Best of 2001: Best Fusion Cuisine, North County

150 Grand Café
150 West Grand Street, Escondido
760-738-6868
www.150grand.com

A mural on one of the walls shows the restaurant's interior and its personnel but includes a mysterious clown. The food at 150 Grand is such a fine balancing act, perhaps the painter should come back and substitute a tightrope walker. The cooking style here could be called "worldwide adventure food" (and what could be more appropriate after a trip to the nearby Wild Animal Park?). A daily-changing menu takes advantage of the best and freshest ingredients of the season, assembled in bold combinations that chefs less imaginative than Riko Bartolomei would never dream of. Consider melting-soft sweetbread nuggets stir-fried with pineapple, Chinese lap chong sausage, and bitter rapini greens. There's more where that came from. And if you arrive in the right season and you're very, very lucky, for dessert there may be mango tarte Tatin (a sort of upside-down pie) with a crisp under-crust, luscious mango slices, and a topping of faintly earthy "goat cheese fondant" with the texture of whipped cream -- all surrounded by sweet basil syrup, sliced strawberries, and basil leaves.

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