Tag Archives: san diego restaurant week

Del Mar Rendezvous – SDRW 2012

ImageDisclosure: Our meal was complimentary, but I was not compensated for this review. As always, all opinions are my own.

San Diego Restaurant Week is here, once again. If there was a restaurant you missed the last time, now’s your chance to visit. If there’s a favorite spot you’re looking to score a deal, now’s the time to make your reservation. If you’re a fan of honey walnut shrimp, boy do I have the place for you.

Del Mar Rendezvous invited us to preview their SDRW menu, which is happily full of dishes on their regular menu plus a couple of extras.

Because I wrote about the tasty, tasty food before, I tried to pick out some different dishes to try.

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In this space was supposed to be a lovely write-up of a San Diego Restaurant Week preview menu. I had anticipated writing it in that post-full-belly glow after returning from a much-anticipated meal. Instead, I found out dinner plans would be cancelled as we were already en route.

My love for Restaurant Week has waxed and waned over the years, mainly over the increased menu prices, but we’ve always had friendly service and delicious meals. I still think Restaurant Week is a good excuse to finally try a new restaurant or get fancied up for a spendy one.

I’ve had the pleasure to be sent to a few preview meals over the years, and I was looking forward to trying a new restaurant this year. Reservations were made, cancelled and rescheduled, cancelled and rescheduled with a day’s notice, and then cancelled again an hour before we were supposed to dine. Each cancellation was due to the fact that the restaurant claimed they didn’t have the ingredients to prepare their SDRW menu, but I find it hard to believe on the last occasion they only discovered this fact with an hour’s notice. Also, all communication was going through the SDRW PR people, so you had this added step in the communication process.

I’m disappointed that we kept getting rescheduled when my weeknights are already pretty busy. In hindsight, I should have declined to reschedule after it happened the second time, but I really wanted to try this restaurant. I’m frustrated that the restaurant didn’t know when they would be getting their ingredients to create these certain dishes that aren’t on the regular menu (I mean, really?? No control over food delivery?) I’m a little insulted that, instead of cancelling our dinner reservations for the third time, we weren’t invited to dine with them anyway to experience the quality of their regular menu. If you are a good restaurant, that should be reflected in your dishes whether they are made daily or for special occasions. I might not have been able to promote the specific SDRW menu items, but I could have had good things to say about the food and experience anyway. And maybe they don’t care because I’m just one blogger in a sea of diners and I haven’t even named them outright in this post (but, oh boy, will I tell you if you ask me!) and if that’s the case then I am even more turned off from visiting them in the future.

I don’t like writing negative reviews (complaining is a completely different story, I love to complain) but I do get to vent when I am frustrated. And I am frustrated. I also don’t mean to turn you off from SDRW as a whole and I know plenty of bloggers who successfully made it to their preview meal, one way or another. But I don’t like feeling like my time is unimportant or that I can be brushed off just because someone thinks I’m just after a free meal. Considering the time it takes to visit a restaurant, write up a review, and process some photos, for the cost of two meals (because I don’t dine alone) I think you’re getting a pretty fine hourly rate out of me along with what could be great publicity.

Birthdays, weekends, and eating

Ahh… birthdays are funny things. I don’t mind getting older (I mean, really, I’m not that old) but it’s weird that in one day your age changes. I do like the celebrating that comes with birthdays, though. And I liked having breakfast cooked for me on Sunday.

I had a lovely birthday weekend. It probably won’t sound like a birthday weekend, but we were out of the house, running errands (fun errands), and being productive, which are all things I like. We dropped Travis’ motorcycled off early to get fixed, grabbed a juice smoothie for a light breakfast, and then ran into the restaurant supply store on Clairemont Mesa. Found a chinois and looked at all sorts of cool dishes, glasses, strainers, scoops, and other gadgets. Then we ran up to Dick’s Sporting Goods to spend the $150 card we got when we bought the treadmill. It’s harder than it sounds to buy $150 worth of stuff when you’re not really looking for anything. While we were there, we noticed the treadmill was on sale for $100 less than last month’s “sale” price, and we got the difference refunded! So, that was a pretty cool shopping trip.

Filipino food for lunch (I really wanted the lechon, but Travis wasn’t into a pile of that) and then we started our multi-stop furniture store browsing. We’re thinking of putting a bar unit in our front living room, but it needs to fit the existing furniture (leather couch, dark wood bookcases and cabinets) while also fitting into a hunting lodge type of décor (due to the various deer heads and stuffed raccoons hanging on the walls). And we don’t want to spend $1,000. We found a bar we like, at a decent price (for a new bar) and now we’re just trying to see if we can find it in a different wood finish. I feel like we’re getting close.

We finally hit the end of the furniture stops and went to pick up Travis’ motorcycle. Some puttering around at home, some time spent on the elliptical and treadmill, a quick dinner (prepared short ribs, broccoli, and a sweet potato) and then off to see Avatar. I’m sure all the movie popcorn completely negated the treadmill running, but you can’t see a movie without popcorn. Avatar was a very enjoyable movie… there’s one scene halfway through where you go, “Huh. Now I know how the rest of the movie is going to play out exactly” but it doesn’t make it any less fun to watch. I only had a slight headache after watching it in 3D for so long… kind of how I feel if I try to read in a car. But, the 3D filming gives a whole new depth (literally) to the movie.

Sunday was breakfast (waffles and bacon) and DVR catching-up (oh, Jersey Shore, why must you end?) and more house puttering. The grass was cut, sprinklers turned off (in preparation for the Storm of the Century), and then more treadmill running (I think I watched the end of Dollhouse, but I’m not really sure). And then it was off to our SDRW dinner at Nobu.

I told Travis that you know you’re too old for the Gaslamp District when you realize you no longer have suitable clubbing outfits. All part of growing up, I guess.

Sometimes SDRW is a chance for a good deal at an expensive restaurant. Sometimes it’s just an excuse to finally go try an expensive restaurant. Our dinner at Nobu was more of the latter… although, I think the $40 menu was a good deal compared to their regular menu prices. But compared to real-world what-do-I-want-to-spend-my-money-on prices, I think you’re paying for the Hard Rock Hotel experience and dining at Nobu.

The food at Nobu was very good. We were served a “bite” from the chef – a slice of yellowtail sashimi rolled up with a jalapeno and speared on a bamboo skewer, served in a ponzu-like sauce. Tasty bite. The first course was seared salmon sashimi salad (three pieces of salmon, greens, and a cilantro-based dressing) or rock shrimp tempura (also served on greens). I think the third choice was oysters. I love oysters, but I love good salmon more. The salmon was good, even though it was slightly seared and the dressing was (as Cami noted) too salty. I would have preferred 4 good-sized slices instead of the 3 smaller pieces, but it was good-quality salmon. Nothing I haven’t found at Poway Sushi Lounge, though. Travis had the rock shrimp, which were tender, crispy, and well-dressed. They reminded me of the shrimp appetizer at Suite & Tender – also a good dish.

Entrees were next: sliced ribeye or jalapeno-glazed black cod; no one chose the sushi plate. Why choose a $20 sushi plate (6 pieces, plus a salmon-avocado roll) when there are more interesting dishes on the menu? The ribeye was sliced so you could eat it with chopsticks. Served with two sauces and a mound of avocado/guacamole, it was good. Tender, beefy, and the sauces were bright (and not Asian). The ribeye goes for $36 on the regular menu. I don’t know if portions are normally larger (we were told that Nobu does tapas-style plates and each plate serves 2-3 people when shared), but it did not look like $36 worth of ribeye, even with the big bowl of rice it came with. Now, the cod was amazing. Flaky and moist, with this delicious sweet glaze that got crispy on the edges of the fish. Also not really looking like $26 worth of fish. But really, really good. There is a regular miso-glazed halibut on the menu for $22, so maybe the markup is due to black cod being more expensive than halibut.

Desserts were a green tea ice cream parfait, passionfruit and banana mousse, or pistachio and strawberry-chocolate mocha ice cream. All good, but I wouldn’t call any of them outstanding. For me, a good dessert is something I would specifically return for. The chocolate decadence at Avenue 5 would be one, the red velvet cupcake at Luc’s Bistro would be another. Or any cake at Extraordinary Desserts (as overpriced as they are).

Expensive dinner, but none of use left hungry and we were celebrating SDRW AND my birthday. So it was fun. Birthday celebrations continue tonight at Alchemy with a slightly-modified group.

One of the reasons I had wanted to go to Nobu was because of the miso-glazed fish. We had a really good one recently that triggered this craving, but neither of us can remember where it was. Travis thinks it was in New York, I feel like it was somewhere here. Anyone know of a place that serves a good miso-glazed seafood that doesn’t cost and arm and a leg?

Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar, SDRW Preview Dinner

As much as San Diego Restaurant Week (SDRW) has changed (for better or for worse), I still look forward to it and always look through the menus to see if anything piques my interest. Sometimes we go more than once, sometimes we don’t go at all. I think we’ve managed to visit a new (to us) restaurant each time. We had already decided to visit Nobu this year and it helped work out some birthday celebration issues since people are in and out of town, plus there is a baby’s birthday to celebrate soon after mine this year. But, when McFarlane Promotions e-mailed to ask if I’d like to preview the SDRW menu at a restaurant, I jumped at the chance.

Splitting off for a tangent, I mentioned to Travis that I kind of feel weird accepting free meals in return for a review. Like I’m a sell-out or someone just looking for free stuff. He pointed out that just because it’s free doesn’t mean I have to give a positive review. Likewise, even if I don’t like it, I can always point out something positive in addition to the negative points. And, he said that I comment an awful lot on meals that we’ve certainly paid for, so being invited to a restaurant is just a nice perk. I do try to balance my reviews on free meals with what I would think had we paid for it, or what we would be paying if we were to return for another meal. I also tend not to post about places we’ve been where I was just downright disappointed in the food or service, mostly because people get mad when you say you don’t like them. But, I’ve decided that if I’m invited out for a meal in return for a review, if I really don’t enjoy it, I will leave it up to the people who invited me whether or not they want my thoughts published. If you can call writing on my blog as “publishing” something.

Anyway… I was given a list of participating restaurants, weeded out the ones in North County because I knew we wouldn’t be able to get there, took a look at some menus online, and decided to choose a restaurant we hadn’t been to before. When I replied, I was pretty flexible with the time we could done out and gave a list of restaurants I’d be happy to get (since it was mentioned that seatings were limited). I also asked if there were any updates to the participating list and they replied that Avenue 5 wasn’t on my original list. I’d actually never heard of Avenue 5, but it seemed like it had promise so I picked that one. And then I decided to check out Yelp reviews, which was just a mistake. Based on the Yelp reviews, it looks like people enjoy the brunch but are all over the place when it comes to dinner experiences. Travis reminded me that Yelp is all over the place for everything, though, so perhaps it’s most useful for checking whether a restaurant is still open or not.

Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar is on 5th Avenue (duh), between Olive and Nutmeg Streets. It’s next to Hane Sushi. I guess it’s in Bankers Hill, but I would probably point people to it by saying it’s across from Balboa Park. The park part of Balboa Park. And then they’d probably get lost. It’s an easy drive and we didn’t have any trouble finding parking. I had already decided that if I didn’t like dessert, I was going to make Travis take me to Extraordinary Desserts, but that ended up being unnecessary.

We encountered a little snafu when we checked in because the reservation wasn’t under my name, but the name of my blog (how was I supposed to know that?) I was actually asked if I might be confused as to what restaurant I made reservations for, which I found a little insulting since I’m pretty sure I know where I’m dining at all times. For a brief moment, though, I did wonder if there was another Avenue 5 somewhere and we were at the wrong one (this has happened to me in Palm Springs where we were at one Mexican restaurant but we were supposed to be at the other one, same name, at the opposite end of town). Once I said we were there to preview a SDRW menu, it got all cleared up.

The restaurant space is nice and open, in an L-shape. We were seated around the corner, so we didn’t get to look at the bar or the outside, which I guess is fine. The food was great, which is really what matters, right? The menu is on the SDRW site or you can look at the picture I took [update: the SDRW site lists Avenue 5 as a $40 menu, but I confirmed with the restaurant that it will be $30]. I chose the salmon tartar, short rib (I always have to check out the short ribs), and chocolate decadence. Travis chose the vodka-cured beef carpaccio, the herb gnocchi, and profiteroles. He also had a pint of Airedale Homecoming Porter and I had a glass of rose. The porter was lightly spiced (nutmeg, I think), just sweet enough, and nicely rich and malty. I like a good porter and this was a good one. I also like a good rose and mine was right in the middle of dry and sweet. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten better at describing beers and worse at describing wines.

bread and beer

salmon tartar

carpaccio

Travis’ brain has been overloaded at work lately, so when the carpaccio came out he said it looked like it had been cured in something. I had to remind him that it was vodka-cured, like the menu said. Poor guy. He was very happy with it and liked the olives and capers that were sprinkled around the plate. As far as carpaccio goes, it was a good-sized portion, velvety smooth, and it came with a small pile of dressed greens and two baguette toast slices. My salmon tartar came with four (I only ate three) and, while I liked the crunch of the toast with the salmon on top, I actually preferred eating the salmon with the cucumber slices. Travis thought it tasted a little fishy, but I didn’t think so. He’s not a big raw salmon fan, though, so it’s not something he would order. I loved it and cleaned my plate.

beefy short rib

best gnocchi ever

The short rib and gnocchi were next, served in very warm plates. The short rib was one piece, but it was a huge piece! It wasn’t fork-tender, but it wasn’t so tough that I had to use a knife to cut it. I just had to use my knife to help pull it apart. It tasted like beef (in a good way) and it wasn’t dry, stringy, or chewy. Quite tasty, actually. Travis had ordered the gnocchi, which I never would have guessed, and it’s certainly not something I would have ordered normally. I’ve given up on gnocchi because I’ve had so many awful experiences: it’s heavy and doughy and you have to chew forever before you can swallow. So, I just don’t order it any more. And, because I don’t make them at home, I don’t really get to eat them very often.

People, I have good news and bad news about the gnocchi at Avenue 5. The good news is that they were fantastic. Perfect, really. The gnocchi was light and tender but with a hint of a chew. Almost fluffy, but not really. Plus, they had been pan-seared so they had a little crisp crust on the outside. Crisp on the outside, soft and delicious on the inside. Served with pearl onion, green beans (sorry, haricot vert), brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and diced sweet potatoes (I think) in a Madeira cream sauce, they were amazing. I actually ate only half my short rib, with the intention of taking the rest home, but I kept picking at Travis’ gnocchi. Halfway through, I told him I wish I had ordered the gnocchi and he switched plates with me. I finished the gnocchi and he finished the short rib.

The bad news? The gnocchi is not on the regular menu (we took a peek after dinner; neither is the salmon tartar). They do have a mushroom tortellini, which gets some great reviews, but I would want the gnocchi. If we go back, I’m asking them (ahead of time, of course) to make it. That’s how good it is.

So, I thought I was full, but really I just wanted gnocchi instead of short rib. Then, dessert arrived.

profiteroles

not photogenic, but so tasty

The profiteroles come filled with pistachio ice cream (with real pistachios in it) served on a puddle of crème anglaise, which was so good I’m surprised no one licked the plate. Travis really enjoyed it, and he’s not much for a sweet tooth, so that’s saying something. The profiteroles were good, but I prefer mine filled with pastry cream. Just personal preference, that’s all. My chocolate decadence, though, was just what I wanted. Sometimes you come across “chocolate decadence” and you don’t know what to expect. Sometimes it’s dense like fudge; sometimes it’s cakey like a molten chocolate cake. This was like a flourless chocolate cake, but not cakey. It was light and airy, but chocolatey and had substance. Definitely not dense and chewy, but not airy like a meringue. I don’t know how to describe it. It was just really good.

So, funny story… because I was asked to review our meal, I figured I should take some pictures. I forgot my camera and we had to use Travis’ work camera, which is why they aren’t the greatest pictures (sorry). But, after I’d taken a few, a gentleman came over with his card and mentioned that he figured we were there for the same reason he was (to preview the SDRW menu). We exchanged cards and a few sentences (he actually writes articles that get published… like, for real publications) and went back to our meals. That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me. So, hi Howard! Hope you enjoyed your meal as much as we did!

SDRW may catch some flak from the peanut gallery (speaking of which, I am so over CH and I’m not posting there anymore. I’ll rely on the plethora of SD food bloggers to keep me informed on the new and exciting stuff) but we still enjoy it. It’s an excuse to go try a new restaurant and sample (hopefully) good food. And it’s usually a pretty good deal when you look at all the food you get.

Avenue 5 gave us a great meal and I’m glad I decided to give them a try. My only complaint (and it’s one I’ve run into before during SDRW) is that some of the SDRW menu items aren’t available on the regular menu. I understand that a lot of San Diego menus are becoming seasonal and change frequently, but it is a little disappointing to find an outstanding dish during SDRW and not know if you can order it again. But, I’m glad to know that they’re willing to recreate it (or something similar) if I give them enough notice. I like restaurants that are willing to work with their customers to make them happy. If you’re thinking of dining out next week, SDRW gets my stamp of approval. And, if you like a good gnocchi dish, I can’t recommend the SDRW menu at Avenue 5 enough.

Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon