The Flavors of Florent

Words & Photos by Wendy Lemlin

florent ext 2

Like most San Diego locals over 30 years old, I rarely venture into downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter, and, despite the blocks of cheek-to-jowl restaurants, even more rarely do I ever dine there. I’ve always had the impression that, with a few notable exceptions, most of the restaurants serve overpriced, mediocre “tourist” food, or unsophisticated bar bites. On a recent visit, however, I’ve found that Florent Restaurant & Lounge, on the prime corner of 5th and G,  is one of those notable exceptions,

Executive Chef Brad Hightow

Executive Chef Brad Hightow

Executive Chef Brad Hightow has been running the culinary show there for the past 15 months, and his high quality take on New American cuisine is creative and delectable.  Flavors are balanced and complementary, presentations are attractive, and ingredients are sourced from such local standout purveyors as Specialty Produce and Catalina Offshore Products. Continue reading

Birthday Staycation

Words & photos by Wendy Lemlin

Under the therapeutic cascade at Rancho Bernardo Inn

Under the therapeutic cascade at Rancho Bernardo Inn

Sometimes you just need a break.  Not a long vacation, but certainly more of a change of scenery than just hanging out in your own home.  Get away from the kitchen, get away from the computer, and get away from all the little chores around the house that nag to be done when you just want to relax.  I’m talking abdication of all responsibility, here, with a side order of pampering thrown in for good measure.  You don’t even need to go away to get away, distance-wise, to be amazed at how a change of environment makes for a change in temperament. You just need a great staycation. Continue reading

Grill 23 & Bar: An Iconic Steakhouse Not Only For Meat Eaters

By Wendy Lemin

outside

   I don’t eat meat.  My Significant Other doesn’t eat seafood. I’m picky; I like my food locally sourced and artistically presented. S.O. doesn’t care as long as it tastes good and there is enough of it. Deciding on a restaurant at which to dine together can often be a challenge.

But not always.

On a recent trip to Boston, we had the pleasure of dining at Grill 23 & Bar, a Back Bay icon that is still packing them in, winning awards and accolades after 33 years of popularity. A classic steakhouse, which rightly brags about sourcing 100% of its all-natural, humanely raised beef from Brandt Beef in Southern California, Grill 23 also touts sustainably and locally raised produce and dayboat seafood in several menu selections. So, even though I usually tend to avoid meat-centric eateries where it seems that anything else is merely an afterthought, the seafood choices swimming through the meaty menu were sufficient to entice me. Continue reading

Baja Bash to Benefit WILDCOAST

by Wendy Lemlin

baja bash

Having fun and conserving our coastlines on both sides of the border..

These days, everyone loves Baja, especially her beaches and coastal areas.  In fact, people love Baja so much, that much of her once mostly-deserted 1900 miles of coastlines have fallen under targeted assault from increased development and industrial growth. Coral reefs and mangrove forests teeming with fish and sealife, pristine beaches where endangered sea turtles nest, and bays that are the birthing areas for gentle California grey whales—all are in danger of disappearing, and the marine species and other fauna that depend on these fragile ecosystems are also in peril.

Luckily, 16 years ago WILDCOAST (aka COSTASALVAJE in Spanish) began working to watchdog and protect the marine ecosystems and wildlife on Baja’s coasts, as well as coastal areas in San Diego and in other Mexican and Latin American regions. Continue reading

Baja Exchange: A Crossborder Celebration of Baja Med Cuisine and Wines in San Diego

By Wendy Lemlin

Chef/owner Miguel Angel Guerrero

Chef Miguel Angel Guerrero

Fifteen years ago, Chef Miguel Angel Guerrero opened La Querencia in Tijuana, and BAJA MED cuisine was born. These days, the term “Baja Med” is bandied about constantly in foodie circles, but, what many people don’t know is that the term originated with Guerrero and is now copyrighted in the names of his restaurants. “Baja Med is what this region is all about”, he defines. “It melds together the street food from Tijuana, the seafood that fills the market stalls in Ensenada, Asian influences from Mexicali, and the Mediterranean-type ingredients, such as olive oils, wines, cheeses, meats and produce grown and produced locally, from the coast to the Valle de Guadalupe.” Continue reading

Mmmm—That’s Italian! Part 3: Chef Profile— Mario Cassineri

By Wendy Lemlin

Chef Mario Cassineri in the wine cellar at BiCE San Diego

Chef Mario Cassineri in the wine cellar at BiCE San Diego

“Here, try this.  I’m thinking of adding it to the menu; let me know what you think,” BiCE Ristorante San Diego’s executive chef Mario Cassineri invites, as he places a beautiful dish in front of me. Before I even taste it, I know what I will think.  I will love it, because I’ve IMG_9271never tasted anything from Chef Mario that I haven’t loved. And this creation—beet greens ravioli, the pasta tinted pink by the beet purée added to the dough, is no exception. Bathed in a sauce of  horseradish and shrimp reduction with a touch of brandy, and topped with succulent pieces of prized Baja shrimp, asparagus with just the right amount of crunch, and baby spinach leaves, the dish is satisfyingly rich, yet delicate, all at the same time.  It is this perfect balance of textures and flavors that, to me, has always been a hallmark of Cassineri’s cooking. Continue reading

Art Alive Blooms at the San Diego Museum of Art

By Wendy Lemlin

IMG_0127

Floral arrangements as art, art as floral arrangements—the annual Art Alive show opened today at the San Diego Museum of Art. Now in it’s 35th year, the popular 3 day show features more than 100 floral interpretations of well-known works from the Museum’s permanent collection. Continue reading

La Bonne Table: A French Kiss for Hillcrest

By Wendy Lemlin

exterior

      “French Bistro”. Those two words never fail to set my tastebuds on happy alert, and so, when I recently discovered La Bonne Table on the corner of Pennsylvania and Fifth Avenues in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood, it was all I could do not to shout “ooh la la!” Continue reading

Mmm! That’s Italian!! Part 2: Civico 1845

By Wendy Lemlin

pic-ourstory-new

There are those who might think that San Diego’s Little Italy didn’t need another Italian restaurant. Sure, the city’s hottest dining neighborhood has seen an influx over the past couple of years of trendy, non-Italian eateries, however, “Italian” restaurants and pizza purveyors still far outnumber any other types of cuisine presented in those heavily-trafficked few blocks. But, anyone who thinks another Italian restaurant would have been superfluous there, obviously hasn’t dined at Civico 1845. Continue reading

Mmmm, That’s Italian! Part 1: Bottega Americano

By Wendy Lemlin

   It seems I’ve been craving Italian cuisine lately. There’s something about spring that has me jonesing for the rich green taste of pesto, fresh tomato sauces with their acid/sweet balance, silky homemade pastas, and local seafood and produce kissed by olive oil and wine. The redolence of garlic, the interplay of herbs like oregano, rosemary, and basil, and oh, the cheeses!

So, with my palate salivating at just the thought of all that deliciousness, I have sacrificed my waistline to embark on a tour of some of my favorite Italian restaurants, and share my experiences.  This is the first in a series of articles; each one will showcase a different restaurant, or chef, or particular dish.

Buon appetito!

BA IMG_9157

Thomas Schoos designed interior

Bottega Americano

This is not your quaint, classic checkered-tablecloth Italian bistro.  Step through the doors of this buzzing East Village restaurant/market/ and café, and the Thomas Schoos designed interior is modern and chic, but at the same time organically comforting. There are seating options for every type of diner. Want an intimate, tucked-away table?

Chef Andrea creating a pizza masterpiece.

Chef Andrea creating a pizza masterpiece.

Got it!  Prefer to dine with a group in the middle of all the action?  Got that, too.  Love watching the activity in the open kitchen or talking to pizza chef Andrea Mancinelli as he prepares his creations for the unique, double sided brick oven? Well then, you have a choice of sitting at five different interactive food bars, and being thoroughly entertained as you dine. The crowd is comfortably chic, too, but there is nothing pretentious or off-putting about the atmosphere.  Diners are seen sporting anything from jeans to dressed-up-for-an-evening-out attire. In fact, the convivial ambience and energy of Bottega Americano is one of its best features. Continue reading