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The popular half-baked chocolate cake gave Dave a Proustian moment: this isn’t the standard ubiquitous molten chocolate cake but a bowl of thick chocolate batter that reminded him of the hot fudge sauce at Schrafft’s, the legendary upscale luncheonette frequented by “ladies who lunched” on Manhattan’s fashionable East Side — but also a favorite place for less-lofty moms to take kiddies for a soda fountain treat if they’d been very, very good. (Dave was a better child than I ever was. I never ate there.)

Peach sorbet tasted ultra-peachy. White-chocolate mousse tart was, to my tastes, heavy and sweet, but several of my friends liked it. Butter cake was light, fluffy, fruit-strewn. I secretly hoped its plainness would result in a bit left over for my breakfast, but no such luck. Espressos were top-drawer.

A meal here isn’t cheap, even with the special pricing, what with tax, tip, and surcharges for certain menu choices — about $80 apiece. Worth it? Well, would you rather buy a clown painting by Picasso or by Red Skelton? The food is mainly spectacular. It’s not for every day, but like Schrafft’s fountain for good children, visit for occasional splurges to lift your spirits and remind yourself of the difference between the cuisine of good neighborhood cooks and the art of master chefs. ■

Restaurant Nine-Ten

★★★★1/2

(Excellent to Extraordinary)

Grande Colonial Hotel, 910 Prospect Avenue, La Jolla, 858-964-5400; nine-ten.com

HOURS: Lunch daily 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Tuesday–Saturday 6:00–10:00 p.m., Sunday–Monday until 9:30 p.m.
PRICES: Soups, salads, appetizers $9–$16; entrées $28–$36; desserts $9. “Mercy of the Chef” five-course tasting $70/$100 with wines (whole table only). Three-course lunch special $24. Occasional specials of three courses (choices for all courses) $45/$60 with wines, plus surcharges on some items.
CUISINE & BEVERAGES: Farm-fresh cuisine showcasing the best local produce, top-grade seafood and meats, with modern wit and global touches. Extensive wine list, bottles cover a wide price range, plus craft beers. Full bar.
PICK HITS: Tuna tartare; hamachi sashimi; Jamaican jerk pork belly; wild King salmon; northern halibut with coconut green curry sauce; steak with king trumpet mushrooms; panna cotta; half-baked chocolate cake.
NEED TO KNOW: Vegan starters and some entrées (see website); confirm when reserving. Valet parking $5 at hotel door. Small street-dining patio. Fairly noisy. Dressy-casual. Save room for dessert.

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