Med Grill

1263 University Avenue, San Diego CA 92103
$$ Mediterranean

Med Grill Brings the Mediterranean to Hillcrest

Review by

The first thing you notice when stepping into Med Grill is the summery, cheery setting. Golden walls mirror the color of sunlight streaming through the massive, two story windows, and high ceilings evoke the airy, breezy feeling of the outdoor patio. Modern oil paintings of roses and orchids hang on the walls, interspersed with modern wall sconces and older artwork—classic scenes of Italy and a striking still life of fruit. Tablecloths are a playful teal hue and curved booths lining the wall are plump and inviting. The whole scene beckons, promising casual comfort and a relaxed, cheery meal.

Upon arriving one evening, we are instantly greeted by owner and Executive Chef Seto Marselian, who, upon seeing us enter, hurries out of the small, open kitchen at the back of the restaurant to greet us with a smile. His demeanor is gracious—he is a natural host—and he seems just as intent on ensuring his guests are comfortable and at ease as he is on ensuring they enjoy a flavorful, satisfying meal.

Locals may take Med Grill for granted—the striking, mid-century building, with its triangular design, two-story windows, and neon “Med Grill” sign, has been a familiar site for years—but the restaurant in its current incarnation is only a year old. Seto assumed ownership in June 2007, overhauling the menu and the wine list and pulling on his 30 years of restaurant experience to create a seafood-, steak-, and pasta-dominated menu inspired by the flavors of the Mediterranean. While the name is the same, this is an entirely different restaurant.

While the old owners of Med Grill focused on Greek cuisine, Seto’s interpretation of Mediterranean cuisine is more western, drawing predominantly on Italy with a hint of French and Greek. The menu features a mixture of Seto’s unique creations and standard culinary favorites, making the relatively concise selection of dishes seem widely diverse. The wine list, too, is much expanded, with a 100-bottle selection of reasonably priced yet carefully chosen California, French, and Italian wines selected to compliment the menu.

The space, however, is mostly unchanged, taking advantage of the mid-century building’s natural character. The first floor dining room is spacious and open, with tables well spaced across the floor and an open kitchen in the back that invites guests to watch their food being prepared. A small wine bar spans the rest of the back wall, an option for a casual snack or kitchen-side meal. A second floor balcony offers sweeping panoramic views of University Avenue and a birds-eye view of the sunny dining room below.

The balcony space doubles as a semi-private area for groups of up to 40, offering near privacy while still providing an open, airy setting. The most unique table in the house, dubbed the “Aurora Lounge” sits above the kitchen, sequestered from the rest of the balcony by a small walkway. The private space is similar to a box seat at a theater, a one of a kind table that is often reserved for family and friends. The lounge’s name pays homage to Seto’s previous restaurant, Aurora Trattoria, and to the ocean views it offered from its La Jolla balcony.

We settle into a comfortable booth on the first floor, and are quickly brought a warm, sliced baguette from La Brea bakery, accompanied by a house-made parsley pesto. The warm baguette is the epitome of comfort, but it is the pesto that enamors me. A blend of parsley, basil, spinach, garlic, and chili flakes, the dipping sauce is a light, flavorful introduction to the dishes to come. I let the pungent garlic and refreshing parsley dance over my tongue, happily anticipating the meal to come.

The Hummus at Med Grill is created from Seto’s mother’s recipe, an authentic rendition that leans heavily on the piquant flavor of lemon. The chickpea and tahini spread is served on a flat plate, piled high around the edges with a pool of olive oil and several pitted kalamata olives swimming in the center. The tan puree is dusted with parsley and ground sumac—a Mediterranean spice that lends delightful complexity and a dimension of smokiness. An accompanying basket of grilled pita features triangular slices that are crisp and warm, charred on the edges to further the smoky flavors. Together, the dish is satisfying and comforting, a mélange of flavors that is at once creamy, tart, and complex.

The Mixed Mushrooms, another appetizer, features whole button mushrooms overturned on a wide white plate, their stems sticking up as slivers of porcini and shitake mushrooms weave like velvet ribbons around them. The medley glistens in the sunlight, taking on a silky sheen from the lush Madeira wine and butter sauce that pools beneath them. A bite is awakening, with the powerful, resonant flavor of the Madeira sauce fading into a sweet richness and a surprisingly spicy finish—the sauce is peppered with garlic and chili flakes. I relish in the complex, lingering sauce and the trio of textures—nutty, meaty porcinis, chewy shitake, and tender button mushrooms. The dish is elegant and multi-dimensional, and proves an intoxicating and memorable course.

Choosing an entrée at Med Grill means deciding between pasta, seafood, and steak, a choice that is surprisingly difficult—each selection seems more enticing than the next. The Ravioli Portobello is tempting, and I’m lured by the thought of plump pasta packets bathed in roasted garlic cream sauce. The Pollo al Penne—the most popular dish on the menu—seems a perfect light meal, with sundried tomatoes, grilled chicken, and basil in a pesto sauce. In the end though, we settle on two popular entrées—one seafood and one steak.

The Shrimp Med is an adaptation of a dish that Seto used to serve at his first restaurant, a Greek restaurant in La Jolla called S’agapo. The Greek-inspired dish is captivating and intriguing, and it is no wonder he recreates it here. A perfectly formed ball of smashed potatoes forms the center of the dish, with five enormous shrimp leaning against the ball, extending around it like rays of sunlight, tails curled in the air. Surrounding the shrimp is a vibrant orange mélange of tomato sauce, feta, and dill, a thick, textured sauce that is so good I practically wipe the plate clean. A bite is vibrant and tangy, the salty sharp feta mingling with the tangy tomatoes to create a palate-awakening acidity that proves a perfect foil for the tender, sweet shrimp. The potatoes too, embrace the creamy sauce, resulting in a plush, comforting, and perfectly harmonious bite. It is unique, and engaging, and a dish every table should try.

Seto’s description of the in-house dry-aging process for all of the steaks on the menu persuades us to order the Ribeye, a 16-oz cut from a house-aged prime rib, sliced, then grilled to order. The dish is a treat, a commanding cut of meat charred nearly black on the outside and cooked to precisely 175-degrees—just slightly pink—in the center. The degree of doneness is recommended by Seto, who explains that if allowed to cook to medium—rather than rare or medium rare—the fat melts and enhances the flavor of the meat. The cut seems cooked to perfection, retaining just enough tenderness but bursting with flavor. The outer char lends a delectable salty crust, which mingles with the meat’s natural juices in the mouth. Unadorned and served simply, with a side of smashed potatoes and a medley of roasted carrots, zucchini, and broccoli, it is a perfectly executed, classic plate.

When it comes time for dessert, it is impossible to turn down the house-made Tiramisu. We are treated to a towering cube of sweet strata: espresso-soaked lady fingers alternating between thick, bursting layers of mascarpone cream. A dusting of cocoa powder and a garnish of fresh mint suggest a classic preparation; however one bite reveals a departure from the traditional. Seto’s unique twist on the dish is to substitute white crème de cocoa for the traditional Marsala wine, resulting in a lighter, sweeter version of an already heavenly dessert.

Imported from the Italian dessert company, Bindi, the Chocolate Fondante is well worth its travels. The dessert is an indulgence in decadence, a thick wedge of layered flourless chocolate cake topped with a glazed chocolate ganache and studded with tiny chocolate confetti. A bite is surprisingly moist for a flourless cake, and we learn that egg whites are used to bind the layers together. A drizzle of raspberry sauce marries the resonant chocolate with the piquant fruit’s flavors, making each bite hedonistically decadent.

When it’s time to leave Med Grill, I can’t help but feel I have just spent two hours in the welcoming comfort of someone’s home. Seto himself has attended to us throughout the evening, alternating between overseeing the kitchen and watching over his guests. As for the food, it has proven to be delightfully unpretentious cooking, relying on time-tested recipes, intriguing combinations of resonant flavors, and quality ingredients. It is a refreshing burst of authenticity in a city where restaurants come and go; a meal presided over by a man who, with over thirty years of restaurant experience, certainly knows what to do right.

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Business Info

  • Address: 1263 University Avenue, San Diego CA 92103
  • Location: Hillcrest & Uptown | Hillcrest
  • Cuisine: None |
  • Cost: | Inexpensive
  • Category: Fine Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Available
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Meals Served: Brunch | Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: None |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | MasterCard | Discover |
  • Corkage Fee: N/A
  • Staff: Seto Marselian | Executive Chef
  • Phone:
  • Features: Catering Services, Outdoor Seating, Takeout Available, Wheelchair Access, Personal Wines Allowed,
  • Occasion: Business Dining, People Watching, Quiet Conversation,


Med Grill - Linguine alla Pescatora
Med Grill - Artichoke Salad Med Grill - Shrimp Med Med Grill - Chicken Scarpiella Med Grill - Ribeye Steak Med Grill - Main Dining Room Med Grill - Upstairs Dining Room Med Grill - The Entrance to Med Grill

Business Hours

Reservations Available
All Day - Main Dining Room 10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
All Day - Main Dining Room 10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
All Day - Main Dining Room 10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
All Day - Main Dining Room 10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
All Day - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m.
All Day - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m.
All Day - Main Dining Room 10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
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Customer Reviews & Ratings

4.5 out of 5 stars based on 1 votes