The Prado at Balboa Park, San Diego
The chef at this place, Jeff Thurston, has a rather well-decorated Californian past, including time spent with Wolfgang Puck, Hans Rockenwagner, and even time spent helping Gordon Bierch (an old microbrewery fave of mine from back home) set up their food menu. His focus here (1549 El Prado, 619-557-9441) is a bit complex as a result too, focusing on "Latin and Italian fusion featuring a menu created with the freshest ingredients of the Southern California region." Actually, the first item that I got, the rather simple baby iceberg lettuce wedges, wasn't exactly Latin nor Italian, but it was refreshing, even if I wished that the blue cheese had a little more stank to it to give it a little more of an edge (they didn't come by with any cracked black pepper either - it was supposed to have it in it according to the menu, but I didn't see or taste any).
Then came the adobo-braised osso buco, which was pork-based rather than veal, and had a surprising amount of meat attached but also a much longer and skinnier bone than I would have hoped...almost soup tulang-like rather than being short and stubby for easy marrow extraction. I could barely pull any out of this one, and I wasn't exactly going to bring it up to my face with my hands to try to suck it out at such a nice place (they didn't provide a marrow spoon either). Well, at least the meat itself was very tender, and uniquely spiced up adobo-style. Maybe I'd been too adjusted to non-American portions, but I could hardly finish it all, let alone all the veggies that he paired this up with (sweet potato plantain mash, sauteed white corn, tomato and zucchini, tomatillo-cilantro sauce). I finished off the meal with a "pear, forestberry & mango sorbet trio served in an almond-poppyseed florentine with a raspberry coulis." Strangely, the "trio" was only one big scoop, but it worked for me, especially with the buttery but crispy almond shell.
I am not a huge fan of fusion, so this isn't exactly a place that I would come screaming back to. But in general the food was impressive, and in many ways representative of the multi-cultural mix of "Californian" cuisine, if there were such a thing. Now it's just time to look for something that I am much more passionate about: more downscale and local food.