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Friday, August 05, 2005 | It’s rare that in one dinner you can enjoy the food of two terrific San Diego chefs. Riko Bartolome of Escondido’s Asia-Vous collaborates with Amiko Gubbins of Parallel 33 in Mission Hills, for the third KoKo dinner. On Aug. 22 at Asia-Vous and Aug. 29 at Parallel 33, each chef will prepare a five-course tasting menu and each table will receive an equal number of items from each menu. You’ll be treated to Riko’s tandoori marinated shrimp and Asian cured duck along with Amiko’s melon gazpacho and roasted veal tenderloin as part of their respective five courses. Cost for the dinner is $75 plus tax and gratuity. A special wine pairing is available for an additional $35, plus tax and gratuity. Asia-Vous, 417 W. Grand Ave., Escondido, (760) 747-5000. Parallel 33, 741 W. Washington St., Mission Hills, (619) 260-0033. Reservations at both restaurants are available from 5:30 to 9 p.m.

Soltan Banoo is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant on Park Boulevard, half a block off Adams Avenue near the University Heights sign. Its eclectic Persian cuisine is homemade and delicious. The menu features many Middle Eastern dishes such as hummus (pureed chickpeas), tabbouleh (parsley and cracked wheat), dolma (rice stuffed grape leaves) and baba ghanoush (pureed eggplant with tahini) all of which are tasty, though the hummus and baba ghanoush miss a subtle garlic kick. The hot dishes at both lunch and dinner are authentically Persian. Fesenjoon, a savory chicken with pomegranate and walnut sauce served with basmati rice, is addictive in flavor. The zereshk polo is a delicate dish of saffron-flavored basmati rice, dried cranberries, barberries, carrots and orange zest prepared with either chicken or tofu. Lunch features salads and delicious wraps (using flavored tortillas) big enough to split with a pal. Seating on the front patio makes dining pleasurable during warm summer days and nights. Soltan Banoo, 4645 Park Blvd., University Heights, (619) 298-2801.

A North County pal suggested dinner at La Costa Resort & Spa’s BlueFire Grill – she had heard about Scott Diehl, the restaurant’s relatively new chef de cuisine. So one night last week, I braved the Interstate 5 traffic for, at best, a mediocre meal. I was surprised that Diehl didn’t have a better handle on his uninspired and out-of-season menu, particularly because he has worked at some of the best San Diego restaurants, including WineSellar & Brasserie and Prime 10.

One might wonder why – in the middle of summer – the menu reflects fall and winter foods and cooking techniques such as braised short ribs, roasted root vegetables, pan-roasted meats and a seasonal fruit crisp of apples, raisins and pears. With the abundance of local seasonal produce, the menu seems out of step with summer’s bounty of ingredients. There are steamed Carlsbad mussels, but why feature Atlantic-farmed salmon when we have wild Pacific salmon available through September?

Although the restaurant setting is comfortable, the warm evening created a pesky condensation drip from the air conditioning vents (and on to my arm), though our terrific server offered to move us. A live, loud and inappropriate for the restaurant ’50s-era band played on the patio … so loud we had to ask to have the patio door closed to hear ourselves talk.

Our food: Good middle-of-the-road cooking that missed finishing touches. For example, diver scallops were not overcooked but lacked the fresh heart of palm mentioned on the menu. Local fresh corn soup served from a pitcher at the table so the soup stays hot, came cold around the edges but with lots of flavor – even without the omitted black truffle oil. Colorado rack of lamb arrived perfectly cooked medium-rare and without the pesto on the polenta cake. The short wine list with bottles of French Champagne at more than $300 a bottle features mostly California bottles fairly priced from $30 and up. I think Diehl can pay more attention to the details of his dishes and create a more imaginative menu that plays on the seasons and local ingredients. BlueFire Grill at La Costa Resort & Spa, 2100 Costa Del Mar Road, Carlsbad, (760) 929-6306, www.dinebluefire.com.

Tidbits: Italian wine lovers can indulge in a Banfi wine dinner at Sofia’s Italian Table, Aug. 9, 6 p.m., $79 plus tax and gratuity. Sofia’s Italian Table, at the Aventine, 8990 University Center Lane. Contact (858) 546-8797 for reservations.

Ed Moore of Thee Bungalow fame in Ocean Beach will reopen his other restaurant in October. Third Corner Wine Shop & Bistro will be a wine shop and wine bar with light bistro food and open late.

Fifth & Hawthorne moves to North Park at the beginning of the year as part of the newly renovated North Park Theater. The restaurant will seat 100 and is yet to be re-named. Word has it that the old site will be torn down for yet another hotel.

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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