Thursday, May 27, 2010
We'll talk about the latest in dining and theater here in San Diego. From a new restaurant by the folks from The Linkery, to a new play about surfing by a Del Mar playwright, our restaurant and theater experts can help you plan for your summer nights out.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. How about dinner and the theatre? Or just the theatre? Or just grabbing a bite at a great new restaurant? If any of this fits into your plans this weekend, you'll want to stick around. We have suggestions about some interesting plays and some very good eats around San Diego. Joining me for this Weekend Preview are my guests. Jim Hebert is the theatre critic at the San Diego Union-Tribune. And, Jim, good morning.
JIM HEBERT (Theatre Critic, San Diego Union-Tribune): Hi, thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Troy Johnson is the senior editor of culinary, art and culture for Riviera magazine. Troy, good to see you again.
TROY JOHNSON (Senior Editor, Culinary Art & Culture, Riviera Magazine): Good to see you, too. I had no idea it was Ay-behr (phonetically). That’s fancy.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
HEBERT: I didn’t either. She just – no.
CAVANAUGH: Say it correctly or don’t say it at all.
JOHNSON: Yeah, really, huh?
CAVANAUGH: So, Jim, we start off with a salute to a San Diego theatre legend. There was a memorial Monday night at the Old Globe for Craig Noel. Who was there? Tell us about it.
HEBERT: Well, there were about 700 people there.
HEBERT: It was really quite an event, just a huge outpouring of affection and a real tribute to Craig Noel, who was – who died in April, beginning of April. He was the founding director of the Globe. And Mayor Sanders was there and a lot of people from the theatre world, Jack O’Brien who’s, you know, now a Broadway director, actually worldwide director, and got his start, really, at the Globe. So it actually was originally scheduled to be at the theatre, the event was scheduled to be inside the Globe itself but there were just so many people who wanted to be there that they moved it to the Spreckles Organ Pavilion, so…
CAVANAUGH: I see. Oh, what were some of the highlights?
HEBERT: There were just so many really heartfelt tributes and a lot of really actually funny moments. The – Tom Hall, who used to be the managing director of the Globe was talking about how the – when the theatre burned down in ’78, he went down to the scene and Craig Noel was standing there kind of amid the smoldering ruins and the first thing Craig said was something like, well, we have to get on this right away, and Tom Hall thought he was talking about rebuilding the Globe and Craig Noel said, no, I’m talking about we’re going to – we need that canyon right over there to build another theatre and this is the perfect excuse for it. And so he was always thinking ahead and a great – very, very crafty and charming guy.
CAVANAUGH: I’m glad they took out that time to make such a great tribute to the man.
CAVANAUGH: That sounds like a good way, a good, lighthearted…
CAVANAUGH: …wonderful, warm way to celebrate Craig Noel.
HEBERT: It was very nice.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s move now to a restaurant. Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant. Troy, it just opened. What kind of food are we talking about here?
JOHNSON: This is good food. Yeah, that’s basically it. I mean, it’s – No, it is the brainstorm of the team behind Market restaurant in Del Mar. Everybody’s been clamoring for them to open up a second restaurant. Chef Carl Schroeder is one of the top chefs in San Diego. He’s got a cult following. He’s got talismans all over town, or altars all over town. And this is his comfort food spot.
CAVANAUGH: Aha, what kind of comfort food are we talking about?
JOHNSON: I mean, the best burger I have tasted to date in San Diego.
JOHNSON: Now when – I talked to the restaurateurs when they were just about ready to open this place and they said we’re going to have the best burger. And I said, ahh, everybody says that. You’re not going to have the best burger. I’ve tasted the best burger, it’s at the A.R. Valentien over at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. I tasted this thing last night. It is on a brioche bun, which is made of pure butter, which is awesome. And it has – it’s partly brisket, partly ground chuck and part ground beef. It is possibly the best burger in San Diego. And they’ve also got really like, you know, kind of old school items like Chino Farms Deviled Eggs with – oh, they’re just fantastic. I happen to know that one of the U-T’s guys, Burl Stiff, ordered them last night and supposedly he’s ordered them about ten times in the last two weeks.
HEBERT: Oh, doesn’t surprise me.
CAVANAUGH: It’s a trend. What about their wine list at Bankers Hill Bar?
JOHNSON: They’ve got a small boutiquey wine list. The thing is, it was done by the wine director over at Market and Market’s one of the top end restaurants in San Diego, which everybody can’t go to all the time, but this is more of an affordable option. He created like a real affordable boutiquey wine list that, you know, you can eat – you can drink every day, you know.
CAVANAUGH: And beers are always, of course, big in a pub like this.
JOHNSON: In a pub like that. They’ve got some great handles, great taps.
JOHNSON: It’s a neighborhood joint, so it’s really – it’s a great place to go get a drink. The bar was full last night.
CAVANAUGH: So Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant is on 4th Avenue in San Diego. We turn once again now to theatre. Jim, a new play opens this weekend at North Coast Rep. It’s called the “Voice of the Prairie.” What is it about?
HEBERT: Yeah, I think it’s actually about the place where they grow the ground chuck that Troy was having in his burger.
CAVANAUGH: That kind of prairie.
HEBERT: No, actually it’s a – it’s kind of a – it’s a charming little play set back in the early part of the last century and it has to do with this guy who’s kind of a radio huckster who is going around to different towns in the rural – in rural America sort of peddling this idea of radio, and he’s a little bit like a – like Professor Harold Hill from “The Music Man,” you know, he’s going around and getting people interested and taking off with their money. And he – his main act is this kind of homespun guy who tells these great stories and charms people with them. And then, but as it turns out, one of the stories he tells is about his – when he was growing up, he met this blind girl and they – and sort of fell in love with her and so what happens is the girl—this is several years later—actually hears him on the radio and comes and confronts him…
HEBERT: …because I guess the story wasn’t quite as he presented…
CAVANAUGH: Not as she remembered.
HEBERT: …what it is.
CAVANAUGH: Is this a musical?
HEBERT: It’s not a musical although Sean Sullivan, who’s the assistant director has composed some original music for it. So…
CAVANAUGH: I see, so it’s sort of music incorporated into the play.
HEBERT: Yeah, exactly.
CAVANAUGH: What should we know about this particular production at North Coast Rep?
HEBERT: Yeah, you know, there’s kind of a cute story behind it because back in 1988, the Globe produced the west coast premiere of this play and in the play were Lynne Griffin and Sean Sullivan, playing opposite each other, and that’s where they met and they married not long after. And now Lynne Griffin is directing this production and Sean Sullivan is co-directing it so it’s kind of a little homecoming and a, you know, full circle kind of a thing…
HEBERT: …for them, and very, very meaningful.
CAVANAUGH: That’s a great back story.
CAVANAUGH: “Voice of the Prairie” opens this weekend and it runs through June 20th at North Coast Rep. Troy, a new restaurant called—I love this—El Take It Easy is opening this week.
JOHNSON: It is either the best name or the worst name I’ve ever heard.
CAVANAUGH: What can you tell us about it?
JOHNSON: Okay, this is a collaboration between the guys at the Linkery and Jair Tellez—I’m sure I butchered that name—but he’s the chef at Laja in Guadalupe Valley, and he’ll be helping out with the cuisine, so it’s – They’re calling it Baja California meets global cuisine. The Linkery has a cult following…
JOHNSON: …of carnivores over in North Park.
CAVANAUGH: It certainly does.
JOHNSON: This is their offshoot and they’re really partnering with their friends down in Baja California, so it’s weird gringo food.
CAVANAUGH: What is the price point we’re talking about here?
JOHNSON: We’re talking about five to twelve dollar range for small plates, and it’s mostly small plates. It’s definitely a tapas. And for big plates, which they only have two big plates right now, $28.00 and $35.00, so, I mean, those are kind of high end but they’re all really top-end fresh ingredients. But mostly five to twelve dollars, small plates.
CAVANAUGH: Will they have the same tipping policy as The Linkery? And explain what that is, please.
JOHNSON: The Linkery has an 18% included gratuity on everything that they serve and it’s been, you know, a point of controversy. The New York Times has written about this. But the reason why they do it is because they don’t want their servers competing with people or competing with other servers to get a better tip. They think everybody in the restaurant should be paid out that gratuity. So it’s just shared among the entire family and it kind of creates a non-compete atmosphere.
CAVANAUGH: Now this is where the old Aperitivo used to be in North Park, this new restaurant…
CAVANAUGH: …El Take It Easy. I can’t even say it without laughing. It did not have a great interior when it was Aperitvio as opposed to The Linkery. So have they done a huge remodel?
JOHNSON: They’ve done a big remodel. It’s original fifties construction, like they’ve got the steel arches, arched wood ceiling. They moved the front wall inward. They’ve got a cozy, covered front patio now. It’s going to be what they call a gastro cantina, and they used a local company called S.D. Urban Timber, they’re out of Chula Vista, who takes reclaimed woods and makes really beautiful product out of it, so reclaimed wood is huge in restaurants. It’s like the Waltons took over restaurant design in America right now.
CAVANAUGH: El Take It Easy is on 30th Street in North Park and, Troy, when does it officially open?
JOHNSON: I – well, they’re having their friends and family tonight actually, so I would imagine here in the next week but I couldn’t tell you for sure.
CAVANAUGH: So, okay, tonight’s dress rehearsal and we have to wait for the opening.
JOHNSON: Wait for the opening but keep your eyes out on The Linkery’s blog, which is one of the best restaurant blogs in San Diego. It’s called casingthejoint.com.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Jim, New Village Arts is staging a 1948 play by Tennessee Williams. It’s called “Summer and Smoke.” Although it’s gone through a change in titles, it seems, in its history, hasn’t it?
HEBERT: Yeah, it started out with the working title “Chart of Anatomy” and then became “Summer and Smoke.” And much later, I guess Williams was never quite happy with the play and he, back – all the way into the sixties he was still tinkering with it and so he actually did a new version called “The Eccentricities of Nightingale.” So, which is really a distinct work from the original.
CAVANAUGH: “Summer and Smoke,” though, is – that really is a great title. What is it about?
HEBERT: Yeah. Yeah, it actually – The title actually comes from a line in the play. The play is essentially about thwarted desire. The main female character is the repressed daughter of a minister and she kind of spends her life admiring a doctor who lives next door who she’s known since childhood, and kind of late in life she finally warms to the idea of really confessing her affection for him but by that time, you know, things have changed. So – and the line from the play, and I think I have it here somewhere, she says to John, now, I have changed my mind. The girl who said no doesn’t exist anymore. She died last summer, suffocated in smoke from something on fire inside her. And that’s sort of her profession of love for him, which ends up kind of falling flat, which looking…
CAVANAUGH: All of that ethereal yearning that we know…
CAVANAUGH: …from Williams.
HEBERT: Right, exactly.
CAVANAUGH: Where does this stack up in his body of work?
HEBERT: Well, you know, it’s not produced that often. The most recent production I could find around town was back in 1988 at North Coast Rep – actually, I’m sorry, 1998. But it’s – I think it’s pretty highly regarded. It’s regarded as kind of flawed and not quite on the same level as something like “Streetcar,” obviously, or “The Glass Menagerie,” but still admired for its atmosphere. It’s very – it has that dreamlike feel that “Menagerie” does. And so…
CAVANAUGH: What can you tell us about this production at New Village?
HEBERT: Well, some good actors in it. JoAnne Glover, who does a lot of good work around town, plays Alma, the main female character. And John DeCarlo is the doctor, John, and Kristianne Kurner, who’s actually the artistic chief of New Village Arts, is the director. And they – they’re good at doing these kind of classic American works, so I think it’s pretty promising.
CAVANAUGH: Well, “Summer and Smoke” opens this weekend and runs through June 20th at the New Village Arts in Carlsbad. Troy, Rancho Bernardo has a new restaurant, El Bizcocho – No, it’s not a new restaurant, it has a new chef, sorry.
JOHNSON: It has – No, that’s fine. It has a new chef. And “Summer of Smoke” (sic) kind of reminds me of that, you know, because…
CAVANAUGH: A segue man.
JOHNSON: It is. It is because last time I was in there with this new chef, he was taking burning embers out of the communal fireplace in the restaurant and making liquid smoke in the actual restaurant itself that he would then use in his dishes. This guy, new chef, he came out from New York, his name is Ryan Grant, is absolutely nuts. He is ADHD to the tilt and it shows up on his plates, one of the most creative chefs I’ve seen in San Diego in a long time, yes.
CAVANAUGH: Well, before we talk more about him—and you know we will…
CAVANAUGH: …tell – remind us what this restaurant is known for.
JOHNSON: El Bizcocho is – it’s been around forever.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, yeah.
JOHNSON: It’s been a destination dining spot at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, and it’s known for where Gavin Kaysen, who’s now one of the top chefs in the United States, in the world, made his name about seven years ago. But before then, it’s been known for a long line of fantastic chefs but it’s a very old school Spanish colonial dining room, very, you know, very old feeling, old-fashioned.
CAVANAUGH: So the new chef, who you describe as absolutely nuts, tell us a little bit more about him and his daring menu items.
JOHNSON: His – I mean, basically, this chef is taking – When I was there, he was making – he called up the GM before work one day and said, hey, get me all the Halls Cough Drops you can. And he made a gin that was infused with Halls Cough Drops and made a drink called Your Grandfather’s Cough Syrup and which you drink it and it tastes fantastic. It doesn’t taste like a bad cough syrup at all but you feel that kind of tingling going down your throat. He makes a Skittles-infused cordial. I mean, the guy wears a Kangol, which is like, you know, in LL Cool J, you know…
JOHNSON: …a white, fuzzy Kangol in the middle of this old school dining room. He throws liquid nitrogen around the room, making these cocktails. And his food is absolutely – I mean, absolutely – there’s – it’s just bursting with stuff. I mean, he’s making lollipops using the pink peppercorns that he’s finding on the property at El Bizcocho. He’s making cotton candy. He’s making – the guy is just – He must have four thousand ideas that assault him a day.
JOHNSON: And we, as diners, have to pay for it, eagerly.
HEBERT: He’s like the Willie Wonka of…
JOHNSON: He really is but then he can also do meats, too. He doesn’t just do that stuff, too. He is Willie Wonka. Meats like, you know, great cuisine.
JOHNSON: Yeah, it’s good.
CAVANAUGH: Well, now this El Bizcocho is a very pricey restaurant, though. Is it kind of a special occasion spot?
JOHNSON: It definitely is a special occasion spot. It’s, you know, I mean, if you can eat there every day then that means the bathroom in your home is bigger than my entire apartment. But we need those kind of places in San Diego, you need those special dining occasions. You can’t eat there every single day but if you really want an old school like see what dining has been about in San Diego for a long time, with an exciting new chef, it’s a great contradiction. This guy is just nuts and then this old dining room is just, you know, beautiful and kind of stiff. It’s a great place to go.
CAVANAUGH: Now, does this nutty guy have a name or is that…
JOHNSON: Ryan Grant, is his name…
JOHNSON: …and he is not the running back for the Green Bay Packers.
CAVANAUGH: El Bizcocho is located in the Rancho Bernardo Inn on Bernardo Oaks Drive in Rancho Bernardo. The La Jolla Playhouse, to get back to plays, is staging a new play from Del Mar playwright Annie Weisman called “Surf Report.” What can you tell us about it, Jim?
HEBERT: Well, this is a world premiere at the Playhouse, and she’s – Annie Weisman has been developing this for a few years. And she is known for the play “Be Aggressive,” which was a pretty good hit for the Playhouse back in 2001, I think. And she’s local, she grew up in Del Mar and was a cheerleader at Torrey Pines High School. And “Be Aggressive” was kind of based on her experiences.
CAVANAUGH: Now one of the reasons you wanted to talk about this play, I know, because it doesn’t start until mid-June is because you interviewed one of the actors last night, actually in the water. This is called the “Surf Report,” it’s called, and you were surfing.
HEBERT: Yeah. Yeah, I was telling people I – This is like the Jeff Spicoli’s version of the American dream that I lived because I got paid to go surfing on the company dime. So…
CAVANAUGH: So how difficult…
HEBERT: …I hope my bosses aren’t listening.
CAVANAUGH: How difficult is it to conduct an interview while surfing?
HEBERT: You know, I didn’t know how it was going to work out but it actually wasn’t too bad. We actually picked a day where the surf was pretty small so we didn’t have to worry about, you know, being too much on our toes or, so to speak, but I just brought a little digital tape recorder and at a local kayak shop I found a waterproof pouch that I put it in and you could actually record in the water, amazingly enough. I…
JOHNSON: You’re a genius.
HEBERT: I know.
JOHNSON: That is great.
HEBERT: I looked like a complete geek though. I had it hanging around my neck on a lanyard and it was really not a good look but, you know, you gotta do it so…
CAVANAUGH: Now, you did interview one of the actors in the play, a well known TV actor, Gregory Harrison.
HEBERT: Right. So…
CAVANAUGH: And what did he tell you about his character in this play?
HEBERT: Well, the great thing is that Gregory Harrison is a really hardcore surfer. He grew up on Catalina Island and since the late fifties he’s been a surfer and he’s actually friends with people like Shaun Tomson who…
JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
HEBERT: …I’m sure Troy knows. And he surfs all the time all over the world. And he was – he’s so stoked about this because it’s only the second time in his career in TV and film and theatre that he’s been able to incorporate surfing because the character he plays is this kind of wealthy San Diego entrepreneur who’s also a really hardcore surfer. So surfing is kind of infused in the play. The only other time he had a chance to really surf in his work was when he did the movie “North Shore,” which came out in ’87 and he was both an actor and kind of the director of the surf sequences in that so…
JOHNSON: Who was Gregory Harrison in that movie? Or who – what was…
HEBERT: He was Chandler.
JOHNSON: Oh, okay.
HEBERT: He was sort of the guru and when we were at La Jolla Shores the other night, a guy on the beach was freaking out because he recognized him. He couldn’t believe he was meeting the real life Chandler. It was perfect.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s so – that’s wonderful. We’ll have to check out that interview, and “Surf Report,” it opens at the La Jolla Playhouse on June 15th. Troy, Jason Maitland, the former chef at Arterra has a new perch. Tell us about it.
JOHNSON: Yes. This is going to be a quick story because we don’t have too many details yet but the Jason Maitland who was a great chef at Arterra and due to some fracas over there it was – he had to go. He had to leave.
JOHNSON: You know, and it was great controversy, all that. So anyways, we were all wondering where he was going to land, and he just purchased Epazote’s in Del Mar, which is – has one of the best views in San Diego. It’s a massive, massive project, one of the premier spots in San Diego, and this young chef is going to go in there, completely gut the place and make his own restaurant. It should be open – it’s not going to be open until probably September but this place – he said when you get done – when he gets done with it, you’re not going to even recognize Epazote’s, and it should automatically be one of the top gourmet destinations in San Diego.
CAVANAUGH: Well, you can tell that you’re excited about it. Why? What about Jason Maitland makes you so excited…
CAVANAUGH: …about this project?
JOHNSON: …Maitland – Arterra had a great reputation for chefs. Carl Schroeder was there before Jason Maitland and then Jason Maitland took over and everybody’s like, ahh, I don’t know about this kid, you know, maybe he’s not going to pan out. But he did great food. He did popcorn sweetbreads—sweetbreads are the thymus gland—but popcorn sweetbreads, they just tasted like some kind of basket food from TGIF Friday’s (sic) with high end sweetbread cuisine. And he did like leu-de-mare, which is, you know, a full fried fish and it was just – he really is a carnivore with ideas. And he is – he is really one of the better young chefs in San Diego.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we’ll just have to wait and see when his…
JOHNSON: Wait and see on that one. Just keep your eyes out on the new – or the old Epazote’s spot in Del Mar because it’s coming.
CAVANAUGH: One of the last things that we can talk about here because we’ve – almost out of time is, Jim, you’re just thinking out of the box with the surfing interview and then you’re going to do a Twitterview.
HEBERT: Yeah, that’s today, actually. This Reduced Shakespeare Company does really condensed versions of Shakespeare and they do other works as well but the idea is that they do all Shakespeare’s plays in one performance, and it’s just madcap and really, really well done. And they’re going to be at San Diego Rep early next month so the main – the Twit-in-Chief, as he calls himself, Austin Tichenor, is really big on Twitter and so I proposed, you know, let’s do the interview on Twitter and it kind of fits the whole abridged Reduced thing anyway because, you know, short questions and short answers about shortened Shakespeare, so…
CAVANAUGH: Right. This will not be an in-depth interview.
HEBERT: Nah, well, it’ll be like, you know, haiku sort of interview. It’ll be like a zen interview in terms of…
CAVANAUGH: Now they have a lot of shows in their repertoire. When – they’ll be at the San Diego Rep in June. So what work are they going to be performing here?
HEBERT: They’re doing a – actually, “The Complete Works of Shakes – William Shakespeare Abridged,” I think that’s the full title. And, by the way, they were inviting anybody who wants to be part of this to join in so if you look for the hashtag, it’s #sdreduced and their Twitter user name is just ‘reduced’, @reduced. And mine is @jimhebert, h-e-b-e-r-t, so anybody who wants to join in can throw questions at us. And…
CAVANAUGH: That’s fabulous. When exactly is that occurring?
HEBERT: Yeah. Yeah, sorry. It starts at 12:30 today on Twitter.
CAVANAUGH: All right.
JOHNSON: Nice, yeah.
HEBERT: It’ll be…
CAVANAUGH: Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “Complete Works of William Shakespeare” opens on June 11th for a limited run. We do have time to talk about Mistral.
JOHNSON: All right.
CAVANAUGH: The restaurant in the Loew’s Hotel in Coronado Bay – on Coronado Bay has been there for awhile but you say it’s changing, Troy?
JOHNSON: It’s definitely changing. Mistral was known as being one of the first places in San Diego to have its own garden so they’ve been growing their own produce and everything, so they were a trailblazer in that. But they lost their way over the last couple of years, and the restaurant was absolutely awful. I just had to say it. But now they have two French chefs over there, Patrick Ponsaty and Marc Ehrler, who are just cooking up a storm. And where they used to do 20 covers, which means 20 tables a night, now they’re up to 120 a night.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, wow.
JOHNSON: I mean, it is booming. They are making some of the best French food in San Diego and they’re not using very much crème or butter. So it’s French food without as much of the French, well, butter love, you know? Fattening stuff.
CAVANAUGH: So has the atmosphere itself changed?
JOHNSON: It has. They’ve kind of, you know, down scaled it. Not down scaled it a little bit but just made it more comfortable. They’ve put like pumpkin colored tablecloths on, they’ve kind of taken away some of the pretentiousness. The unpretentious-sization—I’ll just say that—of American food is in full swing. And they’re kind of doing that. They’re making people feel more comfortable and whatnot, but it’s still a nice high end dining place and one of the best views in San Diego. And Patrick Ponsaty’s blue crab – excuse me, blue prawn over a truffle cannelloni is, ohhh…
CAVANAUGH: All right.
HEBERT: What’s the French translation of that?
CAVANAUGH: I think that is the French translation.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to – I’m so glad we were able to get that in.
CAVANAUGH: Mistral is…
JOHNSON: …that added so much to the show.
CAVANAUGH: Mistral is in the Loew’s Hotel on Coronado Bay. I want to thank Jim Hebert, the theatre critic at the San Diego Union-Tribune. We’ll be joining you on your Twitter-view…
CAVANAUGH: …at 12:30 this afternoon.
HEBERT: Perfect. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Troy Johnson is the senior editor of culinary, art and culture for Riviera magazine. Troy, thank you so much.
JOHNSON: Thank you for having me. It’s John-sohn (phonetically).
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I think it will be from now on.
JOHNSON: Hi, there.
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