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FASCINATING FUSION, it drives me insane, fascinating fusion can be so inane. The effort to re-work French cuisine with Tibetan culinary tricks (happening in Paris right now) can be utterly improvisational, a kind of “Sauce bearnaise made with salted yak butter might be extraordinaire!” adventure doomed to tumble over a very tall cliff. At times, though, the intent to juggle the ingredients and techniques of multiple cuisines is based on experience and good judgment and can produce rapturous results.

Culinary restlessness prowls San Diego kitchens as 2012 prepares to retire. In its final months, several new restaurants cranked up the creativity while remaining tethered to common sense. No trouble finding delicious novelties at new places like Sora, which occupies a daring downtown location. Presenting a “Milano-Tokyo influenced menu,” the place is co-owned by Alessandro Minutella, an early player in Gaslamp (Panevino, Ossetra) who calls it “my little masterpiece.”

With a name that translates as “sky,” Sora congregates considerable talent on the ground floor of a West Broadway office tower. Energetic managing partner Daniele Visco Gilardi is a Milan native, and executive chef/partner Noriyoshi Teruya opened San Diego’s link in the international Nobu chain. Some Teruya creations travel all over the map — beef carpaccio with truffle aioli, arugula and mizuna greens, Parmesan shavings, yuzu-kosho dressing and shaved black truffles jets among Italy, Japan and France — but you’ll gladly buy a companion ticket to enjoy these flavors. Pouring basil oil on raclette seems reckless, but steamed nikuman buns stuffed with braised pork belly hit a savory spot, and anyone who disagrees with a waiter’s claim that the suave caprese stars “the best tomatoes you’ll ever taste” doesn’t understand the unexpected delight of perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes soaked in Grand Marnier...

LEAVE IT TO CHAD WHITE to boldly fuse what no chef has fused before. At Counterpoint on 25th Street near Broadway, this fearless forager turns osso bucco Mexican by dressing braised pork shank with pozole, radishes and lime. His “sixty-
alpha sauce” glides equably over both classy steak-frites with herb-truffle butter and an all-American Angus cheeseburger. Rest assured that the clementine marmalade served with sublime buttermilk biscuits is homemade...

DAVID AND LESLEY COHN seem to effortlessly assemble teams that create largely perfect restaurants like Hillcrest’s new 100 Wines. Designed by Philippe Beltran (the Paris-born createur of Vagabond, Bleu Boheme, Bo-Beau and more), 100 Wines lights perhaps the city’s most magical courtyard as a stage for chef Katherine Humphus’ fertile forays into fusion, like a sensational appetizer of hummus, mixed olive tapenade and crisp, buttery pappadum crackers. Pile the first two on the latter and marvel at the unlikely harmony chorused by traditional Lebanese, Provençale and Indian foods. Garnishing phyllo-crusted sweetbreads (fabulously savory) with crisp pancetta AND roasted berry jam might seem to leap an uncrossable chasm, but there’s a soft landing on the other side...

WRAP YOUR ARMS AROUND THE THEORY that octopus is the new bacon. As a trendoid protein, it’s got eight times the allure of a strip of cured pork belly, which J-Six chef Christian Graves also tosses into the stew when he brews some “Octo,” an appealing preparation of tender octopus with cranberry beans and broccoli rabe heartily seasoned with garlic and chili flakes. Graves can cook: the chestnut-porcini sauce that underlies buttery seared scallops with deluxe mushrooms is musky and memorable. Oddly enough, he suggests accompanying entrées with cocktails like the Empire State, which soars as high as its namesake with vanilla-infused whiskey, sweet vermouth, cherry-vanilla bitters and a pickled cherry...

”MONKEY SLIDERS” sound like monkeyshines, but the plump little burgers draw barflies like honey to Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery, the hipster hangout on the Eastern edge of downtown...

THE HOTEL DEL IS NEARLY shooting off cannons to announce big gun chef Robert Hohmann, now nesting in the kitchen of way upscale 1500 Ocean. That he’s worked with Thomas Keller, Mario Batali and Jacques Pepin says it all.


DISH: By David Nelson • Photography by Martin Mann

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