Cafe Reviews

WHOLLY CAL!

Page 2 of 3

Sorry, Harv.
Located in an unpretentious bungalow, Lamont Street Grill is a cog in a thriving neighborhood, not part of the beach scene. It's a comfortable, snug, almost romantic place. On the night we visited, everyone except Harvey and me was paired off with an obviously significant other.

The restaurant is divided into three small rooms, and a patio equipped with a roaring fireplace for frigid summer nights. Our room had a long banquette flanked by mirrors, an ornamental quilt suspended from the wall and a nice view of the fire.

Our first appetizer, almond fried shrimp with Oriental sauce, made me wonder about Harvey's culinary judgment. It was just four medium-size shrimp--yes, they were coated with almonds--in a mayonnaise dressing. But that was the only letdown. The flavors of Greece and Italy melded happily in our other appetizer, grape leaves stuffed with pepperoni, tomatoes and olives draped with melted mozzarella cheese. Meals come with soup or salad, and Lamont Street Grill does neither in a perfunctory way. The cream of potato was a thick, creamy, stick-to-your-ribs winner. The salad had mushrooms, tomato, walnuts and crumbled blue cheese resting on butter lettuce.

But no one comes here for appetizers, soup or salad--the draw is fresh seafood.
Harvey knew what he was doing when he ordered the sea bass wrapped in a grape leaf. It was drenched in garlic, diced tomatoes, olives and feta cheese. The mild, meaty sea bass was the perfect vehicle for the fragrant toppings. The portion was large enough to make Harvey work at polishing it off. My Alaskan halibut, crusted with Dijon-tinged butter, arrived juicy and just beyond underdone on a bed of pasta. Even my trained belly could barely dispose of this ample serving.

Don't hold off finishing your fish to accommodate dessert. Only one is worth ordering, and thankfully it's not too filling. The homemade crepes come three to an order, and are stuffed with intense Kahla-soaked cream cheese and slathered with an evilly sweet caramel sauce.

Cheer up, Harv. The Zonies will be gone by September.

For all its growing cosmopolitanism, San Diego is still the galactic capital of surf and turf. Saska's, a beachfront landmark since 1951, not only puts out prime steaks and fresh seafood, but also stays open til 3 a.m. It's a good place to go after a movie or show for a solid meal with no surprises.

No trendoids here, just locals, a few June tourists, college kids and beach bums. They sit in a dark, wood-lined room designed to look like a ship's cabin: storm lanterns, seascape paintings and porthole-shaped windows surrounding red-vinyl booths. Larry dropped by and informed us he was our waiter.

This night I dined with Michael, a Berkeley colleague whose tenure-track position at UC San Diego is threatened by budget cuts.

Over his huge bowl of fresh, steamed clams and my shrimp stuffed with crab and Jack cheese, we talked of old subjects. We agreed that California's corporations don't pay their fair share of taxes, spurring the overtaxed middle-class flight out of state and into the welcoming arms of Arizona economic-development officials. We agreed that the capitalist drive for profits is polarizing the country along the have and have-not lines of a Third World banana republic. We agreed on the shortage of attractive, red-haired radical feminists.

We also agreed our appetizers were damned good. As a graduate student, Michael's meals always came from a can. Moving up to assistant professor, his eating habits have improved: He buys a better brand of canned food.

Tonight he went for the 12-ounce New York steak, and he wasn't disappointed. The well-marbled slab of prime had him oohing with delight, as did the mound of French fries that came with it. From Saska's "fresh fish list," I chose the seafood equivalent: an enormous, thick piece of moist swordfish. It came with chunks of lightly steamed broccoli, cauliflower, squash and carrots.

Shaken from this brush with healthy, nutritious cuisine, I insisted we each get a dessert. I don't know whether it was the chocolaty mud pie, the smooth lemon cheesecake or simply the delight from seeing an old friend, but the desserts went down real easy. So did a postprandial walk along the oceanfront. A full stomach and deep snoutfuls of San Diego sea air make a pretty potent combination.

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Howard Seftel