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FOODfare: Heightened Gastropub Fare At AVE 5

AVE 5's steak entree.
Courtesy photo

AVE 5’s recent concept change is best exemplified by, of all things, its tables. Gone are fine white linens and immaculate stemware. In their place are tastefully bare tabletops adorned simply yet elegantly with vegetables plucked from local soil.

The same treatment has been applied to the bill of fare, which used to boast high-priced proteins gussied up courtesy of complex culinary techniques, but now includes what chef-proprietor Collin MacLaggan calls “heightened gastropub” fare—common yet high quality ingredients cooked simply but elevated via care and precision in the kitchen.

It’s no coincidence that MacLaggan is morphing his eatery into what has been the most successful restaurant model of the past two years. While Avenue 5 had its share of regular customers and plenty of fans within the foodie community, like many fine dining restaurants, it was struggling to keep its well-appointed doors open in light of the current economy.

While the toned-down concept reflects what the market will bear, AVE 5’s menu showcases what local markets will bare. The majority of produce is procured from a plot at Ramona’s Highland Valley Ranch that is sown to MacLaggan’s custom specifications, while other fruits, vegetables and herbs are sourced from local spots like Suzie’s Farm in Imperial Beach. The quality of these earthen gems comes through in finished products like the roasted beet salad with chevre, arugula and a porcini mushroom vinaigrette.

That same vividness of flavor is present throughout the menu, which includes dishes that, at face value, are not mind-blowing, but wow on the palate. Basic dishes like mushroom-chicken rigatoni and a simple cheeseburger come alive thanks to conception-to-table care and consciousness and attention to detail from MacLaggan, who started his career as a pastry chef and is also responsible for all of AVE 5’s desserts.

They are exceptional and worth saving room for. A butterscotch pot de crème is straightforward, decadent and enhanced beautifully thanks to a sprinkle of fleur de sel and the addition of rosemary sugar cookies.

Also not to be missed are the inventive cocktail stylings of mixologist, Michael Yen, who tends bar with equal parts proficiency and whimsy. While guests relax at the bar, enjoying well-made hand-crafted cocktails, Yen offers up playful gifts like deconstructed lychee martinis that look like shiny pearls floating in a thin layer of water or a cocktail that looks like a raw egg but, in reality consists of a peach “yolk” surrounded by mixed liqueur “whites” with a surprising sprinkle of hidden pop rocks that make this oddity all the more memorable. Such creativity would be hard to match in San Diego or anywhere.

AVE 5 is worth rediscovering and a fun opportunity to do so will be on Halloween night when MacLaggan turns the lights down low and offers an all-night happy hour as well as a three-course prix-fixe dinner for just $25 per person. There’s definitely nothing scary about that price!

AVE 5, 2760 Fifth Ave., Bankers Hill, 619.542-0394

Getting Crafty

When Jeff Jackson originally migrated to San Diego to become executive chef at the infamous Lodge at Torrey Pines, one of the first things he did was invite some of the region’s most noted chefs over to his new digs to break bread and talk shop. From that humble gathering came a lasting camaraderie and the type of strength and influence that can only be had in numbers. This fledgling group harbored mutual respect for the farmers, ranchers, vintners, brewers and other artisanal culinary practitioners in their backyard and worked to set up networks to get their goods into their restaurants. As exemplified by our county’s burgeoning farm-to-table movement, their efforts proved wildly successful and, once a year, Jackson and his growing legion of culinary contemporaries gather at The Lodge for Celebrate the Craft, an outdoor festival featuring an all-you-can-eat bounty crafted by sustainability-minded chefs from around San Diego. This year’s event takes place on Halloween from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and tickets are $75 apiece. Remember to save room for candy.

11480 N. Torrey Pines Rd., La Jolla, 858-453-4420

Scare Tactics

The Hotel Del Coronado is known around the country for being a top tier resort, the backdrop for the movie Some Like It Hot and one of San Diego’s most haunted locales. In 1892, a young woman named Kate Morgan checked unaccompanied into The Del. During her stay, she appeared to be under the weather and in generally bad spirits. Five days into her stay, she was found dead of what was ruled a self-inflicted gunshot wound on a staircase leading from the hotel to the beach. For the past century-plus, staff and visitors at The Del have reported paranormal activities and ghostly sightings in the room Kate stayed in. She’s become so popular that she’s even listed as a potential guest at the hotel’s Hallo-“wine” and Spirits Party this Saturday at 7 p.m. This adults-only extravaganza will start with a trick-or-treat reception featuring over 30 wines, cheeses, charcuterie and truffles followed by a spook-tacular bash with live music, fall-inspired food stations and a costume contest. Tickets are $100 per person and special promotions and room packages are also available.

1500 Orange Ave., Coronado, 619-522-8490

White as a Ghost

This Saturday, the music-minded bartisans at Analog are offering up a costume party-esque event that’ll provide plenty of dress-up practice. It’s Halloween: A Hauntingly White-Trash Party and, for one truly frightening evening, staples of this all-too-real stereotypical genre—mullets, trucker hats, jorts, spousal abuse-affiliated undershirts and the like—will be out in full force. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a ghoul, goblin or Lady Gaga impersonator anywhere near as scary the following evening. Just as zany as this promotion is the snack-bar-gone-wild dishes on Analog’s menu, which includes such delicacies as popcorn Brussels sprouts, chili totchos (tater tots served nacho-style with chili, cheese and jalapeño relish) and Twinkie tiramisu with chocolate and Kahlúa cream.

801 Fifth Ave., Downtown, 619-233-1183

What’s in a Name?

While the quality of their award-winning brews has always been their main claim to fame, few breweries elicit as much praise for skillful, creative bottle art as San Marcos’ The Lost Abbey. But, as with all mediums that are subject to opinion, you can’t please everybody. In The Lost Abbey’s case, it’s the Wiccan community who have voiced their disapproval of the label to their Witch’s Wit, which features a woman being burned at the stake in a town square. Director of brewery operations Tomme Arthur was inundated with a barrage of angry emails from subscribers to this modern form of witchcraft, voicing their disdain over the company’s “hate imagery.” As a result, Arthur and his partners are leaning toward changing the label and may even hold a contest to decide on the final redesign. Not a bad compromise. Just to recap—it’s okay to dress up as a witch this year…just don’t set yourself on fire.

155 Mata Way, #104, San Marcos, 800-918-6816

Day of the Dead

Halloween isn’t the only holiday making light of life after death. Directly following All Hallow’s Eve is Dia de los Muertos. Translating to “the day of the dead,” what seems rather morbid on the surface is actually a time-honored Mexican tradition where lost souls are remembered and prayed for at the foot of altars erected by loved ones. Family members also leave offerings at the altar including favorite foods of the departed before enjoying good food and celebrations of their own. Old Town’s Café Coyote has built an altar in honor of their family and employees and is inviting San Diegans to come celebrate with them on November 1 and 2. All visitors will be treated to a complimentary cup of Mexican hot chocolate flavored with cinnamon and roasted almonds. A special menu including turkey mole enchiladas and banana-wrapped pork tamales will also be available through November 2.

2461 San Diego Avenue, Old Town, 619-291-4695