Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Foodie in San Diego? Don't Despair!

When you talk to people about food in San Diego, all you ever seem to hear about is how bad it is. I protest, but I have to admit - while there are good things to eat here - San Diego seems to be caught in a cycle of mediocrity. It takes a special kind of high-wire act to make a quality restaurant thrive here, for reasons I've never quite understood.

One theory is that most people come here from somewhere else - and they don't come to San Diego for the culture, they come for the weather. Many of them are students, military or elderly - populations that traditionally (or let's just say it - stereotypically) have conservative tastes, and not a lot of money to spend. Regardless, it makes for a tough crowd, and the economy hasn't done anything to help matters. A couple of months ago, I posted this list of 100 Good Things to Eat in San Diego - but not all of those items are on the menu of the restaurants mentioned at any given time and some of them are already a little outdated. For a while now, I've been wanting to do a list of recommended places for foodies.

This is somewhat similar to a list I used to have on the sidebar of my blog. I've updated it here - and from now on, I'll have a permanent link to this post on the sidebar instead of the entire list. These are the places I like to eat, and recommend to friends who love food. A few (Mien Trung, Addison and Surati Farsan Mart) are places that I want to go, and recommend here based on trusted sources. If a restaurant is missing, it could well be that I haven't been. I can't claim to have eaten everywhere in San Diego, despite my best efforts. :-)

I'll also be tweaking and updating constantly, so be sure and check back periodically. Happy Eating!

  • Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill

  • Bread & Cie

  • The Cheese Shop

  • El Pescador

  • Hodads

  • Girard Gourmet

  • K Sandwiches

  • The Kebab Shop

  • Mama's Lebanese - try the falafel

  • Saladstyle

  • Surati Farsan

  • Tender Greens

  • Mary's Donuts

  • Zinc Cafe

  • Bread & Cie

  • Con Pane Rustic Breads

  • Girard Gourmet

  • The Cheese Shop

  • Mona Lisa Market and Deli

  • Opera Patisserie

  • Brockton Villa

  • Cafe on Park

  • Crest Cafe

  • Farmhouse Cafe

  • Honey's Bistro & Bakery

  • Urban Solace

  • Cafe Chloe

  • Farmhouse Cafe

  • Jayne's Gastropub

  • The Linkery

  • The Riviera Supper Club

  • Starlite

  • Urban Solace

  • El Take it Easy

  • Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant

  • Cucina Urbana  

  • Cafe de l'Opera

  • Influx

  • Zinc Cafe & Market

  • Pannikin Del Mar

  • Rebecca's Coffeehouse

  • Twiggs

  • Extraordinary Desserts

  • Eclipse Chocolat

  • Gelato Vero

  • Pappalecco Gelato

  • Cafe de l'Opera

  • Michele Coulon Dessertier

  • Opera Patisserie

  • Sage French Cake

  • Viva Pops 

  • Buga Korean BBQ

  • Dao Son - now called Tao, moved to Adams Ave. next to Viva Pops

  • Hane Sushi

  • Izakaya Sakura

  • K Sandwiches - Bahn Mi

  • Kaito - Traditional Sushi

  • Mien Trung Vietnamese

  • Ono Sushi

  • Sab E Lee Thai

  • Saffron Thai Chicken

  • Antica Trattoria

  • Arrivederci Ristorante

  • Buon Appetito

  • Cucina Urbana

  • Mona Lisa Market and Deli

  • Sapori

  • A Brooklyn Pizzeria

  • Lefty's Chicago Style Pizza

  • Blind Lady Ale House
  • Blue Ribbon Pizzeria

  • Aqui es Texcoco

  • Don Chuy's

  • Las Cuatro Milpas

  • Mama Testa Taqueria

  • Northgate Gonzalez Market

  • Super Cocina

  • Lucha Libre

  • Mariscos German

  • Sarita's

  • Tacos el Paisa

  • Imperial Ave. Farmers' Market

  • Tony's Jacal

  • 1500 Ocean

  • Addison

  • A.R. Valentien

  • Blanca

  • Dobson's

  • JRDN

  • Market Restaurant + Bar

  • The Winesellar Brasserie

  • Kitchen 1540

  • George's California Modern

  • Top of the Market

  • Catalina Offshore Products Seafood

  • Chuao Chocolatier

  • Eclipse Chocolat

  • Great News Cookware and Cooking School

  • Guanni Chocolates

  • Mona Lisa Market and Deli

  • Homegrown Meats/LJ Butcher Shop

  • Nijiya Japanese Market

  • Northgate Gonzalez Market

  • People's Organic Foods

  • Taste Artisan Cheese

  • Opera Patisserie

  • Specialty Produce

  • Venissimo Cheese

  • Waters Catering and To Go

  • Starlite

  • The Whistle Stop

  • Wine Steals

  • O' Brien's Pub

  • El Take it Easy

  • Urban Kitchen Catering

  • Waters Catering and To Go

  • Campine

  • Tender Greens (cafeteria style service, but still sit-down)

  • Antica Trattoria

  • Arrivederci Ristorante

  • Urban Solace

  • Tony's Jacal

  • Blind Lady Ale House (bit of a bar scene after happy hour time)

  • Saffron Thai Chicken

  • Sammy's Woodfired Pizza (local chain)

  • George's Ocean Terrace 

  • The Prado in Balboa Park

  • Cucina Urbana (fine for older kids - esp. if you go early.)

  • Corvette Diner 

  • Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    The Recipes

    Blackberry Mint Margaritas
    Red Carpet Cocktails
    Pitcher o' Fabulous Margaritas
    Sparkling Cassis Aperitif

    Prosciutto Wrapped Parmesan-Stuffed Dates
    Easy Truffled Popcorn
    Prosciutto Wrapped Figs


    Greek Lentil Soup
    Curried Butternut Squash Soup
    Zuni's Asparagus and Rice Soup with Pancetta and Black Pepper

    Arugula Salad with Watermelon, Goat Cheese and Mint
    Chopped Caprese Salad
    English Pea Salad with Pecorino and Mint
    The Best Chicken Salad

    Fresh Tomato Pasta
    Pasta with Zucchini, Lemon and Tomatoes
    The Ultimate Fall Lasagna

    Harissa Marinated Grilled Chicken
    Chicken in Riesling
    The Barefoot Contessa's 40 Clove Garlic Chicken
    Zuni Chicken with Bread Salad

    Beef Curry with Toasted Spices
    Lucques Short Ribs
    Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Braised Brussel Sprouts
    Braciola with Marinara

    Pan Roasted Pork Loin with Bacon Braised Cabbage
    Spiced Pork Stew with Polenta, Root Vegetables and Gremolata
    Beer Braised Pork for Tacos
    Pork Scallopine with Salsa Verde and Fresh Corn Risotto
    Pork Burgers with Coleslaw and Romesco Sauce
    Michel Richard's Thyme Glazed Ribs

    Squash, Gruyere and Onion Panade
    Creamy Polenta with Gorgonzola Cheese
    Fresh Corn Risotto

    Cakes and Desserts
    "Elvis" Cake
    Chocolate Orange Ganache Torte
    Eggnog Mousse with Gingerbread Cake
    Gateau St. Honore
    Ginger Nectarine Crumble
    Gingerbread Souffles with Warm Caramel Sauce
    Plum and Aprium Puff Pastry Tarts with Frangipane
    Chocolate Icebox Cake
    Blood Orange Curd
    An excellent gingerbread recipe just sub fresh for the powdered ginger.
    Suzanne Goin's 70's Mom's Chocolate Bundt Cake
    Banana Cream Pie
    The Big Apple Pancake
    Paula Deen's Chocolate Bread Pudding
    Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding

    Frozen Desserts
    Chocolate Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
    David Lebovitz' Salted Caramel Ice Cream
    Lemon Semifreddo Pie
    Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Sandwiches
    Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt
    Boulevard Hot Fudge

    Baked Goods
    Blackberry Studded Coffeecake
    South Beach-ish Apple Walnut Muffins
    Almond Brioche
    Stephanie's Beer Bread
    Cinnamon Rolls
    Sweet Yeast Dough for yeast rolls or cinnamon rolls
    The Doughnut Muffins
    Puff Pastry, Pate a Choux and Crepes
    Yorkshire Puddings
    Flaky Biscuits

    Cookies and Brownies
    "Ultimate" Brownies
    "Serious" Brownies
    Kitchen Sink Cookies
    Heart Shaped Chocolate Chip Cookies
    Even Better Less Butter "Nutter Butters"
    NY Times Chocolate Chip Cookies
    Chocolate Bouchons

    The Big Apple Pancake
    Blackberry Studded Coffeecake
    Orange Pecan French Toast
    Baked Huevos Rancheros
    Flaky Biscuits
    The Doughnut Muffins

    Penne with Lemon, Zucchini and Tomatoes
    Greek Lentil Soup
    Curried Butternut Squash Soup
    Farmgirl's Tomato Pie
    Fresh Corn Risotto

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    Dim Sum & Then Some - Ocean Star, Monterey Park

    Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park
    A few weeks ago, as we were getting ready to go to LA, I happened to pick up and re-peruse the May issue of Gourmet magazine. The newer issue had already arrived, but you know how that goes. You get a magazine in the mail, pick flip and through it, put it down and it promptly gets covered by the eighteen other magazines that arrive that week. On this second look though, an article about Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley caught my eye. I've heard that this area is home to some of the best Chinese restaurants in the country, but I've always been intimidated by the idea of all Chinese menus, and waiters who don't speak English. Then again, I guess that's pretty silly. If I'd travel to a foreign country without a second thought, why should I be afraid to venture into a neighborhood where the signs and menus are in a foreign language?
    Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park
    The article emboldened me, and on the drive up I researched the list of recommendations on the iPhone. My original thought was that we would stop for a late lunch, since we were headed up the 15 to avoid the beach traffic - but by the time we hit LA it was getting a little late, and we wanted something quick. We decided to head to LA Mill for our afternoon snack and scout a place to stop for dim sum on Sunday on the way back.
    Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park
    Though the magazine inspired the outing - we wound up going to Ocean Star on the recommendation of a Twitter friend from San Diego - Andrew, aka cgfan. From what I could tell it was one of the "biggies" - there are a couple of large dim sum restaurants out there that came up over and over again as I was doing the research. We invited a local friend to join us, which worked out well since he lives in Pasadena, just a few minutes away.
    Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park
    When we first arrived the scale of the place was overwhelming - the dining room stretches for as far as the eye can see, and people were crammed into a waiting room the size of a hotel lobby. Rick got there first and got the table after a short wait. Right away, the ladies started rolling by with the carts. The first one to arrive was the cart stacked with stainless steel trays of steamed items.
    I'd only really had dim sum once before in San Francisco and it wasn't very good - so when the food started coming, I didn't know what to take, what to look for, or how often they would come around. Confronted with the mind-boggling array of choices on the carts, I did what any self-respecting curious foodie would do, and took way too much.
    Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park

    Then again, at $1.75 a plate, experimentation is practically mandatory. It's also a good thing I did branch out, since I was surprised to find I was wrong about some of the things I thought I'd like. I much preferred the savory steamed items (especially the shrimp and scallop dumplings and soup dumplings) to the fried and baked ones - which seemed either too greasy or too sweet. I was surprised to find that I really liked the pastries filled with red bean paste, something I'd never had before and would not have chosen had I known what was in them. (They're the sesame seed studded balls shown above.) The fried shrimp were greasy and mushy, a total miss - but this isn't the kind of place where you'd send food back. I just had the busboy pick them up on his next go-round.
    James and Rick at Ocean Star
    Rick is vegetarian, so we had a chance to try several of their meatless items. The cold tofu was delicious, though I'm pretty sure the broth they poured over it was made with stock (Rick shrugged it off like a trouper.) We asked for extra of the potent chili oil to drag the vegetable shu mai through, and then ordered Tsing Tao beers to wash it all down.
    Dim Sum Menu at Ocean Star
    Unfortunately, I was long past full when this cart with these black bean sauced clams came by. There were other items on the menu I never saw, and other items on the carts that we just couldn't get to. If we do get a chance to go back (or even to another similar dim sum house) we'll know better what to expect and perhaps pace ourselves a bit. Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park
    On this trip though, we ate well, we had a great time, and we tried something new. It wasn't all perfect but it was a lot of fun - and that in and of itself was worth the price of admission.

    Ocean Star
    145 N Atlantic Blvd
    Monterey Park, CA 91754
    (626) 308-2128
    recommended dishes: the steamed items - especially the soup dumplings and scallop and shrimp dumplings, cold tofu, sesame pastries filled with red bean paste.

    Friday, July 17, 2009

    More On LA Mill Coffee

    LA MILL - Silverlake
    As I mentioned earlier we stopped by LA MILL on a recent visit to Los Angeles. I stumbled on this place a year or so ago - and was wildly impressed with the fanatical seriousness about coffee and the eccentric quelle Parisian atmosphere that infused the place. That time we only had coffee, but I was intrigued by their food and the rest of their menu and couldn't wait to go back.

    This time, I returned with James in tow, on the way up for a quick overnight trip to Hollywood. It's an easy stop on the drive up to LA from San Diego - just take the Silverlake Blvd. exit off the 5, and head East. It sits at the end of a little strip of hipster-esque spots about half a mile down - near the intersection of Silverlake and Effie Blvd. If you like coffee, it's a must-do. They have an extensive menu of fascinating signature coffee drinks - as pictured below - and do the standards better than most.
    They also have a smart and relatively inexpensive menu of sandwiches and small plates - all straightforward items, but done with a little extra flair. We were late for lunch but needed a snack, so we ordered the burrata with tomato salad, and the ham sandwich with butter (served with a side of mustard, olives and potato chips.) Both were simple but spot-on.
    Burrata at LA MILLHam Sandwich at LA MILL
    We had a good view from our seats at the bar of the barista doing her work - in the foreground is a bottle of Straus "barista milk" which they describe as "textured." I notice she's also using some Alta Dena below though. Hmmm...
    I waited until after lunch to have my coffee drink - a Cafe con Leche. To make it, she did something I've never seen before. She packed the coffee into the espresso machine, and tamped it down, and then tamped the sugar down on top of it. I tell you what. This thing had four shots of espresso and at least a tablespoon of what looked like demerara sugar. I felt ELECTRIC as we drove the rest of the way down Sunset toward our hotel. Seriously people, I was high as a KITE.

    It was great.
    Cafe Con Leche at LA MILL
    LA Mill Coffee
    1636 Silver Lake Blvd
    Los Angeles
    (323) 663-4441

    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Goat Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossom Fritters

    Fried Squash Blossoms

    With their short season and limited shelf life - squash blossoms are one of the most delightful fleeting pleasures of summer. They're available at farmers markets in San Diego now, and should be coming into markets elsewhere around the country if they're not there already. I've enjoyed them as a topping for flatbread pizza at Coco 500 in San Francisco and stuffed into quesadillas at Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista, but to my mind, the highest and best use of squash blossoms is for these fritters.

    I've tried frying squash blossoms a few times in the past, but it wasn't until this summer that I really got it right. The first couple of batches I stuffed with ricotta cheese, which worked fine - but was a little bland. Mild goat cheese has more flavor and a nice creamy texture. I also took a page from another source to double dip these in the coating. It's a little more indulgent, but if you're only going to eat these once or twice a year you might as well go for it, right? That's how I justify it anyway.

    The first two squash blossoms out of the fryer

    The real secret to these is in the combination of buttermilk for dipping and the baking powder in the coating - one reacts with the other to create a light but sturdy crust that shatters when you bite into it. The chile powder adds flavor without actually making them spicy - you should just be able to taste a little something.

    These were served on Sunday as the first course of a three course supper with a chilled cucumber soup. For the main dish I roasted two chickens, Zuni style, and made a big salad tossed with mustard vinaigrette. For dessert we slathered cheese and honey on crostini and passed around a bottle of Brander's "Moscato d'Fredi" and a box of Chuao chocolates. It was a good meal in the company of great friends - made even sweeter by the fact that one of our number was able to join us for the first time in months. It truly doesn't get any better than that.
    Squash Blossoms bubbling away

    Goat Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossom Fritters

    1 bunch of squash blossoms (about 1 dozen) - male or female - (female have the little zucchini attached - they will grow into zucchini, the male blossoms are just that - and will wither if not eaten!)*
    A small log of good goat cheese - at room temperature (soft)
    1 1/2 cups AP flour
    1 1/2 - 2 tsp Rancho Gordo chile powder (enough that you can just see it when you stir it in)
    1 tsp fine sea salt (I use Maldon, so I just use a little more and rub it between my fingers)
    1/2 tsp ground pepper
    1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    2 cups buttermilk (if you don't have any, some whole milk and a couple of teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice will create the same reaction - it's the acid.)
    1 small bottle of vegetable oil (enough to fill a 2-2.5 qt pot about 2/3 full)

    Soak the blossoms in water for an hour or so (submerge them with a plate or similar) to dislodge any ants or bugs and loosen any dust or dirt. Swish and rinse thoroughly and place on paper towels on the counter to dry for an hour or two. (You can also pry them apart and remove the stamen, but I don't bother unless there's a lot of pollen or debris - unless someone tells me why I should I don't see the point - it just tears up the flower)

    Mix together the flour, chile powder, baking powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour the buttermilk into another bowl.

    Prepare a plate with several layers of paper towels for blotting. In a heavy small pot, heat your vegetable oil until a thermometer reads 375 degrees. In the meantime, stuff the blossoms. Using your fingers - gently poke a wad of goat cheese down into the center of each one and press together.

    When the oil is hot, dip the flowers one by one into the buttermilk, and dredge them thoroughly in the flower, pressing down to work the flour into the petals. Shake once lightly, and then dunk the blossom back into the buttermilk. Drop the blossom into the flour and dredge once more, making sure all of the moist areas are well coated. Do NOT shake. Lay the blossom gently in the hot oil. It should begin to sizzle madly - but if it browns quickly, the oil might be a bit too hot.

    Allow room for them to swim a bit - you don't want to overcrowd the pot, or the oil will cool off. (I actually have a few too many in the pot above.) When they're starting to brown - flip them over to keep it even. When they are nice and brown all over, remove them with tongs to the paper towels. Drain for a few minutes, then place on fresh paper towels on a different plate for serving. Et voila! or as Julia would say, Bon Appetit!

    *Squash blossoms should be cooked within a day or two after they are purchased.  Count on two per person for appetizers, more if they're a main course.

    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    The Policeman's Dream...

    Coffee and a Jelly Donut coffee drink at LA MILL

    at least, that's what I think they should have called it!

    This photo, taken on June 27, 2009 in Los Angeles at LA Mill in Silverlake, depicts a specialty coffee drink made with - are you ready?

    Donut infused milk.

    Called "Coffee and a Jelly Donut" on the menu, the drink starts with a small dollop of jam, topped with layers of the aforementioned infused milk and espresso in a large-ish narrow shot glass. Our barista instructed James (who ordered it) to sip it slowly at first, then incorporate a bit of the jam - adding more to make it sweeter. It did taste just like coffee and donuts. Homer Simpson would have been very happy.

    The whole notion reminded me of the cereal infused ice creams at Momofuku Milk Bar - something I've been wanting to try, and thinking about experimenting with at home. Perhaps Donut infused ice cream is not too far fetched an idea?

    And isn't that whole lucite pedestal thing just killing you?? It's so over the top. But I love it.

    I'd like to think Julia would have approved...

    I think Julia would have approved....
    Picnicking in line at the Julie & Julia movie preview

    of the picnic we threw in line this evening before the free preview of the new Julie & Julia movie in Mission Valley. Everyone pitched in and our little table groaned with cheeses, olives, pate, baguettes, sandwiches, fruit, even an especially delicious rose colored "tea." Funny thing - we got there really early because we thought there would be a big line - but apparently the only people who cared about this movie were other foodie nerds - of which there are approximately 10 in San Diego. The Harry Potter preview was going on across town - I bet THAT one was crowded. (Note the hilarious lack of a line behind us below.)

    Picnicking in line at the Julie & Julia movie preview
    Add caption

    The movie was fabulous - though I would have been just as happy if it had been just about Julia Child. Meryl Streep is a marvel in the role. The movie cuts off just as Mastering the Art of French Cooking is published - so they could do a sequel about her and her television career - but as James pointed out, this movie probably won't make much money, so that probably won't happen. A girl can dream though. I loved Julia's Parisian kitchen. I'm even more obsessed with copper cookware now than ever, and I REALLY want a big mortar and pestle. You will too when you see Julia's.

    I think people who've read the (very good) Julia Child biography "My Life in France" might get more out of the movie than those who haven't - but I'm sure it's enjoyable either way. The movie interweaves the biography with the tale of a young woman named Julie Powell, who decided to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (534 recipes) over the course of one year in 2002-2003. I could never get into Powell's blog or book, but Amy Adams makes her appealing and I can really sympathize with her whole government-worker-stuck-in-a-rut-thing. Her blog is still up (just google Julie Julia Project) but it's actually a bit of a slog to read - and no photos? Who ever heard of such a thing! Ok, I'll stop now. She's said some pretty condescending things about "food bloggers" in the press (like, she isn't one? hello?) and we can be a grudge-holding bunch. :-)

    On another note - you may have noticed I'm working on some changes to the blog. They will be gradual, because we're on a bit of a limited budget with respect to both money and time around here, but things are happening. I've merged the food and the "style" posts into the one blog, and will be adding some links back in and maybe even tabs - to make the topics more accessible. I've got a few posts in the hopper but it will likely remain pretty slow going through the summer. (Take the summer off from the computer - you deserve it!) By Labor Day we should be back in full swing. Hope the rest of you in the Northern Hemisphere have been enjoying the long days and warm nights as much as we have, and Happy Bastille Day!