Do you hear that sound?
Like popcorn popping?
It's the sound of new restaurants opening in San Diego lately!
This week I checked out no fewer than three, the new Jade Theater Asian restaurant downtown; the not quite so new bar and burger joint Neighborhood - also downtown, and Lucha Libre, a new taco shop at the foot of Washington, where Valentine's used to be.
Jade Theater was kind enough to invite me to their grand opening party, and it looked like they also invited lots of other people who work in the nearby offices. Merrill Lynch is closeby, and I spotted a lot of professional-types. They were all in suits, and they all seemed to know each other.
The restaurant had a buffet set up upstairs, offering Asian-fusion standards including sesame noodles, edamame, sate skewers, and a crab kimchee dish that was sweet, sour and crunchy. They were passing some little cones of ahi tartare and deep fried veggie stuffed mushrooms filled with ahi and crab. For beverages, they served shots of their "mango sake" - mango juice combined with sake - champagne and cocktails.
What they offered was tasty, but I was really hoping to get a little more in-depth preview of what the menu offers. It might have been nice if they had offered some of their korean beef ribs or lamb chops, or even some sushi. Except that it doesn't appear the restaurant actually has a sushi bar - which seems a little odd to me, since Jade Theater's Chef, James Montejano, used to be Executive Chef at Japengo, and sushi is such a big element of Japengo's success.
I was also little surprised by the decor. Given the name and the theme of their website I expected something more dramatic and traditional - more along the lines of an upscale Red Pearl Kitchen - more Buddha Lounge-ish. Instead, the modern interior is very spare and office-like, with gray carpet, white walls and glass everywhere.
The prices also seem a bit ambitious. While many new restaurants in town are keeping entrees under $20, Jade Theater offers only one entree below $30. - a Pho made with Wagyu beef for $26 - rather impertinently named "What the Pho?" All the rest are in the thirties, topping out with the Black Bean Ribeye at $39. The small plates section of the menu, called "Tease," lists edamame and crudite (which many restaurants offer without charge) for $4.00, and a few other items including a yellowfin sashimi, seared albacore and duck go for $7. - $9. The "Taste," or starter section prices range from $10. for soup to $25. for a "lobster trio." Desserts are $9.
Personally, given the fine dining prices, I think Jade Theater should consider offering diners something a little more original or creative than what's on the current menu. (I'd link to it, but there are no prices listed - it's under "Dine" on the homepage.) Much of it sounds an awful lot like the menus Roppongi and Japengo have been offering for years: Spicy Fried Calamari with Sweet Chili Sauce, Tandoori Lamb Chops, Seared Albacore, Tuna Tartare, Lemongrass Scallops, Char Sui Duck, Curry Chicken, etc. While I like that type of food, and it may very well be good - I don't particularly want to pay thirty dollars plus for a plate of it. I think they might have a tough time rustling up enough people who do to make a go of it - especially given their somewhat out of the way location at 7th and C. I wish them the best of luck though. If you're in the neighborhood, I'd recommend stopping by for a drink and a bite of something to check it out, if not a full meal.
a quick note about transparency - though I was invited to this event and I attended at no charge, I was not treated differently from any of the other attendees or customers. I have not been asked to write anything about the restaurant nor did I agree to - everything I have said is my honest opinion, which is all you'll ever get. That I promise you.
coming up next, Neighborhood...
701 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101
UPDATE - Jade Theater has closed
Have you eaten there, or were you at the party too? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought!