This evening my boss treated some of us to dinner at Tapenade (love you, Kathy!) on Fay Avenue in La Jolla. It proved to be an incredible evening. The snappy, technically correct, brilliantly efficient team service and starched white linens belie a welcoming, cozy atmosphere. We started off with the 2003 Mi Sueno Napa Valley Syrah. We each enjoyed a first course from the Fall seasonal menu: two of us ordered the Gravlax. This is not the typical presentation; the salmon is tinted a dark maroon by curing in beet juice; the slices are arranged to form a perfect square within an exquisitely painted plate and garnished with a red and gold beet salad. The Gnocchi was presented alongside morel mushrooms and draped with Reggiano Parmesan. The earthy, woodsy flavor was incredible. I sampled the Mushroom Ravioli, also garnished with Reggiano and gently wading in a port reduction sauce that was lightened by whipping to a froth. Yet these selections only served to set the stage for the entrees. Like a well-choreographed act, the staff whisked away the first course, crumbed the table and staged our silver. We accompanied the entrees with a bottle of 2006 Russian River Emeritus Pinot Noir. Two of us dined on the wild Seabass over a compote of Fall root vegetables, onion, orange sections and squash in a savory citrus sauce. The fish was cooked perfectly, and beads of moisture clung to the inside of the flakes when separated. Another in our party chose the veal cheeks slowly braised and presented alongside a polenta cake and carrots, broccoli and beans. As I was the only man among three women, we shared tastes of all the entrees. I have come to learn this is how things are done (guys, just go with it). THIS ONE TAKES THE CAKE. YOU OWE IT TO YOURSELF TO TASTE THIS DISH ONCE BEFORE YOU DIE! To describe the texture of the veal as delicate is to do it an injustice. The fourth guest chose the roasted duck, slices of breast and leg meat in a port / mission fig sauce and a chard canneloni. This proved to be a masterful combination of sensations, the sweet and the savory, the tender and the crisp. For dessert we sampled the creme brulee trio, (vanilla, chocolate and coffee) cheese sampler with artisan walnut bread (garnished with preserves and Champagne grapes) and the most incredible apple tart on earth. The menu pricing averaged in the $30 range, and while an evening at Tapenade might not be a nightly excursion for many of us, I contend that if you take into consideration the flavor, presentation and service it can be considered value for the price. We clung to the stems of our port glasses (1985 Dow's) as the restaurant closed around us. We strolled into the gathering cool of the evening and parted better friends than when we entered. Treat yourself to an evening at Tapenade to commemorate a milestone or to celebrate just being alive soon.
— October 31, 2008 12:54 a.m.

Pampas Argentine Grill

What a rare find, right in the heart of Kearny Mesa. We did a light sampling of the menu this past Saturday night. My friend and I both loved the calamari appetizer, with its frizzled capers which was served with the predictable but slightly off-center marinara and an unusual tartar sauce. We dined on the Costillas con Chimichurri (short ribs with oil / garlic sauce) and the Vacio (organic prime beef loin, seasoned and simply grilled). Both meat temps (med. rare) were perfect and quickly served alongside a succulent fresh vegetable garnish. The garlic mashed potatoes were all they promised to be, and very moist. My friend (a fry freak)ordered these rather than trying the oft-touted Argentine fries, as he was put off by the merchandising from our server who described them as, "topped with a white sauce". I bit, and was served gloriously crisp yet entirely pedestrian shoestring fries generously garnished with minced parsley and raw garlic which was far too strong for this application (as opposed to the Chimichurri sauce perfectly paired with the baguette set before us for bread service). We were treated to live jazz (a wonderful presentation of standards with a distinctly Latin flavor) and the room gradually filled with regulars, greeted by the humbly courteous staff. Portions and quality were well in line with menu pricing, and we left very satisfied. Do not deny yourself the opportunity to sample the food, service and charm of Pampas -- and soon.
— October 21, 2008 9:53 p.m.