Young chef Jorg Dossegger is, shall we say, ambitious.
His ambitions are simple and of the usual sort: he wants his Jorg's Gourmet Cuisine to rank as the best restaurant in the neighborhood, an area that in his case encompasses the whole of East County.
In a sense, the task that Dossegger has set himself is not that monumental, because East County shelters few restaurants of any pretension to grandeur. But the very openness of the field may provide a clue that the going will be rough; if the area were that receptive to extravagant, top-of-the-line places, might there not already be a few in existence?
Dossegger has taken over a location that may prove to be a lucky charm, because it is the same La Mesa structure that long housed Christian's Danish Inn. Christian's reigned for years as leader of the pack in East County restaurant circles, and for that matter enjoyed a countywide reputation that started to fade only when the new generation of top eateries, led by Gustaf Anders and Sheppard's, ushered in a more contemporary style of luxury dining.
This 30-year-old chef has assembled the right elements at his new restaurant, including a service staff captained by his wife, Jeri, that works quietly and well, and a soothing, understated decor carried out in faint mauves accented by a few abstract landscape paintings.
The dinner menu, which changes every other week, could be longer (and probably will be once the place catches on), but it now offers a sufficient choice of fairly sophisticated dishes.
The overall approach to cooking is French, although this is one menu that actually could be called Continental without fear of contradiction. The choice of dishes reflects Dossegger's background--raised and trained in Switzerland, he apprenticed in hotel kitchens around the Continent and most recently served a three-year stint as executive chef at Stockholm's venerable Stallmastaregarden. (The chef's route to La Mesa was rather less circuitous; while visiting San Diego on vacation, he met and married Jeri, who convinced him to quit Europe to come cook amid the avocado groves.)
The prices are the clearest sign of Dossegger's ambition, as they are quite high for a place just starting out in business. Most restaurants commence with more modest prices and raise them once lines start forming at the door. This is not to say that Jorg's is overpriced, because the food is extremely well-prepared and the portions are nicely sized. But such prices as $7.25 for an appetizer of pate or $19.25 for a Cornish game hen are at the upper end of the scale.
The meals open on an appetizing note with baskets of warm, freshly baked bread (described by the menu as "Lucerne farm" bread). Crisply crusted but rather coarsely textured, the loaves are much more reminiscent of fine, old-fashioned American bread than of the more delicate but less interesting French product. (This is a small point, but leftover slices of this excellent bread are cubed and browned in butter to supply the tasty croutons used in the soups and salads; Dossegger wisely shuns the convenient but shoddy commercial products, such as boxed croutons, that appear in American restaurant kitchens.)
The menu offers four appetizers, four entrees, and a rather longer list of desserts. As an alternative to the a la carte list, guests may select the prix fixe menu, which includes five courses and coffee, and costs $33. This option is suggested only to those with healthy appetites.
The only major disappointment encountered in the course of two visits was the pate that started one meal. The real problem lay in the quantity of pink, green and black peppercorns used to give this pate its particular character; a few of each kind of peppercorn would have been good, but the amount Dossegger used completely masked any other flavors the pate may have had and left the tongue begging for mercy.
A lovely cream of broccoli soup, on the other hand, was so suave and smooth that it hardly seemed possible that it could have been made in the same kitchen. Broccoli soup often is dull at best--broccoli is a friendly but not a brilliant vegetable--but Dossegger served up a pale, deeply flavored brew which, in an evident flash of inspiration, he garnished with tiny, tender florets of the vegetable in question. Usually, this soup is nothing more than a quick blender puree of yesterday's leftovers, and it was nice to see it done so elegantly for a change.
A "salad" of shrimp, scallops and superb poached salmon, edged with greenery and dressed with a dill-mustard sauce (Dossegger doubtless met this sauce in Stockholm) also made a pleasant first course, although not an entirely appropriate one, since all meals include a house salad that is a handsome palette of colors and flavors finished with a fine, tarragon-accented vinaigrette.