Uptown Food & Wine
By Ron James
All the news fit to eat (and drink.)
The Uptown restaurant scene never ceases to amaze me. You would think that in a shaky recovery, folks would be a bit gun-shy about opening a new business or expanding their operations. But dining spots of every stripe are popping up like crazy. Maybe the optimistic entrepreneurs don’t read the news. Good for them.
Here are some recently opened spots you might want to put on your list to try.
Hillcrest Cajun Country
“Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and file’ gumbo
‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayo”
Well, son of a gun, Bravo Network’s “Top Chef” finalist Frankie “The Bull” Terzoli and his partner Stuart Kraemer are bringing the big fun cuisine of the French Quarter to Hillcrest in the form of The Big Easy restaurant. And from my sampling of crab cakes, fried oysters, shrimp and catfish, I can tell you this is going to a very happy place in Uptown.
Terzoli was raised in Uptown and his kids go to local schools. He’s excited about having a restaurant in his own ’hood and feels he’s on top of his game. The menu is extensive with affordable and authentic Creole French food with Caribbean flavors. The Big Easy is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
127 University Ave., Hillcrest
Wine at the park
Wine Steals has opened its fourth location, this time downtown. Founder Ken Mills is proving to be one of San Diego’s most ambitious restaurateurs with his latest edition in East Village. Set in the Park at Petco Park, the gastropub is their most ambitious effort to date. The English pub-styled venue has a full Wine Steals on one side and a craft beer bar on the other. Chef Sean Magee is whipping up gourmet British fare including one of my favorites, shepherd’s pie.
793 and 795 J St., East Village
A bit of El Cajon in Hillcrest
Kip’s Café, an institution for over a half a century in El Cajon, now has a new home in Hillcrest. In 2008, the traditional Chinese restaurant, known for their signature Chinese and Japanese entrées, was forced to close because of a dramatic increase in rent. Looking forward to their famous chicken egg foo yung and hot and sour soup!
3925 4th Ave., Hillcrest
The red and black
Uptown News restaurant critic David Nelson brought a new Italian dining spot, Charisma Cucina Italiana, to my attention. David was most impressed with the food and the service, and when he’s impressed, I always take note. It’s a tiny but very cute place with indoor and outdoor dining.
Marco Miranda told me that his family has been in the restaurant business for many years but he’s never worked for any of them. This is his first effort and by the looks of it he’s on the right track. If you’re an Aztec fan this is your place; almost everything in painted red and black. Look for David’s review in Uptown News soon.
142 W University Ave., Hillcrest
Just desserts – not
When I saw the new Chocolat bistro going into the high-traffic Hillcrest location of a former high-priced gourmet dessert shop, I thought it wasn’t a smart move. It will take more than desserts to pay the rent in that location. But I shouldn’t have worried. Two very savvy entrepreneurs had already figured that out. Kenneth Baumgarten and wife Tammie, along with his partner Alessandro Minutella, who also owns Panevino Osteria, Greystone the Steakhouse and Osetra Watergrill in the Gaslamp, have put together a wide-ranging, affordable menu that caters to upscale Uptown.
The sleek bistro offers 20 different gourmet brick-oven pizzas, a nice selection of Italian paninis and bruschetta, a mozzarella bar, 21 different crepes, salads and a selection of in-house baked cakes, pastries and desserts, including gelato, genuine Italian ice cream.
3896 5th Ave., Hillcrest
Fresh and affordable
A much welcomed addition to the ever-growing 30th Street restaurant row, the North Park Fish Market and Grill bring super-fresh treats from the ocean to Uptown. The ambiance is a bit on the vanilla side, with minimal décor and country music in the background, but the service is very friendly, the food is very fresh and it is well priced.
I tried the fried fish and calamari that came with a mountain of french fries for $7.95. The fish was tasty and well cooked. Fish tacos seemed to be the big seller when I was there. There aren’t too many places you can get tacos and sashimi with country music in the background.
3410 30th St., North Park
You’re smoking what?
As I left the North Park Fish Market and Grill, I did a double take as I walked out the door—right there was another new restaurant I had never seen or heard of before. Had the Smoking Goat opened while I was munching my fish and chips? Well, no, it turns out they have been open for a week or two, but the menu and atmosphere look intriguing.
According to the cook, the food is American with a French twist. The menu is simple but seems to have a little something for everyone, including homemade ravioli, crab cakes, mac and cheese, roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and braised short ribs. No sign of anything goat in the selection. The Smoking Goat is open for breakfast, brunch on Sundays, and lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
3408 30th St. North Park
I’ll have karma on rye
I’ve found a wonderful little deli just across the street from the Uptown News newsroom called The Deli Llama. I love the friendly service and the tasty soups and sandwiches. Formerly Elsa’s Mini Mart and Deli on 5th, the Deli Llama serves up an array of unique and gourmet goodies, including salads, paninis and some addictive little dessert treats.
The eclectic decor is a blend of Victorian, Moroccan and vintage circus, and the theme carries over to the sandwich names, which include the Ringmaster, Fire-Eater, Sword-Swallower, Tightrope Walker, etc. In addition to the great food, the Deli Llama features gourmet food items like salad dressings, dessert sauces, mustards and local wines. It also offers custom gourmet food baskets.
3702 5th Ave., Hillcrest
Another gourmet deli has opened on Park Boulevard. Savory Deli & Market owners Michael Colvin & Julius Arcángel Patam loved to travel through Spain, France and Italy. They’ve turned their passion for the culture into a deli and market with products and dishes from those European countries.
4661 Park Blvd., University Heights
Good times, good cause
Passover comes to one of Uptown’s favorite eateries on Mon., March 29, when Urban Solace, Chef Matt Gordon and proprietor Scott Watkins will present their second annual “Urban Seder.” Jews and gentiles will gather around the table for an authentic Passover dinner and Passover Seder, led by Sam the Cooking Guy (Sam Zien) and restaurant critic Steve Silverman. A portion of the dinner’s proceeds will benefit Jewish Family Service’s “Project SARAH,” supporting survivors of domestic abuse. The price is $90 for adults, including wine, and $75 for children. Call Urban Solace for reservations at 295-6464. Urban Solace is at 30th Street and North Park Way in North Park.
The big switch
On Tues., March 23, staff members at Hillcrest’s Urban Mo’s and Baja Betty’s will once again be switching teams. From 5-11 p.m., customers at both locations can look forward to seeing their favorite hosts, bartenders, servers, and food runners relocate for their evening shifts. Twenty-five percent of the revenue at each restaurant during The Big Switch will be donated to the San Diego LGBT Community Center. Urban Mo’s is at 308 University Ave. Baja Betty’s is at 1421 University Ave.
All in the family
If you missed the fantastic Paso Robles tasting tour a couple of weeks ago, you have another chance to get your trusty palate wine-tuned. A whopping 200 family-owned California wineries will pour their liquid wares Sun., March 14, at Exhibit Hall at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. This is an opportunity to taste and buy small batch, award-winning wines that you will never find in stores.
The wineries will be pouring more than 800 wines. That’s a lot of tasting for a mere $45. I would suggest after you get past the 300th tasting to begin spitting, although, as you know, I never spit – so I’ll just stop at 300. And although this is billed as a “family” tasting, no one under 21 is allowed – including bambinos. The event will be open to qualified members of the wine buying trade from 1-3 p.m. and will be open to both trade and general public from 3-6 p.m. Tickets for the general public are $45 in advance and $55 at the door. Advance tickets and a complete list of wineries are available on www.familywinemakers.org.