Dine in San Diego’s Historic Balboa Park.
(Photo of The Prado Fountain Courtyard.)
Spanish influences are
evident in The Prado.
I’m strolling down the promenade of Balboa Park in San Diego; there is crispness in the Spring air. It is dusk. There was a feeling of beauty, history, and culture in the park buildings etched with their Hispanic influenced rococo carvings, Watching the swaying of the palm trees in the background of the phosphorescent street lights made me increasingly muy hambre (very hungry) with each step.
The Prado restaurant is in “The House of Hospitality”; the entrance made me feel as if I was walking into a historic mansion in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico.
The Saltillo tile floor and the large courtyard pulled me in as if I was a rabbit and the ambiance was the carrot. We were pleasantly greeted at the hostess stand near a bar and lounge fit for colonial Mexican royalty; I noted for future night outs that tapas and a wide variety of libations were served regally here.
The hostess whisked my handsome dinner date and myself to a fantastic table in one of the main dining areas; we immersed ourselves in the immediate surroundings.
Balboa Park is packed with
museums, restaurants, and art galleries.
When I was a child, my parents built a large house on Denver horse property that was all Spanish-style and the comfort of Prado took me back to that time in my life. The floors were also Saltillo tiles, the walls were filled with wonderful pieces of art, sconces, and the wooden beamed ceiling rose above elegant chandeliers. My eyes continually averted to the beautiful ceiling splashed with azure blue and rich red, green and gold tones that were so striking and aesthetically pleasing. The beautiful artwork on the ceiling was accidentally discovered when the Prado,was constructed, hidden like the fresco that Frances Mayes found in her villa in “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Apparently, this hidden gem had been here for years.
Fine dining at the Alhambra Room.
The Prado made its debut in 2000 as the host to 300 New Year’s eve patrons. It is a member of the Cohn Restaurant group; a portfolio of David and Lesley Cohn’s restaurants is in itself pretty impressive. They have developed many of San Diego’s most renowned restaurants, such as, Kemo Sabe (in Hillcrest), Indigo Grill (in Little Italy), and one of my personal favorites, the Gaslamp Strip Club (in the Gaslamp Historic District in downtown San Diego).
Literally right in the heart of Balboa Park, The Prado seats up to 400 guests in its main dining areas. It has both indoor and al fresco dining. (Enjoy the wonderful San Diego weather on the patio.) The menu is best described as California Cuisine with Latin and Mediterranean influences. The building itself, the “House of Hospitality”, is a historic landmark, constructed in 1915.
Casa Del Rey Moro Gardens.
The Prado is a popular wedding place in San Diego; wedding ceremonies have been conduted on the site since 1935. There are also several places on the property to host all of the festivities that take place after the bride and groom have sealed their marriage with a kiss.
I should also notate that this restaurant has received numerous awards: in 2005, Jeff Thurston was named Chef of the Year by the California Restaurant Association; The Prado was also given the Silver Fork Award honors in San Diego Home/Garden Magazine. These are just a two of their documented accomplishments. You can discover their other awards when you dine here.
Service is the epicurean key to fine dining, as important to the experience as the cuisine. I enjoy critiquing lovely new food creations (or at least new to me), but it is often more about the social engagement between the diners and the staff — you and the restaurant. Our waiter, Scott, completely enhanced the experience with splendid wine pairings.
The intimate Loggia Room.
I quizzed Scott about Prado’s popular drinks showcased within their specialty drink menu. Everything tantalized me as refreshing, such as the homemade Sangria, the blood orange Cosmopolitan, and the Mango Martini, to name a few. We ordered the Sangria and I was certainly glad that we did. Sometimes sangrias have a little bite to them which makes them uncomfortable to drink more than just one. This sangria was crisp, cold, and delicious. It had just enough of that fruity hint blended with the velvet touch of the red wine. It was a great way to start the meal.
Scott has such a passion for the Prado, Balboa Park, and San Diego living. His trivia tidbits of historical information made the Prado pop to life; I sensed the genuine spirit in his eyes. He thoroughly explained the menu and was very knowledgeable about all of the items that Chef Jeff Thurston had to offer.
Patio cocktail hour on the Fountain Courtyard.
For appetizers we decided on the seared Kobe Beef Sushi Roll and the Nori and Sesame Tuna Tataki. They were served promptly as we sipped our sangrias. I would indeed order these appetizers again. The Tuna Tataki was my favorite because it is accompanied by a shredded daikon and carrot slaw, miso vinaigrette, and oba-wasabi aioli. Delicious! We split the “Prado’s Pressed Salad” that emanated the freshness of Spring. It had baby arugula, asiago cheese, strawberries, walnuts, figs, and light sherry shallot vinaigrette.
I ordered the Sea Bass as my entrée, while my dear friend ordered the Rack of Lamb. The Sea Bass was delicate and cooked to perfection. I have teetered between vegetarian and meat eating over the years. I stole a bite of my friend’s Rack of Lamb and because of my meat eating issues this was the first time I had tasted lamb. It was so tender, lacking the gamey taste that instantly reminds me of the wilderness. The Sea Bass was plated on watercress, with potatoes on the side with cauliflower puree. The lamb was in a pinot noir reduction sauce, and was paired with roasted baby root vegetables. I loved the baby beets.
In addition to Scott’s amiability, Laura, one of the Managers, came to check on us and was such a delight. She shared stories of the history, her career with the establishment, and she was as genuine as the eclectic furnishings around the room.
Stage an event in the Grand Ballroom
After our “food coma”, Scott insisted that we try a dessert because the Prado has a fantastic pastry chef. We indulged in one more round of gluttony with wonderful warm chocolate soufflé paired with a lovely port wine. It was the perfect ending to an absolutely perfect meal.
At this time I noticed we were one of the last tables left. Time flies, right? Scott’s hospitality was a splendid addition to dinner, so we snapped photos with him and then wrapped up the bill. As we walked back through the rooms to the exit, I thought, what is better than great food, great service, great ambiance, and of course, great company?
The Prado serves lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday beginning at 5:00 p.m.
1549 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
Cohn Restaurant Group website:
— Feature by Michelle Schoser, Las Vegas Jetsetters Magazine Adventure Editor.