The No. 1 feature most often asked for by visitors to San Diego when they're looking for a restaurant is the desire for a view. But trained concierges know that it is important to find out, before making a recommendation, "What kind of a view do you like?" After all, there are skyline views, rooftop views, garden views, country-club views, the views from the tops of mountains and more. The most frequent request is for a dramatic ocean view.
One of the finest such views is at the Chart House restaurant in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Perhaps the operative words are "by the sea" because the restaurant is located at the water's edge. There is a small "restaurant row" in Cardiff and the Chart House is located at the end of the row, offering an open view to the south, where the curve of the bay makes a graceful, tree-lined arch.
Large boulders line the water's edge, creating a rugged scene through the large, picture windows. During high tides, water breaks along the rocks dramatically. At night, lights from the restaurant shine onto the breaking waves, giving the foaming water an iridescent quality. During the day, dolphins and seals can be seen frolicking in the water.
The interior of the restaurant is also lovely. The entire wall facing the ocean is made of glass. The roofs are high and curved, with a large chandelier one of the light sources. The interior flow is similar to Peohe's, one of the sister restaurants to The Chart House. A sleek bar runs along one side. Another bar, for dining, allows guests to watch the action in the kitchen. Gerardo Nava is the culinary mastermind behind the great food that comes out of the busy cooking area.
Chart House is one of the chains of restaurants owned by Landry's Restaurants Inc., which operates many brands around the country. At one time, there were at least three Chart House units in San Diego. One was located in La Jolla and another at the Rowing Club downtown. Landry's acquired the chain six years ago.
The name "Chart House" suggests a nautical theme, but the menu listed w wide selection of meat along with fresh fish. There is a raw bar, offering oysters, mussels and seared ahi. The garlic aromas coming from the steamed mussels are absolutely mouthwatering. Other appetizers include Lobster Spring Rolls deep-fried into deliciousness, served with a tangy mustard sauce.
Lobster Bisque can define the quality of a dining experience. At the Chart House, Lobster Bisque should be on the signature dishes. Served in a hot iron kettle, one can become instantly transfixed just by inhaling the fragrances of the dish. The full-bodied taste overflows with the flavors of cream, spice and lobster. In fact, large chunks of lobster float in the broth, adding crunch to the liquid.
Fresh fish is brought in daily. In fact, the menu is printed daily. Halibut, sea bass, Mahi-mahi, snapper and other fish can be served grilled, baked, blackened or in specialty preparations like Macadamia-Crusted Halibut. And, of course, excellent crab and lobster are served, often with drawn butter.
Steaks, prime rib and chicken entrees include Filet Mignon, Tenderloin Medallions, Chicken Marsala and lots of prime rib. Some meat dishes come with shrimp, a surf-and-turf combination. Whether from land or from sea, entrees are hearty-size portions and satisfying.
The signature house dessert is Lava Cake, oozing chocolate from the cake's center -- a delightfully sweet way to end a meal. When paying the moderate bill, consider joining the Viewpoints Frequent Dining program to earn points toward discounts and rewards for future meals.
The Chart House is open for dinner daily as well as for lunch Wednesday through Saturday. A Sunday Brunch menu allows diners enhance their weekends with great food and great views.
It is located at 2588 S. Coast Highway 101. The easiest way to get there is to take Interstate 5 to the Manchester exit and then turn toward the ocean. For reservations and information, call (760) 436-4044.
Great restaurants do more than just serve great food. Many donate their time and resources to fundraisers to support important causes. These good-hearted restaurants deserve our support. Mama's Kitchen held its annual fundraiser last Friday in La Jolla, where more than $172,000 was raised. They need money to provide meals for victims of HIV/AIDS who are too ill to leave their homes -- an extremely important humanitarian effort. The 65 participating restaurants included Fleming's, J. Taylor's, Harry's Bar & American Grill, Piatti and Sammy's, each serving delicious tastings. Many small bites can indeed make a satisfying meal. Plan ahead for next year's important event.
Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association. Send comments to the firstname.lastname@example.org. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be used as Letters to the Editor.