Ever wonder where local restaurateurs go to eat when they're not toiling away in their own workplaces? Well, we thought we'd start a food chain of sorts-you know, ask one restaurateur to recommend a restaurant and say a few words about why they like it, then ask the owner or chef at that place to suggest another, and so on down the line.
What better guy to start with than my pal Neal Wasserman, who used to run The Wit's End, a congenial pub and eatery in Hillcrest usually filled with folks who are a lot like me. Very comfy. I'm sure it's still just fine, but I stopped going last year when owner Wasserman packed up and moved on to fancier environs at Nine-Ten Restaurant in La Jolla (www.nine-ten.com).
It'd been too long since I'd seen his friendly face, so I grabbed a couple of friends and trekked to 910 Prospect St. for a visit and a lavish five-course meal. Between the three of us, we dined on Hamachi sashimi, squash soup, baby beet salad, lobster risotto, scallop ceviche, Jamaican jerk pork, flat iron steak, port wine braised beef short ribs, seared rabbit (!) and several desserts.
Richness of flavor and innovation are pervasive across the menu. My personal favorites-I didn't try everything, I'm afraid-were the squash soup (with wonderfully large bits of bacon on top), the flat iron steak and the chocolate cake (saying it's moist is an appalling understatement). Our server, Chris, was outstanding; we very much appreciated his help in pairing the dishes with just the right glasses of wine.
But enough about me-on to the food chain.
Neal Wasserman, director of food and beverage for Nine-Ten, says: "Local/neighborhood feel with enough appeal to have some clientele that come from outside the neighborhood as well. Comfortable, warm, friendly. Good gathering place for friends.
The owner works his store. Hands on and in the public area. Gracious and sincere with a true sense of hospitality. The menu is simple, and the food is good, uncomplicated, farm-to-table, some organics, lots of freshness, etc. My criticism (and a minor one) would be with the physical menu. Way too much info about who and where the products come from.
Gratuity is simplified by including all charges in the menu prices, then backing it out later and shared amongst the staff. I have a little more affection for the place than most people because it reminds me of my last restaurant." 3382 30th St., North Park. www.thelinkery.com.
Jay Porter, owner of The Linkery, says: "OK, I grew up here, and I'm very grateful that our city is now home to a growing number of restaurants with delicious farm-to-table food, great ambience and wonderful staff that feel like family. Starlite fits this description, of course. But the reason I am a Starlite stalker is because the wine is so damn good. The list is small, everything on it is excellent and, as a bonus, they serve it in nice stemware and at a good temperature. I'm developing a thirst just thinking about it." 3175 India St., Midtown. www.starlitesandiego.com.
Albie's Beef Inn
Tim Mays, general manager of Starlite, says: "I love Albie's because it's everything an old-fashioned steakhouse should be-gorgeous red booths; beautiful paintings of classic nudes on the walls; velvet wallpaper; dimly lit; classic menu with steaks, seafood, appetizers and salads. Oh, and did I mention stiff cocktails? On any given night you can wander in and find a great cross section of hipsters, working stiffs and seniors-having cocktails, dinner and dancing to the small combo that plays in the bar. Great martinis and reasonable prices. The food is good-salads are served family-style with dressings on the side on a nicely chilled metal plate. In addition to the traditional sides of baked potato or rice, all entrées come with the big carrot,' a whole carrot that is first parboiled in sugar water and then sautéed in butter. Delicious. A great place to spend an evening." 1201 Hotel Circle South (at the Travelodge), Mission Valley.
The Oceanaire Seafood Room
Ted Samouris, general manager of Albie's Beef Inn, says: "My wife and I love dining at The Oceanaire Seafood Room. We know the G.M., Mike Mitchell, and are always treated very well. Our favorite waiter is Scotty. His service and attitude is outstanding! We love the atmosphere of the dark wood and the lighting and so on. The specialty is obviously seafood that I'm trying to eat more of these days. The selection of seafood is abundant and often unusual.
The salads and starters are also quite good. You may know that the chef is Brian Malarkey, who appeared on last season's Top Chef on Bravo. The only really negative thing I can say is that being Downtown, the parking is very expensive." 400 J St., Downtown. www.theoceanaire.com.
Brian Malarkey, executive chef at The Oceanaire Seafood Room, says: "Cafe Chloe is my choice. Best brunch in town. The most romantic, cutest little restaurant. My wife and I love to go there all the time. Great food, great chef, great owners, great atmosphere. It's really neat-in the East Village-absolutely a little jewel of San Diego." 721 Ninth Ave., #1, East Village. www.cafechloe.com.
Alison McGrath, co-owner of Cafe Chloe, says: "When I have a rare evening free to myself, I like to sit at the little bar at Buon Appetito. I bring a stack of magazines and huddle in the corner with a glass of wine and the burata. Then, if I can ignore the ringing of my cell phone, I will stay and have the orrechiette with broccoli rabe. It's a friendly, bustly neighborhood place and I feel comfortable, well fed and happy there." 1609 India St., Little Italy. www.buonappetito.signonsandiego.com.