Sunday, December 13, 2009

giving back

the holidays are here and there's plenty of opportunities to give a little to those in need.  first up is a toys for kids fundraiser at true north tavern at 5 pm today, being put on by several gay san diego sports organizations but open to all.  bring an unwrapped toy for charity, and enter a raffle to benefit underprivileged athletes at san diego city schools.

father joe's villages charity has 200 kids living at their st. vincent de paul location.  they're doing a toy drive with several drop-off locations, so you can help make sure they wake up to a toy on christmas morning.  and our friends recently visited the san diego location of stand up for kids and were impressed by the services provided to at-risk and homeless youth - from basic needs like food, clothing and hygiene to housing and education.

sun life rising star awards is giving $165K to san diego non-profits that support at-risk youth.  from their press release:
The Sun Life Rising Star Awards program announced it is accepting applications from San Diego-area non-profit organizations that work with at-risk youth to win one of three $50,000 grants that will be distributed in the San Diego area. As part of the application process, each non-profit will have the opportunity to nominate a student who participates in the organization for a chance to receive a $5,000 scholarship. The Sun Life Rising Star Awards program is a new program supported by Sun Life Financial, developed to recognize and provide resources to high school students who have overcome the odds and remained committed to furthering their education and the non-profit organizations who work on their behalf.

San Diego is one of a number of cities that the program will visit next year.  The awards program will give away a total of $1,000,000 in grants and scholarships in 2010.  San Diego-area applications will be accepted December 7, 2009 through February 1, 2010 and can be downloaded from

and finally, this is a good time of year to donate your unused household items to charity, since you can write them off on your taxes next year.  for me, the easiest way is through amvets, who'll pick the items up right from your front porch on their next scheduled run through your neighborhood.  call 800-795-8387 to set up your pickup.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

cooks confab at little italy mercato

there was a big turnout for the cooks confab event at the little italy farmer's market last saturday, with proceeds going to local non-profit a reason to survive.  several well-regarded chefs served up street food with a twist, and your $15 donation for five samples got you a wide variety of tasty tapas-size treats.  my favorites were the street tacos (and refreshing orange juice) served up by george's modern kitchen:

and the bacon-wrapped hot dogs from waters catering (who also did a stellar job at our wedding last year):

other samples we tried were the crispy belgian fries from quarter kitchen (served up with some tasty dijon mayo), porchetta sandwiches from l'auberge's kitchen 1540 (somehow the first one we got was free of this moist cut of pork, but they made up for it with an ample serving later), the shrimp dish pictured below from stinagree, fig-topped pizza from the del's 1500 ocean restaurant, and chestnuts, hot chocolate and pastry from cafe chloe.

this was one of the most fun food events i've been to in san diego, and i think it attracted a lot of people who might otherwise be intimidated (or priced out) by the names involved.  i'd love to see it return every few months to the mercato, which continues to grow and should be on any san diegan's must-see list.

- north park has joined some esteemed company on the pages of the new york times travel section, with a feature on the neighborhood's resurgence.  sometimes it takes an outsider's view to remind us of what an amazing decade it's been for the area, and recent articles in the advocate and men's journal (30th st:  "best beer boulevard in america"), and now this one, have done just that.  now let's see if they translate into increased tourist traffic.

- in the weather weenie department, after the strongest winds we've seen in years on monday (and a solid inch and a half of rain), today's high matched a record low of 55 degrees, set nearly 50 years ago in 1960.  that's 11 degrees below the average high of 66. 

interestingly, it only takes about three weeks for the average high in san diego to drop from 70 degrees (on 11/20) to 65 (12/12), which is the mean high temp for our coldest month of the year, january.  while it does drop to 63 for a few days in january, the spring warm-up is glacial compared to the fall cool-down: it doesn't get back to 70 for nearly 6 months - june 9th. 


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

end of the drought?

it was widely reported that last weekend's .12 inches of rain was the first precipitation at lindbergh field in 164 days.  but it was actually 250 days, or more than 8 months (march 22), since we'd had a "real" rain event, when at least a tenth of an inch of rain fell.  and you have to go back to february 16th for at least a quarter inch.

last year's rainy season started out promising with decent rainfall in december but unfortunately petered out after that.  we're off to a slow start this year, but with a strengthening el nino hopefully we'll end up with at least average rainfall.  and the forecast pattern is looking kind of wet for next week.

- the old chilango's spot on unversity in hillcrest is now charisma cucina italia, according to city beat.  nothing up on yelp yet...

- more city beat plagiarizing: lotus thai will be offering a happy hour with dim sum-type dishes from 5-7 pm daily, along with drink specials. 

speaking of dim sum, we hit emerald on convoy in kearny mesa this weekend and it's surprising to see the demographic transition that's taken place here.  when we first started going a few years back i was about the only white person in the place; now it seems half caucasian. 

- the harbor drive pedestrian bridge will be finishing later than expected, in late summer 2010 rather than early next year.

- delta is adding a direct flight from san diego to honolulu, making it an alternative option to the lone hawaiian air flight that leaves around 9 am each day.  while the outbound flight is at a convenient after-work time of 5:45, unfortunately the return flight is a red-eye, getting back into san diego at 6:50 am.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

cafe bleu headed to mission hills

- cafe bleu, which closed its university location in hillcrest recently, is set to open in the old zetounas cafe spot in mission hills.  with owner ric libiran having a big hit on his hands with the red door nearby, it's probably a smart move expand on that.

- pizza fusion in hillcrest will be featuring beer from one of my favorite local breweries, lightning brewery in poway.  from their email:

We are pleased to be offering the Elemental Pilsner and Amber Ale from Lightning Brewery, an award winning San Diego Brewery. Both beers are available in large 22 oz. bottles. The Elemental Pilsner is Lightning's take on the traditional lager beer and the Amber Ale is an American version of the classic UK "Premium Bitters". Through November 30th mention this email and get $2 off a bottle of Lightning!

 - what recession?  a full tao restaurant sunday night, snaring the last reservation at urban solace saturday, and a "we ran out of food so we're closing early" sign the same night at heaven sent desserts?  seems like there's plenty of interest in urban san diego dining.

that reminds me - in my earlier review of tao i forgot to mention how inexpensive the entrees are here, with most ranging from $8-10.  not bad for a big portion of spicy red chicken.

- slow food san diego and cooks confab are teaming up for a street food event at little italy mercato on the morning of saturday december 5th.  located on date and india streets, proceeds will go to local charity a reason to survive.

- and finally, we were impressed by both our rich dessert and the hospitality of san diego desserts owner mark leisman this past weekend.  located on el cajon blvd. near sdsu, there's an inviting outdoor patio and an international night every wednesday featuring the cuisine of a different country.  while they've been providing desserts to local restaurants and catering for over a decade, they opened last year to the benefit of rolando residents and beyond.


Friday, November 20, 2009

cafe 21 doing dinner soon

cafe 21 (formerly cafe 2121) on adams in behi will be open for dinner starting the first weekend in december.  according to their blog, they recently received their liquor license, installed a new bar, and put up a new sign out front.  they're also getting a lot of positive reviews on yelp

elsewhere, the newest outpost of the bice ristorante chain is open in the gaslamp, featuring upscale italian fare in a neighborhood eatery-type setting.  the place looks great on their website (click on the gallery link). 

just around the corner on 5th, mangu restaurant and cigar cafe has closed, but will re-open under the same owner as a burger joint (thanks chowhound).


Wednesday, November 18, 2009


we dropped by the new counterpoint friday night, which was jammed with a mixed crowd of people who all seemed to be enjoying this new golden hill spot.  housed in the recently-honored mxd830 building, it's a relatively small place, with the downstairs featuring a galvanized metal bar area.  the bar offers up a bunch of alesmith beers from brightly-colored taps, but it's the wide-ranging menu of high-end imported beer that really impresses.  i can't vouch for the wine menu yet but these guys seem to have put a lot of thought into their alcohol selection.

we grabbed the last couple of seats at the communal table upstairs, which offers views of the action below and a large metallic installation that stretches from the ceiling to the base of the north wall.  the dining menu options complement the beer and wine focus of the restaurant, with various salads, sandwiches and cheese appetizers to choose from.  jay had the cheese sliders ("delicious") and my beet salad was refreshing.  also refreshing is the welcoming staff, from the bartender to the servers who carried our orders up the stairs.  counterpoint may be pretty hip but it's no big deal if you're not.

we'll be back to sample some more of the separate beer, wine and food menus, but we might have to bring earplugs - one disadvantage of the open two-story layout is the sheer volume level when full.  a minor quibble for an otherwise bright new spot in golden hill.

- as i mentioned above, the annual orchids and onions architectural awards have been announced.  notable awards go to the robert paine scripps forum, station tavern in south park, the tower bar tower in city heights, the art produce building on university (next to cafe carpe diem), and the restored irving gill building in coronado, which i've added to my san diego gill map.  the only core neighborhood razzies go to vantage pointe and mission florence on washington in mission hills.  and don't miss the comments section of the uptown interim heights ordinance for some fireworks.


Monday, November 16, 2009

tao time

tao on adams in normal heights is a welcome graduation from the lonely asian buffet place that temporarily occupied the spot after the departure of casa sanchez.  the interior has a vague japanese feel and the messages on the marker-covered walls ("best red chicken in town!") certainly let you know it's a casual neighborhood spot.  still, it's a step up ambiance-wise from owner eric tao's other spot, dao son, on el cajon blvd.

one of the best things about tao is that it provides another healthy dining option for the neighborhood.  it can be a challenge when eating out to not succumb to the tasty-yet-fatty options at many of our favorite spots.  tao's menu, a mash-up of vietnamese and japanese items, devotes a full page to vegetarian options, and you're not going to find a whole lot of fried food here.  what you will find is some pretty solid homemade tofu, and a delicious curry chicken plate that compared favorably to jay's recent sampling of this dish throughout the uk.  oh and the plates are massive:

other positives include the gratis salad and ice cream to start and end your meal.  my only complaint would be that my rice noodle and tofu dish lacked a bit of flavor, which probably wouldn't have been a problem if my spice level request of 5 (out of 10) had been met - the same number was nearly face-melting at dao son on our last visit there. yet with reasonable prices and creative dishes, this will definitely be one for the regular rotation.

speaking of adams ave in normal heights, after a late-evening visit to twiggs saturday we noticed the taco cart was back, located in front of the grocery store across the street from starbucks.  the carne asada street tacos they served up for $1.25 each were the perfect topper to the light dinner we had at counterpoint earlier that evening (more on that later).  and bacon-wrapped tj hot dogs were there if that's your thing, which it probably is when stumbling out of the bar at closing time; they're out there from 10 or so until 2:30 am.  with another taco cart sighting on 30th (i think), maybe san diego can follow the lead of other cities that have made clear street food isn't something to be afraid of.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

banh mi comes to hillcrest

cali deli is coming to the old abi boutique location (see below; from yelp: "a barely tolerable mess of tanks and tees") on 5th in hillcrest.  banh mi is a vietnamese baguette filled with all kinds of interesting stuff... wikipedia can do this better than me:

The sandwich is made up of thinly sliced pickled carrots and daikon(Do Chua), cucumbers, cilantro, Chili peppers, pâté, mayonnaise and various meat fillings or tofu. Popular bánh mì fillings include roasted or grilled pork, Vietnamese sausage, chicken, head cheese and ham.

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i've been mystified as to why there's only place that serves banh mi between downtown and north park - vo's on university, which is supposed to be good, but it's basically a takeout place.  especially strange when you consider how many vietnamese are in san diego.  maybe the white people just don't get it, but you have to drive to the vietnamese enclaves of linda vista (k sandwiches) or city heights (cali baguette express - wait, they just opened a mira mesa location?!) to feast on these perfect lunches.

we saw the sign last night on our way to the new location of chocolat, in the old mille feuille spot at 5th and university, but it wasn't open yet - you'll have to visit their downtown location on 5th for now.  so we went to the new papalecco in the atlas building across from tractor room, which looked modern, has some very comfortable seating, and offers up giant-ass chocolate chip cookies in addition to their excellent gelato.


Friday, November 13, 2009

street scene: done

i don't see how there's going to be a street scene next year after the financial meltdown that's going on at rob hagey productions, according to city beat. with 2009 festival attendance less than half of their estimates, they owe 2.8 million to creditors and are liquidating the business.  it's a shame, since it was encouraging to see its return to downtown two years ago, and the focus on independent acts rather than nostalgia retreads.  while we enjoyed the less-than-stellar lineup of day two this year, i don't remember being at such a poorly-attended festival since the inaugural coachella in 1999.

well if the chargers end up taking the street scene location for their new stadium (renderings coming soon?) i'm not sure where the festival would have moved to anyway.  let's hope for some kind of miracle so that this san diego institution can continue.

- one last quickie - now that north park scene says that the old payless shoe store on university will house a new thai restaurant, i can confirm this from the future owner - and there's no name yet because he hasn't come up with one.  interestingly, north park sushi is also expanding into this spot.  more thai food in north park is definitely a good thing, where your only option right now is the meh-ish thai time 3.


hodad's coming to downtown

always-mobbed burger joint hodad's is expanding on their ocean beach location with a new spot downtown, set to open at 10th and broadway early next year, says 944 magazine.  that could have a big impact on what's now a pretty sketchy area.  plus it's good to know the trannies at chee chee will be able to munch on some famous burgers just down the block.  i'm guessing it will go in at the lucky's tattoo parlor spot shown below, whose website vows a new lucky's is coming soon.

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the rest of the 944 article is notable for only listing restaurants in the core neighborhoods, save for the new urban solace in encinitas - whose first location is in north park.  another confirmation that it's an exciting time to be living in this area if you're into creative yet casual takes on dining.