Events: Ringo Starr, Searsucker, And El Cajon Boulevard
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. We'll survey some restaurants that want to comfort and delight you on this Weekend Preview. All three are putting a slightly different twist on American cuisine. And we'll discover San Diego's food boulevard (you might be surprised). Plus, guaranteed sightings of the B-52s and a Beatle. Joining us for the Weekend Preview are Keli Dailey. She writes about food and entertainment for the San Diego Union-Tribune. And, Keli, welcome back.
KELI DAILEY (Food/Entertainment Reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune): Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Chris Cantore is the founder of Cantore Creative and host of NBC's SoundDiego blog. Chris, good morning.
CHRIS CANTORE (Founder, Cantore Creative): Hey, Maureen, and I just got a new job, too.
CANTORE: A third. A third job.
CAVANAUGH: I want to hear about it. What is it?
CANTORE: Afternoons on a true local independent radio station here in town, KPRI.
DAILEY: Yeah, I listen to them all the time.
CAVANAUGH: Another reason to listen to the radio.
CANTORE: Yeah, I’m excited.
CANTORE: Look forward to doing more with you guys in the future.
CAVANAUGH: Now, okay, first, though, we got to eat.
CANTORE: Let’s go.
CAVANAUGH: And we have to go to 2540 Bistro and Bake House. We have to learn about it. We usually associate Old Town with tourists and good Mexican food but this is something different. What kind of restaurant is 2540?
DAILEY: You know, Maureen, it’s a European style bistro and anyone who’s familiar with California history shouldn’t be surprised about Europeans settling into Old Town. Anyway, 2540 is contemporary, a little patio restaurant that’s been in Old Town about six months now. The dining room’s like a manly black and white, picked out by its chef, and there’s about 30 or so restaurants in Old Town. And is there some big move away from Mexican food and little ladies making tortillas by hand? No, no, no. There’s not a critical mass of non-Mexican cuisines like 2540 but if you’re swimming in a margarita at Bazaar del Mundo and you suddenly get a hankering for handmade gnocchi, like this is your place.
CAVANAUGH: Well, what are some of the more interesting menu items you can find here?
DAILEY: Well, am I the only person who thinks a summer essential is duck and some sort of noodle? Because I don’t care if it’s macaroni noodle or if it’s udon, just cut up some mallard breast and some legs and put it in my carbs. And Chef Mark Pelliccia, this is his first restaurant, he does this with a nice succulent special—it’s always on special—it’s his duck fettucini. And I fought my boyfriend for the last bite of this. I want this instead of birthday cake. It’s really delicious. Really succulent.
CAVANAUGH: And tell us a little bit more about the chef and the owners of this place.
DAILEY: Well, as I mentioned, this is the first restaurant of Chef Mark’s. He was recently at Solare in Liberty Station and his silent partner is the guy that owns Arrivederci in Hillcrest. So he’s got an Italian script going on. He says he wants to move away from that because his culinary rovings took him to Japan and northern Africa and Europe, and pretty soon we’ll probably see that on the menu right now, too, for the future.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, so is this duck going to cost a lot of money?
DAILEY: You know, all their dishes are below $20.00. They’ve got sandwiches for $8.00, pastas for $13, and entrees are around $16, salads $8.00.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, and you told us the atmosphere is very manly, black and white, right?
DAILEY: It totally looks like a bachelor loft but, you know what, the atmosphere is really tame and that’s probably because it’s alcohol free right now. They’re still waiting for their beer and wine license or at least last time I talked to Chef Mark last week. It’s – They’ve been waiting for it since February and, you know, Father Junipero Serra got his grapes to grow faster than this place has been able to get its wine license but, you know, it’s off of the kitschy circus on the Old Town main drag, it’s on Congress, so it’s definitely worth a visit.
CAVANAUGH: That is 2540 Bistro and Bake House on Congress Street in Old Town. Chris, we’re going back in time, a blast from the past.
CANTORE: Oh, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: To this week’s Four O’Clock Fridays at the Del Mar Racetrack. Tell us who’s playing.
CANTORE: Oh, the B-52s, taking me right back to high school, yeah. Formed in the mid-seventies, Athens, Georgia. Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, the whole gang in town.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s fabulous. Now, for someone who has never heard of the B-52s, and I have a hard time even conceiving of that, how would you describe them?
CANTORE: New wave, new wave rock, party band, positive energy. Guarantee they’ll be observing and celebrating the recent Prop 8 ruling, guarantee you there. And as far as the music, they’re best known for their eighties hits, I mean, “Rock Lobster,” “Planet Claire,” “Private Idaho”…
CANTORE: Of course. The consummate wedding song or ubiquitous, every karaoke bar there and “Roam.” “Roam,” another one, too.
CAVANAUGH: Yes, “Roam,” fabulous. Now, of course, as you say, they’ve been around for a while but there when – was – This is the question that I have.
CAVANAUGH: When was their most recent album? Have they been out with an album any time…
CANTORE: Yeah, a couple years ago.
CANTORE: 2008 they released a record called “Funplex” and it was their first in 16 years. It debuted actually at number 11 on the Billboard charts which was, you know, for a band that was dormant for that long, quite impressive.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, it is.
CANTORE: Band referred to the record, from the band, I quote here, loud, sexy rock ‘n roll with the best turned up to hot pink. Or the beat, I’m sorry, turned up to hot pink.
CANTORE: And it was produced by New Order’s producer as well.
CAVANAUGH: So it sounds like they’re sticking to their old traditional…
CAVANAUGH: What’s their live show like?
CANTORE: Honestly, I’ve never seen them. The first time’s going to be tomorrow…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s…
CANTORE: …at the track. But I imagine, if it’s anything like the music, free-spirited, positive, just one big party.
CAVANAUGH: Fabulous. And what is the atmosphere like at these Del Mar concerts?
CANTORE: That, I can tell you about. It’s – I liken it to a wedding reception on steroids. Just sunshine, adult beverages, a lot of people, beautiful people out there, and instead of a cheesy deejay, hence the steroids reference, you get a formidable band. A formidable band actually performing live in this case, B-52s.
CAVANAUGH: And nobody has to wear chiffon.
CANTORE: No, no, don’t have to do that. And the interesting thing about this show is because of the demand that originally it was supposed to be on this side stage but they actually moved the show to the infield at the track to accommodate a bigger crowd because of demand. It’s going to be a great show.
CAVANAUGH: The B-52s are at the Del Mar Racetrack and the concert is free with race admission.
CAVANAUGH: Concerts start after the last race at 7:00 p.m. Well, all of that is going to make us hungry again, Keli. And your next recommendation is a new restaurant in the Gaslamp. It has quite a buzz around it. Tell us about Searsucker.
DAILEY: Well, this restaurant just had its grand opening last week and on a Monday, this past Monday, it was a total beehive. It has the hat-wearing kitchen ninja that you probably remember from Top Chef or maybe as Oceanaire’s top chef downtown. Well, Chef Brian Malarkey joins…
CANTORE: Oh, yeah.
DAILEY: Yeah, everybody knows this guy. Like it’s just a…
CANTORE: Oh, yeah, it’s a big deal at Searsucker.
DAILEY: Yeah, I tell you, people on the east coast have been asking me about this place. Brian Malarkey joined the nightclub king, James Brennan of Stingaree fame, and they remade the old Z Gallery furniture store downtown and this place is totally dialed into our developing food scene. That’s what I’m feeling right now.
CAVANAUGH: And what kind of items are featured on this menu?
DAILEY: You know, the food’s being billed as new American classic, which is why I love words so much because you can keep adding opposites together until they evoke a mood. The new American part makes me think of delicacies and imported techniques. The new America is global and insatiable, so why shouldn’t Searsucker do foie gras and figs on scallops or chimichuri béarnaise on a flatiron ‘haystack’? You know, it does. And, of course, I had the $22.00 duck. It has a – there’s a – It’s a summer theme, people. And it’s a tender leg with medallions but probably the most satisfying part of that dish was the apricot gastrique, a chunky sauce that really reintroduced me to the apricot. Like I kept eating and just trying to figure out what is this? It’s an apricot. Delicious.
CANTORE: I actually had a question.
CANTORE: Does Brian Malarkey actually prepare the food or does he just attach his name to the restaurant?
DAILEY: You know, he…
CANTORE: Is he in the kitchen actually doing something?
DAILEY: There’s an open kitchen and you can actually watch him in his hats, and he’s wearing…
DAILEY: …a dishwasher, you know, shirt, also, preparing the food.
CANTORE: It’s not just one big photo op.
DAILEY: It’s not.
DAILEY: You know, he is a media darling but he’s actually putting in some sweat…
DAILEY: …putting in some work. And he’s, you know, got the world’s ingredients at his fingertips and this guy is, you know, still keeping it simple. He says he likes to prepare honest food. You know, they’re doing honest dishes. They’re not dipping your Alaskan halibut in nitroglycerin or something like that. You know, they’re serving it with smoked bacon and corn broth, and ribeye with cognac and horseradish. Like it’s pretty straight forward.
CAVANAUGH: So what I understand is one of his goals is to be a real – a place where you can get good food really late at night in San Diego.
DAILEY: You know, right, they’ve just opened up so they’re going to kind of expand with a whole bunch of late-night dishes and patio dining and lunch and brunch eventually, too. Right now, they’re, you know, just getting up to speed but, like I said, it was so busy on Monday. Everyone was at their giant bar. It’s a 7,000 square foot space that they inherited and just the design is so sexy. I met the designer, Thomas Schoos, when he was putting the place together and it’s cozy, it’s got a metropolitan feel to it, it’s got couches, it’s got, you know, just all kinds of places you can occupy and still feel comfortable and welcome and not like you’re being raced out or it’s too chi-chi for you.
CAVANAUGH: And what about the name Searsucker, too, is there a story behind it?
DAILEY: Oh, the Malarkey legend continues. He says that he was bummed about missing opening day at the Del Mar Racetrack…
DAILEY: …and, you know, he was talking to his wife about, oh, when am I going to get to wear my seersucker suit, right? And she, you know, turns to him and says, that’s the name. You know, that’s – They spell it S-e-a-rsucker.
DAILEY: So Sear, kind of like searing chicken, maybe. You know, the general manager leaked to me that if this concept works, there could be more fabrics in their future.
DAILEY: Also, I’ve got to say this. I was talking to Malarkey. He said if guests wear seersucker, there could be free meals involved. I have this on tape.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, that sounds like a lot of Malarkey. Searsucker is in the Gaslamp on Fifth Avenue. Well, we move to a living legend, Ringo Starr, the drummer of the Beatles. His latest musical project brings him here to San Diego and, Chris, tell us about it.
CANTORE: It’s interesting that you refer to it as the latest because I would refer to it as the latest but when you look at his All-Starr band and the collaboration he’s been doing, been doing it for over 20 years now.
CANTORE: It’s quite amazing. And the reason why I think this show is special is because Ringo just celebrated his 70th birthday, oldest living Beatle, first to make it to 70. And let’s be honest, the guy looks amazing.
CANTORE: It’s unbelievable. Sharp as a tack. I mean, the way he looks, he’s still performing. He’s out there doing it, doing solo material, Beatles songs, takes his friends on the road. Have the utmost respect and admiration for Ringo Starr.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you’re right, Chris, he has been doing this with his All-Starr band for 20 years, as you say, but doesn’t the line-up change? Or are these people going to be returning each year?
CANTORE: It’s a recurring cast definitely.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay.
CANTORE: This year he’s taking all – It’s all his friends, all of his friends.
CANTORE: Edgar Winter, who you might remember, legendary albino, multi-instrumentalist, Edgar Winter, who’s a trip, is going to be on the road with him and at this show. Rick Derringer – And you’re laughing at the Edgar Winter.
CAVANAUGH: I am.
CANTORE: Please, why? I’m dying to know.
CAVANAUGH: No, no, no, no, no. I didn’t know he was a famous albino but go ahead.
CANTORE: Oh, yes. Quite the famous albino. Rick Derringer, a famous guitarist from the sixties and seventies, and Greg Bissonette, drummer, and an amazing, amazing session drummer as well.
CAVANAUGH: What are we – What songs should we hear, Chris? Are these just going to be old Beatles songs?
CANTORE: No, a lot of Edgar Winter just for you. Just for you.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you.
CANTORE: No, they’ll probably save the Beatles stuff for the end but they’re going to play a lot of Ringo’s solo stuff, material, as I mentioned, from Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, the whole thing. It’s just one big party.
DAILEY: I want to hear stuff from “Caveman.” You know, I hope they bring back the drumming…
CANTORE: Oh, that movie? Are you kidding me?
DAILEY: Yeah, I love all that drumming in that movie.
CAVANAUGH: But he met his wife there, and that’s really lasted, too.
DAILEY: Umm, fun fact…
CAVANAUGH: Let me say, I know more about Ringo than I thought I did. Ringo Starr released a brand new album this year, which is something in and of itself…
CAVANAUGH: …but what do you think about it?
CANTORE: It’s – Is it something I would listen to in my car or driving? No, not necessarily. But I celebrate the fact, again, that he’s released his 15th studio album on his own. It’s called “Y Not.” Got appearances by Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Joss Stone, Ben Harper…
CAVANAUGH: Edgar Winter.
CANTORE: No Edgar Winter. I’m so sorry, Maureen. I’ll work on that, though. I’ll reach out to the albi – I don’t know, community.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear a track from Ringo Starr’s latest album “Y Not.”
(audio clip from “Y Not” by Ringo Starr)
CAVANAUGH: That’s “The Other Side of Liverpool” by Ringo Starr. It’s off his new album “Y Not.” He still sounds like a Beatle.
CANTORE: It’s Ringo again, 70, still touring. Nothing but respect.
CAVANAUGH: Ringo Starr is at Humphrey’s By the Bay Friday, August 6th. We are thinking it may be sold out so you better go and check and see. Sessions Public is the restaurant recommendation that you have next, Keli, that – it’s in Point Loma. Tell us about it.
DAILEY: Well, here’s another newbie on the gastronomic radar. They just opened in July, too. And it’s actually on the border of Ocean Beach and Point Loma. It’s just a bike wide – a bike ride away—that’s a tongue twister—from Newport Avenue, and I was – You can check out the dinner cooking session through a floor-to-ceiling window into the kitchen. The sessions there are public, hence the name.
CAVANAUGH: That’s very interesting. Now what is the vibe at this place? You were telling us what it’s like at Searsucker where it’s kind of – it’s high-end but it’s laid back. What is this like?
DAILEY: This is more of a gastropub in the model of Jaynes Gastropub in Normal Heights. That means it’s a place to worship beer and mostly farm-to-table bar food also. And their motto is ale’s what cures you.
CAVANAUGH: Ale’s what cures you, that’s cute. So, yeah, they are very, very into the idea of seasonal food, local food. Tell us more about that.
DAILEY: Well, they even have – they’ve got food with impeccable credentials and if you spend some time with their wait staff, they’ll walk you through where everything comes from, how it’s fed. Something that, you know, the Wisconsin farm, Nueske’s Farms, puts out some of their pork, and the pigs are raised on a vegetarian diet and they’re never fed antibiotics and, you know, just the – a dialed into the foodie, you know, mantra of the moment, sustainable local stuff, they’re using.
CAVANAUGH: Any duck?
DAILEY: You know, they did have duck served in udon noodles. Yes, but I had to force myself to get something different because I heard one of their most popular large plates on the menu is constructed by alternately layering prime rib cubes and French fries and dressing that up in truffle oil and bleu cheese. It’s self-indulgent. It’s served with chopsticks, and it’s the first step toward a long nap. It’s called a $20.00 Ribeye Fries, and the name doesn’t do it justice.
CAVANAUGH: And is there also a special treat for bacon lovers?
DAILEY: That’s right. There is…
CANTORE: I love bacon.
DAILEY: Who – Homer, how’d you get in here? That Nueske Farm puts out some pork that’s – some bacon that is then tempura battered and served on a lollipop stick.
CAVANAUGH: Tempura-battered bacon?
DAILEY: And then there’s a chile-lime dipping sauce for all that. It’s $8.00.
CAVANAUGH: Sounds wonderful. Now, I hear that beer snobs will be satisfied by what’s on tap. Tell us about that.
DAILEY: Totally. They have 16 taps and they alternate but usually they’re somewhere around half-Belgian, half-local craft brews. On a recent night I was swimming in the Ale Smith, the Nut Brown, and other diners applauded my choice. Like people are such like snobs they’re looking to see what you order and then commenting on it.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, Sessions Pub is in Point Loma on Voltaire Street. Now, Chris, I’ve enjoyed your nostalgic recommendations. We’ve had a Beatle and the B-52s but there’s…
CANTORE: And Edgar Winter.
CAVANAUGH: And Edgar Winter, let us not forget. But there’s a more contemporary band at Casbah that’s coming up on Sunday that’s called the Tokyo Police Club.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us about these guys.
CANTORE: Yeah, big fan of this project over at the Casbah. They’re a Canadian indie rock band from Newmarket, Ontario, to be exact. They formed in 2007 during basement jams, blew up in Toronto with the help of blogs out there like Pitchfork and Stereogum and whatnot. Dropped out of high school because of the success of the band, began touring the world, playing huge festivals, Coachella, Lollapalooza, the now defunct Street Scene. Definitely a solid act. Buzz band.
CAVANAUGH: And nothing about them is Japanese or policemen?
CANTORE: No. Not…
CAVANAUGH: Where’d the name come from?
CANTORE: Name appeared in a song that they had – they wrote it years and years – when they first started, years and years, they formed in 2005. When they first started, they wrote a song called “Jeer It On” and they had the lyrics ‘Tokyo police club’ in that song. They like how it sounded, went with it, so nothing too exciting or crazy but just it first appeared in lyrics of a song.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, so they have a new album out called “Champs (sic).” What do you think of it, Chris?
CANTORE: I was a bigger fan of their first record. “Elephant Shell” was the name of that one. But it’s solid and they’re staying true to their style, frantic drums, dirty guitar jams, kind of Stroke-esque or The Strokes kind of guitar style at times. Peppy record. Solid, it’s a good record.
CAVANAUGH: We have a cut from “Champ.” This is Tokyo Police Club with the song “Wait Up.”
(audio clip from “Wait Up” performed by Tokyo Police Club)
CAVANAUGH: That’s “Wait Up,” from Tokyo Police Club off their new album “Champ.” What’s their live show like, Chris?
CANTORE: About like they sound.
CANTORE: High energy, fun, youthful…
CAVANAUGH: Young? Yeah.
CANTORE: Yeah, youthful. Remind me a lot of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. I’ve seen them with Weezer. They’ve opened for Angels and Airwaves as well. Solid band, definitely worth checking out this Sunday at the Casbah.
CAVANAUGH: That is Sunday at the Casbah. Tokyo Police Club, and then we move to ‘Eating El Cajon.’ Keli, what are you talking about?
DAILEY: Well, you know, I’ve been taking eating excursions down El Cajon Boulevard and I have this theory that it could be the most vital food street in San Diego. Now I swapped that idea – I swiped that idea from LA Weekly’s food critic Jonathan Gold—the guy got a Pulitzer. I realize that, you know, I’m not – I can’t – I’m not worthy.
CAVANAUGH: We know what this is about.
DAILEY: Yes, yes, but he tried to eat at every – No, no, I’m actually just hungry. And he tried to eat at every restaurant along a street in Los Angeles that he theorized was the most vital food street in the nation. It was Pico Boulevard.
DAILEY: I used to live near it.
DAILEY: And it has – it goes through so many different neighborhoods and types of cuisines and it is really a great way to see that city, so I decided, you know, let’s see what San Diego’s culinary corridor is.
CAVANAUGH: So what interesting places have you found so far?
DAILEY: Well, you know, it doesn’t seem like a dining destination, like classy joints in La Jolla or a recognizable collection of Asian food restaurants like in Convoy Road but I found, you know, some old diner stalwarts like Rudford’s and Chicken Pie Shops (sic). And every national food chain, fast food chain in the world in on this boulevard, which makes it easy to overlook the independent shops like Eclipse Chocolate is pushing the bounds of…
CANTORE: Love that spot.
CAVANAUGH: Right there, yeah.
DAILEY: Everybody loves this. San Diego Desserts and Bistro is doing duck, mac ‘n cheese, hello…
CANTORE: You and the duck.
DAILEY: I’m telling you, it’s summertime, people. Let’s take a nap. And, you know, there’s Vietnamese and Chinese and sushi and Russian Georgian and taquerias and Ethiopian and like there’s every – there’s even a drag queen restaurant. Like El Cajon…
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, Lips.
DAILEY: Yeah, Lips.
CAVANAUGH: I live there. I live around there, yeah.
CANTORE: I know Judy at Lips. Good people.
DAILEY: I love Kiki. And so El Cajon Boulevard, I chose it because it’s long, it cuts through so many hoods, it touches so many cuisines and it really gives a view toward man’s common impulse to feed one another, make a living from that, too. It’s not a scenic road, no one’s going to say that, but it is a super trail for eating out. I like to call it the foodie Appalachian Trail.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, well, we’re going to have to check back on you as you continue your project ‘Eating El Cajon’ and your blogs will be appearing online at signonsandiego.com. And we have just about a minute and a half. I know that we can do it.
CAVANAUGH: On the Hillcrest Cityfest.
CAVANAUGH: You know, after this breaking news about Prop 8, the Cityfest is probably going to be insane.
CANTORE: Amazing, right?
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Yeah.
CANTORE: Seriously, like Gay Pride Part II…
CANTORE: …let’s be honest. It’s the 27th Annual, going from noon to 8:00 p.m., arts, crafts, live music, food court, beer garden, whole lot of community celebration, as you mentioned, and spirit, very happy. It’s great.
CAVANAUGH: What bands do you know will be performing?
CANTORE: Tremendous local bands, Burning of Rome, Circa Now, Republic of Letters, many more. They’re going to have a grand stage or a big stage right there on Fifth and University.
CAVANAUGH: And what about parking or getting there? Any suggestions?
CANTORE: Just stay away from Fifth and University. Give yourself enough time. They’re going to relight the sign because that’s originally why – or that’s why the ‘fest began was back in 1984, they relit the sign after it had been dormant for about a year. And that was the birth of the Hillcrest Cityfest.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, Cityfest 2010 is starting Friday and it runs until Sunday. Hey, we did it.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you. Thank you so much. Keli Dailey and Chris Cantore, thanks for telling us what to do this weekend.
CAVANAUGH: And I want to tell everyone that These Days is produced by Angela Carone, Hank Crook, Megan Burke, Pat Finn, Julien Pearce and senior producer Natalie Walsh. Our production Manager is Kurt Kohnen. Our production assistant is Hilary Andrews. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, and thank you for listening this week. Hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the week. We’ll – And you have been listening to These Days on KPBS.