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Get set for restaurant week

Make reservations early for Restaurant Week. The event runs Jan. 7-12.

Several years ago, San Diego joined the growing number of cities that promote their restaurants during the traditionally slow season. The idea is to attract customers with reduced prices to both familiar as well as new dining experiences, in the hope that they will remember to return at other times during the year.

It seems to be working. Ingrid Croce, chairwoman of the event and owner of Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar in the Gaslamp, said more restaurants are participating in the event than ever before.

"We have a lot more North County restaurants involved," she said.

North County is gaining more residents and fine new restaurants are opening to service them.

Participating restaurants are listed at www.sandiegorestaurantweek.com. By clicking on the name of the restaurant, one may review the menu choices offered. There are three courses -- appetizer, entrée and dessert, with a choice of at least three selections for each course. Restaurants are listed alphabetically and by area of the city.

This year, there are two price points, not a single price as was last year's case. Many meals are priced at $30 per person, but some more expensive places have raised their prices to $40. Liquor and drinks are extra, as are taxes and gratuity.

The dishes are larger than "tasting" size. Many are full, regular-size meals. Some restaurants, however, cut back on portion sizes to maintain profitability.

The choice of restaurants can be intimidating because the list is so large, so here are some specific recommendations of venues and entrees:

Views galore

City lights twinkle amazingly when viewed from Bertrand At Mr. A's (619-239-1377), atop a tall building at one of downtown's highest points. The Pan-Seared Kobe Flat Iron Steak can't be beat for quality. Skyline views can be enjoyed from Bali Hai (619-239-1377) on Shelter Island or from Island Prime (619-298-6802) on Harbor Island. Bali Hai has a Polynesian Island theme and its Island Sampler, particularly the Macadamia Mahi Mahi will easily satisfy. Island Prime's chef, Deborah Scott, is highly regarded for her creativity. Try the Filet, with Gorgonzola, Wild Mushroom and Crab. For a different type of ocean view, looking down on the crashing surf in the cove, come early to Brockton Villa (858-454-7393) in La Jolla, and try the Crispy Duck Confit.

Seafood

Café Pacifica (619-291-6666) is located in Old Town, but is best known for its wonderful seafood. Try the Ginger-Stuffed Yellowfin Tuna. The name says it all for the Oceanaire Seafood Room (619-858-2277). Try the Oregon Stuffed Petrale Sole, and don't pass up the Lobster Bisque appetizer.

Mexican

San Diego is justifiably famous for its Mexican cuisine. Some of the best places to dine are in Old Town, including Café Coyote (619-291-4695) and Casa Guadalajara (619-295-5111). They reflect old traditions and classic recipes. I would go with Coyote's Chicken Mole and Guadalajara's Carne Asada. Another restaurant, Casa De Pico (619-463-3267) in nearby La Mesa, was created by Diane Powers (the owner of Casa Guadalajara and original developer of Bazaar Del Mundo) and offers beautiful ambiance and great cuisine. Try Pescado Relleno for new taste sensations.

Exotics

Roppongi (858-551-5252) in La Jolla profiles the creativity of Chef Stephen Window and offers amazing sushi and tapas. The special menu for the Week is limited but the Beef Short Ribs are terrific. Galileo 101 (619-702-2101), across from the Convention Center, is building a reputation for new and tempting menu concepts. The Loch Duart Salmon is very tempting.

North County

Pampelmousse Grille (858-792-9090) in nearby Del Mar is where Chef Jeffrey Strauss does his culinary magic. The Crispy Maple Leaf Duck is the entrée to choose. Going up the coast to Cardiff brings one to The Charthouse (760-436-4044), which is the place to go for Prime Rib. Blue Fire Grill (760-926-6360), a relatively new restaurant in Carlsbad offers a tempting California Seafood Stew, a mélange of favorites from the ocean.

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