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New or Still Good Restaurants to Try in San Diego

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Hi all, We're transplants from NY and SF that used to be pretty avid local restaurant-goers (Laja, the "old" Arterra, Sushi Ota) until we had a baby. Now that our heads are above water a bit we'd like to get back into the eating out thing and would love a few suggestions. Distance is not an issue (downtown, North County, whatever), we're just looking for really high-quality food, and probably since we're only going out when we have a babysitter we'd prefer "upscale" (if we're out we really want to enjoy it).

Especially important to us are a great wine list, ideally something like some ice cold Kumamoto oysters on the half-shell followed by a really memorable meal, roll us out the door afterwards. Any suggestions would be really appreciated. Thank you!

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Arterra Restaurant
11966 El Camino Real, San Diego, CA 92130

Sushi Ota
4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

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  1. Wine Vault

    15 Replies
    1. re: Josh

      Wine Vault. A BIG yes.

      1. re: Fake Name

        3rd Wine Vault. Easily one of the best deals for non-ethnic, mid-range, nice but not overly stuffy/formal dining.

        1. re: daantaat

          I've only been to Wine Vault once, but I have to say I was not overly impressed and don't plan to go back. The service was clumsy, the pours with the tasting menu were skimpy, and the food was not very interesting (and no choice of course, since it was the tasting menu.) We really didn't like the get your own wine at the counter gimmick.

          Based on your criteria, I would recommend 1500 Ocean, Tapenade, George's CA Modern, Addison, AR Valentien (I especially like it for lunch on the deck), Market, Bankers Hill Restaurant & Bar, Cucina Urbana & Farmhouse Cafe. Maybe Blanca too, if they get back on track here after Jason Neroni's departure. (If you didn't already know, Market and BH are run by Carl Schroeder - who was behind the "Old Arterra.")

          I also really like Wa Dining Okan and Oton - two great hidden gems - Japanese in the Convoy area. Make reservations!

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          1500 Ocean
          1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA 92118

          1. re: Alice Q

            Wine Vault is not upscale and the wine is pretty low-end (as is the food). Doesn't sound like what OP is looking for. I'd skip it and head to Cafe Chloe.

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

            1. re: mangiatore

              I ate at Wine Vault once, and found it unremarkable.

            2. re: Alice Q

              Odd. When we've gone, we've had a choice of three different options for each course. The braised pork cheek was one of the tastiest hunks of meat I've had in a long time.

              1. re: Josh

                For the Saturday dinners, there's just the set menu. Maybe Th/Fri there's a choice? We've only been on a Saturday. The food was good and I found the wine pours to be more than adequate (for me, at least). My boyfriend liked that he could make his own beer flight for $9 (five tastes).

                1. re: leanneabe

                  OK, we've only gone on Fridays, when there's a prix fixe with three courses, each with three options. Interesting how many people have had bad/mediocre experiences there.

                2. re: Josh

                  Did you say braised pork? I respect your measured comments, Josh. I suppose I should give the place another chance.

                  1. re: mangiatore

                    Well, maybe we have different expectations. We went on a whim, having heard vaguely good things, and were pleasantly surprised. We've been three times now, always on Friday, where we've had the three course meal with wine pairing. Each course has multiple choices, some have three, some have five or six, and they often have some which are upgrades (e.g. foie gras appetizer, with $6 supplement). Some of the pairings have been less successful than others, but some have been delicious.

                    The braised pork cheek was really good (as I'm sure you can imagine). We also really like the appetizers like the shisito peppers and the oysters. To me it's like a more upscale Linkery as opposed to a high-end, fine dining experience. It's bistro cuisine.

                    1. re: Josh

                      I went for the first time recently and was also unimpressed with the quality of the wines. Some of the dishes were put together better than others, so it sounds like it might be best to go on Thur/Fri to get the added flexibility of choosing the courses.

                      1. re: hye

                        I'm less concerned about the wine than the food - my main concern is if the wine goes with the dish or not. My own view about wine and food pairing is that amazing mind-blowing wine is best enjoyed by itself, because consuming with food is going to diminish how much of the wine you're experiencing anyway. For that reason if I'm having wine with food I prefer simple, straightforward wines that are meant as a meal accompaniment, kind of the way wine is treated in Italy.

                        That said, on nights when they have a choice of dishes, they also have a choice of wines, and those choices often include upgrades, which are usually worth the extra cost.

                        1. re: Josh

                          Well, I basically found that I could go with or without the wine pairing, but that some of the food needed work, particularly in balancing flavors appropriately.

            3. re: Fake Name

              Well, I've always looked forward to their tasting menu, and as I recently suffered a fall from a turnip-carrying conveyance, all the wine tasted good to me. Enjoyed each visit, even when I had to walk allll the way across the room to get our wine.

              1. re: Fake Name

                As a card-carrying philistine, I agree with your points, sir.

          2. Though no wine list to speak of, if you used to go to Sushi Ota it'll be a refreshing "reawakening" if you make it out to Kaito Sushi in Encinitas. If you're like most who have tried both, it'll be a huge upgrade.

            ...and Kaito carries Kumamotos sourced from Washington State, which to my palate edges out the ones sourced from Tomales Bay. (I used to swear by Hog Island's Kumamotos until I got to taste the Washington State Kumamotos at Kaito...)

            Also if you used to go to Arterra, Market would be a logical replacement as that is where Carl Schroeder ended up.

            BTW for the best selection at an oyster bar in S.D., there's always Oceanaire in the Gaslamp... Incredible crab cakes!

            -----
            Kaito Sushi
            130-A N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024

            Arterra Restaurant
            11966 El Camino Real, San Diego, CA 92130

            Oceanaire
            San DIego, CA, San DIego, CA

            Sushi Ota
            4529 Mission Bay Dr, San Diego, CA 92109

            3 Replies
            1. re: cgfan

              Kaito is good. I was expecting you would mention it.

              Addressing another concern of the OP, I don't remember the sake selection there, if table wines were served, and if Kaito would allow BYOB. Someone might have to BYO wine glasses as well, I would think. Do you have more info about any of these things?

              1. re: Ed Dibble

                Since I almost never have Sake with Sushi, (I actually prefer tea or beer with my Sushi), I'm not too certain what varieties they serve but I definitely recall seeing Otokoyama as well as a couple of other Sakes, and I believe a Nigori.

                I believe it was Josh who asked if he could bring in his own beer (to which they agreed). Of course one should always make sure ahead of time that it's OK and that they're bringing in something that the house does not otherwise carry.

                I've also seen a few customers bring in their own wine, and I've even brought in a bottle of wine (and Salumi!) to share with them after hours on an occasion or two. Each time they always seem to find some wine glasses in the back, though they may not have many. As to having table wines on their menu, I don't know specifically but it's doubtful... (Like most of their regulars, I never look at their menu!)

                1. re: cgfan

                  Last two times we went, they had Asahi Black. That's a fantastic schwarzbier, made in Japan, and it goes great with sushi. As long as Kaito has that, I feel no need to bring in my own.

            2. not "upscale," but Okan has great homestyle Japanese food and is cozy enough for a relaxing night out.

              1. Where do people suggest for "ideally something like some ice cold Kumamoto oysters "?

                10 Replies
                1. re: stevewag23

                  I've been able to get Kumamotos at both Oceanaire and at King's Fish House. But where I've been getting my Kumamotos nowadays is at my usual Sushi haunt, Kaito Sushi, albeit two at a time rather than a dozen at a time.

                  As I mentioned in my post above I used to be a big fan of the Tomales Bay Hog Island Kumamotos, and would get my fill upon each visit to the Bay Area. But now I'm sold on the Washington State Kumamotos ever since Kaito Sushi started carrying them. They're both a great product, (how can you go wrong with Kumamotos?), but to my taste the Washington State ones have the clear edge.

                  -----
                  Kaito Sushi
                  130-A N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024

                  Oceanaire
                  San DIego, CA, San DIego, CA

                  King's Fish House
                  5625 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad, CA 92008

                  1. re: cgfan

                    San Diego needs a good oyster spot.

                    Hopefully someone reading this will open one.

                    1. re: stevewag23

                      I had a shockingly good oyster at the LI Farmers a couple weeks ago. On a paper plate...

                      1. re: Fake Name

                        I was looking forward to the shucked oysters there as well but was disappointed at the lack of selection; they're severely limited due to their ties to local producers versus the coast-to-coast reach of the oyster bars.

                        Certainly given the logistics it's a bit harsh to expect more, but I can't help but think that it's more of a marketing tool than an actual revenue maker. At least it makes for a unique claim for the Mercato, but it certainly cannot compare going to a "real" oyster bar, (nor going to the Ferry Building Farmer's Market and dropping inside to Hog Island at their oyster bar)...

                        1. re: cgfan

                          Selection? I didn't even think there was more than one kind! And when I decided my Jones for a raw bivalve was too strong to object, I thought "Well, it better be a good one, whatever it is".

                          And I was very happy with their selection, however limited. But I take your point- that's no:

                          Hog Island with a Cowgirl Creamery grilled cheese? Oh, yeah.

                          1. re: cgfan

                            ahhhh....Hog Island....then Cowgirl Creamery....then Tsar Nicoulai's Caviar place...then Blue Bottle for latte...

                          2. re: Fake Name

                            Carlsbad Aquafarms was at the Hillcrest Farmers Market for the 1st time yesterday and they said they'll be going to some of the other markets as well. They were selling 2 types of oysters; luna (a kumamoto oyster) and blonde I think. $2 to eat one shucked on the spot or a bag for $10. Both were great but we absolutely loved the Luna (kumamoto) oysters and will definitely be buying a bag next time I see them. I actually liked the Luna more than the Hog Island kumamotos I had a couple of weeks ago. More like the Hog Island Sweetwaters or Chelsea ones I had.

                            Ate dinner at Quality Social last night and they were serving Carlsbad oysters (I think the Luna/kumamoto ones). $2.50/oyster there.

                            1. re: DougOLis

                              "or a bag for $10"

                              How many in a bag? 10? 12?

                              "Ate dinner at Quality Social last night and they were serving Carlsbad oysters (I think the Luna/kumamoto ones). $2.50/oyster there."

                              How were they?

                              1. re: stevewag23

                                I think it was a dozen in a bag so not a bad price.

                                The oysters were good at Quality Social but I did kind of know what to expect. As far as other food goes I thought it was decent. My cocktail was great (Dirty Old Man) but my friends' was overly sweet. Had the BLT with pork belly & fried green tomatoes and it was good but way too greasy. If they cut back the butter on the fried bread and degreased the fried tomato it could have been very good. It was kind of early on a Sunday night and it wasn't busy at all but friends who've gone later on a Friday night said that it's douche-central. They said something about weird dancers behind a glass or something too. I'd go back if I knew Jared Van Camp was there and not in Chicago, doing something special, and it wasn't during clubbing time.

                          3. re: stevewag23

                            It does, SOB in the aquaculture projects off Ensenada. Closer than the Bay Area or WA ;-)

                      2. Just wanted to thank everyone for the great suggestions. We will definitely try Wine Vault, although it seems to be closed for Memorial Day weekend (?) so won't work for our next night out.

                        We tried Kaito because of the great reviews on this site and loved it. Had incredible omakase there, definitely a more personal experience than Sushi Ota and the quality was amazing. Did they move away from Encinitas?

                        Last question - any comments about Paon Restaurant in Carlsbad Village?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: feed_me_please

                          Paon, is very good. All the people there are from WineSeller and Bistro, so you know that everything is quality.

                          1. re: feed_me_please

                            Kaito Sushi is still in Encinitas... When you were last there could it have been at their old Encinitas Blvd. location? If so, then you may have missed their move to El Camino Real still just North of Encinitas Blvd. on the West side of ECR. They're tough to find for most as they can't be seen from ECR. They're tucked away behind the Vitamin Shoppe, between Santa Fe Cafe and Sylvan Learning, neither of which are visible from ECR either!.

                            Kaito Sushi does not have any signs anywhere in the center, other than for two window decals that are hard to see from a moving vehicle.

                            -----
                            Kaito Sushi
                            130-A N El Camino Real, Encinitas, CA 92024

                            Santa Fe Cafe
                            445 Santa Fe Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024

                          2. On friday evenings or saturday afternoons when you would like to go out but dont want a babysitter, consider hitting the Copper Chimney truck by Miramar for arguably the best Indian food in San Diego. Since you eat out of your car or standing on the street, you can eat well AND take the baby along. The time restrictions are because the truck is only out on friday evenings and saturday afternoons

                            This has become a favored activity of at least two of my friends who have have become parents recently and like to eat out. Not upscale, and no wine, but great food, friendly service and no infant restrictions!

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: ipsit

                              sounds like Allen stopped doing Sunday afternoons?

                              1. re: daantaat

                                Yeah, I think he stopped almost immediately after we did our Indian food chowdown because of complaints that he was stealing business away from the restaurants in the nearby strip mall.

                                1. re: hye

                                  I'd still like to know from where those complaints came. Other than Surati Farsan, I cannot imagine who would lose potential customers to the Copper Chimney truck. Ashoka the Great? Please... :)

                                  1. re: hye

                                    bummer...grr...maybe if other restauranteurs would focus on putting out better Indian food than harrassing those who do, their business would increase!!

                                    1. re: hye

                                      Agreed! In any case posted signs indicate up to four new Indian restaurants opening in that area soon. Maybe one of the new business owners was responsible...