Last year was so depressing. The economy plummeted. Stock valuations vanished and jobs disappeared. The restaurant industry in particular was deeply affected by the downturn. Customers began to conserve their funds, often by eating at home. I know of executives who are legendary for long, expensive lunches but who now brown-bag to their offices. Restaurant revenues fell sharply. Many laid off staff. Others closed permanently.
Now, after two weeks of the new year, I'm personally coming around to a better point of view. A new political administration is about to take over. With the economy so poor, I may not want to eat out every night but I still need to take some time out for myself, to celebrate the joy of being alive and feeling well. Dining out is one of my favorite ways to do so.
Reading a magazine the other day, I noticed a series of advertisements for local services and restaurants that were all labeled "editor's choice." Whether the ratings were true or not, it caused me to evaluate what some of my favorite places are to dine. If I had to choose one meal, where would I most want to go?
I call this "writer's choice":
For breakfast, it is a toss-up between two of my favorite places. John Gelastopolous' Broken Yolk (858-270-9655) and Richard Walker's Pancake House (619-231-7777). Broken Yolk is excellent for casual setting, gargantuan tasty omelets and wonderful salads. With its fourth location about to open in the Gaslamp, there's probably a location conveniently nearby. The Pacific Beach location is ideal for me, close to the beach and usually crowded with young, attractive and energetic diners.
Richard Walker's Pancake House, located near the Children's Museum downtown, is delightful for great pancakes and waffles. The eponymous restaurant is great for exploring pancakes of different sizes, shapes, textures and flavor. I even love the zany-looking menu.
Lunch is one of the most important meals of the day, in my view. It is "my time" to get out of the office to relax and refresh. A day is just not the same if I can't escape the morning's stresses, so I'm choosy where I go. Island Prime (619-298-6802) is a favorite. Located on Harbor Island, minutes from downtown, I love the views of the city's skyline from the patio while chowing down on chef Deborah Scott's creative and delicious preparations.
Nick's at the Pier (619-222-7437), a sister restaurant to Nick's at the Beach, offers a different kind of ocean view -- the rough sea (as opposed to the calm bay view).
It is delightful for a relaxing seafood lunch on a clear, warm day. The Jamaican Salmon, with a clear rum pepper glaze is a very unique way to enjoy this fish.
Dinners can be challenging. But, at the end of a long day, I sometimes just want to feast on good old American cuisine in a casual setting, where I can be served simple but tasty food that gives me comfort. I love the kickback ambiance at The Spot (858-459-0800) in La Jolla. It is surrounded by expensive clothing and a jewelry store. Nearby studios display exciting and expensive art. But The Spot is a gathering place for singles and families who mingle together at the bar or sit next to each other in a booth. The portions are large while the prices are moderate. The quality of the food is good and satisfying.
I've nominated each of these restaurants for a "writer's choice" designation. I would certainly vote for them.
Even if the economy is falling apart, we each have to treat ourselves as well as we can. None of these restaurants will break the bank. On the contrary, they'll add restorative value to psyche and stamina. Dining out can really pay off.
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.