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The Better Half Bistro - RIP

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mjill Jul 1, 2009 10:48 PM

Well guys, sad news. The Better Half has officially closed. I wish Chef John Kennedy the best in whatever he decides to do. A loss to the SD scene for sure.

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  1. DiningDiva Jul 2, 2009 08:51 AM

    OMG, I hope this info isn't right :-(. I agree, it would be a loss. Jeez, he wasn't even chef/owner for 6 months.

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    1. re: DiningDiva
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      keena Jul 2, 2009 08:58 AM

      Wow! There was a rumor about that on FoodBuzz over a month ago that was denied.
      That was a nice place to go to in Hillcrest.

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      MrKrispy Jul 2, 2009 09:17 AM

      wow that is unfortunate. I didn't even get to go back after the revamp.

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        DougOLis Jul 2, 2009 11:41 AM

        well that sucks

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          mliew Jul 2, 2009 12:22 PM

          Too bad. I was just eating at Chilangos across the street over the weekend when I saw the place and recognized the name from people talking about it on here. I was planning on trying it out soon but I guess that won't be happening now.

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            stevewag23 Jul 2, 2009 04:39 PM

            This really sucks.

            It seems like many of the "un-San Diego" restaurants are having a really rough go of it these days.

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            1. re: stevewag23
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              sdnosh Jul 3, 2009 08:34 AM

              What's an "un-San Diego" restaurant? But I agree. This is a loss. Three friends and I had their pre-fix menu for $17 (I think) and it was really nice and would have still been an extremely good value at $25. My friends were particularly pleased with the half bottle concept. The chef who purchased the restaurant did make some changes including switching to full size bottles and giving the food a cajun twist didn't he? Either way, still a loss.

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              1. re: sdnosh
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                stevewag23 Jul 3, 2009 11:09 AM

                What's an "un-San Diego" restaurant?

                A type of restaurant that didn't exist in san diego until the last few years or so.

                Smaller boutique like restaurants with good food, atmosphere and prices.

                A "un-San Diego" hotel for instance would be a boutique hotel.

                (although most of the ones in san diego are corporatized imitations)

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              2. re: stevewag23
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                cstr Jul 3, 2009 09:52 AM

                By 'un-San Diego' do you mean a place that serves pretty good food at reasonable prices? I feel bad for the chef/owner, now he has a property lease and probably equipment leases that he still has to pay for.

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                1. re: cstr
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                  stevewag23 Jul 3, 2009 11:09 AM

                  By 'un-San Diego' do you mean a place that serves pretty good food at reasonable prices?

                  Yes.

                  Non taco shop or corporate gaslamp rip off.

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                  1. re: stevewag23
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                    cstr Jul 3, 2009 12:33 PM

                    Yah, I hear ya, I avoid chains and touristy places. This guy had a good thing going but I bet his overhead was huge. Example: today in North County you can lease in a strip mall for about $1.50 sf/ft, tnet. That's not happening here.

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                    1. re: cstr
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                      stevewag23 Jul 3, 2009 08:06 PM

                      Yeah, I bet profit margins were small because it wasn't that expensive and it was high quality.

                      Places like that have a tough time surviving in San Diego because people don't eat out very many days a week.

                      And there is no late dining turnover.

                      Places that flourish in san diego:

                      super low overhead (ie taco shops)
                      low quality high cost convention spots that can dupe the unsophisticated diner (ie the gaslamp)

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                      1. re: stevewag23
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                        MrKrispy Jul 4, 2009 11:53 AM

                        Well the most often overlooked comparison is that there are far less people in San Diego than LA or NYC, and is more spread out than most other large cities. Seems silly to expect a similar dining culture.

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                        1. re: MrKrispy
                          honkman Jul 4, 2009 02:21 PM

                          I completely disagree that just because SD is more spread out or has less people it has to have a different dining culture. There are many other cities (e.g. San Francisco, Boston) which have very highly populated inner city but also wide spread suburbs which have a much better and interesting dining culture than SD.
                          The problem with the dining culture in SD is that you can only serve mainstream food without any "risky" dishes (and "risky" dishes in SD are dishes in other serious food cities which are served regularly because otherwise customers would get bored without them and don't visited the restaurant again). When we often talked with Chef Kennedy about his plans for the next round of menu changes he was often frustrated that he had to be extremly conservative with the dishes he wanted to put on the menu otherwise hardly anybody in SD would order it which was very different from his experiences in other cities. All the restaurants which tried to serve unusual (or call it unique or more risky) dishes in SD (e.g. Asia Vous, Cafe Cerise, Better Half) couldn't survive in SD. (Zubin mentioned that he had no doubt that Better Half would be much more successful in SF than SD. Guess where he is living now). Over the last few years SD got more mainstream restaurants where you can order mainstream dishes for decent prices (e.g. Jayne's Gastropub, Pearl, Farmhouse Cafe, Urban Solace, Market etc.) but none of them has really creative, unusual dishes on their menu which try to push the boundaries (and that is for us one of the reasons to go to restaurants. It is boring to eat dishes in restaurants we can easily make at home but thats what pretty much every successful restaurant in San Diego is doing). Where are the restaurants in San Diego which serve tasting menus with unusual ingredients (pork belly, escargot, sweetbread, veal, alligator, osterich in one tasting menu), multiple influences (russian, asian, italian, french) like Better Half for about $55 ? All of those are closed now, the last one is Cavaillon where the chef is able to create a new tasting menu on the fly after we came twice within a short period of time. (But even they mentioned to us that they have problems to get enough customers).
                          No, the problem with San Diego is not the number of people living here or its size but that its more conservative history is also reflected in its eating habit (as discussed numerous times on this board). San Diegans love average mainstream restaurants (with below average service) where they don't have any unusual dishes which might make them uncomfortable. But if you are really interested in either authentic or "outside of the box" food of any region (e.g. italian, french, chinese, greek, turkish, german, etc.) San Diego is a culinary desert (Steven Rojas left San Diego after about 10 weeks which tells enough).

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                          1. re: honkman
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                            stevewag23 Jul 4, 2009 06:54 PM

                            honkman, great breakdown.

                            "Where are the restaurants in San Diego which serve tasting menus with unusual ingredients (pork belly, escargot, sweetbread, veal, alligator, osterich in one tasting menu),"

                            I know, its crazy. Steak Tartare (a very non-risky dish in my opinion) is nearly impossible to find.

                            Cafe Chloe, would be one place that seems do do some unusual ingredients at times.

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                            1. re: honkman
                              Josh Jul 5, 2009 05:16 PM

                              Amen, brother. That's why the ethnic restaurants are the best places to be challenged.

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                              1. re: Josh
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                                stevewag23 Jul 5, 2009 05:54 PM

                                I agree.

                                San Diego does it best with cheap, ethnic spots.

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                            2. re: MrKrispy
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                              stevewag23 Jul 4, 2009 06:57 PM

                              The "far less people in San Diego" excuse is just that: an excuse.

                              Many smaller cities (ie New Orleans, DC, etc) have way more advance dining than san diego.

                              It is one reason our dining is behind those cities: The Type of Person in San Diego.

                              For a minute, I though san diego might bridge the chasm into becoming a good to great dining city.

                              With closures like Better half, I now have little hope.

                              I am going to eat a quesedilla with extra guac now.

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                              1. re: stevewag23
                                Josh Jul 5, 2009 05:17 PM

                                Wouldn't you prefer a $2 taco Tuesday at On The Border?

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                                1. re: Josh
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                                  stevewag23 Jul 6, 2009 08:18 PM

                                  ha, good one

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                    pickypicky Jul 7, 2009 02:22 PM

                    Where else do you get decent artisanal pizza (one with homemade chorizo) and better than average beer together in SD? Tell me and I'll try it. There's a new chef at The Fishery, and yes, he's changing the menu slowly-- but go in and request any fish in the house (your choice) prepared at the chef's discretion and see what you get. Where else can you do that? Freshest fish in the city prepared by a talented chef who doesn't need to turn mushrooms into poprocks in order to sell meals.

                    I read the Better Half menu and chose not to eat there. Only one dish on the menu sounded appetizing, and the rest sounded like ingredient trainwrecks.

                    There's nothing wrong in appealing to San Diegans. There is something wrong in not being able to keep your restaurant afloat.

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                    1. re: pickypicky
                      Josh Jul 7, 2009 09:24 PM

                      I like Blind Lady a lot, it's just not anything I'd categorize as adventurous.

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                      1. re: Josh
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                        pickypicky Jul 8, 2009 07:19 AM

                        Tell me another pizza place like Blind Lady in SD and maybe it'll be closer to where I live. While you may not think it "adventuresome," I find it "unique" in SD-- because of the exceptional taste combinations on the pizzas and salads and the superiority of the beers on draft. I hate the noise and the interior layout, but I go for the food.

                        (I'm serious. I want to know.)

                        I've posed the question once and I ask again. This is totally pertinent to this thread because a place failed and a place thrives. What's the difference in the two? Is it necessarily easier to pull off great artisan pizza? Does it take less brains and less expertise? BLAH is a nightmare for parking. I hate the location cuz it's far from me. But it's the only place I know that does what it does. (But it IS still new.)

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                        1. re: pickypicky
                          honkman Jul 8, 2009 10:01 AM

                          "Is it necessarily easier to pull off great artisan pizza" - It's not necessarily easier to make a good pizza than any other food but it is definitely easier to sell even a mediocre pizza than some unuusal food you don't find everywhere. And I know we are going in circles but there is nothing wrong with having such places but the problem is there are no places to go in SD if you want unique dishes you don't get everywhere else (and don't tell me you can't get good pizza and fishes dishes on this quality level easily in other cities).
                          And just to add, you can go to the other extreme - if you don't want unique dishes in San Diego but authentic dishes there are hardly any places for many region (one restaurant if we are lucky) - Where is an authentic (and not anyway americanized) restaurant for Italian, German, Greek, North African, Russian, Turkish, French (I am talking about French regional cooking not the typical bistro style), Indian, Chinese (I am not an expert on chinese but have many chinese colleagues and all of them always recommend to go to LA for authentic chinese), Portugese etc.? There might be one restaurant in San Diego at most for any of these cuisines.

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                          1. re: honkman
                            Captain Jack Jul 8, 2009 10:19 AM

                            Ba Ren is on a par with LA Chinese. Many cities don't even have one.

                            Portugalia in OB for Portugese.

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                            1. re: Captain Jack
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                              stevewag23 Jul 8, 2009 10:41 AM

                              How is Portugalia in OB?

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                          2. re: pickypicky
                            Josh Jul 8, 2009 10:11 AM

                            I don't know another pizza place like Blind Lady in SD. That still doesn't make it adventurous. To me adventurous implies doing things in a novel or unusual way - fancy pizza hasn't qualified for that label in decades, thanks to Wolfgang Puck. Maybe if they had scorpions and beetles on the pizza I'd call it adventurous.

                            Blind Lady thrives for a number of reasons, but if you're asking why Better Half failed by way of comparison, I'd say you're comparing apples and oranges. The two places were completely dissimilar.

                            Blind Lady appeals to a broader audience, is relatively inexpensive, and is located on the main drag of a pedestrian-friendly residential area. They also make good food, sell good beer, and offer a convivial atmosphere.

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                        2. re: pickypicky
                          honkman Jul 7, 2009 11:57 PM

                          The Fishery and Blind Lady are two perfect examples for standard San Diego restaurants - standard, unadventuorous restaurant dishes which you find at many restaurants in many cities. And again there is nothing wrong with having such restaurants but the problem is where are restaurants (like Better Half, Cafe Cerise etc.) in San Diego when you want to get adventurous food (and even these both couldn't go as adventurous as they would like to go because being even slightly adventurous in San Diego doesn't work for any restaurant) ? I don't see any currently, the only choice to get some is now to regularly drive to LA. There is a reason why Steve Rojas left San Diego after this short period of time.

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                          1. re: honkman
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                            pickypicky Jul 8, 2009 07:26 AM

                            The Fishery has the potential to be great, if the new chef can pull it off. Few places have that kind of access to absolutely fresh fish. The monk fish I had last visit was amazing, and a new fish for me. The local Sea Bass with buttered Faro, carrots and pickled honey onions blew me away. The clientele are locals, many of them, who walk. There is not one dish on the menu with meat. I call that "adventuresome" in a meat/potatoes town. There are not many cities in the US with fish this fresh. It is a treasure: all our fish market/restaurants are treasures. Again, this is working-- Better Half didn't.

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                            1. re: pickypicky
                              honkman Jul 8, 2009 09:46 AM

                              "I call that "adventuresome" in a meat/potatoes town" - I guess we have to agree to disagree. There is nothing on the menu of the Fishery which looks even remotely adeventurous for me (but again that always depends on what everybody has eaten before and how willing somebody is to creative/unique cooking) . There are other restaurant even in San Diego which are more adventurous in terms of good fishs dishes.

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                              1. re: honkman
                                Josh Jul 8, 2009 10:16 AM

                                The problem is that adventurous is a relative term. For some people, wheat bread is adventurous.

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                                1. re: Josh
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                                  stevewag23 Jul 8, 2009 10:46 AM

                                  honkman and Josh,

                                  I might have asked you before, but have you guys been to Yakitori Yakyudori?

                                  I think you would dig it.

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                                  1. re: stevewag23
                                    honkman Jul 8, 2009 10:50 AM

                                    No, but that's the reason I haven't included Japanese and Mexican in the list because I haven't really explored enough so far these cuisines with my wife in San Diego.

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                                    1. re: honkman
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                                      daantaat Jul 8, 2009 09:00 PM

                                      honkman, I have to say, in my limited knowledge and experience w/ Japanese cuisine, that for some blessed reason, SD is home to some very good Japanese restaurants that aren't all the usual teriyaki, udon, blinged out sushi or teppan-yaki places. Okan has outstanding homestyle Japanese food and they have a rotating daily menu in addition to the standard menu. Otan is their sister/brother restaurant and I have yet to go, although I'm looking forward to it in a few weeks. Izakaya Sakura and Yumeya are two excellent izakayas (the latter w/ a smaller menu but large sake list) and Kaito, which is oft praised on the board, has completely turned my expectations of what good sushi is all about. Yakitori Yakyudori is still on our "must try" list.

                                      Based on your posts, I think you'd enjoy exploring this side of eating in SD. For all of SD's dining faults, we've managed to find a reasonable rotation of ethnic cuisines (minus good dim sum and a good Taiwanese/Northern Chinese noodle house...).

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                                    2. re: stevewag23
                                      Josh Jul 8, 2009 11:18 AM

                                      I liked Yakitori Yakyudori a lot when I went. Haven't been in a long time though since swearing off CAFO meat.

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                                2. re: pickypicky
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                                  stevewag23 Jul 8, 2009 10:38 AM

                                  Fishery in my opinion is a solid effort.

                                  Nothing remarkable.

                                  They are benefited from being the only decent seafood place in a big beach town.

                                  For the cost, you can eat better food in more expensive cities.

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                            2. The Chowhound Team Jul 7, 2009 06:25 PM

                              Hi Hounds, sorry to interrupt the chow talk. The narrow goal of this board is share chow tips about where to find delicious food in California. As such, debates about the "status" of SD (or any other city) as city are unfortunately off-topic and we've had to prune many sub threads here. We appreciate your help in keeping the boards focused on the chow, so that we can all find chowy information more easily and eat better as a result. Many thanks!

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                                pickypicky Jul 8, 2009 02:48 PM

                                IMO, the current thread **10 Favorite Things to Eat in San Diego** is the perfect antidote to this thread. I read it and want to visit every place and eat every dish named. I guess my mom was right. "Positivitity will make you happy, Pickypicky, and negativity won't."

                                3 Replies
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                                1. re: pickypicky
                                  Fake Name Jul 8, 2009 02:56 PM

                                  Thank you pickypicky!

                                  Tired of reading Eyeore over and over, reinforcing over and over (and over) that there is a dark cloud for every silver lining.

                                  Better Half, RIP.

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                                  1. re: pickypicky
                                    Josh Jul 8, 2009 02:57 PM

                                    I don't think anyone is saying there aren't good things to be found to eat in SD. They're complaining about the fact that great places here which operate outside the mainstream too often wind up shutting down.

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                                    1. re: Josh
                                      honkman Jul 8, 2009 02:58 PM

                                      Thank you, Josh

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                                  2. honkman Jul 23, 2009 03:31 PM

                                    It's interesting to see that Naomi Wise seems to read CH based on her short notice about Better Half in the Reader. She also confirms one of the reasons we heard for the closing of BH.

                                    "Terrible News for Foodies

                                    The Better Half has abruptly closed, swamped by a load of debt inherited from the previous owner and by the deep recession that’s hit Hillcrest perhaps worst of all restaurant-rich neighborhoods. Saying “RIP” isn’t good enough for this loss, so I’m bringing out the big-gun words of consolation: Om, mani padme hum. Let’s hope this jewel soon reincarnates somewhere else."

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                                      cookieshoes Jul 24, 2009 10:56 AM

                                      Whenever I read that a restaurant has closed, it's usually always the same type of argument. It's either the population's fault for not having been wise enough to frequent the place, and thereby help keep it in business, or it's a larger commentary on how "the good places never survive here".

                                      Yet, I never end up reading any viewpoints about how the restaurant may have been mis-managed, or that it was not very efficient, or that they were not able to successfully operate their business within budget.

                                      I went to the Better Half, and it was fine. The food was very nicely done. But the atmosphere of the place was equivalent to eating in someone's outdated living room (not in a good way), and it had a sort of awkward "run down" vibe in there. Even with the "cottage" like decor. The service was friendly, but it was slow.

                                      Doesn't matter where you're from, or what food you're used to eating. If the food is excellent, but the atmosphere and aesthetics of the place are not as focused, then you have a problem.

                                      But, like I said, the restaurant closing could've been due to something completely financial, so that even if the place had had a regular flood of customers, it still would've gone under.

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