"Serrano,” says Ann.
“Habanero,” says Erin.
“Cayenne,” says Claudia.
“Serrano, because it has heat but it doesn’t have flavor like habanero,” says Ann.
They’re arguing over the peppery mussels I’ve been eating. Because they’ve had them, too.
It’s sunset on a Sunday night, Little Italy. And, man: fun company and a Sunday happy hour! Weekend HHs are like steaks cooked the right way: rare. But tonight I saw this moby neon sign looking down over Little Italy.
“Glass Door Restaurant & Bar” it says.
I head up West Fir from India and across Columbia to what turns out to be a hotel. Porto Vista.
You go into the lobby and head for the elevator. I share it with a couple of rollerbag ladies just in from the airport. They’ve been here before. “Is the eatery open now?” I ask. “Oh, yes,” says one. “And their happy hour goes till 7:00, seven days. Easy to remember.”
Sun’s just dipping its belly into the ocean behind Point Loma when I step in to the Glass Door’s large space. Huey’s lighting up his golden rays and carmine clouds (okay, waxing poetic, but this is Little Italy). You get this wham-o view over the waterfront, the bay, the ocean, and Point Loma.
Inside, the first thing you notice is a crowd of Turkish lanterns hanging from the ceiling. All shapes, sizes, colors. Second thing you notice is a giant teardrop hole in the wall. Through it you see the chefs working away. Kinda cool.
I head to the bar. Now you only see the view through patches of mirror among the bottles.
The place is not that full. Groups who look like they’ve just come up from their rooms at the Porto Vista to have something before they hit the town. Lots of echoey laughs, especially from a couple of gals at the bar, yakking with Claudia the bartender.
“Happy hour? No problem,” Claudia says when I take a stool. She’s from Chile. I get a Ballast Point double IPA for $6 (during happy hour).
She hands me the happy-hour menu. I take it and my pint outside to this long outside gallery. Wow. You can see from Mexico to Canada, practically.
HH prices start at $5 and top out at $11. In the $5 range, you’ve got patatas bravas, croquettes with arrabbiata sauce (translation, “angry” sauce, because it’s got spicy hot red chili in the tomato-and-garlic sauce), an olive sampler, a plate of brussels sprouts, and fried cauliflower; or albondigas, lamb, pork, and beef meatballs.
For $7 you can get fresh mussels with chorizo and a “mojo-saffron broth,” or a roasted beet salad with figs, goat cheese, and pistachios.
For $9, the choice is beef carpaccio. It’s basically thin-sliced raw beef with capers, parmesan cheese, “red wine truffle essence,” and herbs. Hmm... Tempting. (And I find out it was only invented in 1963. Giuseppe Cipriani, the guy who started Harry’s Bar in Venice, created it for a lady who could only eat raw meat. He named it after the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio.)
Also for $9, prawns al ajillo, which is poached shrimp, garlic oil, sofrito (a base sauce). And for 11 bucks, lamb chops, “chorizo truffled lentils,” and a romesco (roasted nut) sauce.
Some stuff I’d love to try. But I need to conserve dinero a little. So I decide to get the mussels in their mojo-saffron broth, and albondigas. The meatballs should be filling.
It’s certainly cool out here on the balcony. Maybe too cool. Sun’s down, breeze’s up. So I take my stuff back inside, to the bar, near the two ladies who were having all the laughs when I first came in.
Ann and Erin. Good buddies. And with scary job titles. Ann’s a cyber security engineer. Erin? “EA for the CEO and CIO of an IT Co.”
Huh? Turns out EA is executive assistant. Also turns out they have both eaten the albondigas and the mussel dish Claudia’s brought me. “It’s the broth in the mussel bowl that’s so awesome,” says Ann. “Spicy, too. I swear they’ve got serrano chilies in there.”
That’s when we get into the serrano vs. habanero argument.
That’s also when the executive chef paces by. Dorian. “The broth? It’s saffron and chorizo.”
Oh, yeah. Chorizo sausage taste is awesome to slurp up. But, ginger, too? Or is it the saffron?
My only beef? It’s delicious and all. But for seven bucks you get only five mussels and one thin slice of bread to soak up the most interesting part of the dish, the bowl of mojo-saffron broth with the chorizo. The meatballs are great, but small. (On the other hand, turns out, they’re supposed to be: the name “albondigas” comes from the Arabic al bunduq, which means “hazelnut,” or, by extension, any small round object, like meatballs. The Moors brought the idea to Spain, and the Spanish ran with it all the way to the New World, from Claudia’s Santiago to our San Diego. Meatballs have become among the world’s most common of meals.
So, this place? You know the theory: restaurants with great views rest on their location laurels. They get away with no-no service and so-so meals. Here? I didn’t get too many mussels, and it was a bit thin on the bread, and the meatballs were filling but not grab-your-gut interesting. But, that chorizo broth (I drank most of it) saved the day. That and the excellent company of Ann, Erin, and Claudia.
“You should come back on Friday,” says Dorian. “We’re opening up the rooftop once a week now.”
“During happy hour?” I ask him.
He nods. Ann flings a hug around Erin.
“All right,” she says, “party on the fifth floor!”
1835 Columbia Street, Little Italy
Hours: Breakfast 7–10 a.m.; dinner 3 p.m.–12 a.m. (till 10 p.m. Sunday–Tuesday); brunch Saturday, Sunday 10 a.m.–2 p.m.
Happy Hour Prices: Patatas bravas, $5; olive sampler, $5; brussels sprouts and fried cauliflower, $5; albondigas (lamb, pork, beef meatballs), $5; mussels with chorizo, mojo-saffron broth, $7; roasted beet salad, figs, goat cheese, pistachios, $7; beef carpaccio, $9; prawns al ajillo, $9; lamb chops, $11
Nearest bus stop: India between Cedar and Date (northbound); Kettner at Grape (southbound)
Trolley: Green Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: County Administration Center/Little Italy (at Cedar and California, two blocks west of India)