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Sunday, September 3, 2017

And that's all she wrote!

Well, well, well ladies and gentleman this is it...this blog is coming to a formal close. No more blog posts as of this least not here. I am not even a San Diego resident as of this writing. It's really sinking in now that I know full well there is no return trip to good old SD.

I am in strong debate about transferring my food blog passions over to WordPress and changing the name to since St Louis is where I will reside. I have a close friend who does great work it website design so the resources I need are there to make this happen, I just need to be sure it's where I want to go to with things.

So in 2 years and 4 months, I completed 92 blog posts and covered 96 San Diego restaurants. I submitted 156 pictures of some truly amazing meals. I met and interviewed nearly 100 owners and chefs whose stories were not only inspiring but educational and insightful beyond expectation. The city of San Diego has a culture all its own that is largely influenced and impacted by its dynamic, deep and ever evolving mix of cuisines and pioneering professionals. I have never lived in a city where the pace of old and new change over so quick, closures and openings take place every weekend, fusion is the norm, not the oddity, change is expected not downplayed, adaptation is survival, not optional. 

If there is one thing I want to leave the people of San Diego (and beyond) with as well as all those amazing restaurant industry people I have met through my adventures as a food blogger, it is this...

To the SD people who like to dine out: Your choice to dine at select venues of any kind, fast casual, fine dining, ethnic, fusion, cheap eats etc.....where and how you spend your money is an indirect vote for what you choose to support and sustain in both venue, product, cuisine, operations, food sourcing, menu, decor, theme etc.....your patronage, your demand and your dollars drive what the city becomes to a large degree. For this reason, I as a member of the SD community felt compelled to amplify my impact as a consumer beyond just word of mouth, beyond and beyond Facebook reviews by creating this blog. I hope it functions even in its closure as a historical resource anyone can peruse to glean insights to the many places I have been to make better decisions to find what they seek and enjoy the outcome. The take home message I want you to take from this is that dining out is and should be about more than just filling your stomach. We all need nourishment yes, that is the primary driver/purpose of eating a meal yes. But in so doing, nourish more than just your appetite, feed your mind and your soul by looking deeper.

To the SD restaurant managers, owners chefs, and support staff: Your jobs and responsibilities are thankless and largely unseen. This I do know for sure. The grit, determination, and ambition I have seen spill out from you all make it clear how passionate and visionary you all are. The unique mission you all strive to put out for your customers is something I found truly inspiring and peculiar to each venue. Keep this bit of perspective in mind at all times. In no other domain of the hospitality industry is a person's five senses collectively stimulated to the extent that they are when dining out. Think about it...all five are engrossed in a truly good (or bad) dining experience. Taste, touch, smell, sight, sound. Each leaving an impression of the diner that will evoke a desire to return or to avoid as well as what they tell others. But of course, this goes beyond just the five senses. The social dynamic, the cultural, the historical/traditional also impact the diner just as much as the physiological reactions do. The bottom line I want to get across is that your jobs go SO much deeper than just the superficial aspects of plating delicious looking and tasting foods for people to consume. You can and do drive the way a city or community develops its culinary and gastronomic palat. You drive or stifle the economics of what they desire and demand. Do not underestimate the power you all have to give character to a cities identity through the food you serve your local customers each and every day.

And with that folks, I hope you find means to get A better Bite in SD!

Until the next chapter of my life begins to unfold in St. Louis, I bid you farewell and happy eats!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Nearing the end: The last two weeks of SD Reviews

So these two reviews are from my second to last week in San Diego. I have one week to go before departing for good on Sept 2nd. The reality is sinking in and the days are getting short now. I can't help but think of all the many places I never got to but wanted to in my five years in this city. I stop and check myself however. I have done 90 blog posts in 2 years since this blog started. That's only 90 I have covered here, not the many, many others I have not posted here. Given that, I try and see what I did accomplish in my five years spent in San Diego and that makes me feel like I got a pretty good "bite" out of this cities amazing food scene from every level, style, cuisine, ethnicity and place of origin. This week ahead will hopefully, as it stands now, net me two more venues to wrap up my blog with. Where they will end up is for me to know and all of you to find out! Until then, check out where my taste buds took me last week. Enjoy.

Romesco Mexiterranean Cocina (Little Italy)
Tuesday August 22nd, 7pm.

Chapulines (grasshoppers, pretty sour compared to crickets which I love!)

Tostadas De Pulpo (grilled octopus)

Smoked Salmon Carpaccio (melt in your mouth goodness!)

Shrimp & Bone Marrow Sopa (loved this!!! I could at 10 easy)

Albacore Two Ways 

Grilled Octopus (bomb!)

On Tuesdays, they have 1/2 off ALL their tapas menu items so this is truly the best day of the week to go and try a bit of everything. Bring a group and share. You could hit the whole tapas menu with 4 people easy. Do it! Thank me later. Very nice upstairs dining space overlooking the corner of Kettner at Beech. 

Common Theory Public House (Convoy)
Friday August 25th, 7pm

Beets by CT salad (super refreshing and very flavorful!)

Glazed Rainbow Carrots (killer ginger-citrus glaze!)

OG Fried Brussels (they do it right here every time!)

Market Fried Fish (sole) with carrot chips. Tasty and flake tender but fish had very little actual meat on it)

What I really like about coming here besides the great food and service is the swagger this place has. It lives up to its concept of being a true public house. It's open and inviting, has a welcoming appeal to it. The corner sofas, couches, chairs and shareable tables. The long picnic style tables in the middle of the place and the booths in the back. It offers a very open and communal feel. You come, sit, and want to stay, talk, socialize, feel like a regular the first time you're there. Being a solo diner on this visit I enjoyed a good hour and a half stay on one of those cushy corner chairs and savored meal start to end as well as the peculiar vibe. If I could only bring places like this with me to St. Louis!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A true farm to table experience: Dickinson Farm & Epicurean San Diego

This past Sunday I was lucky enough to be able to knock out yet one more of my top bucket list items I have wanted to do here in SoCal in my 5 years as a resident. In my final 10 days as of this writing, I am still looking for a few more uniquely San Diego activities, places, things I MUST do before I leave town for good.

So far I have completed the following items from my bucket list: (bold are those yet to be completed)

1. Ghost Tour
2. The SEAL's Tour
3. The Trolly Tour
4. Balboa Museums (several)
5. Patriot Jet Boat
6. Harbor Cruise Tour
7. *Experience a real farm-to-table dinner*
8. Coronado Bay Bridge Run
9. Surf
10. Vist a SoCal Winery
11. Sky Dive

Without further delay, let me take you right to the 7th item on the list and show you all about that amazing experience of which I now want to experience again in other places with other farms.

click below for a complete photo slide show of the event and the amazing meals we got to learn about and eat as part of our experiences. 

Huge Thanks go to Stepheni Norton of Dickinson Farm, Josh Kemble of Urban Life Cafe and Stephanie Parker of Epicurean San Diego for this debut experience and educational insight.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Making my exit: The final "Better Bites" of SD with some heavy hitting Chef's and amazing plates.

In the coming weeks, I am counting down my remaining time left in this great city. I depart for good September 2nd to relocate to St Louis for a new job I have taken. The local SD food, of course, is one major thing I hate to part with. 5 years of eating great food in San Diego and 2 years blogging about it with all of you. Bittersweet does not even describe the torn feelings I have. In the time I have left I am looking to go out with a bang and hit some of the top tier places in town that the local people, the media, and my own preferences guide me to. So far it's been pretty amazing. Take a look below to see why that is. 


Thursday, August 10th, 7pm

Bites: Whole grilled Branzino- herb relish, campari tomatoes, grilled lemon 
Sides- None
Sips- Kaiden, Chardonnay

Notes: Been looking to hit up Trust for a long time! Finally made it in. I was eager to try the whole fish entree as I had heard it was one of the best in town. Having now tried it myself I must say, yes, it's up there in the best in town. Simple and straightforward, nothing too complex. A perfectly grilled fish accentuated with the right herbs, garnish, and citrus. I love being able to eat a meal like this where you savor every bite and yet you know its darn good for you at the same time. One reason I love fish entrees, almost always delicious and nutritious. Michael was my server and bar staff for the night and he was amazing. He knows the menu inside and out and can pair a good wine with any entree you're looking at. Another place with an amazing outdoor seating area with couches to enjoy their daily happy hour. Inside also has a truly impressive decor. Great place for group drinks or a date night!

The Patio on Lamont

Monday August 14th, 7pm

Bites: Whole grilled striped sea bass- roasted tomato, roasted bell pepper, salsa verde, lemon
Sides- none
Sips- Pinot Noir, Italy

Notes: As a first timer at this location I was impressed. I hope to come back here before I scoot off for good. The foods I saw coming out to other tables was worth a double take. My choice was solid as I really enjoyed my entree. Flavorful, tender, flaky fish meat as it should be. The garnish was perfect and the wine pairing out it all down even better yet. Bar staff are super kind and informed about all menu items as well. Great place for a small group dinner out. All day happy hour Monday night as well! 

Herb and Wood

Tuesday, August 15th, 7pm

Bites: Roasted Half Chicken- Smokey Braised Kale, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Caper Herb Salsa 
Sides: Roasted Cauliflower- Garlic, Parsley Vinegar, Mama’s Lil Peppers 
Sips- Malbec, Italy

Notes: A nice change with something different from fish (not that it really ever gets old for me) but to take a classic poultry dish and bring it to this that is a treat! Perfectly roasted half chicken, slightly crispy skin, moist and flavorful meat packed with flavor. This was a nice reminder of what really good chicken is meant to taste like. The roasted cauliflower is not to be overlooked either. A great pairing to any entree as I see it. Ask for Ty as your waiter, the guy is awesome! The decor and ambiance here really is truly stunning just like everyone says it is!

Kettner Exchange

Wednesday, August 15th, 7pm

Bites: Niman Ranch Pork Chop, scallion, roasted carrots, burssles, Peruvian sauce
Sides: Shishito peppers
Sips- Pino Noir, Tolosa Vineyards

Notes: Amazing service from all staff. Special note to Matt Nosse. the assistant GM. Guy is way awesome and super friendly. Well aware of the menu and what chef Brian is doing to make it so darn amazing! The chop is super flavorful and tender. The shishito peppers here may be the best I have had so far in SD. be sure to take a look around this place. I sat upstairs where half the lounge is wide open with ceiling and the other half closed in but still with great views of Little Italy. A great place for date night indeed!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Fish Frenzy 3 Ways

I am going to take you all on a quick but worthwhile rapid-fire rundown of three amazing places in town I have recently made debut visits to. The following venues offer some serious (and healthy) seafood fare of which I would highly recommend to anyone with a gastronomic fish-fix they need to satisfy. So let us begin!

Little Italy
Sunday July 30th 6:45pm

Entree: Red Snapper whole fish- Ajo Blanco, melon, smoked almonds, citrus curd.
Side: Blue Lake Grilled Green Beans
Sip: Bolt from the Blue cocktail (smoky campfire aroma captured in a cocktail!)

Notes: This was the entree that kicked off my continued craving for more whole fish dishes. I came for a good plate of fish and left with an experience beyond the plate. This is how I like to experience a meal out, with notes of decor, vibe, flavor, aroma, service, and others. I got that in spades here. The bar staff, servers and even the GM on staff Kim were all amazing. My meal was amazing and even my cocktail (non-drinker here) was amazing. The place is pricy but then again seafood, in general, is pricey. But at Ironside, you get what you pay for down to the penny. Now to come back in for this epic happy hour I hear so much about!

Point Loma
Tuesday, August 1, 6:45pm

Entree: Daily special of Whole Rock Fish- 
Spicy garlic, chili and tamarind sauce (a bit sweet and sour) topped with sautéed mushrooms and crispy Thai hens. Served with steamed Jasmine rice. 
Side: Steamed veggies and fresh summer shrimp rolls   
Sip: None

Notes: This is THE fish to get if you like whole fish entrees with a unique sweet and sour hit to them. The combo of sauces and the flash friend technique used to prepare this dish locks in the flavor and keeps the fish meat super tender and flavorful. Never had Thai style fish before this and now I know just what I have been missing! The looks I got from the other diners when this puppy came out were priceless! I will note as well that the summer roll I got along with the peanut sauce and sweet and sour plum sauce were some of the best I have ever had period. A must get appetizer!

Ocean Beach
Friday, August 4, 6:45pm

Entree: Sizzling Fish Plate-  Fresh water Vietnamese Basa topped with caramelized ginger, scallions, garlic, and cilantro; served with rice.
Side: Garlic Edamame and Shrimp Spring rolls
Sip: St Louis Brew Co. Cinnamon Pumpkin Sour Gueze (I do not drink much beer but I really did love this!)

Notes: A smaller portion of fish than I would have liked but what I did get I did enjoy very much. A sweet flavored fish cooked to perfection. Edamame was on point while the spring rolls were good they were not the best I have had. Service was super friendly and the bar staff was very helpful. Busy night but they kept right up! Plates kept on flying out of the kitchen and dang did they all look good!

Monday, July 31, 2017

An experience that goes far beyond the plate: Debut at Pardon My French

Pardon My French Bar and Kitchen

3797 Park Blvd, North Park, San Diego, CA, 92103

645pm, Tuesday, July 25th

One cuisine I had neglected since my moving to San Diego back in March 2014 has been that of the French domain. Not that I did not want to look for it, try and review it, but rather because I did not really know of or hear about many places I had to go check out. As one who cannot do dairy and avoids flour as much as possible, it never appealed as a primary cuisine to look into. My myopic view of what French dining can be quickly shattered as you will see below.

As fate would have it I got wind of PMF (Pardon My French) from a French-Canadian member of the US consulate at the 4th of July USA vs Canada Rugby match of all places. A name was dropped, business cards swapped and the rest is what brought me to the doors of PMF for this debut visit of not only the venue but also French dining of any kind during my tenure in San Diego so far. Let me show you how spectacular this experience was for me and how it can (and should be) one for you as well.

Eric Fillion, co-owner with wife Lindsey have been in business for 16 months now but you would think far longer given how smoothly this place hums along and how rich the vibe is between patrons and staff. It's like they been here for decades with regulars that go way back when. Eric has done a magnificent job of creating a culture all its own at PMF. Its seen and felt, heard and tasted in the food, the decor, the ambiance and the flavors/presentation of the food. It feels part fine dining, slightly high end, but has no vibe of ostentation or pretentiousness. The food, decor, and service, provide that authenticly by itself.

Co-owner Eric Fillion and I posing for a shot after my amazing meal.

Eric seems to know every single person who walks in the door as he greets them, speaks to them and hugs them all on departure. They approach him to converse in native tongues as close friends and family at one another's home would do. An owner who regularly has this kind of face time and interaction with his customers is something I have not seen very often but can appreciate as one who seeks more than just a good plate of food when I dine out. I want an experience, a unique one of a kind experience along with some great food. That is just what I got here and then some.

Even my server "Goose" was an extension of what Eric and the venue strive for with their welcoming family feel of belonging, being cared for, treated as an equal even if the cuisine/menu is new and foreign (as it was to me). His knowledge of the menu and wine list down to the details was stellar. We spoke a bit directly about his role at PMF and he made it clear he feels a part of a team, a family, filling a purpose to please and exceed the customers experience every single time and not just through food but through service and experiences. 

These types of values are what I shoot to capture in my blog posts. I can post images and pictures of great food all day long but that's what Instagram is for (and I do use the hell out of it as well so go add me @NavyFitCVN) but to capture the rest of what a dining experience is, takes more than just great tasting and delicious looking foods. A story, purpose, and a mission that takes places well beyond the plate is what makes things fun, fascinating and insightful for me as a food blogger and hopefully for you as a reader as well.

Outdoor side patio area with fire pits and romantic lighting. THE place to be for Sunday brunch I am told!

Bottom line, Eric, his wife, his team and Chef Dariusz in the kitchen, are doing amazing things, whipping up amazing food and drinks that allow you to escape the daily hustle and bustle so "Pardon my French" but, slow the f%ck down and savor a meal, relish in an experience, bond with your fellow diners. Todays fast paced world of dine & dash has become all too common. Places like this need be known by all so that the essence of dining out as an experience vice consumption alone can be revived. And in the process, you may even learn some French along the way! Bring a date, bring the office, bring the kids, bring the darn dog! "This is your dining room away from home and everyone is always welcome here" as Eric so simply put it.

One thing the French have always done right, decor and wine! 

My only regret is not trying more foods, some of the more traditional items like French onion soup (my personal favorite), roasted duck, grilled lamb chops, tart flambee, fois gras, the charcuterie, and fromages board to name just a few. Dessert options all by itself deserve a visit based on what I saw coming from the kitchen all night! However, to keep within the new theme of "ABetterBite" I bypassed those items (but certainly will return for them) to show that even when eating for health and wellness, you do not have to sacrifice flavor one degree! The pictures below should make clear that I was not missing out on a thing with my selections. Until next time blog readers, bonne nourriture! 

Street side front patio area on Park Blvd.

One last note I felt I had to make here in that I hate to see food waste of any kind is the system put in place at PMF. The system allows for almost 95% of their food product to be utilized in production, donation or consumption in some way. They even make dog treats for fido on select days of the week to assure almost nothing is wasted. How cool is that!? 

Au Revoir! 

Pan Roasted Salmon, charred fennel, green beans, sauce vierge

Mixed Vegetables dressed in herb butter (best roasted carrots I have ever had)

Charred Broccolini with shaved Almonds

Spinach and Arugula Salad with Smoked Salmon, grapefruit & lemon dressing, pomegranate seeds, cucumber, radish.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Great Seafood, Views and Service: The Bali Hai Debut

Bali Hai Restaurant - Shelter Island, Point Loma, San Diego

630pm Tuesday, July 18th

Pretty darn content at the moment I must say!

For someone who lives in Point Loma just a couple miles away from the Bali Hai restaurant on Shelter Island, it's just wrong that it took me 2.5 years as a resident here to finally get in here and check them out! I now see I have in fact been missing out BIG TIME on their dinner menu, views, stiff drinks and incredible service for far too long. Not the case anymore. I had known all about their famous Sunday brunch but even that never got me in the doors due to my Sunday morning schedule most weekends. But now I feel that may have to change having now gotten a true taste of what the Bali Hai is all about.

I arrived to find the place fairly busy but nothing crazy. Some JROTC event was happening downstairs and outside on the waterfront patio area. I dined in the primary upstairs dining room space which hit me with 3 things very clear right away. 1) The amazing and spectacular almost 180-degree window view of the bay and downtown but also 2) the seating with ample space between all the tables. This made for a very open and non-cramped feel which I really enjoyed. You could probably fit more tables in the dining area but that would certainly dampen the open and free flow of traffic the room has. 3) A clearly distinguishable feel of the Pacific islands and Asian fusion. I cant really describe it as its something that hits all the senses collectively. You really need to be there and see it for yourself. It's like Dorthy from the Wizard of Oz said, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

Lets get to business and show you the goods shall we?

The famous Bali Hai Mai Tai-               
One really is enough, pace yourself folks!

     The Hawaiian Tuna Poke - flavorful, fresh and simple. Prime dinner starter choice!

Steamed, stuffed whole market fish. The BEST I have ever had period. Melt in your mouth tender fish and superb flavor. The new standard to which I measure whole fish plates from now on. I love being able to eat well and truly savor every bite of a meal knowing its doing the mind and body good!

Szechuan style Vegetables - A simple and welcome pairing side dish to any entree. Gotta get your veggies in right?

Thai brussel sprouts with Chinese Sausage - has to be in the top 5 I have had in San Diego so far. Not swimming in too much balsamic, soy or oil/dressing. Just enough to allow the sprouts to explode with flavor. Char level was perfect as well.

Flash fried shishito peppers- also done just right. Not doused in soy, sauce, salt or vinegar any more than needed. Perfectly blistered and not overly done.

Chef Dion is working some genuine culinary magic in that kitchen let me say that much! Nothing I had was less than impressive. From the service I received, the wholesome and delicious meal I had and the stunning views I took in, Bali Hai makes for an experience as much as a dining destination. A healthy one at that! I cannot imagine too many other places in town offer the kind of unique experience one can have here. I can say right now, I will be making several return visits from now on, starting with a visit to the famous Sunday brunch everyone raves about! See you all there I hope!

View from my seat inside along the window seating.