The Flavors of Florent

Words & Photos by Wendy Lemlin

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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

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   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

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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

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

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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

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

By Wendy Lemlin

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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

The Culver Hotel: The Rebirth of an Icon

By Wendy Lemlin

003    Like every fascinating lady, she has a past.  In her youth, she was loved by some of the hottest movie stars of the time. Such legends as Buster Keaton, Clark Gable, Ronald Regan, and even Joan Crawford, Judy Garland and Greta Garbo all sought her out. Many slept in her embrace, or even lived with her for a time. She was Charlie Chaplin’s for a while, who, legend has it, lost her to John Wayne for $1 in a poker game. Her iconic shape, her fun, yet sophisticated personality, her reputation as a gracious hostess, all kept her in high demand. But time marched on and, as so often happens to once-lovely ladies “of a certain age”, fresher faces took her place, until she found herself old, neglected and abandoned. In the 1990s, she briefly rallied, but ultimately failed to completely regain her faded glory.
011That is, until 2007, when hotelier and fashion industry insider Maya Mallick took a liking to her, recognizing her beautiful “bones” and stately potential, and set about to make the Culver Hotel once again the popular beauty she had been. Continue reading

Eating Up the Valle De Guadalupe

Where to Dine in Border Baja’s Hottest  Wine  & Foodie Destination, The Valle De Guadalupe

By Wendy Lemlin

View of the Valle from Malva

View of the Valle from Malva

It’s no longer any secret that there is some fantastic food in Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe.  When I first started visiting this tranquil valley in 2005, there were maybe 2 or 3 “gourmet” restaurants being buzzed about in the SoCal/Baja gastronomic circles. These days, visiting wine tasting aficionados can indulge their tastebuds with memorable fine dining experiences at close to 20 eateries ––although, it’s hard to keep track as there seems always to be a new restaurant opening. And by fine dining, I mean the best of the Valle’s ingredients—organic produce usually grown in onsite gardens, locally made cheeses, fresh caught seafood from Ensenada, meats and poultry raised on small Valle ranches and farms—expertly and creatively prepared, and served, for the most part, in a casual, al fresco ambiance.  While many of the dishes themselves are worthy of the world’s top restaurants, in this slice of Baja Norte we’re not talking white table cloths and fine china, but more earthy surroundings that reflect the culture of the vineyards and the ruggedness of the surrounding topography, and where you feel totally comfortable lingering over your meal for several hours. In fact, be prepared to do so—there’s no such thing as “grabbing a quick bite” here, unless you’re patronizing the new crop of food trucks at such wineries as Adobe Guadalupe and Vena Cava.  I won’t lie—dining in the Valle might seem pricey if you were expecting $1 tacos and beer, but for the most part, I’ve found every culinary experience I’ve had there to provide excellent value for the quality presented.

So, fill your glass with one of the Valle’s excellent wines and pull up a chair at my virtual table. Join me for a mini gastronomic tour to some of the restaurants I recently visited on a three day Valle de Guadalupe getaway! Continue reading

Celebrating Misión 19’s Fifth Anniversary

By Wendy Lemlin

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When Misión 19 opened in 2011, the sophisticated, stylish restaurant was a game changer for the Tijuana dining scene.  The city was just beginning a rebound from some tough years—years when the crossborder tourist stream had slowed to barely a trickle and when even residents were less enthusiastic about going out and socializing at night. Now, five years later, Tijuana is widely acknowledged as a hot culinary destination, and chef/owner Javier Plascencia’s star is shining brighter than ever. Misión 19 has had a lot to do with that. Continue reading