California sweet: La Jolla won’t annoy ya…

La Jolla won’t annoy ya
La Mesa what a place-a
Salinas is as keen as it can be
You’ll feel betta in Murrieta
Stomp your feet over Montecito
Go insane for the lovely terrain
Wait and see
Think about all the fun you’ve missed
Come on out here and get sun-kissed
If you really wanna live and not just exist
You better get across our old state line

Mel Tormé
“California Suite” (1957)

Tracie B and I spent our first weekend back in La Jolla since I moved to Austin. The number-one-hit-song highlight was nephew Oscar’s first birthday party. The Riles-Parzen family gathered together in March, 2008, not long after he came into this world, for an “Oscar Party.” That’s brother Micah (Oscar’s dad), me, and the birthday boy (chewing on my lens cap!).

The night we got in, we were 8 for dinner at Jaynes (where else?). The food was great and we drank a fantastic 1997 Felsina Chianti Classico riserva (on the list at a great price) with our main courses and 1985 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione courtesy of Benoit at the end of the fête.

The 97 Felsina showed an irresistible goudron note and its fruit and acidity were great with the seared ahi tuna. Nearly a quarter century in age, the 85 Poggione was bold, beautiful, and proud — with vibrant acidity and gorgeous fruit. I’ve tasted this wine a number of times over the last five years and it has never disappointed.

Saturday afternoon found us shopping with Judy at the Asian market in Kearny Mesa, 99 Ranch Market. On her shopping list: rice noodles, preserved mandarin oranges, persimmons.

Hot and sour wonton soup for lunch at Spicy City (4690 Convoy St Ste 107, between Engineer Rd & Opportunity Rd, San Diego, CA 92111, 858-278-1818). Also in Kearny Mesa. So good… I LOVE that place. (I used to get my pre-sbarbato highlights done at the Korean salon in the same shopping mall.)

On Saturday night, Tracie B and I were geeked for sushi with Judy at Zenbu but we wanted to check out the “hot rock,” too. Our waiter told us it was the “biggest rock” she had ever seen. (Thinly sliced beef is cooked on the scalding hot rock.)

I had no idea that my highschool buddy Matt Rimel, who owns Zenbu together with his lovely wife Jacky, was such a fan of Texas. He got this belt buckle there. A professional hunter, he travels to my new home state five times a year for bow hunting, he told me. He invited me to go boar hunting with him this year… I am SO there. Alfonso, you game?

Saturday night ended with a bottle of 2006 Lunar (whole-bunch-fermented Ribolla) by Movia at Jaynes. Benoit and I decided to decant it. I’ll do a post later this week on Lunar and the story behind it. Aleš Kristančič explained to me how he makes it when my band Nous Non Plus played at his winery in April 08. It’s incredible…

The rentacar screwed up and gave us a Mustang instead of the Pinto I had reserved. Me in a muscle car? Why not???!!! When we rolled up to the Jaynes Gastropub, martial arts instructor and bouncer at Air Conditioned next door, Alex, told me, there’s a tough guy underneath my nice-guy skin. He asked me rhetorically: “How else would you have survived so long?” Right on, brother, right on. I’m so glad I made it!

The Fourth, San Diego style

Do they go… to some faraway archipelago?
Nah, they go to San Diego.

Mel Tormé
“California Suite” (1957)

Although an op-ed contributor in The New York Times pronounced the “American road trip dead” on Sunday, I know a lot of folks will still be hitting the highway this fourth of July weekend. In case you’re heading down San Diego way, here are some of the joints I’ve been hanging out at. (For details, click on the boldface for the website or if no website, I’ve included address and phone.)

Italian is spoken at Mamma Mia in Pacific Beach, where Francesco and Cinzia Mezzetti serve delicious handmade panzerotti and pizze (with perfectly seasoned, crispy crust). I love Cinzia’s flower power t-shirt.

The 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco (classico) is very reasonably priced at Mamma Mia. I head to Mamma Mia whenever I wish to indulge in my number-one guilty pleasure: pizza and Nebbiolo.

Mamma Mia
1932 Balboa Ave (where Balboa and Grand intersect)
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 272-2702

Arturo offers me a traditional Spanish porron at Costa Brava in Pacific Beach. The porron — an expression of friendship and revelry — is used liberally at Costa Brava, where the Spanish food is authentic and tasty and the wine list (arguably the best Spanish list in San Diego) includes modern and traditional choices. Owner and Spanish wine fanatic Javier Gonzalez grows Tempranillo in a planter in the back (I’m not kidding). He also runs a great Spanish cheese and charcuterie next door. No place in San Diego is more friendly.

Dashing French Chef Olivier Bioteau at the Farmhouse in University Heights has one of San Diego’s deftest hands in the kitchen. The food is excellent and the francophile wine list, although not ambitious, has some interesting lots. I really like the farmhouse chic vibe but I’d love to see what Olivier could do in a four-star setting.

My friend Jon Erickson disgorges a bottle of 2000 Movia Puro Rosé at Jaynes Gastropub, my standby dining destination in Normal Heights (adjacent to University Heights) in San Diego. As Jon’s wine program continues to evolve, I can always find something I want to drink at Jaynes: most recently, Bertani Valpolicella and Caprari Lambrusco. Namesake Jayne Battle’s haute pub food always hits the spot.

Jay Porter’s Linkery in North Park, San Diego (a stone’s throw from Jaynes) recently moved around the corner and will reopen on July 10. Eat-locally and think-globally Jay is San Diego’s undisputed king of “organic,” “market fare,” “sustainable” cuisine and he’s also one of the city’s top food bloggers. If you’re looking for socially conscious and politically engaged fare, this is the place to go.

How to describe the Pearl? In self-described “vintage-modern” style, the owners of the Pearl took over a 1960s-era rundown motel near the U.S. Naval Base in Pt. Loma, San Diego, and turned it into a hipster, poolside hangout and restaurant and lounge. The food is a little affected at the Pearl (“Deconstructed Nachos” anyone?) and the wine list too modern for my palate but the scene can’t be beat. The night I was there, they were screening old episodes of Get Smart poolside.

The first time I walked into Wine Steals, also in Pt. Loma, I thought I’d been transported into a parallel universe: I found myself in classic San Diego down-and-dirty, get-your-drink-on bar where wine has usurped the supremacy of beer. Using a formula seemingly unique to San Diego, you purchase bottles at retail prices and then pay a small corkage (hence the name “Wine Steals”). The extensive wines-by-the-glass program features affordable, quaffing wine. Is wine the new beer? There’s another Wine Steals (the original) in Hilcrest and the Pt. Loma edition is located in the old (and now obsolete) second-world-war era Naval telephone hub.

In nearby Ocean Beach, The Third Corner Wine Shop and Bistro is my favorite San Diego “neighborhood” wine bar. Although it also caters to the Silver-Oak-guzzling wine-is-the-new-cocktail crowd, it offers real wine lovers like me a number of solid choices (like Joly, Produttori del Barbaresco, and Tempier, among others). The food is not great but the wine prices keep bringing me back: combining retail and on-premise sales (like Wine Steals), Third Corner lets you purchase bottles at retail prices and charges a small corkage to open them at your table. The owners just opened a new location in Encinitas, North County San Diego.

They still make a mean Mai Tai at Zenbu in La Jolla. Zenbu has lost some of its local charm as the owner, my high school buddy Matt Rimel has moved on to bigger projects, the prices are high, and the beach-bunny waitstaff could use a crash course in old-fashioned hospitality, but its raison d’être remains unchanged: locally sourced fresh fish prepared by “extreme sushi” chefs (live clams and prawns are often offered) with a California flair.