Civico 1845: Collaboration Italian Style

By Wendy Lemlin

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   With its authentic food and outstanding vegan menu, Civico 1845 is one of my favorite Italian restaurants in San Diego, and it looks like it is going to become even better. Beginning this month, the Civico team is collaborating with chefs Antonio and Luca Abbruzzino, a Michelin rated father/son pair from Calabria, Italy, to highlight genuine southern Italian ingredients in the restaurant’s dishes. Continue reading

Farm to Fork Week

by Wendy Lemlin

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   Diners, start your appetite engines! The race to experience local and sustainable restaurant dining is approaching the starting gate.

On January 14, the inaugural San Diego Farm to Fork Week kicks off, aimed at introducing the public to a community of small independent farm to table restaurants, as well as the local—key word, here— family farmers, producers, and purveyors who provide the high quality ingredients used by these restaurants.   San Diego Farm to Fork Week takes a page from San Diego Restaurant Week, with which it runs concurrently, but gives participating kitchens more autonomy in what they present and how it is priced. Each restaurant is free to determine its own dining discounts or prix fixe menu. But more importantly, Farm to Fork Week focuses on the chefs’ sourcing of ingredients from local farmers they know and trust, as well as verifying that participating chefs and restaurants are in fact buying from the local producers they claim to be. So when someone chooses to dine at a Farm to Fork Week partner restaurant, they know that they’re keeping their food dollars in San Diego, supporting farm families and their workers and reducing their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by lowering the number of miles food travels to the plate.

The week long event was founded by Trish Wattlington, owner of The Red Door in Mission Hills, as not only a celebration of the region’s outstanding farms, chefs and dining destinations, but as a chance for diners to try new restaurants at affordable prices. When asked about any conflict with San Diego Restaurant Week, organizer Watlington emphasizes that Farm to fork Week was conceived with a different purpose. “Some of us have participated in San Diego Restaurant Week in the past, and some of us are still participating this year.  But, for most of us, the cost of Restaurant Week is just too high, while at the same time, the pressure to lower our prices to compete that week is strong, and we operate at such tight margins, that for may of us, it is untenable. We joined together to find a way to promote what WE do – support and showcase local farms, at a time when we most need to do it.  And, as planning has progressed we’ve all come to the realization that Farm to Fork week actually has amazing possibilities.”

The long term plan for Farm to Fork Week is to work with local sponsors to eventually enlarge the event to include such components as dinners, tours, events, lectures and panel discussions, and to verify that participating restaurants are buying from local farmers. A directory of locally sustainable restaurants, farmers and producers is in the works, too.

A list of participating restaurants and producers, as well as all detailed info and menus can be found here

Farm to Fork Week Events:

January 14th – Kickoff Hog Roast at BIGA San Diego

January 15-22 – Dining Discounts in Participating Restaurants

January 21st – Wine Tasting and Book Signing at BAR by Red Door

January 22nd – Farmers, Friends and Fishermen Collaboration with Chef Miguel Valdez at Red Door and Chef Coral Fodor Strong from Garden Kitchen.

All week – Partner Farm and Restaurant Tours with Epicurean San Diego

Farm to Fork Week Supporters:

Slow Food Urban San Diego

San Diego Food System Alliance

The Berry Good Food Foundation

“Raw” Pleasure: Crudo by Pascal Lorange

by Wendy Lemlin

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Splashes of bright color enliven the white interior of Crudo by Pascal Lorange.

In Italy and Spain, “crudo” means raw, and, while several of the dishes served at Crudo by Pascal Lorange are centered around raw fish or beef, the name also accurately implies the light touch and fresh ingredients Chef Lorange uses in preparing his culinary creations.  You could call his style “Mediterrasian”, rooted in Mediterranean cuisine, but expressing itself with an Asian/Japanese accent. Or, in Lorange’s own words, “I cook what I love to eat. I am trying to bring something fresh to San Diego—Crudo is about my passion for the traditional cuisine from the Mediterranean coast, executed with Japanese-inspired fusions. I love authentic, yet delightful ingredients, with simple presentations.”

Chef/owner Pascal Lorange

Chef/owner Pascal Lorange

Lorange opened Crudo last summer in Carmel Valley’s The Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch complex. Born and raised in Belgium, the third-generation chef launched his culinary career in the kitchens of some of Europe’s most distinguished Michelin-star restaurants. He traveled the world as personal chef for singer Julio Iglesias, cooking for celebrities and luminaries, and became further known during his 10 year tenure with Fig & Olive Restaurants, which he helped create. He and his French-born wife, Sylvie Jourdan, designed Crudo’s sophisticated, contemporary interior. Sleekly white with vibrant splashes of color—think of a wall p1020335arranged with numerous small shelves, each one holding a perfect, deep red pomegranate or bright orange mini pumpkin— the decor successfully echoes the style of the menu offerings: serious, flavorful food that keeps it light and engaging. And, by light I mean, as in Asian food, there is no cream or butter in anything except the desserts! A meal at Crudo leaves you feeling comfortably satisfied, but not food coma bound. Most of the offerings are gluten-free, and there are sufficient choices for vegans and vegetarians. There’s nothing pretentious here, in either ambience or culinary experience, just high quality food, artfully presented. Continue reading

TRUST Me, You Need to Dine at TRUST

By Wendy Lemlin

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p1020289When Trust Restaurant opened earlier this year in Hillcrest, I was invited to a media preview. With its enviable location on the corner of Robinson and Park, I could see at once that the 1300 sq ft patio, with its eye-catching red accents, ample table seating, and comfy couches, was going to be an immediate neighborhood success. Inside, the décor was inviting as well, contemporary casual,p1020256 all light woods and black accents, with a decent sized bar taking up the entire north wall of the dining room and an open kitchen on the east side, giving diners something to look at, besides their phones, as they wait for their orders to arrive. At that media preview, I recall, I was impressed with the space, but not so much with the food.  To be fair, we were served tray-p1020257passed “bites” of various menu items—never a good way to fully appreciate all the nuances of a dish, IMHO—and the large crowd was aggressively pouncing on whatever tidbits came their way, so I only managed to taste a few things. All of which I felt were “okay”, but didn’t wow me, as I remember, not enough for me to make a special trip to the restaurant now that I no longer live in the neighborhood. Continue reading

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

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

La Bonne Table: A French Kiss for Hillcrest

By Wendy Lemlin

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      “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

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!

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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

Duke-ing It Out

The long-awaited Duke’s La Jolla is a winner

By Wendy Lemlin

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     I’ve always been a fan of Chef Anthony Sinsay.  Since I first tasted his creations at Harney Sushi, where he was one of San Diego’s first chefs to experiment with the then-P1150666revolutionary magic of “molecular gastronomy”, and later at the now-defunct Burlap, I’ve been more than a little in awe of his ability to coax multi-layers of flavor from relatively simple ingredients.  I was expecting great things from him at the newly opened Duke’s La Jolla, but even so, on my recent visit I was wowed by how the Exec Chef is able to let his sparkling culinary personality shine within the confines of a corporately owned restaurant group with numerous eateries in California and Hawaii. I think his creativity will be very instrumental in modernizing the traditional menus of a long standing brand. Continue reading

Bracero Brings It!

by Wendy Lemlin

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After months of delays, and about a year of anticipation, Bracero Cocina de Raiz finally opened in mid July. The first restaurant in San Diego proper by Baja mega celeb chef Javier Plascencia (Romesco in Bonita, Mision 19 and Erizo in Tijuana, and Finca Altozano in the Valle de Guadalupe) and partner Luis Peña, opened its Little Italy doors to much foodie-world buzz and advance reservations booked several months out.

Was it worth the wait? In a word, yes!

Continue reading