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Origami of Sashimi was even more intricate: a wreath of long strips of raw red ahi and white hamachi, persimmon strips, miso-cider noodles, firm unidentified fruit chunks, and celery root, all lightly dressed with yuzu. The ingredients encircled a central pool of lightly sweetened puréed Asian pear, bearing two tiny, toasted anchovy sandwiches and a melting couple of cloves of caramel-like black garlic (regular garlic that is aged and fermented, turning very sweet — the latest rage among the gastronomes, and one taste tells you why).

Everybody’s doing pork belly, but not like this. Small chunks of tender meat showcased a “tasting of corn, pineapple, miso” — three dark, intense sauces, at least one of them achingly sweet. Unfortunately, on this plate (a shallow bowl, if memory serves) the sauces congregated at the center and the sweetest one usurped the other flavors — an omen of the entrées.

Main courses revealed superb technical know-how, along with a tendency to throw too many unrelated elements onto each plate at the expense of coherence. Usually, restaurant scallops are halved crosswise into modest coins about an inch thick, a strategy that’s both thrifty and easier on the cook. Here, a pair of lightly bronzed New England diver scallops were almost fist-sized, but tender all through, accompanied by stuffed figs, purple plum, chanterelles, guanciale (smoked hog jaw, aka “face bacon”). But the plum was transformed into a powerful sweet-tart sauce that swamped all in its path. Why are so many chefs (Searsucker, Addison, El Biz) stubbing their toes on the sugar bowl lately? Is this a recessionary reach for comfort and joy? Will it go away soon?

Butter-poached Maine lobster offered a silky section of a small tail, sliced in one-inch increments, and the buttery meat of a small claw, plated over lobster jus. The rest was crazy, in a good way. “Eucalyptus lime pudding” proved a streak of an olive-green colloid, its flavor elusive, less powerful than you might guess. There were pieces of “pimento-smoked” plantains and a small “Kaffir butter balloon,” but I got this dish second and the balloon had already burst, leaving only a trace of lime-butter on the plate.

Duck Vinoise focused on a thick slab of duck breast, lightly roasted in fearless French-style to a perfect garnet-colored, moist interior that chewed like the best filet mignon. “Before I tasted this, I thought I didn’t like duck,” said Jim, “because at most local restaurants it’s dry and stringy.” The accompaniments tended to the sweet side again — roasted pumpkin, “chamomile banana” with plum sauce — but also, ruby chard for needed contrast. At the edge of the plate were a pair of “duck confit farenette” — little square pillows of a sort of bread pudding containing chopped confit of duck legs and duck foie gras. Yes to those!

The wine list is much briefer than the tome it used to be, although there are still plenty of enviable, unaffordable bottles and some secret high-end bottles hidden away, unlisted. There are, however, more bottles under $50. Our Joel Gott ($40) Sauvignon Blanc was a bit sweet, a potentially nice complement to lobster and scallops, if only the latter hadn’t been swamped in plum sauce; a dry Chardonnay might have been a better option for our food choices.

The previous week, Chef Grant had featured a “white truffle celebration” with the precious garlic-scented autumn fungi from Italy. The truffle menu was still enclosed in our menu booklet, every dish exceeding the Sanity Clause financially — except one, a $30 truffled “Banana Split.” That turned out to be the sole remaining white truffle dish that hadn’t sold out.

We shared the very last one. Served in an exquisite glass cornet vase, it was over the top: chopped bananas, firm house-made marshmallows, caramel syrup, whipped cream, and bits of, yes, white truffle — too much going on to remember every ingredient, only to delight at this combination of childish indulgence and sophisticated culinary mirth.

When Chef Ryan, age 30-going-on-17, came out from the kitchen, he literally bounced around the room with his shoulders jiggling and his head bobbing under his signature white Kangol hat, shaped like a bouffant shower cap. He volunteered that he suffers from ADD, which is believable, given his hyperactive food and his body language, and he says he doesn’t like to taste his dishes in the kitchen before they go out to the diners because then he always wants to play with them some more. He said he expected to stay at El Biz a long while. I hoped so because his exuberant food seemed a good fit for El Biz’s combination of golf duffers and metropolitan foodies.

Service, ambience, etc, constitute a separate chapter titled “Why I’d Rather Eat at El Biz than Addison.” Yeah, when we arrived ten minutes early, we had to wait in the bar for our “table to be ready,” even though half the tables were fully dressed but empty. (That’s $34 extra profit on drinks to them — although I really loved my pure, classic Margarita made without icky bar mix.) And, yeah, you have the management’s moronic Victorian dress rules, as though they’re still terrified of a ravenous horde in ragged jeans and dirty tees invading on the Night of the Living Hippies. Metrosexual Samurai Jim dressed by all the rules, but Michelle violated the no-denim dictate with a spangly black top over clean jeans — while after suffering in new patent leather at Addison, I’d reverted to my favorite martial-arts Mary Janes. Not exactly tennies, so no prob. But here, unlike Addison’s zombie-stiff servers, our waiter, Emerson, was cheerful and relaxed, his warmth and gusto reflecting the chef’s playfulness. The room is pretty, and the Spanish-style chairs are comfortable with those stick-up wooden tips at the shoulders where you can hang your hat and/or purse.

I’ve always enjoyed eating at El Biz, but I’m not sure I’ll ever do it again, at least for review. Most four-star restaurants hold on to talented chefs for years. Chef turnover like this tells me that the management at El Biz must be doing something wrong, and until they figure out how to correct that, the kitchen will suffer a whirlwind revolving door. (If you’re a kitchen escapee from El Biz and willing to talk about why you left, please email me. I’d love to hear from those who know, for a future report.)

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Comments

Posse_Dave Dec. 15, 2010 @ 10:04 p.m.

You know, after reading about these high-end restaurants with revolving doors for the chefs, I am very leery of spending my bucks at an establishment that seems to have management issues which can definitely affect the quality, predictability, and consistency of its menu. When I feel the urge to enjoy a "special" night out, I'll stay with those places I know to be consistent (and excellent)....places like A.R.Valentien, Cavaillon, Kitchen 1540, (or Farm House Cafe, for that matter). I'm not into a food experience that might be a disappointing surprise.

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js_mama Dec. 17, 2010 @ 5:29 p.m.

Let's check the facts; El Bizcocho has had three Chefs in the last seven years; Gavin Kaysen, Steven Rojas and Ryan Grant. Hardly a revolving door! Judd Canepari was the Executive Chef for the Rancho Bernardo Inn, but not the Chef De Cuisine for El Bizcocho. The "French dude from Frisco" was his Executive Sous Chef Alan Grimmaud(once again a Chef for the hotel, but not El Biz staff). And, Patrick Ponsaty was there over seven years ago. These are the facts. It's funny how this site prohibits comments containing libel or "abuse of others", but this article seems rife with inaccuracies. And, the comment about outsourcing staff to India...Wow! That's a low blow! And, hardly justified. I'm not quite sure why Ms. Wise is bashing and bad-mouthing a restaurant with such a consistent record of quality dining and service. Perhaps she should choose her "sporadic efriends" more carefully, or at least check her facts and not go simply by word of mouth.

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Naomi Wise Dec. 19, 2010 @ 6:51 p.m.

JS Mama: I know that Judd Canepari was the exec chef for the whole property. But with no chef de cuisine at El Biz for what, about a year? after Steven Rojas fled, that would leave him with major responsibility for the food at El Biz, the flagship restaurant.

True, I can't confirm that the entire kitchen staff was laid off and replaced, I merely got that info from an "unnamed" food industry source who should know (hence the snipe about out-sourcing to India). That is by no means the worst industry gossip I've heard about RBI's financial condition. By the way, I stayed there one night on a special "dinner and a room" bargain. Next day, I HAPPILY fled to the cheap Hindu-run South Escondido motel where I usually stayed for eataramas in north inland -- quieter, nice woodsy view facing rooms in back, much bigger, airier room, and no kiddies shrieking in the pool.

But I still love El Biz at heart. I've never had a bad meal there, revolving door or no.

POSSE DAVE: Hey, Dave, been meaning to call you. My excuse: finally getting my flood-ravaged flooring replaced with laminate by Juan y Juan son dos -- mainly Juan Carlos, son of gardener Juan. Taking forever, often gets in the way so I'm always in an emergency -- last minute grab some eaters and run. Half the places you mention with solid long-term chefs are actually chef-owned. That's always the ideal, because if the chef owns it, he can't slouch or he'll lose it.

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hardworkingdad Dec. 24, 2010 @ 7:43 a.m.

Well it was refreshing to see someone fight back against over indulgent biased food critics.Most of us in the industry know who you are and you are despised in San Diego's food industry. Who cares about "The Lynster" or any of your other cronies and hangers on. Maybe you and Ms. Virbila from the Times should take heed.

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