San Diego Restaurant Week 2009
Published Thursday, 08-Jan-2009 in issue 1098
The premiere San Diego dining experience returns this January with San Diego Restaurant Week. Now in its fifth year as San Diego County’s largest and most successful dining event, San Diego Restaurant Week is designed to thank the people of San Diego for their patronage of local restaurants, and to spotlight San Diego as a premiere dining destination. From Sunday, Jan. 11 through Friday, Jan. 16, culinary enthusiasts can experience three-course, prix fixe menus from more than 150 participating restaurants throughout San Diego County for $20, $30 or $40 per person.
A spectacular exhibition of San Diego’s finest culinary talents, Restaurant Week 2009 will once again illustrate why the city’s dining scene is rapidly becoming one of the nation’s hottest and most talked about. Restaurant Week will feature a vast array of options from established favorites as well as many new restaurants that have opened their doors during the past year. Now is your chance to discover all new restaurants and enjoy all your favorites at a discounted price!
Uptown San Diego is known for its array of delectable dining destinations, with dozens of restaurants participating in the event this year. Ranging from The Sage Café to Kous Kous Moroccan Bistro and everything in between, this year’s participants are offering new flavors, creative cuisine, and some of the hottest venues.
860 W. Washington St.
In their first year as participants in San Diego’s most talked about culinary event, the owner and staff are offering more than just wine. Described as innovative Italian with a Napa ambiance, Olivetto Wine Bar offers a quality menu with neighborhood prices.
The most recent venture of the owners of Aqua Blu and Bella Luna, the Mission Hills cafe serves Italian fare and wine in a cozy neighborhood setting. The interiors are modest, featuring painted concrete floors and dark wood paneling. Accent colors of chocolate brown and mustard yellow are tied together with a brick accent wall.
Restaurant Week allows Olivetto to reach people beyond their neighborhood, and get a chance to shoe new patrons their great menu and spectacular vino selection.
The menu is fantastic, including some of the best renditions of traditional Italian flair with a California twist. The Tonno al Erbe is an Asian-inspired treat, featuring seven spice rubbed sesame seared tuna, wasabi whipped potato, and a soy glaze. Traditionalists will love the Pollo Fiorentina, a juicy chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto, mozzarella, spinach, wild mushroom sauce. Or, try the Ravioli de Pere, Olivetto’s house made ravioli filled with fresh pears, mascarpone cream sauce and caramelized walnuts.
Italian reds are the cornerstone of the restaurant’s wine list, though some excellent California wines also share the list. Haven’t taken that trip to Napa yet? Feel free to ask the friendly wait staff about particular wines, pairings, and recommendations.
835 Fourth Ave.
Located across the street from the picturesque Balboa Theater, Opera Café serves up Tuscan-style Italian cuisine with flair.
Opera Café is run by Patricia Branchi and Roberto Bernardoni. Ask Roberto to describe himself and the first word out of his mouth will be, “a Florentine.” The second will undoubtedly be, “Chef.” The prominent Florentine chef and food enthusiast made a name for himself in Italy before coming to California in 1991. “I may be living in California now,” ha said, “but it’s what I learned to eat and cook with my grandmother Alba that really defines who I am.” Roberto credits his grandmother with having taught him the mastery of the art of cooking, and he says that by watching her that he learned the secrets to making excellent food.
What makes this restaurant unique is that the owners and chefs were born in and operated restaurants in Italy – they bring years of expertise and perfecting Italian cooking to the newly-opened Opera Café.
And the food is excellent! Of the Florentine style with simple, genuine, and good-quality ingredients, the menu is diverse yet traditional. Try the Il Grande Cappero, a delicate salmon fillet with peppercorns, lampedusa capers, and a light lemon sauce. The Opera Café salad is to die for, and is loaded with shrimp, grilled red and yellow bell peppers, watercress, avocado, and a citrus dressing. The Fettuccine al Pesto is amazing and flavorful, with garlic, basil, walnut, and heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil.
3940 Fourth Ave.
Kous Kous offers a fusion between a beautifully-decorated Moorish house, in a soft, sexy and hip vibe. There certainly are not many Moroccoan restaurants in San Diego, let alone in the county. The cuisine at Kous Kous is sophisticated and consuming – only suitably tackled by their executive chef and owner Moumen Nouri was born and raised in morocco, with a culinary degree from his hometown of Marrakech. “I personally don’t know many places where you can listen to a romantic tune of Concha Buika from Spain, drink a fantastic Chalone Pinot Noir from Monterey (Calif.), enjoy a delicious lamb shank Tagine… surrounded by colorful Moroccoan lanterns,” said Nouri.
He also brought with him an idea of how food should be—slow-cooked and filled with flavor. Menu items include marinated chicken, beef and lamb dishes served with couscous and garnished with honey caramelized raisins. Many include “Ras el hanout,” a blend of more than 20 spices.
The tapas menu is enticing, featuring dishes like Spinach Khoubbiza (spinach wilted in a garlic, cumin, black olives, and lemon preserves blend) or the B’stila Roll (baked stuffed phylo with herbed saffron chicken, orange blossom water, and honey cinnamon almonds).
Main dishes are equally flavorful and intriguing, featuring dishes like Marrakesh Lamb Tajina (10-hour slow braised lamb with saffron, cumin, garlic, and lemon preserves), Veggie Berber Tagine (slow roasted seasonal vegetables in a tomato paprika and ginger marmalade, or the Ground Beef Stuffed Tomato and Bell Pepper Tagine (ground beef, sweet corn, rice, and green beans, roasted in a Moroccan tomato sauce). All main courses come with a choice of whole wheat cous cous, garnished with a mélange of honey caramelized raisins and garbanzo beans, or fresh herbs and ginger garlic mashed potatoes.
4055 Adams Ave.
A sophisticated Uptown hotspot, the Kensington Grill once again makes the GLT’s list of favorite Restaurant Week participants. Kensington locals adore this hip neighborhood eatery and frequent the warm atmosphere for rustic comfort food with an upscale flair. Chef Hanis Cavin and owner Tracy Borkum offer a distinct menu of global fusion flavor.
The typical clientele is a mixture of neighborhood patrons, long-time regulars, and a handful of new faces every night; the style is rustic Californian with elements of global interest. “The frequency of familiar faces allows us to get to know our guests on a personal level,” said Sara Stroud, the General Manager of Kensington Grill. “We are able to remember their favorite tables, their favorite items, what type of wine they prefer. However, it is always exciting for our staff to introduce new guests to our menu and to see their reaction to the experience.”
Try such popular items as the duck spring roll and house made spring lamb sausage for appetizers, followed by seafood saffron pappardelle for the main dish – shell fish, sea bass, salmon, heirloom tomato, and herb butter. A personal favorite is the horseradish-crusted sea bass, served with mashed potatoes and drizzled with chive oil. The macaroni and cheese is made with truffle oil (an Uptown spin on a classic favorite), and the goat cheese and caramelized onion tart is to die for.
Kensington Grill offers a brunch and dinner menu, happy hour discounts, every day specials such as Wine Wednesday and Finale Friday, early bird offers, and prix fixe menu options for special occasions.
880 Harbor Island Drive
Situated on the eastern tip of Harbor Island and just across the bay from San Diego’s business district, Island prime offers a stunning view of the San Diego skyline and San Diego Bay. The restaurant actually extends out over the bay, giving diners the illusion of being calmly adrift, particularly during the changing of the tides.
The tasty bistro-style menu offers a casual yet upscale and well-manicured atmosphere for patrons. The wine list is spectacular, as Manager Maurice DiMarino has developed a refined taste for great vintages of domestic and international origin.
For starters, try the heavenly Lobster Bisque, Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes, Point Reyes Blue Cheese Tart, or the Baby Beet Salad. For a real treat, try the Hazelnut Crusted Diver Scallops as an entrée, complemented with goat cheese and elephant garlic risotto cakes, frangelico cream, and grilled asparagus. The Colorado Lamb Rack is excellent, featuring mascarpone whipped yukon potatoes, wilted baby argula, and minted gastrique.
Island Prime is also a favorite stop for the cocktailing crowd! Try the Ricky Ricardo (mango mojito Cruzan mango rum, mint leaves, lime juice, soda water), Skyline Martini (Stoli raspberry vodka, Chambord, champagne float garnished with fresh berries), or the Bootlegger (Captain Morgan’s spiced rum, muddled cucumber and fresh honeyed-lemon).