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Resolve to eat well in 2005

The new year is in full swing -- most revelers have recovered from celebrating. The snap, crackle, pop of breaking resolutions no longer fills the air.

There is one resolution that is easy to keep, though -- the resolution to have more fun, particularly by visiting many of the new restaurants in our city that opened within the last 12 months. Many of these are located in the Gaslamp, to service its new residential buildings and hotels.

The following are descriptions of some of the restaurants that opened during the past year. The list is by no means complete, only suggestive. The effort to dine at all or most of them will serve as its own reward.

Gaslamp

New ethnic restaurants are popular. Rama (619-501-8424) brought Thai elegance to the lower Fourth Avenue area. Alex Thao, its owner, also operates the popular Celadon in Hillcrest. Rama, named in honor the king of Thailand, features cuisine prepared by a one-time royal chef.

The front room is tastefully decorated, has a carved bar and a shrine to the king. The back room features a waterfall that runs the width of the room, Thai dÈcor and comfortable curtained booths. The food and ambiance are amazing.

Monsoon (619-234-5555) and Blue Ginger (619-234-3888) are just a few blocks up Fourth Avenue. Both are owned by Rakesh and Ashley Popat, the management team that operates the successful Bombay restaurant in Hillcrest.

Monsoon offers traditional Indian food in a comfortable setting. The walls are decorated with Indian murals, many of them depicting the rainy season. In keeping with the name, a waterfall runs down the middle of the dining room and echoes the sounds of raining water.

Blue Ginger, perhaps the newest downtown restaurant (it opened just before Christmas) presents a classic Chinese menu, with Mandarin favorites prepared to authentic recipes. A stunning saltwater aquarium creates visual interest in conjunction with the beautiful graphics on the walls.

Two new Mexican-themed restaurants offer south-of-the-border excitement. La Cantina (619-239-1808) is small, dark and intimate, perfect for a romantic evening. The cuisine is traditional, with a Latin twist. Tesoro Restaurante (619-234-5670) is an elegant, upscale venue with modern Mexican recipes.

Lou & Mickey's (619-237-4900) and Fleming's (619-237-1155) are both casually elegant steakhouses that bring new levels of taste to sizzling meat. Large, perfectly prepared steaks, ribs and seafood are served in a casually elegant ambiance of dark wood and low lighting.

McCormick & Schmick (619-645-4545) has returned to San Diego at a new location near Petco Park, serving fresh seafood in a sophisticated setting. It even offers velvet-draped private booths for romantic couples. A few blocks away at The Oceanaire Seafood Room (619-858-2277), Chef Brian Malarkey does magic with fish, shrimp and lobster. The setting is trendy art-deco.

For diners seeking escape to Polynesian delights, David Cohn has opened Mister Tiki Mai Tai Lounge (619-233-1183) to add to his list of outstanding local restaurants. The drinks are strong, the food is excellent and the place is not for the kiddies. An "over 21" door policy is enforced.

Il Giardino Cucina Italiana (619-702-4198) is the newest Italian entry to the downtown dining scene. Located at the foot of Horton Plaza, it is operated by the same management team as the nearby popular De' Medici. The focus is on excellent Italian seafood and pasta.

La Jolla

Two of the newest restaurants in La Jolla both serve fine Italian cuisine. Aurora Ristorante (858-551-8554) offers a stunning ocean view from its second level location. The cuisine is classic Tuscan, with excellent osso buco, veal and pastas.

Osteria Romantica (858-551-1221), located in the La Jolla Shores area, offers a "middle of the piazza" ambiance, with checkered tablecloths, decor and outdoor patio. The cuisine presents an innovative blend of the traditional and the new, such as Fileto Rustico, filet mignon with gorgonzola and sun dried tomato.

With all these great choices, keeping a resolution to have more fun will be easy. I can hardly wait for 2006.


Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association.

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