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Friday, August 19, 2005 | Think Little Italy and immediately pizza, pasta and good Italian delis come to mind. Now, down the street from the main collection of restaurants, is Puerto La Boca, an Argentinean steak house at the corner of Hawthorne and India streets.
The dining room is rectangular with an open kitchen on one wall, wine racks on the other. There is street-side seating and, inside, the tables are set close to each other. The bar is comfy enough to have drinks and appetizers as I did a couple of times with friends. Argentina boasts a large immigrant population from Europe including Germany, Spain and Italy. This particular restaurant focuses on the foods of Italians who, in the 1900s, settled in the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires.
Gustavo oversees the bar and he learned his craft in Buenos Aires, where service is an art, not an afterthought. He uses fresh juices for his drinks, nothing artificial and can help you learn more about wines on their list from Argentina, Chile and Spain. He split a glass each of two by-the-glass Argentinean Malbecs so two of us had our own mini tasting.
Garlic-cured olives along with pimento-flavored butter for bread made for good nibbles. Empanadas (a small turnover) of spinach and beef – Gustavo showed us that they are eaten in hand with a paper napkin, much like a taco in Mexico – are simple yet tasty. One night we opted for a very good Napolitana pizza with a thick yet light crust, lots of mozzarella, fresh sliced tomatoes, fresh garlic and basil. If pizza isn’t for you, try the lightly battered fried calamari and shrimp or the Spanish chef’s favorite of marinated octopus with garlic, parsley, olive oil and diced potatoes. Both are good for sharing. Crepes filled with dulce de leche known as milk jam (milk and sugar cooked to a jammy caramel consistency) are a satisfying and unusual dessert. Puerto La Boca, 2060 India St., Little Italy, (619) 234-4900. Open for lunch and dinner.
The issue of service and tipping and how the two are related is making news. Many countries – Australia and France, for example – include service in the price of the food and servers are employees – not independent contractors – of the restaurant. Servers are salaried and receive benefits along with a steady income, and service is usually spot-on. Well-known American chef Thomas Keller of Napa Valley’s French Laundry and New York’s Per Se is setting the restaurant world a flutter with news that he will add a 20-percent service charge rather than have customers tip at Per Se. Many upscale restaurants have done this for years including the French Laundry. Alice Water’s Chez Panisse started 16 years ago with a 15-percent service charge and nary a peep from customers. It is now 17 percent and if anyone leaves more than a 5-percent tip, the server asks if the diner understands that the service is included. If not, the tip is returned, though intentional tips may be kept and split with the rest of the staff if they choose.
As a customer, would you be in favor of a service charge rather than worrying about how much to tip? If you are wait staff, is a steady income important, and if you own a restaurant, how would this impact you? I’d love to hear from you. E-mail me at
Pet Peeve from a reader: Menus with typographical errors and inconsistent presentation including words wrongly capitalized and sloppy copyediting. Note to all restaurant managers: Take a few minutes to proofread your menu and wine list and correct spelling and other errors. The menu represents a restaurant as much as the food and service.
Tidbits: Join Slow Food San Diego at Orfilia Vineyards & Winery on Sunday, Aug. 28 for the Second Annual Taste of Slow Food San Diego. This year’s event, “Celebrating Monet’s Table,” benefits the agricultural programs at San Pasqual Academy for Foster Teens and features local fresh produce, cheeses and desserts prepared by such local chefs as Michael Stebner of Region, Jesse Frost of Estancia Resort and Spa, Jack Fisher of NineTen, Katie Grebow of Café Chloe and many others. Entertainment and food are included in the tax-deductible admission of $50 for Slow Food members and $65 for non-members. Bidding on silent auction items is payable by check or cash. Visit
Mama’s Kitchen 10th Annual Bourbon Street Wine Taste takes place on Aug. 25 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Bourbon Street, 4612 Park Blvd. in University Heights. Hors d’oeuvres from TK & A Custom Catering, Prego Ristorante and others. Tickets are $40 available at Mama’s Kitchen or at the door.
Also on Aug. 25, make an evening of wine, food and dessert at the San Diego Wine Opener that benefits cystic fibrosis. The event takes place at the San Diego Firehouse Museum, 1572 Columbia St., Little Italy. Along with auctions and entertainment you can nibble food from Amici, McCormick & Schmick’s, and Randy Jones BBQ while you sip wines from Bacchus Wine Market, Fess Parker Winery, Pedroncelli Winery and others. Tickets range from $25 to $75 and are available online.
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