First dinner was at Sadaf, a Persian restaurant in the Gaslamp area. The food was good, but it wasn’t quite the homey, downscale ethnic place I thought I was entering. Like every restaurant I saw in the area, it was upscale, with upscale prices to boot, not really justified by the food. I went with chicken barg, a marinated, grilled chicken dish served with a huge mound of rice. The chicken was moist and mostly flavorful – again with the lack of salt; I’m starting to think it’s a state law out here – and the rice was delicious. But $20 for that? I don’t see it.
Café 222 on Island Street does waffles, and it does them really well. They had several options on the menu – I remember the “basic” waffle, a cornmeal waffle, and a pumpkin waffle that was listed in ALL CAPS, so it must be good – but since I’m a waffle purist at heart, I went for the basic. It was outstanding – crispy exterior, light and airy inside, a classic Belgian-style waffle in a world that thinks that the crap they give you at make-your-own waffle stands in hotel lobbies is good. The basic waffle was $6.25; that plus a big side of sausage patties (generic) and tea ran $13 before tip.
For Friday dinner, I headed up to Pacific Beach to try the lobster tacos at World Famous. I sat at the bar, which I guess is the only way you can get the lobster tacos, and I ordered one fish taco, one shrimp taco, and one lobster taco. On the whole, they were quite good; the fish/shellfish was perfectly fried, not greasy and not overcooked, and the tortillas (flour) didn’t taste like they’d just been thawed. The shrimp taco was easily the best of the three. However, there was one huge problem: All three had cheese, probably cheddar, melted-glued to the tortillas. This is just not right. First of all, outside of a small number of Italian varieties, I despise cow’s-milk cheese. It tastes like spoiled milk, which, actually, is what cheese is. Cheddar is very high on my list of retch-inducing styles of cheese. But the bigger issue here is that even if I liked that disgusting goop, cheese should never be served with shellfish. The flavor of shellfish is far too delicate to stand up to the tangy/rancid taste of cheese. It didn’t even occur to me that they would put cheese on these tacos, so I didn’t ask them to leave it off and ended up doing the scraping trick, watching the cheese as it took some of the tortillas with it. Anyway, World Famous also gets points for serving Thomas Kemper root beer, which made up for the fact that all four beers they had on tap were pale and therefore not worth drinking.
Gelateria Frizzante is tucked away on Island Ave in the 400s; I only discovered it when I walked to a bank over that way before breakfast. I went for a small cup of chocolate gelato, which looked dark in the tray, but the flavor was very disappointing – mild and thin, like milk chocolate, failing to take advantage of the way gelato can deliver very intense flavors due to its low air content (called “overrun”) and melting speed. The texture, on the other hand, was very good, and they do make all their gelato on the premises.
I wasn’t going to give up that easily, so I tossed the last half of that gelato and walked six more blocks to Mondo Gelato on 10th, just south of Island. They actually had a flavor called “dark chocolate” that delivered – ultra-smooth, rich, cocoa flavor, like a cocoa pudding or custard, with that trademark bitterness of good cocoa. I split the cup between dark chocolate and coffee, but the texture of the coffee was grainy; I think they might have flavored it by using double-strength coffee or espresso, which introduces too much water into the mix. (The best way to make coffee ice cream or gelato is to toast a handful or two of coffee beans just until they glisten, then to simmer them in the milk and/or cream to let the liquid absorb the flavors without requiring the addition of more water. But I digress.) Mondo also had a selection of non-traditional flavors like green tea and Hilo malt (!), and about a half-dozen soy gelatos.
Saturday’s breakfast was at Richard Walker’s Pancake House, a pretty popular joint that already had a line by 8:15 am that morning. I’m still trying to figure out why. I ordered banana pancakes, which, it turns out, were make with a sourdough batter – and that’s all I tasted. “Sour” is not a desirable quality in pancakes, and drowning them in syrup isn’t really my idea of breakfast. I also ordered scrambled eggs on the side, and they were dry and clearly came from a giant pan of the stuff. It’s been a long time since I left that much food on my plate at any restaurant.
I never had lunch on Sunday so I had an early dinner en route to the airport at El Indio, a counter-service Mexican restaurant in the Mission Hills neighborhood. It was solid-average, nothing spectacular, although I give them credit for making their own tortillas (you can buy them by the bag). I had the daily special, carnitas with salsa verde, which came with Mexican rice, beans (pinto beans in a mini-tostada shell), three fresh and super-hot tortillas, and a drink for $8.25 or so. It was fine, but totally unremarkable.
So the funny part is that last year when I made this trip, I stayed in Old Town, and one night I ventured out in search of ice cream, heading first for a gelateria called Gelato Vero that has won some plaudits and at least one award for the best gelato in San Diego. I found it no problem, but couldn’t park. There are a handful of spots on the street in front of it, but nothing else close by, and the whole street was jammed because of all of the restaurants there – Saffron, a Thai/noodles shop; a “New York-style” pizzeria (no idea how authentic it was, but I liked the fake NYC subway sign over their front door); Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe, serving afternoon tea and selling goods imported from the UK; and the aforementioned El Indio. Since I was already in the area, I wandered up the block to Gelato Vero. They had just eight flavors, and the stuff didn’t look right in the trays, but the texture was pretty good (not as good as Frizzante’s) and the flavor was nice and strong. Their espresso bean was really dark, almost like Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz (still my gold standard for real coffee flavor in ice cream), and their chocolate was rich although it lacked that slight bitterness that comes from using good cocoa and lots of it. Gelato Vero sells their gelato by the ounce, which is kind of clever, given how different the “small” cups were at Frizzante (generous) and Mondo Gelato (a little skimpy) the night before.