by Stacey Kuhns
All around goodness at Operacaffe (835 4th Avenue), an Italian restaurant, and a great show at the Balboa Theater (868 4th Avenue).
Operacaffe is located in the Gaslamp area of downtown San Diego almost directly across the street from the Balboa Theater. On Friday night, October 23, my friend and I headed to the Gaslamp area because we had tickets for a concert at the Balboa Theater. He chose Operacaffe from the list of five restaurants I had compiled for the area (that had good reviews).
Operacaffe has sidewalk seating as well as an intimate, welcoming dining area inside the establishment. We were greeted warmly outside by the hostess and we asked to be seated inside.
Our waitress, Stephanie, was exceptional. Urbano was the nice man who was there quickly clearing our dirty dishes and refilling our drinks. The service was excellent which always makes the dining experience so much better.
The food was fresh, homemade, and tasted divine. I will say neither of us was impressed with the bread basket. The bread was cold and not overly soft. The second basket they brought was better, but nothing to get excited about. They serve olive oil and balsamic to dip the bread in, but again, nothing exciting. However, from then on, it was some of the best food we have ever had. We both would recommend this restaurant for anyone who loves Italian food. The menu is extensive and there is something for everyone from seafood dishes, to authentic Italian appetizers, vegetarian, homemade pastas, and meat dishes.
We each started with the soup (it does not come in a cup and is quite a large portion for a starter). I had the cream of tomato and my friend tried the minestrone. Both wonderful (although I could have done without the croutons in my soup as they quickly became soggy).
We then tried the fried calamari. So good. Perfect breading and chewiness and the dipping sauce was a spicy marinara that was a perfect pairing for the calamari.
The portion sizes are large so be prepared to take home doggy bags or be too stuffed for dessert (the dessert menu looked amazing, but we really were too full to try anything. Next time...).
For entrees, my friend and I split a pepperoni pizza and a ravioli dish stuffed with cheese and spinach and surrounded by artichokes and lobster tail pieces in a light blush sauce. The pizza was so tasty. The pepperoni was large pieces and tasted completely different than the cheap stuff normally served in basic pizza places. It was a delicious mouthful and perfect for two to split. The ravioli tasted homemade. The lobster was sweet and plentiful, a very filling dish and oh so good.
So, we highly recommend this restaurant for the amazing food and fantastic service. Thank you Stephanie and Urbano for making this a special night.
After dinner, we walked (waddled from all the food) across the street to the Balboa Theater.
We were again greeted warmly by security staff. They do search purses and no cameras allowed (but cell phones are fine if you keep the flash turned off.) We were also shown to our seats (which were so close to the stage, we were excited.)
Our tickets were for seats on the far right of the theater so the view was slightly obstructed by the speakers on the stage, but the Balboa is a small theater (with a balcony section) that makes all the concerts there (I have seen a few), very intimate.
Home Free is an acapella group who were the winners last year of the TV show "The Sing Off." They are amazing in person and the show was truly enjoyable from beginning to end. I had a smile on my face the entire time. Besides their fabulous talent, they are also funny and quickly developed a rapport with all the fans present.
They performed for almost two hours.
And, a nice surprise for all of us there, they decided to set up a table and meet everyone after the show. They signed my CD and were so gracious with everyone. The line moved quickly and it was all very well organized. Would recommend their live show to anyone and we will definitely see them if they return to San Diego in the future. All in all, a wonderfully fabulous evening.
TIP: When you purchase online tickets for the Balboa Theater, be sure to pay the extra $10 for the parking ticket that allows you to park in the NBC building. Convenient elevators to the upper floor and an easy quick walk to the theater.