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Sep 13, 2012 10:35 PM

What does San Diego do best?

aside from beer and fish tacos, what do we do better than MOST other cities?

I'll start with San Diego Urchin. What about any types of foods? Any restaurants we have that you feel would compete in a more food focused city?

this thread got me thinking

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    1. This San Diego Urchin you mention -- is it gathered in the ocean off San Diego? How would you distinguish it from sea urchin from other locations?

      12 Replies
      1. re: Tripeler

        Yes. CA gold uni has a better taste (IMO) than that of Hokkaido. As for discerning it from Santa Barbara or elsewhere, I would likely go off of what the chef tells me, but every time that's been the case it has been a better product

        I'll point you to an interesting post from CG who probably knows more than myself

        I spoke to one restaurateur who told me that SD uni specifically is really only sold locally due to amounts, and the better quality is on account of the seaweed beds we have here

        1. re: Rodzilla

          I was under the impression that there were no big limits in terms of fishing/harvesting sea urchins off the coast of San Diego (whereas in Mendocino county in Northern California, is a different story altogether....poach a red shell abalone or a sea urchin and the uni police will come after you).

          The only time I had fresh whole sea urchin off the shell in San Diego was last December during a visit to Little Italy Mercardo Saturday Farmer's market from a seafood vendor that had a lot of these plus raw oysters for take home or dine right there (they charge more for shucking/de-shelling, the only caveat is no soy sauce no wasabi, you bring your own, but they have hotsauce). Each batch (or urchin rather) varies. The one I had was slightly purplish on the spikes, although red ones are not uncommon, and that could also be a factor based on the type of kelp they feast on and the season.

          Now as far as freshness goes, the one I had was hard to beat, but to me flavorwise it wasn't the most earth shattering of all specimens, had some white stuff on it (not off putting) and was a bit more briney than what I'm used to. I'm assuming the FM vendor sourced their urchins locally, and not from Santa Barbara (where the top stuff is exported anyways).

          What I do find fascinating are some places that do different things with it or at least offer it on the menu to draw crowds (and reviewers) in. Saw on someone's facebook not too long ago that they had sea urchin ice cream from Sea Rocket Bistro!

          As a visitor from Northern California, I do enjoy the produce and farmers markets down here a whole lot more....particularly the dried dates from Santee that are way more flavorful than what I can get in my area.

          1. re: K K

            Yeah, to my understanding uni is just like any fish in that the best quality pieces will be selected by the mongers then given a certain amount of time to age - but for a starting point SD urchins are said to yield the best final product

            1. re: K K

              If you would like to try truly superb urchin, there is nothing that beats sitting in a dive boat with a spoon and a pair of kitchen sheers to cut out the urchins' beaks, then rinse them out with ocean water and dig in with your spoon. Urchin in a restaurant cannot compare. And I can tell you from years of experience eating urchin 2 minutes out of the ocean that each urchin tastes different, some only slightly different, but some are amazingly different. They are grazers, and their recent diet does effect their flavor. I have probably eaten several hundred urchins in my time, but there was one -- just one -- that kept me eating more hoping for another like it. It tasted like flowers! It had been grazing in the giant kelp forest off of La Jolla Shores. Make friends with some SCUBA divers! Or learn to dive yourself. It is well worth the trouble!

              1. re: Caroline1

                This suggests a very interesting, if not incredibly expensive and impossible to get licensed, concept for a restaurant.

                1. re: RB Hound

                  Hey, do they still have the ama san pearl divers at Sea World? They could add a nice stock of sea urchins to the tank and have the ama-sans bring them up for you! They never offer you a bite of the oysters when they dig your pearl out of them, but hey, luckily sea urchins don't make pearls! They could expand their business!!!

                2. re: Caroline1

                  very interesting. I thought it was still the technique afterward that made a good starting urchin into the best uni available.

                  So, do you have a boat and a diver?

                  1. re: Rodzilla

                    Don't I wish! I live in the Dallas area now. No mountains, no ocean, and at noon I can't tell north from south without a compass. But I grew up in San Diego, my dad was born there, and his father played for the Padres loooooong before they had a stadium! But there was a time when I "had my own diver." When we first met, my second husband was working on a deep sea research project at Scripp's Institute of Oceonography, and SCUBA was an important part of his job. "Dinner" several nights per week was a perk that outlasted the research project! "Teach a man to fish...." '-)

                    Anyway, "cleaning" a sea urchin is unusually simple. You simply cut out the beak, rinse the insides out, then peel the roe from the inside with a spoon. The roe adheres to the inside of the "shell" in a beautifully symmetrical pattern. If you can imagine peeling out undersized orange segments from inside the orange, it's not too dissimilar to that, except the segments are flatter and have a space between each segment. Do it right and you can turn the urchin's exoskeleton into a nice objet d'art, or even a night light. You just want to handle live urchins with gloves, and NEVER EVER step on an urchin barefoot! The spines are nasty!

                  2. re: Caroline1

                    I know this description: I was diving off the south side of Santa Rosa a few years ago, and ate one giant that tasted distinctly of lavender, and I was not stoned.

                    Nice to know I'm not crazy.


                    1. re: SaltyRaisins

                      Hey, if we could figure out what those two urchins were eating, we could start a sea urchin farm and get FILTHY rich! '-)

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        Nevermind capitalizing on your lovely experiences. You've clearly savored them. Thank you for sharing, and I for one am glad no one has figured out how to get filthy rich on something so elemental and special. This is one of my favorite all time posts on CH. Thanks again.

                        1. re: pickypicky

                          Bless your heart! (An old "Texas" saying that has inexplicably inserted itself into my vocabulary.) Thank you for the kind words. I highly recommend that anyone who can afford a meal at The French Laundry invest instead in hiring a scuba diver and a dive boat and go have a little fresh sea urchin! It might even be cheaper than The French Laundry! '-)

            2. Burgers, Burrito's and Mex Marisco's.

              6 Replies
              1. re: cstr

                SD has many burger places but surprsingly few with good ones.

                1. re: honkman

                  I'm not sure that sentiment is unique to SD.

                  Perusing these boards, you get the feeling about many places in America.

                  Very few cities, IMO, proudly proclaim that the burgers in their cities are not only aplenty, but awe inspiring at the same time.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I agree that the quality of burger is often lacking also in other cities but since the original questions was "what does SD do best" I dont' think burgers are a good answer. In my opinion it is more beer, having outstanding produce, and a number of restaurants which take the the farm-to table approach much more serious than in other cities.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      “Anybody who doesn't think that the best hamburger place in the world is in his home town is a sissy.” Calvin Trillin

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Thanks ipse, you've articulated my sentiment, I mean afterall, SD does has some good although modest culinary attributes.

                      2. re: honkman

                        I can think of quite a few that I find very good right in my own neighborhood or nearby. Ritual Tavern, Jayne's, Toronado, Smoking Goat, Alchemy, Neighborhood, and Farmhouse have all served me a fine burger. I'm not sure if that ranks SD among the best cities for burgers, but it's a pretty good lineup.

                    2. Agree on the uni

                      Farm-to-table that is no just lip service to a trend or chefs/operators putting a farms name or product origin on a menu. I think we have more chefs/operators who are trying to actually walk the walk with regard to sustainable and local

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        Not to take anything away feom SD, but farm-table is very common in many cities and towns that I've visited in CA. If the area is ag-oriented or near ag areas, it's almost matter-of-fact. Santa Cruz comes to mind in that so many small and medium-sized farms grow outstanding produce. Moreover, the local businesses like supporting them. This binary relationship is win-win for all imho. Many Californians are lucky for reasons similar to this.

                          1. re: DiningDiva

                            Although the farm to table is important, I'd like to know 'what' the end product is, ala the best SD creation entree etc in your opinion, not the raw materials or a concept.

                          2. The original comment has been removed
                            1. Or Vietnamese food. We have excellent Vietnamese food. And I'll venture we have some excellent Mexican food, if you know where to look. (Milpas, Testa's).