Check out Top of the Park-and be grateful for the experience
The only thing that needs to be written about the Top of the Park Penthouse restaurant on the roof of Park Manor Suites is this: It sits seven stories high overlooking Hillcrest to the north, downtown to the south, Balboa Park to the east and the harbor to the west. From one's table, one can see every spectacular feature of San Diego, and that fact alone makes the place worth visiting. I'm a sucker for a view, and if you see the view from Top of the Park, you will be, too.
The restaurant reopened for lunch after receiving a facelift three months ago. Actually, it was more than a facelift. It was major reconstructive surgery. The 80-year-old historical site was showing its age. The new décor is almost what one would call elegant-almost, but not quite, which is perfect for lunch. An elegant lunch is often an uncomfortable lunch.
I've tried almost everything on the menu at Top of the Park, including the French dip, with thinly sliced prime rib, caramelized onions and provolone cheese on a French roll. It's the best sandwich I've ever had, and that's no lie. I also strongly recommend the ahi nicoise salad, an excellent blend of mixed greens, Roma tomatoes, purple potatoes, boiled egg, nicoise olives and asparagus with grilled ahi and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Many times I've made a meal of the appetizers, including the ahi tartare with wasabi, capers and a red onion crème fraiche, the tomato bruschetta with garlic and sweet basil on baked parmesan crostini, the shrimp cocktail and the Gorgonzola-stuffed artichokes. If you go for quiche (which I don't), friends tell me the entirety of the varied selection is excellent.
But it wouldn't be fair of me to write about most things on the expansive lunch menu insofar as I had already formed my opinion of them long before my date and I went there to start the past holiday weekend. We tried the only items I did not already know and I am delighted that we did.
She had the lobster truffle mac, consisting of macaroni and cheese with lobster, black truffles and white truffle oil. Yes. I'm serious. Pasta, cheese, lobster and truffles. Now how is that not good? Well it's not not good. It's unbelievable. It is exactly what it sounds like and the best part of it is that the chef leaves the flavors alone, avoiding the temptation to wallop a perfect dish with a punch of herb or spice that could have smothered the adequate truffle-y pungency that made the whole thing work. I have known many a chef who would have killed such a dish with garlic, but not this one.
I went a rather more pedestrian route and ordered a sandwich. But since I was testing chef Andrew Stone, I ordered the sandwich named for him-Andrew's Chicken Romesco Sandwich, a grilled breast of chicken on a toasted baguette with a roasted pepper, tomato, almond and goat cheese spread. Stone adds a mix of herbs that I couldn't quite put my finger on, and I don't regret that I can't tell you exactly what alchemy he performs. If I could, I wouldn't. Because you owe it to yourself to take an hour for lunch, dash over to Top of the Park and find out why a fine chef would happily have his name associated with a chicken sandwich. It is outstanding.
The food is excellent. The service is so attentive it borders on obsequious. Everything is reasonably priced (around 20 bucks a head will cover an entrée, drink and tip), and the crowd is chatty and friendly. All of these things would be sufficient to recommend just about any restaurant, but let's get back to the view. San Diego is my home. I have been here for a very long time-long enough to not want to live anywhere else. I know my city like the back of my hand. I have more sense memories of San Diego than I have fantasies of wealth, and even I am still struck at times by how sublimely beautiful this city is.
Once in a while, we owe it to ourselves to have the epiphanic experience of checking out from the grind and travails of getting by every day so we can appreciate that ours is, government and budget notwithstanding, truly a gem of a city. To have that experience, I strongly recommend Top of the Park. Everything you will see from there is muted by the filter of elevation just enough to leave only the beautiful parts visible. And they are truly beautiful-humbling, actually, in a way that we should all be humbled. Humility is the better part of gratitude.
Leaving Top of the Park, I was full of gratitude. I was grateful for a magnificent lunch, grateful for good company, grateful for the fact that pigs can smell truffles under European soil, grateful to the Diageo Corporation and the city of Kilmarnock, Scotland, for producing Johnnie Walker Black, and grateful, above all, that I can go to Top of the Park and remember why it is that I live here. We can all use a bit more gratitude. You can find some at Top of the Park.
Top of the Park serves lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner hours, seven days a week, are 5 to 10 p.m. Prices range from $8.95 to $11.95 for lunch; dinner entrees start at $16.95.
525 Spruce St. (at Fifth Avenue)Bankers Hill619-291-0999www.parkmanorsuites.com