As we make the turn on to 5th Ave., the hub of the historical Gaslamp District, it’s clear we’re not in Kansas City anymore. With a Pacific Ocean breeze wafting up from the bay at our backs, we’re going SoCal. In San Diego, while meat, too, is on the menu, the main attraction here is the farm-to-table freshness of locally grown, organic fruits, vegetables and, of course, the bounty of the sea.
Just a couple of dozen years ago, you’d avoid downtown, where 5th is located, like, well, the plague. Downtrodden and run down, the area needed a champion. And they found her. Ingrid Croce, the widow of singer Jim, would move here in the early ’70s with their son, shortly before Jim’s tragic death, and, a decade later, take up the cause. She bought a dilapidated Victorian building, and opened Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar as a tribute to Jim and her Jewish and Jim’s Italian roots, fusing the best from both families’ kitchens, and adding the California-cool touch. There was suddenly a delicious reason to go back downtown. Two decades later, 5th Avenue is a hotspot, for the business types during the week, and the younger set on the weekends; the avenue now lined with boutiques and bistros.
Across the Coronado Bridge, and past the red spires of the storied Hotel del Coronado, where Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis ensured we all liked it hot, there’s a strip of causeway that leads us to the Coronado Cays, where The Gondola Company offers us a slice of Venice, right in the good old US of A. As the sun sets, and the champagne and strawberries beckon, we are gondoliered in calm waters, admiring the million-dollar mansions and the San Diego skyline.
Heading up the hill to have a late supper at the nearby Mistral, in the Loews Coronado Bay Hotel, we discover Master French Chef Marc Ehrler’s “responsibly-grown” ingredients ethos, and enjoy his green approach, marveling at the bold flavours from the Mediterranean that meld with homegrown SoCal on the plate.
History, romance and wonderfully fresh food? California, here we come.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Publisher/Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.