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2017’s top San Diego dining stories

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Born & Raised’s classic Manhattan, crafted tableside, is one of the many reasons to visit this stunning, $6.5 million Restaurant of the Year.

It’s been a year of delicious highs and disappointing lows. Here’s a taste of the 2017 dining year in review.

Restaurant of the Year

The most anticipated opening of the year lived up to the hype. Little Italy’s Born & Raised is a stunning $6.5 million fine-dining showpiece that has raised the restaurant bar for whomever dares to debut in its wake. With tuxedoed servers, tableside service, elevated steakhouse fare and to-die-for décor, Born & Raised is a tour de force for the creative trio who toiled to bring it to life. Colossal kudos to co-owner Arsalun Tafazoli, executive chef Jason McLeod and designer Paul Basile. — Michele Parente

SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 4, 2017 - Lesley and David Cohn, founders of the Cohn Restaurant Group, are open
Lesley and David Cohn, at their non-profit taco shop Libertad. The concept raised the couple's charitable giving bar even higher.

Tacos for Good

Another year, another 6,000 new restaurants from the Cohn Restaurant Group. Kidding, just a handful. But one in particular underscored how deeply woven David and Leslie Cohn are in the fabric of San Diego’s community spirit. Libertad, a non-profit taqueria in Hillcrest, put the Cohns’ already sky-high philanthropic giving — estimated to be $250,000 annually to about 300 local charities — on a new plane. — Parente

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French master chef Patrick Ponsaty is now chef de cuisine at the Hotel Del Coronado's signature restaurant, 1500 Ocean.

Ponsaty moves on

In August, the year-old Ponsaty’s restaurant closed in Rancho Santa Fe. Grand Restaurant Group named the fine-dining dinnerhouse for French master chef Patrick Ponsaty, who’s been cooking at kitchens around San Diego for decades. Declining sales and a dispute over ingredient sourcing led to Ponsaty’s ouster. He’s now chef de cuisine at the Hotel Del Coronado’s 1500 Ocean. And the former Ponsaty’s space is now Nick & G’s, a moderately priced Italian restaurant. Meanwhile just a few miles to the west, Belgian chef Pascal Lorange’s eponymous 1-year-old restaurant, Crudo by Pascal Lorange, quietly closed its doors in early December. — Pam Kragen

Baja Chef Javier Plascencia. Courtesy photo
The closing of Baracero and chef Javier Plascencia's failed foray into Little Italy was one of the year's lowlights.

Bracero implodes

Javier Plascencia’s high-profile foray into Little Italy turned into a newsworthy imbroglio in January when the Baja superstar chef split with partner — and brother-in-law — in a dust-up that a lawyer might euphemistically call “creative differences.” The changes didn’t end there. The striking two-story space got rebranded as the more casual Romesco in June, then new owners launched it as King and Queen Cantina in October. — Parente

Davin Waite
Chef Davin Waite of Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub in Oceanside.

Oceanside’s culinary revitalization

After decades of being known for its rowdy bars and taco shops, this city is now one of North County’s hottest dining destinations. More than a dozen farm-to-table and fine-dining restaurants as well as craft breweries and tasting rooms have popped up along Coast Highway over the past eight years. The place to be? Inventive sushi chef Davin Waite’s Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub. — Kragen

ESCONDIDO, February 1, 2017 | Bob and Kate Carpenter in their small breakfast and lunch cafe called
Bob and Kate Carpenter in their Sunny Side Kitchen cafe, which was ranked #51 on Yelp's "Top 100 places to eat in the U.S." list this past year.

Escondido cafe makes it big

In January, downtown Escondido’s family-run cafe Sunny Side Kitchen was ranked by Yelp among the “top 100 places to eat in the U.S.” The 3-year-old breakfast/lunch cafe owned by Bob and Kathy Carpenter was ranked No. 51, based on number of five-star reviews from visitors. The Carpenters credit their menu — everything’s made in-house — for their customers’ high rankings. The only other restaurant in San Diego to make the list is the Classic Malt Shop, a ’50s diner in San Diego’s Midway district that ranked No. 100. — Kragen

Park 101 - Carlsbad
The central courtyard at Park 101, a four-in-one dining and drinking destination that opened July 4 in Carlsbad Village.

4-in-1 dining destinations debut

This year, two food hall-style multi-venue destinations opened in coastal North County. Park 101 in Carlsbad is an indoor/outdoor two-story venue with sandwich and barbecue eateries, a beer bar and a wine bar. Open House Food + Drink in Encinitas has breakfast, Asian and beach fare eateries and a weekend pop-up tequila and raw bar. In 2018, the Whisknladle restaurant company is planning a similar multivenue dining concept in Sorrento Valley. — Kragen

Pisco Rotisserie & Cevicheria at Liberty Station in Point Loma, Martini de Tigre Ceviche.
The Martini de Tigre Ceviche at Pisco captures the fresh and vibrant hallmarks of Peruvian cuisine in a glass.

A cuisine whisperer strikes again

Restaurateur Sami Ladeki knew San Diego was a wood-fired pizza kinda town years before the region itself knew it. So it’s only fitting that Ladeki would import one of the hippest cuisines on the planet here with the stellar Pisco Rotisserie & Cevicheria, at Liberty Station. As one of my dining companions said so fittingly after savoring Peruvian celebrity chef Emmanuel Piqueras’ flavor-packed Asian-Latin dishes: “I’ve never had food that tasted like this before in San Diego.” — Parente

SAN DIEGO, CA May 1st, 2017 | A view from the patio area at Red O restaurant in UTC area on Monday
A view from the patio area at newly opened Red O restaurant in UTC area of San Diego.

Mexican goes exclusivo

There was a time when upscale Mexican food was an oxymoron but 2017 said adios to that, with the opening of the Rick Bayless-adjacent Red O in the UTC area, Pueblo in Pacific Beach and Curadero in downtown San Diego. All three proved authenticity doesn’t always have to come in the form of a food truck fish taco. With glamorous dining rooms, craft agave-based cocktails, stripped-down coastal Baja and regional cuisine this trifecta served up this border area’s next gen of Mexican food. — Parente

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Bice Ristorante, an elegant Italian eatery in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, closed in August.

Ciao, Bice

Restaurant owners are never shy about lamenting how rising labor costs are making their already-slim profit margins even slimmer. But we can’t recall another case in the county where they were blamed, in part, for an eatery’s demise. In announcing the shuttering of downtown San Diego’s elegant Bice in August, partner and executive chef Mario Cassineri did just that. “Unfortunately, fine dining does not have the draw it once had,” Cassineri said in a statement. “This reality, combined with unforgiving leases and the rising cost of labor, brought us to a very difficult decision.” — Parente

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Monzu Fresh Pasta will open in the East Village next spring.

What we’re most looking forward to in 2018?

Monzu Fresh Pasta, East Village

After a day spent making pasta at a cooking school in Florence this year, I have a new appreciation for this simple but endlessly versatile food. So I’m excited about Monzu. In March, slow food enthusiasts Aldo de Dominicis Rotondi and Serena Romano will open this affordable Italian pastaria, serving fresh, handmade pastas and authentic regional sauces from Sicily, Campania, Puglia and more. 455 10th Ave., East Village. monzufreshpasta.com — Kragen

Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins
Chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins, now competing on Bravo's "Top Chef," will be cooking at El Jardin restaurant in Liberty Station in 2018.

El Jardín, Liberty Station

Bracero may be gone, but its former chef de cuisine Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins is still cooking with fire. Catch her in this season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” as she brings her sassy brand of modern regional cooking to Colorado. Your appetite will be primed for her next starring role — helming the sophisticated spot El Jardín, at Liberty Station, scheduled to open in early 2018. The renderings of this upscale restaurant show an expansive dining room, a stylish patio and lots of tequila and mezcal options. 2865 Sims Road, Liberty Station, Point Loma. eljardinrestaurantbar.com — Parente

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A rendering shows the dining room of El Jardín at Liberty Station.

michele.parente@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @sdeditgirl