One more barbecue meat to try–pork. We chose pork cheeks, merely $5, which were more than marbled, actually fatty, with a bouncy texture when cooked medium-rare. They were kind of fun–in fact, Jim and Dan liked them a lot, and even Masako ended up liking them, although she didn’t want to because of the fat. They snuck up on her palate and seduced her.
Then came the really daring dish–Dan and I conspiring again: Japanese raw-beef tartare with a sesame marinade and raw egg yolk on top to mix in. The hand-chopped meat was fresh-tasting and tender, the yolk rich. “I like this better than French beef tartare,” said Dan. “I like its simplicity.” “I’m not sure I’d agree,” I said. “This has all the richness, but I miss the tart contrasts of capers, parsley, anchovies, and so forth.”
After all that, we needed a palate cleanser, and a simple, earthy soup struck the right note for a finale. (Soup at the end of a meal is less odd than it seems: it’s standard among several Chinese ethnic groups and a great, soothing send-off.) Karubi soup offers short-rib meat in a clean, light meat broth with cellophane noodles — ending our meal with the same slippery noodles we’d started with. So homey and right, it hit the spot.
This was a giant dinner, more than we needed to eat, but food costs were barely $20 each. Your booze bill is up to you, but ours was ridiculously low, same as the food bill for full indulgence. So raise a glass to Suzuya– kanpai!
Middle and Upscale Bargain Bites du Jour
Portugalia: In case you missed the ad in the “Happy Hour” section, the restaurant is offering Free Food Tuesdays. That’s right, free, one plate per person from 8:00–10:00 p.m. Their happy hour is late-night, 10:00 p.m.–1:00 a.m. (Tuesday–Sunday), with food specials from $4–$10.
Baseball Tailgate Party–Gaslamp Strip Club: Offered on all Padre home game nights from 5:00–7:05 p.m., cook-it-yourself 10-ounce Skirt Steak, 10-ounce Baseball Cut Top Sirloin, or 10-ounce Teriyaki Steak for $9.95, plus tax and tip, including salad and grill-ready garlic bread. Steaks are USDA Choice grade. To reserve for groups of eight or more, call 619-231-3140.
Lunch and Cocktail Nibbles with a View: Bertrand at Mister A’s new 20/20 lunch features a spontaneous three-course menu that changes daily, priced at $20 and served in 20 minutes, with dishes like tuna niçoise and Maine lobster strudel in filo dough. Later in the day, the new “Cocktail Hour,” served on the scenic patio Monday–Friday 2:30–6:00 p.m., offers happy-hour discounts on drinks and small plates, such as spring rolls, sole sliders on brioche, Jidori chicken “tulips” with orange sauce, croque monsieur, and Kobe sliders.
The Palm’s summer special is a four-pound Maine lobster, split to serve two, for $90 per couple, including two salads and two side dishes, available through August 31. Not exactly dead cheap, but it’s a huge lobster for the same price as an average mid-scale dinner. Bevs, tip, and tax extra.
The Marine Room continues to bend over backwards to stimulate our recession-dimmed appetites with bargains for superb food. The three-course Lobster Menu (with fabulous choices for first and main courses) is available every Monday from 6:00–9:30 p.m. The menu is $40 per person for food only, $55 with wine pairings. The adventurous Passport to the Seasons Menu is available Tuesdays–Thursdays 6:00–9:30 p.m., also $40 for food, and $55 with wine pairings. “Passport” dishes may include macadamia spiced wild prawns, lobster bisque, pomegranate cashew-crunch salmon, spiced diver scallops. Both bargain dinners end with the “Trilogy,” three desserts in one.
Blue Point’s Today’s First Catch Three-Course Menu: $30 a person for three courses, $45 with wine pairings, for a menu that sounds like real edible fun–or do I mean fin? It’s available Monday–Thursday 5:00–6:30 p.m. At another Cohn restaurant, Dakota Grill, the continuing deal is Savory Sunset Savings & Monday Night Prime Rib Three-Course Dinner, available nightly from 5:00–6:00 p.m. — and all evening Monday. Three-course prime rib dinner (choice of pork or beef prime rib), $25.50 per person, excluding tax and gratuity. Wine pairings are, amazingly, only $10.
Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa: Celebrating its 20th anniversary with a new chef, C. Barclay Dodge, a veteran of major resorts across the west. For those lucky enough to find themselves in this luxurious area at midday, the lunchtime special is $19.89 for two courses, an appetizer or soup, and an entrée, made with herbs and vegetables grown right on the property. Available 11:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m. through Labor Day.
Thee Bungalow’s “Summer 7 of 7s”: $7 selected glasses of wine, a $7 Absolut martini, and seven entrées (including crispy sweetbreads, grilled rib-tip steak, Maine diver scallops, and a veggie plate), plus soup or salad for $17. (Available all summer, all hours, except July 15 and August 10.)
La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla: $55 tasting dinners Wednesday and Thursday nights at the newly renovated, view-endowed, and normally exorbitant Sky Room (including complimentary parking), running at least through July.
Suzuya Japanese BBQ
*** (Good to Very Good)
5447 Kearny Villa Road #A, Kearny Mesa, 858-505-0611.
HOURS: Lunch Monday–Friday 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner nightly 5:30–10:00 p.m.
PRICES: Japanese-Korean tapas and bibimbap $3.75–$8; BBQ meats $5–$17 (for Kobe); BBQ seafoods $6.50–$10; BBQ veggies $3–$4; soups and noodle dishes $4–$7. Full lunches $6.50–$10. Figure about $20 per person for a big shared dinner.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Japanese and Korean barbecue cooked by diners over gas at the table, plus Japanese tapas (izakaya), stir-fries, noodle and rice bowls, soups, salads, tempuras, with a few Korean items. Japanese beers, sakes, generic wines.
PICK HITS: Grilled oysters (kake yaki), Kobe boneless short-rib BBQ; Kobe tongue with green onions BBQ; pumpkin BBQ; raw beef with egg yolk (tartare); short-rib noodle soup.
NEED TO KNOW: Unlike Korean BBQs, no pan chan (gratis side dishes) with entrées. Gracious service.