Sunday, June 01, 2008
If you like lamb - hoo boy, do I have the place for you! This new restaurant in Chula Vista specializes in just that, and like many other places that do just one thing, they do it very well. I was fortunate to be invited along for a Chowdown here with Alex, Josh, Candice and Pat last Saturday with the promise of a "whole lamb's head." I was a little worried that having followed lambing season religiously on Farmgirl Fare this Spring I wouldn't be able to do it - but my carnivorous instincts won out. (It helped that they didn't serve the head on the bone like I was afraid they might!) In addition to the cabeza, the offerings include costilla or lamb rib meat, barbacoa - traditional barbecued lamb, lamb consomme, guacamole with nopales, and corn tortilla quesadillas filled with squash blossoms or huitlacoche and white cheese.
The consomme is a rich lamb stock with a sweet spicy flavor. Laden with stewed chickpeas, it's redolent of lamb but not overpoweringly gamey. At $1.60 a cup it's a great starter for a chilly morning.
Even if lamb isn't your thing, the squash blossom and huitlacoche quesadillas are worth the trip - especially the huitlacoche. Huitlacoche, or "corn smut" is a fungus that grows on corn, creating mushroom-like tumors. It tastes like a cross between corn, truffles and mushrooms - sweet, earthy and nutty all at once. Cooked with onions and served with mild white cheese on a corn tortilla, it transforms a simple quesadilla into a fine-dining caliber dish.
The cabeza, pictured above, combines the cheek meat, brains, tongue and connective tissues of the entire lamb's head. Most of it was a bit gamey for my personal taste - but the cheek meat was succulent and tender. At $10.00 it feeds at least two people.
I was a little afraid of the pancita tacos, seeing as how they include stomach and I'm not generally a fan of organ meats - but I tasted these and the flavor seemed mild, especially with the seasonings. I ordered a costilla and a barbacoa taco to compare - the costilla was a little greasier than the barbacoa, but the mild flavor of the meat was much the same. One of the group's favorite items was the barbacoa rolled tacos - which we ordered after seeing them on just about every table. There were three large, crisp, flauta style tacos served with lettuce and crema. They were crisp and light on the outside and filled with juicy meat - unlike the dry dense specimens you get at most taco shops around town. There were bottles of salsa verde and roja on the on the table when we arrived, along with chopped onions and limes - but they brought us different ones for the tacos - also a verde and a roja. The taco sauces were a bit richer and thicker than the table sauces and I actually preferred them.
This place had a following right from the start, probably due to the fact that they have been in business in Tijuana since 1990. Definitely expect a wait if you come at prime time - and don't be surprised if they run out of menu items. When we arrived at 10 AM, every table was filled, and by the time we left, people were waiting outside. I have heard the owners plan to expand into the next door space within the next few months to accommodate the crowds. I haven't tried it - but I think Texcoco is comparable to another barbacoa restaurant in City Heights called El Borrego. They also specialize in the lamb dishes described above - something else to consider if that location is more convenient or you don't feel like waiting.
After the lamb feast, Alex, Josh and I took a little trip to Hogetsu Do, the Japanese manju bakery around the corner in Chula Vista. I was hoping for French-style pastries with Japanese flavors, but it seemed they had mostly traditional manju - rice flour pastries filled with bean paste. After checking that out, we moved on to the Oasis Ice Cream Parlor in Imperial Beach, about a 5 minute hop down the freeway.
Located in an unassuming strip mall just off the freeway, Oasis has been in business since 1978. The ice cream is made with nothing but cream, natural fruit or flavorings and sugar. It's kind of soft, a little bit chewy, a little bit icy, and a little sweeter than some - or maybe it just seems that way without the richness of an egg yolk custard on the tongue. I chose peanut butter and coffee - the two flavors I liked best after trying quite a few. The available flavors include walnut, rice, banana, tamarind, coconut, cantaloupe, guava and watermelon in addition to several of the usual suspects. They have a wide variety of fruit flavors, particularly in the case dedicated to sorbet. Josh got the rice flavor, which tasted like rice pudding or horchata. The peanut butter was nice and salty, just the way I like it.
Oasis is also a paleteria, with a huge assortment of bars in the freezer case. The bars are also available at Lighthouse Ice Cream Parlor in Ocean Beach, and at the North Island Commissary.
If you're in the area, it's definitely worth a stop - you might even want to bring some dry ice (or pick some up at the nearby grocery store) to take some of the bars home. I may do that this summer when it heats up out here. Somehow a popsicle seems more cooling than a dish of ice cream on a hot day, but I haven't had much luck making them at home.
Speaking of making something at home, I just received The French Laundry Cookbook as a gift, and I'm excited to try the recipes with Carol's blog for guidance. First up I think will be the Coffee and Doughnuts - coffee semifreddo with fresh homemade doughnuts - if I can only find some fresh cake yeast. I also have my eye on the brandied cherries in one of the foie gras recipes, and I'm planning to try some preserved lemons soon with the fresh crop on our tree. I just bought the giant jars and some salt this weekend.
Yet another quick note - we had an outstanding dinner at Blanca in Solana Beach last night. I really think it's one of my favorite fine dining spots right now - along with Tapenade and 1500 Ocean. They do such a great job with both food and service - even James really likes it, and that's saying something!
Aqui es Texcoco
Barbacoa de Borrego
Chula Vista, CA 91911
recommended dishes - consomme, lamb barbacoa, huitlacoche quesadilla, barbacoa rolled tacos
Oasis Ice Cream Parlor
1832 Coronado Ave
Imperial Beach, CA 92154
Josh's story for Citybeat - it's a few years old, but not much has changed!