain in san diego.

      1. Have been there a few times. Found the food to be inconsistent and ordinary in a beautiful environment. Near the bottom of my list unless you happen to be in the park for an event.

        1 Reply
        1. re: PGB

          Our office is near the park, making this a convenient place for us to take out-of-town visitors, so I have been many times. And your comment is dead-on...the setting is beautiful and cudos to the Cohn's for remaking the Prado from the dump that it was..but the food is not "ordinary," it is much weaker than that, but the menu is very well written.