PRADO AT BALBOA PARK
1549 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
We recently spent a week on our sailboat while it docked at Harbor Island. As always, we stocked up at Vons for our brunch and snack delights. We slept in and ignored the roar of jets taking off every few minutes at 6 AM—flying directly over our slip by closing our hatch and port lights, covering them with aluminum foil and tape. Our sound and light barrier worked with the help of fans going full speed and white noise from our iPad, giving us the allusion of a comfy, cozy love cave.
During our intimate brunches, we’d discuss romantic dinner options for the night. After watching a movie one evening, THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION, a love triangle starring Sophia Loren, Cary Grant, and Frank Sinatra, we craved a sexy Spanish restaurant. We googled a few local diners and PRADO sounded like an interesting hot spot. We arrived at 8:30 PM, knowing they were open late. It wasn’t easy finding the restaurant or a place to park, as signage and street lights were lacking. We ended up following a car into a parking lot and walking a few blocks toward what sounded like a big party. After climbing over a crime scene barrier, we were able to enter through the alfresco dining patio.
My expectations of the PRADO restaurant were heightened by my memories of the famous PRADO art museum in Madrid. Inside we noted painted wooden beams and elaborate glass art displays similar to a Mexican hacienda or a taco bar. We disagreed about the style of the décor: a colorful mixture of Mexican highlands and painted tiles from Talavera craftsmen. My consort likened the ambiance to a tacky upscale taqueria, whereas I felt imbued with a certain charm of old world colonial Mexico. We settled our difference with two glasses of Segura Cava and a kiss.
Our appetizer, whole-grain mustard steamed mussels served in a white wine herbed broth, came with an added crunch—tiny bits of sand indicating that the mussels had not been properly cleaned. As a side, I presented my business card to the manager and waiter, dinnerSlut.com, before being seated for dinner. Perhaps they didn’t let the chef know?
Our server seemed shocked and appalled that the “beach” came with this dish. After apologies from both the manager and waiter, we ordered spicy calamari fries with a Korean chili sauce and a Napa cabbage slaw. Many of you know my dislike for fried foods, but it didn’t seem to matter with this tasty dish. The glaze, hot and sour at the same time, disguised any trace of grease.
The main course, PRADO Paella, with fish, mussels, shrimp, calamari, chicken, sausage, simmered in a lobster saffron broth tasted fresh with each ingredient maintaining its individuality and flavorful integrity expected from a great seafood dish. The shrimp tasted sweet, the calamari toothsome, not rubbery, and the spicy chorizo popped our palates. The only downer, once again, were grains of sand from the same batch of unwashed mussels.
Dessert, Tres Leches, a traditional Mexican rolled sponge cake soaked in a triple milk mixture (whole, condensed, and evaporated) reminded me of our trip to Oaxaca. The filling consisted of pistachios, meringue, and caramelized bananas topped with a luscious vanilla bean ice cream. Another Mexican rather than Spanish dish. The perfect postre—delicioso, or should I say sabroso postre?