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Suggestions for upscale San Diego restaurant

It's my fiance's 30th birthday and we always go out to a nice restaurant. This time we will be in San Diego during this weekend Fri-Mon. I need some suggestions for an upscale restaurant that can give us that *WOW* factor. I have treated him to some phenomenal establishments in other cities, so this time around I really want to surprise him with something new and different.

This is what I was considering before when I thought we were going to be in San Francisco:

Fleur de Lys
Gary Danko
French Laundry

I would prefer something that is inventive and interesting (hope that doesn't sound repetitive!!). Prix fixe if available. Cost is not an issue.

Help me!! I have three days to figure this out!!


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  1. In San Diego, you might want to look into Mr. A's above downtown. It has an amazing view.

    If you're feeling extra adventurous, take him to Laja in the Guadalupe Valley and stay the night at Adobe Guadalupe. It's about 1.5 hrs from San Diego, but is an amazing culinary experience. You can't get much more of a wow factor than Laja.

    (Cue Chowhound moderator complaining about Baja posts...)

    1 Reply
    1. re: Josh

      Mr. As was the first place that came to my mind too. What it lacks in over the top *wow* factor is more than made up by the space and view. San Diego doesn't do fine dining in the Fleur de Lys, Gary Danko, French Laundry vein so it's really hard to come up with a recommendation along those lines.

      Second the recco for Laja. A weekend in the Valle de Guadalupe wine country? Birthday to remember :-)

    2. If we you are willing to stay in Palm Springs I highly recommend Blend. It is not on the same level as French Laundry but the chef worked several years at French Laundry and is doing some great work. I had a 7-course tasting menu this weekend and this restaurant would be easily one of the top 5 restaurant in San Diego.

      1 Reply
      1. re: honkman

        Interesting tip honkman - can you share more? Maybe in a separate post?

      2. I've heard nice things about El Bizcocho in Rancho Bernardo. The fanciest place I've ever been is probably George's at the Cove (the fine dining area), but I wouldn't recommend it. Everyone else raves about it, though.

        1. Tapenade; Addison; Market; the view from Mr. A's is a must

          2 Replies
          1. re: ibstatguy

            how about ar valentine at the lodge at torrey pines? we had a special occasion dinner there a while back and it was wonderful. Georges just reopened up after an extensive remodel and they did change the menu. other posters probably been there already and could give you details.

            1. re: littlestevie

              dinner and a night at the Lodge is an excellent way to go; also - try "Guild", not far from Gaslamp. had lunch there about 3 weeks ago and was favoably impressed. got a good write up today in the Reader.

          2. I would also suggest the Marine Room at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. Very fine dining, with an innovative menu. Some might say stuffy but I am in my twenties and don't think so. They will do a tasting menu for you (I think it is called the chef's table) you could then stay in one of their few guest rooms right on the water.

            The restaurant sits below the mean high tide line so depending on the tide the waves will hit the window that you are seated next to!

            2 Replies
            1. re: jturtle

              I thought the tasting i had at Jacks La Jolla was even better than the one I had at Marine room. I think i requested something like 9 courses.

              1. re: jturtle

                Last time I went to the Marine Room, a sea kayaker almost crashed his boat into the window next to my table. The tide was high, the sea was choppy, and the man was having a really hard time not smashing into the building. It was certainly an entertaining experience, although maybe not so if he had actually collided.

              2. For the best food, Tapenade in La Jolla or El Biz in Rancho Bernardo. The young chef at El Bizcocho was the U.S. entry in the Bocuse D'Or in France recently, and really is amazing. I'd call in advance and see if he has time to do a tasting menu for you on your special night.

                1. Jack's La Jolla Formal Dining Room will probably come closest to that "wow" factor for creative food. The chef trained w/ Jean- Georges and he has some really interesting flavor combinations. Things like pickled beef short rib--sounded funky but really came off well on the palate.

                  Market is excellent as well. Slightly different style than Jack's but their food is excellent. Menu changes daily, depending on what's freshest and best at Chino Farms. Make sure you request a room in the dining area or you might get seated next to the bar.

                  AR Valentien is also excellent. They also have prix-fixe.

                  Tapenade has very good French food. El Bizcocho is also excellent.

                  Nine-Ten is very good as well. They have a half-baked chocolate cake which is to die for!

                  I think all of the above has better food than The Marine Room, which is not quite as creative. However, if you want good food w/ a view, you can actually get both at The Marine Room. Unlike lots of other places w/ ocean view and bad food.

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: daantaat

                    Daantaat beat me to it - but I would recommend Jack's. It is the closest I have tried to those restaurants you described. I agree with all of the rest of her recs but A.R. Valentien - I was not impressed when we went there, but it was restaurant week which could have been an issue (though it shouldn't have been.)

                    Another place that I don't think has been mentioned yet is 1500 Ocean. The chef opened Per Se under Thomas Keller and it has a nice location on the beach in the Hotel Del. It's not quite as formal or showy as Jack's - but really solid food, similar to Market but with more atmosphere. Market is valso very good. The desserts are fantastic.

                    I think 910 is good but it won't wow you. El Biz might also be a good choice - it's on my list to try.

                    1. re: daantaat

                      salmon is so salty at Jack's! so so so so salty. BUt the steaks we got the dining room were very tasty.

                      but their service is excellent, the salmon was so excessively salty we had to ask for a new one, and they gave each person at the table a choice in desserts, which btw were absolute amazing!

                      1. re: daantaat

                        I strongly second (or third..) the recommendations for Market (even with the really indifferent service last Friday night). The food is unlike anything in this county and on par with Gary Danko in my view. The closest thing we have to The French Laundry (which is a bit overwhelming in both price and courses) is Addison. Truly memorable with a number of fixed price options available and the sommelier who comes from TFL. Lastly, I remain a big fan of El Bizcocho because of the chef. While the room is stuffy, the food and service is not. I look forward to trying Jack's so cannot weigh in on that option.

                        As far as The Marine Room, I agree the food is not creative and we have had some truly bad servers in there; Tapenade is uneven and cannot be compared to the any of the restaurants that started this post.

                        1. re: eatemup

                          I ate at Market on Saturday night and found it to be overrated, as did the rest of my party. As with many San Diego restaurants, the food was hit-and-miss. Fun atmosphere, fantastic service, knowledgeable sommelier, but only half the dishes we tried (about 10 between apps and entrees) were what I'd call good to excellent.

                          1. re: mangiatore

                            I thought we were the only ones that had uneven food at market. It was good not great and I thought it was kinda pricey for the food and wine. I was really expecting something better. Maybe my expectations were too high after reading so many glowing reviews.

                            1. re: littlestevie

                              Yup, same happened to me -- I read so many good reviews I had to give it a shot. I was even warned by a friend who's opinion I trust and whose significant other works there and has tried everything on the menu, but still I wanted to believe. I don't regret it and I don't think it was overpriced, I just think that like most San Diego restaurants, it was, as you put it, "uneven."

                              1. re: mangiatore

                                we ate there in late winter, not restaurant week, and it was $250 for the two of us. yes we did have a couple of apps and a bottle of wine, but nothing was truly memorable and I think it was the wine markup that I gagged on.

                            2. re: rotochicken

                              IMO San Diego has an inordinate number of overrated restaurants. Overall the quality just isn't very high when compared to other cities I've spent time in. I don't think there' anything you can do to change my mind on this point.

                              2 reasons I haven't done a report on Market: because I've been really busy and because I forgot to grab a menu on the way out, and the menu changes daily. I asked them to send me a copy of the menu from that night if they can find one, but it hasn't arrived yet, so, I'll write up a report for you.

                              I disagree that one hit-and-miss meal "carries no weight." At that price point, one hit-and-miss meal means I'm not going back. Btw, one of the people in my party had been once before and had the same experience. That person has told me he/she will not be going back.

                              I've read many of your comments on this forum and they have been very helpful, so please don't take any of my comments the wrong way.I guess we just disagree on a couple things.

                              1. re: mangiatore

                                i agree anytime you spend more than 50$ a person there should never be a miss.

                                hence...... no more Jacks for me.

                                1. re: mangiatore

                                  At that price point, there should be no misses, definitely agree.

                                  1. re: mangiatore

                                    Looks like they took rotochicken's response down. This was in response to his/her post.

                                    1. re: mangiatore

                                      I asked them to remove my post (before your response) as it came off rude, which was not my intention. I appreciate the post on Market and have responded there as well.
                                      In terms of hit and miss, I think there are precious few places on the planet that can avoid that term from every single person. If you scour the boards many Michelin starred or NYT 3-4 starred places get that tag. There are many reasons for this, including, but not limited to what is available and who is eating.

                                    2. re: mangiatore

                                      It's hard to second guess since I don't know much about your experience, but just about every restaurant has hits and misses - especially if they are taking risks. Market is taking a lot of risks by changing their menu constantly (maybe unwisely, but that's another topic.) I generally give a place at least a couple of chances before "denouncing" it (what my husband jokingly does when he decides he won't go back to a restaurant.) My point is, you might be closing yourself off if you simply decide not to go back to a place after one or two meals.

                                      I have been many places that I can't say are "bad" - but I just didn't like the atmosphere or the menu. A lot of that is individual taste though, not poor technique, bad service etc. Those are different issues and should really be mentioned specifically if possible, so that people can distinguish between one person's taste and true flaws in the meal.

                                      1. re: Alice Q

                                        Of course, if I were a food journalist, I'd have a responsibility to visit a restaruant a few times before publishing a review. The goal would be to present the establishment in a fair and balanced manner, and try to uncover patterns of service as opposed to simple incidents, good or bad.

                                        Personally, however, there are plenty of places to go and spend my money. If I am mistreated at, say, a "supper club" once, I feel no obligation at all to give them my money so they may redeem themselves. I have neither the time nor inclination to risk another experience.

                                        That typed, I try to limit my comments on this (and other) forums to my personal experience. I won't say " they're all rude and the place is terrible", I'll try to say "they were rude when I went there". If several people have the same experience, a pattern emerges based on several unique experiences. Which, I believe, is a far more accurate way of learning.

                                        A single bad experience might not carry any weight in the GrandMaster Scheme of things, but a single bad experience for myself means I won't return.


                              2. Either of Bertrand Hug's restaurants would work out well. Assuming you are in San Diego (near downtown) go to Mr. A's then drinks in the Gaslamp (Stingaree top floor). If you're in North County Mille Fleurs (drinks at Rancho Valencia before or after). In the La Jolla area Tapenade followed by drinks in the bar at The Marine Room.

                                1. Cocktailqueen, SD is my home town so I don't want to talk too much trash, but in all seriousness, I think young foodies like you and your fiance will be totally bummed by restaurants like George's, El Bizcocho and Mister A's. (I can't speak to Marine Room or Jack's having not been for the reason I'm about to tell you...) These places are so establishment, so about themselves, so OLD in spirit and ambience. (Even El Biz which has a top young chef is a complete relic--and I had to send food back there once!!!) For a birthday, I imagine you might want something more lively. Though, somewhat scene-y, JRDN at Tower 23 in Pacifc Beach is kind of chic in a Sydney-copycat kind of way, but the food is mostly good and the place kind of feels like you might actually be "somewhere." Maybe begin your meal around sunset on the patio and let nature make your evening special. Perhaps you could avoid disappointment with the fancy restaurants and just hit a couple uniquely "San Diego" places that serve pretty good food. The Guild in Barrio Logan is a fun, artistic food/decor experiment and being there sort of makes you feel like you may have discovered something new-ish. Lei Lounge serves global tapas in University Heights has an open-to-the-sky, late night patio. It's in a fun, gentrifying neighborhood and has a pretty campy atmosphere, but you'd be hob-nobbing with the locals and I think it would feel celebratory. Hash-House a Go-Go in Hillcrest may be too low-brow for what you're thinking about, but the servings are huge in an "I-feel-completely-decadently-stuffed" way and they have some fun food combinations available. I guess I could sum up by suggesting that you aim not so much for an amazing meal in San Diego but more for a genuinely fun experience in San Diego. (And, if you eat somewhere in the Gaslamp Quarter, don't come crying to me.) Happy birthday to your fiance!

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: d_light

                                    Interesting post, even though I disagree that those restaurant are about themselves but have instead a very relaxed feeling. I think the problem is more that a lot of people feel easily intimidated when eating at upscale restaurant in general. And so I don't understand why one should aim for lower quality (or really low quality like the Hash-House a Go-Go) when you can easily have amazing meals by just enjoying great upscale restaurants in SD where you can have a lot of fun.

                                    1. re: d_light

                                      Not so sure about your comments here, d_light. When's the last time you've been to George's or Mister A's? And never having gone to Marine Room, how would you know what it's like?

                                      What does the term "establishment" even mean, anyway? Last time I checked, restaurants were in business to make money, which makes them all pretty much establishment to my mind.

                                      Seriously, recommending Hash House while dissing Marine Room is just nutty. Hash House offers giant portions of extremely mediocre food, while Marine Room serves serious upscale cuisine.

                                      I'd suggest actually visiting some of these places before passing judgment. Mister A's has been completely renovated, as has George's, in order to shed the "old school" image they had.

                                      1. re: Josh

                                        I openly admitted I hadn't been to Marine Room. I was at George's last weekend. Hosted my wedding reception there and my rehearsal dinner at Mister A's after the remodel. And, of course, the audience for those events were grandparents and future in-laws. I know I risked my credibility by even mentioning a greasy spoon like Hash House in a posting that asks for San Diego's version of French Laundry, but can you really blame me for trying to help a 30 year old couple avoid celebrating a birthday in a mausoleum like El Biz, for example?

                                        Don't waste time nagging on me; just tell us all where in San Diego can we eat excellent food in an atmosphere that is engaging, original, interesting and lively. As you have noted, I have tried the gamut of restaurants in pursuit of the holy grail and I'm not above sacrificing a little food quality to enjoy some cool(er) atmosphere. (Don't you think it's sort of funny that Hash House features things like O'Hare of the Dog , a 24 oz Bud and a side of bacon on its breakfast menu? At least Hash House has a sense of humor and a cozy, quirky, warm setting.)

                                        Cocktailqueen, Could you please tell us where you end up going and what you think about it?

                                        1. re: d_light

                                          I think we just have different tastes. While you did admit to not having been to Marine Room, you also said that the reason you wouldn't go there was to follow, and then labeled all these places "establishment".

                                          Sure, if you're looking for "wacky" menu items like a giant can of crappy beer w/ bacon for breakfast, then places like Marine Room and Mr. A's will disappoint. Hash House may have a funky hip atmosphere, but I think their food is very average and ultimately the food is why I go out to eat.

                                          If I want a lively atmosphere and good food, my choices would probably be places like Buga, Pomegranate, Sushi Ota, or The Linkery.

                                          1. re: Josh

                                            Thanks for the suggestions, Josh. Although you're unimpressed with me, I'm not sure that we're really all that different. I love every one of the restaurants you listed and think that they do OK w/ mixing food w/ atmosphere. Of course, we're off thread now, but while you're up in the Buga neighborhood, check out Di-Chan for Thai. Let me know what you think.

                                          2. re: d_light

                                            From you posts it appears that you are overall more interested in sitting in a fancy room but don't care much about the food. An odd combination when you are posting on chowhound. All restaurants you mentioned as being like "a mausoleum" are just professional and don't have some college kids as waiters. I never had any problems in any upscale restaurant to get excellent, attentive service and excellent atmosphere. Most people who eat at upscale restaurants expect a more reserved waiter but as soon as you are willing to interact with them, they are more than willing to discuss/interact with you. Everytime I eat not in SD I realize that this town is seriously lacking good service expecially in "mid-class" restaurant as Modus, Hash House etc. were some college kids normally pretend to be waiter and start the evening with "What's up, dude.", drop at least one fork/knive, aren't attentive etc.
                                            So to answer your question where you can "eat excellent food in an atmosphere that is engaging, original, interesting and lively" - Go to the upscale restaurants mentioned in this discussion and be more open-minded. All the restaurants you mentioned are not "sacrificing a little food quality to enjoy some cool(er) atmosphere" but much, much worse in terms of food quality.

                                      2. Wait, wait! What about Modus? Does anyone think Modus could fit cocktailqueen's bill? It's kind of serious, and still about itself, and lacks the *WOW* she asked for, but does anyone think it is good enough or interesting enough for her special night? (I've only eaten there once, so my verdict is still out on it....)

                                        (Still no French Laundry, though, sister.)

                                        15 Replies
                                        1. re: d_light

                                          San Diego is my hometown too. The 3 original restaurants mentioned - French Laundry, Gary Danko and Fleur de Lys - are about the food, not about the scene. I think most of us took the request to be about finding great food in SD, not a great scene. And while really great food and San Diego appear to be an oxymoron, finding to good, very good to excellent food here generally means you're going to have to go with some of the more traditional venues and slightly older crowd with expendable income.

                                          Modus is a perfectly fine restaurant but it isn't remotely in the realm of Gary Danko or Fleur de Lys let alone the French Laundry, nor does it try to be. The OP and her boyfriend would have a perfectly fine, if somewhat underwhelming meal at Modus, and would be utter disappointed if they were expecting it to equal those Bay Area/Napa Valley restos. Forget the French Laundry for a moment since it comes with some much advance press it's hard not to form opinions. Have you ever eaten at either Gary Danko or Fleur de Lys? Both are very top echelon SF restaurants with superb food and service.

                                          JRDN might be a fun place and they do a terrific flat iron, but that style of dining is not what the OP requested. Lei Lounge is a hoot, but it doesn't sound like she was looking to share her boy friend's b-day dinner with the alternative lifestyle crowd. The revamped, remodeled, remenued Georges at the Cove isn't going to come close either.

                                          I grew up going to the Marine Room, I love it, but the crowd does trend to older because, well, they've got the expendable resources to go there. If the Marine Room is at the top of their game - and they aren't always - their food can compete. So can Mister A's, Mille Fleur, El Biz and a small handful of others. Laurel can compete in terms of sexy space and sophistication but it can't compete in terms of menu execution.

                                          The basic problem lies in the fact that San Diego isn't San Francisco. Our restaurants aren't as creative, aren't as willing to take risks and definitely aren't as sophisticated as many of the top tier restaurants in SF. There has been a slow but steady infusion of young, hip, well trained chefs coming into SD. They aren't necessarily opening fancy upscale fine dining places, it seems that they are more often opening smaller more casual places, which fits the SD lifestyle better.

                                          What SD does better, way, w-a-y, W-A-Y better than SF (and most of the rest of the State) is breakfast. You have to work to find a truly awful breakfast in SD.

                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                            San Diego is also my hometown, and I am going to jump in here and defend d-light. What she's trying to do is relieve the OP from the inevitable disappointment that will result if she looks for a restaurant equal to the French Laundry here in SD. If you take San Diego on it's own terms, you can have a great time here. I happen to agree with that. I am not sure if the original poster really wants that advice or will take it, but it certainly is valid. Josh must have been having a bad day, he's not normally that grumpy! :-)

                                            Clayfu's post aside (sounds like the salty salmon was probably an anomaly) I do think Jacks' is a good choice if you are looking for formal and innovative. Other options are Addison, Blanca and if you're willing to travel a short distance - Laja in Ensenada or maybe the Montage in Laguna Beach. (Please don't hit me moderators!) JRDN is also very good - and has a fun "San Diego" specific atmosphere. Not a bad option.

                                            1. re: Alice Q

                                              I think if you go back and read the first few responses on this thread and they all were pretty clear that the OP would not find meals in SD that could compare with the restaurants she listed.

                                              d_light got the responses s/he did because the suggested alternatives don't jibe with what the OP requested and, in at least one case, isn't all that good. Perhaps the responses were an attempt to relieve the OP from the inevitable disappointment that would result if she took d_light's suggestions. Besides, how can you take anyone seriously when they say they haven't eaten at a restaurant and then diss it and tell someone else not to go? Where's the credibility?

                                              OP asked for recommendations similar to Gary Danko, Fleur de Lys or FL; the bottom line is SD simply does not have a comparable restaurant at this juncture. A point that was made far up-thread. That is not to say that SD doesn't have some good or excellent restaurant, it does and they have been recommended. Historically, politically, and culturally San Diego is a very different city than San Francisco; the restaurants in each city have developed differently and reflect the different paths that each city has taken in it's evolution.

                                              Give us another 5-10 years and maybe we will have restaurants that equal the best of the Bay Area............or maybe not.

                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                While you are questioning my credibility, I am not questioning yours. I thought your posts were on point. My feeling is that dining is an experience that should be whole, not just about the food or the scene or any other individual thing, but about everything together. And regarding the Marine Room, if you can tell me that I'll experience something other than the very nice, formal, classic surf and turf type experience, I'll go there tonight!

                                                1. re: d_light

                                                  "My feeling is that dining is an experience that should be whole, not just about the food or the scene or any other individual thing, but about everything together. " - I agree with that but why are your suggestions ignoring the food part pretty much and mainly focusing on the scene part

                                                  1. re: d_light

                                                    I wouldn't say Marine Room offers a surf and turf experience. I've had some very good meals there. My only warning would be to not bother with them during Restaurant Week.

                                                    You can check out their menu online:


                                                    1. re: d_light

                                                      I am telling you then that you need to go to the marine room. At least go have a cocktail and read their menu--especially their specials (they are not listed on line). For sure not classic surf and turf. The chef, Bernard Guillas is often looking for new innovative ingredients and cooking methods and I would argue that many other fine dining establishments have often copied what he has done. The waiters are all generally fun knowledgable professional servers who will help make the night what you want it to be.

                                                    2. re: DiningDiva

                                                      am curious, have you been to Addison, Market or Blanca?

                                                      1. re: ibstatguy

                                                        Finally, someone mentions Addison! I'm in this thread late, but that would be my first suggestion. Maybe 1500 Ocean. Marine Room would not be on the list- if I want a view, I'll hike Torrey Pines. I found the food there to be beautifully workmanlike, but, well, Zzzzzzzzzz.

                                                        Modus? If the OP is in she and her fiancee are in their early 20s and enjoy the "club" atmosphere, maybe. You know, shouting across the table, water glasses vibrating to the boom-boom of thhe subwoofers. Or just head over to the Guild- both have great food, but none are fine dining. And the chairs at Guild are cool, but uncomfortable. I'm a little cranky, sorry.

                                                        Go to Addison.

                                                        PS: With the exception of Corvette Diner, "fun" would not top my list of appreciated waiter attributes.

                                                        1. re: Fake Name

                                                          I've heard really mixed things about Addison - enough to make me not want to go there, actually. Do you recommend it over Jack's Fine Dining, and if so - can you give some specifics?

                                                          I agree with you about AR Valentien, and had to giggle at your comments on Modus and the Guild - they are both interesting additions to the SD dining scene, but those chairs are a little hard!

                                                          1. re: Alice Q

                                                            I've not been to Jack's nor AR Valentien, so I can't comment.

                                                            I think the chairs set the theme- they're "cool" but uncomfortable and more show than go. But I'm kinda old, so.....


                                                            1. re: Alice Q

                                                              I looked again and I misread your post - when you said Torrey Pines I thought you were talking about AR Valentien. I see now that you meant Marine Room. I ate at both of them for Resto Week and was not impressed with with either one, but I'm told they are better the rest of the time. Still, too many choices too little time. There are other places I'd rather go back to, and new places I'd like to try, like El Bizcocho, Blanca, etc.

                                                              I'd still like to hear more about Addison if you don't mind sharing!

                                                                1. re: Fake Name

                                                                  Thanks - that sounds a lot better than other reviews I've read, which seemed to indicate it was trying but not quite succeeding. I guess I'll just have to give it a shot and find out for myself.

                                                    3. re: DiningDiva

                                                      Could not have put it any better Dining Diva. I am a San Diegan as well and while we do have some qality establishments serving good food, I believe we have a way to go before we can purport to have anything on par with the likes of Gary Danko, French Laundry and a lot of other NorCal resataurants.
                                                      I also completely agree with your assessment of how well SD does breakfast and for that matter brunch. Whenever my wife and I travel I make it a point to research and dine at local brunch spots. We have all the major cities beat with the exception of Chicago. If you ever get a chance, visit The Bongo Room there. They are my absolute favorite brunch spot in the country!
                                                      That said, a couple of my favorites I would recommend to cocktailqueen77 are Nine Ten in La Jolla, Kensington Grill in Kensington and Laurel in Hillcrest. Nine Ten uses locally farmed fresh produce which lend it's dishes clean and robust flaovr. Kensington Grill has an awesome calamari preparation and nice casually elegant ambiance. Laurel is a beautiful establishment a block away from Balboa Park. The food itself is pretty good, but I'd say you're better off at Nine Ten in that regard. Best of luck!

                                                  2. For my 30th I was taken to the Marine Room and it was memorable. The Marine Room is upscale, fairly interesting, and very San Diego. Maybe not so much 'wow', but I think it unlikely you would be disappointed (unless you are expecting French Laundry South). If you get there before sunset you will almost certainly have a wonderful evening. It is a little formal - for San Diego, which means noshorts or blue jeans (maybe). They do have prix fixe options.


                                                    Another option you should strongly consider is Jack's Dining Room, also in La Jolla. The venue isn't particularly great - very nice, but part of a 'Jack's 7 venue complex' with 3 bars, a Grille, etc, that is a little bewildering. The Dining Room is fine dining of the highest order San Diego has to offer. As a San Diegan for many years, this would be my choice for upscale, inventive, wow factor for my next 30th Bday. I do not think they have prix fixe options, but you could build a multi-course meal easily. Food is really inventive. Desserts will be phenomenal and inventive as well.


                                                    Good luck!

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: rotochicken

                                                      The chef at El Bizcocho was named on of America's top new chefs in Food and Wine magazine, and is the first ever named in San Diego while cooking here (per the S.D Union. Here is the blurb in Food & Wine:

                                                      Gavin Kaysen, El Bizcocho (San Diego, CA)
                                                      After graduating from the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont, Gavin Kaysen, 27, traveled to Switzerland to work under chef Jacky Vuillet at Auberge de Lavaux and then to London to work at the Michelin-starred L'Escargot with Marco Pierre White. In 2002, he returned to the United States and began working at El Bizcocho at the Rancho Bernardo Inn and within two years was named chef de cuisine. Kaysen’s menu is French-inspired and fanatically seasonal.

                                                      El Bizcocho is a bit stuffy, but if you are looking for interesting food, it is the best choice in San Diego.

                                                      1. re: buzznutter

                                                        Thank you all for such an abundant amount of information and taking the time to post it!! I have spent the past hour reading countless menus from all above mentioned restaurants, they all seem impressive in writing so I cannot thank everyone enough for the insiders opinion.

                                                        I believe I have it narrowed down to two options now: Tapenade or El Bizcocho.

                                                        I understand better now that comparing S.F. to S.D. is impossible when it comes culinary standards. But from what I have seen in the restaurants reviewed it seems like S.D. is making a gallant effort!! When I posted Fluer de Lys, French Laundry, and Gary Danko I wasn't expecting something entirely similiar, just a basis to start from so you all would know what I had considered before. What I hope is to have a creative and wonderful dining experience!!

                                                        Thanks again!! I'll let you know what happens!!

                                                        1. re: cocktailqueen77

                                                          Cocktailqueen - where did you end up going? I'm in a similar situation with a work partner. We went to Charlie Trotters last year... and he has asked me to pick the restaurant in San Diego. I'm hoping for an impressive prix fixe tasting menu... but it sounds like I may need to take what I can get!
                                                          I'm interested to hear about your experience.

                                                          1. re: joanwilson79

                                                            JW79, read new post below! You've opened the SD Chowhound Major Can of Worms. Steel yourself!

                                                    2. cocktailqueen77, SD does not have the same fine dining experience you can get in San Francisco, but if you are into sushi at all, you have come to the right place!

                                                      1. If you go to San Francisco you MUST go to Boulevard and order the Fois Gras. Unreal meal. You will not be disappointed.

                                                        1. A little late here but for historical support, I'll second the comments at AR Valentien!

                                                          We were very impressed.

                                                          Also, Georges at the Cove has changed their menu and I've heard some good things, not sure how great but I heard it is better.

                                                          I think Molly's is right on the edge of this. Molly's is awesome. Not sure if it is quite as fancy as some places but it is a serious restaurant.

                                                          1. What a fascinating post to read a year later. It still gives a very ACCURATE picture of the San Diego fine dining scene, even now. What SD still struggles to achieve is fine dining that's unique, authentic to San Diego in the same way SF/Sonoma/Napa restaurants have grown out of the food culture, landscape, and aesthetics there. What SD ends up with is either copy cat places or "French" places (Tapenade) that could be anywhere. That doesn't mean they aren't good-- just not truly special San Diego experiences. I thought D_light and Alice Q summed up the whole thing really well. For hip young foodies looking for soCal regional new and authentic, San Diego is still not there. Can you find good food? Fancy surroundings? Yep. But when my friends come to visit and want real SD experiences-- I take them to JRDN'S, Savory (because of the design and the fact it's in a strip mall yet still deliciously "French"), George's, El Pescador, and to get tacos in the barrio. Maybe the AR Valentien terrace for drinks or breakfast, lunch, dinner if they're paying. But hey, I might have to reconsider the Marine Room after the story of the kayak crashing into the Window. That's pretty cool and very San Diego. I haven't yet been to Blanca or Stingeree or the Pearl, but they might count. The Starlight Lounge?

                                                            8 Replies
                                                            1. re: pickypicky

                                                              I think what I am confused by here is what precisely would make a place unique to San Diego. It seems that people demanding this sort of thing are defining an impossible task.

                                                              1. re: Josh

                                                                Do you travel? When I travel I want to eat at places that reflect the character-- in food, design, ambience, view-- of the place I'm visiting. I want the best of that place, but I would like it to be something unique, as well. When my sophisticated food friends come to SD, they want what they can't get where they live, be it San Francisco or NYC-- and very often that's a view with their meal. A San Diego dining experience. They want to feel they've been away and eaten something/some place new. When visitors here post and ask for "exciting" fine dining, I assume that's what they mean. As for defining the impossible: I'll try. George's view makes it totally SD. ARV's artwork and view is SD (although the silly architecture is Pasadena.) JRDN couldn't be any place else but SD with the stylish interior, two-way bar and view of the boardwalk, and their crabcake (that ubiquitous appetizer) is served with corn and huitlacoche salsa, a nice southwestern nod. Savory's design and menu, and location in a strip center!, is a nice SoCal interpretation of a French Chef's long career. HashHouse AGoGo is very campy Hillcrest. Hodad's totally OB. I like Tapenade and the Farmhouse Cafe, but they could be anywhere, and my out of town friends would be disappointed to be taken there. Food isn't everything. For a traveler, there's design, service, view, location, concept and unique experience.

                                                                1. re: pickypicky

                                                                  Sure, I travel. That's why I'm asking this question, because unless I'm just missing it, I'm not really getting what people are complaining about, WITH THE EXCEPTION of overall quality of cooking. My complaint about the higher end in SD isn't to do with it's lack of being "San Diego", but more that it's not really comparable to the quality I've had at places in LA or NYC.

                                                                  That said, apart from pizza or deli, I'm not entirely sure what about the food in NYC I had made it "NYC". The food there seemed like the kinds of food served anywhere else, just executed with a lot more skill.

                                                                  For me, if I was entertaining people from out of town who want something they can't get at home, I would completely forego white tablecloth restos and do places like Super Cocina and Mariscos German.

                                                                  1. re: Josh

                                                                    "That said, apart from pizza or deli, I'm not entirely sure what about the food in NYC I had made it "NYC". The food there seemed like the kinds of food served anywhere else, just executed with a lot more skill."

                                                                    I think this is a very important and good point. A lot of places in other cities which get high recommendations are also in no way unique to the city. I often feel because San Diego had a bad reputation over many years to have only average restaurants it is now a self-fulfilling prophecy that every new restaurant in SD is automatically not really good or unique just because it is SD. (I am pretty sure if a French Laundry style restaurant would open in SD people would still complain about it as average just because it is in SD). And talking about traveling - Places like French Laundry or Chez Panisse were not new or unique at their time - just travel to Europe at that time - there were similar places.
                                                                    I think there are quite a lot of places in SD which are unique (for food, service and ambience) and couldn't be easily in other cities (not only looking at the food but also at certain style of service (and yes there can be very good service in SD which is unique to this city) and ambience) like The Linkery, Spread, The Better Half, Cafe Chloe.

                                                                2. re: Josh

                                                                  Josh, I just read the thread " Izakaya Sakura newbie (San Diego) ". No argument for on the idea of authentic SD eating could say it better. Can't wait to try it, although not being a regular it sounds intimidating.

                                                                  1. re: pickypicky

                                                                    You should definitely check that place out. If you like it, you should also try Yakitori Yakyudori in Hillcrest, and the full course omakase at Sushi Ota.

                                                                    1. re: pickypicky

                                                                      It isn't intimidating. The people who work there are very nice. The menu is an easy read...if you are doing Izakaya (more choices at dinner) then ask to keep the menu and order a few things, and if you are still hungry, order more.

                                                                      It isn't 'fancy' by any means...heck, they don't even have signage...just go to the back of the mall to the building where the giant "OPEN" sign is in neon and walk in that door.

                                                                      1. re: Cathy

                                                                        Busalacchi's is romantic and while not French Laundry, it has wonderful food. It has an old-fashioned feel. Great long wine list & good solid menu.