Frank Sabatini Jr. | Downtown News
224 Fifth Ave. (Gaslamp Quarter)
Prices: Appetizers, soups and salads, $8 to $25; entrees, $16 to $49; ala carte sides, $7 to $10
The first sight of food you encounter at Lou and Mickey’s is in the foyer, several feet before reaching the host station. Displayed like jewels are Cherrystone clams, Maine lobsters and a variety of oysters plucked from warm and cold waters. From there, customers enter into the kind of classic turf you’d expect from a bygone Chicago-style chophouse.
The sprawling restaurant, accented with dark wood, a handsome bar lounge and a large outdoor patio pointed at the San Diego Convention Center, is the brainchild of cousins Sam and Jeff King, who also founded King’s Seafood Company. They opened the hotspot more than 10 years ago as a tribute to their restaurateur dads, Lou and Mickey. The family’s heritage is captured through photographs on a gallery wall that also include famous San Diego athletes from past decades.
Seafood comprises about half the menu. From the raw bar that greeted us, my companion ordered a couple of ala carte oysters; a Mermaid Cove from Prince Edward Island retaining discernible oceanic flavor and a Kumamoto from Baja (considered the “Chardonnay of oysters”) that she said tasted creamier.
We both tried the raw Peruvian scallops, which I combined with two wild Pacific shrimp that were cooked, chilled and divinely sweet. But the scallops, known for their delicate texture and graceful flavor, were mired in ponzu sauce, which stole the show with its citrus and soy-sauce overtones. I would have preferred them unadulterated.
Proceeding to soup, the French onion was served in a hefty metal crock and topped thinly with a tantalizing blend of Gruyere and Comte cheeses, while New England clam chowder was chunky and not overly floury like some. Within a minute after we noticed that the chowder arrived tepid, our astute waitress replaced it with an order that was steamy hot.
Our next course involved baked goat cheese plated alongside a head of perfectly roasted garlic and thick Texas-style toast. The bread became mops for another appetizer of skillet shrimp bathed in a warm pond of sauce constructed from juicy tomatoes, lemons and apple cider vinegar. They call it New Orleans BBQ on the menu, thus the piquant spices in the liquid that make it much different and far better than established barbecue sauces.
While gearing our fangs for the beefy main event that drew us here, we imbibed on a rum-banana based “witch doctor” served in a ceramic tiki statuette, plus a “Coronado cosmopolitan” mingling ghostly blue Hpnotiq with vodka and white cranberry juice. Both drinks were tropical-fruity sans the off-putting saccharine aftertaste of others.
The steaks hail from corn-fed Midwest cattle. They’re finished off with seasoned butter, just as they have been for nearly a century in top American restaurants. My companion chose the 18-ounce Kansas City New York strip, a bone-in cut that she challenged the kitchen to cook between medium-rare and medium. Bingo! The meat was charry on the outside yet juicy and reddish-pink inside.
My 12-ounce filet mignon appeased the red meat craving that has been plaguing me due to the fact that steaks this plump and velvety are not the specialties of restaurants I’ve visited in the past several months. Indeed, it lived up to those mouthwatering pictures of filet that you see in restaurant advertisements on the pages of in-flight magazines. The only difference was that I got to eat the thing rather than settle for peanuts.
From a list of warm scratch-made steak sauces, we ordered on the side brandy-peppercorn, which wasn’t so peppery, plus a robust Danish blue cheese sauce that was delicious, but still not something I’d want conquering my entire steak.
Dishes such as grilled jumbo asparagus and cheesy scalloped potatoes are among the ala carte complements. Both were pleasing and generously portioned. The sautéed fresh corn tossed with diced red bell peppers, however, was overcooked and lacked the sweet, delicate white kernels that we won’t start seeing until late summer.
At the meal’s end, my companion paired a dainty glass of Grgich Hills Cioletta Late Harvest White Blend dessert wine to a tall hunk of J.M. Rosen’s New York cheesecake, made famous by Frank Sinatra after he began requesting it in his favorite West Coast hangouts. My dessert was equally memorable. At last, a slice of key lime pie containing enough citrus to pucker my lips.
Lou & Mickey’s happy hour deals (4 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday) are sure to attract both locals and conventioneers alike, as the menu features fresh oysters for $1 apiece, along with flame-grilled burgers for $6, white sangria for $6 and Moscow mules for $8. Hot dogs, beer and cosmopolitans are also in the offing at reduced prices, assuming you can resist splurging instead on a fine steak or whole Maine lobster.
Note: Lou & Mickey’s will be closed to the public from July 17 to 20 for private ComicCon events.
Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of Secret San Diego (ECW Press), and began writing about food two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. He has since covered the culinary scene extensively for NBC; Pacific San Diego Magazine; San Diego Uptown News; Gay San Diego; Living in Style Magazine and The Gay & Lesbian Times. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.