Postcard From Tom: San Diego

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

No one would mistake San Diego for Los Angeles, at least not from a restaurant perspective. Yet prompted in part by redevelopment in the once-seedy Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego's dining scene is picking up. Here are some highlights:

CONFIDENTIAL (901 Fourth Ave., San Diego, 619-696-8888)

It morphs into a club at night, which means crowds and noise. Go early for dinner, though, and the reward is some serious food, mostly hot and cold tapas. Sweetbreads with candied quince, ginger-spiked cashews, seafood tempura, Coke-glazed pork ribs and mussels in red curry reflect a worldly vision in the kitchen. Fun fact: Among the investors in this two-level party is reality TV's Andrew Firestone from "The Bachelor." (Maybe that explains all the cute young things in the dining room.) Small plates $4-$17.

JSIX (616 J St., San Diego, 619-531-8744)

Named for its intersection in the Gaslamp Quarter, Jsix attracts diners with an exhibition kitchen, endless ceiling, rich palette and, amusingly, a wall decorated with nothing but fezzes. The food and wine help fuel the friendly reception. Dungeness crab salad and cioppino tap into California's coastal largesse, while ricotta mashed potatoes (with wine-braised beef) and a semolina souffle (with duck breast) reveal a chef with a bit of flair. Dinner entrees $16-$32.

ZENBU LOUNGE (7660 Fay Ave., La Jolla, 858-454-4540)

You want fresh? The discerning owner of this intimate lounge and sushi bar has his own team of fishermen to bring in whatever looks best, and some of their haul (lobster, sea urchin) is even displayed live, behind the counter. Pristine seafood is but one lure. From the bar flow fabulous cocktails; low couches and cool tunes encourage lingering. The hitch? There's room for fewer than 50, and the hot spot sizzles Thursday-Saturday only. Sushi rolls $12-$17.

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