Dish: Cool Cucumbers
Beans have reason to be green with envy in Barrio Logan
“I DESPISE CUCUMBERS,” announced a young fireman to a quartet of peers. The group was one of two San Diego Fire Dept. companies purposefully browsing the aisles of the new Gonzalez Northgate supermercado in Barrio Logan.
“I know some people like cucumbers, but I really despise them,” he continued, “just hate them.”
What a pickle to be in. Perhaps it’s time for the fire-house lunch menu to venture gazpacho. The ingredients glowed all around him: crimson tomatoes, juicy garlic cloves, pungent onions, fire-truck red bell peppers and piles of cukes.
It’s common to see SDFD vehicles parked outside down-town supermarkets. Several companies have switched loyalties to Gonzalez Northgate (sheltered on the leeward side by Coronado Bridge), whose well-stocked aisles lead to the quickly served, home-style Mexican stews and soups at Cocina Doña Tina, which also rolls tacos to order. Stuffed with sizzling carne asada and other fillings, they can be doused with five-alarm salsa. Clever cucumbers indeed: The store’s nifty trick that enables checkout clerks to count currency without licking their forefingers is a fat slice of cucumber tacked down by each register. Cool. A few blocks away, the twice-weekly San Diego Public Market had announced midsummer plans to open daily with a roster of top vendors. Instead, the indoor “street” market retreated to Sundays only and could disappear momentarily. A contributing factor: the transformation of Harbor Drive’s former San Diego Police Headquarters from an effectively abandoned building to The Headquarters at Seaport District. In addition to top-tier steak-and-fishery Eddie V’s and several other restaurants, the sprawling Spanish Colonial adjacent to Seaport Village will house a public market that, some dare dream, will rival Seattle’s Pike Place.
AS IF ARGENTINE CUISINE was not sufficiently fusion-inspired (marrying Spanish and Italian traditions), Cueva Bar (pictured above) updates savory classics by borrowing, improvising and experimenting. A recent craving for empanadas led to this sophisticated spot next to Farm House Cafe on Adams Avenue. Cueva bakes chubby, lattice-topped pies, sided with ravishing, herb-rich chimichurri sauce. Tradition is honored by empanadas filled with shredded beef brisket, grilled onions and mozzarella, while pies encasing spicy chicken and blue cheese in curry dough are flavorful fantasies. A baker’s dozen of tapas runs to simple delights like baguette toasts topped with goat cheese and honey.
FOUL? NOT IN THE USUAL SENSE. Foul is the name of a Middle Eastern appetizer of cooked fava beans, lemon and garlic served at La Mesa’s tiny Petra Restaurant in a convenience center a few doors from the estimable Antica Trattoria. The little place rustles up a big menu, distinguished by Bedouin kabsa dishes based on rice cooked with sautéed diced onion, tomato, bell pepper, garlic and an unusual palette of herbs. Enjoy kabsa with eggplant, orange roughy, shrimp or lamb.
WHEN RED LIGHT DISTRICT proved a little too classy for Gaslamp, management shut it down, donned a toque-shaped thinking cap and returned to the fray with ViVa Bar + Kitchen. The drinks flow (which is pretty much the point with most new destinations these days), but the kitchen keeps pace with a menu that surveys the Western Hemisphere from Tierra del Fuego through Sonora.
A WELL-SPENT WEEK in La Jolla would include a Monday-Sunday parade of dinners at Tapenade Restaurant. Chef/proprietor Jean-Michel Diot’s cleverly reworked menu features specialties deliciously linked to designated days, including feather-light quenelles Nantua on Tuesday (pike dumplings swimming in tongue-enchanting crayfish sauce), rabbit in mustard sauce on Thursday and steak tartare on Sunday — comfort fare as only the French can do it. The expanded menu veers from snails splashed with Pernod to pleasantly inventive diver scallop “lasagne” with eggplant, artichokes and orange sauce vierge. Sylvie Diot has contributed a stylish new décor at Fay Avenue’s temple of gastronomie, and new Executive Sous Chef Samuel Geffro brings Breton sensibilities to classics like moules marinières.
HAVING BEEN TO AUCKLAND, we might feel sheepish about recommending the New Zealand-inspired menu at Little Italy’s new Queenstown Public House. Indeed, brunch features the Bare Lil’ Lamb, a lamb patty with blue cheese, mint jelly and beets (beets!) on an herb-flavored bun. It’s nice, though; and there’s no reason to argue with the Bourbon-spiked maple syrup on the banana French toast.
IF IT’S GOOD ENOUGH for Indianapolis, it may cut the mustard in the Gaslamp District. In the Borders Building at Sixth Avenue and G Street, Fogo de Chao (bellow fo-go dee shoun while imagining vast quantities of meat), this Brazil-born, nation-wide chain of churascarrias will tempt groups of convention center visitors with salad buffets and 16 cuts of meat carved tableside. On Fourth Avenue, Rei do Gado has done this successfully for quite a while.
By: David Nelson Photography by Martin Mann