The Linkery's Lardo ice-cream sandwich, topped with candied bacon (photo by Gates)
How to pick standouts from a year of meals that was, in general, mostly delicious? Good food is joy, and I've been pretty happy lately. And though it does seem like the number of restaurants that closed in 2009 was inordinately high—some will be mourned, others will not be missed—there are some new spots that are looking like they'll go the distance and are already on my regular rotation. And 2010 has potential for more tastiness—many of next year's anticipated openings sound promising.
If any cuisine reigns in San Diego, it's Mexican. Take skeptical visitors to La Fachada, Tacos El Paisa or Mariscos German, for instance, and challenge them to claim that San Diego's food scene is weak. Even though I first discovered Sab E Lee in 2008, it remained one of my most favorite spots in 2009, and I'm hoping to finally make it to the newer, second location in Santee soon. Sab E Lee's spicy raw beef dish, called koi soi, introduced me to never-before-tasted flavor combinations and will go down as one of the finest things I've ever eaten.
My love of pork has been well-documented, and this year brought the other white meat onto my fork in two memorable ways. At Alchemy in South Park, country ham gives up its salty goodness to a mini casserole of tender calamari in a white-wine-saffron butter sauce. The calamari de cadiz is smartly served with toasted bread because the sauce is like gravy from the gods. Pork also features prominently in my most fondly remembered dessert of the year, the Lardo ice-cream sandwich at The Linkery. Handmade ice cream derived from house-cured lard, snuggled between two homemade chocolate-chip cookies and sprinkled with candied house-cured bacon, it's an inventive sweet treat with its own web address (www.lardoicecreamsandwich.com).
With each subsequent mind-blowing meal at Kaito Sushi, I taste and see even more evidence of chef Kazuo Morita's mastery of the edible arts. Most recently, it was a tuna belly times two: first, pristine, buttery nigiri and then, in some remarkable sorcery, its sinewy membrane, usually a throw-away item, was grilled up to taste exactly like kobe beef. And if there's one restaurant that I've re-fallen for this year, it's A.R. Valentien. The thoughtful cooking just feeds my soul, whether I'm at the bar eating the best burger or on the patio with a beer and an incredible plate of house-made charcuterie and pickles.
This New Year will be the first one that I'll toast with craft beer instead of champagne, thanks in great part to 30th Street and its environs, where every pint and pull is another drinkable lesson in my ongoing beer education. It's been exciting and encouraging to witness the reach of craft beer expand beyond North Park and to see San Diego take its well-deserved place in the pantheon of microbrews. And how about that San Diego Beer Week? It almost killed me, but, man, was it a delicious descent.
I am so appreciative of everything and everyone involved in bringing good food to my plate, from the farmers, fishermen and ranchers to the talented chefs, the hard-working back and front of house and restaurant owners that care about food at least as much as finances. Food in San Diego is getting better for sure—I can taste it. And to be able to have this page to share the eating, drinking and all-around food appreciating that goes on in my life makes me feel lucky, indeed. To everyone who's fed me so well this past year: Thank you from the bottom of my stomach.
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