The small empire that is Whisknladle Hospitality started with a serendipitous meeting of French Laundry vet Ryan Johnston and aspiring restaurateur?and undaunted cooking-school dropout?Arturo Kassel. Their vision? Gourmet comfort food, with none of the guilty excess that term might imply. Just about every ingredient at Whisknladle, down to buttermilk dressings and canadian bacon, would be prepared from scratch, filling a menu that would change with the finest gradations of the seasons. "We want to find that balance of making our guests comfortable and pulling one foot out of their comfort zone," Johnston recently told San Diego Magazine?which means the french toast might exude lemon and lavender and the fried chicken might nest on purslane.
In a 2008 review, the Union-Tribune described "delightful, soul-satisfying" dishes such as "juicy, perfectly roasted chicken" at "one of the most exciting restaurants in San Diego." The crowds agreed. So Johnston and Kassel decided to expand the experience, inspired, as their website says, "by our desire to eat Whisknladle-quality food on a regular basis while sticking to our restaurant-employee budgets." Prepkitchen is a little simpler and more casual, but dishes such as porter-braised short rib and biscuits with chorizo gravy prove the new venture takes the same care as the original when it comes to sourcing ingredients and clearly labeling sugar and salt containers.
Exotic fish waggle their fins at passersby from their aquarium at Fugu's Sushi & Wok, daring visitors to experience the ocean with all five senses. Yellow lights bathe dark wood tables in warmth as guests dive into fresh sushi, sashimi, and other cool treats. From behind the sushi bar, a skilled chef rolls and chops 60 types of maki and nigiri, including yellowtail hand rolls and two-piece bites of squid and octopus. Specialty rolls arrive accented by ingredients such as avocado, chili sauce, and white or brown rice and radiate more color than a rainbow trapped in a gumball machine. Warm Chinese entrees such as walnut shrimp and cashew chicken brim with earthy flavors, which pair nicely with the restaurant's selection of sakes and crisp white wines.
Dousing 16 different pasta dishes in housemade sauces, the chefs at Voce Del Mare foster gustatory glee while creating Italian cuisine during dinner and lunch. Inside the warmly lit dining room, servers dot white tablecloths with classic Italian appetizers, meaty or vegetarian salads, and seafood entrees. Contributing to the eatery's elegant ambiance, the gentle tinkling of piano music fills Voce Del Mare on weekend evenings. Delicate wrought-iron ferns creep up the white bar, giving way to slate-gray tiles and a smiling, solar-powered bartender. In the dining room, simple chandeliers illuminate dark-wood furnishings, potted plants, and the latticework of wine-bottle holders.
At Sadaf, variety is the main attraction. Kebabs arrive at tables skewered with juicy bits of chicken, seafood, beef, or lamb and share plate space with saffron-seasoned basmati rice. Exposed-brick walls show off bas-relief carvings of ancient symbols such as the Faravahar, which represents the Iranian nation. A ceiling painted to look like a clear sky with a thin veil of clouds and in-flight birds looks down on diners as they dig into lamb shank, boneless-chicken kebabs, and other delicacies. Weather permitting, guests can snag a seat on the front patio and scan the skies for majestic, soaring ostriches.
The food of one's youth not only nourishes a developing body, it also nutures a nostalgic seed of comfort-food adoration that follows one through life and dimly lit alleys. Today's Groupon serves up $25 worth of Philly-inspired fare and libations at Olde City Grill in Pacific Beach for $10. Lend your cravings the sultry satisfaction of Philly cheesesteaks and fresh East Coast ingredients that will return you to the good ol' days of eating cheesesteaks during a lunch break at the sulfur mine.
The supreme confectioner at Sugar and Scribe Bakery weaves generations of Irish family recipes into a mouthwatering menu of daily baked fluffy and moist treats. Cyndi's Polish Kiffles ($4 per bag) lead off the pastry menu, while a loaf of irish soda bread challenges appetites not to leave a crumb behind ($15). More than 15 pie iterations—including Kentucky Derby pie ($15 for a 9”) and Grandma Kate's blueberry ($12 for a 9”)—interrogate appetites as part of a windowsill crime watch. Graspable cupcakes include hot-chocolate whipped cream and Grandpa Soapy's lemon-curd cake ($3.50–$5). A gooseberry-frangipane tart puckers satisfied mouths ($4), and savory taste buds swoon over fluffy artichoke-and-feta stratas ($6) and triple-cheese quiche ($6). Made to quell canine confection cravings, dog treats, such as Little Pumpkin nibs ($6), reward well-behaved pups and bribe watchdogs into playing dead.