Food Across America: San Diego, California

F&W’s roundup of the best restaurants in San Diego, from a recently renovated spot run by one of our Best New Chefs to a swank Asian eatery by Wolfgang Puck. For more great restaurants, check out our guide to the best places to eat in the country.
The mussels at Whisknladle are ultralocal.
Mussels at Whisknladel. Photo © Amy K. Fellows.

On a recent trip to San Diego, I learned that the locals have a wickedly good sense of humor. At Eclipse Chocolat in University Heights, sculptor-turned-chocolatier Will Gustwiller uses some of the most unexpected ingredients to make his quirky truffles, like the smoky, grassy Cacao Cubano—dark-chocolate ganache infused with cigar leaf and topped with a dried banana chip. (His inspiration: “I used to date a Cuban.”) I laughed when I stepped into Powell’s Sweet Shoppe in tony La Jolla and heard the Four Tops singing “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).” I spent an hour browsing exotic imports like chewy citrus-flavored Japanese rice candies, and American confections like peanut clusters.

Trey Foshee

Trey Foshee. Photo © Stephen Kennedy.

The fun extended beyond sweets: At the newly renovated George’s California Modern, more than the interiors got an upgrade—so did the menu by Trey Foshee (an F&W Best New Chef 1998), whose ingenious experiments include little cubes of soy gelée that dress up impeccably fresh hamachi. I also enjoyed the clever, market-driven cocktails by mixologist Frankie Thaheld. My favorite, a concoction called Frankie’s Kiwi Kwencher, combined sparkling wine and muddled kiwi; Thaheld rimmed the glass with a sweet-salty mixture of caramelized walnuts, pistachios and peanuts.

Scrawled on a chalkboard wall at the almost-year-old restaurant Whisknladle are witty quotes like, “As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.” Chef Ryan Johnston has every right to be proud of his locally sourced, farm-to-table dishes. I had an excellent platter of homemade charcuterie with delicious accompaniments like pickled ramps from nearby Chino Farms. And the mussels, cooked in a garlicky white wine sauce, were harvested about 25 miles away in Carlsbad.

Trey Foshee

Jai Sushi. Photo © Philip Greenberg

At the W Hotel San Diego, I found a lovely sense of whimsy. The newly renovated lobby by designer Thom Filicia has a beach theme, with cabana-like seating and a cool wall installation of surfboard tail fins by renowned local surfer John Bishop. As with the rest of my trip, I was delightfully surprised.

At Jaí, Wolfgang Puck’s new Asian spot, I devoured chef Yoshinori Kojima’s fantastic miso-broiled butterfish. Then I went on a romp in the nearby woods—where UC San Diego exhibits sculpture—in search of Elizabeth Murray’s “Red Shoe.” What I found: a 10.5-foot-tall high-heeled boot.

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PUBLISHED December 2008