Anthony’s Fish Grotto, La Mesa, California

I grew up in La Mesa, California, a suburb of San Diego. According to my mom, we went to Anthony’s Fish Grotto next to the Interstate 8 freeway in the 1960s or 70s but I don’t remember. The last time I remember eating there was in the 1990s. I recall liking it but I was mad when they replaced their huge, beautiful sign with fish of different sizes (see postcard below) with a boring blue and white glass sign. After some friends’ recent visit to Anthony’s Fish Grotto in La Mesa, I decided to try it again.

 

Anthony's founders, 1946 - L to R: Anthony Ghio, Tod Ghio, Catherine "Mama" Ghio, and Roy Weber - photo by Anthony's Fish Grotto

Anthony’s founders, 1946 – L to R: Anthony Ghio, Tod Ghio, Catherine “Mama” Ghio, and Roy Weber – photo by Anthony’s Fish Grotto

 

In 1946 Catherine “Mama” Ghio and her sons Anthony and Tod with her son-in-law Roy Weber opened a small diner at 965 Harbor Drive in San Diego to serve Mama Ghio’s seafood dishes from her secret fish batter and sauce recipes. Anthony was host, Tod prepared the fish, and Mama and Roy did the cooking. The restaurant was a hit and in 1951 the business expanded, opening a larger restaurant on the Pacific Coast Highway and a modern new restaurant in La Jolla.

 

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A wholesale fish market was added in 1954, which still serves as the source of the seafood at Anthony’s, obtained from both local fishing boats and distant seas.

 

In 1960 Anthony’s hired popular local architect C. J. “Pat” Paderewski to design a modern new restaurant next to a historic pond in La Mesa and to boldly redesign the La Jolla location.

 

Anthony's La Mesa, 1961 - photo by Modern San Diego

Anthony’s Fish Grotto La Mesa, 1961 – photo by Modern San Diego

 

The La Mesa location opened in January, 1961, and is still open today.

 

Antony's Fish Grotto La Mesa postcard

postcard of La Mesa Anthony’s showing original sign at upper left (replaced in the 1990s)

 

The La Jolla restaurant closed and unfortunately was demolished in 1983.

 

Anthony's Fish Grotto La Jolla, 1961 - photo by Modern San Diego

Anthony’s Fish Grotto La Jolla, 1961 – photo by Modern San Diego

 

In 1966 a brand new Anthony’s Fish Grotto was built on the downtown San Diego waterfront.

 

Anthony's Fish Grotto San Diego, 1966 - photo by Modern San Diego

Anthony’s Fish Grotto San Diego, 1966 – photo by Modern San Diego

 

Designed by the architectural firm Liebhardt & Weston, it included the main Fish Grotto and a fine dining restaurant, the Star of The Sea Room, where jackets and ties were obligatory.

 

Star of the Sea Room

 

The 1970s saw the opening of the Seafood Mart (1973), the Chula Vista Fish Grotto (1974, closed 2011), and Anthony’s Harborside (1976, closed 1991). In 1983 a Fish Grotto opened in Rancho Bernardo (now closed) and in 2006 the Star of The Sea Room was remodeled and rebranded, only to close two years later, becoming a private event space.

Mama Ghio passed away in 1994 at 97 years of age, but Anthony’s is still run by the Ghio family: Anthony’s son Rick, Tod’s son Craig, and Roy’s daughter Beverly.

 

entrance to La Mesa Fish Grotto - photo by Dean Curtis

entrance to La Mesa Fish Grotto – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

My recent visit was to the La Mesa Fish Grotto, which doesn’t have a bay view like the San Diego one, but it has fanciful grotto decor inside a mid-century modern building. You enter the restaurant through a huge clam shell-shaped portal past a rock grotto with a waterfall.

 

inside entrance - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

inside entrance – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Inside the foyer and bar area the walls are covered with rock with nooks and crannies that contain sea flora and fauna. It’s well done so it doesn’t seem tacky.

 

foyer - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

foyer – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The main dining rooms are in a modern post & beam building (as seen in the 1961 photo above) with large picture windows overlooking the pond, which was originally used as water storage for a wooden flume that was constructed in 1885-88 to carry water from Lake Cuyamaca. Fountains shoot out of fishes’ mouths into the water and there is a fountain in the middle of the pond.

 

view from main dining room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

view from main dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The dining rooms have many booths along the picture windows, upholstered in aquatic colors, as well as a few tables and some large booths along an interior rock wall, which features a beautiful mosaic tile mural of Poseidon (aka Neptune) and Amphitrite riding a combination horse and sea creature. There is also a large dog-friendly patio for dining alfresco next to the pond (which you can see in the photo above).

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The menu is pretty extensive so, as in all seafood restaurants, order wisely. It is usually a good idea to ask your server what is fresh that day and what preparation they recommend (at Anthony’s you can get your fresh fish prepared in various ways). I tend to order a simple preparation such as grilled or sautéed with a simple pan sauce such as a Picatta sauce because heavy sauces can often overpower fish. On my recent visit to Anthony’s La Mesa I ordered fresh wild king (Chinook) salmon, described as line-caught, which is rated as a good choice by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines. I ordered my salmon grilled with the lemon-dill sauce on the side and with redskin mashed potatoes and homemade cole slaw with creamy pineapple dressing. The fish was fresh and cooked perfectly. Everything was delicious including appetizer we had, crispy Brussels sprouts with bacon.

 

food

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

As I mentioned before, Anthony’s has been in the news this year. The restaurant’s lease with the Port of San Diego expires in 2017, so the Port planned to negotiate the site’s redevelopment with two local restaurant chains, excluding Anthony’s. After this news was released the Ghio family asked the port to consider their proposal for a new plan for the site and the Port agreed to do so. Whatever the Port decides, you still have time to visit Anthony’s Fish Grotto in San Diego or La Mesa. Le Continental recommends the La Mesa location for its atmosphere over the San Diego location, which is in a nice modern building but is furnished with cheap looking furniture that looks like it should be in an ice cream parlor or deli and not a seafood restaurant with a harbor view (wood furniture would have been a better choice, imo).

 

Anthony’s Fish Grotto
9530 Murray Dr, La Mesa, CA 91942
(619) 463-0368
Open daily 11:00am – 8:30pm (9:00pm on Friday and Saturday)

 

 

Cafe La Maze, National City, California

Marcel Lamaze was a famous chef and maître d’hôtel in Hollywood during the heyday of the 1930s through the 1950s. He opened his Cafe La Maze on the Sunset Strip in 1938. It was a popular celebrity hangout, with regulars including James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, and Pat O’Brien.

 

Cafe Lamaze, Hollywood

Cafe La Maze, Hollywood

 

Marcel Lamaze was also maître d’hôtel at the Earl Carroll Theater and at Ciro’s (formerly Lamaze’s Club Seville). He was chef at The Kings restaurant from 1951 to 1954, then maître d’hôtel at the Moulin Rouge, which replaced the Earl Carroll Theater, until his death in 1960. In the 1940s his Cafe La Maze in Hollywood became Sherry’s, later the Plymouth House, Gazarri’s, Billboard Live, and finally the Key Club, which closed recently (no relation to the Key Club bar at Cafe La Maze in National City – see photo below).

 

Cafe La Maze, National City, 1949 - photo by Cafe La Maze

Cafe La Maze, National City, 1949 – photo by Cafe La Maze

 

According to the web site for Cafe La Maze in National City, Marcel Lamaze opened the restaurant in 1940 to serve Hollywood celebrities who traveled across the border to gamble in Tijuana. However, there is no evidence of Marcel Lamaze’s connection to the restaurant in National City and city newspapers show that the restaurant was opened in 1940 by Jimmy Thompson. Nevertheless, reportedly it was a popular gambling stop with a secret gambling den on the second floor (in 1947, Thompson was arrested in a midnight raid on the establishment to enforce ant-gambling laws) and had a reputation for excellent food so it became a special destination for a fancy night out.

 

front

Cafe La Maze, National City, today

 

In the 1960s it was briefly renamed Plantation Restaurant and remodeled, probably close to its present look, but in 1967 it was named Cafe La Maze again. In 1969, Freddie Evarkiou bought the restaurant and owned it until 2004. In 2008, Evarkiou stated that Marcel Lamaze had no direct connection to the National City location, though he admitted  the restaurant obtained recipes from Marcel Lamaze, who was a well-know chef (and maître d’hôtel). So, Le Continental believes the restaurant was named Cafe La Maze as a tribute to the Hollywood location, with possible involvement by Marcel Lamaze.

 

interior - photo by Cafe La Maze

interior – photo by Cafe La Maze

 

In 2008 Adam Cook and Cuong Nguyen bought the restaurant. Their designer Michele Gonzalez has done a wonderful job redecorating the restaurant into a classic steakhouse with acknowledgements to the history of Marcel Lamaze as a Hollywood host. There are tufted red booths, red and gold flocked wallpaper, mid-century chandeliers, and photos of Hollywood celebrities from Marcel Lamaze’s era. The menu specializes in Prime Rib and steaks, which are hand cut, as well as seafood. The restaurant makes its own blue cheese dressing and soups from scratch. Despite the foggy history of the place, it is a fact that it is a historic restaurant in San Diego and we are grateful that it has survived for 75 years, and we hope it keeps going for a long, long time (maybe to 100 years old!).

 

Cafe La Maze
1441 Highland Ave, National City, CA 91950
(619) 474-3222
Open Sun-Thu 11:00am – 9:00pm (bar at 11:30pm), Fri-Sat 11:00am – 10:00pm (bar at 12:30pm)

 

The Butcher Shop, San Diego, California

The Butcher Shop in the Kearny Mesa neighborhood of San Diego didn’t open until 1986 but its atmosphere and menu are definitely classic steak house, putting it in the list of San Diego’s old-fashioned steakhouses along with the Red Fox Room, Albie’s Beef Inn, Cafe La Maze, Turf Supper Club, and the Riviera Supper Club.

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The Butcher Shop’s lineage starts decades before its opening, when Vincent De Philippis (from Italy) and his wife Madeleine Stefani (from France) moved to San Diego in 1950 from Philadelphia. That year they opened an Italian deli/grocery on India Street called Filippi’s Cash and Carry, which is still open today as Filippi’s Pizza Grotto. There are now 13 Filippi’s restaurants, mostly in San Diego County with one in Riverside County and one in Napa, CA, all owned by descendents of the De Philippis family. In 1968 Roberto De Philippis bought a Hawaiian restaurant in Chula Vista, CA, and turned it into a classic steak house with red tufted leatherette booths, red flocked wallpaper, and red tables, called The Butcher Shop. I visited the restaurant a few years back but I can’t find my photos so here is one I found online.

 

Chula Vista BS

The Butcher Shop, Chula Vista (now The Steak House)

 

A unique feature of the Chula Vista Butcher Shop was the waitresses uniforms, which included miniskirts and fishnet stockings. Roberto sold the restaurant in 2008 and it’s now called The Steak House. Apparently the new owners have kept the decor pretty much intact but I have yet to visit and see for myself. In 1972 Roberto De Philippi opened a second Butcher Shop steakhouse in Mission Valley, which he closed in 1986 to re-open as The Butcher Shop in Kearny Mesa. He operated the restaurant until the late 1990s when he sold it to the current owners, the International Aero Club LLC, who were allowed to keep the name. They also own the popular San Diego outpost of the 94th Aero Squadron, which is a 1970s WWI-aviation themed restaurant chain with a few locations left in the US (Van Nuys, CA, Miami, FL, and Columbus, OH).

 

Butcher Shop 1

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

As you can see by my photos the restaurant is somewhat dark, just how Le Continental likes it, with red tufted leatherette booths like the Chula Vista location but more swanky and elegant with white linen tablecloths, chandeliers, vases of fresh flowers, and many framed artworks and portraits of movie stars on the walls. I especially liked the corner booth in the fireplace dining room with the framed 1950s photo of Dean Martin – I’ll be sure to ask for that booth the next time I visit.

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The menu features grain-fed Midwestern beef, aged at least 21 days, and broiled over mesquite. Most of the steaks offered are high quality USDA Choice (basically a rating of the age of the beef and the amount and type of fat marbling the steak has) but they also offer a USDA Prime top sirloin, which is one of Le Continental’s favorite cuts in good steakhouses for its beefy flavor, tenderness, and leanness. So that’s what I ordered. I was quite pleased with the flavorful char, the thickness of the steak, its flavor and tenderness. A couple of small areas were a bit too black but I just trimmed those parts off because they tend to taste bitter (and supposedly they are not very healthy). The restaurant specializes in Prime Rib, which seems to be quite popular according to online reviews. The menu also has a few veal, poultry, and seafood dishes, mostly in classic preparations such as veal Oscar, veal piccata, and chicken scaloppini. The early bird specials, called Sunset Dinners, from 4:00pm-6:00pm 7 days a week seem to be popular with the senior set ($15.99).

 

The Butcher Shop
5255 Kearny Villa Rd, San Diego, CA 92123
(858) 565-2272
Open Mon-Th 11:00am-9:30pm, Fri 11:00am-10:30pm, Sat 4:00pm-10:30pm, Sun 4:00pm-9:30pm, Happy Hour Mon-Fri 3:00pm-6:00pm
Valet parking is free.

 

Old Trieste, San Diego, California

Acting on a tip by Peter Morruzzi, last May I met some friends at Old Trieste, a 50-year-old Italian restaurant in San Diego. After my visit it has become a new favorite for me for the good food, but also for the wonderful old-fashioned service and elegant original decor and atmosphere. Thanks, Peter!

 

Old Trieste

 

Old Trieste was opened in 1963 by Ramiro ‘Tommy’ Tomicich, who was born in Trieste, Italy. In those days the dress code of dresses for ladies and jackets and ties for men was strictly enforced. Over the years Tommy hosted celebrities and politicians including Frank Sinatra, Anthony Quinn, and Dr. Seuss. In 1998 when Ramiro ‘Tommy’ Tomicich passed away his son Larry Tomicich took over running the restaurant that he has worked at since he was 13 years old. Larry greets you at Old Trieste when you walk in the door – talk about good ol’ fashioned service!

 

Owner and maître d' Larry Tomicich.  Image from Old Trieste's facebook page.

Owner and maître d’ Larry Tomicich. Image from Old Trieste’s facebook page.

 

The interior is lovely and appears mostly original from 1963. There is a curvy bar with great low-back vintage bar stools covered with sparkly blue Naugahyde, a dining room surrounded by booths with white tuck ‘n’ roll (all the tables are booths!), white linen tablecloths, vintage framed art on the walls, and chandeliers. The walls even have original wood paneling tiles, alternating with decorative mirrors with inlaid gold patterns (that were so popular in the 1960s), and red drapes.

 

Old Trieste dining room. Image from Old Trieste's facebook page.

Old Trieste dining room. Image from Old Trieste’s facebook page.

 

The menu is classic Italian / Continental fare. All tables receive the house special appetizer of fried zucchini. Specialties include veal and filet mignon, each offered in several different preparations, chicken livers Treistina, cannelloni, and seafood. Dinners come with pasta and soup or salad. I had the house special of chicken cannelloni and medaglione Romano (steak medallions with a mushroom sauce) and both were excellent. My photo came out very dark (I prefer dark restaurants) but here it is anyway because I want you to see that they still use vintage restaurant ware (from Syracuse China?).

 

Old Trieste dinner

 

You really need to visit Old Trieste on your next visit to San Diego if you like a classy, old style restaurant experience with perfect service in a vintage dining room that takes you back to another time, before cell phones and the internet (wait, this blog is on the internet!). Seriously, get dressed up, go to Old Trieste, and wish them a happy 50th anniversary!

 

Old Trieste
2335 Morena Blvd, San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 276-1841
Open Tue-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-9:00pm, closed Sunday and Monday

 

Imperial House, San Diego, California

San Diego’s last holdout for classic continental dining in a perfectly preserved dining room, the Imperial House opened in 1969 (it is still owned by the same family) in a mid-century apartment building overlooking Balboa Park in the Banker’s Hill neighborhood (my old neighborhood). It was great returning there recently to dine with friends from San Francisco who were in San Diego at the same time as me. My last visit to the Imperial House to dine was back in 2003, though I have visited the bar a few times since then.

ImperialHouse5

 

On entering the restaurant from their private driveway (I wish more restaurants had one…it seems more classy than entering from a sidewalk), you are greeted by original maître d’ Felix Galindo, ‘the man who rolls his R’s’, who escorts you past the medieval armor in a glass case into the beautiful dining room of red booths and high-backed chairs, tables with starched white linen tablecloths, chandeliers, wood walls with framed paintings, and Olde English style windows overlooking Sixth Avenue and the park.

 

image by Metromix.com

 

image by Imperial House’s facebook page

 

The menu is classic Continental, including French and American specialties such as mock turtle soup à l’anglaise au sherry, filet mignon Oscar, roast rack of lamb jardinière, chateaubriand bouquetiere for two, and steak Diane, which is prepared tableside. Also prepared tableside are flambé dishes like spinach salad flambé, bananas flambé, cherries jubilee, and café diablo for two. Steak and seafood entrées round out the menu. You might start with an appetizer such as escargot bourguignonne or oysters Rockefeller.

Escargots Bourguignonne

Escargots Bourguignonne

 

We had too much Mexican food for lunch (which is always great in San Diego, by the way) so we didn’t have room for main dishes, but instead opted for appetizers, salads, and dessert. We had both the spinach salad flambé and the Ceasar salad, prepared tableside.

Felix Rinaldi prepares Caesar salad dressing by hand.

Felix Rinaldi prepares Caesar salad dressing by hand.

 

For dessert we had bananas flambé (bananas Foster) with dark rum, brown sugar, butter, banana liqueur, cinnamon, and some 151 for pyrotechnics. Served over vanilla ice cream of course. Delicious!

ImperialHouse3

 

The entire meal experience was lovely, with some pop vocal classics playing softly in the restaurant (Dino, Sinatra, etc.). However, I would ask for a table in the back if entertainment is in progress in the bar because in the front of the dining room it may be possible to hear noise from the bar. The service was perfect, with the waiters dressed in black jackets and bow ties (as seen in the photo). There are dinner specials nightly through the week, such as prime rib on Friday and Saturday, as well as a swell $60 3-course dinner for two including a bottle of wine.

There is a happy hour in the bar with free hot food on Tuesday through Saturday. On Thursdays through Saturdays there is a popular piano player (Rick Lyon) performing classic rock songs to a synthesized backing track, and they serve food in the bar late on Fridays and Saturdays (10pm-12am). They also have a popular dinner theater called Mystery Cafe, which is performed in a room behind the bar (not in the main dining room).

 

Imperial House
505 Kalmia Street, San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 234-3525
Open 4:00pm-10:00pm Tuesday thru Thursday, 4:00pm-1:30am Friday and Saturday
Dinner hours are limited so call first (I assume they are approx. 5pm-10pm Tue-Sat).