Every evening, when I descend the gently curving Coronado Bay Bridge I take in the incredible beauty of the resort town I call home. Everything about it is perfect: the glorious Hotel Del Coronado, pristine beaches, gourmet picnics at summer concerts in the park and early morning walks with our two Newfoundland dogs. These are just a handful of the reasons why John and I savor life in Coronado. When we decide to dine casually, we rarely venture back over the bridge. At least one night during the week, you’ll find us wedged in at the Brigantine bar with classic fish tacos and shakers of Margaritas. On another evening, we’re bound to be chatting with Johnny at Il Fornaio's bar, sharing a plate of penne alla vodka and sipping Sangiovese.
Over the past few weeks, with a mission to expand our stomping grounds, we set out to discover and share innovative small plates and customer favorites from various happy hour menus around the village.
We commenced at the Ferry Landing and the three main restaurants that hug the water’s edge and offer sweeping views of the bay, downtown skyline and bridge. Il Fornaio's $5 happy hour menu features antipasti, pizzas, artisan cocktails, wine and beer. Top choices include carpaccio - thinly sliced raw beef with shaved grana padano cheese, capers and wild arugula drizzled with lemon-scented olive oil; calamaretti fritti, which are baby squid, lightly floured and deep fried and served with spicy marinara sauce for dipping, and pizza fradiavola (Italian for "brother devil"), which is thin-crusted and topped with tomato sauce, sausage, peppers, mozzarella and a drizzle of pepperoncino oil. I stick to red wine, but John loves the “Italian Renaissance,” which is made with bourbon, elderflower liqueur and pomegranate, lime and lemon juices.
A few steps from the ferry dock, Candelas by the Bay serves contemporary, Mexico City-inspired cuisine. The early evening and late night happy hours have melded into an all day, every day, 50% discount on the entire bar menu. It’s difficult to choose a favorite among the three small plates we sampled, but I find myself craving the ribeye tacos ($9), which encloses strips of seasoned steak along with roasted poblano chiles, corn and cheese in thick, chewy corn tortillas. The trio of quesadillas ($7), filled one-each with cheese, chicken and beef, are like buttery, crescent-shaped empanadas, and are served with beans and rice on the side. A healthier option, the insalata Veracruz ($5.25) is a great find. Chicken stars in this tumble of baby greens, blue cheese, hearts of palm, and walnuts tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. Even better, it's garnished with shoestring tortilla chips and a fan of mango slices. Several unique cocktails and Martinis are available, like a chili mango-Martini with a chili-lime powdered rim.
Peohe’s, a long-lived, very touristy tropical oasis sandwiched between Il Fornaio and Candelas, has its own dock for those who cruise across the bay in style. Happy hour is served at the bar, in the lounge and on the outside patio. Served with lemongrass aioli for dipping the tender smoky leaves and coveted heart, the grilled artichoke ($5) proved a flavorful addition to the menu, and was maybe the most flavorful. “Pacific Fire” shrimp sautéed in island spices ($5) and paired with Maui-style onion rings ($4) and chipotle catsup was tasty, just like the fried, coconut-crusted shrimp ($6) with plum sauce. I’ve never been a fan of mojitos, because of the overpowering flavor of muddled mint that sometimes lingers in the mouth, but I found the signature mojitos ($6; made with a choice of blueberry, mango or pomegranate) to be fruity and refreshing.
The north end of Orange Avenue has been redeveloped nicely with several new restaurants. At Saiko Sushi, the sidewalk patio is a prime late afternoon spot for happy hour. Of the five sushi bars on the island, Saiko is tops. Start with a heaping bowl of edamame ($3) seasoned with celery salt and garlic, and then take your chopsticks to the tempura-fried Saiko roll ($8), filled with salmon, yellowtail and crab, and drizzled with wasabi aioli and eel sauce. Dishes like baby bok choy ($4) with miso mustard, and an eggplant version of agedashi tofu called age dashi eggplant ($4 for a plate of lightly fried, cornstarch-coated eggplant cubes served with spicy red miso sauce), rounded out a pleasurable early evening. Drink specials include draft beer ($3.50), wines ($4-6), and such cocktails ($5) as the lychee lemondrop saketini and pomegranate Cosmo.
Further down Orange in the heart of the village, the intimate and romantic Primavera Ristorante has been serving Northern Italian cuisine for nearly 20 years. Sit on big, comfy leather bar stools at the handsome bar or at a bar-height table by the window, and enjoy a $3 discount on any cocktail, beer or glass of wine. The selection of small plates is quite impressive. We delighted in bacon-wrapped jumbo scallops in saffron cream sauce ($12), creamy, golden-crusted mac 'n' cheese baked with four cheeses ($7), and crostini florentina, which are goat cheese-smothered toast points topped with spinach, filet mignon and porcini mushrooms ($10). Monday nights feature $5 martinis, and $10 plates of tortellini verde star on Tuesdays.
Just a block or so away, the not-quite-year-old Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge partners with local farmers, brewers and manufacturers to create a farm-to-table dining experience. As a creative departure from jalapeno “poppers,” we loved the blistered pardon peppers ($3) piled high on the plate and served with an awesome dip of chorizo, chipotle and sour cream. The poke tacos ($8), which tuck seasoned ahi, cool Napa cabbage slaw and spicy cream inside crisp wonton shells, are addicting. Eggs from trendy Niman Ranch are deliciously “deviled” with yellow curry, pickled red onion and mango chutney ($5). We enjoyed using hunks of grilled bread to soak up the flavorful broth of the Carlsbad black mussels ($12). Leroy’s boasts an extensive selection of cocktails and beer, and offers select wines at $5 the glass during happy hour.
A few blocks south to The Brigantine, wave to us at the bar and order the award-winning fish tacos ($2.75), which you can pair with a spinach or Caesar salad ($4.25) for a light meal. On Taco Tuesdays, which offer a larger selection of discounted tacos, join locals in enjoying various grilled fish tacos as well as my favorite, the calamari taco ($3.25) with salsa fresca and the Brig’s luscious jalapeno white sauce. If you’re not an oyster enthusiast, try the mushroom Rockefeller ($7), a sextet of cheese-topped mushrooms stuffed with creamy spinach and bacon and baked until bubbling. The shaker Margarita ($8) is the obvious choice to accompany these bites, but beer and wine specials also are offered.
We never tire of visiting the Hotel Del, and the extraordinary ENO Wine Bar features three delectable indulgences – fine wine, rare cheeses and gourmet chocolates, served individually or in flights of three. Sit inside the intimate and stylish bar, or watch the sunset from one of the fire-pit tables overlooking the ocean. A unique twist on traditional happy hours features such one-of-a-kind tasting experiences as “Tasting Tuesdays” (10 wines for $12), “Say Cheese” Wednesdays ($9 cheese flights), and $5 Fridays, when select wines sell for $5 per glass. Cheese flights are served with preserves, almonds and Bread & Cie breads. If the party is on the large side, order the impressive charcuterie platter ($22) of cured meats, heavenly duck and pork pate with pistachios, sliced baguette, cornichons and whole-grain mustard. In this case, be sure to finish the evening with a flight of really exquisite chocolates ($12).
Coronado offers plenty of other happy hours at casual sports bars and pubs, so we encourage you to make the short journey across the bridge to spend an evening in the village. Menus and hours may change seasonally.
See the full article and all photos at Wine & Dine San Diego.
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