SOMETIMES, IT REALLY IS the little things that count: like the toasted pistachios that bestow an understated sophistication on the all-American hot fudge sundaes at Mike and Victoria McGeath’s sparkling Brooklyn Girl Eatery in Mission Hills. You wouldn’t miss them were they absent; but the tasty, delicately green nuts transform a mainstay into a marvel. … At Los Antojos, an eminently visitable Mexican restaurant on Bonita Road that’s perfect when you’re in South Bay (watch out for that salsa; it’s the real thing), the breakfast menu lists a Yucatan-style egg dish crowned with fried plantain slices — a nice way to get your morning fruit ration. … The oyster shooters at East Village’s new The Blind Burro are lubricated with a choice of vodka; mescal; or bacanora, a liquor distilled from a type of agave grown in legally designated municipalities in Sonora. The oysters probably can’t tell the difference, but you might. … If uno bombolono costs five bucks, due bomboloni will set you back 10 — and will doubly damage your waistline. Yeasty, sugary treats, they’re somewhat like jelly doughnuts — except that at Guido Nistri’s new Monello, the pastries are filled to order and served warm. Suave stuffings include vanilla custard and whipped cream. However, vis-à-vis the pistachio sundae ornaments mentioned above, a gooey, Grinch-green pistachio paste proves that sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.
AS IS WIDELY FORGOTTEN, Charles Dickens created the Office of Red Tape, while it would seem that the Ministry of Dueling Details devised the myriad “special touches” that memorably com-pete at the Park Hyatt Aviara’s Argyle steakhouse. Located some distance from the hotel proper in the Carlsbad resort’s golf clubhouse, Argyle’s twin specialties are ultra-prime beef and such unusual features as a black and white presentation of smoked salt and Maldon sea salt, harvested on the storm-wracked coast of England by workers wrangling long-handled rakes. Enormous popovers, which float like clouds, arrive in cast-iron baskets that weigh pounds. The chestnut truffle soup is presented dually, with scallops, wild mushrooms, etc. arranged in a deep, deep bowl and creamy broth poured tableside from a teapot-like kettle. The menu offers pleasures like roasted Jidori chicken and seafood paella. But beef from California, Idaho and Australia (Blackmore Farm “eye of rib” at $16 per ounce) provides Argyle’s raison d’etre. The cuts arrive sizzling on grand Staub cast-iron platters from Alsace and accom-panied by costly Laguiole knives, the best France has to offer. It’s all quite wonderful, as are sautéed seasonal mushrooms and discreetly creamed spinach.
ON THE OTHER HAND, IF YOU HAVE $34.95 to spend, take a leisurely drive to East County and splurge on the steak and lobster combo at Sycuan Casino’s Wachena steakhouse. Go hungry: The meal includes a starter, 12-ounce sirloin, bully-sized lobster tail, a couple of rich sides and extremely accommodating ser-vice. It’s a remarkably large meal (and a good one). More bells and whistles sound after dinner, en route through the casino and its dazzling, dizzying lights. … Bargain hunters, please note that you can save a whopping $290 by dining at Del Mar Rendezvous on Sundays, when wines above $32 sell at half-price. Pick up a bottle of 2009 Hundred Acre “Ark Vineyard” cabernet from Napa, normally $580, for a relative song (and dance). Doubtless the area’s most high-line Chinese house, this Del Mar delight pairs extraordinary wines with expert cuisine and teases with details like Monday-Saturday’s Happy Buddha Hour, when a second round costs 88 cents following the purchase of a regularly priced beer, sake or glass of wine. … Del Mar restaurants often get the details right, like the silver tray bearing a tall shaker of Cayenne pepper and a cruet of Sherry delivered alongside the dreamy lobster bisque at Red Tracton’s (pictured above), the best friend a racetrack regular ever had.
IT SEEMS ODD that Portuguese cuisine never gained wide circulation in San Diego, given the strong Point Loma community that originally earned its living on the high seas. Neighborhood restaura-teur Michael Alves remedies this with his Roseville Cozinha in Liberty Station. Casual, fun and decorated with historic photos, Roseville Cozinha features Craig Jimenez’s seafood-centric menu of salt cod fritters; quite spicy cioppino; and “tuna boat fritto misto,” a cargo of whatever shellfish Jimenez favors that day. Fish Monger daily catches are ele-gantly presented, like a perfect hunk of grilled halibut with beurre blanc. And the beignet-like Portuguese doughnuts are not to be missed.
DISH: By David Nelson • Photography by Martin Mann