There are no five-star restaurants in San Diego, and don't give me Mille Fleurs. It's damn fine eating, but it's not five stars. That is not just my opinion; any honest person would agree. And besides, even if it is just my opinion, I have a food column and most of you don't-so there. Of course, if you're a restaurateur with a nice place and you want to change my mind, you know what to do (wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say no more). But seriously, although San Diego has nary a spot on which one could properly bestow the precious fifth star, we do have a whole lot of four-star establishments, and Bertrand at Mister A's is a four-and-a-half. Bertrand himself (who also owns Mille Fleurs) might take issue with me, but it could be a six-star joint and I would not call it "Bertrand at Mister A's" because A) that's a snooty name and B) "Mr. A's" is easier to type.
If you've driven from uptown to downtown or vice versa, you have seen the landmark sign atop the building at Fifth Avenue and Laurel Street. All San Diegans know about Mr. A's, but it's surprising how many of us still have never been to the place. Obviously, any restaurant that sits atop a 12-story high-rise and affords panoramic views of San Diego Harbor, Downtown, Balboa Park, Hillcrest and Bankers Hill is going to be pricey. Rooftop and cheap just don't go together. And Mr. A's occupies no ordinary rooftop. There are plenty of things to like about San Diego and all of them are even more likeable when you look at them from 12 stories up.
And honestly, Mr. A's isn't all that pricey, anyhow. The average entrée is around $35, which means you could go to Jack in the Box seven times or Mr. A's just once. That's more than a fair trade. If you don't get silly and order a bottle of wine or top-shelf liquor, you and a date can get an appetizer, two entreés, two drinks apiece and leave a reasonable tip for $150. For lunch, you will spend less than half of that, a third of that if you don't drink during the day. There's also a patio menu that includes some snacky-type fare-truffle fries (seriously), cold cuts, cheeses, that sort of thing-in the $10 to $12 range. But if you intend to sit on the patio and snack, call ahead. On busy nights, the roof might be closed to cheapskates.
Enough of all that. So what about the food? Well, I did not try everything on the menu. Some of it might suck, for all I know. But I did try two appetizers, two entrées and a dessert and none of it sucked. For appetizers, my date and I started with the Seared Ahi Nicoise with extra virgin olive oil, green beans and tapenade, and the New York Steak Carpaccio with cannellini beans and baby arugula salad. The Ahi had nice texture and flavor, and it worked quite well with the green beans. Still, it didn't compare to the Carpaccio, which was one of those dishes that explains why some restaurants are 12 stories high and others aren't. The beef was absolutely celestial, and the beans and arugula added contrasting color, texture and flavor that show that Chef Stéphane Voitzwinkler has abundant skill to go along with one heckuva surname.
Having had both fish and cow, we resolved to complete the quadrafecta by ordering sheep and duck. The Sonoma Lamb Three Way (banned in San Diego frat houses) consists of roasted rack, pan-seared loin and braised shank. It was better than I could have done, by a long shot. It was better than anything you could get most places. At $35, it was worth it. But reeling as I still was from the Carpaccio, it wasn't overwhelming. Although the herbs and spices worked well with the meat, it didn't have much zing to it. That's a matter of taste. I like zingy meats. My date thought it was outstanding.
As to the duck, duck is a tricky bird. My duo consisted of an herb-crusted breast and a confit leg with huckleberry sauce and salsifi tempura. Once again, Voitzwinkler showed his skill. I had the duck at Mr. A's months ago and it was better this time. There was more duckiness to it, which is what one wants when one orders duck. The various treatments worked well to accentuate the flavor of good duck and added just enough to round out a fine dish.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that from the hostess to the waitstaff to the bussers to the bartender, the service was excellent. To tell the truth, the service was as impressive as the view, the décor and the food. Altogether, it made for the kind of evening on which one doesn't mind spending quite a bit more than one would at Jack in the Box.
So stay home for a few nights and save up. Take what you would have blown at taco stands and dive bars, put on something nice and go treat yourself to a piece of San Diego you have been missing. When you do, tell them Andy sent you. Next time, Bertrand might convince me to add that extra half-star (wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say no more).
Entrées range from $23 to $45. Lunch is served Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served Monday through Friday starting at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday starting at 5 p.m.