By Frank Sabatini Jr.
One of our city’s most cosmopolitan culinary events is at SeaWorld, where its annual Seven Seas Craft Beer & Food Festival has grown to include 127 beer options from 25 breweries, and more than 50 dishes representing eight world regions.
Now in its fifth year, the festival will run every Saturday and Sunday for eight consecutive weekends, from March 9 through April 28. The park’s executive chef, Dave McHugh, is presenting 33 new food items to the lineup. They include French-inspired escargot pistolet rolls; sumac-rubbed Angus kebabs from the Mediterranean station; crab causa salad of South American origin; and exotically spiced dishes in a debut section named “flavors of India.” Scattered throughout the park, each global food area will spotlight four different dishes served in appetizer portions.
“The event utilizes all the tools in my tool box,” said McHugh, who took over the executive chef position at SeaWorld San Diego in July after working in the same capacity for seven years at San Diego State University. He is also a culinary instructor at Grossmont College.
“I want to make sure that every dish is accurate and authentic and made with handmade techniques. We have more than 100 production staff helping to execute the event.”
Admission to the festival is included with park admission. Once inside, guests can purchase dishes a la carte, which range from $5 to $6.50 each. Or they can buy “taster sampler” cards that feature 10 items for $50 or 15 items for $65. The cards also apply to beer and wine samples. 500 SeaWorld Drive, 619-222-4732,
Point Loma’s “upper Voltaire” neighborhood has seen the arrival of Cesarina, which replaces The Point Cafe. The new venture is named after the wife of one of the native-Italian owners, Niccolo Angius. It’s billed as a restaurant that honors matriarchal women of Italian heritage.
The indoor-outdoor space offers all-day dining, an exhibition kitchen and tableside presentations. The menu includes American-Italian breakfast fare, eggless pastas made in house, and a variety of southern-Italian classics. 4161 Voltaire St., 619-226-6222, cesarinarestaurant.com.
After operating for nearly 20 years in a drive-through structure in Hillcrest, Los Panchos Taco Shop recently closed but will reopen next door by late spring in the space where Brazen BBQ operated. It will feature a full bar plus additional seafood options in addition to its established menu of tacos and burritos. The owners are also gearing up to open an outpost in the west Fashion Valley area, at 6110 Friars Road, Suite 101. That location is set within a small strip plaza shared by Round Table Pizza and Mr. Peabody’s Burgers & Ale.
The space Los Panchos occupied in Hillcrest at 409 Washington St. will give way to a drive-though/walk-up Dunkin’ Donuts this spring. Its arrival will present competition to two independently owned vendors just down the street: Copper Top Coffee & Donuts, and Donut Star.
San Diego’s cherished Small Bar in University Heights resumed operations on Feb. 28 after a 16-day shutdown that allowed for repairs and a partial revamping of its food and drink programs. The effort is the result of a partnership that owner Karen Barnett recently formed with chef Brad Wise of Trust Restaurant Group and Frank McGrath, the former general manager at Polite Provisions.
Days before Small Bar’s reopening, we caught up with Wise, who adamantly discounted rumors and reports that the popular establishment is transforming into an “upscale yuppie craft cocktail bar,” per an opinion article circulating online by The Travelers Club. Others on social media claimed the space was being gutted.
“It’s still a cave-y dive bar,” Wise insisted. “We painted the exterior black and gray, put in new tables and chairs the patio, fixed holes in the floor, and installed some new bar equipment. Basically all we did was clean it up to make sure Small Bar stays open to the community.”
Speculation also swirled that the entire staff had been fired. Wise said 20 percent of the employees were retained after conducting retraining through the transition.
Barnett will still oversee the bar’s ambitious beer program while McGrath introduces a fresh cocktail program featuring 16 new drinks using fresh ingredients. In addition, Wise’s contributions to the menu include fried cauliflower with aioli, and a new burger served in brioche buns that are fermented for 48 hours before entering the oven.
Established dishes such as chicken wings and “Karen’s famous nachos” will remain, as will the long-established Monday-night steak dinners.
“We couldn’t be more excited to keep a San Diego iconic bar open. At the end of the day, that’s all we’re doing,” Wise added. 4628 Park Blvd., 619-795-7998, smallbarsd.com.
Developer and restaurateur Louie Chau of Lotus Garden in City Heights plans on bringing a rare amenity to the Uptown restaurant scene: a rooftop space to eat and drink.
Due to open in early summer, SKA Bar and Restaurant will operate on both the ground floor and fourth-floor roof of a mixed-use apartment building near the heart of Normal Heights. (The structure is still unnamed.) Look for a menu spotlighting Asian fare such as ramen and stir-fries, as well as traditional bar food that can truly be called “elevated.” 3250 Adams Ave.
—Frank Sabatini Jr can be reached at email@example.com.