Posted on March 1, 2019
San Diego’s restaurant scene is growing and changing at a fast clip. In many ways, it’s completely unrecognizable from the local dining world of years past. Ranch & Coast checks in with Harold Small, Michele Parente, and Josh Kopelman, three of the region’s food experts who have been chronicling the county’s restaurants in one way or another for decades, to take the temperature and find out what’s in store for dining in San Diego in the future. Jackie Bryant | Photography by Vincent Knakal
Harold “Hal” Small
National President of the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs
What is your favorite restaurant in San Diego and why? H.S. Pamplemousse Grille. The reason is simple: a consistent level of high quality and a wide spectrum of choices. The ability to do this day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year at that level sets it apart.
Could you explain the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs and your role in it? H.S. We refer to it as the Chaîne. It is the oldest and largest food and wine organization in the world with its roots in a Guild of Goose Roasters created by the King of France in 1248. In the U.S. we have about 130 chapters and more than 6,000 members. Simply described, it promotes the enjoyment of great wine and food, camaraderie, and having a good time. And, we give scholarships to students in the culinary arts. My current role is that of National President of the Chaîne in the United States and I also serve on the International Board of Directors.
Has your work in it impacted San Diego in any way? H.S. Yes. Many of the dining venues where we have had dinner have experienced new business, sometimes a lot of it. And, for others, some menus have been enhanced with special dishes prepared for the Chaîne and then added to menus, and we have chefs and sommeliers who have advanced their careers because of participating in our competitions.
How has the fine dining scene evolved — or devolved — in San Diego? H.S. Millennials are drawn to the vibrancy and noise of a restaurant more than the quality of the food and beverage. While we have good new restaurants opening with some frequency in San Diego, too many of those providing service don’t view what they do as a profession (as it is in Europe). But our chef community is exceptional with many talented, experienced chefs helping those new to the profession. That is truly inspiring to see.
Dining, Wine + Lifestyle Reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune
Could you explain your food and wine education? M.P. Growing up in a New York Italian family, life revolved around mealtime. Sunday dinner was an hours-long, multi-course ritual that you wouldn’t dare miss. I’ve been fortunate to live in some of the best eating cities in America — New York, San Francisco, and Portland — and have lived and traveled extensively in Italy. I count my trips to France, Spain, Argentina, Vancouver, BC, Seattle, the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico City, and L.A. as part of my food education. My wine education was more formal. Since college, I took intensive classes in Portland, attended non-credentialed sessions at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, and have twice been awarded scholarships to the Napa Valley Vintners Wine Writers Symposium.
What is your favorite thing about eating and drinking in San Diego? M.P. Chefs around the country are in awe of the agricultural bounty we have here but our chefs know what they have at their disposal and they never take it for granted. Sometimes a grilled carrot dish is the best thing I’ll have at a restaurant. Is it because the other food wasn’t great? No, it’s because our produce is so amazing that it sears the taste memory. Another great thing? We’re only 90 minutes away from one of the most magical food and wine centers on the planet, the Valle de Guadalupe.
What’s next for San Diego’s restaurant scene? M.P. San Diego is on the verge of going from America’s dining third tier to its second. I really believe 2019 is the year that our restaurant scene will come into its own. The caliber of homegrown chefs has never been higher, and chefs from elsewhere are noticing and coming here. Customers are finally becoming more demanding and places like Fort Oak, Jeune et Jolie, and the upcoming Il Dandy, Morning Glory, and project by Travis Swikard are raising the bar to new heights.
Publisher, DiningOut San Diego
Could you explain to readers what DiningOutSD is and your role in it? How has it grown over the years? J.K. We publish restaurant guides in eight cities around the U.S. including Denver, Chicago, Miami, and Atlanta. I founded the magazine here as the fourth city in the DiningOut family. My role is to spotlight all the amazing talent here in San Diego, Baja, and Southern California through the magazine and our social media.
What are your favorite restaurants in San Diego? J.K. I love chef Brad Wise at the new Fort Oak in Mission Hills, Umami North City in San Marcos, and the continued inspired work of Consortium Holdings chef Jason McLeod.
Can you sum up San Diego’s restaurant scene in just a few sentences? J.K. The food scene here has come so far in a short time. The breadth of different ethnic offerings has expanded and though we will never be Chicago or San Francisco, we have many charms that those places will never enjoy. Operations like Chino Farms, Cyclops Farm, and Fresh Origins make S.D. famous in the world of produce. Many world-renowned restaurants around the U.S. rely on San Diego produce to help their food stand out.
What’s next for DiningOutSD? J.K. We are excited about our Battle of the Chef Bands 9 hosted by our friends at the Belly Up on April 29. Chefs rocking out for charity and of course some amazing food, too. We are also fired up about bringing back Chef Showdown in October. Both events will benefit the Center for Community Solutions, the oldest domestic violence/rape crisis center in San Diego. DiningOutSD will continue to shine a spotlight on our favorite chefs, wineries, breweries, and distillers as the “Capital of Craft” continues to grow.