San Diego Gaslamp area
Going to be staying in the Gaslamp area over Labor Day weekend. Any good recommendations within walking distance? Or, are we better off going to Pacific Beach area?
Well, Graham... that sort of depends on what "good" means to you. Can you give any more guidance as to your predilections?
You should be able to eat reasonably well in the Gaslamp. The biggest problems won't necessarily be the food it will be the crowds and the expense, some of which is justified, much of it is not.
Chive is good, so are Cafe Chloe and Dobsons. For seafood Oceanaire is located at 4th and J in the Gaslamp and is exceptionally good. There are photos of some of the food at this link -http://thediningdiva.typepad.com . Scroll down or just click on the Oceanaire Seafood Room link. It's pricey, but in this case justified.
You're also not that far from Little Italy. Hop on the Blue line trolley and take it to the County Center/Little Italy stop and walk up (east) one block to India. Solid row of restaurants of varying prices and quality. Vincentes is pretty good and for a quick lunch pick up a sanwich at Pete's Meats.
I also like Cafe Chloe, and I would add Red Pearl Kitchen and Gaslamp Strip Club (if you don't mind cooking your own steak). For casual seafood you might want to try Tin Fish or the Fish Market, though Fish Market will probably be very crowded and the food can be a bit spotty. Stick with simple stuff. The Fishery is ok, but pretty high priced. You might also run into huge crowds in PB on that weekend.
The roof bars on the top of the Marriott and the Solamar hotels are fun. I like the one on the Marriott - I think it's called Altitude.
In Little Italy I'd recommend Buon Appetito or Sogno di Vino. I am not crazy about Trattoria Fantastica or Filippis, but Cafe Zucchero is decent for desserts and gelato. The Little Italy Extraordinary Desserts is also a few blocks away on India, and is a good spot for dessert and coffee or a glass of wine.
I just ate at Chive this past Saturday and had a truly great dining experience. I think Chive may be my new favorite restaurant in town.
I hadn't been there since they changed their style from the usual ap/entree/dessert format to the current "grazing menu" so I was delighted when our meal turned out to be so pleasurable.
In summary: If I had to sum up the experience in a single word it would be "balance". Everything was perfectly executed. The flavors and textures were inspired yet chosen intelligently nothing ever overpowered anything else and the plating was beautiful. I really dislike chefs that start bringing together the weirdest (and poorly chosen) combinations of ingredients just to appear ultra-hip and trendy at the expense of the food. I am happy to report that everything at Chive was in perfect harmony.
The plates were on the small side, as expected, but not too small. After cocktails, two plates each and a dessert we were well-sated, but not overstuffed.
And speaking of cocktails... the bartender was also clearly skilled at his craft. All our drinks were perfectly mixed, well-conceived, balanced (there's that word again), delicious and beautiful.
Service was terrific too.
You can view the Chive menu here: http://www.sdurbankitchen.com/chive.html
Here is a more in-depth report of our meal:
Our group of four started with cocktails, including:
Black Martini [grey goose, vanilla schnapps, kahlua, espresso, coffee bean]. Delicious coffee flavor, well-balanced, not overpowered by alcohol, beautiful presentation, foamy and beige with 3 coffee beans sitting atop the foam.
Blue Horizon [Bombay Sapphire, gorgonzola stuffed olives]. Great olives and those tiny, long, sharp ice crystals that I love floating on top.
Sour Blueberry [Stoli Blueberry, blue curacao, white cranberry, lime, blueberries]. Delicious, bright blue, sweet, fruity, refreshing, not owerpowered by either sweetness or alcohol.
Keylime [Stoli Vanilla, pineapple juice, fresh lime, graham cracker rim]. Tasted a lot like key lime pie.
Chocolate Cherry [Effen Black Cherry, Vermeer, creme de cacao, cherry, chocolate flakes]. Delicious and decadent like a Black Forest Torte.
With the food I had a glass of the Museum Real Tempranillo with which I was quite pleased. A tasty wine with medium body, well-balanced, but soft and light enough to go with most of the food.
For food, we sampled:
cheese plate [chef's whim].
We ordered 2 of these for the four of us. I'm not sure I would call it a cheese plate as such. It was really a small piece of crostini with a teaspoon of fruit compote covered by a couple of paper thin slices of Machengo cheese and garnished with some frisee. Each couple cut their crostini in half giving each of us a bite or two. Not very large, but the combination of flavors was excellent.
Crab Mac 'n' Cheese [boursin cheese, panko crust]. Served in a ceral bowl sized portion, this mac 'n' cheese was loved by everyone. The crab was mild and not at all "fishy". Being creamy and not too sharp, the boursin didn't overpower the subtle crab -- an inspired choice of cheese. Great comfort food.
Blue Prawn Spring Roll [english pea puree, mango coulis, ginger]. Two deep-fried spring rolls, each cut in half. Crispy, not greasy, with just a mild taste of ginger. Delicious.
Diver Scallops. Unlike what is currently on their website, mine was cornmeal crusted and served with small pieces of slab bacon, bacon foam, and frisee. I know that "food foam" is trendy now, and I'm not sure that the bacon foam added much to this dish beyond a visual component, but these scallops were really great. Two large scallopps, perfectly cooked, with a crisp cormeal crust on top and meaty bits of slab bacon. Yum!
Braised Kurobuta Pork [black currant, onion, and apple cous cous]. The portion was about the size of my fist and the apple/currant cous cous was an inspired pairing (apple being such a classic match for pork). I want to make some of this cous cous at home!
My partner, Barbarella, had a chicken dish not currently on their online menu. I'm sorry now that I didn't take pictures or notes. I do remember that it was cooked "en sous vide" [a trendy boil-in-a-bag technique] and plated so that the chicken, wrapped with bacon looked like slices of a sushi roll turned on end. I believe there were four of these pieces and a slighty-smaller-than-hockey-puck sized side of basmati rice with peas, red pepper and some other stuff I can't remember just now in it, completed the beautiful presentation. Very nice, harmonious flavors.
Kobe Beef Carpaccio. Our friend ordered this and though the website suggests that it is served with rye cracker, micro arugula and candied lemon. I think they have changed this dish up a bit. Regardless, it was a perfectly lovely carpaccio.
Beet Terrine [goat cheese, hazlenut,arugula, port gastrique]. Red and yellow beets, and the goat cheese were cut into round, silver dollar sized, 1/8 thick slices and stacked in alternating layers. One of the most successful beet and goat cheese salads I've had. Again, not only delicious but beautifully plated.
Duck Confit Flatbread [wild rocket, laura chanelle goat cheese, fried caper]. I thought the bread was sort of biscuit/thin foccacia-esque. Very enjoyable. [N.B. for a better duck confit, I recommend the duck confit with garlic gnocchi served at Chive's sister restaurant, Kensington Grill].
Everything we had was beautiful and delicious -- not a clunker in the bunch. We also ordered dessert which is handled by a different chef. We were a little less impressed with our desserts, though they were still very tasty.
The best of the bunch was their signature dessert:
"Kinda" Rice Pudding [crispy chocolate, creme brulee]. I could easily eat a vat of this. It was rice pudding topped with creme brulee (how can you go wrong with that!). Rice crispies, dusted in cocoa are served on the side. I also seem to recall some choclate bits underneath the rice pudding.
Study In Chocolate [chef's whim]. I didn't have any of this as each of the four 'studies' was a single bite served in a Chinese soup spoon. The report from my friend was "good, but not special".
Peach And Almond Galette [oat streusel, sweet corn ice cream, caramel sauce]. Oh, I had such high hopes for this! Sounds dreamy, doesn't it? Well, it was just o.k. The crust wasn't as flaky as I prefer and the alleged sweet corn flavor was imperceptible. The peach flavor too, was a bit muted. So, the result? Ice cream & pie without much character, but still sweet, cold, creamy and tasty in a comforting way. Just not "food of the moaning" as my friend would say.
One last caveat: we made a reservation online via Open Table. When we got there, they had no record of it, though it was no problem and we were immediately seated.
Well, we've been talking about this meal for a couple of days now, and can't wait to go back to sample more of the menu. I'll have to remember to take my camera with me next time. So,I guess it would be safe to say that I can happily recommend Chive.