Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in a series reviewing some of San Diego’s eclectic neighborhood hot spots. Part Four – Downtown
By LAUREN CIALLELLA
It’s true that you wouldn’t recognize parts of Downtown these days, especially areas like the East Village that have gone through a complete facelift. Certain streets here were considered dangerous after dark, but the addition of Petco Park’s (baseball) diamond in the rough (part of town) wore away factions of this seedy underbelly. The Gaslamp burns bright through its disheveled past, but occasionally disappoints with concentration on its gussied up appearance instead of genuine substance. Little Italy, steamrolled with property development, has washed away much of its blue collar motif, but still maintains a stronghold on a separate society who murmur fluent Italian in the streets.
n Profile of a silhouette – CafÇ Chloe (721 9th Ave.) embraces 1940s Parisian flare, wafting contemporary nostalgia through a cool dining room bathed in black and white photos. A child’s silhouette (the owner’s daughter, Chloe of course) marks the sign of this consistently classy bistro that pleases palates daily. Brunch offers a multitude of lavish concoctions like the poached eggs with mushroom/sage truffle buerre blanc. Decadent steak tartine with gorgonzola mousse, caramelized onions and grape tomatoes pairs nicely with pomegranate mimosas.
n Gumby loves Pokez – Graffiti riddles the outside of Pokez Mexican restaurant (947 E St.) and welcomes patrons inside with equally immense, iconic images (MLK Jr., Che Guevara, Jesus). The diversity doesn’t end there since they cater to just about all culinary options for vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters. Even carnivores will be pleasantly surprised with their tempting tendencies towards tofu. Enjoy a cheap burrito and visit The Roseary Room next door for a pitcher of sangria mixed with a surreal, religious experience. Open weekends, the scarlet surroundings offer a few pews with enough idyllic memorabilia to make you feel like you’re sinning in church.
n A Masters Degree – Where most wine bars are the equivalent to a high school education, 57 Degrees (1330 G St.) has graduated with honors by mastering sophistication without suffocation. Allowing its wine and patrons to breathe, vibrant oil canvases brighten a room mixed with clientele ordering a glass, bottle or tasting of wine. The climate controlled storage unit, also used by wine collectors, keeps its cool at 57 degrees and invites the city to experience the warmth of perfectly tempered wine without leaving Downtown (Wed.-Sat., 2 p.m.-12 a.m.).
n East Village Tip – Don’t pay a fortune for Padres tickets. $8 buys you a seat on the grass laden bleachers in centerfield to stay for the whole game or just a couple of innings.
n Give ’em an inch . – And you’ll get a yard. The Yard House (1023 4th Ave.) offers beer by the yard, along with upscale pub grub and a rich, mahogany cigar bar feel (without the smoke). Get thirsty because they have a variety of brews on tap for sipping from your unusually large glass. While most bar food reaches the “fried ceiling” and can’t budge past mozzarella sticks, the Yard House measures up with twists on finely tuned favorites. Their ahi tuna sandwich with Swiss, caramelized onions and peppercorn aioli is fresh in idea and flavor. Grilled Jamaican wings with rum bbq sauce and a variety of burgers stand out before they’re washed down with a few feet of beer.
n On Point – Blue Point (565 5th Ave.) steps out of an old movie and into the Gaslamp with low lighting and velvety nuances. High booths offer seclusion with Old Hollywood appeal and a smoky luxuriance that lingers amongst the crowd. Lobster and shrimp spring rolls with pickled ginger are as opulent as the trout stuffed with pancetta and crabmeat. First class service and first class fare at this ritzy establishment make you feel like San Diego’s “glitterati.”
n Gaining Interest – It pays to make a deposit at the Wine Bank (363 5th Ave.) with their reasonable prices and top shelf selection. Troll these aisles for an exceptional bottle of wine or head downstairs for tastings every Fri (5-7 p.m.) and Sat (3-5 p.m.) offering six themed wines every week for $20 (and you keep the glass).
n Pour Choices – Henry’s Pub (614 5th Ave.) displaces energetic aggressions while goofing with friends on the dance floor. Favorite ’80s songs spur sing-a-longs and dance offs, while outside tables ensure cool off time after “Jesse’s Girl”. Dublin Square (554 4th Ave.) will also have you swaying to and fro, and possibly harmonizing with strangers. Patrons from Chive restaurant (next door) often lean over enviously eyeing “Dubliners” crooning acappella. Here’s an Irish Pub with the character of a fraternity where everyone can join.
n Central Tip – Downtown parking can be brutal, but Horton Plaza lands you directly in the Gaslamp and allows three hours free parking with validation (a postcard from Longs Drugs is only 54 cents and they validate!)
n No Blues about Indigo – Elegant warmth draws you into Indigo Grill’s (1536 India St.) earthy, yet contemporary setting, feels as if you’ve fallen down a rabbit-hole and discovered a lost culture whose native cuisine is gourmet. Blueberry lacquered lamb chops are small, yet meaty and served with a “pot” of gold – creamy, gooey, cheesy potatoes which may land you in a comfort food coma. Pecan encrusted rainbow trout flakes off in thick, juicy clumps with crunchy bits of pecan and salty/sweet orange-pasilla buerre blanc. This venue is the perfect stop to impress out of town visitors with an array of the unusual and scrumptious.
n Ciao Buon Chow – Buon Appetito (1609 India St.) only brings happy thoughts of this quaint, authentic eatery illustrating how simple ingredients create complex flavors. The balsamic vinaigrette grips the spinach with distinct thickness – unusual, but that’s what makes it the best around, especially atop sliced duck salad with lumps of goat cheese and roasted pine nuts. Homemade ravioli, gnocchi and lasagna exemplify what pasta should be – filling warmth that remains light. Memories of their pink sauce won’t be forgotten. Sidewalk seating, window tables by the wine case and expressive Italian dialogue between the wait staff instill a feeling of dining abroad.
n British Invasion – The Princess Pub (1665 India St.) serves pints of Boddingtons, bangers and beans on toast for a little piece of England in Little Italy. The mustard yellow exterior (in need of a fresh coat of paint) has a worn look with a comfortable countance enticing patrons for a game of darts or quick nip with the blokes.
n Little Italy Tip – Make sure to stop at CafÇ Italia (1704 India St.) for their authentic gelato. Flavors like dark chocolate and espresso bean are potent, creamy, dense and rich – it’s the real deal and cheap.