Nine-Ten in La Jolla
- Bruce Feb 10, 2002 05:01 PM
Not sure if other San Diego Chowhounds have commented on this place, but I thought I would chime in with a recent dinner there.
Overall: Excellent food, high prices, mediocre to bad service. We may go back, but will need to see some improvement or that would be the last time.
Reservations for four at 8:30 on a Saturday night, we get there about 10 minutes early, happy to wait at the bar (place was obviously very busy). However, we were not seated until 9:05 with no explanation, and barely an acknowledgement. Personable bartender and interesting wine list, but they had just run out of the very interesting looking home-made potato chips. Not the end of the world, but annoying in the context of waiting so long for a reserved (!) table. Having worked in restaurants, I know how chaotic it can get on busy nights, but to me good service is handling situations that arise with a bit of grace and charm. On that score, Nine-Ten failed, to say the least.
Once sat, though, the food was excellent for the most part, particularly the entrees. Sturgeon, scallops, veal tenderloin, lobster risotto were all winners. The soup and the foie gras less so. Chocolate cake very good.
The prices are imo high (entrees high 20s to mid 30s) but they do make most items available as a smaller "taster" size for roughly half price, which is a great option.
Would we go back? Depends. We're new to San Diego and are still getting to know the dining scene. If we find comparable food for less, or with better service, probably not. Otherwise we'll most likely give it another shot.
Has anyone else been there yet? Any similar or dissimilar experiences?
Let me start by saying that have been to nine-ten four times, and IMHO is up there among the best SD california/french restaurants.
That having been said, I also have had similar bad luck in making a reservation and then waiting 30 min. for a table. This happened on my last visit in mid-December. However, our party did get fresh "sweet potato" chips while waiting at the bar, and they were great, so sorry you missed out on that.
It is dissappointing that the restaurant management cannot be more accommodating on reservations because the food experience at nine-ten is one of the best in town. Yes, the food is pricey, but I feel the value is good. My last visit I did the "mercy of the chef" tasting menu for $45. And it was excellent: three small plates and dessert (scallops, ahi, and venison, and warm chocolate cake). It wasn't totally at the mercy of the chef because I specified that I wanted a meat for my third plate, plus the waiter permitted me to choose the dessert I wanted. All the other diners (who ordered off the menu) at our table agreed that the food was excellent, AND THEY ARE A TOUGH CHOWHOUND CROWD.
The wine list is not incredibly deep but does offer some very interesting choices, and the descriptions next to each wine are helpful.
So overall, I suggest going early so you don't have to wait for a table, or just come with some patience if you have reservations, because the dishes are superb.
re: Paul C.
I went to Nine-Ten on a Monday. Totted along a few bottles. Got corkage waived, as it turned out I knew the manager. Friendships do matter I guess. FWIW I never think a Saturday is a fair day to judge a restaurants as people tend to linger longer at the tables making for a tumultuous kitchen and server situation that ends up affecting the dining crowd.
Our waiter was fair at best. We had to remind him a few times to do this or bring that. The Manager was always picking up the slack though. I think also they lack good bussers which is the big problem in most SD restaurants overall, with Roy's and Flemings, WS&B/Laurel, being the exceptions by far.
We also did the Mercy menu. I thought it was inventive, but as the "Chef" was off that night, there were inconsitencies. My friend went back a few weeks later when he was on, and her comments were glowing. I think it is an example of a menu that is very challenging to do perfectly. That said, I like the imagination and will go back.
Service and waits.
I abhore them. If I have table reserved and a group is lingering after being presented a check, the establishment should suggest to them to move to the bar for a "cocktail on the house." That's one reason why I always aim for 8 PM reservations. I seem to get a table without waiting most times.
As reference, last night was boy's night out as two of my friends got hall passes from their spouses. I booked a table at Roy's for 8, we met up at the bar around 7:30, spent time talking with the staff, and bingo, by 7:45 we were seated, getting the first table that opened up, by the windows, with one of my favorite servers, Joanie. We were there until 1030, the place was packed all night, and the food was as always, dead on the money, including the new items. David Abella knows how to run a kitchen as Exec Chef there, and even with one of his Sous Chef's out with foot surgery and the loss of Mako, his number one to the new Roy's location in North Phoenix (Mako is world class in his own right having worked with David and Roy in Hawaii) the new chef, Evan, never missed a beat.
I have to admit that the friendships with David, Adam Flierl (Operating Partner) and Shay Dobson goes a long way at Roy's for me, but that is a relationship which was developed by being a regular there, not from any history in Hawaii with them. The staff treats almost everyone as a family member, as friends of mine who have been there without me, remark how well they are served there. The wine list is amazing and the ever changing "specials" and prix fixe menu on Sunday's through Thursday's makes it a real treat for me. Plus it's very wine friendly place. Last night the Lamb was amazing as were the new battered butterfly crusted shrimp salad and the panko crusted Uni and Ahi sushi rolls.
Friday night, my wine group was at Flemings. Same situation. Table for 10 at 8 PM, all set up and ready for us. Excellent service, great food. Nothing under or overcooked.
Good service can be had in San Diego, but that all starts with how the places are managed. Too many hire "pretty" or "cute" servers, but lack the ability to manage the floor and the kitchen.
I ate at Nine Ten for lunch-- they have a $24 three course menu, which is quite a steal relative to their usual prices. If you sit outside on a sunny day, it's a really nice ambiance.
Overall, my friend's and my experience was mediocre. I started with a parsnip soup, which was the highlight of the meal. For my entreé I had the duck confit with shredded apple and fennel and an apple pureé, and a side salad of arugula. This was the low point of the meal-- my first bite of the duck tasted gamey, and though the rest of it wasn't so, it still didn't please my tastebuds fully. The shredded apple and apple puree was a very bland, strange taste paired with the duck-- I wanted something more savory and flavorful. And I would never pair a salad with duck confit-- I think that such a warm, greasy entree is better with a warm side.
My friend had the salmon with vegetables for her entree. This was also disappointing-- the salmon was farmed, not fresh water. It was a bit overcooked, too.
For dessert, I had the half-baked chocolate cake. Very good-- if I go back to Nine-Ten, it will be for that dessert.
Lastly, the service was pretty bad. We ran out of water numerous times, each entree took a very long time to get to us even though there was only a couple other tables occupied. Finally, we waited for at least 20 minutes after having our dessert plates taken away and still no check, so we had to go inside and ask for the bill. I usually stick around and linger for a bit at dinner, but during lunch it's understandable that people need to be out soon after their meal is done.
So my consensus is that it was very good in some areas and pretty bad in others. I would much rather go to Tapenade in La Jolla, which serves absolutely exquisite food for the same prices...
Are entrees in the high 20s to mid 30s now considered "expensive"? It seems like a reasonable price point for dishes including sturgeon, scallops, veal tenderloin, lobster risotto. Not trying to be snooty here, but a burger, fries and a beer will run you mid 20's at many establishments in town.
C'mon Steve, you can eat just about anywhere in town for that amount of money. Roseville and Blanca in particular come to mind, but AR Valentien, Wine Sellar, Tapenade, Cavaillon and Market all offer an equal or better dining experience in this same price range. I like the food - Jason Knibb is great, etc. but they've never had good service and though the ingredients are excellent, etc. the cooking has never been very refined. Overcooked and undercooked items come out of the kitchen, it's just not that good - for that kind of money I just don't feel like people should have to feel like they're taking a chance.
re: Alice Q
I know that everybody has a different opinion but I think you make 9-10 sound much worse than it is. We had so far very good experiences with them and the cooking was very refined. For us they are definitely better than Roseville and Winesellar (I don't know when you have eaten there the last time but they raised there prices significantly and no entree is below $34) and at least on the same level as Tapenade and Market.