San Diego Dining – “My Top 8”

From hauté French cuisine at The Marine Room to imaginative rustic Italian fare at Cucina Urbana to savory dishes inspired by the French countryside at Bleu Boheme and The Smoking Goat, to the wickedly delicious fish tacos served up at Mitch’s Seafood and El Pescador … and more, these eight San Diego dining spots leave patrons with epicurean memories not soon to be forgotten!

Sidebar: I’ve listed these fantastic restaurants in no particular order … they’re each one of my favorite dining spots for their own individual and unique flavors, atmosphere and commitment to outstanding service. Bon Appetit!

Kensington's Culinary Award Winning Bleu Boheme

Kensington’s Culinary Award Winning Bleu Boheme

Kensington is a vibrant suburban San Diego community boasting well-maintained historic craftsman-style architecture, independent and unique salons/boutiques, and an abundance of fantastic eateries including Fish Public (http://www.fishpublic.com) and Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant (http://poncesrestaurant.com). But without a doubt my “numéro un” Kensington dining spot is Bleu Boheme! This “Boho-meets-French Country Bistro” wows me every time I dine here. Stepping into the front entrance, one is automatically transported to the French countryside. A large bar area greets arriving patrons where GiGi is consciously aware of his frequent customers, and astoundingly remembers the wines and cocktails they prefer. Candles flicker in the dimly yet romantically lit interior where a large chalkboard wall lists daily menus. Dining tables and booths line the aged walls, fill the large dining room and are tucked away in small alcoves. Stage set – now for the menu – Oui! Oui! The Entrecte de Pork prepared with spinach, bacon pommes purée, fig and port wine pan sauce has taken top honors on my list of all-time faves. Famous for their Les Moules Frites (mussels served with a side of french fries), Bleu Boheme routinely offers several variations of the dish and delectable they are! And congrats to Bleu’s chef Ken Irvine, recipient of the 2012 Gold Medallion Award for Restaurateur of the Year. Bleu Boheme is located in historic Kensington at 4090 Adams Avenue (just off freeway 15). Please treat yourself and someone very special to a dining experience that will not soon be forgotten. View their website and make a reservation online at http://bleuboheme.com or call (619) 255-4167.

The Marine Room Restaurant

The Marine Room Restaurant’s Country Meadow Rack of Lamb

Beach communities line coastal San Diego and La Jolla, aptly coined “The Jewel of Sea”, is most definitely a premiere north county destination. Located on the waters edge at La Jolla Shores, The Marine Room Restaurant serves up exquisite French cuisine that leaves my palate singing long after my meal is finished! The Marine Room was recently and very deservedly honored with a prestigious 2013 AAA Four-Diamond Award and receives top billing as San Diego’s Most Romantic Restaurant and Diners Choice Honors year after year. Dimitrios Papadopoulos, Maitre d’ Hotel, is passionately committed to ensuring that guests of the Marine Room Restaurant enjoy the best dining experience possible. Executive Chef Bernard Guillas and Chef de Cuisine Ron Oliver use the freshest ingredients when creating culinary masterpieces such as Rack of Lamb (subtly laced with harmonious flavors of a pistachio crust, purple mustard, pear and served with chestnut spoon bread), Maine Lobster Tail (prepared with almond fennel, asparagus and served with aged Gouda polenta) and Angus Filet Mignon (served with truffle potatoes, a mission fig chutney and Malbec reduction sauce).

The Marine Room’s classic European decor is elegant, romantic and subdued, allowing the focus to be primarily on an extensive wall of windows which frame stunningly picturesque views of La Jolla Shores. Waves here crash so high at times that many of the windows are awash in seawater … a notably spectacular experience! Rest assured, The Marine Room Restaurant leaves guests with memories of a dining experience that lingers long after the evening has passed. Visit the Marine Room’s website (http://www.marineroom.com) for current menus, events and a recipe archive of signature menu items. The Marine Room is located adjacent to the acclaimed La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club at 2000 Spindrift Dr. (858) 644-2351.

Sea & Smoke American Brasserie

Del Mar’s Sea & Smoke American Brasserie

Sea & Smoke American Brasserie is located on Via de la Valle and the I-5 in Del Mar’s trendy, newly renovated Flower Hill Mall. Another fantastic dining spot with a delightfully imaginative menu and ambient surroundings, this upscale brasserie is a sure bet in north county’s competitive restaurant scene. Sea & Smoke’s patio, located just beyond their roomy yet cozy bar/lounge area (showcasing a full-sized print of Johnny Cash), is ideally situated in the courtyard of Flower Hill Mall where patrons can enjoy casual dining under large trees and amidst the bustle of passing shoppers.

Pacific Mussels pairs brilliantly with a richly balanced glass of Chesters Anvil Stagecoach Vineyard Chardonnay

Pacific Mussels pair brilliantly with a glass of Chesters Anvil Chardonnay

Utilizing the freshest responsibly sourced ingredients, Sea & Smoke serves up inventive twists on classic American meat, chicken, fish and vegan dishes. Pacific Mussels are steeped in a garlic, ginger and cumin rouille, seasoned with cilantro and chiles and served with char-grilled bread. The savory Brined Pork Loin is glazed with local peach preserves and garnished with fresno chiles and the wickedly delicious Niman Ranch Burger is garnished with black olive aioli, a smoked onion jam and gruyere cheese, and served with Sea & Smoke’s famed Kennebec fries. Wow! Several months ago, I dined on a scrumptious roasted butternut, kale and quinoa salad tossed with Gorgonzola cheese in a maple-bourbon vinaigrette that I swear I can still taste!

Happily, Sea & Smoke American Brasserie is the newest sibling of two other award winning restaurants. A short drive north to 25 East E Street in Encinitas will drop you at Solace & the Moonlight Lounge, where I recently sampled their version of Pacific Mussels bathed in a smoked tomato butter. Yep – out of this world delicious! And if you’re cruising around North Park near downtown San Diego, Urban Solace at 3823 30th Street offers up a bevy of savory comfort food entrees, namely “Not Your Mama’s Meatloaf”, Lobster Pot Pie and Spinach Salad with poached egg and bacon vinaigrette. YUM!

A list of scheduled events, menus and reservation options for all three restaurants can be found by visiting their website at: http://solacerestaurants.com

The Smoking Goat

The Smoking Goat French Bistro, San Diego

The Smoking Goat located in North Park at 3408 30th Street is perched high atop my “San Diego Top 8” list. Yes indeed, “THE GOAT ROCKS”! The sumptuous French fare served here pairs splendidly with its rustic yet refined French-American interior style. The centerpiece, a large yet unobtrusive Colonial style chandelier, produces a delightfully ambient glow reflecting off deep charcoal, aged brick and wood paneled walls. I am elated that the menu here is fairly limited and changes often, a concept which has clearly empowered the chefs to create dishes deeply layered with imaginative and harmonious seasonal flavors that wow guests over and over. Having enjoyed many of the authentic rustic French dishes at The Smoking Goat, here is my recommendation for a meal that is sure to gratify and satisfy yet the most finicky of patrons: Tartiflette of St. Albray cheese, leeks and potato simmered in white wine and served with warm grilled ciabatta … savory decadence. A Portobella Mushroom Melt with layers of eggplant, fennel, leeks, red quinoa, kale and goat cheese nestled atop an oven dried tomato puree (I can still taste the immense flavors – WOW!) And what better way to wrap up a meal here than the Griddled Banana Bread prepared “Bananas Foster style” and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. For a current menu or reservations, call (619) 955-5295 or visit the Smoking Goat’s website: http://thesmokinggoatrestaurant.com

The Fishery

The Fishery’s duo of Ceviche Tostadas

Pacific Beach is world-famous for beaches, boardwalk and bikinis … but located just a few blocks east of the surf is The Fishery, a wonderfully delicious eatery boasting some of the freshest, sustainably caught seafood in San Diego County. The Fishery’s brunch, lunch and dinner menus offer customers a vast array of delightful seafood dishes and their extensive fish counter purveys freshly caught fish to customers preparing meals at home. Having dined here several times, my favorite entree is the duo of Ceviche tostadas prepared with mouth-watering scallops cooked in citrus flavors of lemon and lime juice. Decadently seasoned and delicious! While the tostadas are not always listed on the ever-changing menu, thankfully the chefs are happy to prepare it for me. The Fishery is located at 5040 Cass St in Pacific Beach, and their phone number is (858) 272-9985. Check out their menu and website at http://thefishery.com

Cucina Urbana

Cucina Urbana’s in-house retail wine shop

The corner of 5th and Laurel in San Diego’s Bankers Hill area is anchored with a fantastic “modern-meets-rustic Italian farmhouse” eatery aptly named Cucina Urbana. Owned by Tracy Borkum’s Urban Kitchen Group (UKG), this award-winning restaurant is captivating from the moment patrons arrive at its inviting entrance. Sustainable products such as reclaimed wood, antique iron shoe forms and a multitude of other found objects are aesthetically placed along stairs leading to the reception area and throughout the open-design restaurant. Community tables, a sizable bar serving craft cocktails and an adjacent wood-fired pizza counter line the long wall leading to an in-house retail wine shop and dining alcove. A brilliant wall decoupaged with old Italian movie posters and leading to restrooms located behind the bar area is an imaginative focal point. The enormous dining area is ingeniously designed with a massive, yet visually interesting room divider doubling as storage for drinkware, tableware and other busing items. In summary, ambiance abounds at Cucina Urbana!
Cucina Urbana

Porcetta & Brie Pane at Cucina Urbana

… as do the flavors infused into diverse rustic Italian dishes created here. Vasi (vessels) filled with a variety of tapenades and served with tuscan toast are a perfect start. The creamy polenta and “chef’s ragu of the day” is a splendid interpretation of “comfort food”; imaginative salads and pizzas (the pear & gorgonzola pizza is always a winner!) are created from the freshest sourced ingredients available. Pané and Piatti such as the Porchetta and Brie Panini infused with rocket, truffle oil and wildflower honey, served with truffle fries or fresh green salad, and the brick oven roasted fresh fish served with saffron couscous and a pine nut, currant, caper and caramelized leek vinaigrette are creations packed with so many layers of incredible flavors lingering on my palate long after I’ve departed the restaurant.

Borkum and her team at Urban Kitchen Group offer daily specials from 5pm-6pm, Happy Hour from 5pm-7pm every day of the week (except Friday when the party begins at 3pm … YIPPEE!) and keep meals price-conscious, making Cucina Urbana and their other restaurants even more appealing. Cucina Urbana’s Monthly Wine Event pairs hors d’oeuvres with wines from their retail wine shop with proceeds going to select charitable organizations.

To peruse Cucina Urbana’s enticing lunch and dinner menus, make a reservation or check out UKG’s other locations (Cucina Enoteca located in the Irvine Spectrum and in Del Mar’s Flower Hill Mall and Fish Public, located just off Freeway 15 in Kensington), visit their website at http://cucinnaurbana.com. Telephone: (619) 239-2222

El Pescador Fish Market

El Pescador’s fresh fish counter is loaded with local frutti di mare

The village of La Jolla boasts numerous delicious casual eateries including a locals “foodie joint” amusingly named The Promiscuous Fork located at 6984 La Jolla Blvd. (http://www.thepromiscuousfork.com), Puesto Mexican Street Food (http://eatpuesto.com) and Brockton Villa Restaurant, a historic 1894 home overlooking the world-famous La Jolla Cove. (http://brocktonvilla.com). But my top casual lunch spot is El Pescador Fish Market & Restaurant located at 627 Pearl St. In 1974, 19-year old surfer Jeff Norris and his 16-year old pal Jim Mahoney fashioned a display case filled with fresh local fish and began selling it to north county residents. Business thrived but customers craved freshly-prepared seafood dishes, so the boys delivered! El Pescador offers up a tasty menu of fresh sustainably caught seafood entrees and a fresh fish counter that would impress the fussiest of seafood lovers. (By the way, did I say the food is fresh here?) El Pescador consistently turns out mouthwatering char-grilled seafood entrees, fish tacos, sandwiches and heaping salads. The clam chowder is delectably rich and flavorful, cioppino is brimming with delicious seafood in a light tomato broth, and the Hamachi plate of raw sustainably caught local fish is so mouthwatering and tasty, there is no need for the usual accoutrements of wasabi and soy sauce. Lunchtime typically causes a line of hungry locals that extends onto the sidewalk, but hang tight folks … El Pescador has secured a much roomier spot literally across the street and is currently transforming it into their new abode! In the meantime, visit them at 627 Pearl St., La Jolla. (858) 456-2526. (http://elpescador.com)

San Diego Skyline

A view of San Diego Bay and the city skyline from Point Loma

Suitably located in Point Loma on San Diego Bay at 1403 Scott Street, Mitch’s Seafood consistently serves the tastiest fish tacos in town! With an ever-changing menu based on their commitment to using uber-fresh sustainably sourced seafood from their own catch or that of local fishermen they know and respect, Mitch’s turns out entrees packed with natural flavor and appropriately seasoned for maximum taste. I simply cannot resist ordering the Mexican Shrimp Taco every time I visit Mitch’s … it’s just too yummy to pass up. That being said, I am always game for the green salad topped with a perfectly seasoned piece of fresh yellowtail, grouper or halibut, or a steamy bowl of fisherman’s stew. Last summer I brought my cousin Sharon to Mitch’s for a casual lunch and amazing views of the Bay. Being the “clam chowder connoisseur” she is (having sampled it from San Francisco Bay to Seattle and beyond), she is convinced Mitch’s produces the best chowder she’s ever tasted! The daily lunch line trails out the door and down the sidewalk, but rest assured it moves quickly. Waiting patrons can peruse the interior walls which are covered with time-tested photos of local sport fishermen proudly displaying their sizeable catch. And those who crave their lunch with a view can grab a seat along the outside balcony for a glimpse of San Diego’s sport fishing fleet with prime views of the spectacular skyline here in America’s finest city and the peaks of east county on the horizon. For a current menu, visit Mitch’s website at http://mitchsseafoodcom

My “Top 8” is but a sampling of the innumerable San Diego restaurants serving incredibly innovative and delicious food; it is based on my dining experiences to date. Rest assured I am continuing my exploration of the many splendid dining locales here in America’s Finest City, and invite my “foodie followers” to stay tuned for more reviews. Next in line: Brooklyn Girl Eatery in Mission Hills, Carnitas Snack Shack (North Park’s “Pork Rules” landmark) and Cafe Secret in Del Mar for their famed Peruvian ceviche … OH MY!

I’d love your feedback; if you have a treasured San Diego County Restaurant (perhaps two or three of them), please use the contact form below to send me your list and comments.

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