When it comes to San Diego dining institutions, few, if any, are as sacred as Mister A’s. From its penthouse perch atop the Manchester Financial Centre building, the Bankers Hill gem has served as a beacon for epicures and jetliners alike for 58 years. It has known only three owners over that lengthy span — namesake founder John Alessio (1965-2003), Bertrand Hug of Mille Fleurs fame (2002-2022), and now, its own former operations manager Ryan Thorsen, who took over the iconic restaurant last fall.
Thorsen’s love for Mister A’s motivated him to make it his own, and he’s done just that, renovating the entire 11,000-square-foot venue and its menu offerings. But in doing so, it was just as important to him to preserve the restaurant’s storied history. The result is an updated iteration of a classic packed with preserved mementos to be appreciated by patrons who care as much for Mister A’s as Thorsen does.
Framed photos, press clippings, and other memorabilia line a hallway, and the wait staff wear lapel pins marked with the letter “A,” which were forged to match rings gifted to wives within the Alessio family on the restaurant’s 20th anniversary. A lobby with black-and-white checkered floors and antique chandeliers — some of which hail from the Alessio family’s Mount Helix residence — segues to a dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows and touches of the crimson and azure hues (food and beverage menus, seat upholstery, accent carpeting), which were abundant throughout the restaurant during previous eras.
Even with refurbished sets of original white arches and the restoration and expansion of the adjoining private-dining enclave, the Blue Room, the most dramatic transformation has taken place in the bar. In addition to being refreshed and reconfigured to seat more guests, that previously sunken offshoot has been raised to provide a better sightline for taking in Balboa Park and San Diego’s southerly expanse. An even wider view is available from lounge seating on the patio, which wraps around the restaurant and transitions to full-scale dining and a view of the San Diego Bay on the restaurant’s west-facing side.
Another difference in the new bar is the cocktails being served from it. A new program offers inventive twists on traditional tipples such as “One Pit Wonder,” a margarita lent Fir-like verdancy with the addition of California gin and silken texture from puréed avocado. Mesquite-smoked bourbon and walnut bitters make for a Texas take on a Manhattan, while the ingredients in “Garden My French” — sun-dried tomato-infused gin, basil brandy, artichoke liqueur, and herbed olive oil— read like those of a seasonal salad.
In the kitchen, Chef Stéphane Voitzwinkler (who recently celebrated 20 years helming Mister A’s) continues to lean on impressive, hardwired French technique, but he has ventured beyond France — and even Europe — incorporating influences from Asia, Africa, South America, and the U.S., as well as fun, fanciful touches not seen nearly enough in white-linen establishments.
Simultaneously crispy and creamy, the chive-forward, caviar-mounted “tater tots” are must-have starters. Those looking for something a little less decadent but just as full-flavored will be sated by a salad of burrata and Chino Farm heirloom tomatoes with pepperiness and tang from a Dijon and red wine vinaigrette, crunch factor from toasted quinoa, and an earthy extra dimension from savory roasted eggplant. Hiramasa (yellowtail tuna) crudo — an almost mandatory dish in San Diego — is given a vibrant jolt by a dragon fruit agua fresca with raspberry-like sweetness and a capsaicin-induced zing reminiscent of Mexican Pico candy.
Mains like Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with huckleberry gastrique, orange, mint, and carrot purée, and Georges Bank scallops with lemon butter and sugar snap peas showcase Chef Voitzwinkler’s expertise in marrying multiple seasonal ingredients. So, too, does the medium-rare rack of lamb Provençal topped with a gremolata spiked with Calabrian peppers. Large, toothsome white beans are joined on the plate with salty lamb bacon and eggplant, which once again plays a masterful supporting role, adding depth and a compatible counterpart for the other ingredients. More straightforward, and absolutely delicious, is king salmon given Wellington treatment with a thin, buttery sheath of puff pastry, foraged mushroom duxelles, and an airy béarnaise sauce.
Many Mister A’s menu items can be made vegan-friendly on request and the majority are gluten-free by design. The latter stems from Executive Pastry Chef Amy Simpson’s use of alternative flours, but that’s far from her only influence and impact. Simpson’s rotating takes on Baked Alaska are impressive and inventive. The current version features a blondie base and dulce de leche ice cream beneath a Swiss meringue cloche. And even something as simple as a cream puff registers as skillful and to-die-for, in this case thanks to perfect, exteriorly crisped pâte à choux and a bright, acidic passionfruit mousse.
As has long been key to the high level of quality at Mister A’s, Voitzwinkler and Simpson are working with thoughtfully sourced ingredients that are the best of the best. Doing so is commendable and, now more than ever, expensive, making it impressive that the restaurant’s price points are on par with or lower than a good deal of its fine dining competitors.
In bringing Mister A’s into its next epoch, Thorsen and his crew have upheld its quality and reputation, not for the sake of vanity but for the venerable establishment’s past, present, and future customers. asrestaurant.com
Culinary Innovation: 4
Food Quality: 5
Cocktail Program: 4.5
Wine List: 4.5