Thursday, January 21, 2010

Island Prime

880 Harbor Island Dr
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 298-6802

by Beau Cadiyo

Whenever Frank Hoxha asks me about “home,” she usually means San Diego, where I spent the majority of my youth, and not Cleveland, where I intend to stay for the rest of my life. Almost everyone I grew up with moved away from San Diego, yet Clevelanders are constantly surprised that I ever left. I don’t blame them for thinking it odd to choose Ohio over California. As a tourist in San Diego, one is presented with a seeming Eden: from the first glimpse of downtown, seen over a bay filled with sailboats, to the lively Gaslamp quarter, to golfers on Christmas day, to palm trees swaying in carefully manufactured lines, to expensive clothing shops and overpriced, flash-in-the-pan organic cupcake bakeries, it’s a wonderful place to visit.

Living there, though, is a different story, despite what popular culture would have you believe. It is overcrowded and expensive; the rude and vain are a dime a dozen; and, more than anything, the mobility of Californians makes it difficult to maintain any sort of community, since most residents’ locations are as tenuous as the fault lines. Also, almost everyone is from somewhere else; a safe pick-up line is, “Where are you from?” Adopted Californians are drawn by the allure of the weather, or the beaches, or whatever else they expect Californians take for granted. They rent for a while and, if they somehow save enough, hit the lottery or marry well, buy a condo or townhouse or maybe even a pink stand-alone track house in the suburbs, with cookie-cutter floor plans and Chinese drywall and black mold in the air vents. Until that lucky day, they rarely have any anchor to a neighborhood. Then, once they do buy, they aim to realize a profit at some point, which will necessitate selling, so they don’t get too attached. Everyone is in motion, not tethered to anything, like zombies wandering between one apartment building and the next.

Frank Box grew up in Cleveland, moved to Kansas for law school, then was a superstar prosecutor in Texas before making partner at a law firm I used to work at in San Diego. She was the one who suggested we eat at Island Prime. It took time to find; I had to feel my way along the once well-known streets, past the sailboat-dotted bay, swaying palms and sunlit streets. When we arrived, her teal BMW convertible was parked out front, with a California license plate surrounded by a Cleveland Indians frame. Massive wooden doors swung open onto a restaurant packed with families and yachters. She got us a table near a huge window – a real bay window – with a view of a battleship across the waterway and comparatively miniscule sailboats tacking back and forth in the water in front of us.

Frank Hoxha had said earlier that she couldn’t imagine living in San Diego; it was too impermanent. Box reinforced that feeling. She seemed content with where she was – she is a powerful attorney at the top of her game at an incredible firm, she lives in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the world and she wisely sold her house at the top of the bubble and has been renting ever since. But she seemed distracted, and it didn’t seem to be the massive responsibility on her shoulders: her family and friends are spread out all over the world, and it didn’t seem like she was suited to being away from them. She was excited for me, living in Cleveland and starting out in practice, but didn’t seem to be excited for herself, living the life that so many people dream of.

Our food arrived quickly, considering how busy it was. My burger had a creamy garlic aioli sauce, perfectly caramelized onions and powerful smoked bacon, and I had it with bleu cheese in order to properly compare it to the travesty of B-Side. What stood out was the quality of the ingredients and the balance between them all. I can still feel the dense resistance of the bun in my mouth and the way it simultaneously stayed composed and soaked up the beef juices leaking from the patty. The bleu cheese was evenly sprinkled around the patty instead of concentrated in a single spot; the steak fries were perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Frank Box insisted we try her onion rings. The breading was crispy, and the Vidalia onions were cooked through, tender and sweet. Her pulled pork was sweet and saucy, served in a mound that would have easily satisfied two adults. Frank Hoxha said her salad was delicious, and was so large that she couldn’t finish it.

The parking lot was still packed when we left, around 2:30 p.m. Frank Hoxha and I talked about the meal, and about California, and she noted that every conversation was tinged with a bit of sadness, and was related somehow to a lack of community, or missing friends, or lack of real relationships. It was as if everyone was waiting for something, looking for something, but they just didn’t know what.

Island Prime on Urbanspoon

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