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Friday, July 22, 2005 | JRDN at Tower23 Hotel quietly opened last week. As noted in my July 1 column, the neo-modern glass box boutique hotel (with only 44 rooms) is immediately adjacent to Pacific Beach’s Crystal Pier. Open and airy with clean lines and minimalist decor, the restaurant is upscale yet casual, with no tablecloths but linen napkins. Much of the art and finishing touches are not on the walls. The large bar area is inviting with split wood square cocktail tables and upholstered square stools for some of the seating. A small sushi bar is also in this area.

Since the restaurant faces the Pacific Ocean, the concept is to pair wines and food flavors from Pacific Rim countries. Consider it a short education in the regionality of food and wine. It will take a bit more tuning to help diners understand how the food and wine menus play off each other, especially with the seemingly confusing wine list-the concept was lost on the three of us one night.

We were seated on the heated, windowed patio. During daylight, the view is of the beach and pier as well as into the dining room. As night falls, it gets very dark on the patio, with the glass reflecting the interior restaurant wall, designed with a wavy effect and changing colored lights. The patio tables could use more or different lighting other than the single votive candle (that wouldn’t stay lit) floating in a large highball glass that two of us almost mistook for a glass of water. Management is working to fix this problem.

JRDN’s food has promise and will likely continue to be fine-tuned. My 8-ounce, flat-iron steak was perfectly cooked medium rare. You choose a rub or a sauce to go with the steak, fish and chicken, as well as two side dishes from a long list that includes cream-less cream corn that was not creamy from the starch of the corn (as told by our server), but tasty with fresh kernels. Crispy onion rings were thickly battered, yet crunchy and not greasy. The Parmesan gnocchi had the right flavor and the wrong gluey texture. Miso-marinated black cod was perfectly cooked, marred only by the oversalted shitake mushrooms, whereas the organic Northwest salmon was again perfectly cooked though one at the table found it slightly fishy (she grew up in the Northwest eating salmon all the time). We shared the chocolate-hazelnut dessert that was seriously sweet with intense chocolate and hazelnut flavor and crunchy layers. Desserts at the moment are not made in-house.

With the Pacific Rim concept in mind, the wine list has wines from Australia, Japan, Argentina, California and Canada (not France) to name a few. Wines are listed by their country, state and county of origin, not by their varietal (or even by color). For example, to find a sparkling, white or red wine, one must read the entire list and look for an S (sparkling), a W (white) or R (red) next to each entry. Say you want a Sauvignon Blanc, you’ll spend a lot of time looking for W’s and then the varietal. Still, if you know you like a mild chimichurri sauce on your steak, you could order an Argentine wine. The concept is unusual, and if wine and food pairing aren’t important to you, finding a wine could be a time-consuming and tough for even the wine savvy diner. JRDN at Tower23 Hotel, 4551 Ocean Blvd., Pacific Beach, (858) 270-JRDN (5736).

Pet Peeve: Restaurants that continue the oh-so-1980s casual steakhouse habit of training their wait staff to say, “Hi, my name is … and I’ll be your server tonight.” Good service is not contingent on knowing my server’s name – I’ll ask if I want to know. JRDN and Gemelli Italian Grill are the latest among many other well-known upscale restaurants to persist in this silly and intrusive exercise.

Tidbits: La Jolla’s best-kept secret, Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, has Sami Antoine Afif as the new Director of Food and Beverage. Look for modest changes at the Mustangs and Burros Bar as well as their other restaurants. Mustangs has comfy outdoor seating and is a terrific off-the-beaten-track place for a drink. Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, 9700 N. Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, www.estancialajolla.com.

Wine Adventure magazine, a bi-monthly wine magazine premiers this month with an eye toward women. Billed as a mix of the magazines Gourmet, Conde Nast Traveler, Wine Spectator and O (The Oprah magazine), Wine Adventure aims to be non-intimidating and approachable to women, 57 percent of whom would buy high-end (over $20) wine. Best of all, the magazine is located here in San Diego and is $30 for the year.

Soon you can shop until you drop at Carlsbad Company Stores and then get a bite to eat at the Sonoma Valley Market Food Cart centrally located in the mall. Beginning August 13, the cart will feature Voss water, pantry items gift baskets and deli sandwiches. Sonoma Valley Market, 300 Carlsbad Village Drive, Suite 107, Carlsbad, (760) 720-7700, and at Carlsbad Company Stores www.sonomavalleymarket.com.

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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