Friday, February 20, 2009

San Diego restaurant- Avenue 5

It was enough to throw you off the trail. Avenue 5 blended seamlessly with the surrounding office buildings, enough for me to ask, “Is this it?” Clientele was clearly scooped from the business set, out for their designated eating hour, and I was pleased to have discovered this secret suit society of Banker’s Hill.

The interior had the newness and simple detail of an Ethan Allen showroom, but warmth surfaced through its elegance. High ceilings and hardwood floors brought stylish depth, and the brick-backed wall in the rear attracted the eye. Our busboy saw us admiring it and told us that they weren’t real bricks, but a design trick. His spontaneous and honest conversation was refreshing, as was our waitress, whose genuine friendliness didn’t go overboard. Time to eat-

Butternut squash soup: Their somewhat untraditional, thinner broth layered rutabagas and apple along with the squash for a light, but complex finish. It was topped off with crème fraiche, which melted into creamy swirls. I was won over by its taste and individuality.

Pulled barbeque pork sandwich: This alone was worthy of a return trip. Pickled onions gave perfect vinegar tang to the barbeque sauce and the pork’s tender shreds soaked into the toasty bread. I wanted seconds.

Knuckle sandwich: Lump crab (knuckle) meat arrived piled on a roll with avocado, mango and Asian slaw (hints of ginger and jimica.) I made the mistake of trying this after the barbeque pork. The crab was so much lighter and it had to vie for my taste-buds’ attention…it lost. My mouth could only sense the ghostly presence of crab and it was clear I had been swayed by the swine. The Knuckle deserved a second crack, but realistically I would probably go straight for the pork when I returned.

Future visits: Their dinner menu also caught my attention with phrases like, “pecan crusted lamb loin” and “bacon/herb gnocchi with braised short rib,” but it’s a little pricey (high $20s) for everyday, so I would probably stick with lunch or happy hour (ie. Camembert en croute or duck confit with port drizzle) when needing to satisfy my jaw’s daily grind.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brother, can you spare a dime?

Wothwhile deals around San Diego

While the economic, money crunch has turned dining out into a luxury, San Diego restaraunteurs are finding unique ways for patrons to enjoy a night on the town without breaking the bank.

4)Avenue 5 (2760 5th Ave) regularly offers a three course prix-fix dinner for only $30 every evening of the week*. Their happy hour also includes filling treats like Camembert en croute (walnut toast, spiced honey), duck confit (blue cheese, port drizzle) and the 5th Ave burger (pickled onions, aged cheddar) for well under $10 - definitely worth checking out.

*They also design specialty dinners that are a little more pricey, but still give you a bang for your buck. Scotch lovers will appreciate the value of the Macallan Dinner ($75 on Feb 19), which includes four courses matched with different varieties of Macallan single malt whiskey. Colin MacLaggan of Avenue 5 and Victor Jimenez of Cowboy Star will be preparing the feast.

3)Wine Vault (3731-A India St)offers a five course tasting menu every Saturday for $25 (changes weekly.) For an additional $16 they will pair wines with the meal. It's a good idea to get on their mailing list because they are always actively creating weekly inspirations (osso bucco for two at $25 and this week, Pinot Noir battle- OR vs.CA [4 glasses], served with wild mushroom risotto- $26.)

2)Bite (1417 University Ave) is an affair to remember. Clearly one of the best San Diego venues, Chef Chris Walsh is offering a four course prix-fix for $20.09 (Tues- Thurs.)They've included a multitude of tapas from their regular menu, enough to make it hard to choose (onion tart, rock shrimp pizza, pork belly, mussels, lamb meatballs, blueberry cobbler, Grand Marnier gelato, etc.) They've even made a point to specify that they don't mind if customers share this 4 course delight - unheard of! Happy hour (5-7pm) brings wine and an interesting array of bubbly drinks for $4.50 (the elderberry and champagne is divine.)

1) The Better Half's (127 University Ave) $15 Blue Plate Economy Special is definitely the best deal in town. This includes three courses of fine dining with a continuously fresh menu from Chef John Kennedy, who can often be seen roaming the dining room enthusiastically explaining his creations. The ever changing soup is always served table-side and always exquisite (usually a prize at the bottom of the bowl like herb speitzel or julianne carrots.) They only offer half bottles of wine, but have a corking fee of $5 for any size bottle. Not to be missed!