A Diner’s Paradise in the Land of Recession

Cocze a Vongole al Vapore

As of March 20th, Spring is officially upon us. The breeze is crisp with the scent of new growth; animals everywhere are experiencing what our little Disney friend, Thumper, meant by being “twitterpated”; and many of us are finally waking from our winter period of restaurant-dining hibernation. In other words, we’re hungry. It’s time to stretch our limbs, lick our chops, and explore the budding dining scene of this new season. We needn’t worry that our stockpile of funds may not have kept so well over the cold season as our neighboring chipmunk’s stash of nuts, for some of our favorite restaurants are serving up a new bunch of dining specials. Here are a few menus worth considering when you’re sniffing the air for a satisfying bite this Spring.

In the heart of La Mesa lies the Italian gem, Antica Trattoria. Executive Chef and Owner Francesco Basile, and his wife Marta, serve up authentic Tuscan and Sicilian dishes in a dining space that whisks patrons off to a romantic and flavorful hideaway. The dining room is washed in subtle earth tones that provide a backdrop to large murals portraying regional landscapes; and the rich masculinity of the exposed ceiling beams and other wood accents warm the space and invite diners to settle in for a fine time.

This season, Antica Trattoria is offering four prix fixe menus that cater to various tastes and budgets. Two of the menus offer more economical three-course selections, and the other two offer four-course feasts. The most affordable menu offers an Insalata Cesare salad or Insalata Di Vevere to begin. The second course gives diners the choice of the Ravioli Montecarlo (homemade cheese ravioli with sautéed Mexican shrimp in a marsala and tomato cream sauce), the Pollo Ai Carciofi in a rosemary chardonnay sauce, or the Vitello Alla Romana – a veal scalopinni topped in prosciutto, sage, and Fontana cheese in a white wine sauce. A decadent third course of Tiramisu tops off the meal. This savory excursion costs $28 per person.    

Cool breezes and sun-drenched sidewalks make for leisurely weekend brunches that beg to be eaten someplace other than the kitchen table. The Fleetwood, in the heart of San Diego’s East Village, serves up comfort food in a relaxed and sophisticated setting. A Champagne brunch only steps away from Petco Park can be enjoyed on Fleetwood’s dog-friendly patio, at one of the communal dining tables, or on a comfy leather sofa – and all of these great lounging points offer supreme access to the nine 50-inch high definition TV’s. 

Fleetwood’s brunch menu is refreshingly affordable and delightfully varied. The Acai Bowl offers a nutritious blend of fresh fruit, granola, and honey, while the Stuffed French Toast is served with ham, Swiss cheese, scrambled eggs, and Fleetwood potatoes. The aptly named Big Guys Breakfast presents a hearty spread of three eggs, your choice of meat, pancakes or French toast, and Fleetwood potatoes. This entire banquet of a meal only costs $12. Other selections include the Biscuits and Gravy, the Breakfast Sandwich, and the Two Eggs You Call It. Of course, these filling and satisfying dishes may be best accompanied by one of the many fine beers Fleetwood keeps on tap, and need we remind anyone that our beloved Padres officially kick off the season on April 6th? I didn’t think so.

Lazy midday dining gives way to elegant evenings of flavor and flare at Tapenade, in La Jolla. Tapenade introduces patrons to the sophisticated opulence of Executive Chef Jean Michel Diot’s artful creations. Schooled by some of the most influential chefs in France – Michel Rubod, Michel Guerard, and Jacques Chibois – Diot brilliantly marries classic techniques with innovative flavor combinations. Tapenade’s menu offers patrons unique access to a level of quality usually reserved for the likes of Europe and New York without the astounding bill to match.

From March 23rd through April 13th, Tapenade offers an impressive three-course menu that includes wine pairings. Patrons first begin with either a steaming bowl of the Maine Lobster Bisque (paired with a Cream Sherry from Spain) or the Organic Mesclun Lettuce Salad (with a 2007 Chateau Bonnet Sauvignon Blanc). The next course offers a choice between the Spring Lamb Shoulder that is braised seven hours with panisses and a ratatouille nicoise, and the Alaskan Salmon in a dry vermouth and sorrel sauce. The lamb is paired with a 2005 Chateau Maroutine Bordeaux, and the salmon is accompanied by a 2007 Paul Mas Chardonnay. The experience comes to a close with the Semi-Sweet Chocolate Marquise with a vanilla crème Anglaise. This menu is also available on Easter Sunday, and costs $38. Another prix fixe “Sunset Menu” also offers three courses of culinary bliss for $29.95, every day of the year.

Another recession-approved dining option is to stray down to Balboa Park for a satisfying delight at The Prado. Tucked behind great Spanish-style halls and world-class museums, this striking restaurant boasts a Latin aesthetic in both its décor and menu. Brightly colored Spanish tiles, chandeliers configured from deer antlers, and whimsical glass sculptures are thoughtful touches that complement the restaurant’s artistic locale. Diners may take in stunning, tree-lined views of the park from both the main dining room and the meticulously manicured patio that sits on a lower level. The lounge area also serves as a relaxed and sophisticated area to enjoy light fare and fabulous drinks. While The Prado’s daily menus already cater to multiple dining needs and budgets, the ante has been upped by a particularly good deal.  

A three course prix fixe menu especially designed around the season is now available, and will be offered until April 30th. The “Spring Classic” menu includes wine pairings, and highlights some the restaurant’s most popular dishes. The first choice diners must make is between the Tortilla Soup and the Prado Caesar Salad. This course is paired with the 2007 Symphony Obsession Ironstone. The main course offers the Pork Prime Rib, the Yellow Tail Rosemary Roasted Half Chicken, or the Wild Mushroom Risotto. A Medetrina pinot noir, syrah, and zinfandel complement each dish. Wonderfully full patrons may wish this feast sweet goodbyes with the Tahitian Vanilla Bean Flan or the Lemon Tart, joined by a 2006 Martin & Weyrich Moscato. This culinary wonderment is offered Sundays-Thursdays (except Easter Sunday), for $32.95.               

Remarkable meals and deals abound for those of us interested in a bit more casual and less structured time, as well. Many happy hour and other specifically designed specials have been perfected by restaurants to present diners with satisfying alternatives to full-priced entrée selections. One such restaurant is Sbicca, in La Jolla. This lively, yet intimate bistro overlooks downtown La Jolla and the glistening shoreline, and serves its fresh fusion cuisine in a clean and refreshing space. Diners savoring the tastes and sights of this prized SoCal spot will also delight in the savings they earn by taking advantage of Sbicca’s many specials.

Petite portions of the Bistro’s fare are available nightly in the bar area, and the already reduced prices are even more appealing when paired with the nightly happy hour drink specials. Diners may enjoy the comfort food-goodness of the Home-Style Meatloaf, the freshness of the Sautéed Greenlip Mussels, and the hearty healthfulness of the Warm Spinach Grilled Chicken Salad. Celebrate hurdling the halfway point of the workweek with “Wednesday Martini Madness”: martinis are $4, and over 100 other cocktails are only $5. Wednesday nights also mean that bar menu selections are half-price. Tuesday and Thursday nights draw wine lovers from all around with half-off deals for all bottles. Co-owner Dan Sbicca handpicks the entire selection, and is very proud to introduce his guests to new varieties. But what about Sunday and Monday, you may ask? Those nights are honored with a no corkage fee on bottles patrons bring along.             

Satisfy that renewed hunger for great food, refreshing drink, and good times this season. The finest restaurants around are eager please our appetites and finances. The least we can do is accept the offer. After all, we have to eat.

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