Spring Break may be here for UCSD students, but for some other folks it means an end to the UCSD extension course that’s been eating up any spare blogging time. So here’s a recap of some restaurant news and visits over the past month:
Great Maple in the former Brian’s spot in Hillcrest is a big improvement over the Sysco-inspired fare previously served there. Since it’s owned by Hash House’s Johnny Rivera, we were a bit wary of gigantic portions adorned with sprigs, but instead we were served solid fare and cocktails, in a 70′s-meets-modern dining room. The fish part of my fish and chips was light and crispy, and miles ahead of the same dish we sampled a while back at Shakespeare Pub; Jay’s pasta with meatballs and sausage were also quite good. And it was a relief to see the patio area smoke-free, finally. Prices run a bit high for what you get.
Delicious cocktails and meatballs were also on the menu at Polite Provisions/Soda and Swine in Normal Heights. We ordered at S&S under the open ceiling first (looks like there’s a cover rigged up for when it rains) then managed to snag the last table in the PP bar next door on a very busy Monday night. The space inside PP is unlike anything else in San Diego and just like everything else in Brooklyn (kidding!). Seriously, it’s a place I’d love to spend hours in, sampling each one of the cocktails on tap from the gleaming handles behind the bar. My Brave Companion cocktail (Bourbon, Fresh Lemon Juice, Crème de Cocao & Vanilla Gomme; “Deep vanilla & fresh citrus that lead to subtle notes of chocolate”) vanished so quickly that it required serious restraint not to order another. No matter – downshifting to draft beer offered a mix of interesting U.S. craft and foreign brewers.
El Take it Easy had another pop-up restaurant event, with Chef Ismene Venegas from Ensenada serving a four-course menu. It featured the freshest, tastiest yellowtail I’ve ever had, accompanied by a crisp Granny Smith apple salad. Ceviche and pork carnitas were other highlights. If that’s up your alley, you can sample this “New Baja” cuisine Sundays through Wednesdays for four weeks starting 4/7 as part of ETIE’s “Get Out if You Can“.
Sustainable seafood week brought a long-overdue return visit to participating restaurant Alchemy, where our group ended up grazing through a variety of small plates that were mostly not part of the event. Now what’s that, a Societe Brewing tap-takeover? Yes please. One off note: a chocolate tort dessert that was drier and more cracked than the Bonneville Mud Flats. Still, it was good to see the place packed even with all the new restaurants going in around town – like Buona Forchetta across the street, which looked inviting at dusk with their gently-lit patio. It was doing a brisk business too.
Haven Pizzeria is open in Kensington; Eater also has some photos of the “quirky” interior of American Voodoo coming to University Heights. Eater also says Salt and Cleaver‘s sausage and craft beers will be served up in the former Cote Sud on 5th in Hillcrest next month.
Downtown, the Old Police Headquarters got a writeup in the Papa Doug Press a few weeks back, and while there’s a focus on chains (Cheesecake Factory bad, Pizzeria Mozza good) the courtyard inside the property sure has potential. Apart from touristy Old Town, I can’t think of a communal restaurant setting like that anywhere else in the city. Opening in October.
It’s been fun to watch all the positive changes in North Park and Normal Heights the past several years, but over here in Kensington it’s been pretty sleepy. Apart from Village Vino and Clem’s Tasting Room, there haven’t been a lot of new dining options. And with the mixed-use Kensington Terrace project still in limbo (maybe modify the residential units from condos to rentals and that loan will come through?), that’s one less possibility for now. So while it’s good to see the Haven pizza and craft beer concept coming to the former photography studio space on Adams, it’s next door at Kensington Grill where the big changes are finally going to happen. Owner Tracy Borkum will be “rebooting” the 18 year-old restaurant with a sustainable seafood concept and an approach that borrows from her very successful Cucina Urbana. We’ve lived here for 13 of those years, and while there was a makeover several years back, it will be nice to see Borkum finally giving the restaurant its due. Kensington Grill closes in April for the re-branding.
Other restaurant news: American Voodoo, from a former Bread and Cie baker, is planned for the spot next door to Plumeria in University Heights… Blue Ribbon Rustic Kitchen will bring pasta and seafood to the former Bayu’s Ethiopian location at 5th and University in Hillcrest… and while it’s hardly new at this point, we got over to Counter Burger downtown at 6th and G this weekend. The burger trend may be subsiding but it was still fun to build your own creation; we’re just happy to see this mixed-use space finally getting filled:
Speaking of downtown, they’re still tearing down cool old buildings to put in surface parking lots; the most recent case is at F and 7th. Personal property rights aside, I can’t think of a worse land use for a walkable neighborhood like this. If you agree, sign the protest petition.
There was a discussion on Voice of San Diego a couple weeks back about why the trolley doesn’t go to the airport, and several commenters pointed out that a connection isn’t necessary because the 992 bus will take you to the trolley stop at the Santa Fe Depot. Yes, that’s just what a visitor wants after a long trip – to take a mile-long bus a to a trolley stop when the line actually runs just across the street from the airport. How come every other major west coast city has a direct trolley connection to the airport (or is studying one [LAX]), but we have to settle for a bus connection to the trolley? As one commenter pointed out, it’s time to get past the “we can’t because…” mindset prevalent in San Diego to one of “why not”, because that’s what great cities do. Fortunately there’s a short-term plan to get trolley riders from the Washington Street trolley stop to the terminal via a new pedestrian bridge and shuttle.
Some smarter urban planning is going on out in Lemon Grove. Citronica One is one of two mixed-use projects they’re putting downtown next to the trolley line:
Meanwhile, Main Street Promenade will “transform the existing Main Street, between Broadway and North Avenue, into a walkable, linear park and bustling transit plaza”, the city’s historic Trolley Depot has been updated for low-riding trolley cars, and here’s the city’s land use plan for growth – amazing what a city’s planning department can come up with when it hasn’t been disbanded, like San Diego’s.
You Are Here looks nearly complete on 25th in Golden Hill; you can keep up to date on the mixed-use project on their Facebook page:
Lots of cycling news:
Two new mixed-use developments are getting underway in North Park as that neighborhood continues its transformation. First up Foundation for Form’s (You are Here, Counterpoint buildings in Golden Hill) project at the defunct post office, where they’ve torn up the parking lot and plan to build “5,000 square feet of retail space and 32 apartments in a 4 story building”, says North Park Scene. The post office building will remain, although its proposed use is unclear at this time. And down 30th at Upas, the Jonathan Segal project there will be called the North Parker, according to Tom Shess, (or North Park Lofts according to North Park Scene) and feature up to six restaurants in 8000 square feet of commercial space with 27 lofts above. Sounds like mixed-use projects on a scale we haven’t seen in these parts in several years.
Meanwhile North Park also saw the opening of Swoon Dessert Bar in the former Cafe Carpe Diem spot Saturday night; we dropped in and sampled some of their treats and coffee from various local roasters, the latter including Cafe Calabria, Bird Rock and San Diego Coffee and Tea Collective:
On a disappointing note, we witnessed the new signage down University for forthcoming sports bar the End Zone, in the former Foundry location. It’s an unfortunate exception to an area full of great (and often vertically-oriented) signs that have a character consistent with the neighborhood.
- The SANDAG Uptown Bike Corridor project had its second meeting this week and there was general agreement among the community group attendees on removing a lane from 5th (and potentially 4th) for a cycle track/class 1 bikeway. However, several people pointed out that the SANDAG map shunts cyclists over to 3rd at Walnut; the lanes should go all the way to Washington on 4th and 5th, because that’s where the businesses are. With three lanes in each direction (and two more on 6th), it certainly wouldn’t impede traffic flow, and could accomplish the traffic calming on these streets that the city has studied but is too broke to do much about, except install a few stop signs.
Another general theme from the meeting was that cycle routes should be on commercial corridors, for safety/lighting/visibility reasons, to leverage business districts for ongoing maintenance costs, and because businesses and bike racks are located there. That means University instead of the SANDAG-identified east-west route of Robinson, although converting Robinson to one way eastbound west of 163 was recommended. Other notes: making cycling routes to/from Balboa Park less intimidating for beginning cyclists; installing secure facilities/corrals for cyclists at the Park; and a separated bike lane for cyclists coming up Bachman from Mission Valley. The topographic barrier to cycling up Bachman and Washington was also discussed – could MTS buses be outfitted with larger cycle racks for such routes?
The next meeting of the Uptown Bike Corridor group should take place in April.
- Speaking of Balboa Park, it was a relief to see the Jacobs Bypass Bridge project denied by Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor because it violated the city’s municipal code. That the former Mayor and City Council would attempt to alter a historic resource without being able to justify that *not* doing so would cause the city economic hardship (in violation of its own laws) is laughable. And now Jacobs lackey/city attorney Jan Goldsmith may attempt to exempt the city from its own laws for this project. Thankfully we elected a mayor who isn’t owned by Jacobs, unlike his election challengers Fletcher and DeMaio, or the city’s non-profit press for that matter. Potshots against SOHO by vertebrae-challenged Todd Gloria were particularly revealing. Meanwhile it’s been amusing to see the near-daily denunciations of the plan by the editorial board at the U-T… Manchester and Lynch clearly aren’t used to not getting their way in this town.
While I’m personally grateful for Irwin Jacobs’ philanthrophy, the economic benefit of Qualcomm to San Diego, and his financial support of President Obama, his heavy-handed and stubborn approach on this project was frustrating. The issues regarding damage to the park raised by SOHO were legitimate, not simply “obstructionist”. SOHO and the mayor both offered to again sit down and negotiate after the court decision, yet Jacobs confirmed it was still his way or the highway by pulling support and refusing to meet with them.
San Diegans deserve better than a powerful few deciding how our public spaces should be treated. Here’s one alternative approach for increasing pedestrian space in Plaza de Panama.
- Well this blog post is too long and preachy already so it’s time to break out the transit bullets:
SANDAG hosted a public meeting in City Heights Wednesday to get feedback on the North Park to Mid-City Regional Bike Corridor Project. The map they presented shows Meade and Orange as the cycling corridors, and these routes got some support from community advisory public members and the general public. Among the positives: the streets have relatively few stop signs, less vehicle traffic, and in the case of Orange, schools and Teralta Park on top of SR-15. One cyclist used the term “bicycle freeways” to describe the potential for these routes, and modifications for traffic calming such as landscaped sidewalk pop-outs were shown by SANDAG for similar routes elsewhere (Berkeley’s bicycle boulevards). Yet these routes have significant deficiencies too: few businesses are located on them, they don’t link up to the burgeoning cycling population at SDSU, and they are ineffective for east-west traffic that originates more than a few blocks north or south.
Meade is my usual east-west cycling route from home in Kensington to North Park, Hillcrest and even downtown. It is a mostly-pleasant ride for each of those stretches before heading south down 30th, Park or Maryland. If SANDAG focuses on this route, I would recommend getting rid of the center turn lane – there’s not enough vehicle traffic to worry about backups behind a turning car – installing a landscaped median, and painting a green bike lane. Signage indicating the street is a designated “bike boulevard” (not just a bike route sign) would be helpful too. On this street a cycle track doesn’t feel as necessary, and I wonder how residents would react to having a bike lane between their property and their car parked in the street out front. Also, the cost of maintaining the traffic-calming landscaping features could be unsustainable.
Fortunately, several advisory group members pointed out the importance of having bike routes on the major east-west thoroughfares (University/El Cajon/Adams), preferably in the form of cycle tracks separated from vehicle traffic by parked cars. After all, this was a meeting to “think big”, so why not have our cake (bicycle freeways on lower-vehicle volume streets) and eat it (easy access to businesses) too? Yet while the meeting was just a kick-off for the Corridor, it might have also been useful to have some budget numbers/constraints to rein in our dreams and force us to prioritize. And when that occurs, I’m hoping that the cycle routes on major roads wins out, if we’re forced to choose.
Of the thoroughfares, I think El Cajon Boulevard offers the greatest potential since it’s 6 lanes wide from Park to Fairmont. You could easily take away one lane in each direction without significantly impacting vehicle flow. And if you did, the resulting reduced speeds would be good for cyclists anyway. However, there’s a big barrier to putting cycle tracks on ECB, and that’s the Mid-City Bus Rapid Transit Project.
I’m mostly in favor of this project since it will greatly improve the speed and quality of bus transit between SDSU and downtown. Yet as Walt Chambers at Great Streets San Diego pointed out to me a couple years back, this BRT project doesn’t exactly employ a “complete streets” approach where cyclists and pedestrians receive a fair shake. I understand it’s hard to mix cycling and BRT, but it’s not impossible. Unfortunately, there’s little mention of cyclists in the BRT project fact sheet beyond storing bikes on the front of buses. That’s too bad, because multi-modality should be a focus of public transit projects like this one.
Also on ECB, it was particularly discouraging to hear the Rolando representative say he was going to have 150 people complaining if they were to remove a car lane for cyclists in his region. Yet this is exactly what was done in Long Beach, and it’s been largely successful. Why should we continue to accommodate drivers who insist on being able to cruise through neighborhoods at high speed, while sacrificing the safety of cyclists and pedestrians who have just as much right to the road? And let’s not use the “because we pay for the roads with our taxes” argument, please. Often, the percentage of cyclists and pedestrians who are frequenting businesses on a stretch of road is greater than that of the drivers whizzing by. Of course, a valid counter-argument to the above is that slowing vehicle traffic on main thoroughfares can cause diversion into residential neighborhoods, which requires additional calming steps on these streets (favoring the bike boulevard approach). It’s worth noting the gridded street system in the western section of the corridor can distribute this traffic better than the canyon-heavy eastern part.
On University, the University Avenue Mobility Project got off to a rocky start but that ship appears to have been righted. This project removes a lane of auto traffic in favor of a bus and cycling-only lane. I’ve seen this approach in action in Santa Monica and it works. I’m not sure how the SANDAG corridor program could improve on this route – perhaps some green cycling lane paint if it’s not already budgeted?
Adams is narrower than ECB or University, so you’d likely have to remove a lane of parking to get cycle tracks in. And that’s been a non-starter elsewhere in town, even though some studies show this can actually improve the bottom line for small businesses nearby. Further, lost spaces can often be made up by converting side streets to angled parking, a controversial subject among cyclists (like one-way streets). But if there’s one east-west street in San Diego where this could happen, it’s got to be Adams due to the sheer number of cyclists I see on this road and its bike-friendly businesses. The best north-south candidate in my opinion would be 30th from Adams all the way to South Park.
Overall, it was an encouraging start and I’m looking forward to identifying the top routes and priorities for our region’s bike corridors.
A while back I mentioned the Uptown News article on Street Car Row, a mixed-use development coming to Adams and Idaho. On a visit to Twiggs on Adams last weekend, we noticed the empty lot (formerly Mattress Makers) across the street and snapped this picture:
Here’s a rendering of the project that shows it right up against the sidewalk, which is a big improvement over the mattress store’s street-facing parking spaces (thanks to Marla at CityMark):
Down Adams, next door to the Post Office parking lot, Dark Horse Coffee has opened and they’ve done a sprucing-up of their building. The current Google Maps link for their address shows the building in a generally shabby state under previous ownership; now, a new paint job, plants and signage have improved things:
I know gentrification isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but when we moved to Kensington in 2000, much of Adams Ave looked like the before shot in that link above. We couldn’t understand why these walkable neighborhoods full of unique housing stock had a nearby business district that mostly looked like crap. Did diners and shoppers really abandon their own communities in favor of the generic experience of the Mission Valley malls? Whatever the reason, it’s been remarkable to see the changes on Adams and how a mostly new generation of residents has embraced them.
Urbanist Guide has more on Dark Horse. It’s an interesting spot to put a new coffee shop, considering its proximity to Lestat’s, Starbucks and Twiggs, but their pour-over coffee is definitely worth a try. You can never have too many cafes in your neighborhood, right?
Back at 30th and Adams, Polite Provisions has their signage up and if it’s not an antique sign it sure looks like one. Soda and Swine next door also sports neon, and the more neon on Adams the better (pardon the lame angle):
Compare that to the strip mall-like sign at the forthcoming Heights Tavern down the street and take in the visual impact (there’s Sycamore Den going in next door too):
To be fair, the Polite Provisions folks are on their fifth property or so, and likely have significantly more money to spend on signs.
An aside: when we visited predominantly gay Wilton Manors near Fort Lauderdale last fall, it was a big disappointment to see that its core was comprised of a strip mall with identical signage throughout. Pita Jungle aside, imagine if that were the case in Hillcrest.
Eater posted the multi-page drink menu for Polite Provisions and my liver’s already quivering in anticipation of the on-tap cocktails like “Mr. Brownstone” (whiskey, bitters, spiced cinnamon soda, vanilla) and nitro-infused Ballast Point oatmeal stout. The sheer number of beers, cocktails and on-tap wines makes my head spin. Opening 2/18 along with Soda and Swine, who now have their meatball-heavy menu up on Eater too.
And Eater also has an update on The Haven Pizzeria opening just east of SR-15 in Kensington in March: gluten-free pizza options, craft beer, family-style salads, meatballs.
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