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Trattoria Acqua’s new menu long on comfort at lower price

Long considered a haven for culinary connoisseurs, La Jolla boasts dozens of upscale, fashionable and delicious restaurants. Escargot and lobster, filet mignon and scampi are rarely in short supply here, but bargains?

Well, bargains may not be exactly what most people associate with fine dining in La Jolla, particularly along Prospect Street.

But with the tourists gone and the economy faltering, some local restaurants are stepping up to lower their prices.

Trattoria Acqua’s new menu features only a few entrees over $20, and owners Victoria and Michael McGeath say that’s because they are getting back to basics.

“We’re going back to what we were 15 years ago,” said Michael, who has owned Trattoria Acqua, at 1298 Prospect, with his wife since 1994. “It’s casual dining, but still with ingredients of the highest quality. People are looking for that these days.”

Michael said he approached his purveyors and requested they lower their prices in turn for higher volume. “People can’t believe that 90 percent of the entrees on our menu are under $20,” he said. “It’s cheaper than cooking at home.”

That is important with so many other restaurants suffering or going out of business as people watch their stocks tumble.

“There isn’t a restaurant in La Jolla that hasn’t been hit (by this recession),” Michael added.

Many of the new dishes on the menu also have “comfort” or home-style written all over them. The new Mac and Cheese is made with Gruyere, cheddar, provolone and mozzarella cheeses, as well as white truffle essence and toasted bread crumbs ($15.95).

Meatloaf ($16.95), Free Range Roasted Chicken ($17.95), Rib Eye Steak ($19.95) and Mongolian Pork Chop ($18.95) are there, too, but as Victoria pointed out, their meatloaf “may not be your mom’s meatloaf.”

“We fly in Porcini mushrooms for the loaf,” explained Michael, adding that his mantra has always been to shop quality, not price in ingredients.

Also new on the menu are Prince Edward Island Black Mussels sauced with either a beer, bacon, tomato sauce or a white wine, herb and cream sauce and served with crispy, herbed french fries for $16.95. A new Stew of the Day is served with turnips, carrots, potatoes and onions in a red wine reduction sauce with a side of truffled white polenta for $18.95.

And keeping with the trend of upscale, gourmet burgers, the couple have put a Cove Burger on the menu. It’s a half-pound “deconstructed” Wagyu Kobe beef burger served with a choice of gorgonzola or pepper jack cheese, a host of accompaniments and herbed fries or buttermilk onion rings on the side ($14.95).

“You always have to evolve in this business,” Victoria said. “Oprah doesn’t eat pasta, so people stop eating it. Then, everything was vegetarian. Now it’s gluten-free ... we even took pizza off the menu for five years, but it’s back now.”