The building on the southwest corner of Mission Boulevard and Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach has seen a lot of changes. First there was Oscar's and then the short-lived dance joint The Bushwacker. This summer I watched it undergo a not her transformation, speculating for a while that Tire Greenery was going to be a nursery or a place which sold Christmas trees. It is, [ am happy to say, neither of these, but instead a very pleasant restaurant in the new stained-glass-and-stripped-wood styIe that is surfacing along the coast.
While I was eating dinner there last weekend, I thought of the famous eating scene in Tom Jones where Tom and Jenny Waters eat a magnificent meal as a prelude to-or part of-their making love. A I tho ugh The Greenery certainly doesn't have the robust exuberance of the old English inn at Upton, it does share one important characteristic with it: it's a good place for lovers. The ceilings are low and the lighting subdued. Of the fifteen tables. fourteen are large, high-backed semicircular booths of wood which contrast nicely with the masonry work on the walls. Chicago and Crosby, Stills, and Nash play in the background. This could all be too phoney much, but it succeeds in being tasteful, if not highly original.
The Greenery is not, thankfully, another one of the steak and lobster restaurants which smother San Diego. The hand-printed menu is interesting, extensive, even courageous. You can order a top sirloin steak if you wish, but there is also the unusual steak tartare (raw, chopped prime beef, ($4.25), rack of lamb ($4.75), cheese fondue ($7.00 for two), and chile con queso ($3.25), to mention a few of the main dishes. Brown rice (moist, perhaps too moist, with bits of zucchini) and hot whole-grain breads come with the dinners as well as a generous crisp green salad (with cherry tomatoes and watercress) which is impressively served in a large wooden bowl at your table with four kinds of dressing and sesame seeds: you toss your own.
After dinner we took our coffee to the bar and talked with one of the waiters who was, appropriately enough, waiting to see if he would be needed that evening. A student, he was open and talkative and introduced us to the bartender, Nervous Harry, who is distinguished from others, I'm told, by his habit of always wearing shorts. Then he asked me what I had for dinner. The burgundy beef, I said. He winced slightly: that's the worst thing on the menu, I usually look at people funny when they order that. He was right. It wasn't very good. The beef obviously hadn't been steeped in the sauce long enough for the flavors to penetrate the meat fully. But the other dish we 0 r d ere d, the prawns, six large shrimp delicately sauteed in parsley, butter, and just a hint of garlic (the menu says "more than a hint," but don't be misled by this) was delicious. And the broccoli was, as the menu promised, crisp, not a dead and soggy green. The best, however. was the homemade cheesecake. It's infinitely light and melts, if I may borrow a well-known candy phrase, in your mouth.
This is a genuine Southern California restaurant. It can't be classified according to either clientele or type, and the service is attentive, friendly, casual, and upon occasion, desultory (the wine was literally opened at the table, not to the side, and the waiter himself sniffed the cork; and tea was served as though this were a short-order New Jersey diner without a teapot or even a saucer, just a mug and a teabag). There are two other areas where the service could be improved. The gazpacho (a chilled Spanish soup) was not cold enough, although it was served in the proper tureen, and we never seemed to have enough silverware.
I recommend The Greenery very warmly. There is, on balance, thoughtful attention to detail here. The wine list, for example, is well-selected and amazingly reasonable. I have only one final suggestion. For dessert there is a lovely cheese platter listed on the menu which is, I understand, still in the experimental stages. Why not depart further from standard American practice and add a basket of fresh fruit? Not only would it be nice to be able to choose a bunch of grapes or a ripe pear for dessert, but it would have the further virtue of being in keeping with the spirit and name of the restaurant as well.