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Five years ago, I was noticing that a lot of menus in food-forward cities were starting to read very differently from those in San Diego. While in S.D. a dish might be described as "oven-roasted, pancetta-wrapped quail with crimini-pinenut cous cous stuffing, truffled asparagus, and balsamic reduction," in NYC or L.A. it would be described as "quail, pancetta, asparagus, balsamic."

I wondered how folks could be expected to make a decision on what to order with only the base ingredients being called out, especially at a time when there were more culinary techniques being employed than at any other time in history.

This menu trend has reached San Diego. The first place I saw it in full force was the now-closed Red Velvet Wine Bar, where chef Luke Johnson emulated the ways of mentor Grant Achatz of ChiTown’s much-celebrated Alinea and NEXT. A slightly more-informative version of this style is in place at The Grand Del Mar’s Addison and a handful of other restaurants.

The most recent I came across is 1500 Ocean at the Hotel del Coronado. There you’ll see dishes such as "grouper, sea urchin, sorrel, carrot." The dish is actually a rectangular strip of nicely seared grouper with carrots served two ways — smoked and roasted — and a pitch-black sauce made from uni and several secret ingredients.

Even if you’re a New Yawker claiming cutting-edge culinary supremacy over the rest of the country, there’s only so much you can gather from four nouns on a page. No amount of culinary enlightenment will allow you to put forth more than a best guess as to what a dish will look like. It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t have a place in San Diego, where we’re still finding our way where cuisine is concerned.

Buying something without knowing all about it is ill-advised, and no matter how nice a waiter or waitress is, nobody enjoys having to play 20 questions when all the explaining should be on the menu. Tell me how my carrots are cooked (or if they’re cooked at all), and don’t let me pass up something as delicious as “ham hock, turnip, nasturtium, mustard” simply because it’s difficult to imagine.

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Just what you were picturing in your head with that group dish, right?

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Lisa Sullivan Hamann: The more information on a menu, the better!

Aug. 26, 2011

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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