2011 Silver Fork Award
30th Annual Silver Fork Awards
Our restaurant critic shines a light on 19 notable eateries…
It’s been a year with an extraordinary number of restaurants opening and some significant closings. Despite the economy, optimism rules the heart of chefs and restaurateurs, and that grants San Diegans a remarkable abundance of choice.
Let’s take stock. In the last year or so, Roseville shut down. So did Bondi and Bing Crosby’s, Sante and Shanghai City. Trattoria Acqua closed its doors after 17 years in La Jolla and Busalacchi’s shuttered the spot it occupied for decades on Fifth Avenue. Little more than a month ago, however, a new Busalacchi’s opened a block north of the old site.
The Cohn Restaurant Group had a busy year, morphing Thee Bungalow into Bo-beau, Mr. Tiki Mai Tai Lounge into Analog Burger Bar, and KimoSabe into a food truck with the improbable name Chop Soo-ey. Jeff Rossman closed Terra after 13 years in Hillcrest and moved east of the College area with a brand new concept. The Cosmopolitan Hotel Restaurant, site of the former Casa di Bandini in Old Town, had a splashy opening with chef Amy DiBiasi running the kitchen, and an equally splashy dissolution when the chef and the restaurant’s owner parted ways.
There were a number of popular places that cloned themselves and set up shop in other neighborhoods. The creative forces behind the wonderful and successful Neighborhood, in downtown’s East Village, spread their charm to Little Italy and opened Craft & Commerce, the bar/restaurant that’s a roaring success with perhaps the most roaring noise level of any eatery in town. Tiny Café 21 on Adams Avenue opened a branch in the Gaslamp, and Bar Basic, a standout in the East Village, opened URBN Coal Fired Pizza in North Park.
Speaking of North Park, it and the surrounding area have turned into a play-ground dense with restaurants. Joining popular places like Urban Solace, The Linkery, Rancho’s, Jayne’s Gastropub, Sea Rocket Bistro, Alexander’s, Cantina Mayahuel, Ritual and Blind Lady are newcomers like El Take It Easy, Il Postino and The Smoking Goat.
Chefs typically move around so much it’s worth acknowledging those who’ve stayed put. For more than a decade Bernard Guillas has been at the Marine Room, Jason Knibb at Nine-Ten, Trey Foshee at George’s at the Cove, and Martin Woesle at Mille Fleurs. Among spotlight-seeking chefs, Brian Malarkey from Searsucker was a real contender for the title of Most Visible Chef in Town but, truly, nobody has the energy, ability and perseverance to be everywhere at once like Guillas.
One of the great advantages of San Diego dining is our wealth of unique locally based restaurants. They’re places where chefs and restaurateurs are fulfilling dreams (and occasional fantasies). If you’re a regular, they really do know your name. As a community, though, we still have an undeniable affection for chain restaurants. Typically, chains pay higher rents, regularly survey diner preferences and can be run with military efficiency. While they may lack individuality and a sense of community, they typically have their act together and serve food that tastes precisely the same each time you visit.
San Diego is a magnet for chains, so it’s not surprising that Panera will occupy the space in Uptown Center vacated by Terra, Donovan’s moved into Bondi’s former spot in the Gaslamp Quarter, and Five Guys Burgers and Smashburger all moved into town on the burger bandwagon.
Along with hamburgers, there are other obvious food trends that emerged or reinforced themselves over the last year. Food that’s local, in season, sustainable, farm-to-table, organic, grown-in-a-window box, hand-watered and/or grass fed is all the rage. Mobile food trucks proliferate. Salt, too, is having its day in the sun. Not only do restaurants tout red, smoked, hand-harvested, Himalayan, Hawaiian or other fancy salts, Flavor in Del Mar offers several salts-of-the-day.
San Diego is as food-fashion conscious as any major American city and our options for dining are just as broad. That means it’s a challenge picking a handful of places that afforded great meals over the last year. Still, a standout is a standout — and have we got standouts!
The 2011 Silver Fork Award Winners
Best New Restaurants
25 Forty Bistro & Bakehouse
The Smoking Goat
Best Special Occasion
Japanese/Sushi: Sushi Ota
Thai: Amarin Thai
Indian: Surati Farsan
Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern
Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano
Best Neighborhood Restaurant