FINE FOODS IN A COZY NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT: BISTRO 60 AND SAN DIEGO DESSERTS

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By Ariele Johannson

July 15, 2014 (San Diego)--Ahi tatare, bbq pork cheeks, grilled scallops, chipotle linguine, and a homemade chocolate caramel bombe:  what do they all have in common?  All are foods selected, cooked, and presented by gourmet standards; offered up by Bistro 60, and thoroughly enjoyed by me and my dining companion.

Bistro 60--which began as San Diego Desserts in 1999--serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Their dinner menu includes appetizers, small plates, salads, dinner and dessert. Guests can enjoy entrees of seafood, poultry, beef, pork, and pasta. Desserts are truly decadent—each created from scratch right there in the kitchen. Vegetarians will be happy to find selections on the menu. Wine aficionados will appreciate an extensive wine selection and wine pairing suggestions for each entree.

We’ll get to just how exceptional  their dishes are in a minute. First, I want to illuminate something co-owner Mark Leisman told me at the end of our evening as we chatted. Immersed for 35 years in the restaurant business, Mark feels it’s in his blood. Concerning his latest enterprise, Bistro 60, he humbly states, “We’ve built a real neighborhood place here.” In fact, in San Diego Magazine’s Best Restaurants/Reader Selected Picks 2014 issue, Bistro 60 was voted “Best Neighborhood Restaurant” and voted Runner Up for “Best Desserts.” Open Table 2014 Awards went to Bistro 60 for “Notable Wine List” and “Neighborhood Gem.” I’d like to explore what the designation “Neighborhood Gem” might mean for this particular bistro restaurant.

On the surface, it means that when people walk in or out they are greeted warmly by Mark or co-owner Arturo Juarez; not to mention the servers and sometimes other customers. In fact, while Mark and I chatted, we were gently interrupted so Mark could chat briefly with customers coming or going. As Jenna--who sometimes takes the microphone and sings with the musicians--walked past, Mark paused to greet her with a kiss on the cheek. Then, when three ladies who had been dining and visiting at the community table were leaving, Mark excused himself to get up from his seat and escort them to the door.

Under the surface, though, it means more. Mark states, “Women feel safe here. If they are alone at the bar or at the community table and anyone were to bother them, they know that someone here would step up.” It also means they have lots of regulars, including people in surrounding neighborhoods who come to their favorite place. It means at Bistro 60, you are going to have a fun experience all-around.

Now, for the delicious food and desserts—the original reason people show up every day and night of the week. [Note: Bistro 60 is open every day of the week. Please see below for their hours.] The gourmet meal we experienced began with great service. Our server was Cody, and she quickly brought us all we needed to begin: menus, ice water, a bottle of 2012 Masut, a plate of excellent white and hearty dark bread with butter; and a caring, unrushed attitude.

Masut (pronounced  ma su’) is a pinot from the Masut Vineyard and Winery in Mendocino County, owned by two of Bobby Fetzer’s sons. I only know all of this, because Michael and his companions were close by at the bar chatting with Arturo, and he told us. See what I mean about a neighborhood place? Well, it was a delicious estate Pinot Noir with earthy notes, layers of bright cherry, red fruit and dark fruit, framed with a velvety texture. It perfectly complimented our meal, which we appreciated with or without the knowledge of its origins.

The Ahi Tatare Tower, relished first by me and my companion, is one of the small plates on the menu. Built by alternating layers of raw ahi chunks with mango and avocado, it is not only beautiful but tasty. The fresh flavor of the ahi with the fruity tang of the mango and the deeper, more subtle taste of the avocado blended perfectly together. I just loved these tastes together, including the delicate seaweed salad and wonton crisps served with it.

Grilled scallops, a daily “Catch of the Day” special, tasted buttery with perfect texture. The chipotle linguine has chipotle with its heat built right into the pasta. Bistro’s unique corn cream sauce with scallions makes the linguine and vice versa. It was a revelation. I found out later that Bistro 60 buys all of its homemade pasta fresh daily from Assenti’s in Little Italy. Diners can also request gluten-free pasta.

The portions of the scallops dish and the BBQ Pork Cheeks were generous. Though I don’t normally go for BBQ sauce, I was more than pleasantly surprised with its light, sweet taste in the pork cheeks. I then indulged in some of the most delicious and softest pork I’ve ever tasted. Rounded out with Mark’s signature mashed potatoes and grilled green beans, I was temporarily transported.

A notable selection on their menu is the Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Raviolis plate with basil, garlic, and white wine sauce. Burrata is a fresh, rich, and “buttery” Italian cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream.  

I hear Bistro 60 makes the best chicken pot pie around. And yes, Brussels sprouts are on their menu, steamed as an appetizer or as a salad. Add truffle fries, onion rings, fish tacos, calamari, Angus sliders, baked mac-n-cheese, empanadas, and three interesting flatbreads. Bistro 60 offers seven salads, including a poached pear and goat cheese salad. The beet salad is light, and it is all beets with feta, balsamic reduction, and local honey.

Seafood entrees include halibut, salmon, swordfish, and catch of the day. For steak, they offer a hand-cut rib eye, plus they have two super burgers. Besides the chicken pot pie, their poultry selections are honey lemon chicken and a 7 oz. turkey burger. For a complete menu, refer to the Bistro 60 website link provided below. You’ll find pricing, some photos of their plates, and breakfast and Sunday Brunch selections. Daily specials are offered, and you can even sign up to get these on email. Frequent diners can request a Bistro 60 card to rack up points. Periodically, the restaurant has events, usually wine or beer/food pairings.

I’d like to clarify that the tasteful wine bar area is only one of several spaces created within Bistro 60 that is seamlessly integrated into the entire floor plan. It’s a newly-remodeled horse-shoe shaped bar of granite countertop with attractive copper siding, and a backdrop of an untold amount of bottles of wine and glasses. Just the kind of décor I like, since I love wine.  Also, the first time I went there years ago with a friend, I noticed how really comfortable--as a woman--I felt sitting at the bar.  

The bar area is the location of two important dining tables: a 10-person high top community table with a wonderful granite surface and a private 4-person high top table overlooking the patio. This is the most popular area with regulars who like to enjoy dinner, dessert, or a glass of wine while chatting with friends.

The gallery seating area is quieter and a great place for a lunch meeting or a quiet night out. Local art from the neighborhood adorns the walls, and in most cases, is available for sale. The patio area is the main dining area off to the left of the entrance. It is enclosed by glass walls and looks out onto the boulevard. French doors serve as its windows, bringing in a nice breeze in warm weather. On the Tuesday night we dined, Bob Wade played guitar and Suzanne Shea sang. We enjoyed our meal with the cool sounds of Joan Baez, Simon and Garfunkel, Jim Croce, Patsy Cline, and Hank Williams in the background. Live music is performed on the patio six nights a week--everything from smooth jazz to pop classics.

From their website: “Bistro Sixty has been in the El Cerrito Neighborhood (College Area) for 15 years. We proudly serve this wonderful community we’ve come to know as home and strive to provide an upscale casual dining experience for our guests.”

Bistro 60 On the Blvd and San Diego Desserts is located at 5987 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92115.

Phone: (619) 287-8186   Website: http://www.bistrosixtysd.com.

Hours: Monday: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday: 7:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m., Sunday: 7:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. LUNCH: 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. Dinner: 5:00-9:00 p.m. BREAKFAST is served Tuesday-Friday 7:00-11:00 a.m., Saturday 8:00-11:00 a.m., Sunday Brunch 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.