| October 31, 2015 | 0 Comments

Views, views and more views

Do you remember the Reuben E. Lee? It was a paddle wheeler vessel moored at the far edge of Harbor Island. Actually, it was a large barge onto which a multi-deck facsimile was built like the kinds of ships which cruised the Mississippi that carried travelers, gamblers and women, or, Mark Twain. Just looking at it, one knew instinctively that it was a fun ship.

Its decks held a restaurant, meeting room and related facilities. Its profile was graced by two tall twin smokestacks that were topped by what looked like fat crested pineapples. For many years, it was a delightful place to celebrate weddings, birthdays and family events. My younger daughter’s bat mitzvah party was held there – a great success.

A sister restaurant, Reuben’s, was built next door and also was very popular. With its large adjacent parking area, that corner of Harbor Island became a strong dining destination.
But time marched on and tastes changed. Reuben E. Lee closed in 2004 and its sister restaurant followed a few years later. The ship was not designed to cruise but it was eventually towed to a shipyard for possible renovations. The sister restaurant was torn down. Unfortunately, the Reuben E. Lee sank in December, 2012 at the shipyard.

The site where the restaurants stood, though, cried out for development. The reason, because of the views, views and more views. The downtown skyline stands out in beautiful three- dimensional intensity that suggests one can almost reach out to move buildings like Lego blocks. On clear nights, the lights of the many tall buildings across the bay glitter and sparkle like diamonds on a jeweler’s cloth.

The setting in the bar is contemporary and sophisticated.

The setting in the bar is contemporary and sophisticated.

Along came David Cohn, one of San Diego’s most successful restaurant entrepreneurs. He has a terrific track record for developing venues, building original ideas or revamping locations. He, with his partners and team, don’t repeat concepts. Each restaurant has its own theme, menus and ideas – from Blue Point (seafood) to Corvette Diner (fun for kids and young at heart).

The first project at the exciting Harbor Island location, was a “two-fer.” Cohn and his partner Deborah Scott opened C Level and Island Prime restaurants, which share the same building. The two restaurants are now very popular.

But the old Reuben E. Lee location was still calling out for redevelopment. So the new project was launched, to restore the location to its old glamour but with a modern twist. Construction of Coasterra was begun.

Cohn and Scott are not opening just another restaurant. In a building and patio that extends more than 20,000 square feet, they are developing a dining venue, an event center, a meeting place and related uses that will attract tourists as well as locals and will create a significant number of new jobs. In addition to the building, a new barge ship will soon come on line that will be moored a short walk away around a public walkway. This exciting addition will add more dining and meeting space.

The attraction — as always — views, views and more views. Coasterra has huge glass doors and windows so that diners facing downtown have clear access to the view.

The parking lot is huge but often crowded by patrons at the three venues. It is easiest to give the car to valets who are waiting in a large booth near the restaurants’ entrances. Seating is comfortable. A large bar with interesting chandelier is set against one wall. Another wall is decorated in bright colors and designs that reflect the Mexican theme of the venue. No reservations are accepted for the large outdoor patio but the wait for seating can be worth it.

Deborah Scott created the menu which calls for the freshest and finest of ingredients. The cuisine is Mexican but quite different from the foods that may be found in neighborhood or even Old Town restaurants. It may be characterized as modern Mexican. By comparison to other restaurants, the menu is not extensive, but there’s stills lots of good stuff listed.

As customary, the waiter brought baskets of taco chips and salsa. Both tasted very fresh. The salsa was pleasantly mild, with a strong cilantro flavor. Gaucamole, great as appetizer as well as a side dish, was smooth and tasty. Crema de Elote, a white corn soup, has lots of butter and cream. It was rich and tasty.

There are a number of enchilada dishes offered — a vegetable version, chicken and shrimp. They come stuffed with good fillings and are very satisfying. Pescado Entero presents the whole fish, with a taste-enhancing cilantro sauce. On the “meat” side, carne asada is served as a quesadilla; angus filet comes wrapped in bacon; and chicken is served as a mole’ dish. Many come with rice, which tends to be spicy. Recipes created by Deborah Scott have a guarantee of goodness.

There is a large “agave spirits” menu, with many selections of mescal and tequila, for diners who wish to explore south-of-the-border liquor. The dessert menu includes a nice selection of dessert wines, traditional flan, helado tostadas (ice cream), and potted brownies.

Coasterra is open for lunch and dinner. There is a weekday happy hour (3:30 to 5:30 pm), with nicely priced appetizers and drinks. Prices overall tend to be moderate to high, higher than the average Mexican restaurant, but justified by the ambiance and quality.

Coasterra is a wonderful venue to bring out-of-town guests, family and friends. It is located at 880 Harbor Island Dr., San Diego, CA. Call (619) 814-1300 for information and reservations., or, visit

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