April brought many more food adventures my way. The more I explore the San Diego food scene, the more impressed I become by the infinite options of incredible restaurants that are available in this sunny city. Dining out is satisfying on so many levels. It connects us to those we share the table with, it brings us new experiences as we try new flavors and new establishments, and it can even inspire us to cook differently in our own kitchen. I always get excited when I am about to eat somewhere new, or even when I return to one of my favorite restaurants. There is so much that is necessary to make a successful restaurant visit- good conversation, the right lighting, a great playlist at the perfect volume, an appealing atmosphere, great service, and of course, a menu that arouses you and great food that wows you. Now, that's a lot to get right. But when it all comes together perfectly, then I want to share with my readers the restaurants that masterfully balance all aspects of a flawless dining memory. Read below and start making your reservations!
Wormwood (North Park)
Serving French-influenced dishes, in San Diego's first absinthe-focused cocktail bar, this new-ish restaurant is one not to be missed. Although the plates are small at Wormwood, the flavors are très magnifique. The overall experience at Wormwood is sensational. To begin with, the staff is extremely accommodating. Do you want four pieces of an appetizer that only includes three? No problem! Don't like a cocktail too much? They'll make you a better one! The chef even whipped me up a new recipe because of my odd avocado allergy. Seriously, the service is impeccable. Similarly, the food is next level. Some menu standouts include (in the order shown below from left to right):
reglis ova caviar over a delicate shell filled with avocado and lemon mousse
betteraves/beet salad that is delicious in its' simplicity using the freshest ingredients
tartine aux oignons (the creamiest, dreamiest thing you'll ever eat)
fruit de mer with perfectly seared scallops atop tomatillo water, jicama, compressed cucumber, and shrimp chicharrón
burgundy black tie with mushroom caramel dark chocolate ganache, white chocolate mousse, mushroom caramel, and cranberry (you must try the combination of mushroom and chocolate at least once in your life)
carrottes fumees (not photographed) smoked carrots with poached egg, pea tendrils, and brioche
The above dishes are stellar and you'll find yourself wanting to order seconds of them. I know we definitely ordered another round of some but I can't remember which ones! The strong absinthe cocktails blurred my memory just a tad although I certainly haven't forgotten how insanely mouthwatering the entire meal was.
Animae (Marina District)
When friends come to visit from New York City, this is where I take them. Animae, an Asian-fusion restaurant, is my proud example to my East Coast friends that San Diego also has a superior food scene. The space is sexy with beautiful hues of warm neutrals that permeate the plush velvet banquettes. The dimmed lighting sets the tone to peruse a seductive menu packed with creative combinations of ingredients, that will fill you with a strong desire to order everything that is offered. My recommendation as to what to order here is to honestly order as much as you can share with your table. In my four visits, I have continuously been impressed by each new, creatively crafted dish I have tried. You should take note that Wagyu is the star at Animae and upon our last visit earlier this month, I had my first bite of this rightly so revered Japanese beef. I haven't eaten meat in almost thirty years. Breaking my pescetarianism for this heavenly carnivorous culinary immersion was absolutely worth it! Anyone living in, or visiting, San Diego must dine here. This is one of the swankiest restaurants in town with food that will knock your socks off.
CUCINA enoteca (Del Mar)
Cucina Enoteca offers a fun, lively atmosphere with a great Italian menu including pizzas made in their woodburning oven (don't miss the mushroom, goat cheese, caramelized onion pizza drizzled with truffle oil!). This spot works well for a date, time with your friends, and even a celebratory occasion. I especially love the many different dining nooks throughout the expansive space. Still, my favorite place to sit is in the large, open, main space that offers communal dining tables in the heart of all the action.
The AubreyRose Tea Room (La Mesa)
High tea is always a pleasure and The AubreyRose Tea Room knows how to turn it up a notch with some special touches like rose-shaped folded napkins, a room full of hats for those who'd like to borrow one to dress for the occasion, and of course, an inviting assortment of teas, scones, petit fours, and tea sandwiches. Ladies, pick a pal or two and head over for a lovely afternoon with the girls.
Haidilao Hotpot (UTC)
I can't think of a better way to engage with your dining companions than over a shared hot pot. In a hot pot, you choose one, or more, flavored broths that are kept hot through induction or flame. Then you select from a wide assortment of meats, fish, or veggies to cook in your broth. It's totally interactive and requires active participation in what you'll be eating together. What I especially love about Haidilao Hotpot is how hi-tech it is. To protect your most-prized piece of technology, special bags are provided to seal your phones to safety in case one accidentally ends up in your hot pot. All orders are made on an iPad and delivered by a robot. How cool is that? Haidilao is extremely popular in China and has luckily expanded into the USA. The food is really good. Like, really good. My two absolute favorite broths are the tomato and mushroom ones. There are dozen of dipping options but the ones I always order are the quail eggs and the udon noodles. There is also a condiment bar loaded with options to enhance your dish combinations. To bring a wonderful meal to an end, and ensure everyone leaves extra happy, there is a complimentary soft-serve ice cream machine. This UTC neighborhood eatery delivers loads of flavor and fun!
Smokin' Hot Asian Kitchen (La Jolla)
This Vietnamese restaurant deserves more attention. The service is friendly, the beachy vibe is appropriate for the neighborhood, and the menu offers some interesting fusion concepts along with traditional foods from the region. I think it's a wonderful place to have lunch that easily helps you get your protein and vegetable count for the day. The menu is packed with protein options (and some more carb-heavy ones too!) The Miso Chilean Sea Bass is outstanding. You'll leave feeling well-satiated, knowing that you made healthy food choices without sacrificing flavor.
I've already made my reservations for May's food explorations and can't wait to share with you the restaurants that get it right. Feel free to send any recommendations my way!