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May Food Diary, San Diego Edition

The month of May brought some not-so-great dining experiences my way. However, I won't write about them. Many years ago when I owned my own restaurants in New York City, a Japanese journalist came to feature one of my locations. She told me that in Japan it is not common practice to write subjectively about an establishment because a reporter's negative opinion can jeopardize a business. Following Buddhist principles, in Japan, they steer away from writing anything that can hurt someone's livelihood. This stuck with me. So when I absolutely dislike a restaurant, I don't write about it altogether. Although a couple of restaurants I was really excited about checking out this month failed my expectations, there were several others that brought a wonderful dining adventure into my San Diego culinary journey. Exploring new restaurants has not only provided me with marvelous foodie memories but doing so has also introduced me to many charming neighborhoods in this beautiful city. Eating is more than just digesting, it's a way of life that connects you to other cultures, brings you closer to your dining companions, and gets you into parts of your city that you may not visit otherwise. Let's delve into some of my May discoveries together. Bon Appetito!

Mister A's (Bankers Hill)

From the moment I stepped into the lobby of the Machester Financial Center I knew that just twelve floors up, a special gourmandizing expedition was awaiting. Upon walking into Mister A's you will be immediately tantalized by the breathtaking 180-degree views of the San Diego skyline, the well-dressed patrons, and the superior attention to detail which includes the staff's uniform matching the blue hue of the table linens. Formal, but not stuffy, the service is on point attending to every detail without interrupting too often. The French-American menu offers a delicious array of options. Our favorites were the beet salad, lobster pot pie, wagyu ribeye, and truffle fries; all outstanding and perfectly prepared. Enjoying a delightful dinner, while overlooking downtown San Diego, and counting the airplanes that make their descent into the nearby airport, as the sun begins to set, with The Gypsy Kings playing in the background, is my idea of a heavenly dinner. Add this to your list.

Fort Oak (Mission Hills)

This bustling, expansive Mission Hills restaurant, proudly serves wood-fired seafood and a plethora of raw bar options in a non-pretentious environment. Clearly, the focus here is on delivering innovative, clean, and extremely flavorful cuisine. Highlights here are the Kanpachi ceviche prepared in a spicy red curry with peanuts and Thai basil; the albacore poke blended with ponzu, Asian pear, shisho, and furikake crunch; the Ahi tartare perfectly paired with cured egg yolk, crispy shallots, and smoked oyster mayo with a serving of buttered brioche for dipping needs; the hearth roasted carrots mixed with quinoa, pickled fennel, smoky yogurt, and fresh tarragon; and the fire-grilled branzino topped with fried herbs and salsa verde. These are all outstanding options. I recommend avoiding the scallop aguachile- we couldn't get past one bite due to its overwhelming fishy flavor. The service here is very attentive - perhaps too attentive. The waiters kept removing the menu from our table that I wanted nearby. I am sure they just wanted to make more room for all the dishes we were tasting but the cute dance of asking for a menu that kept being taken away got a little annoying. However, they did call us two days later to notify us that my husband left his sunglasses there and loyally held onto them until we were able to pick them up a couple of weeks later. Overall, we had a superb time eating here and I was constantly amazed by how well-prepared, healthy, and delicious each dish was.

Although the ambiance is a little lacking here, mainly because it was empty, every bite of each dish we ordered off the menu was truly fantastic. The kitchen takes pride in its wood-fired creations, which are actually a specialty here. The crispy shrimp, charred cabbage, and corn cake skillet are out-of-this-world kind of good. I could not get myself to ignore my knowledge to share fairly with our dinner guests; I had no control over my fork pulling itself towards the plates and back into my mouth. The homemade pappardelle in mushroom ragu is also a solid option while the Baja striped sea bass offered a lot of promise but was a tad too dry. The major con here is that our table was stripped down by 9:15 pm by the eager staff wanting to go home. In my opinion, when you add a 5% surcharge to the check, you do not kick out your patrons. That being said, make an early reservation and you won't hit this hiccup, perhaps earlier there are more diners to liven up the space as well.

Hidden Fish (Convoy Street)

Hidden Fish is a hidden gem. This tiny thirteen-person sushi bar serves an extraordinary sixty-minute, eighteen-piece, Omakase at $135 per person. Enjoy the freshest seafood delivered daily from Japan's best fish markets while watching the sushi chef whip up remarkably creative bites with his impeccably manicured hands. During the omakase, we ate our way through snow crab, sea bream, fluke, barracuda, striped jack, jack mackerel, striped sea bass, golden eye snapper, striped bonito, yellowtail, salmon, albacore, amberjack, black cod, bluefin tuna, uni, O Toro, and tuna tartare. Each bite was sprinkled with its own unique ingredients (like black truffle, yuzu pepper paste, chimi-churri, and roasted sesame seeds. Each delicate piece is meant to be eaten by hand. Although chopsticks are offered, we didn't use them once. Service is stellar with eight people on staff for thirteen guests. We were lucky and had the owner and executive chef serve us which added to the special vibe at the bar. The excellent quality of the ingredients is worth the ticket price although the quick one-hour, in-and-out experience, takes away from the overall mood. There is no lingering around here over a meal. I've been on the prowl for superb sushi in San Diego. Hidden Fish would have ended my hunt if the pace was a little slower and allowed for lurking just a little longer at the sushi bar.

DoDo Bird (Bird Rock)

This new coffee shop is a welcomed addition to the Bird Rock neighborhood of La Jolla. Adjacent to the swanky Paradisaea eatery, DoDo Bird provides an equally beautiful space in line with the tropical theme next door and highlights a curated selection of donuts (although I am not sure who eats donuts anymore?) This is not your regular local cafe, it's a step up in terms of elegance and it is a great option to hunker down with your laptop and get some work down. Their iced lattes are delicious and the staff is friendly. The only downside is that they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, which I learned the hard way by showing up on both of these days to get my caffeine fix.

This bar may not be where you'd head in search of an inspiring menu per se, yet it's definitely a place to check out for its lively scene, great ocean views, and just a fun overall vibe. Evenings are packed with the post-office crowd and friends meeting to mingle to throw back some drinks after a long day. Tables with a view are hard to snatch although any seat in the house works just as well for an overall good time. They do not accept reservations.

Each month I pinch myself. How lucky am I to live in a city with such a robust culinary scene? My list of restaurants to scope out continues to grow, as does my calorie count, yet I wouldn't have it any other way. I wonder how long it would take me to actually eat through San Diego. This may be a lifelong mission.


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