By Kevin Leap and Steven Persitza
Having previously worked smack dab in the middle of the Gaslamp, finding great places to eat was always more of a "Which one?" verses a "Where the heck to go?" Now snuggly nestled in Carmel Valley, finding a place to lunch or dine is more of a challenge.
There are a few places like Arterra, or Ruth Chris', but not without peeling off a few high denomination bills. Enter Bistro 39 in the Hilton Garden Inn just off the Carmel Valley Road exit. Gone are the days of wearing a pinball machine sized pager waiting for a table at Chili's. Bistro 39 is kind of a cool little place with a comfortable attitude, great menu and killer prices.
Hotel restaurants are usually not top of the list, but Bistro 39 pulls it off. The place has gads of free parking, and walking into the lobby you feel the sense of calm and welcome.
The staff is very friendly and the lobby is not terribly grand, but just right for the size and genre of hotel. The restaurant is a sectioned off portion of the bright, marble-clad lobby enclosed in an intimate area with wine laden racks.
The place probably seats 40 people so you're not likely to encounter huge crowds or waits, and it is certainly a nice place to meet if you're discussing multigazillion-dollar secret deals.
The menu is a pleasant surprise with lots of things you wouldn't expect. The Polo Club consisted of pan seared salmon, bacon, lettuce, tomato and dill mayonnaise on a club roll.
All flavors melded perfectly and we can't say that we've had that good of a sandwich anywhere else in the neighborhood. The BBQ chicken sandwich was equally delicious layered with provolone cheese and grilled red onions. There are greens galore and you should really try the asparagus salad with grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives and parm with perfectly light balsamic vinaigrette. The individual pizzas spied being carried to surrounding tables were huge and loaded with delectable toppings too numerous to mention.
The service started out wonderfully with a warm welcome and Arnold Palmers immediately brought to the table. They also never let the things get less than half full, which was appreciated. Be prepared to leave with a little caffeine buzz if you drink all that they bring.
It did take a bit longer than it should for the food to come out, and toward the end of the meal there was much craning of the neck looking for someone to bring the check. A little slack is deserved on Bistro 39's part as there was a party of 20 there as well. Still it's nice to not be overshadowed by something that should be easily handled.
The dinner menu is equally interesting with wonderful selections including cioppino, steaks, lots of fresh seafood and a few vegetarian dishes. Wines are plentiful and very reasonably priced along with a full bar.
Bistro 39 is a fabulous little hidden gem and hopefully they won't get so busy you'll have to wear a light bejeweled pager to get a table.
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-Hilton Garden Inn San Diego Del Mar
-3939 Ocean Bluff Ave.
-The good: Easy access, easy parking, no wait, big smiles and great food with an average price of $7.50 for lunch and less than $20 for dinner. Top that.
-The bad: Still a little on the new side - the service could use a little polish.