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The Native Quarter

Oh, boy, has Paris Hilton ever left the building! Khloe Kardashian (as they say in N’awlins, “Who dat?”) may or may not show up at the Ivy Hotel’s nightclub, Envy, but Quarter Kitchen’s celeb hangout era is so over.

Restaurateur Michael Kelly had a glorious glitzy vision that came true for a few months here — and then didn’t. That is, now it’s one more sleek hotel dining room with lowered ambitions and relatively affordable prices for the recessional holiday and weeknight delectations of local diners. After hotshot English opening chef Damon Gordon fled (don’t they all?), in came local favorite Nathan Coulon, formerly of Modus (scion of the Belgian Lion OB restaurant family, son of La Jolla fine pâtissière Michele Coulon). Bargain early-bird dinners appeared; other prices came down. Most of my posse regulars have already eaten here several times, drawn by Coulon’s signature succulent braised short ribs.

I ate at Quarter Kitchen shortly after the opening, but neither my friend Sam nor I had tried its post-glam incarnation yet when, finding ourselves lone and lorn on T-Day, we headed out for an affordable turkey dinner. The opener was divine: chestnut cream soup with tender-crisp fried sweetbreads on the side, to use as “croutons.” One of the most sensual things I’ve sampled all year, this soup deserves a regular place on the winter menu. The “holiday plate” of turkey roulades, stuffing, mash, et al. — nice, merely nice.

The soup was an inducement to return for a regular dinner, a reminder of how good Coulon can be when he lets loose. I invited another pair of Quarter neophytes, Deborah and Debbie, behind-the-scenes movers and shakers at Cygnet Theatre. (Regular readers may recall that Cygnet auctioned me off for a benefit last spring: “Oh Tempura, Oh Morels,” 7/8/09.)

I meant to concentrate on the “Fashionably Early” $30 three-course prix fixe but also had a coupon for a free entrée with another entrée at full price, and of course the half-price deals on bottled wines before 7:00 p.m. (Sunday–Thursday) played a major role in deciding our dinner hours. But when Sam tried to reserve for 6:30, the management wouldn’t let him rez until 7:00. (Wonder what that’s all about?) We showed up at 6:30 anyway and were promptly seated by a beautifully garbed hostess in the near-empty dining room.

That night, there came into that hostelry full nine and twenty from some company (or if not precisely 29, maybe 26 or 28 but noisy enough for 30). Maybe a software-company party, since the men all wore wrinkled cotton shirts and mainly khaki slacks, with the few women in either corporate-dress or skanky-glam. Despite the unpopulated hinterlands, where they could easily have been segregated from smaller groups of diners (including some fun seats near the kitchen, where they could have watched the chefs at work), they were put right next to us — a second strike against the way this room is managed. They probably had a pre-arranged menu, but still they were a direct danger to our dinner, as well as our enjoyment of it. “We’d better get our orders in fast,” said Sam, “before these guys monopolize the wait-staff and the kitchen. The half-price wine discount expires in 16 minutes, along with the prix fixe.”

Mission accomplished. From the “early” menu we chose the lobster bisque and the aged French goat-cheese appetizer over a brioche crust. (The third starter is plain green salad, a masochist’s pick at any restaurant.) The bisque proved light and thin, with little cream and only a hint of lobster flavor — not unpleasant but lacking in both identity and lavishness.

The goat cheese, served not quite hot, was lean and near-dry over a desiccated hard crust that resembled not an airy brioche but a day-old Georgia drop-biscuit, with a bare bit of moisture alongside from tapenade and oven-dried tomatoes. Time hardens all breads; microwaves stiffen all yeast doughs. (I assume any big hotel kitchen must be nuker-armed.) Was our tartlet ruthlessly zapped — or was it just born too soon and warmed too late?

For the à la carte starters I tiptoed into luxury (skipping, of course, the cook-it-yourself Kobe strips requiring a minimal investment of $75 — bah, humbug!). The enduring signature of the original English chef is caviar “tacos,” five ultra-crisp wafer-thin shells of Yukon Gold potato slices cradling horseradish crème fraîche, parsley, and top-notch paddlefish caviar ($30, or $125 with Iranian Osetra). I’ve been haunted by longings for a second sampling ever since I tried it two years ago. But it’s changed. I still love the combination, but now there’s so much less roe, you can barely taste it in the mix. (I verified the changed proportion by checking my review from two years ago.) Cutting the caviar, the balance is upset, the unforgettable reduced to a cute cocktail-party snack.

Ordering the Coastal Waters Tower ($50 for “small,” up to $125 for “large”), I hoped for something like the brilliant seafood assiette I’d enjoyed at the Gaslamp’s Royale Brasserie, before that restaurant turned into the current Lou and Mickey’s and lost its soul. The “small” was huge but lesser. Over a pile of ice, it held six East-West oysters (three briny Atlantic Malpeques, three near-sweet Pacific Kumamotos), jumbo Mexican shrimps, raw hamachi slices, and ample quantities of cracked King crab legs and the best parts (claws and tailmeat) of a whole Maine lobster, topped by the lobster’s upper shell. Alongside were lemons and four dips: mignonette, fresh housemade cocktail sauce (with coarse-chopped tomatoes), something called “tarragon aioli” that was a dense but civilized tartar sauce (with no nasty pickly stuff), and a soy-scallion mixture accompanied by a tiny spoonful of grated horseradish.

For such an extravagant array to sell for $50, there had to be a catch — and not just the daily catch. The oysters, hamachi, King crab (nearly always flash-frozen on shipboard in Alaska) were all fine, but the jumbo Gulf shrimps (so stunningly sweet at Vela a few weeks ago) were overcooked neutral nothings. And the near-tasteless lobster seemed to have all the buttery life chilled out of it. (Next day, served cool from the doggie bag, rather than frigid, the texture was softer and richer, but only the coral fingertips of the claw meat held true, deep lobster flavor.)

Deborah speculated that the lobster might have been frozen. Then I thought of “lobster pounds.” In winter, lobsters move out farther and deeper into the sea and are harder and riskier to catch, so are more expensive (and actually taste better). “Lobster pounds” — giant saltwater tanks — are commercial facilities where Maine lobsters caught earlier in the season are kept alive. But their flavor deteriorates, compared to fresh-caught crustaceans. Well, whatever the cause, it’s also probably the source of the bisque’s unlobsterly flavor.

Despite our early arrival, the servers subtly pushed us to eat up and get gone. (In a restaurant that closes at 10:00 p.m., we were the last to leave, at 9:00.) Our waiter was cute and charming but evidently miscalculated how much we’d be talking along with eating — those noisy neighbors couldn’t stop us, even if we had to yell to hear each other! He had the kitchen fire up the entrées a little too soon, about two minutes before we’d have finished with appetizers — and, like the goat cheese, all the entrées were delivered just past lukewarm.

The surprise was smoked chicken, available both on the prix fixe and à la carte. As Deborah said, “I never order chicken in restaurants; I cook it often enough at home.” But this was chicken you’re not likely to cook. Half a free-range bird, its snap-crackle-pop skin literally puffed off the tender flesh. The in-house smoking is gentle, just a hint. The whole array was savory. Deborah fell in love with the puffy cubes of sweet potatoes and crisp fine bacon mingling in a faintly sweet sauce. Debbie was ravished by the accompanying spinach mixed with a generous waft of sesame seeds for crunch and nuttiness.

Coulon’s signature dish is Cabernet-braised Prime-beef short ribs in a star anise and wine reduction (also available both early-bird and à la carte). They’re rich and fork-tender, served over creamy Yukon Gold potato mash splashed with that supernal wine gravy, with seasonal vegetables: cauliflower florets; melting baby zucchinis; firm, skinny yellow string beans; and button mushrooms for depth. I stubbornly bogarted the dish until I could taste every element, while the Debs impatiently switched plates around.

Little wonder, because they’d started with two disappointing dishes. Spicy blackened hamachi (both prix fixe and à la carte) is a carryover from the opening days, when it was one of my favorite entrées — highly spiced but an earthy-sweet red miso balanced out the fire. This time, a line-chef stubbed his toe on the cayenne, producing the kind of plain, blasting heat that instantly exhausts your palate instead of exciting it. Lost under the fish (tender but overwhelmed) were sliced carrots, shiitake, zucchini, bean sprouts, snow peas, and loads of cilantro. “It reminds me of New Mexico red chile sauce,” said Deborah. “Just dried red chiles cooked in stock, nothing much else to complicate it.” “Whereas the complications make great spicy food,” I said, “the layers of flavor coming up from below to enjoy, once you get past the heat.”

From the à la carte menu we’d chosen cassoulet ($24), a staple at Coulon’s grandfather’s Belgian Lion. It’s a great bistro dish because its flavors get friendly with each other over time — just like its N’awlins cousin, red beans and rice, you can cook a big potful on a Monday and serve it all week long. A glorified Gallic version of baked beans, the traditional model includes white beans, duck confit, garlicky Toulouse sausage, and bites of lamb and/or pork, all slow-cooked in a meat-and-poultry stock with tomato and herbs and finished off in the oven, topped with crisp buttered bread-crumbs. Well, sorry — no crisp crumb topping this time. No deep taste of stock in the overfirm beans. Pork bits dried out. The duck was okay, if a bit tough. I did like the juicy sausage. (If it’s not authentic saucisson de Toulouse, it’s close enough for folk-cooking.) But we’ve all had better. For that matter, we’ve all cooked better. Another victim of the nuker?

Ah, but the half-price wines! Had to skip those great four-figure aged French reds, but the back of the list includes French regional bottlings, including undervalued Loire and Rhone choices. Aiming at the cold seafood platter, I chose a Muscadet, a crisp, insouciant Loire “oyster wine.” The discount brought its price down nearly to that of bottled water. (And I was so glad for it after hitting that blackened fish! Capsaicin, the hot-pepper chemical, isn’t water-soluble — needs cold alcohol!) For our “short-ribs red,” we scored a gorgeous 12-year-old Côte Rôtie from reliable shipper Guigal, $120 cut to $60. (More affordable yet, there’s a fine Qupé Syrah among the California reds for $32 list price.)

The early dinner offers three desserts: Chocoholic Debbie chose Belgian chocolate torte, chocolate cake layered with chocolate meringue, mousse, and cream, with ice cream on the side. This sounded like one of Michele Coulon’s pastries but somehow didn’t taste as exquisite. A “deconstructed” gingerbread cake with wine-poached pears (and persimmon ice cream) should be reconstructed: the dryish cake needs the fruit and ice cream right on top to moisten it. (Third choice is an ice cream sundae.)

My espresso was marginally acceptable, served lukewarm. Deborah’s decaf espresso was odious (sent back and replaced by a much-better cappuccino). The regular coffees were tepid and weak.

Given how good the good dishes are at Quarter Kitchen, I wouldn’t give up on it, I’d just order differently to replace the early-bird’s unthrilling starters and sweets with better stuff for a barely higher bill. I’d get there early on a weeknight for the wine discount and, if I were set on the fabulous short ribs (regularly $28), consider ordering one prix-fixe meal. For the rest, I’d go cannily à la carte, starting with a shareable bowl of “Steamed Mussels Social Style,” sauced with white wine, fennel, and cream, with frites for dipping — just $11, sized for two. (Coulon should manage this luscious Belgian classic handily.) For entrées, besides the smoked chicken ($20), you could gamble on another fine French-Belgian archetype: salmon in tangy sorrel cream sauce with yummy Pommes Anna ($22), or try “duck two ways” ($30) (confit and grilled breast), with a riot of garnishes including tangerine foam on top. For dessert ($10), consider sharing a pumpkin cheesecake or apple-cranberry frangipani tart. This “eat this, not that” version of a three-course dinner runs $30–$41 per person for two or more.

As for all the petty service annoyances, maybe these printed snipes at the front-of-the-house management lapses will make a difference — or not. Maybe they’re why Paris Hilton stopped coming ’round and why Adam Lambert’s not here but over at Hard Rock, probably sneaking into Nobu’s sushi bar when he’s done signing autographs. In any case, local diners don’t need to glitter and be gay to eat at the Ivy anymore — just come as you are.

Quarter Kitchen

  • 2.5 stars
  • (Good to Very Good)

Ivy Hotel, 600 F Street, Gaslamp Quarter, 619-814-2000, quarterkitchen.com
HOURS: Breakfast weekdays 7:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m.; weekends until 11:00 a.m.; brunch 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. weekdays, weekends from 7:00 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m. Dinner 6:00–10:00 p.m., weekends until 11:00 p.m.
PRICES: “Fashionably Early” three-course prix fixe (6:00–7:00 p.m. daily, except holidays), $30. “Dine and Dance” three-course prix-fixe Thursday–Friday, 7:00–9:30 p.m., $55, with VIP admission to Envy nightclub. Regular appetizers $8–$22; “sharing” appetizers, $11–$125; entrées, $18–$32; steaks, $36–$48. Sides, $8–$12; desserts, $10–$12.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Modern American bistro cuisine mingling with classic French dishes, occasional fusion touches. Vast international wine list; bottles half-price Sunday–Thursday before 7:00 p.m. Full bar. (Corkage $25, huge surcharge for any bottle already on the extensive wine list.)
PICK HITS: Cabernet-braised short ribs; smoked free-range chicken. Other good bets: steamed mussels with frites appetizer; Loch Duart salmon with sorrel cream sauce; duck “two ways.”
NEED TO KNOW: Free valet parking, one car per entrée. Business-casual wear, but diners heading for Envy nightclub might glam it up. One vegetarian entrée, many veggie sides, including mac ’n’ cheese (possible kiddie choice).

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Dahmer's Diner, Nico, Deadheads, Paul Williams

Goth rock, Moby Grape on the street, Elvis in 1977, Stone Temple fracas, Charles McPherson, flamenco insiders

Oh, boy, has Paris Hilton ever left the building! Khloe Kardashian (as they say in N’awlins, “Who dat?”) may or may not show up at the Ivy Hotel’s nightclub, Envy, but Quarter Kitchen’s celeb hangout era is so over.

Restaurateur Michael Kelly had a glorious glitzy vision that came true for a few months here — and then didn’t. That is, now it’s one more sleek hotel dining room with lowered ambitions and relatively affordable prices for the recessional holiday and weeknight delectations of local diners. After hotshot English opening chef Damon Gordon fled (don’t they all?), in came local favorite Nathan Coulon, formerly of Modus (scion of the Belgian Lion OB restaurant family, son of La Jolla fine pâtissière Michele Coulon). Bargain early-bird dinners appeared; other prices came down. Most of my posse regulars have already eaten here several times, drawn by Coulon’s signature succulent braised short ribs.

I ate at Quarter Kitchen shortly after the opening, but neither my friend Sam nor I had tried its post-glam incarnation yet when, finding ourselves lone and lorn on T-Day, we headed out for an affordable turkey dinner. The opener was divine: chestnut cream soup with tender-crisp fried sweetbreads on the side, to use as “croutons.” One of the most sensual things I’ve sampled all year, this soup deserves a regular place on the winter menu. The “holiday plate” of turkey roulades, stuffing, mash, et al. — nice, merely nice.

The soup was an inducement to return for a regular dinner, a reminder of how good Coulon can be when he lets loose. I invited another pair of Quarter neophytes, Deborah and Debbie, behind-the-scenes movers and shakers at Cygnet Theatre. (Regular readers may recall that Cygnet auctioned me off for a benefit last spring: “Oh Tempura, Oh Morels,” 7/8/09.)

I meant to concentrate on the “Fashionably Early” $30 three-course prix fixe but also had a coupon for a free entrée with another entrée at full price, and of course the half-price deals on bottled wines before 7:00 p.m. (Sunday–Thursday) played a major role in deciding our dinner hours. But when Sam tried to reserve for 6:30, the management wouldn’t let him rez until 7:00. (Wonder what that’s all about?) We showed up at 6:30 anyway and were promptly seated by a beautifully garbed hostess in the near-empty dining room.

That night, there came into that hostelry full nine and twenty from some company (or if not precisely 29, maybe 26 or 28 but noisy enough for 30). Maybe a software-company party, since the men all wore wrinkled cotton shirts and mainly khaki slacks, with the few women in either corporate-dress or skanky-glam. Despite the unpopulated hinterlands, where they could easily have been segregated from smaller groups of diners (including some fun seats near the kitchen, where they could have watched the chefs at work), they were put right next to us — a second strike against the way this room is managed. They probably had a pre-arranged menu, but still they were a direct danger to our dinner, as well as our enjoyment of it. “We’d better get our orders in fast,” said Sam, “before these guys monopolize the wait-staff and the kitchen. The half-price wine discount expires in 16 minutes, along with the prix fixe.”

Mission accomplished. From the “early” menu we chose the lobster bisque and the aged French goat-cheese appetizer over a brioche crust. (The third starter is plain green salad, a masochist’s pick at any restaurant.) The bisque proved light and thin, with little cream and only a hint of lobster flavor — not unpleasant but lacking in both identity and lavishness.

The goat cheese, served not quite hot, was lean and near-dry over a desiccated hard crust that resembled not an airy brioche but a day-old Georgia drop-biscuit, with a bare bit of moisture alongside from tapenade and oven-dried tomatoes. Time hardens all breads; microwaves stiffen all yeast doughs. (I assume any big hotel kitchen must be nuker-armed.) Was our tartlet ruthlessly zapped — or was it just born too soon and warmed too late?

For the à la carte starters I tiptoed into luxury (skipping, of course, the cook-it-yourself Kobe strips requiring a minimal investment of $75 — bah, humbug!). The enduring signature of the original English chef is caviar “tacos,” five ultra-crisp wafer-thin shells of Yukon Gold potato slices cradling horseradish crème fraîche, parsley, and top-notch paddlefish caviar ($30, or $125 with Iranian Osetra). I’ve been haunted by longings for a second sampling ever since I tried it two years ago. But it’s changed. I still love the combination, but now there’s so much less roe, you can barely taste it in the mix. (I verified the changed proportion by checking my review from two years ago.) Cutting the caviar, the balance is upset, the unforgettable reduced to a cute cocktail-party snack.

Ordering the Coastal Waters Tower ($50 for “small,” up to $125 for “large”), I hoped for something like the brilliant seafood assiette I’d enjoyed at the Gaslamp’s Royale Brasserie, before that restaurant turned into the current Lou and Mickey’s and lost its soul. The “small” was huge but lesser. Over a pile of ice, it held six East-West oysters (three briny Atlantic Malpeques, three near-sweet Pacific Kumamotos), jumbo Mexican shrimps, raw hamachi slices, and ample quantities of cracked King crab legs and the best parts (claws and tailmeat) of a whole Maine lobster, topped by the lobster’s upper shell. Alongside were lemons and four dips: mignonette, fresh housemade cocktail sauce (with coarse-chopped tomatoes), something called “tarragon aioli” that was a dense but civilized tartar sauce (with no nasty pickly stuff), and a soy-scallion mixture accompanied by a tiny spoonful of grated horseradish.

For such an extravagant array to sell for $50, there had to be a catch — and not just the daily catch. The oysters, hamachi, King crab (nearly always flash-frozen on shipboard in Alaska) were all fine, but the jumbo Gulf shrimps (so stunningly sweet at Vela a few weeks ago) were overcooked neutral nothings. And the near-tasteless lobster seemed to have all the buttery life chilled out of it. (Next day, served cool from the doggie bag, rather than frigid, the texture was softer and richer, but only the coral fingertips of the claw meat held true, deep lobster flavor.)

Deborah speculated that the lobster might have been frozen. Then I thought of “lobster pounds.” In winter, lobsters move out farther and deeper into the sea and are harder and riskier to catch, so are more expensive (and actually taste better). “Lobster pounds” — giant saltwater tanks — are commercial facilities where Maine lobsters caught earlier in the season are kept alive. But their flavor deteriorates, compared to fresh-caught crustaceans. Well, whatever the cause, it’s also probably the source of the bisque’s unlobsterly flavor.

Despite our early arrival, the servers subtly pushed us to eat up and get gone. (In a restaurant that closes at 10:00 p.m., we were the last to leave, at 9:00.) Our waiter was cute and charming but evidently miscalculated how much we’d be talking along with eating — those noisy neighbors couldn’t stop us, even if we had to yell to hear each other! He had the kitchen fire up the entrées a little too soon, about two minutes before we’d have finished with appetizers — and, like the goat cheese, all the entrées were delivered just past lukewarm.

The surprise was smoked chicken, available both on the prix fixe and à la carte. As Deborah said, “I never order chicken in restaurants; I cook it often enough at home.” But this was chicken you’re not likely to cook. Half a free-range bird, its snap-crackle-pop skin literally puffed off the tender flesh. The in-house smoking is gentle, just a hint. The whole array was savory. Deborah fell in love with the puffy cubes of sweet potatoes and crisp fine bacon mingling in a faintly sweet sauce. Debbie was ravished by the accompanying spinach mixed with a generous waft of sesame seeds for crunch and nuttiness.

Coulon’s signature dish is Cabernet-braised Prime-beef short ribs in a star anise and wine reduction (also available both early-bird and à la carte). They’re rich and fork-tender, served over creamy Yukon Gold potato mash splashed with that supernal wine gravy, with seasonal vegetables: cauliflower florets; melting baby zucchinis; firm, skinny yellow string beans; and button mushrooms for depth. I stubbornly bogarted the dish until I could taste every element, while the Debs impatiently switched plates around.

Little wonder, because they’d started with two disappointing dishes. Spicy blackened hamachi (both prix fixe and à la carte) is a carryover from the opening days, when it was one of my favorite entrées — highly spiced but an earthy-sweet red miso balanced out the fire. This time, a line-chef stubbed his toe on the cayenne, producing the kind of plain, blasting heat that instantly exhausts your palate instead of exciting it. Lost under the fish (tender but overwhelmed) were sliced carrots, shiitake, zucchini, bean sprouts, snow peas, and loads of cilantro. “It reminds me of New Mexico red chile sauce,” said Deborah. “Just dried red chiles cooked in stock, nothing much else to complicate it.” “Whereas the complications make great spicy food,” I said, “the layers of flavor coming up from below to enjoy, once you get past the heat.”

From the à la carte menu we’d chosen cassoulet ($24), a staple at Coulon’s grandfather’s Belgian Lion. It’s a great bistro dish because its flavors get friendly with each other over time — just like its N’awlins cousin, red beans and rice, you can cook a big potful on a Monday and serve it all week long. A glorified Gallic version of baked beans, the traditional model includes white beans, duck confit, garlicky Toulouse sausage, and bites of lamb and/or pork, all slow-cooked in a meat-and-poultry stock with tomato and herbs and finished off in the oven, topped with crisp buttered bread-crumbs. Well, sorry — no crisp crumb topping this time. No deep taste of stock in the overfirm beans. Pork bits dried out. The duck was okay, if a bit tough. I did like the juicy sausage. (If it’s not authentic saucisson de Toulouse, it’s close enough for folk-cooking.) But we’ve all had better. For that matter, we’ve all cooked better. Another victim of the nuker?

Ah, but the half-price wines! Had to skip those great four-figure aged French reds, but the back of the list includes French regional bottlings, including undervalued Loire and Rhone choices. Aiming at the cold seafood platter, I chose a Muscadet, a crisp, insouciant Loire “oyster wine.” The discount brought its price down nearly to that of bottled water. (And I was so glad for it after hitting that blackened fish! Capsaicin, the hot-pepper chemical, isn’t water-soluble — needs cold alcohol!) For our “short-ribs red,” we scored a gorgeous 12-year-old Côte Rôtie from reliable shipper Guigal, $120 cut to $60. (More affordable yet, there’s a fine Qupé Syrah among the California reds for $32 list price.)

The early dinner offers three desserts: Chocoholic Debbie chose Belgian chocolate torte, chocolate cake layered with chocolate meringue, mousse, and cream, with ice cream on the side. This sounded like one of Michele Coulon’s pastries but somehow didn’t taste as exquisite. A “deconstructed” gingerbread cake with wine-poached pears (and persimmon ice cream) should be reconstructed: the dryish cake needs the fruit and ice cream right on top to moisten it. (Third choice is an ice cream sundae.)

My espresso was marginally acceptable, served lukewarm. Deborah’s decaf espresso was odious (sent back and replaced by a much-better cappuccino). The regular coffees were tepid and weak.

Given how good the good dishes are at Quarter Kitchen, I wouldn’t give up on it, I’d just order differently to replace the early-bird’s unthrilling starters and sweets with better stuff for a barely higher bill. I’d get there early on a weeknight for the wine discount and, if I were set on the fabulous short ribs (regularly $28), consider ordering one prix-fixe meal. For the rest, I’d go cannily à la carte, starting with a shareable bowl of “Steamed Mussels Social Style,” sauced with white wine, fennel, and cream, with frites for dipping — just $11, sized for two. (Coulon should manage this luscious Belgian classic handily.) For entrées, besides the smoked chicken ($20), you could gamble on another fine French-Belgian archetype: salmon in tangy sorrel cream sauce with yummy Pommes Anna ($22), or try “duck two ways” ($30) (confit and grilled breast), with a riot of garnishes including tangerine foam on top. For dessert ($10), consider sharing a pumpkin cheesecake or apple-cranberry frangipani tart. This “eat this, not that” version of a three-course dinner runs $30–$41 per person for two or more.

As for all the petty service annoyances, maybe these printed snipes at the front-of-the-house management lapses will make a difference — or not. Maybe they’re why Paris Hilton stopped coming ’round and why Adam Lambert’s not here but over at Hard Rock, probably sneaking into Nobu’s sushi bar when he’s done signing autographs. In any case, local diners don’t need to glitter and be gay to eat at the Ivy anymore — just come as you are.

Quarter Kitchen

  • 2.5 stars
  • (Good to Very Good)

Ivy Hotel, 600 F Street, Gaslamp Quarter, 619-814-2000, quarterkitchen.com
HOURS: Breakfast weekdays 7:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m.; weekends until 11:00 a.m.; brunch 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. weekdays, weekends from 7:00 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m. Dinner 6:00–10:00 p.m., weekends until 11:00 p.m.
PRICES: “Fashionably Early” three-course prix fixe (6:00–7:00 p.m. daily, except holidays), $30. “Dine and Dance” three-course prix-fixe Thursday–Friday, 7:00–9:30 p.m., $55, with VIP admission to Envy nightclub. Regular appetizers $8–$22; “sharing” appetizers, $11–$125; entrées, $18–$32; steaks, $36–$48. Sides, $8–$12; desserts, $10–$12.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Modern American bistro cuisine mingling with classic French dishes, occasional fusion touches. Vast international wine list; bottles half-price Sunday–Thursday before 7:00 p.m. Full bar. (Corkage $25, huge surcharge for any bottle already on the extensive wine list.)
PICK HITS: Cabernet-braised short ribs; smoked free-range chicken. Other good bets: steamed mussels with frites appetizer; Loch Duart salmon with sorrel cream sauce; duck “two ways.”
NEED TO KNOW: Free valet parking, one car per entrée. Business-casual wear, but diners heading for Envy nightclub might glam it up. One vegetarian entrée, many veggie sides, including mac ’n’ cheese (possible kiddie choice).

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Subs off Imperial Beach, Yamamoto's killer, a kid in WWII San Diego

Tarawa, Japanese POWs, my dad's part in Hiroshima, Iwo Jima, captured in Burma
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Everyone has a spot at the rail

San Diego, home of the world’s largest live bait sportfishing fleet.
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