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San Diego dining scene getting better?

Matt Gordon of Urban Solace fame seems to think so:



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  1. There is no explanation in the whole article why the San Diego food scene is now better then for example 5 years ago beside Matt stating his opinion without any facts. In addition, his restaurants are successful but part of it is based on the food which is good but nothing special and which wouldn't work as good in for example LA or SF. Based on this if you count more successful burger places than 5 years ago as a better dining scene in SD he is correct but if you go beyond your standard SD menu the dining scene got worse over the last few years.

    7 Replies
    1. re: honkman

      It's total B.S.

      Comparing Linkery or ETIEZ to places that source from standard distribution networks is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Lots of restaurants in San Diego do well, Jay never claimed otherwise.

      1. re: honkman

        Good point...when I stop seeing these weekly "San Diego is getting better or San Diego is now a foodie town" articles or posts, then I will know the San Diego dining scene HAS improved dramatically. I've never seen a top 10 city so insecure about its status.....if you have to talk about it all the time, it tells you something---like the guys in college who talked about getting laid yet didn't vs. the ones who never talked about it but did.

        1. re: El Chevere

          That's a reasonable view of it, but I'm not sure what was in it for Matt to write that. It obviously is a counterpoint to this interview with Jay from last week (not sure it was covered here):


          I don't think Jay was that negative; it sounded like "it is what it is".

          1. re: El Chevere

            My, what an EXCELLENT analogy! lol.... But you're right. We are perpetually on the junior varsity team of the food scene. We have food trucks, so that's a new wrinkle, but it seems like every time we get a Farmhouse or god rest it's soul, a Region, they only last for glimmer in time, then poof! They die like a falling star.

            At least we have good beer.

            1. re: Dagney

              Food trucks - don't most of them pretty much do the brewery tasting room circuit these days?


          2. re: honkman

            Have to agree, I haven't seen much change in the last 5 yrs+/-. I don't put much stock in the health care cost issues either, most places keep jobs as part-time and will keep the employee counts below 50. As for improving well, the exception are burgers and beer, we cant be topped!

            I'd still like to see better seafood, Indian, Greek, Peruvian, Lebanese, even Italian options.

            Oh, and if you want to charge $$$ for a burger, it better be something. I've eaten $40. burgers in NYC and enjoyed them because they had some good quality in them, not because we were in NYC. Just don't think you can charge me that just because we're in SD, it won't work.

          3. But what is really needed are more restaurants named after fabrics...

            6 Replies
            1. re: Tripeler

              No. Just no. I know where you are going with this, but don't even think about it, Tripeler.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  A tip of the fedora to you both...

                  1. re: Tripeler

                    Maybe different hat styles, no?

                    1. re: Tripeler

                      they expanded way too aggressively. they honestly have great concepts and usually great execution, but they need to work on customer service and quality control of what they already have..

                      1. re: jsabalos

                        Actually, I have never been to any of them, but was always amused by the stories about Chef Malarkey.

                1. Why does it matter if the dining scene is "getting better"?

                  Better than what? And who cares?

                  Will you be taller, more beautiful, smarter because your hometown is now officially a "better" dining destination?

                  Isn't the more important, and relevant, question whether you enjoy dining and eating out in San Diego?

                  I, for one, do.

                  Is it the greatest food city in the country? Probably not, but that can't possibly be the goal, or point of reference.

                  If a person is not happy with the dining scene, hoping that it gets "better" (whatever that may mean) will not necessarily make that person more personally content with dining and eating out in the city.

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    If nothing is better than anything else then why discuss restaurants at all?

                    1. re: Josh

                      Because not all discussions have to be about "what's better".

                      Much to celebrate about differences without assigning mostly subjective ideas of superiority.

                      1. re: Fake Name

                        What's better: a loaf of country levain from Bread and Cie or a loaf of Wonder Bread?

                        I don't recall your complaints about Brooklyn Girl being phrased in a way where you said your meals were hunky dory. If you're describing bad meals then you are indeed indulging in the tacky practice of having opinions and making judgments.

                        If nothing is better than anything else then shut down Chowhound and let's just eat at Carl's Jr.

                        1. re: Josh

                          Some people may like Wonder Bread over Bread & Cie and some may not. It doesn't mean that one is better than the other. The term 'better' is, as you know, quite subjective. God forbid we if we were all like you, we'd be grass-fed and swilling fru fru beer.

                          1. re: cstr

                            I think it is possible to say something is better or not even about food especially if there are significant differences in quality of ingredients. You still don't like the better food but it is still a higher quality product

                            1. re: cstr

                              Can anything be objectively true? Because when people claim that nobody can say if one thing is better than another thing you're essentially saying that truth is nothing more than opinion.

                              I'm not asking if there are people who prefer Wonder Bread to artisanal loaves - I'm asking if one can say that the artisanal loaf is objectively better as a thing to eat.

                              1. re: Josh

                                'The statement can anything be true', explain the in the context of a loaf of bread. FWIW, the term 'artisanal' doesn't mean anything.

                                1. re: Josh

                                  "Can anything be objectively true?"

                                  Certainly, math is one place, science another. But is the Mona Lisa better than "Nude Descending Staircase?"

                                  I've enjoyed reading Ian Fleming more than Thoreau, which might make me an idiot, but to me, it was better.

                                  Can't declare a winner.

                                  Wasn't it you who pointed out many years ago that each CH post should include, in some silent way, the words "in my opinion?"

                                    1. re: Fake Name

                                      " math is one place, science another" - That's certainly not correct, the results of the majority of science experiments can be interpreted in very different ways and come to very different conclusion.

                                      Coming back to your example of Ian Fleming and Thoreau - you might like personally Fleming more than Thoreau but if you ask a large majority of experts in a specific field and they overwhelmingly clearly can point put why somebody is better than somebody else I think it is fair to say that this author for example is better than somebody else. Wouldn't you agree also in your field of work that if you show photographs of a well known professional photographer and just somebody who starts taking pictures that a large majority of experts in your field could clearly lay out why the photos of the professional photographer are objectively better. That's doesn't mean that there might not be some particular photo of the beginner which you might like more. The same can also be said in the field of food, e.g. Addison is objectively better than McD

                                      1. re: honkman


                                        If you put one photographer's body of work against another of less experience and talent, I'd agree.

                                        But if you put two images side-by-side and asked to choose one or the other, I might pick the less-experienced photographer.

                                        And then..did I tell you Ansel Adams bores me to tears? Technically, a master- no doubt, the guy was a wizard. By all the objective criteria, he's amazing.

                                        And bores me.

                          2. re: ipsedixit

                            IMO, *hoping* it gets better might not improve the dining scene, but acknowledging that there's room for improvement could be a good first step in actually improving it.

                            The piece wasn't generally about how nice it is to live in San Diego all things considered. It was a specific discussion of the dining scene.

                            I love living in San Diego, but I've had enough dining experiences in those other places to which it is presumably being compared to arrive at the conclusion that it could improve and think it would be great if we came closer to those standards.

                            Am I any less happy with myself or my life because we're not there yet? No. Will I be happier with the dining scene when we are? Absolutely.

                          3. Me used to be angry young man
                            Me hiding me head in the sand
                            You gave me the word, I finally heard
                            I'm doing the best that I can

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: RB Hound

                              You may have missed your calling, RBH...

                              1. re: RB Hound

                                You forgot the important harmony between those lines:

                                [But I can't complain!]

                              2. Here is my true lithmus test. of when you will know San Diego has 'arrived'...if you moved away from San Diego or lived elsewhere but visited San Diego on business or pleasure, is there a restaurant or two you actually anticipate what you are going to eat a week before you arrive and cannot wait to eat at and have your expectations met??

                                I can honestly say if I moved away from San Diego there is not one place that would have me working up my appetite a week before a return visit....I travel a lot and can tell you when I visit Vancouver, I cannot wait to eat at Vij's; when I visit SF, I cannot do without Delfina; when I visit Seattle I cannot wait to visit Metropolitan Grill; when I visit Portland, I cannot wait to eat at Caffe Mingo.

                                Not saying there are not good places I enjoy here, but not enough and/or "wow" places where I anticipate and cannot look forward enough to dining at a particular place.

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: El Chevere

                                  I do!

                                  Mariscos El Pescador and Super Sergio's.

                                  1. re: Fake Name

                                    Taking Ms Name to either place for V day?

                                    1. re: cstr

                                      We discussed Pescador, but we usually stay in on amateur night. Might be fun to get takeout tostadas and watch House of Cards.

                                  2. re: El Chevere

                                    Great point, and I actually experienced this very thing last weekend. I had to travel to SD for a day and had rented a car for my visit. I was only in town for a few hours, around lunchtime, and couldn't think of a single place that I felt compelled to eat at. Early in our residency in SF I would have been craving Mexican food, but now that we've found really great spots for that here it's taken the shine off of what was once SD's trump card.

                                    All was not dark, however. Bird Rock Coffee Roasters had some outstanding coffee that rivaled anything I've had here.

                                    1. re: Josh

                                      When I'm in that situation (i.e., in SD but not for long enough to cross the border) I try to get to TJ Oyster Bar. I crave those flavors and don't know anywhere in the Bay Area (or any other place in the US for that matter) to get them, with the same quality seafood.

                                    2. re: El Chevere

                                      Good point but I would say it has to be more than one or two places until a city has "arrived". Even in SD are places like George's with TBL3 (or Blanca under Schmidt or Neroni) which we would always looking for to visit if we would live somewhere else but still it's not enough to define the city as "there"

                                      1. re: honkman

                                        definitely agree with you about more than 1 or 2 places per city....just threw up some places off the top of my mind...trust me--in PDX, SF, and NYC there are a number of places....perhaps someday SD will get there....but not yet.

                                      2. re: El Chevere

                                        Here is my true lithmus test. of when you will know San Diego has 'arrived'...if you moved away from San Diego or lived elsewhere but visited San Diego on business or pleasure, is there a restaurant or two you actually anticipate what you are going to eat a week before you arrive and cannot wait to eat at and have your expectations met??

                                        I think we have to careful here, and be clear what we mean by "arrived" as a dining scene, or even a good food city.

                                        There is a difference, and not an insignificant one, between a good food city for a tourist/visitor versus a good food city for a resident.

                                        Even with your standard litmus test above, I don't think it captures the quiddity of what defines a city as having "arrived" for purposes of culinary excellence. While your test may work for places like NYC, SF, etc., it is overinclusive in the fact that there restaurants in, say, Nashville that I personally as a visitor yearn to return to (e.g. The Catbird Seat or Husk) but at the same I also think it would be a inapt to call Nashville a city that has "arrived" in terms of culinary excellence. And I say all of this about Nashville being a strong, strong advocate of Nashville as a wonderful dining city. But arrived? In the sense of a SF or NYC? No.

                                        But even without a litmus test -- or really any hard and fast brightline rule -- I think most of us can agree that cities like NYC or SF are great dining destinations for tourists and visitors.

                                        And we can probably agree, also, that San Diego is not.

                                        But this is the point where we have to be careful, and be explicit in what we are talking about.

                                        Do we want San Diego to be a "better dining destination" for tourists? OR for its residents?

                                        I, for one, vote for the latter.

                                        But the common riposte at this point is usually that a good food city for tourists is also, by logical if not factual extension, also a good one for its residents.

                                        I think that's too glib.

                                        Take NYC for example. Undoubtedly one of the finest dining destinations in the world, and a culinary gem in the United States. With the likes of EMP, Per Se, Le Bernardin, Ko, Masa, etc., tourists flock to Manhattan just to eat. And rightfully so.

                                        But if you ask many of the residents (and I have, as I have many friends and colleagues who live there and I find myself in NYC more often than I care to admit), most of them don't go the above-mentioned restaurants all that often -- if at all. Michelin restaurants are sort of like Disneyland for LA folks, or maybe Sea World for San Diegans. It's primarily for tourists. Like the fine china you break out when you have company over for dinner.

                                        EMP these days is more restaurant cum amusement park than it is just a pure restaurant. Which doesn't mean that it's not good (because it is outrageously fabulous) but it is event dining qua entertainment. The majority of NYCers don't really ever dine at EMP, if at all. No one really has the time, and if they did, they probably don't have 8 or 9 bills for a dinner for two there.

                                        Sadly, most residents of Manhattan actually eat out at mediocre, nondescript restaurants that are just like the ones San Diegans all complain about, and lots of them end up at bodegas buying takeout and eating gloppy veggies from chafing dishes sitting under heat lamps.

                                        So if you were to ask me whether SD is a better food city than NYC for *its residents* my answer would be "hell yes". We get fresh, local produce year round at bargain basement prices -- try doing that in NYC. Heck, try buying an apple during a snow storm like the one they had yesterday. Good luck with that.

                                        And don't even get me started on the weather. Where else in the world (maybe Santa Monica) can you grab a paleta and stroll along the beach in 80 degree weather in mid Feb? That alone makes SD a better food city than about 50% of the places in the country.

                                        People visit SD for the weather and the beaches, as well as they should. They will never come here just to eat. We should just sort of accept that. But at the same time I think we should all cherish the fact that SD -- for all of its restaurant issues, of which there are many -- it's a pretty damn good place to live AND eat. Which I think is probably a more important metric (at least for me) than whether SD is a good food city for tourists/visitors.


                                        (Off to Julian to pick up some pie!)

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          I disagree pretty much on everything you wrote and it is boils down to what you expect from a food city. There is no difference for me if I evaluate a city about food indepently if I am a resident or a tourist. I go to the same types of restaurants if I live in SD or would live in NYC, LA or SF with the difference I can't do it in SD because SD simply doesn't have the quality and depth of restaurant I would visit on a weekly basis, e.g. high end, some "bistro-style", and ethnic ones. SD is a great city to live in if you exclude food.

                                          1. re: honkman

                                            The last line should be "if you exclude restaurants". Our food compares quite well - most of my New York friends would kill to have access to the same quality of produce.

                                      3. Yes and no. For restaurants like Urban Solace, the restaurant scene has improved. There are a number of restaurants at that mid-level of restaurant that are growing and improving. And I do think that Jay Porter did a lot of good to the local restaurant scene, especially in promoting local farms and produce.

                                        What San Diego doesn't do especially well is the ultra fine dining. My wife and I were in Chicago for Christmas, and as a Christmas gift to each other, we had a meal at Blackbird, where the chef has been nominated for a James Beard award pretty much every year for the past 10 years (the meal was 7 courses and was fantastic). We don't have any restaurant producing a meal that you'd save up for.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: jmtreg


                                          I had a damn fine meal at Georges last week that I'd put against just about anywhere, and I'd sure as hell would have to save up for it.

                                          But I understand and share your point.

                                          Let me add- as shown by my selections, the flavors I crave most don't correlate to expensive- just remarkable.

                                          1. re: jmtreg

                                            People are saying that the mid-level restaurant scene has improved over the last 6-7 years in SD but I don't see it. Some restaurants have replaced existing ones but at the same time the menus of the existing ones have become more mainstreamed and boring (only exception is the improved Napoli-style pizzeria scene in SD)

                                            1. re: honkman

                                              I can tell you that, from discussion I've had with people who owned "mid-level" restaurants in the center city area, the amount of money that customers spent in those restaurants declined notably starting with the crash in 2008 and continuing for several years afterwards. Bistros that had $40+ guest spend averages (which is computed before tax & tip) in 2007-08 were finding that their guests were spending more typically $25. (Remember, this is an average, not any one person.) That shift has obviously had an effect on the menus, formats, ingredients, and product mix of center city restaurants. Also I think it's why, even for mid-level bistro places, you see them expanding/moving to North County Coastal, where it may be possible to keep check averages up higher (cf Solace, Cucina Urbana, and now potentially Farmhouse).

                                              To oversimplify a bit, basically a $40+ per person spend is kind of the minimum average you need to do a good mid-level bistro with the kind of offerings and quality that, for instance, posters on this board would appreciate. And you need to be busy with customers while keeping that average high. When a market can't support those numbers, you're going see a lot operators explore other business models, the kinds of places that have become familiar now in central SD: bar-centric venues; counter-service casual; flour (pizza/pasta/ramen) based menus; burgers; beer. Given that the options are limited for operators in the area, I think central SD restaurants are acquitting themselves pretty well and doing amazing work given the constraints they operate in.

                                              That said, a bunch of other bistro-style restaurants may figure out the code for how to get the margins they need in central SD (for instance, Smoking Goat may start a trend in that way). So it's not like what's happened the last few years needs to define the future. But I think that's why the ecosystem has changed in the way that it has.

                                              [One quick edit, there are couple ways to calculate guest spend average, in this post I'm using the lower way. For restaurants that use the higher way, the numbers might be, say $50 and $35 instead of $40 and $25, I'm not totally sure. Basically the difference is if you include people who don't order a main dish, i.e., if they're coming in just for drinks or snacks or dessert. Restaurants usually pick the method depending on their own circumstances and goals.)

                                          2. Enough already. There's never going to be agreement among CHs on this topic, or even on the metrics needed to discuss it.

                                            El Chevere and ipsedixit got it right on their first posts on this thread. Enough said. Amen.

                                            We are what we are in SD; we have what we have. The past is history and the future will arrive soon enough. Let's enjoy what we have today.

                                            9 Replies
                                            1. re: DoctorChow

                                              If failure to arrive at consensus meant no discussion the internet would be about 9/10 smaller.

                                              1. re: Josh

                                                I disagree, 9/10 is totally wrong.

                                                1. re: Josh

                                                  "Consensus is the absence of leadership"

                                                  1. re: Josh

                                                    Debate and Disagreement = Good

                                                    Banging collective heads against the same stone wall over and over again = Not So Good

                                                    Reducing Internet Traffic by 9/10 (or whatever) = Very Good. Much faster streaming video and such.

                                                    1. re: DoctorChow

                                                      This country could have internet that runs 100, 1000, even more times faster. Instead, we settle for crappy quality, just like San Diego settles for mediocre restaurants. :)

                                                      And Josh is wrong, because his message is too broad. He should say something like "discussion groups would be 99% smaller".

                                                      I think Jay nailed it. It's the economy, stupid - or something like that. We don't go out much at all, beyond grabbing crappy mall food after my daughter's skating practices, because I've been out of work for months. But hey - being able to rant on the Internet is pretty much free.

                                                      1. re: RB Hound

                                                        I agree with Jay the economy is a big part why we are struggling with the quality and diversity of restaurants in SD and that's why I am always surprised when people are so optimistic that the (mid-price) restaurant scene had improved (that doesn't mean that there are no good restaurants who try to do their best in this situation). But it is also frustrating to see how the life science industry ( which was one of the key industries in SD) has nearly imploded over the last few years (which was actually independent and prior of the financial crisis) and which is also one of the reasons why I don't believe that the situation will improve in thr next 3-5 years but more likely getting worse.

                                                        1. re: honkman


                                                          Those darned optimists at it again are they, honkmann? Making us think that there's nice places to eat in this culinary Chernobyl...

                                                          We'll show them, by gum! With our bottles of wine in our blenders and our Fine Dining Tasting menus!

                                                          Or just go to Starlight and pretend to like the good-for-nuthin' food.

                                                          1. re: SaltyRaisins

                                                            If they would have better cocktails... More recently Lion's Share is becoming our late night stop - also good (bar) food as Starlite but much, much better cocktails

                                                        2. re: RB Hound

                                                          One thing that I found somewhat shocking as I drove around was the number of empty storefronts and "for lease" signs. Things definitely seem to be worse economically than they were a couple of years ago.

                                                  2. San Diego has absolutely great places for Thai food (Sab E Lee, Supannee), Japanese food (Wa Dining OKAN), taco's (Oscar's Mexican Seafood, TJ Oyster Bar) and a couple of good places for lunch and breakfast. What is lacks is restaurants that offer great creative dishes. Upscale restaurants tend to be unadventurous and somewhat conservative.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: travelprof

                                                      "Unadventurous and somewhat conservative" describes San Diego to a T. Given our demographics, trying to improve the restaurant offerings is a severe challenge. I expect this to improve, however slowly, as the knock-on effects of better education and increasing high technology/high earning job growth spawns a greater number of adventurous and well-heeled diners.

                                                      Another shoutout to Jay for adding substance and metrics to the discussion.

                                                    2. I just want to know why the heck in a large city with an abundance of Chinese and Indian people we still don't have a couple of fantastic or so-called "authentic" restaurants of those ethnicities. I don't get it.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: MrKrispy

                                                        I just want to know why the heck in a large city with an abundance of Chinese and Indian people we still don't have a couple of fantastic or so-called "authentic" restaurants of those ethnicities.

                                                        At least with respect to Chinese, we do have the latter.

                                                        They're just not very good. And some are just awful. Terribly so.

                                                        1. re: MrKrispy

                                                          Some day, maybe.

                                                          I like the Chinese food at Mr. Chin's but wouldn't say that it's "fantastic".

                                                        2. San Diego will be a foodie city in the future undoubtedly. The plethora and variety of cuisine will only be magnified by tourism. Let's hope this means increasingly amazing food here!

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: ChrisVFoodie

                                                            "San Diego will be a foodie city in the future undoubtedly" - Good to know. What about the lottory numbers for this week ?
                                                            "The plethora and variety of cuisine will only be magnified by tourism" - Good point because tourism helped so far with getting better food in SD
                                                            "Let's hope this means increasingly amazing food here!" - Hope never dies, by the way I have a bridge to sell you

                                                              1. re: honkman

                                                                I see SD more on par with Santa Barbara than being anywhere close to the food scene of LA or SF.

                                                            1. Dining scene?

                                                              Pssst, guy in the kitchen making $13/hr and paying down $60k in culinary school loans - don’t look now, but the tattooed gent behind the bar making your girl a $12 cocktail? He's running the show. You had your fifteen minutes, scram.

                                                              If an operator can pay the two guys from Mumford & Sons $8/hr to bang out $2k worth of “burnt hair and linseed oil” martinis all night long, what’s the point in taking on the cost (or risk) associated with a fancy chef? A couple of high-margin craft cocktails puts you halfway to the $40 spend Jay Porter discussed in this thread. A no-name chef de platos pequeños can bring it home with short ribs, burgers, truffle fries, mac-n-cheese, etc., etc. Again, why risk it when the mean streets of San Diego are littered with the memories of restaurants that actually thought their business was about the food.

                                                              This is why we will remain on the gerbil wheel of casual fare here in San Diego for the foreseeable future.

                                                              Dining scene? We have a bar/beer scene where food is pretty much served in order to maintain a license issued by the CA Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

                                                              13 Replies
                                                              1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                                                I'll have one of you Gerbil Wheel Tapas and a glass of Merlot.

                                                                1. re: Fake Name

                                                                  I see you're stepping outside your sphere of comfort, watch out for the merlot!

                                                                  1. re: Fake Name

                                                                    The 80's called and they want their Merlot back. .

                                                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                                                      Gawwwd this is funny, BC.

                                                                      Too bad I had a mouthful of beer when I read it.
                                                                      But the screen and keyboard wiped clean.

                                                                      1. re: Tripeler

                                                                        ; )

                                                                        Hopefully, it was a small mouthful of beer..don't want to go a wastin' good beer!

                                                                          1. re: DoctorChow

                                                                            Actually, it was Worthy IPA from Bend, Oregon.
                                                                            I live in Tokyo, so it certainly wasn't local.
                                                                            A friend imports it, so I bought a case.
                                                                            It is incredibly good.

                                                                            But BC's post was so funny it was worth it.
                                                                            Of course, Naked Fame's "Gerbil Wheel" was also hilarious.

                                                                            1. re: Tripeler

                                                                              Gosh Trip. . where were you when I was headlining at the Tick Tock Inn.

                                                                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                                                                Probably drinking a good Belgian Tripel someplace.
                                                                                You do stand up?

                                                                        1. re: Tripeler

                                                                          I guess you weren't drinking a stout or porter, then. Maybe a nice Trippel? Uncle Karl's Four Scowling Owls? Green Flash's concisely named "Trippel"?

                                                                          Edit: ooops, I should have read down before yapping.

                                                                    2. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                                                      A bit on the cynical side, but sadly at least partly true.

                                                                      Fortunately, even though scattered, we do have enough restaurants with enough items on their menus to keep us busily chowing down on good stuff for a long while before repeating the same item at the same restaurant. For me anyway.

                                                                      1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                                                        Aaaaaand...scene. Well put Stifler's Mom.