Pamplemousse Grill's $25 burger. Photo by Seth Combs.
Back before the Great Recession, the WTF?! factor at San Diego's finer restaurants was off the charts. Caviar sushi rolls for $200 a pop. Private, seven-course meals on chartered yachts that started in the four-figure range. There was even a Downtown restaurant that served up rare oysters with a real pearl on top for $2,000.
So, when I went looking for the most expensive dish in town, my findings were a bit anticlimactic. I searched high and low and hit up about every PR person I know, and it seems that when it comes to San Diego, those days are gone. If the recession has taught owners and chefs anything, it's that they can get away with only so much. This isn't Paris. This isn't Vegas. So let's just give people their money's worth.
So, tins of beluga aside, what still scores on the WTF?! chart?
Lobster tails will still set you back. Most people, when asked to name the priciest restaurant in town, assume that it's Bertrand at Mr. A's (2550 Fifth Ave. in Bankers Hill), but peep this: A butter-poached lobster tail with ravioli costs $40 there, but a poached spiny lobster tail and ravioli served with beurre blanc and citrus-fennel salad is $55 down the street at Blue Point (565 Fifth Ave., Downtown). That citrus-fennel must be off the hook. But the king price for a lone lobster tail is near $50 at The Marine Room (2000 Spindrift Drive in La Jolla). Who knew Mr. A's was a bargain?
There's a $25 burger at Pamplemousse Grill (514 Via de la Valle in Solana Beach) with truffle cheese and truffle fries that tastes pretty damn good until you look at the check and realize you spent $25 on a freakin' burger. A mac 'n' cheese entrée at Delicias (6106 Paseo Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe) will also cost you $25, but, then again, it's made from black truffle and six different kinds of awesome cheeses (I didn't even understand some of the names when they were read to me over the phone). As for salads, I didn't find one as pricey as the $23 lobster salad at 1500 Ocean (1500 Orange Ave. in Coronado).
A good steak is also up there. You can pick up a New York prime steak at a butcher, but will it be prepared with black-pepper sauce “au poivre”? (I have no idea what that means by the way.) At George's California Modern (1250 Prospect St. in La Jolla), a Niman Ranch 28-day aged cote de boeuf (that's the sophisticated way of saying bone-in beef rib eye) will set you back a c-note. And at Cowboy Star (640 10th Ave., Downtown), you can get a 40-ounce Porterhouse (which can easily serve two) aged 21 days for $82.
But the big winner, at $149.99 a pop? Wait for it… wait for it… the “Gourmet Chicken Wing Dinner” at Hooters (various locations). Farm-raised jidori? Oven-roasted with obscure truffle oils and served with a side of asparagus only grown in the highest peaks of the French Alps? Nope. It's 20 chicken wings (you choose the spiciness) and a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne to wash it down. Seems some places have a hard time letting go of the good ol' days.