La Jolla, my review
Here is my brief review of the dining experiences we had in the La Jolla area. Overall, I would say we ate very well, in some great environments, relatively inexpensively.
Day one, went to Girard Gourmet for sandwiches. We split the Italian on Italian roll. The meat was wonderful, but the roll was too big and hard for the sandwich, so all the fixins squished out the sides. We also got a Turkey, Cheddar, Avacado on 12 Grain. This bread was terrific (which is so important in the sandwich). The ingredients were all well proportioned, and this sandwich held together better. They had a large variety of wonderful frosted sugar cookies, but we were trying to be relatively good, so we skipped them (but they were enticing).
For dinner that night, we tried to hit Georges on the Cove (without reservations). We were told it would be a 1.5 hour wait (for the restaurant on the top floor). So we put our name down, and headed to the middle bar to get drinks and wait. We were able to snag a table in the bar after waiting a short time - this place was hopping, but the table turnover was quick, so while there were never any empty seats, no-one had to wait more than 10 minutes for something to open up). We were hungry, so we just decided to get apps at the bar. We got a bowl of their famous bean and chicken soup, and some fish tacos (my only chance at getting this San Diego specialty, since the wife, isn't so into them). Both dishes were wonderful, especially the tacos. I thought the soup was OK, but $9 for a bowl of soup is very expensive. We also got a specialty drink off their menu (which was recomended by Chowhounders). It was a Mojito, which was absolutely terrible. The mint was barely muddles, and there was barely any lime. We probably should have sent it back, but weren't in the mood to make a scene. For a specialty drink, I would expect something that is better executed, and not something basically undrinkable. Overall, I thought the scene at Georges was a little too much. I don't like to wait so long for a table.
Decided to head to Jacks after that for another drink, and another round of apps. We ended up heading to the lounge (downstairs), which seemed like the easiest, most informal way to go. There were too many choices regarding which Jacks restaurant to hit, and quite frankly we were a little overwhelmed, so we just decided the lounge was easiest (in hind site, the middle, open air bar looked pretty neat, and probably would have been a good choice). We found some couch space, easily, and ordered drinks and two apps. The atmosphere was great, and the people sitting across from us were extremely friendly (something we found all over SoCal). Our "dining partners" were actually competitive sky divers, and a bit crazy, but it certainly added a fun element to our evening. We got a Potato and Goat Cheese pizza which was tasty (probably 10" around, light but sturdy crust, and fresh ingredients). We also got the tuna tartar. It was a very large portion, of very fresh tasting tuna, with specks of scallion, and lime juice. Really great flavors. I am not a big fan of tuna tartar regularly, but this dish may have changed my opinion. My wife found a reasonably priced glass of Prosecco, and I had a rum and coke which were both fine. The service was very attentive, and we didn't have to wait or ask for anything.
Next morning we decided to stay in our hotel for the Sunday Brunch. We were staying at the Hotel Valencia (really great place, I would strongly recommend it, but this isn't a hotel board, so back to the food...). We were lucky enough to get a ocean view table (got the reservation the night before, and reservations are recommended, as they weren't able to accommodate walk ups in any of the dining rooms on Sunday morning). The view from our table was worth the price of admission by itself. The food was pretty good. It wasn't anything spectacular, but they had a good variety (including seafood - crab, oysters, and shrimp). a carving station for meat, an omelet bar, and a large variety of hot dishes (loved the eggs Benedict, and tried some of the pastas, and potatoes). The deserts were great (including a Chocolate fountain, and one of the best key lime pies I have every tasted) Champagne and Mimosas are included in the price, and since I wasn't going anywhere, I indulged in many, many of those (they just refilled your existing glass, so I have no idea how many I actually drank, but I was feeling no pain!). The price of the buffet is $45, which is somewhat of a splurge. We looked at the Seafood buffet Sat night, and it had much less food, and didn't look nearly as good, and it was $65. I would recommend the brunch over the seafood buffet. Service was excellent, our waters, and Mimosa glasses never went empty (my head still hurts thinking about all those drinks I put away that morning). My only tip, is to avoid getting there right at 11:00 when they open. The lines at the food were pretty long, they quickly dispersed (by 11:30), but it was kind of annoying to have to deal with all those people, when you are hungry, and just want to get back to your table, and enjoy the awesome view of the ocean.
That meal held us over until fairly late, but we still wanted something for dinner, so we headed to a Thai Restaurant named "Spice and Rice" (stupid name IMHO). It was really good. We got the summer rolls, as a starter, and they were great, very fresh crisp ingredients. They cut them up as part of their presentation, which made them difficult to eat, it would have been better if they left them whole). We then had a green papaya salad. I loved it, as it was heavily spiced. Warning, if you are spice averse, I would mention it, as all their food was pretty spicy (my wife couldn't eat the salad). Lastly we had the Pad Thai. It is a pretty run of the mill dish, and their version wasn't anything spectacular (but I think there is no such thing as "spectucar" Pad Thai). They had little pieces of Tofu, in addition to the chicken, which I really enjoyed. This dish was also spicy, but tolerable to my SO. If Spice and Rice was located in our home, town, it would definitely get a spot in our regular rotation, as we really liked it. (Comment, there were long lines for "Sushi On the Rock" place next door, which seemed like a lousy place, the wait was long, and the restaurant was packed, and was so loud you could literally hear it from outside where we were sitting next door. I didn't eat there, so I can't vouch for the food, but the atmosphere wasn't inviting to me).
Wanting to satiate our sweet tooth, we stopped at Gelato Frizzante (on Prospect). It was really great (we have had our fair share of Gelatos in our lifetime, so we know good stuff when we find it). I go the chocolate toffee, which had alot of chunks in it (how I like it), and my wife mixed Green Apple with another flavor (can't remember). I would definitely recommend this independant (they also have a shop in Gaslamp, but I think that is it) over the commercial Hagaan Daas store down the street that also seemed to be doing a brisk business.
Breakfast the next day consisted of granola bars, on the way to hike Torey Pines. But again, this isn't a hiking board, so back to the food...
Lunch at "The Cheese Shop" in Del Mar. Delicious sandwiched. We got a Regular Torpedo, which also came on Italian Roll, but held together must better than Girards. It was great, and we also got a Turkey and Avocado (basically same sandwiches as Griards, if we're anything, we're consistent). Turkey was thick cut, fresh, and not "lunch meat". Both sandwiches were terrific. I also loved all the funky candy (a lot of European candy bars, and other stuff you haven't seen since you were a little kid) they had for sale.
We then took a sail around the bay, and enjoyed snacks on board the ship (Sunchips, and stale corn chips).
For dinner we didn't have a plan, so figured we would just head to Gaslamp, and look around until we found something that looked good. We parked the car, and my wife noticed a restaurant right across the street that looked familiar (although we have never been to this area before). It was Agua Al 2, which is part of a chain (really only 2 restaurants), with one in San Diego, and one in Florence, Italy. We couldn't beleive it. We ate there in Florence, talked a lot with the owner, who told us to come visit him in San Diego if we were ever there (of course, this conversation was a distant memory). So we ate there. The menus were exactly the same. We kind of mis-ordered (actually had a language problem with the waitress who was Italian, which is kind of weird since we are in the states). But the dishes we got were still wonderful. The highlight of our meal was the cheese plate. It was large, with ample servings of 4 different cheeses, and some salad greens (I think one was arugula, as it had a very peppery kick). I also loved the bread they bring in paper bags. It was toasted on a grill, then you dip it in olive oil, and balsamic. I pretty much filled up on that. It was really neat for us to stumble upon this restaurant, as it really brought back good memories from our Italian vacation.
That is all we were able to do. On my list (for next time), is San Diego's best fish taco (this will take some research to figure out exactly were that is). Nine-Ten (their breakfast menu actually looked great), a real meal at Georges, Mission Cup Cafe, Chuao Chocolates , and Barbarella.
We had a wonderful time, and look forward to getting back.
Thanks for your extensive report! We always love hearing what visitors to our fair city have to say about their dining experiences. For the record, when you come back, head to South Beach Bar & Grill in Ocean Beach for fish tacos. They offer different types of fish, and you can have it batter-fried or grilled. Skip the side orders of rice and beans, as they're nothing special. But the tacos are great! And they do offer other food, which should give your wife some options.
Just saw the t-shirts all over, and thought SoCal meant Southern California (silly me). Thanks for the heads up. Glad I didn't try to throw my new slang around while I was there (chowhounders are much more forgiving than local hipsters).
Bottom line, people in San Diego are very friendly.
I think you might be thinking of the term "The Southland" - which refers to the greater LA area. Southern California covers the area from Santa Barbara south - including San Diego. The Central Coast covers the area from Santa Barbara to Monterey, and North of that is Northern California.
Another little nitpick - The Cheese Shop is in La Jolla - La Jolla Shores to be exact - Del Mar is north of Torrey Pines. Glad you enjoyed yourselves - it sounds like you had a nice weekend!
Outstanding Food Report Booger!
Sounds like you had a great trip and overall the food and ambience here in So Cal were good to you..
I would of taken my drink back at George's but do understand that sometimes, you just don't want to hassle with it.
I live a couple of blocks away from La V and the food is average but the getting the tables out overlooking the cove are priceless and the service is always attentive..did you eat at the Whaling Bar? It's where us locals go and a lot of celeb sightings..
Cheese Shop and Girard's is always some of the best sandwiches and glad you got to have the fish tacos at George's..they are good. Brigantine and South Beach in OB are some of our best.
That's wild about the Aqua Al2 in the Gaslamp and that you ate at the one in Florence!
Glad us San Diegans were nice and friendly..we do try!
thanks for the report back!
a few thoughts--George's downstairs dining room has better food and a totally different menu than the bar and upstairs patio. I do agree with you on the chicken and black bean soup--it's decent but doesn't knock your socks off. If you come back to SD, make reservations for the dining room below.
Sushi on the Rock actually has pretty decent sushi. If you like sushi rolls, they have an extensive menu of creative hand rolls. The place is loud and trendy in that early 1990's style (lots of black decor). Rest of the menu is Asian-fusion. If you are in the area and want sushi, it's a good place to go. However, if you want the best sushi in SD, drive elsewhere.
I don't recall Spices and Rice being outrageously spicy, although I may have a higher tolerance for spicy heat.
There's been many threads and debates on the board as to who has the best fish taco.
Other places to go in La Jolla--Tapenade for weekday lunch or dinner, Roppongi's for their happy hour, AR Valentien for dinner, Michele Coulon's for dessert/sweet snack and Piatti's (across from Barbarella's) for brunch, lunch or dinner.
i think you're right about the heat issue @ spice & rice being a matter of individual tolerance. i'm a spice fiend, so nothing's ever too hot for me. i was fine with the heat every time i ate there, and i always request my food extra spicy. but one of the people i went with who ordered his relatively mild was guzzling glass after glass of water, shoveling rice into his mouth with every bite, and eventually had to go to the restroom because his nose wouldn't stop running. i tried his, and it tasted very mild to me.
needless to say, when i offered him a taste of my dish, he passed :)
a suggestion for great italian on your next visit...you really should try 'trattoria acqua' in la jolla cove [it's on the same stretch of prospect as 'george's]. the food is excellent, and the ambience is wonderful.