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Sometimes going to the dentist is a great excuse to take a break, especially when the trip involves only routine maintenance and the dentist is Washington Dental in Tijuana. I went early in the middle of the week and was done and back across the border by 1 PM, so I took the opportunity to stop in La Jolla for lunch and some shopping 🙂

My former favorite restaurant in La Jolla Village, Acqua, no longer exists, so I wandered around looking for a place with a view. I ended up at the perennial favorite, George‘s. The top deck was packed, and the lower level was only open for dinner, so I ended up in the much calmer and equally beautiful middle level. When I walked in there was only one other table, but by the time I left the place was packed. I was glad I came “early” enough to get an oceanfront table with this gorgeous view*.

Since the middle level is technically the bar (even though there were kids there because they serve food), one of the menu items that caught my eye was a half bottle of 2009 Montelena Chardonnay for $58. I had never seen wine from this famous** winery on any menu, so I was tempted, but the combination of a half bottle, plus having woken up at 5AM to drive, and having a 2 hour drive ahead was too dangerous!

The special of the day was a yellowtail ceviche which was beautifully presented. Unfortunately the chips were greasy even though they were freshly made, and the ceviche itself left much to be desired compared to places like Flores. The main flavor was citrus and the fish was cut in strange long stringy pieces. Adding some of the spicy condiments helped tremendously. The service was excellent, even after the place got full, my waitress still kept every table serviced. I would say come for the view and some drinks, and perhaps the Niman Ranch burger, which looked fantastic.

Before leaving I had an espresso at George’s to fortify me for my drive north, and even though it came with perfect accompaniments, it came lukewarm. Oh well, the view alone was worth the stop.

After my day in La Jolla, I met a friend at Del Mar’s Taste of Thai. My friend has a gluten allergy, so Thai food is one of the cuisines he can enjoy. We shared a spicy rice noodle with beef and compromised on a heat rating of 5 (I wanted an 8, he wanted a 3). It was a delicious and ample serving, with tender slices of beef and not at all greasy (many places add so much oil to keep rice noodles from sticking that the plate looks like an oil slick).

The spicy duck was equally well executed, with robust flavors. We opted for a 5 heat rating on this dish too, but I thought it tasted more like a 3 (since my friend is a regular and always orders this dish, I think they made it for his taste:).

Even though I was only gone for a day, it felt like a week-end away, so I would gladly go to the dentist again for another “holiday”!
*All the photos from this post were taken with my new Xperia Pro phone, an early birthday present from the ever generous @John8600, merci Jean:)

**Made famous by the movie “Bottle Shock” and as the first California winery to win in a blind tasting against French wines in France. One of their bottles is in the Smithsonian 🙂

Taste of Thai on Urbanspoon

George's At The Cove on Urbanspoon

Today’s post is the last one (for now) from San Diego; some views of the city from Coronado Island. Next week’s posts will be about Las Vegas 🙂

Today’s post is an entirely photographic tour of San Diego’s Balboa Park guided by my personal docent Richard.

Taste of Thai has two locations and after eating at the Del Mar address, I can say that there should be many more branches of this restaurant. It was of course, a local who introduced me to this place because locals come here regularly, but if you are visiting, you would not necessarily try this place, tucked next to a shopping center close to the freeway.

As in most Thai restaurants, the service is impeccably polite and efficient, and the decor ornate. The thing that counts the most is the food, and it is food excellent. You may adjust the spiciness on a scale from 1 to 10 so depending on your preference (and your dining companions) you can burn your taste buds or soothe them. I chose a level 7 for my spicy noodles with duck ($11.95) and it was just the right amount of heat to awaken my mouth without setting it on fire.

My companion chose the red curry made with coconut milk, bamboo shoots, green pepper, onion, peas & carrot at a level 3 with chicken ($10.95). I tasted this rich dish and loved it even though I would have liked it hotter, the flavors were complex and complimented the vegetables well.

Since no one has the same taste, it is nice that a restaurant will adjust spiciness and ingredients to your preferences; most items allow you to choose whether you want shrimp, squid, fish, beef, duck, chicken, scallops, or a mixture in your dish. They even have a nice wine selection by the glass or bottle, so you can cool your dishes with some liquid refreshment.

Taste of Thai is as its’ name implies, a Thai restaurant which emphasizes taste and caters to yours, no matter what that is, for that reason alone, it is worth a trip.

Taste of Thai on Urbanspoon

Coronado Island is one of my favorite places to take a walk; there beautiful homes, tree lined streets, and a view of downtown San Diego from the Ferry Landing. Although most people love the landmark Hotel Del Coronado, I prefer the Loew’s or the Marriott properties; this may be because the old landmark is said to be haunted and being on the grounds and in the hotel feels creepy to me.

The one place that I always go to eat when I am on Coronado is Tartine. The location has had several incarnations, but every one has been a place to find good coffee and good food. Tartine is no exception. Even sitting at an inside table, you get a voyeuristic view of the street and life in a small wealthy enclave (the median price of a home here is $1 million).

Tartine serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but most people come for breakfast, lunch, or a coffee break since they offer an impressive selection of baked goods. I chose the Quiche one day, made with spinach, tomato and gruyere, served with a green salad. It was a nice rendition, but not noteworthy. I found the crust and filling too dense with not enough spinach or tomato to satisfy my taste buds.

My second lunch of tuna salad was much better. Made without mayonnaise (as I like it), the tuna was mixed with nicoise olives, giving it a nice salty bite, the tomatoes were ripe and fresh, and the quality olive oil used added just enough moisture without overpowering the tuna. The baguette was nicely soft, yet firm enough to hold, and the mixed green salad was not overly dressed.

My favorite of everything I ate here was the pumpkin scone; it was moist, fully of pumpkin flavor, and so good that I had to stop myself from ordering another one to go (I should have). Their scone selection changes daily, so if you see this, grab one!

Some things change for the better and others for the worse, Tartine has wonderful servers, a great location, and some dishes that are outstanding, so in this case I would say change here has been for the better.

Tartine on Urbanspoon

Cafe Chloe is probably my favorite breakfast place; and as someone who rarely eats breakfast, this is quite a feat. I was unable to sleep one morning in San Diego and went for a walk in the early morning hours (to me this means 10 am), and a few blocks from the Gaslamp district, Cafe Chloe sits on a quiet street with a small outdoor terrace. I loved the European ambiance, and when I ordered water, they served filtered water (one way of eliminating the proliferation of plastic bottles). Since I can no longer handle caffeine, I ordered tea and when it took a good 10 minutes for it to arrive, I wondered how much time it took to bring me hot water and a tea bag. But that is not what they do here. They STEEPED the tea for me and strained it BEFORE serving me what is probably the most flavorful Jasmine Tea I have ever tasted. Everything here is done with thought and sensibility; you will notice in the photo, they also serve pepper and salt in small dishes so you can control the amount with your fingers.

My three morning friends had the crêpe lorraine, made with eggs, bacon, gruyère in a crêpe ($9.50) and everyone finished their crepe remarking how delicious it was without needing any seasoning of any kind (and they would normally add something like KETCHUP).

I chose the poached eggs w/wild mushrooms & sage-truffle beurre blanc ($11) which was absolute perfection; I would wake up for breakfast to eat this! Even the side salad made with a nice citrus vinaigrette was wonderful. If they serve breakfast in heaven, this is what I want. Even the toasted slice of sourdough underneath was delicious, having soaked up the mushroom juices and the remnants of the poached egg yolk.

Cafe Chloe also serves tea (of course!), lunch and dinner, so no matter time you get here, just get here when you can; your taste buds will thank you.

Cafe Chloe on Urbanspoon

Although it is a landmark in the Gaslamp district, I have never been to Croce‘s, maybe because it seemed very touristy and because it had a famous name associated with it. But a friend who worked literally down the block, said, “Go, it has great food” so I did and I am happy to have had all my preconceived ideas proven false.

The outdoor terrace is wonderful on a warm night, and on cooler evenings, there are heat lamps and an awning so I chose to eat outside. All the dishes come with suggested wine pairings, so it is easy for novices and indecisive people to choose a fine drink to accompany your meal.

Since I had recently come back from Greece, I started with the Greek Spinach Salad ($10) with honey balsamic crumbled feta cheese, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and toasted pine nuts. Yes the plate is as big as it looks and it is easily a full meal by itself. The toasted pine nuts and use of spinach were an inspired addition to this classic medley and worked well. It was like a hybrid of a spinach salad and a Greek salad, and since I like both, this worked well for me.

The Golden Ahi Poke ($14) with mango, green onions and ginger, tossed with sesame and soy, served with home made taro chips. Sambal vinaigrette and sliced avocado is listed as an appetizer, but once again, this is easily a full meal by itself. I loved the use of taro chips as scoopers for the poke, but I found the marinade for the fish a bit sweet for my taste. The slices of pepper and onion could have been smaller also just for ease of eating, but the flavors did work well together, and the fresh fish combined with mango did remind me of Hawaii.

After my meal, my server Bob gave me a card that enticed me to come back in December for a three course meal for $30 if I merely made a reservation and used his name (and brought the card). Talk about a diner reward program, this is a great way to not only promote diners who become regulars, but also to reward the waitstaff with loyal clientele.

Croce’s also have live music every night and as a diner, you can get preferred seats, so come for dinner, enjoy the show, and and shop for some memorabilia like a DVD or CD of Jim Croce’s music. This restaurant was created and is run by his widow Ingrid, and I applaud her for sharing her love of her husband and good food with the rest of us.

Croce's Restaurant and Jazz Bar on Urbanspoon

I try to make the most out of every journey, even when it is to get a root canal. I have been going to Washington Dental in Tijuana for all my dental work since my BFF told me about the place three years ago. It still amazes me that such modern, clean, and professional dental work costs only about one third of the US price. I have never had a crown fit perfectly on the first try until I came here, and I have never seen a dental office as sterile in the US. For those of you who missed my earlier post on this place read it here.

I would not go anywhere else especially after this last trip since I thought I needed a root canal (and was prepared to pay for one), but after an xray and exam, they found my tooth was healthy and suggested that I try Colgate Sensitivity toothpaste for a few days (no, I am not being paid by Colgate!). They only charged me for a cleaning ($20) with the toothpaste and when I left the office I was already 70% painfree! After three days of brushing with the toothpaste I had no pain in my tooth or my wallet. It was so gratifying to see that Washington Dental truly is looking out for their patients instead of making money; I have a hard time imagining a dental office in the US that would have so genuinely looked after a patient’s best interest when a major procedure could have made them $$$.

To celebrate my new ability to eat pain free, I went to Searsucker for dinner. Located in the heart of the Gaslamp district, this 7,000 square foot restaurant emphasizes using local ingredients to put a fresh spin on American favorites. I opted for the kitchen counter which allows diners to watch the chefs perform their magic. The only bad thing about sitting here was that my server did not come around for a good 15-20 minutes and there was no way to know who to flag down to place my order since the cooks were all working on getting food to tables and not able to jump over the counter to get a waitperson. When my waitress did arrive, she was a attentive, but not enough to time my orders; both my dishes arrived at the same time and not only was there no room at the counter for both plates, but I was only half way done with my salad when my entree appeared.

The complimentary cheddar cheese rolls are addictive and if you don’t watch it, you can easily fill up on these before tasting any of your dishes. The pastry/bread maker behind the counter was very adept at making sure the bread trays were refilled with warm rolls, all the while decorating birthday desserts.

I started with the “small” plate of sweetbreads on spinach greens, served with applewood smoked bacon and a poached egg in a delightful sherry vinaigrette ($9). The serving was huge and I could have easily made this my entire meal. The sweetbreads were perfectly done, tender, and gently cooked.

For my entree I chose the small plate of Lost Abby Short Ribs and fried onions ($9). Again there was nothing small about this plate, but with tender ribs like this, it was easy to want to eat more than your stomach can handle. The meat was marvelously done with a simple sauce that was individually packaged sous vide and then warmed before presentation (I saw them cooking it over the counter). It is a hearty dish, with the crispy fried onions adding some texture to the soft comforting meat.

I had a wonderful glass of Pinot Noir with my meal ($12), and regrettably did not save enough room to try a dessert, but that just means that next time I will know that small plates here are bigger than my belly and make allowances for that fact. I would definitely come back with friends so we could sample more plates, and sit at a table with designated waitstaff.

Searsucker on Urbanspoon

Since I am a night owl (or some would say, a Vampire:), I decided it would be better to drive down to San Diego late at night and go to Washington Dental, in Tijuana, early in the morning rather than to try to wake up early enough to drive from Los Angeles at dark thirty (i.e. 6:30am). So after making that decision with my fellow night owl friend who needed to go to replace a filling, I hunted for a hotel and offered a bid of $70 a night on Priceline for a four star, and I got the Manchester Grand Hyatt, right next to the convention center! The rooms normally go for about $200 a night, so even with the mandatory $24 self parking fee, this was a bargain.

Since we arrived around 3 am, no one was around to check us in until we called the main number and told them we were at the front desk, but during normal hours, the impressive lobby is full of conventioneers and vacationers.

If you get a room in the older tower, some of the furnishings still have not been renovated, but everything is clean and comfortable. They provide bathrobes, a small coffee maker, and there is even a mini fridge in the room that is empty so you can store your drinks or food.

Towels are soft and big enough to warrant the four star rating, and they even have toothpaste as one of the complimentary toiletries.

The rooms in the Seaport Tower are modernized with flat screen tv’s and updated decor, and views like this:

but I had a hard time sleeping with the noise from the train that kept going until 3 am, even from the 21st floor. I would opt for the older tower which faces Coronado Island. The views are equally spectacular; you can see Coronado Island on a clear day.

The rooftop bar also has incredible vistas, especially on clear nights when you can see the lights of Coronado twinkling like stars across the bay. For a large chain, the staff, from Tiffany at the front desk, to the security guard, were welcoming, friendly, and helpful. If not for Priceline, I might never have tried this Grand Dame of a corporate chain hotel, but like all good surprises, what is inside is better than the outside.

Coronado Island is a great place to walk, rent bikes, and escape while being only minutes away from the action in the Gaslamp. The Silver Strand section is a private 15 acre nature preserve with a luxury hotel on it one side and the beach on the other side of the peninsula.

So if all the holiday get togethers are making you want to get away from it all, head over to the four star Loews Coronado. They are offering a special room rate of $109 a night (that’s 60% off the regular room rate of $260 a night) through March. The rate includes Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day (but excludes some other dates). You must reserve by Christmas to get this rate either here or by calling 800-815-6397 and mentioning the promo code TRAVELZOO. For only $20 more you can upgrade to a deluxe room with a private patio or balcony.




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