22 May 2009

The hunt for mythical San Diego cuisine.

Baltimore.  Calgary.  Edmonton.  Houston.  San Diego.  I've lived in a few cities over the last 15 years, all of them with their own local flavor.  But imagine my surprise that San Diego, in southern California, has the worst restaurant scene of any of these cities.  I had expected that it would be the best, given that California is famous for quality produce, quality wine and quality restaurants.  But apparently that's further north...

While some San Diego foodies despair that there is no restaurant scene in San Diego, that's not true.  You just need to be more careful.  We no longer go anywhere without a prior recommendation.  (We've had meals in restaurants that we chose without assistance that were bad enough that we walked out of the restaurant and went home for dinner.  There are restaurants here that don't even serve food, but serve some unidentifiable glorp instead).  

But this is a happy tale.  In celebration of the upcoming long weekend, my wife and I skipped out of work early, and left the little one in daycare.  Off for lunch in University Heights at Mama's Bakery & Lebanese Deli.
I ordered the Makanek wrap.  A Lebanese beef sausage with pickled peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, spicy-citrus sauce wrapped in a home-grilled flatbread.  Delicious!  Spicy and sweet, the flavour was fresh and bright.  The sausage, pulled out of the wrap was a tiny bit spongy, but that texture disappeared in the mix of crisp and fresh ingredients mixed in the rest of the wrap.  Fantastic!  

My wife ordered the falafel, served with home-made pita bread and hummus.
The falafel was crisp, the hummus was bright, the flavours in this lunch were fantastic.  Everything was fresh and carefully prepared, and eating in their semi-outdoor seating area that takes advantage of perpetually perfect weather seemed quintessential San Diego.

But could there be more?  Just around the corner from Mama's Bakery & Lebanese Deli is another gem of San Diego.  Eclipse Chocolat.  Eclipse is one of the few (only?) truly world-class food establishments that we've encountered here.  We first discovered them a few months ago at the Little Italy Farmer's Market.  Their chocolates are rich and deep-flavoured (and they ought to be, at $6 a pop).  They're not overly sweet, unlike many American chocolates.  For chocolate lovers, Godiva is to Hershey's as Eclipse is to Godiva.  You really taste the chocolate, and not the sugar.  And the different flavours are really fun and creative.  Their Sea-salt nibs are truly delicious, speckled with tiny little salt crystals that pop on your tongue.  So after lunch, we snuck over to Eclipse and picked up a sea-salt nib bar.  Yum.  A simple lunch, a simple dessert on a beautiful afternoon in San Diego.

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