By Frank Sabatini Jr.
The scent of suntan lotions wafted through the air under a midmorning sun as lean-bodied twenty-somethings lazed on chaise lounges scattered around the pool deck. Some of the patrons sipped on boozy coffee drinks and micheladas. Others noshed on eggs and guacamole after playing a few quiet rounds of cornhole in an area flaunting canvas cabanas.
“This isn’t your typical brunch setting,” I explained to my aunt, who was visiting from Buffalo, New York, as we settled into sturdy wicker stools at a high-top table.
She welcomed the departure from eating indoors and compared the rooftop space to something you’d see in Las Vegas, pointing to the deck’s lime-green umbrellas, royal-blue sofa sets and big, curvy outdoor bar that fuels a casual club scene at night.
Only recently did Upper East Bar (formerly known as LoungeSix) on the fourth floor of Kimpton Solamar Hotel introduce “sunrise social brunch,” which is served from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
The concise menu was devised by Anthony Sinsay, a local pioneer of Filipino cuisine who last year took the position of executive chef for the hotel’s ground-floor restaurant, Jsix.
Sinsay’s brunch menu, however, is playfully Californian. Consider his French toast “fries,” which are large strips of brioche bread dredged in eggs and milk and then dusted in pulverized peanut butter Cap’n Crunch cereal.
We ordered the dish at the end of our meal as dessert, assuming we’d take only a few bites before taking home the remains. Wrong. The bread logs were warm and light and not overly sweet — even when slathering them with the accompanying maple butter and terrific house-made berry jam.
Sinsay’s take on avocado toast features shredded Dungeness crab, alfalfa sprouts and watermelon radishes atop hearty grilled bread. The only thing missing was the avocado. We found only faint smears of it beneath the crab.
A chopped salad in lemon vinaigrette mimicked Italian antipasto. It contained diced salami, smoked mozzarella, pepperoncini, and chickpeas.
Not bad, although the smokiness of the cheese at times overpowered the other ingredients and the salad overall needed sweetness from tomatoes — either fresh or sun-dried — to offset the vinaigrette and abundance of bitter radicchio in the lettuce mix.
Served in a shallow bowl, the salad also cried for tongs, a small but important detail that befuddled our aloof waitress when we asked for them. Although after we clumsily schlepped most of the salad onto our share plates with forks, tongs finally arrived.
We also ordered a BLT on grilled sourdough. Except for the shredded dark-green lettuce, supposedly grown locally, and the zippy aioli used instead of plain ole mayo, the sandwich stuck to tradition while sporting thick strips of applewood-smoked bacon cooked to a desirably uniform crisp just as we had hoped.
Service on this early weekend shift seemed shaky, perhaps because brunch is still fairly new to the pool area and deck. A coffee refill turned up tepid at best; a second BLT that we didn’t order was brought to our table; and the waitresses didn’t know the basic specs of certain dishes when we asked, hence they fetched answers from the kitchen.
But when you combine a snazzy rooftop deck and city views with a pool and a bar in a hip hotel that caters well to millennials, such an atmosphere compensates for any hiccups.
“Welcome to San Diego,” I said to my aunt, who came away from Upper East Bar with a positive, sunny impression. For the most part, so did I.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.