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2010 SAN DIEGO NEWSMAKERS: Restaurants & Dining

With economic uncertainty hanging a cloud over 2010, who’d have thought going into this year that the dining scene in San Diego would generate so many stories centered around growth, rebirth and success? Not this openly pessimistic food journalist, that’s for sure! But the fact is many restaurateurs and chefs found ways to adapt to the down economy thanks to foresight, innovation and guts.

urban-solace

Urban Solace.

Courtesy photo

It was a step in the right direction that took us from a year where survival trumped innovation to a culinary landscape where people are daring to try new things that, while still inside the box, provide the tools by which to once again venture beyond it. It’s my hope that the cream of the crop will realize life outside four walls in 2011. But for now, let’s reel back thoughts of tomorrow for a look back at the year that was.

Big Names in New Places: Local toques are becoming household names and several opened new restaurants this year, including Carl Schroeder (Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant), Jason Maitland (FLAVOR), Wade Hageman (Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria) and former Top Chefs contestants Rich Sweeney (R Gang Eatery) and Brian Malarkey, the latter of which is enjoying the runaway success of Downtown’s Searsucker, the most bustling new spot to open in a great while.

Going Gastro: Gastropubs like Proper, Quality Social, Sessions Public, Urge and the anything but plain Jayne’s Gastropub are to 2010 what places offering local, thoughtful, sustainable upscale twists on comfort food classics were to 2009—casual neighborhood proving grounds for edible fare that raises the bar to meet the lofty expectations of a largely foodie patron base.

Dining 101: After years of the same ol’ same ol’, the strip of historic Highway 101 that runs through Encinitas is becoming a hotbed for new dining spots thanks to buzz generated by the South American fare at Q’ero, mammoth burgers at Encinitas Ale House and Lumberyard Tavern and Grill, the top notch pies at the aforementioned Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria and the soon-to-open Solace and the Moonlight Lounge, a coastal two-story version of North Park’s Urban Solace.

Road Warriors: We’re not at the forefront of the gourmet food truck movement, but we’re catching up quick thanks to mobilized gastronomads like Dave de Jour, Devilicious, Joe’s on the Nose and the MIHO Gastrotruck who prefer to spread the edible love via the open road versus a permanent locale. Even chef Deborah Scott of the Cohn Restaurant Group is getting in on the act with her porky Pan-Asian inspired Chop Sooey truck.

Meat Market: Once the type of Slow Food from-scratch vittles only available at white linen restaurants like Jsix, A.R. Valentien and Rancho Valencia, charcuterie has become commonplace countywide. From the cafeteria environs of Liberty Station’s Tender Greens to the Gaslamp’s upscale dive bar, Quality Social, salumis, rillettes and balantines are the cure for what ails you.

Little Italy’s Side Trips: When people think Little Italy, they think India Street, but in 2010, several new gems popped up to lure fans of good food and drink off that Mediterranean main drag and into side street eateries offering creative departures from the norm like Craft & Commerce, Bencotto Italian Kitchen and Red Velvet Wine Bar.

Yes on Fat…No on Fowl: Never before has bacon been as prevalent in our traditionally health-conscious city as it was this year. Pork belly waddled its way onto just about every menu in San Diego. Meanwhile, most restaurants yielded to pressure and removed another rich and fatty delicacy, foie gras, from their menus (though you can still get it on request at a number of fine dining spots…but you didn’t hear that from me).

The Week Link: This year, local event planners and event fully embraced multi-day fests honoring everything from restos to suds to seafood courtesy of events like the San Diego Brewers Guild’s San Diego Beer Week, Cooks Confab’s Sustainable Seafood Week, the (damp) San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival and the San Diego Spirits Festival, which followed the fruitful model of the bi-annual San Diego Restaurant Week.

Our Cups Runneth Over: Maybe it’s because they take us back to a simpler time. Maybe it’s the fact that their petite size allows for a less guilty sweet tooth fix. Maybe it’s cutesy names like Cups, Cupcakes Squared, Heavenly Cupcake, Sprinkles and PubCakes (adult cakes made with beer). No matter the reason, there’s no denying that tiny gourmet cupcakes were the biggest dessert trend of the year, proving good things come in small packages.

20 Below: Many new restaurants opened with entire menus made up of items priced at $20 or less while a number of veteran eateries like AVE 5, Stingaree and Suite and Tender dialed down their bills of fare significantly to keep up with this popular trend. It’s the way God intended for us to eat, but history tells us the Andrew Jackson diet can only last so long. So be sure to gobble up these discount eats while they last!

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