San Diego: looking for fine dining & seafood
asking San Diego foodies' advice.
My birthday is coming up, and I wanted to try one of the nicer restaurants.
Looking for great food, nice ambience and reasonable service - in that order. A view would be a bonus.
Most important is the freshest seafood.
Willing to spend $80-$100 for two before wine.
So far considering Crab Catcher, Georges at the Cove, Marine room, Aqua Blu.
Two thumbs up for George's at the Cove and The Marine Room. You won't go wrong at either place! Another place to consider is Arterra in Del Mar. The only bummer about Arterra is that it doesn't have the views (ocean) that George's and The Marine Room have. They do have outstanding mero (aka black cod) that is in heavy rotation with the vegetables of the moment.
I would also highly recommend nine-ten in the Grande Colonial Hotel. It is near George's, a little bit cheaper, and easily as good. Tried to post this rec earlier, but no dice. You can find links to all the rec's at the URL below (from the last Restaurant Week).
Personally, if you don't go to Nine-ten, George's, Marine Room or Arterra you will be missing out.
I think Nine-ten is great, and cheaper than the others. I highly recommend the short rib and foie gras second courses. And Jack Fisher is the dessert chef. A first or second course, entree, and dessert will be enough food.
Also, if you are going to have wine, during the month of May you can buy a wine at the San Diego Wine Company (a few miles from downtown La Jolla) and bring it to Nine-ten and pay no corkage.
My two cents. Happy Birthday! And dont be shy about reporting back :)
Here's an update based on dining this weekend at AJ Valentien and The Marine Room.
Diners: husband and wife (east coast residents)
equally happy in upscale restaurants and chowhound dives
We ordered the Tasting Menu at AJ Valentien and we came away very impressed. Valentien is a wonderful experiece: lovely decor, polished yet warm service, and, above all, excellent food. I have a bias for food that respects the ingredients, and Valentien delivers. Sauces are the chef's strength; they are light enough that they don't mask the food underneath but concentrated enough that they add another flavor layer.
Here's what was offered at Thursday's Tasting Menu:
Halibut with Leeks
Hot Vegetable Plate of Asparagus, Fingerlings, Blue-foot Mushrooms
Lemon Cucumber sorbet
Lamb chops with vegetable accompaniments
(including amazing stuffed zucchini blossom)
Rhubarb Compote, Scone, Wedge of Goat Cheese
The paired wines were wonderful. In particular, the Chardonnay with the fish was a revelation without the over-oaked taste I've really come to dislike.
Our visit to The Marine Room was less successful. In the 80s, as a very young man, my husband used to spend a couple of weeks each summer in La Jolla for business reasons and The Marine Room was a place he remembered with fondness. (He would be taken there for business dinners; he never paid.) He couldn't remember anything about the food, but he certainly remembered the scene outside the window.
We were afraid the food would be secondary to the view, but the concierge at our hotel assured us the restaurant remained one of the top places in the area. We looked at the concierge's copy of the menu, and I had an inkling that this wasn't going to be a complete success since each dish had so many components. For me, this approach works if the elements are plated separately. However, this approach becomes taste mush when everything is stacked in a soup-bowl style plate and sauce is poured over everything. In fact, that's the way my husband's and my salmon entrees were plated, although our friends' meat entrees were not plated in a soup bowl.
My appetizer was just fabulous. Oysters get topped with a tiny dollop lobster mousse, wrapped in fresh spinach, and briefly poached. Each oyster bundle is topped with a different variety of caviar. A light and flavorful sauce is underneath each oyster. The biggest success of the night! My husband greatly enjoyed his lobster bisque: rich and flavorful. The salmon was the big downfall. From the bottom up, here's the list of ingredients: fingerling potatoes, salmon crusted with a combination of abalone and mushroom, tomato confit, and Truffle-Vigioner sauce overall. There was a stick of Serrano ham that must have been in and among the tomatoes in addition to being blanketed by the sauce. My fork picked it up and it was in my mouth before I realized what it was. I got a super-salty jolt. Even without the serrano ham, there were too many flavors.
My husband and I shared the dessert trio. It included three tiny portions of blueberry creme brulee, green tea panna cotta, and a lemon tart. Each element was delicious and not too sweet -- a plus to my way of thinking. The panna cotta was a perfect example of the chef's need to edit out at least one ingredient from many dishes. The panna cotta was perched on a paper-thin slice of poached pineapple and topped with a slice of fresh strawberry. The pineapple was too intense and too sweet and so it fought with the lovely flavors of the green tea panna cotta. Of course, I could easily slip the pineapple slice off to the side, but I couldn't image why the chef thought he needed to put it there in the first place.
Bottom line: The dinner was a sentimental experience for my husband and it was generally positive. The service was pleasant and polished and the food ranged from good to outstanding. Since the more-is-more philosophy of recipe creation is a modern one, I can't even accuse The Marine Room of living in the past or ignoring the food for the view. However, we won't be going back.
responding to some of the above suggestions, if you want a SD Harbor view, I'd skip Anthonys and go to the Fish Market. Re Arterra, IMO, it has lost a step since former on site chef opened Market which is WAY better. for good sea food though, I recommend Oceanaire downtown. have had pretty good service there, on multiple visits. ask for booth seating.
You may be right. Brad Ogden actually has an apartment in town as he's in the process of opening a new concept shortly in Little Italy. Brad Ogden is one of my favorite chefs, and he's been in the business a long, long time, and at the top of his game for a long, long time. Over all those years I've noticed a couple of things. First, his restaurants go through phases where they'll be exquisitely good and then they go off a little. Second, they almost always come back and get really good again. I am very sure that a lot of the ups and downs have to do with who is in the kitchen and how long the kitchen team has been together. Every time a key person leaves or is replaced it takes a while for the new person to find their sea legs, so to speak, and for the rest of the team to get used to the new one. I'm not surprised to hear Arterra lost a step or two but may have recovered.
I've been hearing (maybe reading as well) about Brad's upcoming venture here and am looking forward to it. As to Arterra, I'd much like to see it bounce back (as I live in CV) and perhaps that is already happening. will be looking forward to future comments/review from you and others