Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Donut Bar - Downtown San Diego

Donut Bar - Downtown SD Oh, Donut Bar...  I had such high hopes for you.  I hoped you would deliver something on the same level as Dynamo Donuts in San Francisco, or Doughnut Plant in New York City...  but  alas...
March 2013On my first trip, I will admit I might not have picked a very good day to visit.  Every single doughnut offered  was brown.  There were creme brulee ones filled with pastry cream, chocolate and maple with bacon, chocolate cake doughnuts and apple fritters.  You can see the full selection above.  The creme brulee was interesting because of the hard crunchy caramelized sugar top but the pastry cream inside didn't taste like creme brulee.
March 2013Maple bacon is a stellar flavor combination but the flaccid pieces of bacon draped over the top of these doughnuts were anything but appetizing - not to mention hard to eat.  (Great Maple is killing these, by the way.)
March 2013
The rest of the doughnuts I tried that day were no better or worse than anything you'd find in an ordinary doughnut shop.  The pricing on their basic varieties are reasonable, but they would be better off doing something more interesting and charging more, IMHO.
March 2013
On a second visit, I tried the blood orange, the "birthday cake" and a peanut butter and jelly bar. The blood orange was by far the best, with good strong citrus flavor in the glaze and a fluffy tender texture.  I'm not crazy about the thick glaze they put on their old fashioned doughnuts, but the doughnut itself was fine.
Donut Bar The "birthday cake" flavor was plain a vanilla cake doughnut with colored sprinkles.  The peanut butter frosting was pleasingly salty, but I was chagrined to find the doughnut filled with artifically flavored and colored bulk quality "jelly."
Donut Bar
 Donut Bar Honestly, if you're going to charge $3. for a doughnut I just think you should do better than that.

Donut Bar
631 B St
Downtown San Diego
check their Facebook page for their daily menu and updates.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Island Creek Oyster Bar | B&G Oyster Bar - Boston

B&G Oyster Bar - Boston /// B&G Oyster Bar - Boston /// B&G Oyster Bar - Boston /// B&G Oyster Bar - Boston /// B&G Oyster Bar - Boston /// Island Creek Oyster Bar - Boston /// Island Creek Oyster Bar - Boston /// Island Creek Oyster Bar - Boston /// Island Creek Oyster Bar - Boston /// Solas Pub - Boston ///

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle - Point Loma

March 2013 Are you a fan of both craft beer and the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou?  Well then, I have just the place for you.  A bait shack and beer bar located on the west side of Shelter Island, overlooking the San Diego Bay.  Not only is the tiny paneled dining room smartly turned out in dark blue with a collection of undersea themed movie posters, a bookshelf full of National Geographic back issues and vintage diving equipment - but the craft beer selection rivals any other establishment in town.  That is not surprising considering the owner, Dennis Borlek, was one of the original cooks at the Liar's Club and managed Hamilton's before moving on to the Monkey Paw and ultimately landing here.
Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle When we walked up we were greeted by Dennis, dressed in an elaborate pirate outfit - who stamped our hands with a squid logo.  We entered the dimly lit space and felt like we were on a submarine - it's about the size of an RV, with the only light coming from a picture window overlooking the bay and one large yellow industrial light fixture hanging from the ceiling.  The bar in front of the window is a perfect place to enjoy the view - especially at sunset - but there are a few blonde wood tables too.  Very few - in fact I think three is the exact number.  There are a few tables outside as well with a view of the city - and yes - an actual bait  shop opening onto the pier.  
Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle I'm guessing it gets crowded on weekend nights, but on Sundays they close at 8, so it was pretty low key with just one or two other tables occupied. We sat by the window and enjoyed a Russian River Damnation and a Bear Republic Red Rocket with a classic blue cheese wedge salad, a burger and an Italian sausage sandwich.  They make the sausages in house, and I think they are probably what they do best - though the pulled pork sandwich with housemade kimchi sounded promising too.  They also do Baja style hot dogs, including a loaded version with kimchi and pepperjack.
Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle
I had a burger craving, so I ordered the Fathom Burger - it was a good traditional burger - but it was a little bit difficult to eat since it was served on a sausage roll.  The Italian sausage with marinara and provolone was fantastic and the wedge salad was a classic specimen - chilled and crisp with tangy dressing and chunks of bacon and cherry tomatoes.  It would be nice if they offered a few nibble style things to go with the beer - maybe some nuts, pickled vegetables or olives, or even a good grilled cheese.  As it stands everything on the menu includes meat, so bear that in mind if traveling with vegetarians.
Burger at Fathom BistroAll in all though, the best thing about Fathom is that it feels special. It reminds me of one of those tiny ski chalets on the mountain that feels like a secret spot.  They play great music, they have a killer beer selection and serve good food in a cozy atmosphere.  It's a great spot for a date (it was in fact part of a "date day" that I had planned for James) particularly considering you can walk along the water before or after you stop in for your beer.  It would also be a fun place for out-of-towners since it kills two birds - the view of the city and the craft beer scene in one swoop.  You could even stop by the Bali Hai afterwards for Mai Tais - assuming you have nowhere to be the next morning...

Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle
1776 Shelter Island Drive
On the fishing pier toward the west end of the Island
across from the Best Western.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Because Everyone Loves a Good Sandwich

Clockwise from top left:  lobster roll at B&G Oysters, Boston; the Sam at Stein's Deli in NOLA; Steak Sandwich at Gjelina in LA; Bahn Mi at Out the Door in SF; Grilled Cheese at Hog Island Oysters in SF; the Schnitzelwich at Tabor in Portland; the Lobster BLT at B&G Oysters; Turkey and swiss with avocado and tarragon mustard at Rubicon Deli in SD, the Tabor cart in Portland.

Nothing but nothing beats a good sandwich for satisfaction. Inspired by Bon Appetit's latest issue, here is my own top ten list of favorite (non burger) sandwiches both outside and inside San Diego. What are some of yours??

 1. The Shrimp Toast at Son of a Gun in LA
 2. Momofuku pork buns in NYC
 3. Hog Island Oyster grilled cheese in SF
 4. Fried Chicken at Son of a Gun
 5. The Sam at Stein's Deli in NOLA 
 6. Bahn Mi at Out the Door in SF
 7. Schnitzelwich at Tabor in Portland
 8. Roli Roti Porchetta at the Ferry Building Farmers Market in SF
 9. Lobster BLT and lobster roll at B&G Oysters in Boston
 10. Steak sandwich at Gjelina in LA

 Favorite sandwiches in San Diego: 

 1. Triple Threat Pork sandwich at Carnitas’ Snack Shack
 2.  Fried Chicken on a Cream Cheese & Chive Biscuit at Tiger! Tiger! (Sunday only)
 3. Crab sandwich at Point Loma Seafoods
 4. Turkey with swiss, tarragon mustard and avocado on a dutch crunch roll at Rubicon Deli
 5. Roast beef with goat cheese and red onion at Con Pane.
 6. No. 9 (bbq pork) bahn mi at K sandwiches (ask for double meat & extra pickle.)
 7. Porchetta at Ariccia Italian Market in La Jolla
 8. Provencal vegetable sandwich at Cafe Zinc
 9. ABLT at Prep Kitchen in Little Italy 
 10. Fish Torta at El Pescador.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Son of a Gun - Los Angeles

Son of a Gun - Hollywood Have you seen the cover of the new Bon Appetit yet?  I just got mine in the mail and I was bowled over all over again by the gorgeous fried chicken sandwich on the cover - which I recognized from dinner last week at Son of a Gun.  It was one of those things that everyone in the restaurant was ordering, and we had to have one too as soon as we laid eyes on it. In fact, everything on the menu sounded so amazing it was hard to choose - so we made it as easy for ourselves as we could by ordering almost everything on the menu.
Son of a Gun - HollywoodWe didn't have a reservation and the restaurant is tiny - with about ten tables on one side and a small bar and  communal table on the other, so we so we got there right at six to get a spot.  We weren't the only ones - when we first drove by, about five people were in line but by the time we walked up, it was at least three times that many.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood We happened to be seated next to an adorable couple out on a date - below is a photo I snuck of their order of the King Salmon with jerk spice, kiwi, palm sugar vinaigrette and habanero.  They said it was delicious and they also recommended the Burrata with Uni.  We didn't try either one, but I'll take their word for it.  You can also see a bottle of the house fermented shandy sitting on the table here - drinks are as big a deal as the food here and they have a killer cocktail menu.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood
It was apparent that the male half of the couple was absolutely smitten with his date, and when we started chatting with them we learned this was only one of many stops they would be making, as they were doing a progressive dinner. When I asked where else they were going he showed me his list. (I had to keep it a secret from her because each stop was a surprise.)   This was in fact their second stop - the first had been Osteria Angelini, and they were on their way to Fig & Olive, then Spago and on to Craft, with a last stop at Mozza to pick up Butterscotch Budino *to go.* The date had been going since 9 AM - it started with croissants at Proof bakery, then there was a trampoline session at Sky High Trampoline Park, and a stop for a massage at a day spa before their dinner began.   Quite a day!
Epic Date Schedule we encountered at Son of a Gun :) The Kale Caesar salad - below left, was another dish that practically everyone seemed to be ordering -showered with finely grated parmesan and tossed with crisp toasted walnuts.  The avocado and citrus salad was refreshing and delicious too - nothing unusual but it's hard to go wrong with a combination of tangy, sweet citrus and buttery avocado.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood This was the smoked mahi fish dip with celery, radishes and crackers - it came with club crackers on the side.  This is the kind of thing I should make at home but never do.  The shaved celery and radish was a nice refreshing touch and it had great flavor - lots of horseradish.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood Next up came their justly famous lobster roll.  I was already aware that it was pretty small - but it is really tiny - just a couple of bites. They use potato chips to hold the lobster salad in.  The sweet lobster salad and buttery roll were delicious, but hard to share.
Son of a Gun - HollywoodMy personal favorite dish was the Shrimp Toast sandwich - pictured below. Shrimp toast is usually a crisp buttery slice of bread topped with a mixture of chopped shrimp and mayonnaise and baked until golden brown. This was turned into a sandwich with the addition of a top layer of buttery crisp bread and accented with a Sriracha sauce and a bit of cilantro.  It was insanely rich, but I could have easily eaten another one.   It would be the perfect couple of bites with a cocktail.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood Soon after that came the famous fried chicken  - topped with a sharp vinaigrette based slaw spiked with jalapenos and red onion and served on a toasted brioche bun smeared with a rooster sauce mayonnaise.  It was probably the best fried chicken sandwich I've ever had - and though I haven't tried Bake Sale Betty's up in the Bay Area, I've had a few.  Here in San Diego they serve a credible one on a biscuit at Tiger Tiger, and the MIHO Gastrotruck dishes up a similar version - but this one was special.  I definitely prefer the lighter bun, and the combination of the sharp coleslaw & fried chicken provided a nice contrast.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood There were a few other dishes in between that were ok, but not something I'd order again.  The brandade with "grainy mustard butter" arugula and fried egg was not as flavorful as it should have been, and the BBQ shrimp with warm potato salad and pickled bacon did not live up to its imaginative sounding name. One surprise stunner of the evening though was this brussel sprout dish, with chinese sausage, cinnamon, peanut and egg.  The crispy brussel sprouts mingled with the broken egg and sausage, and accented by the sweetness of the peanut and cinnamon became one of the best tasting and most original dishes we tried - very David Chang.
Son of a Gun - Hollywood 
We didn't have room for dessert, but the few options on the menu sounded good - especially the house made tin roof ice cream.  Some ladies next to us recommended the lime frozen yogurt, which was served in a bowl with a graham crumble and a smear of torched meringue on the side.   Reservations are hard to come by because of the size of the place, but if you get there early or late, or have time to wait, it's pretty easy for a small party to get seated at the bar or communal table. To my way of thinking, the ideal way to spend time here would be to sit at the bar with a friend or a date, have a few cocktails and graze on some of their more interesting small bites - in fact I'm planning to do just that as soon as I can!

Son of a Gun
8370 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048

open for lunch & dinner M-F
dinner only on weekends.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bar Stella | Bar Keeper - Los Angeles

Bar Stella - SilverlakeThe next stop on our whirlwind LA tour was Sunset Junction in the heart of Silverlake.  This little corner at a bend in the road is  home to the east side branch of Intelligentsia - famous for it's perfect espresso and Granada tile, The Cheese Store of Silverlake and Cafe Stella.  I had been to each of those before, but I hadn't noticed Bar Stella - hidden away a few steps down from the Cafe toward the street.  Jora and Desi had been here a few months earlier and wanted to recreate their experience, and once I entered I could see why.
Rose and cheese-stuffed prosciutto wrapped date from the Cheese Store at Bar StellaThe ritual (because we definitely plan to repeat this again) involves stopping in the Cheese Store of Silverlake for cheese stuffed dates, grilled on the panini press.  Those are carried, wrapped in paper, to the bar, and set out to wait for drinks to arrive - then consumed with a delicious beverage while still warm and gooey.  I can vouch for the fact that they pair nicely with a glass of chilled rose, but I'm sure any one of their cocktails would be equally delightful.  (The C. Arthur was strongly recommended by the young man seated to my right.)
Bar Stella - Silverlake
It's hard to imagine a better place to while away an hour or two, and that's exactly what we did.   We chatted with the bartender and a few other patrons, listened to some good mellow music, enjoyed the afternoon light filtering in through the doorway from their small Moroccan style patio, and soaked up the pleasure of spending an afternoon with favorite girlfriends in a lovely spot.
Bar Stella - Silverlake We also plotted our next move - which would include dinner.  Since the trip was planned on short notice, we hadn't been able to get a reservation anywhere - so we figured our best strategy was to show up somewhere early.  We contemplated Lucques, L&E Oyster bar and Mozza, but we all really wanted to try Son of a Gun, so we figured we would try that first and head somewhere else as a backup.
Bar Stella - SilverlakeOn our way into Bar Stella, we popped in to Bar Keeper, just around the corner - it's a boutique liquor store and cocktail supply shop with a huge selection of bitters, a wall of top shelf liquor choices, and lots of vintage cocktail glasses, shakers and accessories.  They specialize in bitters - displayed below - and Desi picked up a bottle of Yuzu bitters that she handed to the bartender and asked him to make her a drink.  He came up with a refreshing gin concoction that she absolutely loved.  Win win.
Barkeeper - Silverlake So, let's recap.  Other than a short stop at Broome Street General Store for a delightful visit with Elizabeth , Elodie and delicious baby Francesca, we spent our day eating, shopping, drinking and eating, in that order.  Oh and eating some more, if you count our stop at The Pie Hole on the way home.  Yup, it was pretty much bliss from one end to the other!

Next up - Dinner at Son of a Gun, then back to San Diego!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cookbook - Los Angeles

Cookbook - Echo Park Cookbook is a small grocery and food shop in Echo Park and a sister to Cortez. It's tiny, but packed wall to wall with great stuff, including fresh bakery breads, Marin Sun Farms meats, fresh pastured eggs, and a selection of fruits and vegetables from local farms including leeks, kale, beets, meyer lemons, avocados, fresh herbs, etc. They also stock pantry goods like Rancho Gordo beans, Maestri pasta, June Taylor jams, Mast Bros. Chocolate, Sightglass coffee and Straus dairy and carry a small selection of prepared foods.
Cookbook - Echo Park
Originally, the idea behind the name was that they would feature dishes inspired by or drawn from different cookbooks each week - but it seems like that has fallen away in favor of the practicality of offering their customers what they want - such as the Beans and Greens made with Rancho Gordo's Good Mother Stallards (recipe here).
Cookbook - Echo Park They were especially well stocked with great looking produce on the day we were there.   On my last visit a few months ago the selection was not quite as good, so I'm guessing it varies from day to day.
Cookbook - Echo Park The best part is their prices are not overly inflated.  They charge maybe $.50 to a dollar more than Whole Foods or a farmers market for the produce and pantry items. By contrast, Broome Street General Store's prices are marked up about 30% across the board.
Cookbook - Echo Park Next door to Cookbook, there is a small boutique called Cookbook 2, where they sell a few home goods - primarily the clay cazuelas and pottery items that they use at Cortez.  There are also some solid wood bowls, Japanese spice grinders and paring knives.  It's not obvious that it's there - we wouldn't have known about it if our friends at Cortez hadn't told us about it that morning.  You have to ask them to unlock it for you and let you in.
Cookbook - Echo Park (next door boutique) We all really liked these pottery tumblers that they use as coffee mugs at Cortez.   They not only look cool, but keep the coffee really hot.
Terra cotta mugs at Cookbook - Echo Park
I picked up some of their house made granola, a bag of Rancho Gordo cranberry beans, a package of Maestri bucatini and a jar of the avocado honey we enjoyed at breakfast at Cortez (which I just discovered they also sell at Whole Foods.) It was a good haul!

1549 Echo Park Avenue
Los Angeles
(213) 250-1900

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cortez - Los Angeles

Brunch at Cortez - LA This past weekend some girlfriends and I took a little day trip to Los Angeles. My usual MO has been to go up and spend the night - which is great too - but the day trip actually works pretty well, especially with a group of friends who make the drive a a pleasure instead of a chore.  We started the day with brunch at Cortez - a cafe in Echo Park run by the same lovely folks behind Cookbook - a small grocery and take out shop a few blocks away.
Brunch at Cortez - LA The menu at Cortez is small, but everything on it sounded fantastic.  If you're familiar with Boulette's Larder at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, it was like that, only more California and less French, with half the price and pretension.  (I've been fantasizing a lot about opening a food business lately, and this was eerily close to what I imagine it would look like.)
Brunch at Cortez - LA
I had the farro and lentils with harissa and egg - which came with a big tangle of fried shallots.  Something like this runs the risk of being bland or heavy, but this was neither - the perfectly cooked runny egg mingled with the harissa and farro to form a hearty but not gut-busting breakfast dish.
Brunch at Cortez - LA  Desi and Jora had the merguez sausage on flatbread with yogurt, pickles and greens - and Jora added an egg.  The lamb sausage was mild and the pickles added a nice sharp accent.   Elise had the white beans with smoked tomatoes, chard and an egg - which also had great flavor.
Brunch at Cortez - LA We shared some roasted kabocha squash with sage browned butter and shaved cheese, and the flatbread with avocado honey and olive oil.   To drink, we had blood orange juice (I did anyway, I was still recovering from a wicked hangover) and cappuccinos, and Elise had beautiful fresh mint tea - just mint steeped in boiling water.  The flatbread with honey and olive oil was pretty much the perfect indulgence.  It reminded me of the sopapillas at Tomasitas in Santa Fe.   I liked it so much I bought some of the honey at Cookbook later.
Cortez - LA
I was also really taken with the design of the place - it's a small room, with two long communal tables and a small bar in front of the kitchen. It feels open and airy with the simple wood & brick interior and high ceilings.  The accents - copper, citrus, dried herbs - strike the perfect note of modern California chic, and I  liked that it doesn't look just like every other hipster retro-pharmacy/train-station style joint out there.
Brunch at Cortez - LA
After we ate, the place cleared out and we started chatting with Stephen and Jitson.  (I don't know what it was about this trip but we just made friends wherever we went.  LA has become so friendly lately!)  We even got them to pose for a photo.  When I originally asked if I could take pictures, Stephen said sure, just follow and tag us on Instagram!  (@restaurantcortez)Brunch at Cortez - LAWhile we were chatting, they mentioned that Jonathan Gold had recently savaged them in the LA Times - I pulled up the review and read it on the spot.  I usually like his reviews, but I think he may be off base on this one.   He went for dinner - which may be a substantially different experience than brunch, but he waxed rhapsodic about the food, calling one dish "just short of stunning" - so clearly the food was not the problem.  His main complaint seemed to be that the portions were too small and the wine ran out too soon.  A choice quote:  "You are going to cut the two globes of merguez sausage neatly into halves, wrap your bit in a bandage-sized scrap of flatbread and hope that you have not taken more than your allotted half-teaspoonful of yogurt sauce."  Their response:  just ask for more!  He also rather snottily references "screechy  jazz" and claims "if you belong here, you know who you are."  Oof.  The most irritating part is that it seems the review is mostly for effect - since he comes into Cookbook all the time, and has never uttered a complaint about the atmosphere there or seemingly felt out of place.  Regardless - I  doubt his review will deter anyone who would otherwise be inclined to go there for dinner,  and I for one can't wait to try it!

Stay tuned for more of our adventures on the East Side!

1356 Allison Ave in Echo Park - just off Sunset
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 481-8015