Just for fun, I've put together a little list of typical NYC dining experiences and matched them up with what I think are their closest counterparts here in San Diego. If you've ever had a hankering for a NYC specialty while trapped here in San Diego, or wondered "Where can I get a...?" Here, at long last, are some answers... or as close as we can get anyway. :)
1. A Lox Bagel, a la Barney Greengrass or Russ and Daughters - Ok, so no - it's not a New York bagel, but the lox bagel at Einstein's isn't half bad, really. Better yet though, is the smoked salmon plate at Bread & Cie. Slices of very good lox salmon with their special dill cream cheese spread, capers, red onion and tomato. Yes, it's served with (not on) a lemon ficelle, but you can do what I did - split it open and make your own sandwich. With their fresh squeezed orange juice, it pretty well does the trick. (I have also heard good things about Garden State Bagels in Encinitas and Carlsbad, but haven't tried them.)
2. Pizza, a la Patsy's, Grimaldi's, John's or any number of other fabulous pizzerias - I'm not even going to pretend it's comparable. Ok, maybe I am but I know it's not. Regardless, we have some pretty good pizzerias out here using wood fired or coal fired ovens. For coal fired pizza, it has to be URBN (aka Basic) located Downtown, in North Park and Vista. For wood fired, Blue Ribbon Pizzeria is doing a very good job (with lots of other good dishes to go along) and Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano isn't half bad either. If you're interested in checking out the local beer scene, Blind Lady Ale House is also a great spot for both beer and pizza - I especially like the Salciccia pizza and their charcuterie plate. When they have it, the citrus and avocado salad plate is also well worthwhile.
3. Italian groceries, a la Eataly - it could almost fit inside the espresso bar at Eataly, but our own little Mona Lisa on India Street does a pretty good job of bringing us the basics. Gioia mozzarella and burrata from LA, fresh pasta, Italian candies and cookies, wines, sauces, cheese, and even some very good prosciutto (skip the Italian and stick with the domestic.) They also make a mean sub sandwich.
8. Cannoli and Italian pastries, a la Venieros - Years ago, when we used to host weekly Sopranos-watching parties, we would occasionally pick up cannolis from Cafe Zucchero for dessert. They're the best I've found, stuffed with sweet ricotta cheese filling with mini chocolate chips and garnished with thick chunks of candied orange peel. Their other Italian pastries and cookies look great too, but I wouldn't know how they taste, because I never stray far from the cannoli.
9. Farm to table fine dining, a la Blue Hill - There is no shortage of "farm to table" restaurants in San Diego, but in the fine dining category I think one of the best examples of simple, clean, exacting cooking using local ingredients is at A.R. Valentien, at the Torrey Pines Lodge. I actually prefer to go for lunch and sit on the deck, when they offer a three course meal, Chez Panisse style, for around $30.
10. Oyster Bar Style Seafood, a la Pearl Oyster Bar or Grand Central - I hadn't been there in ages, but just last week I sat at the bar at The Fish Market downtown and shared some very good Fanny Bay Oysters and a bucket of clams with a friend. We had to wait for seats on a Wednesday night, which maybe tells us San Diego could use a few more good casual seafood houses?
11. Glam French Bistro, a la Balthazar or Pastis - If you have a hankering for a hangar steak, some cute French decor and a good glass of red wine, Farm House Cafe and Cafe Chloe will sate it. They're somewhat different in atmosphere - Farm House playing up the Country French angle, and Chloe going for more of an urban bistro vibe, but both serve French bistro style food with an upscale twist. Chloe has the distinct advantage of being open all day every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while Farm House serves dinner every night but Monday, and brunch on Sundays.
12. A great takeout burger - a la Shake Shack - It's no wonder the drive through lines are almost as long at lunch time at In n Out Burger as the walk up line is at this mini chain in NYC. For a burger that meets or beats Shake Shack's - order a cheeseburger, animal style (or a double double, if you're really hungry.) Tell them to add ketchup and mustard and go easy on the spread (otherwise, they put extra on and it overwhelms the burger.) Add chilis on the side, fries well done and a Neopolitan shake, and Shake Shack will be far in your rear view mirror.
14. A killer restaurant burger (and scene) a la Minetta Tavern - It's not quite the same scene, but it's scene nonetheless. Cucina Urbana opened last year to raving enthusiasm from local diners - so much so that it's still booked solid every night of the week. It's not without reason, their prices and food are appealing across the board, but I have a hard time going in there and ordering anything but the burger. It's a perfect, thick hunk of juicy meat, topped with (are you ready?) short rib meat and served with the usual fries and accompaniments. Decadent, yes - but just so good. A.R. Valentien (actually the Lodge Grill) and Farm House also serve fantastic basic burgers.
15. Monster cupcakes, a la Magnolia Bakery - The cupcake craze has really taken off around here in the last couple of years. I have to admit I haven't tried them all (nor have I actually had a Magnolia cupcake, while we're doing true confessions) but I have tried Babycakes in Hillcrest, and if a monster cupcake is what you're after, they've definitely got you covered. They're made with good ingredients, they're huge, moist and most of them are stuffed with filling as well as frosted. Sprinkles, the world's first cupcake only bakery, just opened in La Jolla and if I'm going to treat myself to a store bought cake - it most likely will come from there. I'm just a sucker for their design and packaging, and I think cupcakes are almost as much a treat for the eyes as the tastebuds. (I wrote a little ditty about my love for Sprinkles here.)