Five local restaurants honored at annual CRA awards ceremony

It seems like there’s an awards ceremony going on nearly every week. With so many, it can be difficult to not only keep them all straight, but weed out the events signifying legitimate prestige and accomplishment versus those of lesser substance and authenticity.

The real telling stat for any award is the panel of judges selecting the winner and, when it comes to the restaurant business, there are no better experts than the proprietors of local establishments and the patrons who fill their seats and dine on their fare. These are the individuals who select the winners for the California Restaurant Association’s Gold Medallion Awards.

On April 30, more than 1,200 members of San Diego’s restaurant and hospitality industry converged on the Manchester Grand Hyatt for the 24th annual Gold Medallions Awards Dinner.

In addition to celebrating the successes of their colleagues, this contingent of professionals raised more than $54,000 via a live auction. Those funds will be utilized by the chapter’s Education Committee to fund a variety of local culinary education programs, including the perpetuation of successful efforts at Morse, Mira Mesa, San Diego and Garfield high schools.

As one would expect, a large number of La Jolla restaurants were nominated for awards in a variety of categories (see side bar for a complete list of local nominees), but with San Diego’s dining scene advancing at such a rapid and impressive clip, the countywide competition was fiercer than ever. Still, five eateries rose to the top of the ballot box including the winner of arguably the most prestigious award of all - the People’s Choice Award.

Voted on by San Diegans of all walks of life via vehicles provided in print and online by The San Diego Union-Tribune, the People’s Choice Award is the only Gold Medallion whose recipient is not determined by the CRA’s 400 member panel. For the eighth time in the past nine years, the venerable Marine Room, the fine dining appendage of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, was chosen as the crème de la crème of San Diego’s restaurant community.

“It’s truly an honor,” commented executive chef Bernard Guillas, who is no stranger to receiving high honors for his inventive, globally-inspired cuisine, yet still savors each and every win.

Another of La Jolla’s prominent upscale eateries, Trattoria Acqua, took home the title of Best Italian Fine Dining.

“Whenever your peers acknowledge you for being special, it really makes all the hard work worthwhile. It was a very special night for the staff,” explained proprietor Michael McGeath.

One member of that staff, executive chef Damaso Lee, had the additional honor of being one of five nominees for Chef of the Year (which was awarded to executive chef Carl Schroeder of Del Mar’s Market Restaurant + Bar).

While not exclusively La Jollan, three other restaurants operating in The Jewel were also honored. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro won the Gold Medallion for Best Asian Restaurant. Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza, which is celebrating its 19th year, won for Best Pizza.

And what goes better with best pizza? Best beer, of course. San Diego’s premier local beer can be had at Karl Strauss Brewing Company, which struck gold in the Best Brewery category.

Notable winners from elsewhere in the county included Restaurateur of the Year Lehn Goetz of Old Town’s Cafe Coyote, The Gaslamp Quarter’s Oceanaire Seafood Room for Best Seafood Fine Dining, Harbor Island’s Island Prime for Best Steakhouse Fine Dining, Downtown’s Jade Theater for Best New Restaurant, India Street’s Anthology for Best Live Music Venue/Restaurant and fifties fun Corvette Diner for Best Family Style Restaurant.

It’s an honor just to be nominated

This year’s list of nominees was salt-and-peppered with eateries of all types from La Jolla:

Chef Of The Year | Damaso Lee (Trattoria Acqua)

European (Casual) | Piatti

European (Fine Dining) | Tapenade

Hotel Restaurant (Fine Dining) | A.R. Valentien

Modern American | NINE-TEN

Pacific Rim | Roppongi Restaurant & Sushi Bar; Roy’s La Jolla

Sushi Bar | Cafe Japengo; Sushi On The Rock

Burger Restaurant | The Burger Lounge