Return to Paradise

By Kevin Leap and Steven Persitza
Photo by Sean Capshaw

In purgatory for the past year, a prominent Hillcrest landmark has been reborn. The building that once housed Universal and Dish, a beautiful but short-lived "omni-sexual" nightclub/restaurant on University Avenue at Vermont Street, has been transformed into an extravagant and welcoming restaurant and nightlife venue called Eden.

The venture must be a slice of heaven for chef/owner Scotty Wagner, who has won several "Best Of" awards for being San Diego's top organic caterer, but has, until now, never owned a restaurant. It seems that making the transition could be tough.

"A challenge...maybe," Wagner says, "but I remain entirely confident in my ability to create the ultimate venue and sustain my standards of unequivocal cuisine and service at the restaurant, nightclub and with my catering business."

The guy's got confidence. Plus, it's not like he's abandoning catering altogether. Actually, to the contrary-ChileCo has gone brick and-mortar, taking over the space that was Ciro's Pizza, on the right wing of the Eden building (right wing, in Hillcrest?).

ChileCo Bistro serves global burritos (not sure what a global burrito is, but it sounds like it's worth a shot) and Paninis, and they'll even bring your goodies right out to your car if you text ahead. Gotta love those drive-bys.

Wagner's plan? Run Eden and ChileCo Catering and the Bistro, all at the same time. That's gotta be stressful.

"I'm married to stress," Wagner says. "And, like any marriage, I am numb to my body and mind's qualms of discomfort."

Between Eden and ChileCo Bistro, this new University Avenue food hub will feature breakfast, lunch and dinner. On Monday nights, the whole place goes communal, with long tables stacked with organic fare from the Hillcrest Farmer's Market. Put on something tie-dye and go rub elbows with your neighbors. Hillcrest just got a Kibbutz.

The central patio burns with two fire pits and an area that houses a BBQ grill on big nights. Throw in the weekend Bloody Mary bar and Sunday "Brady Brunch," and you just may break your fun-meter.

For now, only the restaurant side of the business is open. Wagner and Laurent have scheduled the second coming of Eden (the unveiling of the nightclub) for the night before Thanksgiving.

Before Eden's burly gates open for the first time, Chef Scotty Wagner takes a moment for some Q&A.

PacificSD: In your kitchen, is the vibe friendly, or do you rule with an iron spatula and sometimes try to make people cry?

Scotty Wagner: Iron spatula, high on nitrous. Yes, I have brought both tears of fear and joy.

There are lots of great new restaurants opening these days. Why should people eat at yours?

Wagner:

$19 entrees and bitchin' food, sourced from the soul. And whether you're here for our mind-blowing menu or for a night out with the boys, you'll experience Eden in a way that will keep you coming back.

The name "Eden" suggests perfection. Can you really pull that off?

Wagner: Watch me!

Great Scott
A trio of chef Scotty Wagner's Edenic offerings

Jerk on the Bone

Jamaican jerk chicken, pepper-pot caramel, grilled pineapple salsina and nouveau blue potato salad, served with Rasta rings

Curried Blue Potato Samosa

Crisp-n-buttery turnovers with mango pickle and cucumber-yogurt dipping sauce

Ahi-Avo Tartare

Chopped ahi tuna with ponzu (citrus sauce), avocado, dulse (sea lettuce) wonton, sake, creme fraiche and black sesame

Howdy, Partner
Scotty Wagner's business partner at Eden is David Laurent of NightlifeSD. Laurent also co-owns downtown's popular Side Bar, which he operates with RMD Group, the trio that owns FLUXX.

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