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SPECIAL REPORT: Putting Down Roots : The Times Poll : Eating Your Way Across North County

April 25, 1991

When North County residents go out for the evening, 58% go out to dinner. Only 15 percent don't have a regular restaurant. A majority--64%--have a regular restaurant in their own community and another 20 percent say they travel to another community to get to their preferred eating spot. --The Times Poll

Each week, restaurant critic David Nelson reviews a North County eating establishment for Focus. (This week's review is on page 53.)

Here's a taste of what he's had to say over the past year:

PORTOFINO, 1108 First St., Encinitas, 942-8442--The first of the elegant, "Northern Italian"-style Italian houses to open in North County, Portofino has matured unevenly. The setting, particularly the sheltered, all-weather garden dining room, remains quite lovely, and the first-rate service also persists. The antipasto table seems less well-stocked than in the past, however, and the cooking of some entrees seemed less painstaking than formerly. The menu remains as formidable as ever and runs to great length with listings of such appetizers as the shellfish called scungilli , served in an excellent, spicy fradiavolo sauce; home made pastas, including the elaborate fettuccine dello chef, and such entrees as fine osso bucco , sea bass alla siciliana and veal Saint Moritz. Entrees from $12.75 to $26. Expensive.

BANGKOK BAY, 731 S. Highway 101, Solana Beach, 792-2427--One of the few Thai restaurants in the county to take its roots seriously, Bangkok Bay continues to employ seasonings with a free hand, although it does moderate the chili heat to suit the individual table's stated preference. The selections of appetizers, soups and salads are excellent, but the entree lists, while extensive, make use of precooked beef, chicken and pork, which guests may mix and match with any of two dozen or so preparation styles. The meats tend to taste reheated. Among good preparation options are the mint leaf and onion stir-fry, the cashew stir-fry, and the assorted curries; the Panang curry, sweet with coconut milk and rich with spicing, is especially tasty. Entrees $6.95 to $12.95. Inexpensive to moderate.

PARADISE GRILL, 1476 Encinitas Blvd., Encinitas, 943-9997--The Paradise in this casual restaurant's name evidently refers to the Deep South, a region whose cooking styles dominate the menu. Much of the food is deep fried, including the chicken fried steak, the corn meal-coated catfish and the coconut shrimp. The place also makes much of ribs and chicken cooked over hickory logs in its own smokehouse. Paradise Grill goes in for spiciness, notably with the conch chowder and the Pecos River chili. Entrees from $7.50 to $15.95. Moderate.

JAKE'S DEL MAR, 1660 Coast Blvd., Del Mar, 755-2002--Although it offers one of the better close-up surf views among local seaside eateries, Jake's makes only passing mention of the favorites of Southern California beach cuisine; those included are shrimp scampi and an Australian lobster tail-filet mignon combination. The menu heads eclectically hither and yon about the globe, with Szechuan and Cajun-style fish specials, a French-Italian seafood pasta, chicken in tarragon cream sauce and a thick, likeable veal chop with shiitaki mushrooms. At lunch, both the hot shellfish sandwich and the shrimp-crab quiche are pleasant, filling and warming. Dinner entrees $9.95 to $19.95. Moderate to expensive.

MISTER SUSHI, 111 N. El Camino Real, Encinitas; 944-2800--In a collision of styles that spans the centuries, this shopping center eatery serves traditional Japanese preparations in a high-tech environment that attempts to anticipate the 21st Century. Banks of television screens broadcast silently to the accompaniment of radio rock 'n' roll. The sushi bar offers a comprehensive selection made interesting by clever house specialties, and the better-than-average appetizer list runs to clams steamed in sake, "Cajun" seafood, banana tempura and a fancy seafood sunomono salad. The entree selection is a somewhat perfunctory but generally well-prepared list of typical tempura, teriyaki and fried, breaded beef, seafood and chicken. Entrees from $7.50 to $18.50. Moderate to expensive.

KURT'S AT THE WINERY, at the Bernardo Winery, 13330 Paseo del Verano Norte, Rancho Bernardo, 673-3756--This cafe rounds out the small complex of shops and galleries in the historic, century-old Bernardo Winery, a still-functioning winery whose buildings and grounds retain a rustic setting amid the housing tracts of this growing community. Operated by a Mission Valley caterer who trucks some items up already prepared, the place offers a menu of variable quality, and while sandwiches and salads may be freshly prepared to order, the boeuf bourguignon and chicken "brioche" (a misnamed variation on chicken a la king) seem weary and eminently worth avoiding. The brief wine list is limited to selections from the winery's own wines and is suitable to the menu. Inexpensive

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