Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Revisit: Ba Ren... again

Yes. I love this place. And because I'm leaving SD soon, I had to get my fill. So I went this past week, not once, but TWICE.

The first time was with JML, and since it was just the two of us, we didn't really get much. As usual, I got the diced fried chicken, and then we got the three delicacy crispy rice. The only completely new thing we got was the mapo tofu, which was spicy but really good I thought. The flavor was good and I was happy to see they used real silken tofu, not that semi-firm/medium soft stuff that I really hate.

When I went with Minky and three of her friends on Tuesday, however, we went all out.

To start, we ordered three cold appetizers from that bar area. Cucumber, seaweed and bamboo shoots. All were flavorful and good.

Next we had beef tripe with pickled pepper. Here already half consumed. I love beef tripe personally, though I felt the sauce was a tad too salty here, and not a fan of celery anyway.

My favorite chicken dish, also already decimated:

Chinese bacon stir fried. It had a black bean type sauce I think, because I felt it was a little too salty and "chu" (like, not delicate) for my taste. Not one of my favorites. There was an option of chinese bacon with garlic shoots on the menu which I feel would have been a better balance of flavors than this version.

Chili vinegar cabbage, always a favorite.

Scallops with crispy rice. I think I prefer the versions with pork or even three delicacies better than the scallop version - it gave the gravy a briny undertone that I preferred less. But it was still very good.

"Fish-flavor" eggplant. This came late, when we were all already very very full, so I only had one serving. It was different than the yu xiang eggplant I've had recently, more sweet and sour than usual, with still a hint of spicy. Very very good. Too bad I was way too full.

Always a pleasure at Ba Ren...

Finally Japanese in SD: Wa Dining Okan

I haven't had any Japanese (except bad sushi) since I've moved to SD. This is strange because in NY I have Japanese at least once a week -- izakaya, sushi, ramen, yakitori, soba, you name it. So when Cindy and I finally met up for our monthly dinner, I decided I had to try Japanese once before I moved out of here.

After much deliberation, I settled on Wa Dining Okan in Kearny Mesa, because it received such strong reviews. Once there, we were overwhelmed by options. Cindy doesn't eat raw fish though, which cut out a lot. And we tended to be leaning more towards the veggie specials.

This is what we got:

Kabocha pumpkin, stewed. This was good. I love pumpkin, simmered in this way so that it's soft and sweet.

Bamboo shoots, simmered in broth. This was really really good. The shoots were tender and flavorful, with none of the scratchiness that shoots can sometimes have.

Having read so much about the gobo salad, I knew I had to try it. This was awesome. The veggies and dressing was bright and provided a good contrast to the fried stuff on top. I still have no idea what gobo is, by the way, but this was fun to eat.

Salmon and scallop carpaccio. Cindy let me get this even though she's not much for raw fish. The salmon was lightly seared though, so she had that. They both were very sweet and soft, melt in your mouth. The scallop was creamy and not overly fishy, while the salmon was very oily, but in that good sort of salmon oil way.

Agedashi tofu. Classic. Though it made me miss New York and all the times I've ordered this.

Clams in sake. This was the only miss of the evening. The clams felt slimy and were way too fishy. I love clams normally, but these felt like they were still moving or something. We had to send it back.

Grilled onigiri with soy sauce. I love onigiri, especially grilled, so this was a hit for me.

They called this something like yam cake with or something. I don't really know what it's really called, because at Ba Ren it's called taro cakes. It has the rubbery jelly consistency of konnyaku which I really like, but Cindy was freaked out by. I liked it, it was in this light spicy dashi type broth.

A classic goodie: chicken drumsticks. This was so good. The batter was light and flavorful, and so comforting.

Then dessert! I had a strawberry mousse parfait - the mousse was so nice and layered with oreo cookie bits! Not what I'd expect at a Japanese restaurant but really nice, like the kind of dessert your mom might make for you.

Cindy had the caramel pudding with black honey. It was very egg custardy, but smooth and good.

I really liked this place. It's comforting Japanese fare, and the kind of place that I feel like me and my friends in NY would visit often for a quick bite after work.

Wa Dining Okan
3860 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-0941

Sunday brunch: Roseville and Azucar

I've been meaning to try Roseville in Point Loma for brunch for some time now, so Minky and I decided to head over there on Sunday. The restaurant looks much bigger than seems on the outside. We were seated in a big cushy booth for the two of us.

First we started off with mimosas. Minky had the bottomless classic OJ mimosa, while I had a lavender honey blueberry one. Mine was so delicious! The OJ was good too.

For entrees we decided to share. First the lobster white corn crepe. This was delicious. The white sauce was buttery and rich, but still light, the corn was fresh and juicy and went so perfectly with the lobster. And who doesn't love a thin crepe to go over it all?

The other entree we shared was the omelette with spinach, mushrooms and comte cheese. This was also really good, not overcooked, eggs perfectly fluffy, and all around delicious.

We looked at the dessert menu, but decided we'd skip. I thought the brunch here was lovely, exactly what I look for in brunch food. Light but satisfying. I would definitely come here again. And I'd love to try it for dinner!

Since we'd skipped dessert, we went to Azucar over in Ocean Beach instead.

I ordered this thing called the Divina, which is white cake with passion fruit curd, raspberries, and vanilla meringue on top. It was very nice, tangy from the passion fruit, but very creamy with the marshmallowy consistency of the meringue.

Minky got the cinco leches, which I love. The infusion of milkiness with the crunchy texture of the toasted almonds is so nice. She also got a salted chocolate caramel which was good.

I also got a white chocolate banana bundt cake (not pictured) which was so good. Like a moist banana nut bread with melted white chocolate bits in. Delicious.

The desserts here are so solid. I have yet to try something here that I didn't think was delicious and inventive.

Lovely Sunday!

1125 Rosecrans St
San Diego, CA 92106
(619) 450-6800

4820 Newport Ave
San Diego, CA 92107
(619) 523-2020

To share: Bite

Minky and I met up for dinner on Saturday night. I had been meaning to try Bite in Hillcrest, which I passed by every time I went to Mama Testa's. We both love small plates because it means more food to try for everybody!

The amuse bouche, compliments from the chef was a crunchy bit of toast (I know this is the wrong word, but I'm totally blanking right now) with a salmon spread and cherry tomato. Very tasty.

Next up, we ordered dates stuffed with gorgonzola wrapped in bacon. These were very good. The bacon was crunchy, the gorgonzola just soft enough.

Swordfish bites with a yogurt tzatziki sauce. The swordfish was very firm, the way it should be, though the whole thing didn't really come together for me. I like swordfish, I like tzatziki, and it was fine, but it didn't seem like it meshed the way it was supposed to.

This was eggplant, yellow beets and spicy boursin cheese. This was really yummy. The eggplant and beets were so mild and nice, and with the cheese this all came together really well.

This was a duck confit salad with mango over greens. I love duck confit and this was good, though a tad on the salty side for me.

Duck pate with assorted fixins. It came with toast and crackers. Good and rich. Very solid, though by then we were getting pretty full.

Dessert was bread pudding with blueberry sorbet. Really really good. I loved the sorbet especially.

I forgot to mention that we had their red sangria, which was really tasty, though pretty watered down.

Overall, I'd say that the cuisine here is solid and better than average, though definitely not falling into the upper limits of creativity or fine dining (compared to say, Whisk n Ladle). But I love the ambience of the place and I love shared plates. I'd come again, though it wouldn't make my favorites list.

1417 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92103

Food Festival: San Diego County Fair

Okay, not a food festival per se, but come on, the fair is all about the bad for you food right?

I went twice to the fair. My first day, I had:

Corn. I love roasted corn with all the fixin's. Just love it. I loved here that I could put on what I wanted, so I put EVERYTHING - jerk, pico de gallo, lemon juice, garlic, pepper, parmesan... you name it!

Fried artichoke with ranch sauce. It was Taste of the Fair, so I got a nice small portion. Perfect size! I love artichokes!

Mini key lime cupcake. It was a bit too tangy for me, but still good. I love cupcakes.

Smoked turkey leg. Huge, and I didn't finish the whole thing, but juicy and not dry at all!

I also got a strawberry julius (not pictured). Surprisingly that's all I ate. I thought I'd do worse damage, you know, try some of the weird stuff out pictured in this billboard... Of interest especially is the krispy creme chicken sandwich. Gross, and yet I wish I knew someone who bought it just to try a piece of it.

Knowing Minky is a lover of all types of food, including fair food, I took her back to the fair SOLELY to eat when she came to visit this weekend. This is despite the fact that we had just had brunch and dessert (which I'll be posting about in a bit). Nonetheless, we tried:

A plate of fried veggies - including mushrooms, artichokes and zucchini curls (2 mushrooms and 2 artichokes! lame). It was eh. Too much batter, not enough veggie.

This was what we both were interested most by: frog legs with fries. We ignored the fries completely and went straight into the legs. They were surprisingly good. Tender, moist, like a cross between chicken and a swordfish steak (fishy in the meaty way). I liked it, though I suspect I'd like them more prepared in a different way (ie: not just battered).

A chocolate frozen banana with nuts. Yum.

And a corn for the road!

Due to the fact that we'd eaten beforehand, we didn't do as much damage as we could have at the fair. We stuck around for an hour and then left. Not joking when I say we went to eat.

The San Diego County Fair, by the way, is incredibly impressive. It's huge, nothing at all like a dinky fair I'd expect from elsewhere.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eastern Comfort Food: Pho Ca Dao

I love Vietnamese food. Seriously. So I've been meaning to try Pho Ca Dao in Rolando for a long time now. It's right across the street from Cali Baguette, and I've always been curious about it. So the other day, I decided to bite the bullet and go in, asking for a table of one.

It was already packed, with both Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese. The menu looked impressive to me -- a lot of other good options besides just pho (the Hue noodles caught my eye, but that'll have to be for next time). I decided to go simple: combo pho and shrimp/pork fresh spring rolls.

The pho was good. Maybe not the best I've ever had, but definitely really really good. I especially loved how the tripe was the thin shredded kind, and not the big lumps that they can sometimes give you. And the small portion was too large for me to finish! The spring rolls were also very big -- probably too much food for one person. The bill came out cheap, under $10 not including tip. I love that about these places. Good food on the cheap.

I'm going back for the Hue noodles next time.

Pho Ca Dao
5223 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92115
(619) 326-1420

Food Festival: Greek Festival and Saturday Supper

The Greek Festival was this past weekend, so of course I had to go so I could eat things. Despite the many foods being offered there, ultimately, I only had room for a few things:

Phyllo pastry with spinach and cheese, and grape leaf stuffed with meat and rice.

I waited in line for half an hour for this plate: lamb leg, Greek sausage (it had bits of orange in it!), olives, feta, and bread.

$10 sampler of Greek desserts, including baklava, and other pastries.

This pastry had custard in it and was my favorite.

That, unfortunately, was all I could stuff into myself, despite the fact that so many other things looked so delightful!

Afterward a few more hours of walking around and then some hanging out in Balboa, CJ and CM and I went back to my place to make dinner (yes, we went from eating to eating). I normally don't post pictures from homecooked meals, but what the hell.

I may have mentioned that CM is a vegetarian, so we tried to make this as veg friendly as possible.

We started out with a salad of mixed greens, strawberries (from the Coronado farmer's market - incredibly sweet), figs (also from the farmer's market), hazelnuts and goat cheese with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Then we made orzo with spinach, feta, toasted almonds, and cherry tomatoes with a little bit of lemon and olive oil and black pepper tossed in. CJ and I made a side of sausage to toss in with our orzo.

We also attempted to roast some brussels sprouts with parmesan and balsamic, but they came out a bit tough (though when I resteamed them the next day, they were good).

Don't forget the wine! And yes, that is wine that has a happy face as its label.

Good weekend of food with good friends!