Bankers Hill has blossomed into a neat little neighborhood area for eating and drinking. The newest arrival, barely a few week’s old and a welcome addition is Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar on Fifth between Nutmeg and Olive. The comfortable, classy and contemporary room with simple black and white photos of the restaurant, white table linen, wood floor and an open ceiling opens to the street via a large picture window with a view of the nearby church. A Buzz pal remarked when we walked in, “Look, a bar where adults are drinking wine and the bar chairs have backs.” Translated, that means there’s jazz playing in the background and the room doesn’t pulsate from music so loud you go hoarse talking.
Food is well presented with entrees priced in the mid $20′s. A visit with an out of town pal brought small house-made mushroom ravioli (note the tiny champagne grapes in the sauce that add texture and a subtle flavor), a light ahi tuna salad with micro greens, a perfectly medium rare Australian rack of lamb of four ribs split between us with bit of deconstructed ratatouille. Rather than the usual fine dice of eggplant, onion, zucchini cooked long and slow, chef-owner Colin MacLaggan slices and cuts the vegetables into small pieces, then lightly sautes them so each bite stays distinct, be it a piece of fennel, a sliver of carrot or a slice of zucchini or eggplant, yet all meld together to complement the lamb.
MacLaggan appreciates classic cooking as he trained at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in London and then worked for the well-known Conran Group. Closer to home his stints included Arterra, Mille Fleurs, Bertrand’s at Mister A’s, among others. He likes his plates composed, mostly with three main ingredients–as in the ahi salad: pieces of ahi, arranged with the micro greens, not overdressed, on bed of thinly sliced green heirloom tomatoes. Here you’ll not find towers, layers or dishes cluttered with so many flavors and ingredients that the food makes no sense in flavor or presentation.
Buzz has only perched on the comfortable bar chairs to drink and eat, served by bartender Curtis who was busy making mojitos his way–without the soda water. There is a small flat screen tv above the bar that on one visit had a Chargers game on, thankfully without the sound. For some it could be distracting, especially if staff is focused on the game, rather than the diners. On the other hand, the tv lends itself to the casual, neighborhood feel of the restaurant. General Manager Nicolais Carbonne watches over the 70-seat room a trained eye from his days at Pasquale and Tapenade. 2760 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill, 619-542-0394. Closed Monday, lunch from 11:30am; dinner from 5:30pm.
Down the street, at the corner of Fourth & Ivy is Modus, a hip bar, lounge and restaurant. Owners Scotty and Ariana Johnson opened the place in April, 2006. As with many new ventures, the restaurant has gone through some adjustments that recently culminated with the starting chef, Nathan Coulon, moving on. (Buzz hears that he’s currently on the line at Ivy Hotel’s Quarter Kitchen.)
The menu has expanded with former sous chef Mike Liotta at the helm. Small plates that focus on interesting French olives, cheese and charcuterie, salads, white bass gravlax, tempura and prime steak tartare, and entrees of pork osso bucco, Modus burger and black mussels are but a few of the choices now available. Best of all, the prices stray no higher than $24 for rack of lamb. On a recent Friday night visit, the bar was hopping with couples enjoying the many original cocktails created by Ariana that use fresh, seasonal organic juices with names such as Foreplay (Wokka Saki, organic strawberries, champagne and sugar, served tall) or Yellow and Green (Skyy Vodka or Miller’s Gin, basil, lemon and tonic, served tall). 2202 Fourth Ave., 619-236-8516, Closed Monday, dinner from 5pm.
Newcomers for morning coffee, a quick sandwich or glass of wine: try Curio Caffe at Fifth and Laurel and just up the street, Cafe Bassam at Fifth and Redwood where you can support your neighborhood coffeehouse, rather than the ubiquitous Starbucks. Curio Caffe features Illy coffee and changing art exhibits while Bassam, relocated from downtown, has coffees, teas, smokes and one morning warm just out-of-the-oven croissants and other pastries. Both will soon have a beer and wine license and both serve light fare. Curio Caffe, (619) 696-8699, Cafe Bassam, (619) 557-0173.
At the corner of Fifth and Laurel you’ll find the well-established Gemelli Italian Grill, Laurel Restaurant & Bar and Bertrand at Mr. A’s and newcomer Curio Caffe.