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Two Dinners Needed in San Diego

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Hi! Sorry in advance for the long post. I have been scouring the San Diego columns looking for ideas but I am still lost. I'm sure some of you will tell me to check other SD-related postings, but trust me when I say I have been reading them for days. My husband and I are staying at the Solamar for his birthday (Thanksgiving weekend). We are from Phx, in our 20s-early 30s. We are already set up at the US Grant for Thanksgiving dinner--now we need dinner recs for Friday (his birthday) and Saturday. We would like to dress up and go somewhere (I know these words make people wince) trendy or "hip," but that has excellent food as well. I really don't want to trade one for the other. We went to Nobu last time we were here in August, and it was the appropriate atmosphere but I was unimpressed with the food. Price is not a concern, just good food where we won't feel silly wearing heels or a jacket. We currently have reservations at Cowboy Star for dinner Fri and J Six (our hotel restaurant) for Saturday, but I'm wondering if I've made mistakes. We like any kind of food really, but my husband isn't a fan of asian tapas. Other than that, we are open to suggestions. We will have a car, but I would like to stay in the Gaslamp area at least one of the nights. Here are a few restaurants I was considering:
Quarter Kitchen
JRDN (have walked by it, looked cool but saw mixed reviews)
Cucina Urbana (dressy, though?)
Starlite (or is this more of a bar and less of a restaurant?)

Thank you in advance for your help. I hope my "trendy" comments don't make me sound d-baggy.

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Nobu
207 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101

Starlite
3175 India Street, San Diego, CA 92103

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  1. Thanks for doing research! You have two of the best choices going for food in the gaslamp, Jsix and Cowboy Star. Quarter Kitchen at the Ivy has the correct atmosphere for sure, and the food has improved since Nathan Coulon took over. Perhaps it might be fun to go there after either of the restaurants for drinks and dessert/cheese? Starlite is more of a bar and JRDN is good for people watching and okay food but I would suggest it for more of a brunch type place (that is when I have had the best service and food.) Enjoy your weekend.

    -----
    Starlite
    3175 India Street, San Diego, CA 92103

    1 Reply
    1. re: jturtle

      Thank you for your help! I am relieved to hear that the choices I've made are ok. I like your suggestion of Quarter Kitchen afterward for a drink. What about Syrah Wine Parlor?

    2. I think Cowboy Star and JSix are two very good choice not only for the Gaslamp area but for SD ingeneral. (I haven't eaten at JSix yet but had several dishes from the Chef Graves at different times and they were outstanding.).
      It also depends what you mean by dressing up but Cafe Chloe might be also an option.
      (my wife and I tend to dress up in general when going to restaurants and do it also at Cafe Chloe even though not everybody is doing it there but that is a general "problem" you see at pretty much all mid/upscale restaurants in SD).
      Cucina Urbana isn't the right place to dress up. Starlite has OK food (but nothing really impressive) and was quite inconsistent for their service. The Ivy might be a better place for a good cocktail (which we use quite often) but not so much the restaurant.

      -----
      Starlite
      3175 India Street, San Diego, CA 92103

      JSix Restaurant
      616 J Street, San Diego, CA 92101

      2 Replies
      1. re: honkman

        Phx is the same regarding the lack of dressing up. To each his own, I suppose. I read a ton of things about Cafe Chloe on the boards--it looks so delicious, we might give it a whirl for lunch? Last time we were in SD, we ate at Point Loma Seafoods and Currant for our lunches. Both were good. I want to make it over to South Beach for these fish tacos I keep hearing about, leaving a lunch open--Cafe Chloe?
        Glad to hear about CU and Starlite--the pictures make Starlite look pretty cool, but the general response here seems to be "meh." Ivy sounds like a better choice, and we won't need to drive!

        -----
        Point Loma Seafoods
        2805 Emerson St, San Diego, CA 92106

        Cafe Chloe
        721 9th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

        1. re: HerculesRockefeller

          You might also consider the restaurant at Grant Hotel for dinner and Cafe Chloe is also fine for lunch even though I prefer it for dinner.

      2. Cowboy Star and J Six are solid. Get the Pear Lemonade @ J Six one of the best cocktails in SD IMHO. Starlite has good cocktails and the food is just okay. Maybe try Wine Vault www.winevault.com you can find their menus on the site. Enjoy!

        -----
        Starlite
        3175 India Street, San Diego, CA 92103

        1 Reply
        1. re: mmjgam

          Thank you for the rec--you piqued my interest with Wine Vault. I checked their calendar on their website, and unfortunately they are not open while we are in town. Next time! Looks like we are still on for Cowboy Star and JSix...so far :)

        2. Places you will feel comfortable dressing up:

          Oceanaire for sure, not really "hip", but good.

          Cafe Chloe - you can dress up, although it is pretty mixed dress

          Cuciana Urbana - you will feel comfortable dressed up there. Food seems to be sliding. Short Cucina Urbana. Seems to be drawing an older crowd than you are now. Not exactly hip.

          Starlight - not dressy, but you can dress anyway there and generally its not snobby. Although some people say the hipsters can be snobby. But they are hipsters, so who cares?

          Quarter Kitchen - ranges from dressed up to guys with Ed Hardy shirts with glitter who are pretending to be macho and straight. Even though they are wearing shirts with glitter. Food expensive and not worth it in my opinion.

          JRDN - not dressy, but maybe dressy for the beach. Worst bar service in the universe. Including bars on Mars and Venus.

          Mr. A's - dressy.

          Dobson's - dressy. But in a "I am a lawyer and I don't have a good Italian tailor" kind of way. Off the rack style. Decent food.

          Grant Grille - dressy, although I haven't been there too much since the redesign.

          Cowboy star - you will feel comfortable dressy or not.

          JSix - you should feel comfortable being dressy, although you will get guys with T-shirts that look like they have puke on them (Affliction shirts) and the last blast of out of work mortgage brokers in multi-colored striped mall shirts circa 2005.

          11 Replies
          1. re: stevewag23

            Thanks for responding. I am so bummed about Oceanaire--are they open for lunch? It doesn't appear that they are. I was thinking of maybe stopping by for some pre-dinner snacks at the bar. You are right, the pictures don't make it look "hip."
            I had those same feelings about Cafe Chloe and Cucina Urbana. Thanks for confirming.
            We still might check Starlite out for a drink, my husband loved the pictures. Hipsters are only ironically, unaffectedly snobby :) We can handle them.
            As for Quarter Kitchen, Ed Hardy shirts = enough said. Drinks maybe, but no dinner there. The smell of Axe Body Spray would ruin our meal.
            You seem to dislike JRDN quite a bit based on other posts. I just liked how modern-looking it seemed when we walked by it in Aug, but the overall response has been tepid.
            Mr. A's seems stuffy. Am I wrong?
            I'm still with Cowboy Star and JSix.

            1. re: HerculesRockefeller

              Oceanaire is open at 5 and you could do oysters there and then walk back over to Jsix or Cowboy Star. The Quarter Kitchen has less Ed Hardy then the clubs at the hotel do. They just opened a new wine bar at the Ivy which is kinda cool.
              For JRDN the space is cool and like I said I like it for brunch and people watching especially if it is a nice day. Friday might be a great day for JRDN.

              -----
              Oceanaire
              San DIego, CA, San DIego, CA

              1. re: jturtle

                The $1 oysters at Oceanaire from 5-6 are a great deal.

                -----
                Oceanaire
                San DIego, CA, San DIego, CA

                1. re: deeznuts

                  That is a great deal. Ever been?

                  I really wish they would extend those hours.

                  1. re: stevewag23

                    I go fairly often. Generally, most of the oysters are part of the deal and the rest of the happy hour menu is great especially the calamari, salt and vinegar fries and crab cake. It requires some doing to make the one hour but totally worth it. Also, I think cocktails are a pretty good bargin.

                    1. re: jturtle

                      Do they still have the $1 oysters, $2 fries, and a plate for $3, $4, $5, etc? I thought that was an amusing way to structure the HH menu.

                    2. re: stevewag23

                      Yup. Definitely have. Most if not all their oysters part of the deal. At least 10-12 varieties if I recall correctly. As mentioned, there are other items which are great too. I also wish hours could be extended, but it's such a smoking deal I can see why they restrict it. After paying $20 for 6 oysters at Mastros (which were the tiniest I've ever seen, I don't recall the variety, but they were delicious!) scarfing down twenty oysters for $20 is a steal! I just leave work early on Fridays and hit up the oysters

                      Problem is I don't eat oysters without beer, and on a Friday I can imbibe quite a few. Their price on those are ridiculous.

                2. re: HerculesRockefeller

                  "You seem to dislike JRDN quite a bit based on other posts. I just liked how modern-looking it seemed when we walked by it in Aug, but the overall response has been tepid."

                  JRDN is just a cheap ripoff of the boutique hotel that was truly innovative in 1995.

                  They built JRDN in 2004 or something.

                  1. re: stevewag23

                    just wondering... when was the last time you visited jrdn? bar service was fine last time i was there.

                    1. re: johnyaction

                      I went when they first opened: retarded.

                      One year after open: demented.

                      Last summer: beyond retarded.

                      Seriously, the worst bar I have ever been in my entire life.

                      None of that matters though.

                      It is still a bargain basement rendition of a boutique hotel from 1995. (And that is giving it the "diego benefit of the doubt").

                      And a crap imitation at that.

                      Lets put it this way, if Tower 23 was my hotel, I would kill myself. Over and over again.

                      And after I died, I would hope people would kill me over and over again until the Mayan Calendar ended all our lives.

                      And then people would kill me again.

                      And again..

                      1. re: stevewag23

                        Apparently Senor Wag is having trouble articulating his true feelings...

              2. I know this is totally left field, but if money is no object, AND you have a car, AND since you were considering JRDN, may I suggest Addison? The food and service are absolutely divine.

                21 Replies
                1. re: Dagney

                  I've not felt out of place at the Wine Vault with a jacket, do a search and see if it suits your fancy. In midtown, short cab ride or drive. Do yourself a favor and get the sweetbreads at Cowboy Star.

                  1. re: stevuchan

                    I found the sweetbreads at Cowboy Star one of their weak dishes.

                    1. re: honkman

                      Bummer, best in town IMO, witht he exception of my kitchen. Most place over do the them and as a friend said, "is this General Tso's Chicken?" Where is your go to spot for sweetbreads?

                      1. re: stevuchan

                        Animal in LA (Spago is also not bad). I also had very good sweetbreads at one visit at Piatti but at another visit they were only average.

                        -----
                        Piatti
                        571 Pavilions Ln, Sacramento, CA 95825

                    2. re: stevuchan

                      I haven't been to Wine Vault (which is amazing because it sounds good and is close to my house).

                      But it seems like it isn't "trendy or "hip,", right?

                      Seems more like a foodie place with an older clientele. Am I wrong?

                      1. re: stevewag23

                        It's definitely not only a foodie place with older clientele but has a very nice ambience (and can be sometimes quite loud). It has a very wide spectrum of people from young people who want to start finding out about tasting menus to older people with a lot of experience in fine dining and wines.

                        1. re: honkman

                          Nice.

                          Sounds like it could be the coolest place in san diego.

                          Is there a bar there for solo dining?

                          1. re: stevewag23

                            No bar but solo dining shouldn't be an issue as long as you have a reservation. At least on Saturdays WV is very popular and you won't get any table (solo or with several people) without a reservation3-4 days in advance.

                            1. re: stevewag23

                              Just in my inbox

                              "Just a quick heads up to let everyone know that we'll be hosting the next singles only wine tasting at Wine Vault & Bistro next Wednesday, November 18th starting at 5:00. We'll have a huge selection of free, tray-passed tapas-style appetizers plus the usual wine and beer flights and cocktails. We'll announce the specifics by Monday, but wanted to give everyone ample time to plan in the meantime. Hope to see you here!"

                              Might be a good chance to check the place out.

                              1. re: stevuchan

                                I heard they don't have any Russian models at those singles nights so I doubt stevewag will be interested

                                1. re: honkman

                                  Ha. Yeah, and the 5pm start time will make it an impossibility.

                                  Unless I stay up from the night before.

                                  But sounds like a fun event.

                          2. re: stevewag23

                            Nope, not wrong, but Honkman's right about the ambiance. It's a place where you can wear heels and a jacket, but it's not a place to see and be seen. Mr. Geeky and I were definitely the youngest people there on our last visit and we're in our late-20s. We also tend towards the quieter weekday dinners, because we go to Wine Vault on our "date night" (cheesy, i know... yeah, yeah) and we'd like to hear the other one speak. I've also done lively dinners with friends, but the weekend is a must for the louder, busier atmosphere. Still, I wouldn't call it "trendy"...

                          3. re: stevuchan

                            Sweetbreads @ Cowboy Star--noted. Have you tried the lamb short ribs there?

                          4. re: Dagney

                            I strongly 2nd Addison.

                            1. re: Dagney

                              Thank you for the suggestion. Reading the boards, I saw quite a bit of Addison-dropping, and it looks like this is for good reason. The problem (for my husband in particular) is the old world style decor--columns and tapestry chairs are lovely, but not really what we are looking for in terms of ambiance. Beautiful, but reminds me a little of Mary Elaines (an old school but lovely Phx establishment--RIP). I will keep it in mind for a future visit.

                              1. re: HerculesRockefeller

                                Over-analysis = paralysis. Quit obsessing. You've made two fine choices given your criteria. Stick with them.

                                1. re: HerculesRockefeller

                                  Y'know...for all the funny commentary on the hipster set (which I totally get- I myself do not have an elaborate tattoo) I'm hearing on this thread, you'd think them unable to come up with a good thing. This notion is turned on its head with Starlite Lounge. I've had nothing but good experiences there, and I noticed that it was characterized as "more of a bar" above. This would be off- it is a very nice bar with good drinks, rock-steady service, good music, a nice patio, and a creative chef who would not dare deep-fry a wonton and plate it with an edible flower and charge 9.95 for the thing. I guess I'm trying to convey the fact that the kitchen is alive and not just cranking it out (more evidence of this- special requests are always honored and not typically screwed up): great octopus, and one of the only restaurants where I regularly "order the chicken" because it's so effing good. And do try an ice-cream sandwich. Perhaps not the most avant-garde of restaurants in SD, but in my opinion, the ONLY legitimately cool bar with great food to boot, which sounds like something you're interested in. Trust your husband's instincts on the photos...

                                  Cucina Urbana is indeed a scene, but I recently wrote a pretty scathing bit on a really bad meal I had there which contrasts with a lot of other positive opinions. Just don't say you weren't gently warned if you go there.

                                  I'm in AZ right now, and appreciate the kind steering I've gotten from posters on the SW board- hope we can give you the same good treatment here. Cheers!

                                  -----
                                  Starlite
                                  3175 India Street, San Diego, CA 92103

                                  1. re: SaltyRaisins

                                    Good breakdown of Starlite.

                                    It is a restaurant/bar if there ever was one.

                                    Serve food pretty late as well.

                                    1. re: SaltyRaisins

                                      Agreed that the octopus is great and also the burger but at least we also had some disappointments at Starlite (fish in general, shortribs, chacuterie) and the chicken can be very good on one night and dried out at another. I am also suprised about your "rock-steady service". I would call it average to absolutely lousy. I think DinigDiva once described it as amateurish.
                                      I really liked the cocktails at the beginning but I have tried now all of them and even though I still think they are overall good (but could be a bit stronger) quite a lot of them use heavily bitters which give them a often similar taste profile and I would like to see more diversity.

                                      -----
                                      Starlite
                                      3175 India Street, San Diego, CA 92103

                                      1. re: honkman

                                        Well, just like my experience at Cucina Urbana was pretty bad, I guess there's always luck involved: I have eaten at Starlite at least twenty times since it opened (I'm in the neighborhood), and have yet to have a single problem with service. Amazing, I know ... but to describe the service as amateurish is not quite right: I have eaten at fine dining establishments where the servers know less about the menu than one of the hipsters at Starlite, and as an indication that there's at least a modicum of training going on, if they don't have an answer to a question you hear "I'll go find out," rather than "I don't know." The only thing that I've noticed is that they, like any place, slow down a bit when they're busy. But even then, I've never felt forgotten or neglected.

                                        -----
                                        Starlite
                                        3175 India Street, San Diego, CA 92103

                                        1. re: SaltyRaisins

                                          I have usually had good service at starlite also. But I usually eat at the bar.

                                          Possibly, like at many places, the service is not at good at the tables.

                                2. Thanks for the help, all. I tend to obsess, over-analyze, and second guess myself. I am sticking with Cowboy Star and J Six, but we are definitely stopping at Oceanaire for happy hour, Quarter Kitchen for a drink, and hopefully Cafe Chloe for lunch. I will report back.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: HerculesRockefeller

                                    I think you came up with pretty much the perfect plan for the area. And your parameters.

                                    1. re: HerculesRockefeller

                                      Sounds like a great plan! Make sure you get to Oceanaire on time, that one hour goes by really fast!

                                      I'd be interested to hear your experience at Cowboy Star. I'm just waiting for my lady to come back into town so we can try it.

                                      -----
                                      Oceanaire
                                      San DIego, CA, San DIego, CA

                                      1. re: HerculesRockefeller

                                        we are heading to s.d as well from los angeles and look out oceania here we come.
                                        this thread was helpful was getting a bit down on where to eat till this.
                                        thanks folks

                                      2. Musings on our trip:
                                        -Had Thanksgiving dinner at the US Grant (buffet style). The food was terrible and the room they had it is was even worse--the rest of the hotel is so pretty, though, so walking through it saved the dinner from being a total loss. I know, a buffet--shame on us, but we tried one last year in Flagstaff and it was delightful. This dinner was the low culinary point of our trip.
                                        -Ate breakfast two mornings at the Broken Yolk Gaslamp--this was our only option within walking distance as we wake up insanely early (they open at 6am). It was good, nothing special, but nearly everything was above average, save for one truly unfortunate blueberry muffin.
                                        -Our first lunch was at South Beach Bar & Grill. It was fantastic. We had the peel and eat shrimp and mixed clams and mussels to start, followed by mahi mahi tacos. Everything was flavorful and fresh. A winner.
                                        --Stopped for drinks before dinner at Syrah Wine Parlor. The decor was very interesting and our drinks were good. The bartender bought us a round for my husband's birthday, which was unexpected but very nice.
                                        --Birthday dinner at Cowboy Star, which was easily the best meal of the trip. Started with the butternut squash soup and the foie gras duo. Everything was superb. I had the filet and my husband had the ribeye--both were juicy and cooked to perfection. We ordered the peanut butter chocolate dessert, which was bizarre. It just tasted...bad. Neither of us touched it past the first bite. Our waiter was great and spent some time shooting the breeze with us, nice guy.
                                        --Had late morning drinks (10:30am) at J Six to check it out. The decor was boring and the service was terrible--our waitress brought us the wrong drinks and when I pointed out her mistake, she said, "I'm not used to people ordering drinks this early." Thanks, we won't be back for dinner.
                                        -Second lunch spot was recommended to us by Cowboy Star waiter--Basic Urban Kitchen. Awesome interior design, the pizza was fantastic (tried the red with meatballs and basil and the white with chicken and sun dried tomatoes), the drinks were strong, and the bartender was wonderful. I wish we had one of these in Phx, it would become a hangout.
                                        -Had to check out Oceanaire before dinner--unfortunately it was Saturday, so no happy hour. Old school, but in a very nice way. Service was excellent. Sat at the bar and ordered drinks, oysters, mussels, and a crab cake. The crab cake was the only disappointment--it was a mayonnaise bomb. Everything else was excellent and I liked the ambiance.
                                        -Went next door to Red Pearl Kitchen and sat at the bar for dinner. It was nothing revolutionary, but everything was good. Service was slow at first, but more attentive once they realized we were eating dinner. We had the pot stickers (gyoza?) to start; I had the drunken something noodles, which the bartender proclaimed to be his "favorite" (I'm sure.) and my husband had the pork belly (recommended by the bartender at Oceanaire). Both were good.
                                        -Breakfast the last morning at Cafe 222 (recommended to us by several locals we encountered). I do not see the draw. My banana bran muffin was delicious but everything else was almost inedible.

                                        Thanks for the recs, everyone.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: HerculesRockefeller

                                          Thanks for the report:

                                          "Breakfast the last morning at Cafe 222 (recommended to us by several locals we encountered). I do not see the draw. My banana bran muffin was delicious but everything else was almost inedible. " I agree with Cafe 222. Heard to many recommendation also on this board and we tried it twice and I still can't understand why people like it.

                                          1. re: HerculesRockefeller

                                            Sounds like a decent (if not up and down trip).

                                            Too bad the food was terrible at the Grant. Haven't been lately and not going now. I don't know why they can't figure that place out. It should be a stand out. I wish the Ritz or Four season would take over and end the bloodbath.

                                            JSixSixSix "The decor was boring and the service was terrible". People sometimes give that place high marks on here. I have been a few times and was never impressed. Terrible service in san diego at the boutique hotels is expected in my experience.

                                            "The crab cake was the only disappointment--it was a mayonnaise bomb. " Did they put mayonnaise on it? Or was it on the side? The crab cake is one of their best dishes. Maybe the place has gone downhill since that Fedora guy left.

                                            Cafe 222. Never understood the draw either. San Diego Hype Machine.

                                            Good that you went to Cowboy Star.

                                            1. re: stevewag23

                                              The crab cake was literally oozing mayo (or some creamy incarnation) when we split it in half to share. This was especially disappointing because I am mayo-averse and was assured by the bartender that it was used minimally in the recipe. Even my husband, who likes mayonnaise, thought it was too much. I still really enjoyed Oceanaire, though.

                                              1. re: HerculesRockefeller

                                                That is so weird. It used to be all crab cake, and like I said before, one of the best things to get there. Arguably one of the best things in all of san diego.

                                                Maybe the place has taken a dive since the fedora guy split.

                                            2. re: HerculesRockefeller

                                              I am surprised at the US Grant being terrible but I have never been for a buffet at Thanksgiving but still no excuse for a bad meal..I would let the GM know.
                                              Jsix too..wtf that the server would say something like that.
                                              Glad you liked Basic..great pizza and they do make a strong cocktail.
                                              Cowboy Star is a good choice..
                                              Great report!

                                              1. re: HerculesRockefeller

                                                Wow, I'm so surprised about the mayo bomb. Every time I have had the crab cake there was NO visable may OR filler.