Photo by James Vernette
There are times when I prefer staycations to the real thing—like most of the time.
It's tough to leave San Diego during the summer knowing the weather will probably be too hot, too humid or too mosquito-y anywhere else I go.
So given the choice of staying in a hotel in some other Godforsaken part of the country or by a pool in San Diego, I say, screw it, I'm staying home—or "in-house" as I like to say.
We did that recently when we went up to the Sheraton Carlsbad near Legoland. My kids are at that awkward age where they are outgrowing that place but don't realize they are.
The hotel is cool because it has an entrance to the park. More important for food-loving dads, it has a damn good restaurant with Twenty/20 Grill (5480 Grand Pacific Drive).
As a family guy foodie, my pet peeve is when a restaurant has a good menu for adults, but slacks off on the kids menu (if they have one). I understand why: Kids are rotten judges of what makes good food. Why else would dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets have been invented?
I don't fault restaurants that have shitty kids menus, but I appreciate nice places that go out of the way to make meals for kids that are special as well.
OK, here's the deal with my son: I wouldn't call him a picky eater, but he is particular. I can usually dare him to try new stuff, but he would be happy eating bean-and-cheese burritos for every meal, given his druthers. So when we went to Twenty/20 after a day at the pool, I was wondering how my son might react.
I needn't have worried: When I saw that the kids menu at Twenty/20 Grill had a build-your-own fish or chicken taco plate that used high-quality meat, I was pleased. So was my son, who was thrilled at being the master of his own destiny.
He was so happy that it was easier to get him to try some of the other, more adult menu items, such as the calamari fries appetizer: deep-fried squid cut up in the shape of fries with a chipotle mayo dipping sauce.
He liked them a little too much. I didn't get to eat as many as I wanted.
Twenty/20 Grill isn't a "family" restaurant. It's a nice hotel restaurant that realizes its proximity to Legoland means it's going to get families—so they make sure to keep the kids happy.
And the adults, too. I was happy with the Spanish Margarita, made with Azunia Blanco tequila, Jalapeno-infused agave nectar with a muddled blackberry garnish on top. Great way to get on the same level as my kids.
The apple-jicama salad was a refreshing starter for the meal and the cotija cheese blended well with the green goddess dressing. I was also impressed with my pan-roasted salmon with roasted cauliflower. The skin on the fish was crispy while the rest of the fish was moist and flavorful.
My wife, who eats mostly vegetarian, was pleasantly surprised by the So-Cal Stir Fry, which comes with brown rice, broccolini, heirloom carrots and spinach and peppers. Lots of times vegan dishes are bland at restaurants, but Twenty/20 Grill added a touch of Italy by using a lemon and fennel pesto instead of a teriyaki.
My daughter was more adventurous than my son, and also older, so she didn't order off the kids menu. She got the Pork Duo: A mix of moist tenderloin and pork belly with truffled black-eyed peas. (I loved my salmon, but I kept asking for bites of hers and made sure to eat the leftovers.)
As much as we enjoyed our meal, the highlight may have been dessert: A sampling of six different desserts held on a tree-shaped rack. There was tiramisu, raspberry mousse, piña colada mousse, chocolate peanut butter mousse, all of it delicious. We left satisfied and feeling like we'd been on a culinary journey.
Hotel restaurants have had the reputation of catering to lowest common denominator, but Twenty/20 Grill doesn't do that. It's a great place to take kids for something close to fine dining without having them gripe. For me, that's a win-win.