Friday, April 08, 2005 | People often say the best food and restaurants are found in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. What these cities have in common is an abundance of unpretentious neighborhood restaurants with good food. San Diego is finally coming into its own with fun, comfortable and well-designed local neighborhood places. This smaller type of restaurant is likely located in an urban setting that combines residential and retail within walking distance, and bears no resemblance to the more impersonal chain restaurant. Much like the East Village’s Café Chloe (mentioned in this column on March 25), The Vine is in an unlikely location.

Ocean Beach, which usually brings to mind a ’60s hippy culture, is home to this recently opened gem that is my idea of a terrific wine bar with good, reasonably priced food. Their wine list is a book, and their most expensive food items are $10.95- a flat iron steak with caramelized shallots, walnuts and Roquefort sauce; bacon-wrapped sea scallops in port reduction sauce; and coriander crusted ahi seared rare. One late Thursday evening (the kitchen closes at 10 p.m.), there were few white clothed tables to be had. A pal and I sampled crab cakes that did have their share of bread crumbs with crab, but were light and not gooey, and a fresh spinach salad with asparagus, bacon and chevre – both dishes hit the spot for the late hour. A house-made flourless chocolate cake was rich with chocolate and would be even better with a small scoop of vanilla gelato rather than the raspberry coulis. The Vine, on the corner of Bacon Street and Niagara Avenue, in Ocean Beach. (619) 222-8463. Closed Mondays.

Another wine bar, in the category of nice wines and very minimal food (on disposable plates) is Trisler’s. Nestled in The Promenade at Rio Vista – with residences above the retail stores – this wine bar is for drinking a nice selection in a comfortable room. Try Chilean wines on Wednesday, April 20, for just $5, or spend Saturday, April 30, tasting wines in Baja for $75. If you don’t live within walking distance, the trolley stops right there at Rio Vista. Trisler’s, 8555 Station Village Lane, Suite C, in Mission Valley. (619) 298-1501.

The corner of Fifth Avenue and Laurel Street in Bankers Hill will soon have another restaurant. Vince Busalacchi’s Gemelli Italian Grill is set to open soon. It joins Laurel Restaurant & Bar (which will close for remodeling at the end of the month) as well as Bertrand at Mr. A’s, the restaurant with the spectacular view and recently relocated bar. The new bar is to the right as you get off the elevator, smaller than the original one, and still sited so customers sit with their backs toward the view of planes landing and sun setting. Only the bartender gets the great view. The old bar area will have more tables for dining.

While we’re talking neighborhood restaurants, next week I’ll be talking about Lupi’s and if you have a favorite place you’d like to read about, please let me know.

Marcie Rothman loves good food – no matter where it’s cooked – at home, a hole in the wall or a white tablecloth restaurant. Known as The $5 Chef on radio, television and in her two cookbooks, Marcie travels far and near with an eye on what’s current in food. You can find her at www.5dollarchef.com.

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