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Restaurant Week brings a feast to La Jolla

By Brandon Hernández

The holidays may be over, but for local diners, the most wonderful time of the year is right around the corner.

San Diego Restaurant Week, our region’s most successful dining promotion, will take place from January 27th through February 1st. During this splendid six-day span, patrons will enjoy delectable multi-course prix-fixe dinners at restaurants throughout San Diego County at competitive prices ranging from $30 to $40 per person (beverages, tax and gratuity not included).

From North County to the South Bay, San Diego’s finest are eager to showcase the best they have to offer in the way of cuisine and hospitality to customers both new and old.

The idea for Restaurant Week first came about when Ingrid Croce, the owner of Croce’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, was in New York City. It was January of 2002 and she happened on the happiest of coincidences. Her trip coincided with a mammoth promotional event called NYC Restaurant Week where, for one week, Manhattan dining establishments of all sizes and varieties offered three-course prix-fixe meals for the startlingly low price of $20.02 … quite the bargain for one of America’s most expensive cities.

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“We kicked the idea around for a while,” recalls Michael McGeath, the owner of La Jolla’s Trattoria Acqua and the president of the board of the San Diego California Restaurant Association at the time. “The sticking point for us was that we needed staff to take care of organizing such a large undertaking.” Fortunately for the CRA, in 2005 San Diego Magazine stepped in and not only sponsored the region’s first Restaurant Week, but took on the massive responsibility of coordinating too.

“We’ve come a long way,” notes McGeath. “The first year, we had 75 restaurants participating in Restaurant Week and now, in our fourth year, we’re up to around 150. We also have more help in organizing it from the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau and San Diego Magazine plus additional funding for advertising from our other sponsors (American Express, US Foods, AM 600 KOGO and S. Pellegrino).”

San Diego Restaurant Week has been so successful that other metropolitan cities looking to introduce similar events are calling San Diego CRA Board members for advice. It’s no wonder this annual event has picked up steam with each passing year. Not only does it benefit the restaurant community, but a dining public that is hungry for the best our rapidly advancing culinary scene has to offer.

“For me, the most exciting aspect of Restaurant Week is reaching through to a larger spectrum and being part of an individual’s growth with regards to cooking,” stated Jeff Jackson, the executive chef of A.R. Valentien at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, who is well known for refined, innovative California cuisine; the kind that constitutes a true dining adventure.

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But this promotion isn’t just for gourmands looking to push the envelope. The area’s hottest, most inventive chefs and brigades will be well-represented and so, too, will those who are famous for food that’s just plain good. Whether you are in search of hearty, flavorful Italian pastas, bold and spicy Mexican staples, noodle- and stir-fry dishes from the Far East or good old American stick-to-your-ribs barbecue, you will not be disappointed. With such an extensive list of restaurants to choose from, there is literally something for everybody.

“Restaurant Week is vital to our restaurant community because of the opportunity to draw in diners who either haven’t heard of us before or don’t know what we’re about,” stated Karina Patterson, director of marketing for La Valencia Hotel, whose Mediterranean Room restaurant will play host to Restaurant Week clientele. Their emphasis, like those of most participating eateries, is on providing an authentic experience mirroring what customers can expect to find on a return visit. “When diners come to La Valencia for Restaurant Week, they can expect to sample some of our most popular menu items. The dishes that keep people coming back.”

But let’s be realistic. Can diners paying only $30 to $40 for meals that would normally cost in excess of $60 or $70 really expect to get the full experience? According to Neal Wasserman, the director of food and beverage for La Jolla’s NINE-TEN, the answer is absolutely. “I want diners to know that the quality and creativity of cuisine, the presentation style and the service levels they experience during Restaurant Week are exactly what they will experience any other night … just with more options!”

One look at the topnotch menus being offered during Restaurant Week confirms that each restaurateur realizes how important this week is and what they stand to gain from the event. “Our experience from the past two years has shown that some of our best guests were first introduced to us during Restaurant Week,” stated Deborah Horger, director of sales and marketing for the Brigantine family of restaurants.

When asked about the process of developing the Restaurant Week menu for Azul La Jolla, Horger noted, “Because Chef Orion Balliet was asked to limit the selections in each course to three, the challenge was showcasing enough of his menu to give Restaurant Week guests the full flavor of what Azul offers during the other fifty-one weeks of the year.”

But there’s more to this event than just the food.

“During Restaurant Week there is a special ambience … a buzz! Everything seems more festive and it’s wonderful to see guests with so much happiness,” explained Sylvie Diot, the director of special events for La Jolla’s Tapenade Restaurant.

“La Jolla itself has a special feeling,” added Patterson of our community’s own unique ambience. “I think we offer a quiet reprieve to those who want to experience a different side of San Diego. La Jolla’s small-town charm, breathtaking views and first-class choices in dining appeal to anyone wishing to escape from the everyday.”

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When it comes to Restaurant Week in La Jolla, McGeath said it best. “We like to think of this week as our ‘thank you’ to the community and people that support us year-round. It gives us the chance to express gratitude to our regulars and introduce new guests to phenomenal meals at attractive, reasonable prices.”

Reservations are still available at most participating restaurants. For those looking to stretch out the celebration, a large number of participating restaurants will offer their Restaurant Week menus and pricing to American Express cardholders through February 8th. The second installment of San Diego Restaurant Week will take place from Sunday, June 22nd through Friday, June 27th. A list of participating restaurants and their complete Restaurant Week menus is available at www.sandiegorestaurantweek.com.

La Jolla restaurants featured during San Diego Restaurant Week

Many of our community’s finest dining establishments are involved with Restaurant Week. So many, in fact, that selecting which ones to visit can present a real, yet delightful challenge. We have provided a list of participating La Jolla restaurants along with a sample of the signature fare diners will have a chance to sample from each. Bon appetit!
  • A.R. Valentien * - swordfish with manila clams, toasted orzo & tapenade
  • Adobe El Ristorante at Estancia La Jolla * - chorizo-crusted sea bass with scallop ravioli & white beans
  • Azul La Jolla * - dungeness crab stuffed petrale sole
  • Bamboo * - almond-crusted soft-shell crab with roasted red pepper sauce
  • Beaumont’s Neighborhood Eatery - passion fruit-glazed short ribs, polenta souffle & bleu cheese fondue
  • Brockton Villa Restaurant - cabernet coq au vin with fingerling potatoes & thyme jus
  • Crab Catcher Restaurant * - tomato-glazed halibut, truffled potato puree & saffron garlic sauce
  • George’s California Modern * - braised lamb shank, butternut squash risotto & onion-raisin relish
  • The Grill at Torrey Pines - chicken & ricotta dumplings with cavola nero & shaved ham
  • Harry’s Bar & American Grill - filet mignon with gorgonzola towers & truffle oil sauce
  • Humphrey’s La Jolla - pistachio-crusted pork tenderloin with blueberry demi-glace
  • Jack’s La Jolla * - roasted lobster with Jerusalem artichokes, kumquats & spice syrup
  • The Marine Room * - hazelnut suneli-spiced scallops with red quinoa & tomato confit
  • Mediterranean Room at La Valencia * - paella with prawns, chicken, clams, mussels, scallops & sausage
  • NINE-TEN * - flatiron steak with cipollini onion puree & red wine sauce
  • Roppongi * - roasted salmon with curried cauliflower puree & cilantro pesto
  • Roy’s La Jolla * - Hawaiian ono with truffle maitake mushroom dashi consomme
  • Sante Ristorante - veal chop with brandy, wild mushrooms & light cream sauce
  • Shores Restaurant at The Shores Hotel - bourbon-glazed rib-eye with cumin-gouda polenta, cherries & chard
  • Tapenade Restaurant * - Alaskan salmon with broccoli, raisins & caper emulsion
  • Trattoria Acqua - oven-roasted pheasant with sausage ragu & Tuscan white beans
  • Venice Ristorante & Wine Bar - seasonal authentic Italian pasta & antipasti
  • Vigilucci’s La Jolla * - ahi tuna farfale in white wine tomato sauce accented with mint

  • Denotes restaurants charging $40


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