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The Lack of Craft; A Reason Why San Diego is Ignored by Foodies?

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Thank the evil fairies that give me ideas to write; it's a holiday weekend and I hope the flaming will be minimal - my kevlar undies are in the laundry.

Given, I have a very narrow point of view and experience of the current San Diego dining scene, but, based on all the reports that the passinate SD CH's are posting, I find a common theme - open up with flashy bright lights and lots of pufing and sputtering about "New, fabulous, unique, fusion, grass-fed, sustainable, farm-to-table, craptastic decor, giant ironic red plastic giant lips, knives stuck in the walls, edgy, trendy, blah, blah, blah ("Oh, yeah, we can write dirty words on the walls graffiti style, hee hee!").

No thank you.

From my lifelong, but admittedly narrow San Diego experience, I miss the people who viewed making and serving food to people as an honorable profession - a craft.

Most notably to me, the late, very lamented Sausage King shop. The old man, his wife, his family faithfully and diligently prepared superb sausages and cold cuts and maintained a little bit of a German import deli on the shelves in the store.

I was a regular/irregular customer for twenty plus years, always stopping in for a "something, something" on my way south or north.

They didn't know my name, but they always recognized me and urged me to try whatever was new because, "You liked the xxx, the last time, you will like this also."

They were always right.

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  1. I think I know where you are coming from, but if anything many of the new places are embracing catch phrases as well as the craft. It seems like many of the reputable as well as not so buzzworthy places now take pride in handcrafting every facet of the meal (condiments, charcuterie, breads, cocktail mixers, etc)

    I liked Sausage Kind a lot as well, but just because something isn't old and dusty with octogenarians working doesn't mean it isn't craft or whatever.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MrKrispy

      Ha! Point taken.

      But, SK, right up until the end, was Heidelberg spit-and-polish clean always.

      As to the keepers of the flame getting older, have you yourself figured out how to hold off the advancing years?

      Oh my, I miss the delicious liverwurst!

      Now, I will allow, they may have been short on charm, but they were old-school German by heritage and, as a result, very formal with their speech and in their interactions with customers; a form of courtesy that has been abandoned by modern times.

    2. "New, fabulous, unique, fusion, grass-fed, sustainable, farm-to-table"

      Yeah. That's awful.

      The San Diego dining scene is better than it's ever been. Stop yelling at the kids to get off your lawn and go enjoy some good food.

      1. If you believe that the lack of craft is one of the main reasons for SD not being a foodie city you are quite frankly not eating in the right restaurants and talking with the right chefs - there are many chefs in SD who take their craft very serious and are very dedicated to it. If I am very cynical I would say that actually comments like this which indicate that too many people are not willing to take the time (and effort) to differentiate between the lows and highs of the restaurant scene in SD are one of the main reasons why we are stuck on this low culinary level despite the great potential.

        4 Replies
        1. re: honkman

          I think that you miss my point - well, OK, points are most ofen hard and sharp and difficult to embrace.

          San Diego offers up thoughtful, carefully crafted food at a price point that only the 1% can avail themselves of on a regular basis. $150 for a small, unsatisfying meal for two, anyone?

          Cite me an example of a long-lived, multi-genartional family serving good food day in and day out.

          The Plascencia family comes immediately to my mind.

          Villa Saverios, Italian, in Tijuana.

          Javier Plascencia, the son, reinvigorating the iconic Caesar's in TJ, along with the ultra modern 21. Moving a rehabilitating Romesco's to Bonita and offering a small plate menu combining tapas and TJ street snacks at such a fair price that the foodie blogs are buzzing about it.

          The are no nitrous oxide foams anywhere to be found in these places.

          Not that I am opposed to frozen foams, but they belong in the realm of a culinary master with the price tag to match.

          1. re: Gypsy Jan

            The menu at Romesco is not cheaper than good restaurants like Blue Ribbon Kitchen, Kitchen1540, Urban Solace, JSix, Cafe Chloe (and some of the restaurants using excellent sources for the ingredients which plays an important part in the quality, do you know where Romesco sources their ingredients ?) but their tapas/ appetizer part is significant larger and so it is easier to put together a meal just out of appetizer (which might mainly be accounted to their location in Bonita where they might be forced to do it to attract enough customers but is hardly a reflection of the craft.) N2O or frozen foam - really ? When was the last time you went to one of the better restaurants in SD ? You sound a lot like somebody who picked up some opinions from people who don't like "fou fou" food without ever have eaten any of it and knowing what they are talking about. (And you don't want to compare restaurants in the US and Mexico, have you recently compared something like for example the Big Mac Index in both countries ?)

            1. re: Gypsy Jan

              Why care how many generations and family members are back in the kitchen if the place is putting out quality, legit food?

              1. re: MrKrispy

                IMHO, if a restaurant is putting out quality food after generations of family in the business it tends to be legit...especially if they come from Mexico. Or Italy. Or probably untold other ethnic cuisines that I am less familiar with. Generations = passed on recipes and flavors from Grandmothers's, Nono's, Nanna's and Yaya's that younger generations play with using new techniques, tastes and more available fresh ingredients to update and spin on old classics. History and legacy has value.

          2. 'craptastic', I like it!

            1. Personally, when I'm in town, I try to spend my time finding and eating food and not worrying about why "foodies" are ignoring us.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Yes, there is food, but there is a serious lack of fan dancers ;)

              2. Tenure, price, hype, and craft do indeed have to do with SD's lackadaisical foodie scene. Price more so than the others. But what I really think it is, is competition.

                Sure there are a lot of great places to eat, but it's normally very expensive (compared to LA et al). This I believe has to do with the sprawl that is San Diego. The city is so spread out, that instead of a focused area of competitive restaurants, we get neighborhood gems.

                Kearny Mesa actually has a lot of great Asian restaurants, but they charge so much more than Asian restaurants in LA. A lot of us cheap Asians know this, and the thought of, oh I could just go to LA and get this for cheap and better quality, crosses our minds.

                Going back to the sprawl of San Diego... Sprawl means lots of suburban neighborhoods. These neighborhoods attract families, not urban yuppies like you find in LA or SF. Yuppies are more willing to go out and spend money on food, and also more willing to explore different menu items. This makes for a more competitive area to open a restaurant, which is more apt to filter out bad restaurants. You see examples of this in parts of San Diego like in North Park, South Park, Hillcrest, La Jolla, etc although still more expensive comparatively to LA & SF.

                9 Replies
                1. re: jsabalos

                  San Diego restos more expensive than SF??....that's news to me.

                  1. re: El Chevere

                    If you compare restaurants with similar cuisine, e.g. Italian (inspired)and let's take Cucina Urbana (one of the better ones in SD) than you will get for similar prices for appetizers, entrees etc. significant better food in Italian restaurants in SF. Similar as with a board favorite as Urban Solace where a number of entrees approaching slowly $30 and again you will get better food (new American) in SF for a similar price and part of it is indeed based on missing competition. The missing competition is also a reason restaurants in SD often evolve little over time, e.g. the menu of Urban Solace many years ago and today looks very similar, as with Cucina Urbana, 9-10, Jaynes Gastropub to name a few

                    1. re: honkman

                      The reverse could be said, and be just as true.

                      That is, there are many places in SF that are more expensive than comparable restaurants in SD but which are not nearly as "better" (whatever that means).

                      In other words, that argument is best said to a deaf audience.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Very unlikely - with your argument every discussion about the quality of any restaurants is useless which I don't agree with

                        1. re: honkman

                          Not sure you've understood my point.

                          My point was simply responding to your position that restaurants in SF will offer "better" food than similar, comparable restaurants in SD.

                          That's just not true. At least not as a general, across-the-board proposition.

                          Take sushi. Ota is both cheaper and better than a comparable analog like Akiko's in SF. Or that Buono Forchetta is both cheaper and better than, say, A16, Delfina or Tonys.

                          But so what. Just like you said, there are other examples where the converse is true.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            I'll stick to Fakey's logic, that being the 'best of something' et al is ones personal taste and quite subjective. The same goes for price, it's quite subjective whether one feels that a restaurant in a certain area of the country offers more value than another. I am a mere mortal and offer advise with no professional culinary background.

                      2. re: honkman

                        no argument that you will get much better food in SF. Having lived there for 3 years and 11+ here, I can tell you I spent more, on average, eating out in SF than I have in SD.

                        With respect to why the food is better in SF, I would attribute it more to a more demanding and more well heeled crowd than I would missing competition (Palo Alto would be a good example where I find the resto prices to be on par with SD but the food quality is also noticeably better in Palo Alto--also due to a more demanding and well heeled crowd)..... for every Juniper & Ivy (which is good but not great and would be an average resto in SF) you have half a dozen or more in SF that are at least as good or better ...also 2 little things that stand out to me, besides the main courses--(1) I have never had a bad wine by the glass in SF (not surprising given their proximity to Napa and Sonoma) whereas I have had disappointing glasses at a number of places in SD and (2) almost any restaurant I go to in SF serves far better bread (not just talking sourdough) than I get in almost every SD resto.

                        1. re: El Chevere

                          I think we are saying pretty much the same - overall you tend to spend more in SF because more high quality restaurants simply exists but restaurants on the same quality level are cheaper in SF. More demanding customers, more money flowing and higher competition all go hand in hand

                          1. re: honkman

                            I’ve been following this back and forth discussion and think you’ve summarized it well in your latest post. It’s hard to compare the culinary status of two metro areas in a few words, but cuisine in general in SF has evolved far longer and at a far larger volume relative to SD to a point at which the general public there simply expects, assumes, takes for granted , demands (choose a word for it) a food quality baseline that’s somewhat above that in SD. The existing baselines have to do with both the sheer size of the two metro areas and the length of time over which the evolution of the cuisine has taken place. People anticipate that the food in their particular metro area (or rural area, for that matter) will at least rise to the baseline for that area; restaurants that don’t will fade away. Bottom line is the higher the local baseline expectation, the better the likelihood of quality at any particular price point. Or to put it differently, as you did (I think), food a lower price point in an area with a higher quality baseline will on average compare to food at a higher price point in an area that has a lower baseline.

                  2. I have to agree with a lot of the posters here - the dining scene is probably as good as it has ever been. There are still holes, and perhaps too much reliance on burgers, beer, and Belgian(ish) food, but all in all, food is getting better.

                    Well, the drinks are getting better. Eater posted an interview with the sommelier at Juniper & Ivy (http://sandiego.eater.com/archives/20...), where she noted that San Diego restaurant goers are more adventurous than she expected in our wine choices. This is similar to the owner of Polite Provisions saying that San Diegans were more willing to accept cocktails than in other cities. And of course, our beer is fantastic. All in all, the drink scene is probably going to outrun the food for awhile.

                    But I hear you on the Sausage King - that hurt. My hope is that Heart & Trotter opens and does a great job. Even then, its just a start.