San Diego Traveler Report

After a week away here are a few snippets on the trip, including restaurant and hotel notes. Will catch up on wine reviews over the next day or so.

Red Pearl Restaurant (Gaslamp)
In the middle of the Gaslamp district this Asian fusion restaurant stands out from the steak and seafood joints that accompany almost every corner of downtown. Fusion is not for everyone and if you enjoy spicy twists then this may be the restaurant for you. Neither touristy nor pretentious for that matter, the Red Pearl has a deep selection of house cocktails and spirits. The menu itself is split into small and large, both of which are easy to share.

The Good: The mango fried rice is a pleasant surprise with sweet undertones. The house cocktails are full of flavor, even if they are not on the ‘strong’ side. The chili prawns may be some of the best spicy/sweet prawns I have the world over. Service was the perfect balance of helpful without being over bearing.

The So-so: The dumplings (pot stickers) were the lowlight, but edible none the less. Too meaty and on the light side of flavor, steer clear as the rest of the menu is on the solid side.

Cowboy Star Restaurant & Butcher Shop (Gaslamp)
This restaurant is on the higher end of the scale for downtown San Diego. Do not let the western motif fool you; this is a high end steak house that takes pride in all aspects of the dining experience. Immaculate tables compliment the detailed staff. The menu is broad enough to not corner you into steak, but make no bones about it, this is a steakhouse.

The food was excellent; the wine selection was diverse and allowed for both small and big budget selections. Desert appeared to be delicious, but as normal I prefer my calories to be in the form of red wine. Overall this restaurant will impress your clients, out of town guests or the foodie friend who is willing to go mainstream with a ‘steak house’.

Top of the Hyatt (Gaslamp)
A drink stop only (which is really how the Hyatt markets this top of the sky lounge) at one of the best views of San Diego Bay/Harbour, this stop features overstated wood and trim.

The Top of the Hyatt seems to be torn between hip, cool lounge and old-man parlour motif. If you are looking for a good view and standard cocktails, this is a must, the US Navy ships, helicopters and every day run of the mill million dollar yachts dot the skyline as you sip your drink. Matching the wealthy harbor equipment are the prices, which go hand in hand with the elevation. If you are not use to Manhattan or Toronto cocktail prices, do not take the ride up to the ‘top’ of the Manchester Hyatt as your blood pressure may also rise to the occasion.

All that said, the view more than compensates for the prices and like most major metropolises around the world, it is always worthwhile climbing to the top to have a good view of the sprawl beneath.

Influx Café (Little Italy)
We decided to not go to my regular Caffe Italia on India St. in Little Italy and to try out this ‘newish’ java shop. Cafés were excellent, staff has hip and trendy (maybe a tad ironic), the wifi was free and the oatmeal very good. Worth the morning stroll to sit in the sun and sip your caffeine fix on a leisurely morning.

Buon Appetito (Little Italy)
I took a group of 8 to this Little Italy mainstay. As per normal the food was excellent, the staff helpful and knowledgeable and the wine selection outstanding. If you are looking for a good classic Italian meal while out and about in San Diego, you cannot go wrong with Buon Appetito, not to mention the pricing is fair if not an almost bargain for the quality.

Phil’s BBQ (I-5 & I-8)
I took a group of 7 to Phil’s to engross ourselves in BBQ. The tip steak sandwich was good, and the baby back ribs flawless, from the tenderness, the fall off the bone all the way to the sauce. Our service was even excellent with a very helpful staff member making sure we had all we needed.

This is a BBQ house so do not expect fancy, quiet or gourmet. You are coming here to get dirty and filled full of smoky goodness. Just a good stop all around.

El Pescador Fish Market (La Jolla)
We got this idea for lunch from a top ten list of San Diego. Helpful staff did not make up for the dry fish tacos. While the chowder was quite tasty we will have to come back to try some sandwiches before we write this off our list of future visits. From the crowds we must have just had an off day.

Burger and Beers (El Centro, CA)
Mediocre food was served by a distracted waitress, not on my recommend list unless you must have a hard to find beer (like the Cooper’s Pale Ale I had to have). This is my second and last visit to the restaurant as the food quality is not in line with the pricing.

Manchester Grand Hyatt
We spent seven nights here, our second visit in the past 3 years. Where to start… First off this was for a small conference I organized, bringing team members from as far away as Cobar Australia. The event/catering/conference staff was excellent in their detail and planning. All the days we had exactly what we agree upon and needed. Instead of going into paragraph by paragraph of the minute details, let’s look at the good and the bad:

The Good:
– Perfect location for Gaslamp & the San Diego Convention Center
– Catering team are on the ball and look after you well (Sara Lacro)
– The Diamond/Platinum and Bell desk staff were excellent; accommodating and helpful.

The Mediocre:
– Rooms are not up to Grand Hyatt status. Good beds and average size but very small and below average quality bathrooms. Overall, a below average room when comparing it to Hyatts in Hong Kong, Seoul or even Vancouver. If this was just a Hyatt than I would not be mentioning it.
– Concierge staff was hit or miss on the basics, like making reservations. I never expect miracles, but a decent suggestion and the ability to book a reservation is par for the course the world over, it was challenging here.
– With such a large pool area, the pool itself is actually quite small, and with 700+ rooms can be over-crowded easily.

The Bad:
– Of the 30+ hotels I have stayed in this year this was the worst housekeeping service by far. From failing to refill basics to throwing hotel bathrobes onto our luggage it was well below average.
– Cost for quality, aka value.
– Hyatt Regency Room is the smallest I can remember on record, and with a full hotel for 2 of the 7 nights, it was full to capacity and beyond on the two visits. To have an executive lounge as small as that, for a hotel with two 30+ story towers of rooms, is atrocious.

Would I stay here again? It would depend on the rate for the room, but for $200+ I would not, for $150 I would.

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The Wine Guy, He's Canadian, they call him CanadianWineGuy
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