A Breath Of Fresh Fare

By Frank Sabatini Jr./ Photos by Kate & Michael Auda (unless noted)

From early spring to present, a healthy crop of new kitchens began blooming for a summer feeding (and drinking) frenzy that takes us from bakery-fresh lobster rolls and coq au vin to boozy punch bowls and wines on tap. Whether the day calls for a stylish new breakfast spot, a neighborhood cheese cave or dinner at a coveted chef ‘s table, the city’s deliciously unstoppable restaurant explosion means that, where there’s a fork in the road in San Diego, there’s something new to taste at every turn.

Harley Gray Kitchen & Bar
(opened late April)
When restaurateur John Ealy took over The Gathering’s Mission Hills address and gave it a much-needed facelift, he carried over some of the “homeruns” from his Harbor Island restaurant, The Boathouse. Those include pan- fried salmon and blackened rib eye. Unique to Harley are stout-braised short ribs, bone-in pork chops and other continental meals that match swimmingly to the booze-spiked punch bowls.
902 W. Washington St., Mission Hills

El Agave
(Second location opened in April)
The tequila inventory at El Agave’s Del Mar Plaza outpost closely matches the vast collection of blancos, reposados and anejos seen at its original Old Town location. Coastal views serve as the backdrop to bottles of every shape, size and color, while luxuriant mole sauces and complex dishes hailing from Mexico’s southern states help soak up the two-ounce pours.
1555 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar

(opened in April)

Situated in a former private residence built by Hollywood producer Jack Skirball in the 1960s, this 3,000-square- foot bayfront restaurant (formerly Baleen) puts chef Amy DiBiase in the driver’s seat. The ensuing culinary ride involves settling comfortably into riveted aviator chairs to savor DiBiase’s California adaptations of Mediterranean- inspired seafood dishes as well as wood-roasted chicken confit and her famous ricotta gnudi (type of gnocchi).
1404 Vacation Rd., Mission Bay

Circa Restaurant
(opened in April)
After working three decades for other kitchens (Delicias, Flagship Cruises, the former Vagabond), chef Mike Almos goes solo with rustic recipes laced with craft beer. Steak and meatloaf are draped in red ale gravy, and bratwurst receives the pale ale jus it deserves. Almos cranks up the cool factor inside his homey dining room with a whole tree serving as the bar top, and a vintage sound system used for spinning vinyl.
2121 Adams Ave., University Heights

Ironside Fish & Oyster
(opened in April)
Ironside’s whole-fish section is a welcome rarity in San Diego, but then again non-conformity was exactly what CH Projects (Craft & Commerce, Neighborhood, El Dorado Cocktail Lounge, Noble Experiment, Underbelly, Soda & Swine, Polite Provisions) had in mind when snagging Michelin- starred Jason McLeod as its top toque. Coming ashore in this transformed Little Italy warehouse are oyster po’ boys and crafty lobster rolls on house-made buns, beer-braised mussels and copious fresh oysters.
1654 India St., Little Italy

Union Kitchen & Tap Gaslamp
(opened in May)
Union Kitchen & Tap’s branching from Encinitas brings original dishes into the Gaslamp, including chia seed-crusted albacore, Duroc pork medallions and Skuna Bay salmon. The new location is also larger, featuring a charcuterie station, a spacious patio and garage doors that draw in the Fifth Avenue bustle as guests imbibe craft beers and inventive cocktails built using fresh herbs, fruits and chili peppers.
333 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp

Richard Walker’s Pancake House
(Second location opened in May)
Mahogany millwork with stained-glass accents lend unexpected élan to this wildly popular breakfast/lunch operation, which spawned an overdue second location in the space formerly occupied by Forever Fondue. The menu duplicates the top movers seen downtown: monstrous apple and Bavarian- style pancakes baked in ovens (no syrup necessary); four-egg omelets and corned beef hash ground in-house (ravenous appetites required).
909 Prospect St., La Jolla

Table 10
(opened in June)

The chef’s table adjacent to the kitchen marks the namesake spot where up to 10 occupants can dine while witnessing dishes like mushroom grits and red-curry halibut in the making. Ample seating extends throughout the remainder of the restaurant, which operated as The Corner before owner Cooper McLaughlin teamed up with chef Jason Gethin (formerly of Union Kitchen & Tap in Encinitas) for a complete redesign.
369 10th Ave., East Village

The Patio on Goldfinch

(opened in June)
The owners of PB’s The Patio on Lamont Street bring to a mini restaurant row in Mission Hills dishes spotlighting sustainable seafood as well as regionally sourced meat and produce. Additional draws include a temperature-controlled cheese cave and living green walls. Libations abound in the form of wines on draft, craft beer and an array of agave spirits. As for non-alcoholic beverages, forget Coke or Pepsi - all of the soft drinks are house-made.
4020 Goldfinch St., Mission Hills

Café Cantata

(opened in June)
After establishing Fig Tree Cafe at three locations within San Diego proper, Johan Engman took inspiration for his newest concept from Johan S. Bach’s “Coffee Cantata,” a composition about a woman addicted to caffeine. The North County café replaces Pannikin Coffee & Tea with an all-day menu featuring egg scrambles, salads, paninis, smoothies and pastries. A large coffee bar provides the jolts with mild-to-bold house blends.
2670 Via de la Valle, Del Mar

Bake Sale Café & Bakery

(opened in June)
Restaurateur Terryl Gavre has risen to the occasion, bringing to East Village a walk-in urban bakery. Daily offerings, which include pies, lemon bars, sticky pecan buns and cookies, will also supply her other nearby operations: Café 222, ACME Southern Kitchen and Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant. The 1,100- square foot bakery obliges with a few indoor/outdoor tables for swooning over the sweet stuff or savoring sandwiches made with fresh-baked breads.
815 F St., East Village

Bijou French Bistro

(opened in June)
Enter through a façade of hand-carved stone to appease those hankerings for pâté de campagne (pork liver) and coq au vin at the new Bijou French Bistro, which replaces Amaya La Jolla. The Parisian-style menu is powered by William Bradley, executive chef at Addison in The Grand Del Mar, and his former sous chef, Shaun Gethin. Hand-painted frescos, wrought-iron chandeliers and a wine cellar are among the Old World trappings that catapult patrons to the land of ragout and soufflés.
1205 Prospect St., La Jolla
Rare Form
(opened in June)
CH Projects’ ninth venture delivers a Jewish-style deli that downtown sorely lacked. Chef Aldo Negrete (of Whisknladle and Jsix) shows off house-cured meats along with stacked Reuben and pastrami sandwiches. The big twist is a dedicated schnapps bar headed by mixologist Anthony Schmidt, who made his mark at other CH hotspots such as Nobel Experiment and El Dorado.
795 J St., East Village

Sonata Bistro and High Note Café

(opened in June)
Symphony Towers receives its first serious breakfast/lunch eatery to the tune of parfaits, rotisserie chicken, wok bowls and more at the ground-floor Sonata Bistro. Twelve floors above is High Note Café, where guests ponder the downtown view over caffeinated drinks and fresh pastries. Both ventures were launched by Giuseppe Ciuffa, an established local caterer who also runs Sculpture Court Café in Balboa Park and Museum Café at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
750 B St., Downtown
Don Chido
(opening early July )

The 4,000-square-foot Fifth Avenue space that was Fred’s Mexican Café has radically transformed into Don Chido, which loosely translates (from Spanish, using a word used chiefly in Mexico) to “Mr. Cool.” The RMD Group (FLUXX, Side Bar, F6ix, Ciro’s Pizzeria & Beerhouse) project is also backed by Ken Lovi of downtown’s Knotty Barrel Gastropub and Chef Antonio Friscia, who uses an authentic Santa Maria grill to fire up smoky meats and seafood that land in tacos, fresh tortillas and home-style entrees.
527 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp

(opened in June)
Craft beer arrives in Mission Beach via a 60-tap system that’s augmented by equally fine noshes such as pork belly corn dogs, pistachio-crusted salmon and steaks topped with bone marrow. Launched by Eat.Drink.Sleep., which operates Tower 23 and JRDN further north on the same boardwalk, Draft pours on the charm with ocean views and a 31-foot-tall LED wall that affords visitors lessons in beer-making.
3105 Ocean Front Walk, Belmont Park

Común Kitchen & Tavern

(opening early July)

Working with partner Shane Brennan of Enlightended Hospitality Group (Stingaree, Searsucker, SUJA Juice and more), chef Chad White launches a “Baja-inspired gastro bar,” as he describes it, where guests can watch him cook from an exhibition kitchen. A see-through walk- in cooler (aka glass-enclosed produce pantry) means there will be no secrets as to the freshness of Común’s ingredients, but what White will serve at his 10-seat chef’s table five nights a week is anyone’s guess. The regular menu spotlights open-faced tortas, fresh tostadas and fire-roasted lamb. In addition to tequila and mescals, there’ll be craft beer on self-serve taps and various wines hailing from Mexico.
935-945 J St., East Village