Cheese-steak sandwich — “I like the idea of balsamic onions and mushrooms.”
4934 Voltaire Street, San Diego
Who can resist eavesdropping?
Debbie, the owner of an O.B. eatery named Tower Two; Elsa, the interior designer; Melalee, the kindergarten teacher; and Brenda, who, along with her husband Jong, owns this joint we’re all in — O’Bistro, it’s called — are yakking it up and laughing here at the bar, having a good time as only women can. Even though half the stuff they’re talking about is skin cancer and earaches.
“My brother,” says Elsa. “Garlic in the ear. Cured his infection.”
“Oh, yes,” says Debbie. “I had an earache. I soaked a clove of garlic in olive oil, put it in my ear, and the pain went away. I swear!”
Brenda is feeding them wine and snacks, like a gorgonzola flatbread pizza with roasted garlic and rosemary ($9.50). Taking pity on the lone, eavesdropping male, they slide me across a little slice. I’m sitting up at the bar, too, leaning on a black marble counter Elsa says is called “Ice Stone” — it’s a brand of recycled glass.
Came in here to fill ye olde belly before I head back to the Real World. ’Cause, this is O.B., meaning, “Otherworldly, Beautiful.” It’s still the 1960s here. House a few doors up has a “War is Not the Answer” sign planted among its geraniums. Another says, “‘We must cultivate our garden,’ Voltaire.” Voltaire? Oh, yeah… that happens to be what we’re on: Voltaire Street.
This place called out to me because, one, its tent-like covered patio glowed in the dark, making me think of King Arthur and the Round Table; and, two, it isn’t screaming with signs. Just a take-it-or-leave-it “O’Bistro,” under a green canopy.
So, yeah, nice piece of pizza. Gorgonzola, garlic, rosemary. It’s all there and truly delicious. Deeply salty, cheesy, lightly herby, with a cracker-thin crust.
Only problem: there’s so much talk going on it’s hard to get a chew in edgewise. It’s like you’ve just walked into a club. Dark tables, chairs with flowery cushions, orangey walls, tile floor, art, a canopy stretched above the bar area, “Desafinado” playing on the sound system along with other Brazilian and French siren songs. The ladies embracing me in their conversazione — that’s cool. I feel at home.
Except for, well, the prices. Cheapest thing on the menu is O’Bistro’s house salad ($7.50). It has romaine, tomato, cucumber, carrots, red onion, and croutons. You can add grilled chicken for $3.50. There’s a veggie quesadilla (with zucchini, onions, tomato, corn, and jalapeño jack cheese) for $7.95. A bowl of clam chowder with French bread goes for $6.95.
“Our executive chef, John Mann, is famous for his chowder,” says the guy sitting to my right. Turns out he is Jong Park, co-owner and Debbie’s husband, a big, affable guy who used to own a place called Glutton’s, down by the pier. He and Debbie met, they married, they moved. Now they’re doing fine here. “Our sales were up 30 percent last year,” Debbie says.
I’d like to go the chowder way, but I also feel like sinking my teeth into something.
I could have a pizza, but they cost ten bucks and up (though the gorgonzola flatbread is $9.50). As for the main evening dishes — fuggedaboudit. Not that I wouldn’t kill for pecan-crusted rainbow trout with a mustard cream sauce ($19.95; $16.95 for a half-order). Or St. Louis–style pork ribs ($21.95/$15.95). Cheapest large plate is the lentil, chickpea, and vegetable vegan stew over basmati rice for $12.95. You can add chicken for $3.50 or grilled steak for, uh, $12 more.
The sandwiches and tacos are all around ten bucks, too. The bistro burger’s $10.95. Carnitas tacos are the cheapest at $9.95. Mahi mahi tacos are $10.50. Sandwiches are mostly $10.95: Baja chicken, pressed Cuban, pulled pork. My eye stops at the O’Bistro cheese-steak sandwich, partly because it’s got their name on it, but also because I like the idea of balsamic onions and mushrooms.
They know Philly purists will hunt them down and call them out, so the sandwich is named O’Bistro for its “thin-sliced sirloin, Fontina cheese, balsamic onions, and mushrooms, served mild or spicy.” I decide to have that and order it spicy, served in a torta roll. Not the cheapest ($10.95), but you also get oven-roasted red potatoes, potato salad, a salad or a cup of soup. I ask for the roasted potatoes.
I’m not disappointed. Two huge halves of torta bread with way-big chunks of that thin-sliced meat inside. The meat is lush, but the balsamic onions give it a kick. That Fontina cheese is more tart than the usual oh-so-mild stuff. The potatoes have a nice herby taste.
I could blame it on the talkfest going on, but I only get through the first half of this meal. Man, it fills you up. So, if you calculate a second eats at home, this becomes a much better proposition.
I’m finding it hard to leave. These guys…well, guess that’s just O.B. It’s only when I’m sitting on the 35 bus — last of the night — that I get the Irish-sounding name: O’Bistro. O.B. Bistro. Of course! I’ve got to make more money. Carla would so dig this place. She’d love the women. Me and Jong and the other guys could sit and eavesdrop for hours. Might learn a thing or two. About us. ■
The Place: O’Bistro Café, 4934 Voltaire Street, Ocean Beach, 619-223-2202
Type of Food: American
Prices: Ham and herb cream-cheese omelet, $9.95; O’Bistro cheese-steak sandwich, $10.95; chicken taco salad, $11.50; baked-brie starter with fresh fruit and toasted almonds, $9.95; BBQ chicken quesadilla, $8.95; mini-slab of ribs, $7.50; pressed Cuban sandwich, $10.95; ahi burger, $11.95; California sushi roll, $8.95; lobster bisque bowl, $8.95
Hours: 9:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., daily; till midnight, Friday–Saturday
Buses: 35, 923
Nearest Bus Stop: Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Muir Avenue