Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 795 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 5700 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

Cafe Chloe – San Diego, California

Chloe01

Cafe Chloe in San Diego’s East Village District

From your seat on the sidewalk patio of Café Chloe, you can see Petco Park, the open-air home of the San Diego Padres. You’ll have a front row view of a veritable cavalcade of motorized and foot-powered conveyances—from swanky Maseratis to sleek inline skates. Passers-by on foot include some of the city’s most downtrodden as well as its captains of industry. As you take in your surroundings in the cozy, urban neighborhood café and wine bar in San Diego’s chic East Village, you might occasionally be transported, perhaps more than fleetingly, to a quaint Parisian cafe of your past or your dreams.

More than any other French bistro we’ve visited, Café Chloe takes us back to leisurely spring days in small, homey bistros by the Seine where we sipped coffee as intense and spicy as the city in which it’s served. That’s the magic of Café Chloe, a culinary gem which may have the look and feel of Paris, but whose heart and soul belong to San Diego. In fact, Café Chloe has been recognized by Eater San Diego as one of the “38 essential San Diego restaurants,” a compilation of myriad restaurants across a gamut of cuisines. These are the restaurants Eater San Diego recommends most.

Chloe07

Lavender Lemonade

Launched in 2005, Café Chloe is the little slice of Parisian culture San Diego has embraced, consistently naming it on surveys as one of the city’s favorite French restaurants. Some guests prefer al fresco dining and the sidewalk café feel of old Paris. The sidewalks of the corner location are lined with iron tables and chairs which are more functional than comfortable. The interior is bright, airy, intimate and convivial with bistro tables in personal space proximity. You can also dine at the white marble bar and you’ll certain want to browse the retail shelves for Café Chloe’s private label gourmet gifts and locally crafted jewelry.

While virtually every bistro, restaurant and café in Paris welcomes dogs of all sizes, in San Diego just under 200 restaurants welcome dogs at their outdoor tables. Café Chloe earned an average rating of five bones from respondents to bringfido.com. The staff welcomes dogs with open arms, lavishing them with attention and a bowl of cool water. Best of all, there’s plenty of shade under which your dog can relax in cool comfort. During out week-long stay in San Diego, our four-legged children Tim and Callie dined with us at four pet friendly restaurants. They were on vacation, too.

Chloe02

Butternut Squash Soup with Sage

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day with a menu which changes frequently and features only the freshest local ingredients, sustainable seafood, all-natural meats and jidori poultry, Café Chloe is a café with a conscience. The menu touts “we believe in the value of supporting sustainability, regardless of cost, and hope you will invest in this belief with us.” To the cynic in us, that statement translated to “this is going to cost a fortune,” but that wasn’t the case at all. Every item on the menu is pleasantly priced.

Café Chloe inspires lingering. No one seems to be in a hurry and if you’re not either, you’ll appreciate the restaurant’s pace. It’s somewhere between relaxed and leisurely. You’ll also appreciate that the wait staff doesn’t rush you as you peruse the menu, an array of rightly portioned sensible dishes described very well. Cafe Chloe serves their popular brunch menu every day of the week now and you’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to order. Every item will inspire involuntary salivation.

Chloe03

Mushroom & Bleu d’Auvergne tart

As you peruse the menu, you’ll want to refresh yourself with Cafe Chloe’s lavender lemonade, the very best we’ve ever had. I pray the village people at Los Ranchos de Albuquerque who operate the village’s Lavender Festival forgive me for that blasphemous and disloyal statement, but if they don’t I’ll drown my sorrows in more of that lemonade. The lemonade is fresh-squeezed and will purse your lips with its tartness, but it’s the fresh herbaceousness of the lavender you’ll long remember. This beverage tastes like summer.

Finding butternut squash soup on the menu in the heart of summer is always a surprising treat. Butternut squash soup has been my solace and source of warmth and comfort on many a fall and winter day. As we found out, it’s just as soothing and delicious in summertime. Cafe Chloe’s rendition of this soup is relatively thin and isn’t adulterated with heavy creams but is redolent with flavor and has a very even texture. Served piping hot, the flavor profile is punctuated by the mildly astringent flavor of sage. Succulent squash is the prevalent soul-warming soup which I crave year-round and Café Chloe’s is among the best.

Chloe04

Steak Frites with anchovy butter ,Chloe greens & Dijon vinaigrette

We gleaned an entirely different flavor profile from another starter which was no less magnificent than the butternut squash soup. The mushroom and Blue d’Auvergne tart is absolutely delightful. A flaky, buttery crust sheathes perfectly sautéed mushrooms and the rich, spicy flavors of Blue d’Auvergne, a French cheese made from sheep’s milk. A drizzle of Balsamic reduction on the plate lends a tangy-sweet flavor. What makes this tart special is balance—how every item contributes its unique properties to the flavor profile, creating a whole that is more delicious than its components.

With steak frites, you never know what cut of steak you’re going to get. Café Chloe serves a flank steak, a very flavorful and surprisingly tender steak despite being quite lean. It’s served in slices and prepared to your exacting specifications, but any more than medium and you’ll compromise some of the meat’s juiciness. At medium rare, the steak is charred on the outside and perfectly pink on the inside with plenty of flavor—and that’s even before you add the anchovy butter (which Bon Appetit refers to as a umami-rich compound butter). The steak is served on top of the frites which allows meaty juices to run down the fluffy double-fried frites.

Chloe05

Macaroni, pancetta, & Bleu d’Auvergne gratin

In November, 2010, Haute Living.com put together its list of the best adult mac and cheese dishes in San Diego. The article concluded that Café Chloe’s version “will make you crave it for weeks to come,” calling it “an incredible take on the classic dish.” The three components of this gratin dish are macaroni, pancetta and Blue d’Auvergne. The Blue d’Auvergne cheese could easily overwhelm this dish with its pungency and strong aroma, but it’s used judiciously to create a rather thick sauce which goes well with the generous amount of pancetta (pork belly sized cubes) interspersed throughout the dish. Served in a casserole dish, this adult mac and cheese dish is perfectly baked, amazingly delicious and picture perfect with a golden top. I’m still craving!

Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, will have to make a trip to San Diego to try Café Chloe’s pistachio bread pudding, among the very best bread puddings I’ve ever had. A pool of caramel espresso sauce surrounds thick, hot, pistachio-infused bread pudding which is topped with a salted caramel topping and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. There is a lot going on with this bread pudding in flavors and textures that are both complementary and contrasting. It’s sweet, gooey, warm, cold, nutty, creamy, buttery, salty and absolutely memorable. It’s one of the things we’ll remember most about our visit to San Diego.

Chloe06

Pistachio bread pudding with espresso caramel and vanilla ice cream

The one aspect about our delightful meal at Café Chloe most unlike Paris is the service. Café Chloe was a “best service” pick of San Diego Magazine. It’s perfectly paced to maximize your enjoyment of one of the city’s very best French bistros.

Cafe Chloe
721 9th Avenue
San Diego, California
(619) 232-3242
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 5 July 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 24
BEST BET: Pistachio Bread Pudding; Macaroni, pancetta, & Bleu d’Auvergne gratin; Steak Frites; Mushroom & Bleu d’Auvergne tart; Butternut Squash Soup with Sage

Cafe Chloe on Urbanspoon

Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar – La Jolla, California

Nine-Ten01

La Jolla’s Grande Colonial Hotel, home of the Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar

My baby sister Anita paid me the ultimate compliment, not as a brother, but as a savvy restaurant essayist. When we ran into her at the Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar in picturesque La Jolla, she told me “I knew you’d find this place,” acknowledgement that she recognizes my prowess in finding the very best restaurants everywhere I travel. Born nine years apart with four siblings in between, Anita and I are anomalies in our family in that we’re passionate gastronomes in a brood which suffers the same dull palate deficiency which afflicts many Americans who prefer chain restaurants.

Unbeknownst to us, Anita, her hunky husband Andy and their precocious, beautiful Emily were staying in La Jolla’s Grande Colonial Hotel, just a few miles from our rental home. Leave it to Anita to stay in the hotel housing the Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar which was accorded the 2013 Gold Medallion Award as California’s best hotel restaurant in the fine dining category. Our other siblings would have been just as happy staying in a hotel adjacent to the Olive Garden.

Nine-Ten02

The dog-friendly patio where our Tim and Callie celebrated their ninth birthday

2013 marks the Grande Colonial centennial anniversary as the oldest hotel in La Jolla. The opulent grand damme, within strolling distance of La Jolla Cove, remains as stylish as many an elegant European hotel with mahogany trim and wood moldings as well as stylish lead chandeliers and crystal doorknobs. The Nine-Ten Restaurant, named for its address on 910 Prospect Drive, opened in July, 2001. Since its launch, the restaurant has earned almost every conceivable accolade: an “extraordinary to perfection” rating from Zagat, the California Restaurant Association’s “Best hotel Restaurant” designation, Gayot’s “Top Ten Gastronomy Cuisine Restaurants in the United States” award and many more.

More importantly for us, the Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar earned a five bones rating from BringFido.com, an online resource for locating dog-friendly restaurants, lodging, air travel and more. Food and Wine also praised Nine-Ten for its dog friendly nature, noting that “the dining staff is especially accommodating to dogs, setting out water bowls and treats, and occasionally hosting dog parties on the patio.” Our darling dachshunds Tim and Callie certainly enjoyed their visit, especially when so many dog lovers stopped by to ooh and ah at them.

Nine-Ten04

An asparagus soup, light on cream, with pea pods

Nine-Ten’s executive chef Jason Knibb earned a broader national profile when he became San Diego’s first “cheftestant” on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America program where he was bested by Iron Chef Bobby Flay in battle caviar. In culinary circles, he’s much better known for the many accolades he’s earned and for his mastery of “California cuisine,” that fusion of disparate ingredients and cooking styles emphasizing the use of fresh, local ingredients. The chef changes the menu based on the growing season, procuring fresh produce from highly reputable local artisan farmers.

Special prix fixe menus are available daily and feature matching wines from the extensive, Wine Spectator-awarded wine cellar. For dinner, that means one hot or cold starter, one entrée, one dessert or one cheese. Intrepid diners desiring a true epicurean experience can put themselves at the “Mercy of the Chef”, a special prix fixe menu created at the whim and inspiration of the Chef and featuring matching wines. Frankly, you can put yourself at the mercy of the wait staff, too, because they know the menu well and make savvy recommendations.

Nine-Ten05

Taste of Four Cheese served with bread & accompaniments

One such recommendation was the soup of the day, an asparagus soup infused with pea pods. The soup’s neon green color bespoke of its freshness, but didn’t prepare us for its deliciousness. Especially remarkable is the fact that the soup was not of the cream of asparagus variety (a lot of cream will make almost any type of soup taste good). In fact, there was very little cream used on the soup. It was mostly pureed asparagus seasoned lightly and allowed to shine. Pea pods proved a very complementary partner, introducing elements of sweetness to the soup.

A simple salad of locally grown mixed organic greens with a champagne vinaigrette was similarly remarkable for its simplicity. The best and most intrepid of chefs allow ingredients to speak for themselves with seasonings and dressings used sparingly and only to accentuate the native flavors of those ingredients. The lightly applied champagne vinaigrette meant we could enjoy the organic greens with the flavors bestowed by fertile soil, sunlight and irrigation. When it comes to salad, simple can mean spectacular.

Nine-Ten07

Hanger Steak with roasted baby turnips, carrots, chanterelle mushrooms, parsnip purée, Cabernet reduction

Several years ago much to the consternation of PETA, television commercials introduced the slogan “Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California.” Whether the commercials bolstered the market for California’s artisan cheeses is debatable, but they did resonate with us. In most of our dining experiences at restaurants featuring California cuisine, we indulge in cheeses. The cheeses don’t always come from California, but they’re almost always delicious.

The “taste of four cheeses” with bread and accompaniments at Nine-Ten is an exemplary cheese plate, but it might not make California cows happy because no California cheeses are showcased. Instead, you’ll find Taleggio, an Italian cow’s milk cheese served with fig jam; Drunken Goat, a firm goat’s milk cheese from Spain served with fried almonds; Shaft’s Blue, a soft cow’s milk cheese from Wisconsin served with apple slices; and Manchego, a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain served with pickled walnuts. This cheese plate provides great variety in flavor and texture, smartly employing palate cleansing accompaniments on which you can nosh in between frolicking in the fromage.

NineTen06

Loch Duart Salmon: celery root puree, Swiss chard, roasted baby apples & salsify, apple cider gastrique

One of the dishes best exemplifying California cuisine is the hanger steak which is served with roasted baby turnips, carrots, Chanterelle mushrooms, parsnip puree and a Cabernet reduction. The hanger steak, a lean and thin cut of beef, is cut into strips and is absolutely perfect at a shade under medium. Most surprisingly is how very tender–cut with a fork tender–this cut is served. We’ve often found hanger steak tough and stringy when used on fajitas. The Cabernet reduction imbues the steak with a moist viscosity and smoothness while the vegetable accompaniment would make the most recalcitrant of children learn to love vegetables. Alas, there weren’t enough of us to suit our adult palates.

It’s with decreasing frequency that we order salmon in New Mexico. Despite often being prefaced by such terms as “wild caught salmon harvested by fishermen,” a residual “fishiness” belies any purported freshness. Nine-Ten’s Loch Duart Salmon is the best salmon we’ve had in many a year. As can be gleaned from the name, Loch Duart Salmon comes from Scotland and has been consistently judged superior in taste, quality, color and overall perception. While fruity flavors and fish don’t often go well together, the apple cider gastrique applied onto the salmon created a perfect marriage of savory-brininess tinged with just a hint of tangy sweetness. The accompanying vegetables–celery root puree, Swiss chard, roasted baby apples–were a tease. We wanted a plateful and received spoonfuls.

Nine-Ten08

Meyer Lemon Tart topped with raspberries and edible flowers; side of basil ice cream with cookie crumbs

Desserts are not to be missed. They’re as creative and delicious as dessert can be. On its own, the Meyer Lemon Tart would have made a sensational post-prandial indulgence. You would have been deliriously happy to devour it and call it a fabulous way to end a meal. Topped with raspberries and edible flowers, it purses your lips ever so slightly with its tanginess. The edible flowers provide a delicate, almost minty flavor while the raspberries are ever so fresh. The most welcome addition to this dessert is a single scoop of basil ice cream. It’s as refreshing as it sounds, as good as any Thai dish employing fresh basil.

At the other flavor profile extreme is the half-baked chocolate cake drizzled with caramel sauce and topped with vanilla bean ice cream. Its name foretells of its texture. The cake has an almost molten quality to it and it’s served warm so the ice cream melts almost immediately. Only the edges of this cake are cake-like. The rest is gooey (but not like melted caramel), rich and absolutely decadent.

Nine-Ten09

Half Baked Chocolate Cake: caramel sauce with vanilla bean ice cream

During our next family reunion, Anita and I would probably want it held at a restaurant like Nine-Ten, but may wind up at Red Lobster instead. Anything to maintain peace in the family.

Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar
910 Prospect Street
La Jolla, California
(858) 964-5400
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 4 July 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 26
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Asparagus Soup, Taste of Four Cheeses, Hangar Steak, Loch Duart Salmon, Lemon Tart, Half Baked Chocolate Cake

Nine Ten on Urbanspoon

Phil’s BBQ Restaurant – San Diego, California

Phil01

Phil’s BBQ in San Diego

A few decades ago, the culinary cognoscenti anointed the best bastions of bodacious barbecue–Kansas City, Memphis, Texas and the Carolinas…and there was much rejoicing. Since then, it’s been widely accepted that this exclusive quadrumvirate is where the very best barbecue in America is to be found. Much of this acceptance is because the four regions have deployed their marketing machines to continue reenforcing the notion–some would say myth–that their barbecue is sacrosanct and evermore defines barbecue greatness.

There were a number of reasons these four regions were anointed as America’s barbecue capitals. For one, barbecue is more than just another important part of the culture at these regions; it’s as close to a religion as you’ll find. Secondly, restaurants specializing in barbecue are plentiful and they seem to be clustered in close proximity to one another. The recognition that these four regions do barbecue especially well is in no way an indictment of other regions. It’s well known that there’s some superb smoking going on across the entire fruited plain, from sea to shining sea.

Phil02

Some of the very best onion rings anywhere!

Visit any state in the union and you’ll find eager diners queuing up for their local ‘cue. There’s often as much pride in local barbecue as there is in the local sports teams. That’s certainly the case in San Diego where a number of restaurants vie for smoker supremacy. Long recognized as one of, if not the very best, in Southern California is Phil’s BBQ Restaurant. That recognition transcends restaurants of all genres. Phil’s ranks right up there with the best fine dining and seafood restaurants in the San Diego area, consistently earning “best restaurant” honors from TripAdvisor.com, San Diego Magazine and others.

Proprietor Phil Pace is a self-taught barbecue master, having concocted from scratch a top-secret recipe for barbecue rubs and sauce before launching his first barbecue restaurant in 1998. Since its opening, Phil’s BBQ has served over one million pounds of barbecue sauce. That’s enough to fill Shamu’s tank. Phil’s is frequented by guests of all income levels–everything from skateboarders to Bentley drivers. Many pilgrimage from afar to satisfy a singular craving–mesquite-grilled baby back and beef ribs, chicken and sandwiches.

Phil03

Half chicken barbecued with a baked potato

Perhaps taking a cue from Disneyland, a northern neighbor, Phil’s pretty much apprises guests how long it will be before they’ll be enjoying a meaty repast. Signage on a girder asks them to “Smile. You are live on the Barbecue Cam.” The Cam monitors queue lengths and provides estimated wait times. It’s a fairly exact science. With lines snaking out the door, it could be a half hour or longer before you’re served. You can bypass the longer lines by going through the take-out line. It means you won’t actually get to sink your teeth into your order until you find a place to park, but you’ll probably still be biting into barbecue before the legions in line.

As with all restaurants deemed of excelsior repute, there are several “must order” items at Phil’s. One such item are the colossal onion rings. Nearly the size of an inner tube (is that reference anachronistic?) each onion ring can feed a developing nation. Seriously, these are huge onion rings with a serious beer batter sheathing a sweet, delicious onion. The onion rings would kick sand on the wimpy, out-of-the-bag onion rings served at most restaurants. They’re served with ranch dressing, but to add anything would be a desecration, like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa (or Linda Beaver if you’re Bob of the Village People).

Phil04

A rack of baby back ribs, some of the very best we’ve had anywhere!

Phil’s uses mesquite wood to impart a sweet, smoky taste on all meats. Mesquite, which is practically the official state smoking wood of Texas, produces a very heavy smoke and adds a lot of flavor to meats. To some purists (and wimps), it can be a bit on the overpowering side. The signature rubs and sauces were inspired by North Carolina- and Kansas City-barbecue styles which means sweet-tangy flavor pronouncements. Phil’s is generous with both rub and sauce, imbuing each meat with a distinctive smokiness and a lick-it-off-your-fingers quality. The sauce isn’t “lacquered on” as too many barbecue sauces tend to be. Instead, it’s slathered on so it’s moist when you taste it. The meats are fall-off-the-bone tender and absolutely delicious.

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver would have loved the half chicken, some of the most pulchritudinous poultry we’ve had in recent memory. The edges and bottom of the chicken were charred to the point of nearly being caramelized, but this only lent to the flavor profile. The chicken was moist and tender with plenty of the cherished white meat. The combination of smokiness and sweet-tangy sauce is an addictive blend.

Phil05

Barbecue Pork Sandwich

A full rib dinner includes ten to twelve baby back ribs or five beef ribs served with your choice of two sides. The baby backs are foodgasm worthy, as good as we’ve had outside of Kansas City. The baby backs are generously sauced, preventing the meat from even thinking about drying up. A beautiful char on the edges and an overall smokiness blends magnificently with the sweet-tangy sauce to make each bite memorable. The meat is off-the-bone tender and melt-in-your-mouth-delicious; you can gnaw it off the bones without teeth.

During our trek to Phil’s, I reminded my Kim in glowing terms that Phil’s tri-tip sandwich was the west coast region winner of Adam Richman’s Best Sandwiches in America competition of 30 sandwiches from among 10 geographical regions. So, what does she order for dinner? A barbecue pork sandwich. I couldn’t tell Kim how much I thoroughly enjoyed the pork sandwich because my manly pride was injured by her not having ordered the fabled tri-tip. Don’t tell her, but I think this is one of the best pork sandwiches we’ve ever had.

Phil06

Baked beans and potato salad

The sides are more hit and miss. The best of the lot are the baked beans which are perfectly baked and have a sweet-smoky flavor. The potato salad is a bit on the humdrum side with a sheen of salad cream and pepper providing the only flavor that isn’t potato. Worse is the baked potato which is slathered with the same type of gloppy cheese sauce you often see on bad ballpark nachos.

While it’s probably premature to append the list of barbecue regions to include San Diego, there’s no doubt Phil’s BBQ Restaurant should be on any discussion of the best barbecue restaurants in America.

Phil’s BBQ Restaurant
3750 Sports Arena Blvd
San Diego, California
(619) 226-6333
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 3 July 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 25
COST: $$
BEST BET: Barbecue Baby back Ribs, Half Chicken, Pork Sandwich, Onion Rings, Baked Beans

Phil's BBQ on Urbanspoon