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Seeking unique, modern, fresh cuisine - can you help?

krisa20 Aug 19, 2013 06:46 PM

My husband and I will be in town for 5 nights - we are staying with my cousin who lives in Chula Vista. She'll have plans for us for a few nights, but on one night my hubby and I will have a date night without our 1 year old.

We are looking for a non run-of-the-mill restaurant. Any budget, so long as it's excellent food. We're coming from Boston - if you've been here, I am thinking Craigie on Main type restaurant, or Barbara Lynch's "Stir" in Boston (prep/demo kitchen restaurant) http://www.craigieonmain.com/ or http://stirboston.com/.

A restaurant that uses fresh, local ingredients whose menu is ever changing. Or a unique dining experience, but nothing kitsch or themed per se. Would also consider a molecular gastronomy type place.

Just looking for something outstanding. Any neighborhood will do....

Thanks in advance!

  1. Dagney Aug 22, 2013 05:18 PM

    Okay, completely left field suggestions:

    What about Kaito or Shirahama?

    Do you enjoy sushi? Both places compete for the top sushi spot on this board. Both use fresh ingredients, some local, though some I am sure imported too. Kaito's Omakase is legendary here, and Shirahama is a truly unique, truly special, Japanese dining experience.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Dagney
      globalevent Aug 25, 2013 10:25 PM

      As someone who lived in Boston from 1983-2011 and began his hospitality career in the gourmet food business I think I can state that SD is not even in the same league as Boston. That said, Boston's sushi doesn't come close to SDs best, noted above. If the OP enjoys sushi and the perception of safety I endorse the previous posters suggestions. Btw, I have not yet been to TJ for dinner but it looks like a great adventure. However, when I mentioned it to the baby momma her first response was, "no, it's not safe." And she grew up in SoCal.

      1. re: globalevent
        DoctorChow Aug 25, 2013 11:53 PM

        Some day when you're feeling particularly bold, you really do need to put on your bullet-proof vest and go to a TJ restaurant that's not on Revolution Avenue (except maybe Ceaser's) for dinner. The food quality, menu choices, preparation, and service in many restaurants in TJ and environs are absolutely wonderful, and things "feel" and taste very different than here.

        I'm not now talking about places that serve up tacos and burritos and beans and such. If there's one thing that many people who haven't been to Mexico (or who've only been on Revolution in TJ) don't appreciate, it's that Mexicans embrace cuisines from a great many other cultures; prepare those cuisines with excellence; create thier own unique crossover offerings; and provide service at the table that has a particular Mexican suavity you'll only experience if you go.

        1. re: globalevent
          foodiechick Aug 26, 2013 01:22 AM

          No need for a bullet proof vest. Baby momma is misinformed. If you go to places in Tijuana that are frequented by local families, during business hours you will not only have no problem, but you will receive the most appreciative and gracious service that you can find in our area.

          Behave as you would at home in SD. No need to be on side streets or highways at 2am. Unless you are a drug dealer.

          Can you tell I am tired of the "dangerous hyperbole"?

          Common sense people.

          1. re: foodiechick
            DoctorChow Aug 26, 2013 01:26 AM

            I hope you understand that I was being friviously facetious, foodiechick, about the bullet-proof vest thing. I have no compunctions about going into TJ. Like NYC, Chicago, LA, etc., one simply needs to be somewhat streetwise after midnight.

            Agree about the appreciative and gracious service.

            1. re: DoctorChow
              foodiechick Aug 26, 2013 01:32 AM

              I know DC that you are appreciative of those dining opportunities...I was using your humor in response to "globalevent"s response.

          2. re: globalevent
            DiningDiva Aug 26, 2013 04:35 AM

            GE. . .Your better half is off the mark on Tijuana. Certainly there are parts that are pretty dicey and best avoided, but those parts are also not generally frequented by tourists. The eastern section of Tijuana is definitely off limits. Luckily, the bulk of the culinary scene is nowhere near the eastern region and about as dangerous as going to El Cajon.

            You are correct in you observation that the food scene is interesting. The food *is* innovative, interesting and reasonably priced. It's an eclectic mix of Asian and Italian influences blended with some traditional Mexican filtered through California cuisine. Seafood and fresh produce abound.

            I grew up in SoCal, in fact I am a native San Diegan. I visit Tijuana on a semi regular basis and mainland Mexico multiple times a year and have not experience much in the way of danger or violence. Crossing back North is a royal PITA. The border is a war zone and much more dangerous than going on a culinary adventure to TJ

            1. re: globalevent
              cstr Aug 26, 2013 05:24 AM

              As with most places, just be aware of your surroundings and be careful after sundown.

              1. re: globalevent
                krisa20 Aug 26, 2013 06:12 AM

                I do enjoy sushi, very much. Did you ever get to O Ya while you were Boston? It got a lot of press from the NY Times, so I'd be interested to know where that fits in with the SD sushi scene. I've had a couple of excellent meals there.

            2. Beach Chick Aug 22, 2013 08:13 AM

              Like I and the Honk have stated George's Modern is your best bet with TBL3 in La Jolla..closest to rival Craigie's on Main in BOS.

              It doesn't get much better than dining with stunning ocean views in La Jolla..
              I would go for drinks first at the Marine Room in LJ.

              Go for lunch at the places I suggested in the earlier posts since your in CV..Aqui es Texcoco, Toys R US food trucks in CV and Romesco's.

              Rancho Valencia Resort in RSF...stunning and great food
              Have lunch at the Lodge at Torrey Pines AR Valentien at the famous Torrey Pines Golf course then drive the coast route up 101 to Carlsbad.

              Chula Vista is South Bay and imo, I wouldn't spend much time there but to eat some local foods as suggested, hit up Coronado.

              The West Coast is gorgeous and a completely different animal than the East coast.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Beach Chick
                Fake Name Aug 22, 2013 08:18 AM

                Don't listen to HER.

                1. re: Fake Name
                  Beach Chick Aug 22, 2013 08:25 AM

                  Don't take any advice from a guy with one 'avatar' eye..

                  1. re: Beach Chick
                    Fake Name Aug 22, 2013 08:43 AM

                    or someone who air drums Steve Gadd.

              2. ipsedixit Aug 20, 2013 03:42 PM

                Cucina Urbana

                22 Replies
                1. re: ipsedixit
                  Fake Name Aug 20, 2013 04:23 PM

                  CU is good. Nothing wrong with it, good food, good cocktails.


                  This is not [the restaurant] you are seeking.

                  1. re: Fake Name
                    RB Hound Aug 20, 2013 06:46 PM

                    Spit it out, then!

                    1. re: RB Hound
                      Fake Name Aug 20, 2013 08:09 PM

                      Jay nailed it. But our friend the OP had travel limitations I fully understand. I've not been to Romenescos, do I cannot comment on it. But the best meals I've had recently have been in Baja. Mision19, but even more, a dinner and a lunch at Corazon de Tierra in VdeG. These fit the desired description perfectly, *and nothing else does * in my experiences here.


                      1. re: Fake Name
                        cstr Aug 21, 2013 05:14 AM


                        1. re: Fake Name
                          krisa20 Aug 22, 2013 06:11 AM

                          So, I'm gathering from your, and most everyone else's posts (and the fact that really only 4 restaurants in all of San Diego were recommended) that you don't think there is anything in San Diego, north of the border, that fits my exact description. Is that accurate?

                          My thoughts on what has been suggested so far:

                          1. George's - looks yummy for sure, but doesn't quite have that pop of special I was looking for.

                          2. The Tijuana restaurants - these look great, but for reasons already stated, we don't want to go south of the border.

                          3. Romesco's - The small tapas menu looks good, but otherwise they seem to be a bit all over the place. Very large extensive menus. Maybe I will check them out for lunch one of the days.

                          4. Cucina Urbana - of everything, this perhaps comes the closest, at least in that it is not "run-of-the-mill." The mini mason jars are fun and the suckling pig looks great. Reminds me only slightly of a favorite of ours in Baltimore, called Woodberry Kitchen. http://www.woodberrykitchen.com/. Maybe we will go here one night.

                          OK, so it seems like I will have to "settle" for something just short of my original request, which is fine. If nothing fits the exact bill, then so be it.

                          But, what if I tweak the description a bit, then what do you suggest? Here goes, how about we focus this time on FUN, downright yummy, snacks or small plates as an option, preferably local ingredients? Check out the Woodberry Kitchen link above to see what I mean. I could totally relish a meal consisting of small plates and great sides.

                          Here is what I have that may? (you tell me) fit in that realm:

                          1. Craft & Commerce - cracker jack, fried pickles, corn dogs, yum!

                          2. Searsucker - Are Malarkey's restaurants any good or all hype? Menu seems to fit the bill.

                          What else? Thanks!

                          1. re: krisa20
                            honkman Aug 22, 2013 06:42 AM

                            If money is no object go to Georges for TBL3 (one table per night with special menu. The regular menu which also includes different tasting menu options is also excellent and perhaps the best restaurant currently in SD). Another option would be Kitchen 1540 and contact CdC Bautista before and tell him he should cook for you. These both restaurants might be your best options for unique, ingredient driven cuisine in SD which holds up to places like LA or SF. Other places like Cucina Urbans are nice but nothing which is unique or something you won't find somewhere else

                            1. re: honkman
                              cstr Aug 22, 2013 07:24 AM

                              You nailed it honkman.

                            2. re: krisa20
                              ipsedixit Aug 22, 2013 07:48 AM

                              Even with the revised question, my rec is still Cucina Urbana.

                              Also a very user-friendly wine list.

                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                Fake Name Aug 22, 2013 07:55 AM

                                I like CU.

                                But "unique, modern, fresh cuisine"?

                                Polenta boards with ragú are undoubtedly delicious, but not what our OP seeks. Pizza? Pasta?

                                1. re: Fake Name
                                  ipsedixit Aug 22, 2013 10:38 AM

                                  The phrase "unique, modern, fresh cuisine" has about as much meaning as things like "updated modern classics" or " contemporary homestyle cooking" or "re-imagined rustic libations".

                                  But then English was (and is) my second language. And I never got admitted into ESL classes.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                    Fake Name Aug 22, 2013 10:59 AM

                                    I respectfully disagree.

                                    Try to get to Baja. Believe me, I'm not a "Mexico person" who's been going there since I was an infant, believe there is no danger in travel, and believe a four-hour border crossing is just part of the fun. No, that's not me.

                                    But I am a convert, and "unique, modern and fresh" were exactly the words that came to mind at dinner and lunch there.

                                    Truth is, however, these are all copyrighter tricks. Just like "my own spin on" or "with a modern twist" or "deconstructed".


                                    1. re: Fake Name
                                      ipsedixit Aug 22, 2013 03:48 PM

                                      FN, I don't doubt your evaluation of Baja.

                                      All I'm saying is that terms like "unique" "modern" "fresh" etc. are so amorphous and linguistically mushy when it comes to describing food and cuisines, that they elude archetypal examples.

                                      Again, not saying what your conclusions about Baja are wrong, or even that your recommendation is inapt, just making a point about descriptions such as the ones we're discussing here.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                        DoctorChow Aug 22, 2013 04:48 PM

                                        What comes to mind when someone says something is "unique", foodwise, is that it's a creation that stands out as being very different from similar or maybe not so similar dishes found anywhere else. (Think Cronut.) "Modern", to me, simply equates to "the latest fashion or "trend". (Remember when it was considered "modern" to decorate the plate with garnishes all the way to the edge and present the food like it was a work of art to be viewed until it was cold and not disturbed?) "Fresh" conjurs up food that's been made with very fresh ingredients and that has been brought to the table quickly and not left sitting in the kitchen too long, although sometimes that term seems to be used interchangeably with "modern". Just musing.

                                        1. re: DoctorChow
                                          Fake Name Aug 22, 2013 05:07 PM


                                          To me:

                                          Unique = not available anywhere else.

                                          Modern = not mired in the past.

                                          Fresh = a new approach not yet experienced.

                                          1. re: Fake Name
                                            DoctorChow Aug 22, 2013 05:20 PM

                                            I think we pretty much agree about "unique".

                                            1. re: DoctorChow
                                              krisa20 Aug 22, 2013 06:11 PM

                                              I respectfully disagree, also, that the words don't have clear cut references to food.

                                              To me:

                                              Unique - same as above, hence the "non run-of-the mill" request.

                                              Modern - as Fake Name suggests

                                              Fresh = fresh ingredients, not canned, etc. I know, I know, I shouldn't define a word with a word ...

                                            2. re: Fake Name
                                              DoctorChow Aug 23, 2013 11:53 PM


                                              Hmmm. I think I see your viewpoint:

                                              Modern = not unique, but eschewing older established styles of preparation or presentation and currently widely accepted

                                              Fresh = not necessarily unique or modern, but a new variation not previously tried

                                              Is that what you mean?

                                              1. re: DoctorChow
                                                Fake Name Aug 24, 2013 06:26 AM


                                                I assume the ingredients will be fresh, with the notable exceptions of aged beef, bacon, pickled products (presumably a peck of pickled products) and 1000 year old eggs.

                                          2. re: ipsedixit
                                            cstr Aug 23, 2013 07:35 AM

                                            And please throw in To Die For.

                                        2. re: ipsedixit
                                          cstr Aug 22, 2013 11:42 AM

                                          So what's your primary language?

                                          1. re: cstr
                                            ipsedixit Aug 22, 2013 03:49 PM

                                            Primary language for ... what?

                                    2. re: krisa20
                                      Fake Name Aug 22, 2013 07:48 AM

                                      Let me tee this up a bit, since you are a welcome visitor to our humble board.

                                      While I might consider myself lighthearted and unfussy, others here might say that's a positive way of describing unsophisticated and pedestrian of taste.

                                      You've received some great suggestions here- certainly Georges, TBL3, Craft and Commerce are all north-of-the-border solid choices, I'm going to offer something else.

                                      The Hake.

                                      Went there again for lunch Tuesday, and had the Most Innovative North of The Border Meal. Their ceviche and hamachi dishes were very clean, fresh and delicious. I suspect their entrees are not on the same par as their small plates (a burger is clear pandering to that one member of the table who refuses to step outside the phone booth), but those smalls. YUM. And the Smoke/Honey cocktail.....

                                      I know- others here will pile on with their bad experiences- I think it's just them bringing their bad mojo to the table (<<< I'm kidding here!) but I encourage you to at least try them for apps.

                                      Valle de Guadalupe it's not, but I think the best NOB option to fit your description.

                            3. k
                              krisa20 Aug 20, 2013 07:58 AM

                              Thanks for the suggestions everyone! I am a bit nervous about going the Tijuana route. We are leaving my 1 year old with my cousin for the night and I don't want to have any issues (danger, timing or otherwise), coming back over the border. Just makes me nervous. Those restaurants look great though!

                              What about Craft and Commerce? Just happened upon that on this board as well. Seems yummy and fun, good cocktails?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: krisa20
                                Fake Name Aug 20, 2013 10:26 AM

                                C&C is good. Nothing wrong with it, good food, good cocktails.


                                This is not [the restaurant] you are seeking.

                                1. re: Fake Name
                                  Dagney Aug 20, 2013 11:05 AM

                                  (as he waves his hand)......

                                  I always suggest Addison for these requests. So, I say, Addision. Definitely a "money no object" choice. Happy Dining!

                              2. Beach Chick Aug 20, 2013 06:57 AM

                                Concur with cstr on the length of time coming back from the border and if you do go, bring your valid passport.

                                I would hit up Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista
                                Toys R Us parking lot for the food trucks in CV
                                Romesco's Bonita
                                Jalisco Cafe in Imperial Beach for tamales for breakfast
                                Hotel Del Coronado for drinks in Coronado

                                La Jolla is gorgeous and I would definitely add George's Modern to the list.

                                Take a lovely drive to Rancho Santa Fe and have lunch at Rancho Valencia Resort and dine at Pony Room or Veladora for dinner.
                                Stop by Chino's vegetable stand.

                                1. m
                                  mcgrath Aug 19, 2013 09:34 PM

                                  George's California Modern in La Jolla

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: mcgrath
                                    foodiechick Aug 20, 2013 01:43 AM

                                    Yes. Also. As well. Plus one. Just not as close.

                                  2. foodiechick Aug 19, 2013 09:27 PM

                                    Jay has excellent recommendations, Tijuana has a vibrant and growing food scene that has gotten national media attention by major media outlets on this side of the border. Having said that, if you don't feel like crossing the border you can experience some of that cuisine very close to Chula Vista. The family that owns many of the most talked about restaurants in Tijuana owns Romesco in Bonita which is a short drive from CV.


                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: foodiechick
                                      DiningDiva Aug 19, 2013 09:46 PM

                                      Had the same thought, you beat me to it.

                                      1. re: DiningDiva
                                        DoctorChow Aug 21, 2013 10:08 PM

                                        This just in about Romesco's from my companion and her friend:

                                        "Just got back from having dinner at Romesco's. It's far away in Bonita but well worth the trip. It felt like we were in Mexico. The food was delicious. We had a Caesar salad and she had a chile en nogada and I had paella. According to [another friend], the restaurant is owned by the same family who owns one of the restaurants you and I went to in Tijuana with her."

                                        I've never been, but that's her report.

                                        Certainly sounds recommendable.

                                        1. re: DoctorChow
                                          Fake Name Aug 21, 2013 10:34 PM

                                          But not new, fresh, modern, unique.

                                          The best chile en nogada in the world is not breaking new ground.

                                          Paella? Zzzzzzz......

                                          1. re: Fake Name
                                            DoctorChow Aug 21, 2013 10:43 PM


                                            Arrghh. Nothing new and modern! No test-tube hamburger!

                                            But! Although I can see it makes you want to take a nap, I also like paella.

                                            Some Spanish friends of ours used to grill paella outdoors on the world's second-biggest paella pan and it was a lot of fun. And terrific. Ever since I've been looking for good restaurant paella.

                                            1. re: DoctorChow
                                              Fake Name Aug 22, 2013 05:07 AM

                                              Nothing wrong with good paella, although it is an endangered species and rarer than gold hens teeth.

                                              But the idea that we could have a conversation about paella mean its not unique. Not modern. Not fresh.

                                              1. re: Fake Name
                                                DoctorChow Aug 22, 2013 02:57 PM

                                                Agree. The things they had are neither modern nor unique, but other things on the menu might be.

                                                Actually, the reason for my post was to underscore foodiechick's suggestion of Romesco, not necessarily the specific items that my companion and her friend had there. Both of them are pretty picky about food, and it sounded like the food quality at Romesco was quite good.

                                    2. j
                                      jayporter Aug 19, 2013 08:14 PM

                                      La Caza Club and Mision 19 would fit your desires nicely.

                                      La Caza Club https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Caza-Club/198543090165274

                                      Mision 19 http://mision19.com/

                                      Both are about 12 miles south of where you're staying. There is an international border you'll have to cross, but if you walk across and take taxis it's usually not too bad in the after dinner hours. Also there is light rail from CV to the border.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: jayporter
                                        cstr Aug 20, 2013 05:10 AM

                                        The down side would be the length of time it takes to cross back, plus there's, IMO, a danger factor being in TJ in the evenings. Must be keenly aware of your surroundings.

                                        1. re: cstr
                                          DiningDiva Aug 20, 2013 11:41 AM

                                          Actually, crossing back at night is faster than during the day. What you need to be keenly aware of are the drug sniffing dogs used by CBP

                                          Both of the restaurants Jay mentioned will call a reliable taxi service that will take you from the door of the restaurant to the foot of the pedestrian line. The worst you're going to be exposed to are some crazy drivers. Violencia still exists in Tijuana, but it is largely limited to the eastern parts of the city.

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