By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
I’m guessing that 95 percent of the local population has never heard of Seaglass Restaurant. And here’s why.
For starters, it’s tucked away in the Doubletree Hotel by San Diego Hilton, which is partly obscured by large trees at the west end of Hotel Circle South. If you do happen to momentarily spot the circa-1971 structure while whizzing down Interstate 8, there’s nothing about it that really jumps out.
Secondly, the restaurant is a recent reinvention of Panini Grill & Bar, so there still isn’t a website for it, let alone any presence on Facebook, Yelp or Google. That will change, however, in the next month or so, according to food and beverage director Shauna Aguirre.
And then there’s the fact that San Diegans generally don’t patronize hotel restaurants unless they have friends and relatives staying at them. But exceptions should maybe be made in this case because the food is seriously good, parking is free and easy, and the face-lifted property has begun selling day passes to the public for use of its swimming pool, where customers can enjoy full food and beverage service.
There’s also some history here. The famous Butcher Shop steakhouse resided in this exact space from 1972 to 1986, before moving to its current home in Kearny Mesa. Sadly, recent renovations did away with the last vestiges of the Frank Sinatra-type restaurant, which I’m told were red velvet panels adorning the front and back of the bar.
The new look is clean and sleek, albeit an offshoot to the hotel’s refurbished lobby that was designed with a safe, corporate touch.
A historical nod, however, is given to Albie’s Beef Inn, the iconic restaurant and lounge that operated down the street for 53 years until closing in 2015. Seaglass pays tribute to it with the Albie’s French dip sandwich.
I could barely contain myself when biting through the buttery roll and into layers of the thinly sliced house-roasted beef inside. The meat was supremely tender and completely gristle-free. The jus served alongside for dipping was a tad weak in flavor, but I didn’t care because the accompanying horseradish sauce gave the sandwich all the perk it needed. Dare I say, it was better than the French dip I ate a few times at Albie’s.
My sister visiting from the Chicago area joined me at Seaglass. She was initially skeptical about eating here, assuming we’d be subjected to banquet food served in some outdated mauve-colored dining room. With neither being the case, we learned there’s an executive chef and a pastry chef in place, and that nearly everything is scratch-made: soups, sauces, flatbread, pizza dough and even the bar syrups used in a variety of contemporary cocktails.
The house salad with raspberry vinaigrette featured spinach leaves that were properly de-stemmed and tasted uber-fresh, as though they were plucked from the soil moments before we dug in. (Our server told us the produce is locally sourced.) The jumbo medley also featured ripe strawberries, candied walnuts and creamy bleu cheese crumbles.
We ordered the Caesar salad as well, a straight-forward composition of crispy, chilled hearts of romaine strewn with coarsely shredded Parmesan cheese and garlic-kissed croutons — a respectable Caesar with no deviant surprises.
A snappy lime-cilantro vinaigrette cloaked five large shrimp and seeped into a bed of outstanding cabbage-apple slaw accented with tarragon. Everything jived with the chary pith of the flame-grilled shrimp. We agreed the appetizer was constructed with same finesse as any you’ll find in hyped-up restaurants.
I don’t ever recall ordering pizza from a hotel restaurant — until now. We chose a 16-inch pepperoni pie that offered a refreshing change of pace from the thin, cracker-like crusts served everywhere else. It was neither thick or thin, but rather the medium-girth that pizzerias of yesteryear commonly made — and with quality cheese and sweetish red sauce that also tasted nostalgic.
Many items at Seaglass are fairly new, such as New England clam chowder, corn elotes, shrimp scampi, flatbreads, several burgers, and prime rib, which serves as yet another tribute to Albie’s.
One of the carryover dishes from Panini Grill is a tempting turkey panini constructed with rosemary ciabatta, herbed mozzarella and breast meat roasted in-house. There are also tacos and quesadillas — obligatory chow for those overnight guests rolling in from places devoid of Mexican cuisine.
With the first phase of the hotel’s remodel completed, renovations to the rooms and outdoor areas are slated to begin in the next two months.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.