we hit bice downtown friday for the last night of restaurant week. this is one of the best-looking dining rooms i can remember in san diego: sleek black walls lead to an elegant large room framed by curtained windows, a cheese bar, and a wall of wine bottles displayed behind glass in back. another design touch we liked were the futuristic, narrow light fixtures hanging in front of the bar as you enter.
cocktails were up first and my pomegranate lychee martini was a solid start. several of the drinks involved some sort of muddling (like you’d see in a mojito), and our very competent server showed us the bartender’s card which proclaimed him to be some sort of master muddler. we had planned to do one of the $40 three-course restaurant week selections, but the appetizer and entree menu was intriguing (and reasonable) enough that all four of us ditched that idea. i opted for the octopus salad, which was a thinly-cut square of octopus topped with a parsley/lemon dressing and fennel. another appetizer highlight was jay’s calamari in a tomato/spinach/red wine broth, with soggy toasted bread at the bottom.
our entrees didn’t disappoint either – my wagyu beef was amazingly tender and covered with oil-soaked fried sweet potatoes. the milanese-style veal chop was quite a sight:
and compared favorably to the several similarly-named plates consumed by our friends during their last visit to new york’s little italy.
an “ugly but beautiful” flour-less chocolate cake finished things off (while saving room for a visit to chocolat in hillcrest). we were all pretty thrilled about bice and judging by how busy it was, we’re not alone. it’s a plus to see places like this opening in the gaslamp, where restaurants don’t always back up their good looks with excellent cuisine.
we stayed at the omni hotel downtown last weekend, taking advantage of that $99 nightly deal they had a while back. we managed to get a fairly high floor with some southerly views across the bay on what was an unusually warm saturday:
the omni was pretty quiet (as was most of downtown on this last weekend before christmas), which was convenient for enjoying the hot tub and pool in relative peace:
despite some awful reviews on yelp, we had dinner at nearby el vitral, with community magazine coupon ready to ease the reportedly steep prices there. they’ve done an impressive job of converting this building into a modern dining area, with a sleek bar and colorful stained glass anchoring the north end of the room. i especially liked the mini wall of funky tequila bottles at one end of the bar (not pictured here):
dinner was actually quite good, and not too expensive either. our waitress suggested a pear-flavored margarita that wasn’t overly pear-y, and we started off with guacamole, chips and a variety of salsas served up in a unique glass tray. my mixed salad was massive and featured pumpkin seeds, big slices of jicama and a light tamarind dressing. were very my slow-roasted pulled pork entree, cochinita pibil, was perfect for piling onto tortillas, while jay’s steak dish (sabana invierno) was very flavorful. we walked off dinner by checking out the gaslamp-area holiday display, which seemed to be limited to a very lonely tree-shaped set of lights over in the convention center gap and some bluish led lights on 5th ave trees:
the next morning i headed over to java jones for coffee and then met jay at indigo hotel’s phi restaurant, which is a casual option for a quick morning bite. while the breakfast menu is somewhat limited, they offer up light versions of the basics, or pastries if that’s your preference. meanwhile the dining area is open to the street and warmly lit by the morning sun.
other observations while downtown – the new residence inn at 6th and j is an architectural disappointment, a boring, unoriginal addition to the area. i do like the paint scheme on the new low-income building at 12th and island, if only because it incorporates green, a color you don’t see much in our beige-dominated city. and those mushroom things sticking off the building are… different: