Getting to know the food, at least, at Vista’s La Paloma

We almost thought we were interviewing a member of the witness protection program. To begin with, La Paloma Owner Steve didn’t want  us to use his last name.  Then, he wouldn’t identify his cook by name. (“People would wonder if a dish was changed by a specific cook,” he insisted.) He said his background included being a very big corporation head. “A  Fortune 500 corporation?” Letty asked. “Bigger than that,” Steve answered. But he wouldn’t say what. “Where did he learn his trade?” In his family’s restaurant, a place he had worked at age 12. But he wouldn’t tell us the name or place of the eatery.
John and Letty decided he was the restaurateur who talked with us the longest, was most generous with his time, was fiercely enthusiastic about his place and its food — but who told us almost nothing personal. In fact, he was downright mysterious. But, we decided on the short drive home, if you head up a restaurant and advertise in San Diego Magazine and are acknowledged as one of the best places to eat in North County and you serve antelope, for heaven’s sake, then maybe you’re forgiven for not being forthcoming.
It was tough to order a lunch under $10, because La Paloma  is noted for ambiance and all-stops-out gourmet Southwestern dishes. “We’re not a Mexican restaurant,” Steve insisted. We told him our mission was to find good food on a budget for lunches out for seniors, and he indicated that lunches were for business. 
That certainly was true on the pleasant patio where we dined at noon. A few lunching ladies were offset by guys in suits and guys with briefcases. To keep within our $10 maximum for two, we split a chicken cilantro main dish for $9. It came with unending chips and salsa, which helped a great deal to fill us up, and a salad. It was wonderful, easily among the best dishes we have ingested. The mysterious sauce on the chicken pieces had a distinctly Southwestern flavor, and the cilantro was chopped and sprinkled generously. The vegetables were steamed and buttered, and the scalloped potatoes were really fine. If we hadn’t had a self-imposed cap on the tab, we would each have had a luncheon dish, but this was adequate.
The menu offerings are varied, and lunch listed many delicious salads, we know from previous trips. We also had tried the seafood soup. The nameless chef (or chefs) is very accomplished. As in a few top restaurants, we had never had a bad meal there. The flan is also first-rate.
Our server, Deborah, was pleasant and efficient, but the atmosphere on the patio was shattered twice by helpers filling the bar ice stash from the porch’s ice machine. Noisy. Later, we went back for dinner and had antelope.  Letty loved it but our dinner companion got sick.. She called to ask if my antelope had roamed, and I replied no.
 La Paloma is featuring specials in these tough times, such as Taco Suave Tuesday and Wonderful Wednesday, with free meals for those 12 and under, and Thursday when it’s easy to qualify for a free appetizer. It is located at 116 Escondido Ave. Visit www.LaPalomaVista.com for details. They’re open for lunch and dinner every day but after 4 p.m. on Sunday.

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