Thursday, April 23, 2009

OC's Visit to SD, Day 7: Crazee Burger, Azucar and Ba Ren

It was OC's last day in San Diego, so we had to make the most of it.

We started our day off at Crazee Burger in University Heights. They have good burgers, including some really interesting options, so we decided to try a couple. OC had a gator burger with curry fruit tapenade, which was good (I had a bite), but I think she said it was rubbery at places. I had a venison burger with red wine poached pears, bacon, mushrooms and cream and plum jelly. It was less gamey than I expected, and the combo of flavors were delicious, although I must say I still prefer a traditional beef burger. We also shared a side of their fries, which are dusted with parmesan and garlic.

In my enthusiasm to eat, I forgot to take pictures. But these two stamps represent our burger consumption!

After we went to Legoland again (yes, we went back to get to the 2nd half of the park!), we rushed to Ocean Beach to try to get to Azucar before they closed. I'd heard about Azucar, a Cuban bakery, and I really wanted to try it. We made it with like 10 minutes to spare, and OC hopped out while I searched for parking. By the time I went into the bakery, she had ordered half a dozen things and put them into a box. These included a cinco leches cake, an artemisa (coconut pinneapple cake), a coconut cupcake, a key lime cupcake, and a flan de queso. Later, OC would awaken me with a loud exclamation of joy as she took a bite of the cinco leches. She also got this caramel coconut cookie thing to eat immediately, and I got a mojito cookie. The mojito cookie was SO good, it actually tasted like a mojito. We enjoyed the coconut cupcake later that night, and everything else, OC took a bite from the next day and left it for me. All the desserts were delicious, but the cinco leches was definitely amazing with its toasted almonds on top. I also liked the flan, which was surprisingly dense. I'll definitely be going back soon to try something new :)


Some caramel cookie


Mojito cookie and our big box of bakery goods.

The desserts from Azucar

Then we walked around the farmer's market, where OC bought a blue cheese truffle (strange but surprisingly delicious) and I bought a Scotch Egg, which is basically a hardboiled egg wrapped in sausage and rolled in breadcrumbs.

Scotch egg with some mustard and sauce


Amazingly, despite all this munching, we still went to get dinner at a place I'd read about and was DYING to try: Ba Ren Szechuan (in Clairemont Mesa).

Some background: my parents currently live in Beijing right now, and I go back once a year to visit them, and when I do, all I do is eat Chinese food. Because, frankly, America has very little authentic Chinese cuisine, and VERY little GOOD Chinese cuisine. My favorite regional Chinese cuisine is Szechuan food - I love ths spiciness of it, thanks to hua jiao - Szechuan peppercorn. It's really fragrant and spicy in a different way than your typical chilis. However, most Szechuan places in America just use regular chili oil for some reason, so I'm always on the lookout for a place that does good Szechuan.

My favorite dish, possibly in the whole world, is la zi ji, a sort of Szechuan style popcorn chicken. It's bite sized chicken fried in a huge pile of chilis and hua jiao and garlic, and is intensely flavorful if done right. So of course when I saw it on Ba Ren's menu, I had to get it. It was the best I've had in America. Spicy, with the strong fragrance of hua jiao, not too greasy. It could have been a little bit crispier, but it was by far the best version I've had outside of China.

This would be my last meal if I had to have one.

We also ordered spicy braised duck with taro jelly slices, which was also really good. We'd expected chunks of taro, instead of jelly slices, but I really liked the texture of the jelly, which was a cross between chewy and crunchy (Chinese people are suckers for texture). The sauce was really flavorful and spicy, perfect for rice.

I removed all the cilantro before we dug in.

Lastly, we ordered a vegetable - cabbage cooked in vinegar and chili. Simple, but really really delicious. So delicious in fact, that when the waitress came to clear the plates and put the other stuff into takeaway, she was like, "You probably don't want any more of this, right?" gesturing to the cabbage, and we both clamored, "No, no! We want that too!" It came back to us in a tiny tiny container.

This was DELICIOUS despite how simple it is.

For dessert, they gave us complimentary bowls of a cold red bean/wild rice porridge. Lightly sweetened. It was the perfect thing to finish a meal of intense spicy flavors.

Sometimes it's really nice to have something light to finish a meal off with.

It was so good, that it was by far my favorite meal out of the meals we'd shared. Probably exacerbated that I rarely eat Chinese food in San Diego, while when I was in New York, I'd go to Chinatown at least once a week for dim sum. And this Chinese food was exceptionally good. I HIGLY recommend it to anyone looking for authentic Chinese. And I can't wait to go back.

Unfortunately this was the end of OC's visit, but I know we'll soon be reunited when I go back to New York for new eats... and until then, we'll keep eating in our separate paths!

Tioli's Crazee Burger
4201 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 282-6044

Azucar
4820 Newport Ave
Ocean Beach, CA 92107
(619) 523-2020


Ba Ren
4957 Diane Ave
San Diego, CA 92117
(858) 279-2520

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