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FOODfare: San Diego International Beer Festival

San Diego International Beer Festival
San Diego International Beer Festival
Courtesy Photo


Around the World in Unlimited Tastes

Big name musical acts (and a lot of other nobodies). Incredibly vast collections of priceless items (and a bunch of worthless crap). Deep-fried everything (yet strangely, not an antacid vendor to be seen). There are plenty of reasons to visit the San Diego County Fair. And as good as a crispy batter-crusted stick of butter is going down, the best in my borderline-alcoholic opinion is the San Diego International Beer Festival. It’s taking place starting tonight at 5 p.m. with a VIP meet the brewers session. But with over 350 beers from 150-plus brewing companies the world over and unlimited pours of all of them, rubbing elbows comes in a distant second to sampling some of the best suds on the planet. This year, I had the honor of helping to judge the competition, taking on the palate-obliterating categories of American India Pale Ale (more popularly known by its acronym as IPA) and Imperial Red Ales. There were some truly exceptional standouts in those classes and they’ll all be on tap tonight, during Saturday’s dual sessions (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 to 8 p.m.) and Sundays closing session (1 to 5 p.m.). Admission is $32 per person and winners in each category will be announced at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The Spirit World

Beer’s not your thing? First off … that is so unfortunate I feel myself reaching for an imperial stout just to help me cope. Despite my inability to understand your kind, with any luck, you at least enjoy some other form of adult beverage. Perhaps a cocktail is more up your alley. If that’s the case, you’re in luck. This weekend marks the rollout of the second annual San Diego Spirits Festival, which will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Broadway Pier’s Port Pavilion. The two-day ode to the hard stuff (and graceful ways to tame its massive octane in most delicious ways) will include high stakes bartender battles, live music, performance art and, most importantly, cocktail and beverage sampling. Some of the best eye-opening talent in San Diego will be on hand to show off the county’s thriving mixology scene while paying homage to the good ol’ days of speakeasies and saloons. Get in on this most tipsy stroll down memory lane at grand tastings from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

In the Pink

Chef Jason McLeod took on a big job several years ago when he opened up The Grand Del Mar. That property has gone on to become the county’s award-winningest hospitality venue and a lot of that has to do with its array of top tier dining destinations. After putting his heart and soul into GDM, McLeod packed up and blew town for the Windy City where he helmed Ria Restaurant (a winner of multiple Michelin stars) at the Elysian Hotel. He had many a good day there and took little time to become a key component of the ChiTown cheffing community, but in the end, something told him it was time to return to America’s Finest City. He did so recently and, though his ultimate plan is to open up a resto of his own, while he goes through the extensive preliminary steps to do so, he’s passing time as the elder component of a mentor-protégé relationship with a young chef at one of SD’s most iconic lodgings, La Valencia Hotel in downtown La Jolla. Behind his mentorship, executive chef Lance Repp and the hotel’s staff are working to revive the historic pink property’s Mediterranean Room to newfound glory on the back of a menu built around a Spanish tapas theme. The early results are quite delicious (look for a full review in the coming month) and a tasty return to McLeod’s old stomping grounds. Welcome back, chef.1132 Prospect Street, La Jolla, 858.454.0771

Little Italy’s D-Plus

Down to earth food that still exudes quality and is available at an affordable price point in a comfortable environment. This base concept screams San Diego (and explains why just about every new eatery that opens around here fits that mold), so it’s no wonder Scott Harris (Chicago Restaurateur of the Year in 2010) is bringing the concept for Davanti Enoteca from Chicago (where dining is much more traditional and most of the finest ingredients go for top dollar in less casually friendly confines). His concept for high taste, low cost, small plate and communal Italian fare should be a nice fit for Little Italy. Considering how similar it is to spots like Bankers Hill’s Cucina Urbana, it seems a safe bet it’ll at least have a decent chance of finding success. In fact, it’s so much like CU that the popular dining website Grub Street investigated a tip earlier this year that Harris (a part time SD resident) had copied the menu concept for Davanti Enoteca from the aforementioned San Diego hotspot. Hopefully, the arrival of Little Italy’s new kid on the block won’t cause the streets between India and Laurel to run red with bad blood and marinara.