Friday, January 30, 2015

New List of America's 100 Most Romantic Restaurants Neglects La Jolla's Hidden Gem: Brockton Villa

Brockton Villa style, with scenic La Jolla Cove in background
The folks at OpenTable, the online restaurant reservation company, have just released their 2015 Diners' Choice Award winners for the Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America. The awards, which recognize alluring ambience, scrumptious food and above-and-beyond service, reflect more than 5 million restaurant reviews by verified OpenTable diners.


The view from The Brockton at sunset
For me there's no place in San Diego more romantic than Brockton Villa, better known to my family simply as The Brockton. If San Diego is America's most romantic city, and I believe it is, then The Brockton, a converted and modernized beach cottage built more than a century ago, is its most romantic locale.

California Cool
Brockton Villa, which does well yet is a rather well-kept secret in this city, is refreshingly unpretentious. California cool and casual, The Brockton has great food and a warm, friendly staff. And best of all, it enjoys an unrivaled location overlooking La Jolla Cove, a stunningly beautiful stretch of rocky coastline.

Brockton Villa is classy but unstuffy, and with all respect to the Addison, Chez Loma and Cucina Italiana, that's the environment in which I feel most welcome, most at peace, and most romantic.


The inside dining room features a quirky abalone-inlaid fireplace added nearly a century ago. The tables inside are light woods, with charmingly mismatched chairs and quilted bench seating. But the outside patio is where we usually hang our hats. San Diego enjoys America's finest weather (sorry, Florida, but humidity sucks), and this restaurant takes full advantage of that. 


The outside dining area offers spectacular views, especially at sunset. The outside tables are shaded by umbrellas and a whimsical old pepper tree growing right up through the floor which is lit at night by white party lights. And there are well-placed and movable space heaters when you want or need them. 


Brockton Villa has tremendous breakfasts. Try the Crab Ipanema Benedict or the Artichoke & Asparagus Omelette. The restaurant is perhaps best known for its "Coast Toast," which isn't gluten-free but is a sinfully good variation on french toast and a guilty pleasure. It's delish, it melts in your mouth, but I only reward myself with it after playing at least a set of tennis or an hour of basketball.


For dinner, I like the Fire Grilled Swordfish, the Brockton Villa Ciopppino, the California Lobster Role, the Goat Cheese & Prosciutto Stuffed Airline Chicken Breast, and the Whiskey & Grana Padano Crusted Filet Mignon. All excellent, though the filet at $32 is pricey, even for a place with such a magnificent view and terrific service. 


And here's a scoop: Brockton Villa has the best clam chowder in the entire country, and that includes Boston and San Francisco! 


I've had 'the chowda' in dozens of restaurants in every region of this great land, and Brockton's "Epic Chowder," as they call it, is tops. I'm still trying to get Jeff Beyoghlow, the restaurant's tireless but personable manager, to reveal the enticing mix of ingredients that make Brockton's chowder float above the rest. You can quote me.


The Brockton's Storied History

As if all that weren't enough, the place also has a fascinating history. Brockton Villa is a converted beach cottage built way back in 1894 as a primo oceanfront retreat by a San Diego doctor. He paid a whopping $165 for it.

The home was subsequently owned by sisters Olivia Mudgett and Nellie Mills, who were La Jolla's first real estate agents. Mills rented out the house and named it in honor of her New England heritage in Brockton, Massachusetts. 


For many years the house was occupied by Moreland MacPike, who was known to many as "The Turtle Lady." A painfully shy woman, Moreland supposedly performed with her piano-playing turtle for President Harry Truman at the White House.


Fast forward to the late 1960s, when the familiar Pannikin, which had already opened a coffee store in La Jolla, obtained Brockton Villa, which by then was in dire need of restoration. Pannikin founder Bob Sinclair smartly renovated the cottage and in 1993 won an Orchid award for his preservation of this historic home. 


Megan Lee Haine, daughter of the "Pannikin family," took ownership of Brockton Villa 21 years ago, and the restaurant continues to serve customers like me who enjoy everything about this special place. 


In 2005, Megan and husband Dave expanded their restaurant reign into the Bird Rock area -- between La Jolla and Pacific Beach -- with Beaumont’s Neighborhood Eatery, another one of our favorite casual but topnotch San Diego beach-area restaurants. The delightfully surfy Beaumont's has live music on weekends, and features an extensive grill menu (dinner & weekend breakfast) a full bar and live music.

Lastly, don't believe what you may have heard about the smell at The Brockton. Yes, it's close to the rocky cove and sometimes the smell of the surrounding, uh, natural habitat (seagulls, seals, etc) can be a bit strong. But it has never been an issue for me or my fellow diners. The Brockton is golden, it's a beach charmer with a rich history, great food, a location that is nonpareil, dedicated service and, yes, romance. 

Brockton Villa is at 1235 Coast Blvd., at La Jolla Cove. Call 858-454-7393 for more information. Tell 'em Jamie sent you. 


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Exclusive: Charlie Hebdo Coming To San Diego Next Tuesday

Paras Newsstand in San Diego  -  Photo by Junior N
I've just learned that the owners at Paras Newsstand, which has stood as a proud beacon of the printed page in San Diego's North Park neighborhood since 1949, have agreed to sell 100 copies of the infamous "survivors' issue" of Charlie Hebdo, the snarky French satirical magazine, starting next Tuesday afternoon. 

The special issue was produced just days after terrorists attacked the magazine's office in Paris, killing 12, including editor Stephane Charbonnier and cartoonists Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski and economist Bernard Maris. The terrorists were apparently motivated by the magazine's criticisms of Islam and depictions of the Prophet Mohammed.

The cover of the new issue, which includes a cartoon of the prophet holding up a sign that reads "I Am Charlie" in French, has been described by some as insulting to Muslims. It has prompted protests in Pakistan, Jordan, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Somalia, Senegal, and Mauritania, according to CNN.

The special printing of the magazine, which is in French, not English, has been a worldwide phenomenon. Seven million copies have now reportedly been printed. The French newspaper Le Figaro called it "a record in the history of the French press."


CNN reports that the edition was just making its way to the United States late last week at a few book stores in New York. 


Paras is the only location in San Diego of which I'm aware that is selling the publication. In an interview with The Reno Dispatch on Tuesday afternoon, Ann Gabbara, co-owner of Paras, said there is great demand here for the publication.  


"A lot of people have been calling and asking us if we are going to carry it," she said.


Jennie Blendulf, a writer who works as a volunteer for Fern Street Circus, was browsing at Paras when I stopped in to interview the newsstand's owners on Tuesday afternoon.
Blendulf said she will be in line to purchase the magazine. purchase. 

"I want to support freedom of speech," she said. 

Gabbara said the great desire for the French magazine in Southern California and around the world shows that there is still a hunger for a free press. And, she said, it shows that print journalism is not dead.


"We definitely see here at the store that print is making a comeback," Gabarra said. "Not books as much, but magazines. We have very loyal customers who come in and want print editions. They don't want it on their tablets or their computers. They want the printed pages."


Kent Snyder, Paras' magazine manager, said people still come to the newsstand from as far away as Mexico. He noted that the horse racing magazines do well, as do the foreign language publications, which are available in everything from Spanish and French to German and Italian. 

Snyder said that one man recently came from San Juan Capistrano, which is an hour north of San Diego in Orange County, and "spent $700. Mostly on fashion magazines, but he bought all kinds of things. He's a regular customer who is in his 30s or early 40s. It was a record for us for a single magazine purchase." 

Gabarra noted that even kids and teens still come in for certain magazines.

"Young people come in for fashion magazines and skating and surfing magazines, things like that," Gabarra said. "I predict that in one or two years, you are going to see an even bigger move back to print. I have nothing against the Kindles and tablets or computers, but people still love magazines."


Including, evidently, Charlie Hebdo, whose surviving editors have vowed to continue publishing.