Tuesday, January 13, 2009

San Diego Restaurant Week

Now in its fifth year, the San Diego Restaurant Week (January 11-16, 2009), provides the opportunity to pick from 3-course menus from over 150 restaurants. Prices vary from $20, 30 or 40 per person; but there are a few restrictions such as “Beverage, tax and gratuity not included. No splitting or sharing.” Miranda and I have taken part in Restaurant Week for the last 3 or 4 years and its has always been a great opportunity to sample new and/or unusual restaurant fare in the San Diego area for very reasonable prices.

The Marine Room
The Marine Room, on La Jolla Shores, was one of the first restaurants I visited when I came to San Diego in the early 1980’s, just after it had been restored following damage from the sea in 1982. Back then it was one of the places to be seen, usually at a Sunday brunch or having a drink and dancing to the piano in the evening. The food was always good but usually not great.

Its biggest claim to fame is that at high tide the water laps at the windows and at least twice has come through the windows and wrecked the place. But there are few better places in La Jolla to enjoy the ocean at night as the lights play on the waves breaking on the beach, and you sip on a cool beer or glass of wine. I had not dined at the Marine Room since the 1990’s and when walked in last Sunday night it was obvious that the place had changed little in that time. The sun had just set but there was enough light to see the very calm ocean throwing up some baby waves. You couldn’t say the same for the table we were given. Where were the lights? Romantic lighting is one thing, enough light to see the menu by is something else. Even so the place was packed, the staff busy and our orders were taken quickly and the wine we had brought opened. Bringing wine to the Marine Room has never been a problem but these days its a real treat as they began a program almost a year ago of not charging corkage if the wine is 5 or more years old. That is a very enlightened approach that should appeal to wine lovers.

For an appetizer I had the Berber Agrume Spiced Prawn Duet with Tancello Bulgur Tian, Ancho Chile Aioli, and Amaranth Pomegranate Reduction, and a main course of Peri Peri Spiced Maine Diver Scallops with Boniato Timbale, Vanilla Braised Leek, and Peppercress Lobster Corail Butter. Miranda and her mother both had the Royal Trumpet Mushroom Bisque with Pancetta, Verbena Fromage Blanc, and Truffle Oil for an appetizer and the Muscat Kalbi Glazed Mid Western Filet Mignon with Wasabi Chive Potato, Shiitake Butter, and Pickled Cipollini Plum XO Reduction as a main course. We all had the “Trilogy” for dessert which consisted of Kona Kahlua Espresso Torte, Macadamia Amarula Pot de Crème, and Honey Crystal Peach Sorbet.

The prawns were excellent. I cut off half-inch pieces layered each with some bulgar (a mix of wheats) and spread on some of the sauces. It was all gone too soon. The scallops were also extremely good. Very soft and paired well with the leek and sauces. The small piece of filet that I managed to beg from Miranda was mouthwateringly soft and complimented beautifully by the shiitake butter. Its a shame I don't like my meat medium-rare.

All this was consumed with a bottle of 2002 Dutschke Oscar Semmler Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. Approaching its 7th birthday this wine sings a beautiful line and length on the palate. The tannins are resolving beautifully against a backdrop of vibrant acidity, smoked, roasted meat notes and a hint of Christmas cake. There are three more bottles in the cellar and each deserves to live for at least five years more than its sibling.

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