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The Glass Door Restaurant & Lounge

1835 Columbia Street, Little Italy

Everything about Glass Door makes it a delightful, entertaining restaurant — except the food. On the fourth floor of a new hotel in Little Italy, it’s a long, narrow room with a bar on one side; opposite, a table-lined wall of windows faces west-by-southwest. There’s also a roofed dining balcony just past the glass, perfect to view sunset on the sea and the lights of downtown after dark. Clusters of reproduction Tiffany lamps hang from the ceiling, and a semi-open kitchen anchors the north end of the room. The extended happy hour (3:00–7:00 p.m.) offers $5 featured drinks and a grazing menu with choices for $6 and $10. Even à la carte, entrées are mostly under $20. Our server was adept, attentive, charming.

The chef has fine credentials. Local guy Rob Conaway learned his craft at cooking schools in San Francisco and Thailand; has worked for Bay Area hotshots, including Brad Ogden, Jeremiah Tower, and Mark Franz; and has served as “Western chef de cuisine” at a luxury resort in Da Nang, Vietnam.

So everything fit the requirements for my summer series of “rooms with a view and bargains, too” — but when it comes to the food, don’t get your hopes up too high. I don’t know what’s gone wrong with the cooking, or why, but, well, you’re forewarned.

When we arrived for the dregs of happy hour, the bar was cheek by jowl with single young dudes, all in caps and board shorts, male calves on parade. (Fellini called this sort I vitelloni.) The sunny balcony tables were filled with sociable 20ish couples from the neighborhood getting together, many showing off newish babies. You can sit anywhere for happy-hour deals — the whole room and balcony constitute “the bar.” I savored a fine, limey $5 Cabo Wabo margarita “rocks” that didn’t taste like oversweet bar-mix. Tall, dark, and handsome Scottish Sue scored a terrific made-from-scratch mojito that Fred nearly stole from her when she offered a taste. Fred ventured on a beer the menu called Delerium (short for Delerium Tremens, its full name) that evidently didn’t produce its namesake condition, and Lynne’s well-chilled house Chardonnay left her lukewarm.

The best graze was calamari in a light, crisp, flavorful batter with a good mustardy remoulade dip. The squid didn’t get rubbery as they cooled. So far, so good. But then came our Kobe sliders, a trio of ultra-thin patties overcooked thoroughly dead, then buried inside thick “lemon buns.” Each of us removed the top half of the bun — and, after a few more bites, the bottom. The meat was still dead. (With American Kobe, rareness offers little risk. I’ve interviewed the owner of Idaho’s Snake River Farms, leading Kobe-rancher: Typical of breeders of ultra-premium meats, he doesn’t let his precious beef get besmirched by sharing a meat-grinder with “factory” cattle.)

Vietnamese-style summer rolls in rice-flour wrappers each held exactly one medium shrimp amidst a riot of lettuce and rice-noodles, with a tangy-sweet dip sauce. Not awful, but inferior to the more complex and shrimpier version that Fred enjoys at his favorite neighborhood joint, Pho King Restaurant on El Cajon near 47th. (Yes, the name’s real, and the owners do know. I’m not the only cheesy punster in the local-food biz.)

Happy hour ends at 7:00 p.m. At precisely 7:01, the entire bar and most of the balcony abruptly emptied out, with a few baby-free balcony-dwellers lingering to finish their drinks and catch the sunset. Apparently the neighborhood crowd has made its decision about Glass Door — that once happy hours end, not-so-happy time begins. The noise level dropped from a full roar to a minor din as the canned music played on to the three indoor tables (including ours) with patrons staying on for dinner. Our real meal began, and with it, the sad news about the food that didn’t make the grade.

Soup of the evening was corn chowder. The corn kernels and minced carrots were very sweet, amended by bites of bland mystery protein (chicken breast, when I got a look at the leftovers at home). The liquid was almost thick enough to chew on, with so much flour it was barely short of a béchamel sauce. “Well, they did call it corn chowder, not corn soup,” Fred observed kindly. “Yes, but —” I protested, “when I make chowders I use half and half, cooked down until it’s velvety, and purée some of the corn for thickening. Whole milk thickened with a light roux is fine too, but this is…sludge.”

Mac ’n’ cheese with three mild gourmet cheeses and chopped Louisiana andouille sausage proved reasonably good comfort food — undersalted and a bit dry on top but gooey down below, and I loved the sausage, of course. Pommes frites (Lynne’s must-have) were thin and crisp, although we tasted no hint of the advertised “black truffle dust.”

Crab cakes (Dungeness, with panko crumb coating and Meyer lemon aioli) were small. They were crumby and not nearly crabby enough. Seared bluefin “deconstructed niçoise” was a tragic waste of an endangered species. (Lynne and I both favor Italian olive oil–packed canned tuna in our homemade niçoises.) The modest hunk of precious fish was red and rare but naked, edge-seared but not seasoned. Around it were “correct” ingredients not working together: herb-strewn, pan-roasted slim green beans with a touch of vinaigrette; capers; sliced, hard-cooked eggs; tomatoes; and a rabble of green and black pits-in olives. Denying the dish’s sunny Mediterranean pleasures, the chopped tomatoes were cottony and underripe (the dish crying out for the good cherry or grape tomatoes of the season, or even Romas). AWOL: small new potatoes, a few anchovies for garnish, and the most serious loss, a vinaigrette to bind everything, without which it’s a collection of ingredients as alien from each other as a bunch of bus passengers avoiding eye-contact. Reconstruct this deconstruction, please.

Worse was yet to come. Landing first in front of the Lynnester was the entrée that sounded best — the one that drew me here: Moroccan pork shank with lemon couscous, asparagus, and chermoula gremolata. Lynne took one bite of the pork and abandoned ship. She passed it to me. Forget the none-too-lemony couscous (edible, but would be better with salty Moroccan preserved lemon, so easy to make). Forget the inconsequential chermoula. One tiny, tentative bite, and the grotesquely overcooked pork expanded into a vast, unswallowable wad of animal-based sawdust. (I did the Emily Post thing with the black cloth napkin, disguising a discreet removal.) This palate that has embraced fatty roast guinea pig, skinny baked starling, tempura turkey testicles and grilled lamb “fries,” fried Thai bamboo worms, and Oaxacan grasshoppers — stopped dead. Don’t get me wrong: the meat wasn’t rotten, merely ruined. Well, Moroccans don’t eat pork, anyway. (Haram!)

I was lucky to start with the best entrée, braised short-ribs — not sublime, but tender and edible, accompanied by my favorite healthy fake-starch, mashed celery root (most likely mixed with a majority of potato and definitely with enough dairy to enrich it), plus a pleasant, crispy shallot persillade (sautéed shallots blasted with a confetti of minced flat-leaf parsley). When Lynne got it, she noticed its flaw: “This chef underseasons everything!” She proceeded to compare and contrast the admirable short-ribs she’d recently adored at Quarter Kitchen’s “early-bird” prix-fixe. I passed her the salt-shaker, but some foods — meats, especially — need salting early, during cooking, not just at the table.

A vegetarian assembly of seasonal grilled and roasted vegetables encompassed zucchini, yellow squash, and red bell peppers. These actually overdid the salt and gained further salinity from a dusting of reggiano cheese and a nippy surrounding sauce of spicy chile romesco. The “creamy white polenta” that inspired us to order the dish wasn’t creamy at all, merely a lean, softly lumpy, undersalted porridge, lacking sufficient dairy enrichment to smooth it out. “That’s not polenta,” said Fred, “that’s so-so Southern grits.”

Passing up the menu’s “crispy-skin salmon,” we chose the evening’s alternative fish special, white sea bass in an Asian-inspired sauce with rice noodles and gai lan (“chicken greens” in Cantonese, aka a dark leafy green sometimes called “Chinese broccoli” or “Chinese kale”). I didn’t much mind the undersalted liquid and veggies (my Russian mom thought salt and pepper caused high blood pressure, so I’m used to this), while the nice goopy noodles and mild sauce were okay with Fred and Sue, too. But the desiccated sea bass was more sere sawdust that none of us could swallow. (I didn’t even bother taking it home for the neighbors’ visiting kitties. They’re picky about fish, too.) We skipped desserts, a minimal selection in any case.

As for wines, if you’re going to eat here: Seek and ye shall find. It’s a decent list with some nice, affordable bottles. As usual, the better red bottles can push the budget.

So what’s the good of Glass Door? Well, look at what we walked into: a full house of cheerful young people, with or without new babies, socializing at a lively hangout with bargain drinks and grazes — and then vanishing en masse the very minute that happy hour was over. (Maybe the place should be called Revolving Door.) If price, views, good cheap drinks, and fun right after work matter more than cuisine, it’s a find. And if you’re looking for serious dinner food, it isn’t.

Glass Door
(Fair to Good)
Porto Vista Hotel, 1835 Columbia Street (at Fir Street), Little Italy, 619-544-0164, theglassdoorsd.com/littleitaly/.
HOURS: Monday–Friday, breakfast 6:00–10:30 a.m.; lunch 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner 5:00–10:00 p.m.; bar menu until 1:00 a.m.; happy-hour grazing menu 3:00–7:00 p.m. Brunch Saturday–Sunday, 7:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.
PRICES: Dinner starters, $7–$12; entrées, $12–$34; desserts, $6–$8; happy-hour grazes, $6 and $10.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: New American–global food with local ingredients. Elastic wine list stretching over many regions, tastes, prices; premium beers; creative cocktails.
PICK HITS: Fried calamari (happy-hour graze); pomme frites; mojito; margarita.
NEED TO KNOW: No reservations required. Parking $7 with validation. Youthful crowd scene during happy hours; very noisy inside until 7:01 p.m. (end of happy hour), semi-loud (canned music) afterwards. Three lacto-vegetarian grazes/starters, one entrée.

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lajollaseal Aug. 1, 2009 @ 4:48 p.m.

I have personally ate there 2x loved it. Service was great, food was great...hmmm...just sayin'. I even bought restaurant.com coupons for the place I enjoyed it so much.


Burbclaver Aug. 10, 2009 @ 8:15 a.m.

Don't know how everyone managed to escape by 7:01. This place has the slowest elevator in town apart from the one in Horton Plaza.


SDaniels Aug. 10, 2009 @ 3:52 p.m.

"(Lynne and I both favor Italian olive oil–packed canned tuna in our homemade niçoises.)"

Naomi, can you share what imported brands you prefer? Willing to share your nicoise recipe? :)


witchdoctorwithdogma Aug. 16, 2009 @ 9:45 p.m.




Make boys not outgrow boyhood because of their childhood inclinations protect their masculine identities.

Feed them science based on dogma despite mythology's typical separation for the real world.

Equate miscellaneous forms of non-conformity, difference, or association with a political underdog with the demonized, such as liberals with communists, opponents with the religious right with gays (making straights afraid of being wrongly ferreted out in itself serves the dumbing down process.)

ET VOILA! ET QUE VOTRE RECETTE DE LA CORRUPTION ET DE PUISSANCE. SA TRÈS LE VIEIL. (and there you have it: a recipe for corruption & power)

Limitations of men are the initial consequence of making straight guys afraid of being wrongly ferreted out as gay.

The holocaust was indeed preceded by scapegoating of immigrants, but prior to that of gays.

That is the original inquisition.

The purpose is to demonize a class so as to associate political foes with that class (liberals as communists.) So the inquisition against gays is to make straight guys afraid of being wrongly ferreted out as gay.

I argue as to the science that this CAUSED THE PROPAGATION OF GAYS. So it is the most masculine insecure, the homicidal religious paranoids, who murder gays, who almost universally turn out being conflicted gays themselves, and/or, they run to where the scapegoaters congregate.

In San Diego, attacked Australian tourist John Schneider was mistaken for being gay, the attackers ran to Lou Dobbs / Sarah Palin country (only saying from whence they emanate–I do not know the nature of their psyches or their intentions) in Idaho (I don’t know if the attackers were gay / sorry Idahoans: I’m sure the overwhelming percentage of you are decent, kind, compassionate, loving people who only want happy families with well educated children.)

And those of you who understood already that attacking gays might be aimed at increasing population by making straights afraid of being wrongly ferreted out as gay though that was all that was about.

It all enabled ancient despots to rumble.



David Dodd Aug. 16, 2009 @ 10:29 p.m.

What's not to understand, russl?

First, make boys not outgrow boyhood because of their childhood inclinations protect their masculine identities by feeding them science based on dogma despite mythology's typical separation for the real world.

Second, you have to equate miscellaneous forms of non-conformity, difference, or association with a political underdog with the demonized.

The result? Enabling ancient despots to rumble.

Damn, he practically spelled it right out for you!


SDaniels Aug. 16, 2009 @ 11:04 p.m.

Yeah, just like s/he said!



antigeekess Aug. 16, 2009 @ 11:04 p.m.

Heehee, Gringo. :)

Gosh, these blogs would be a lot less interesting without little things like paranoid psychosis and obvious schizophrenia, wouldn't they?


David Dodd Aug. 16, 2009 @ 11:22 p.m.

Anti & SD: Especially in a food critic blog. Some people think that gravity and the moon are responsible for the tides, but it is probably more THIS than anything else. This, and that guy who goes to AM-PM and purchases thirteen dollars worth of Slim-Jims, nachos, and Gatorade, and then puts it all on a credit card.


antigeekess Aug. 16, 2009 @ 11:38 p.m.

"This, and that guy who goes to AM-PM and purchases thirteen dollars worth of Slim-Jims, nachos, and Gatorade, and then puts it all on a credit card."

Hey, I'm that guy!

Mmmmmm, Slim Jims...

How do you say "Slim Jims" in French, Daniels?


antigeekess Aug. 17, 2009 @ 12:35 a.m.

These would be fun in either French or Spanish:

There are more. One of the guys involved in the creaation of the ads has them up. I've never seen these before.

Let's see...what other kind of crap food can we talk about on this restaurant blog?

And more importantly, how would the chef at the Glass Door ruin a Slim Jim?


SDaniels Aug. 17, 2009 @ 12:43 a.m.

I like the way the guy is chomping on a Slim Jim just before the porn nurse gives him Diprivan.

Technically, a Slim Jim is already ruined. Ingredients seem very similar to cat and dog food, minus the added taurine:

beef, mechanically separated chicken [wtf], water, salt, corn syrup, flavorings, dextrose, paprika, hydrolyzed corn gluten, soy and wheat gluten proteins, sodium nitrite, lactic acid starter culture


antigeekess Aug. 17, 2009 @ 12:54 a.m.

"beef, mechanically separated chicken [wtf], water, salt, corn syrup, flavorings, dextrose, paprika, hydrolyzed corn gluten, soy and wheat gluten proteins, sodium nitrite, lactic acid starter culture"

MmmmmMMM!!! Bet it still tastes better than most of the stuff mentioned in this review.



SDaniels Aug. 17, 2009 @ 1:03 a.m.

Not much of a choice! I guess I'd go for the one-shrimp rolls if I had to make that choice. Slim Jims contain cow, so that's verboten. I wonder how they'd taste without the cow and chicken.


SDaniels Aug. 17, 2009 @ 1:11 a.m.

Yeah, they could make them with Mexican flavoring, and call them "Yo Soy Jims."

Any enthusiastic investors out there for my new product?


antigeekess Aug. 17, 2009 @ 1:17 a.m.

"Yo Soy Jims." Good one, Daniels.

Jalapeno, Chipotle, and Habanero flavors.



Josh Board Aug. 17, 2009 @ 1:17 a.m.

Hey...Slim Jim talk. If there was more of this in the food section, I'd be posting in here.

I hate the really, really spicy ones. Sometimes I'm not looking if I grab one with a soda, and it burns the hell out of my mouth.

I also hate the times you get one that is really hard to open. You're driving away, trying to bite the end off, and it's a slippery mess that I try so hard to work on, it probably looks like I'm some starving Ethopian that hasn't had food in days.


Russ Lewis Aug. 17, 2009 @ 12:18 p.m.

Soy Jims? They probably got 'em right now at Whole Foods.


Fred Williams Aug. 17, 2009 @ 10:44 p.m.

Slim Jim Ramen Recipe

Ingredients: 1 Package Beef Flavor Ramen Noodles (any brand), 1 Slim Jim (spicy or regular), Water.


  1. Boil two cups of water in a pan or pot, and mix in the ramen noodles. Crumble noodles if necessary to fit into pan or pot.

Note: If you have no pan or pot, you may use a plastic bowl and a microwave to boil the noodles. If you have no microwave, wait for a sunny day and fill your plastic bowl and the noodles with hose-water or beer. Put the bowl in the sun for at least one hour, or until the noodles are soft.

  1. Cut Slim Jim into small pieces. Add to pot or pan. Stir.

Note: If you have no knife, you can chew your Slim Jim into small pieces and spit them into the pot, pan, or plastic bowl in the sun next to the shopping cart with your clothes.

  1. Remove from heat, add seasoning packet to taste.

Note: You may choose to add an egg, vegetables, or other ingredients before removing from heat.

WARNING: If you're "cooking" at 17th & Island, DO NOT add egg to your plastic bowl in the sun.

WARNING: When "cooking" in the open air, beware of San Diego Police Officers who have the discretion to arrest you for this infraction of the city code.

  1. Serve.

Note: Vegetarians may substitute Soy Jims for Slim Jims. Mexican food aficionados may opt for Yo Soy Jaime, Extra Picante.

Enjoy, everyone!


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