By David Nelson
Photos by Kate and Michael Auda
If business class tickets to Paris boggle the budget, take a trip to the banks of the Seine by ordering duck confit at La Jolla 's new French restaurant instead. The 17-hour time difference between San Diego and Japan can keep world travelers up at night, so fly across town to Mission Beach 's new Cannonball, which promises world-class sushi without the jetlag. Forget the Danish and coffee - an intercontinental breakfast is the new bill of fare.
The city's sizzlingest new restaurants offer a passport to international flavors, not to mention the comfort of sleeping in your very own bed (turn-down service not included).
Bon voyage and buon appetito!
MEZE GREEK FUSION
Meze co-proprietor Raymond Davoudi accomplished moving this Greek Fusion restaurant from the Gaslamp to East Village simply by crossing Sixth Avenue. The impressive space runs deep into the block, rising a couple of floors to accommodate private parties and overflow from the high-ceilinged, super-charged main dining room. Fun Greek references entertain the eye everywhere, especially the black-and-white "photo" of Medusa, the snake-haired monster who turned men to stone. On a chalkboard, the "Ten Reasons that Greeks Are Better at Life" includes No. 1, "Two words - fried cheese," and No. 6, "We've never let tentacles scare us." A menu rich in mezes, or savory small plates, is supplemented by occasions like Taco Tuesdays, which features tortillas wrapped around falafel and gyros. Belly dancers gyrate Fridays and Saturdays.
Opened in January
345 Sixth Ave., Gaslamp
Whisknladle Hospitality, the plucky group that routinely transforms challenging spaces into destination restaurants (like Del Mar's Prepkitchen and La Jolla's Whisknladle), relies on Beatrice to work wonders at Catania, the vast new upstairs eatery slated for a March 16 opening at the corner of Girard Avenue and Wall Street in downtown La Jolla. Beatrice, a 5,000-pound wood-burning oven, centers a kitchen that turns out a selection of traditional Italian dishes that are otherwise unknown in San Diego. Specialties from Catania, the ancient Greek region of southernmost Italy known for extremely satisfying food, highlight the menu. Inspired by a lengthy Italian road-trip shared by Whisknladle proprietor Arturo Kassel and executive chef/partner Ryan Johnston, Catania overlooks both town and ocean. Chef Vince Schofield, who offers dishes including rabbit alla cacciatora and a salad of oranges, pistachios and olives, says, "Dining at Catania, you can be transported from Venice to Puglia to Sicily. We're drawing inspiration from all regions of Italy, especially the vast coastline."
7863 Girard Ave., Ste. 301, La Jolla
How amped is the cool factor of dining on a rooftop with sweeping ocean views? It's up there, as are diners brushed by breezes atop Cannonball, the soon-to-open Belmont Park mega-eatery that offers three distinct - and highly distinctive - dining experiences. In the modern bar and lounge, the emphasis is on sake, Japanese beers and "beach craft" cocktails meant to complement the menu of small and share plates. Given the communal fire pits, share tables and social layout, executive chef Brad Wise will present what he describes as "Pacific Riminspired" dishes that are very approachable. "I wanted to give people food that sparks conversation," he says, adding that he likes to include "ingredients that are surprising." Such surprise is evidenced by dishes like his takoyaki, tasty octopus "meatballs" with katsuo sauce. Cannonball's glass sushi cube, a truly amazing space, features what Wise says is "only the best fish," presented so it can "speak for itself."
Opening in April
3105 Ocean Front Walk, Mission Beach
LITTLE LION CAFE
Tour the beautiful Belgian coast by driving to Ocean Beach early enough to snag a breakfast, brunch or lunch table at Little Lion. This Sunset Cliffs restaurant-in-miniature is a labor of love presented by the third generation of San Diego's culinary dynasty, the Coulon family, whose former Belgian Lion was an OB landmark. Sisters Anne-Marie, Jacqueline and Dominique Coulon bake sweet and savory Belgian pastries and amazing fruit tarts, pile sandwiches high with fillings that delight Belgian-born grandfather Don (think wild Mexican shrimp with remoulade sauce and capers), and on weekends dazzle with existential eggs Benedict. Best of all are the crisp-but-buttery frites (deep-fried potato slices), a classic staple of Belgian cuisine.
"Since we grew up as Coulons, we've learned all the techniques of Belgian cooking," says cook-in-chief Anne-Marie. "There is a simple elegance that Belgians like, and since we've traveled there, we know the contemporary food trends, too."
Opened in December
1424 Sunset Cliffs Blvd. Ocean Beach
TAPENADE BISTRO DU MARCHE
On July 1, Tapenade proprietors Jean-Michel and Sylvie Diot will introduce San Diego to bistronomie, a contemporary French concept that defines an establishment's cooking as a hybrid of traditional bistro fare and gastronomie, the ultra-refined cuisine served by Michelin star-laden restaurants. The experienced restaurateurs will open a 60-seat eatery on upper Girard Avenue, right where La Jolla's enormously popular Farmers Market draws crowds every Sunday. Tapenade Bistro du Marche is named to reference the market, which Jean-Michel expects to supply much of his produce.
"It will be a typical bistro like in Paris," says Jean-Michel, a chef who was born into the business. "It will be decorated in the Art Deco style of the 1920s and '30s and will have a zinc bar. The menu will be small, but will change every two weeks, following the creativity of chef Christophe Santos." Casual yet chic, as only the French can do.
Moving to new location in July
7612 Fay Ave., La Jolla (current location)
In a sleek Little Italy tower, restaurateurs Luis Pena and Javier Plascencia (the latter superchef 's Misión 19 in Tijuana has an international rep) will open Bracero: Cocina de Raiz in April. Offering another compelling reason to dine out while vacationing at home, the restaurant owes its theme and cuisine to the Mexican farm workers who came to California as part of the Bracero Program, a 1942-1964 conglomeration of laws and diplomatic agreements between the U.S. and Mexico. "[The workers] converted the California fields into the biggest fields on the planet," says Pena. "We are bringing to the table a broader picture of what Mexican food is. I think people will be amazed." The forward-thinking design combines elements that are simultaneously rustic, modern and nostalgic, quite a showcase for Plascencia's menu of contemporary Mexican small and large plates. "Everything will be made from scratch," says chef Plascencia. "That's the way it's supposed to be."
1490 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy