My crostini Florentina
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Primavera Ristorante

932 Orange Avenue, Coronado

Condoleezza Rice was here. Bigwigs of the PGA eat here. That's the kind of place it is. Only reason I'm here is their happy hour. And that's not in the luxe back room. It's at the bar, which is pretty luxe in its own right.

Primavera just has that certain thing. You see Bentleys pulling up, snazzy little Maseratis. Cachet, they call it, right?

Neon sign outside

But...happy hour. Why not? Besides, they might have some cheap little salad deal going. A sign promises happy hour food and drink specials between five and seven, so hey.

Sit up to the bar. People ordering drinks like "raspberry lemon drop," and "Ketel up." Everything is clubby brown, dark wood, frosted glass. Notice giant wooden acorns, looks like, at either end of the backboard.


"Actually," says the barman, "they're pineapples. Pineapples have been the symbol of hospitality in the Americas ever since Christopher Columbus discovered them and took them back to Spain."

Who knew? And they have a sculpture of an old, wise-looking guy. "Columbus?" I ask. "Probably an ancient Greek," the barkeep — Brandon — says. "The owner's Greek. He opened here in 1989."

Caesar salad

Brandon hands me the happy hour menu. "And three dollars off all drinks," he says.

He goes away and brings back a woven brown table mat, knives, forks, glass of water, white linen napkin.

Hmm. Checking the HH menu. Not that cheap. Maybe the cheapest is macaroni and cheese, $8. Can you believe, mac and cheese, the ultimate down-home comfort food is on the menus of the rich and famous?

Steamed clams

There are other $8 deals: zucchini sticks, and Caprese salad (tomato slices, mozzarella cheese slices, red onion, herbs). Then you start climbing. Italian sausage and peppers ($11), crostini bagna cauda (eggplant, goat cheese, tomatoes, $11), bacon-wrapped scallops ($14), steamed clams ($14)...

"Well, steamed clams are normally $22," says Brandon. "So it's quite a drop."

Prosciutto flatbread

The couple next door, Billie and Stephen, are having a flatbread (with prosciutto ham, $12), a Caesar salad (not on the happy hour menu but still only $8, unless you want to upgrade and add grilled chicken, shrimp or blackened salmon, then it's $16), and the steamed clams. Quite a meal.

"We're here all the time. They know our drinks. We love it," Billie says.

Me, I end up with the Caprese, a glass of white wine — sauvignon blanc — from New Zealand ($6), and then, madness, but I can't resist the call of the crostini. Crostini Florentina, "Toast points smothered in goat cheese and topped with filet mignon, spinach, and porcini mushrooms." Costs $12.

Caprese salad

Ulp. All in all, that's $26 down the hole.

Still, on the upside, the crostini are just deelish. Filet mignon melts in da mouth, goat gives it oomph, spinach is beautifully sautéed, likewise the 'shrooms, and the four crostini together are pretty filling. White wine helps heaps, too.

The caprese, well, it's fine, and you get two crunchy buns of bread to fill them out. But really, caprese salad is one of those permanent disappointments for me. Slice of tomato, the blandness of mozzarella, some fault for choosing it. Like the Congressman said, second kick of the mule teaches you nothing.

So yes, no way round it. Even when it's cheap this place is expensive. But bottom line, it's very cool, warm, intimate. People are nice, and through where they are paying the full monty, it really does look totally luxurious. Sigh.

But at least here at the bar you've got eye-line to the front door. Who knows? Condi Rice might decide to come back tonight.

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Ian Pike Jan. 13, 2014 @ 6:46 p.m.

It's a bummer we get served such crummy tomatoes most of the time. Stupid hybrid vegetables bred for color over taste, looking all delicious and then failing to deliver a kick-ass caprese salad.

At this point in my life, unless it's some big, funky looking slice of heirloom tomato, I just say "no thanks" to fresh toms.



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