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Market Restaurant + Bar

Last month, I finally crossed off a restaurant that I had wanted to go to for ages.  This place got on my list of restaurants to try back in 2006, not long after it had opened.  The rave reviews from fellow local bloggers, to Yelpers, to magazine reviews, the restaurant had a laundry list of positive feedback.  Yet, the reason it took me almost six years to get there are due to various reasons:

  1. It’s slightly off the beaten path in Del Mar, and not in the main strip of Del Mar restaurants off the coast.
  2. The end bill is not exactly cheap, so that would limit this place to special occasions.
  3. Once, when I got close to going, there were no reservations open for that evening that was before a 9pm seating.

Then comes along my old colleague and friend from my previous job, who was coming to San Diego (technically, it was Valley View Center) for a job.  We scheduled for a dinner meet up and she told me to pick.  Considering she was all the way up in the mountains, though an area I’m familiar with, it is not my first choice for dinner spots.  Hence, I knew I would be choosing something in the northern area of San Diego.  That is when it came to me: we could go to Market Restaurant + Bar!  I knew this would work out since my friend was traveling on the company and would have a food allowance.  Since I didn’t mind picking up my own tab, I quickly jumped on it.

Upon arriving at the restaurant, it was as if time had stood still for the place ever since I saw it all those years ago.  I thought to myself, “I’ve passed by this place enough times during the summer (for the Del Mar County Fair), now I will finally get to see if it was worth the wait!”  (Side note to future patrons – there is no parking at the restaurant and is valet only, but it is free!  Just remember to tip the man.)

The interior is intimate with dark lighting, but it is very simplistic modern feel.  The bar at the entrance is definitely darker with darker colors of deep red, but the main dining room is lighter with persimmon colored walls, accented by lines of “sage” and “avocado green” (according to their website, those are the color names).  The minute I walked into the restaurant, I loved it.  And this is not always the feeling I get when I go to restaurants.  (I can only think of maybe a handful of instances where a restaurant’s décor was an instant love for me.)

On to the food!!!

To start off the evening, our server put in front of us the modified Amuse Bouche of a Ricotta, Pesto, and Tomato Crostini.  My friend AS is allergic to shellfish and apparently the amuse bouche of the night featured shrimp, so hence, we received this one instead.  It was good regardless – simple, fresh ricotta, and not too overpowering.

For our shared appetizers (there were three of us):

The Blue Cheese Soufflé & Shaved Persimmon-Fuji Apple Salad was in our server’s opinion, “Not that rich!  The salad helps cut the cheese down.”  Um….I’ll tell you right now that the soufflé itself, even with the salad, was downright rich.  I could see someone trying to finish this, then take two bites from their entrée and call it a night.  With that said, this was delicious and packed with blue cheese.  For those who do not enjoy blue cheese, do NOT get it!  It’s not just a hint of blue cheese, it’s in your FACE cheese.  The persimmon and Fuji apple salad was light and sweet to accompany the soufflé in perfect harmony.  *cue the harp music*

Our other appetizer was a recommendation from the server (I was hesitant in taking her suggestion considering her advice about the soufflé) when we asked which of the salads was better.  The one we ordered was the Grapefruit and Avocado Salad.  Grapefruit is not a fruit I eat at all because I find the bitterness too overpowering.  I decided to go in with an open mind and took a bite of the salad with a bit of every component.  That is the whole point of a composed dish right?

The bite consisted of the only slightly bittersweet grapefruit, with the creamy avocado, the tangy goat cheese, and mixed greens dressed in Arbequina Olive Oil (which was smooth and fruity like), I was surprised how much I liked it.  I never thought I would, but I did!  The salad is beautiful to look at, as well as to eat.  The flavors all worked with each other and I could not think of anything wrong with the combination.

Entrée time! 🙂

This was the special duo of the evening and AS’ choice!  The duo included Cabernet Braised Shortribs (Buttermilk Fried Onions, Vegetable Roast, Horseradish, Sweet Onion-Potato Purée) and Wagyu Skirt Steak (Aged White Cheddar Braised Potatoes, Broccolini, Roasted Tomato, Crispy Bacon).  Since I don’t eat beef, this was AS and JD’s reactions to the dish: “ZOMG the beef falls apart!  It is so good!  I can’t believe how tender it is!!!”

That was the general thought of the dish as a whole.  And according to the two ladies, they both liked the shortribs more than the skirt steak.  I did try the accompaniments and enjoyed the flavors of them too.

JD’s (a new coworkers of AS and a fellow foodie!) entrée was the Crab & Shrimp Stuffed Salmon with house made gnocchi, mushrooms and broccolini.  I had a bite of the fish with some of the stuffing and was surprised that I enjoyed it.  I am not a fan of cooked salmon; I like mine raw…in a sashimi form!  However, Market seasoned it well and the fish did not have that yucky, “fishy” smell or taste to it.

My selection should not come as a surprise since I never pass up this option.  The Spice roasted Maine dayboat scallops were superb.  The dish was accompanied by black rice, roasted Brussels sprout, fennel, and (if I recall correctly) a red pepper sauce.  My giant scallops were tender, flavorful, and oh so *gurgles in own saliva*.

………………Sorry, I had a moment there but I’m back.  Anyway, I don’t believe the dish is always on the menu since the restaurant does change every so often to reflect the season.

Honestly, the restaurant has yet to show me that they cannot execute a well-composed and cooked dish.  Kudos Market!  Ok, onto our last course!

Dessert!!! (Best part of any meal right?)

For AS, the S’mores – a warm chocolate and graham tart, with toasted brown sugar marshmallow swirl top, and topped with some sea salt.  The dessert comes with a scoop of the malted chocolate ice cream.  It is definitely s’mores for adults and packed with chocolate.  I liked it, but was not in love with it.

For JD, her Crème Fraische Panna Cotta was the disappointment of the evening.  The Panna Cotta with the tangerine sorbet was just too…plain and underwhelming.  I think those were the words we came up with to describe the dessert.  All of us love fruit-based desserts and a clean dish.  This one just did not cut it for any of us.

For moi, give me the Butterscotch custard and chocolate soufflé with espresso-bailey’s ice cream baby!  The dessert comes out as three mini desserts on a plate.  From left to right:  The ball of espresso-bailey’s ice cream is covered with what reminds of coco pebbles at first glance, but I think they are just pieces of chocolate wafer cookies, and it sits on a dollop of caramel – loved.

Then comes the little cup of butterscotch custard, with fresh vanilla whipped cream (and you can see the vanilla beans still!) topped with toffee pieces.  This was butterscotch all right!  Not my usual preference for custards or puddings, but this was small enough so it was still good with its other dessert members.

Lastly, the chocolate soufflé was a miniature “lava cake”.  The cake was good, but when it comes to “lava”-like cakes, my favorite still goes to Roy’s and Café Japengo’s.  Those are the bomb diggity!  Still, Market’s version was a fair in comparison to some I have had at other restaurants.

The desserts seem to be underwhelming overall for the three of us.  After having a stellar start and continued amazement for our entrées, the end was only “ok”.  Despite that, all three of us had an amazing dinner that evening.  I knew there was a reason this place has remained on my list of restaurants to try for years.  And the reason why I could still visit it after all this time, is that they make and serve outstanding food.  That is the why they are still thriving notwithstanding their isolated location.  Market Restaurant and Bar will have to be on my list of best places to go for special occasions.

Market Restaurant + Bar
3702 Via de la Valle
Del Mar, CA 92014


Restaurant Week 2012 – La Bastide Bistro

My SD Restaurant Week restaurant number 2 was with a coworker of mine, JT (and no, it’s not that JT).  Since she was working during the MLK holiday (in lieu of another holiday), we choose a place closer to the office.  Our selection was because of the number of choices the restaurant had for the pre-fixe menu, and here were our choices for La Bastide Bistro in Scripps Ranch:

Appetizers:

Crab Cake Served on Spinach with Orange Reduction Sauce

Warm Goat Cheese Crouton, Drizzled with Lavender Honey, Candied Walnuts, Mixed Greens with Apple, Bacon, Mushrooms &Truffle Vinaigrette

I have to say, this was our favorite course of the meal.  According to JT, the crab cake was loaded with lumps of crab meat.  She loved it and it did look pretty darn good from where I was sitting!  My salad was absolutely delicious!  The best part is the highlighted item – warm goat cheese, drizzled in the lavender honey.  My goodness, I could have eaten TEN of these croutons!  Paired with a fresh salad, it made me feel like I was eating something healthy and good.  Althought I would have to say that those mushrooms were a bit out of placed.  Had they been marinated mushrooms, that would have made the dish twice as good.

Entrees:

Fisherman’s Stew with Mussels, Fish, and Potatoes, In a Saffron Lobster Broth with a Rouille Crouton

Duck Confit with Fries & Salad

Our entrees was not our first choices, because they ran out of the Cassoulet (White Bean Stew with Duck Confit, Bacon & Sausage). 😦  JT enjoyed her stew, and it smelled nice, but it was not what I would want either.  My Duck Confit was sadly under seasoned and a little dry.  Also, my fries should have been crispier too.  There’s nothing worse than a limp fry!

Dessert:

Apple Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Ice Cream

JT and I both ordered the Tartin, but again…much to our disappointment, the apple filling was too sweet for us.  It felt like canned apple pie filling to me, but I cannot confirm that this was the case.  The best part of this dessert was the ice cream.

Overall, La Bastide Bistro completely failed my expectations and they were not even set high to begin with!  That was probably the worst part for me.  Would I come back?  For the prices they are charging both in their lunch and dinner menu, I think I’d rather opt for a different option.

La Bastide Bistro
10006 Scripps Ranch Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92131


Day 3 and 4 in Oahu

Day 3

After a day of doing little to nothing, it was time to do something again on our vacation!  But before any of that, we needed a proper breakfast to start.  Given that CP’s ideal breakfast are blueberry pancakes, no matter where we are, I found him a place that actually served it (you’d be surprised how hard it was…every place wanted to put either bananas or pineapples, which is not all that surprising since we were in Hawaii).

Longhi’s

Now…those 2 pancake stacks look the same with the exception of the topping right?  It is actually the topping that gives it away: one is a buttermilk blueberry pancake (top) and the other is a ricotta blueberry pancake (bottom).  The difference?  One is a good, standard, pancake…the other, is a creamy, decadent disks that will fill you up 5x faster.  Just take a look at the creamy goodness inside:

I had made it through half of the stack before I decided that it was a better idea to walk away than to push through.  CP on the other hand had wiped clean his stack (of 3…instead of 2 because his was slightly lighter than mine).  After our yummy breakfast, we had to make a stop in the Lego store we walked by on our way to breakfast because both CP and myself are big fans of Legos…but CP was just so excited to see a store with nothing BUT Legos.

He ended up buying 3 Starwars character keychains (since it was buy 2, get 1 free) and walked out of the store triumphant and happier.  🙂  With this good start to the day, we decided to go see some of the “sights” of the island…you know, the tourist stops.  It is in us both to do as much one can during a vacation (it’s more myself than anyone), so since we spent one whole day practically doing nothing…it was time to do something!  That’s why we spent the next 2 hours or so at the Waikiki Aquarium.

We learned that this monk seal is best known for “energy conservation.”  CP and I both thought, “How appropriate for this vacation…perhaps we should take a page from its book and we could learn a few things or two on how to enjoy life.”  I loved this seal because: 1. it’s just a blubbery cuteness and 2. lives the life I wish I could.

After spending the time inside a wonderful aquarium and learning about the animal that embodies Bruno Mars’ newest single, “The Lazy Song,”  CP and I decided to do something just completely the opposite.  Here’s a shot of what I’m referring to:

Can you guess where we were headed off to next?…No?  Here’s another clue then:

CP and I were about to take a “hike into history” up Diamond Head Crater!  Let me tell you…it is one, fracking harsh hike into history.  Irony lost upon us? Nope.  Deterred?  Ha! We’re city people in a profession where people think sleeping is inefficient use of hours in the day.  So suck it up, get lathered up (with sunscreen…we’re not stupid, skin cancer is not our agenda for this hike), and “LEGGO!”

There’s CP as we left the paved lower part of the crater’s park, into the rough and uneven terrain. I took random shots throughout the hike, but we hit a point where I was using all my energy to keep myself from slipping and/or twisting my ankle on the uneven trail.

Just when we thought we would never get anywhere, we reached a break from the hike to this gorgeous view:

After a brief break to catch our breath, cool off, snap some shots of ourselves…we continued our trek northward!  Let’s just say it was more uphill climbs before we hit some very steep stairs, followed by a long dark tunnel, then more stairs that were even steeper, then another tunnel before ending at…A SPIRAL STAIRCASE! (insert gasps and shock…feel free…I’ll wait for you 🙂 ).  Once we made it to the top, we were reward with amazing views of the island.  A perfect view down the shoreline of Waikiki beach, and the lush mountains of Oahu.

Needless to say, CP and I were happy we had made it up to the top in one piece for wonderful views.  Even though we were both a sweaty mess, we were champions of the crater for that moment!

Let’s just say the trek down was a hop and skip for us by this point.  Filled with joy and the taste of victory, we sauntered to the car and headed for a victory cool off snack at Waiola again:

A lime and pink lemonade shaved ice over 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream for CP.

And a modest lychee and lilikoi shaved ice for me.  Plus…

A musubi!  You seriously didn’t think I would not get this while here right?  (Side note: I am a BIG fan of spam.  Every since I was little, Spam was a treat for me since Mom didn’t like for us to eat too much of it because at the end of the day, it was processed meat.  However, pan-fried Spam made it to our noodles and ramens, as well as scrambled eggs for dinner.  Needless to say, I ❤ Spam!)  CP on the otherhand had a lot of reserves about eating it.  He, like many mainlanders and the uninitiated, looked at this product only to think of all the rumors about how Spam is not real meat.  Or that it was what kids at camp would call “mystery meat”.  As I explained to CP what Spam was and wasn’t, he made a comparison that I thought was completely brilliant and people can understand: “So basically, it’s like a hot dog?”  Yes! It is!!  Spam is ground and processed pig, with spices and repackaged for consumers.  🙂

Anyways…the conclusion to this story: CP was not only convinced, but HOOKED on it.!  Mission: Complete.

We basically wound down the day by the poolside again at the hotel in the waning sun light.   For dinner that night, CP was craving a hefty hamburger so we ended up going to Cheeseburger Waikiki.  This is a burger chain and…I really did not have anything to say about this place because I was not entirely pleased with my turkey burger.  Not exactly what I would go for in Hawaii, but CP wanted his burger and according to him, it was quite delicious.

Day 4

The following day, we decided to enjoy our day at Dole Plantation! 

There were several attractions you could go to and learn about the plantation and about pineapples.  CP and I went to all 3 attractions.  First stop: The Pineapple Express (…yes, we both smiled and had an unspoken moment there).

On this narrated train ride, you learn about the Dole Company’s history as you ride through the pineapple fields.  During our visit, the fields were bare as the season had passed already.  Given like any proper tourist attractions, proper planning included planting other crops that Dole grows, as well as showing the other fruits that are grown on the island.  The varieties included: banana, mango, lychee, cacao, ti leaf, and others.  Learn something new everyday!

The Dole Garden was next, where you can walk through their garden area to look and learn about the native plants and the many uses of them.  It was a gorgeous garden and a nice learning experience.

We took a brief break to get out of the sun and re-nourish ourselves at the café in the shopping area.  My choice of refreshment?  A Dole Whip!

CP’s choice? A hot dog chili plate with rice:

Strange as it may sound and look, it worked out quite well !

After resting ourselves a little to let the food settle, we headed to the world’s largest maze!  The challenge: find all 8 “check-in” points in the maze as fast as you can.  With our combined powers of navigation, a few mistakes here and there, CP and I successfully made it through the maze in approximately 2 hours.  Victory yet again!

With our satisfaction of conquering the plantation, we headed north for our next mid-day snack stop and the signature food/destination of the North Shore: a shrimp truck.  Our destination: Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.

Tucked into a little forest clearing right off the road, you would easily miss the truck even with a GPS (we had this issue several times during our trip) and we did.  So we made a turn and made our way back.  Their menu is simple and minimalistic, all surrounding the key protein: shrimp.  Given that it was already well into the day, by the time we were there, all they had available was the shrimp scampi.  That was fine by us, all we wanted was to taste the delicious, plump (not-so) little shrimp.

The order comes with a pile of fresh, cook-to-order shrimp (sans the head…thank goodness) and 2 scoops of white rice.  The shrimp was cooked and bathed in a wonderful garlic, lemon, buttery goodness.  To put it simply, here was what CP said to me, “I normally don’t have the urge to lick my fingers, but…” *proceeds to lick his fingers*.  This is a sign because what CP said is true, we’ve eat BBQ and I have NEVER seen him lick his fingers.  Whereas I have no problem with doing so…whether BBQ, Indian, anything!  Thus, this just goes to show you how amazing this was.  I can still smell the strong, sweet garlic smell as I write about it and it lingered with us as we continued on.

We took the drive up to one of the beaches in North Shore to dip our feet in.  However, as you can see for yourself, a storm was brewing and yet, we thought it would just pass like it always did.  Well…let’s just say that did not go quite as so.  As we drove down the west side of the island back to Waikiki, the rain steadily started coming.  By the time we were back at our hotel in Waikiki, it was POURING!  It was flash thunderstorm and it was as if the sky turned into the ocean and gravity brought down all the water to us.  It was a mad house watching everyone trying to run for cover and the streets flooding within matter of seconds.  At one point, one of the sidewalks slightly below the hotel’s main road was a miniature moat or more aptly, a cesspool.

CP and I took refuge back in our hotel room to clean up, in hopes that the storm would pass.  And fortunately for us, it did!  We headed back out to grab dinner at Yotteko-Ya.

This ramen house was small and tucked at the far end of a strip mall.  Unassuming and you would never even think twice about it.  The only way you would go: recommendations or you just so happen to be stuck at that strip mall.  Otherwise, you would never find it.

The restaurant specialized in ramen, but also served fried rice and appetizers.  They also offered a set meal where you could choose an appetizer, ramen, and have either white rice or fried rice.  The ramen soup base choices included: Shoyu, Shio, or Paitan.  Paitan is a rich chicken/pork based broth and has a milky look from the cooked down chicken/pork bones.  Also, you can choose how firm you wish for your ramen to be cooked: firm or soft.

Both CP and I ordered the Paitan ramen with fried rice (no eggs for CP though) and the Kaarage/Gyoza (CP/me).

The ramen you see above you was something else!  I cannot even begin to tell you how wonder, flavorful, rich, smooth, and silky!  I had never had a broth this rich in flavor in all my ramen adventures.  This bowl and my memory of it is what I will use to judge all other tonketsu and paitan broths from here on out.  (I am a fan of Tajima, but putting their broth on a good day up against Yotteko-Ya…it is like a Hefty bag commercial – “HEFTY HEFTY HEFTY……wimpy wimpy wimpy”.)

The fried rice and appetizers kind of just fell to the sideline and to the back after we had our taste of the broth.  Man…I really need a good bowl of ramen right now.

There we go folks! Just two and half more days to go in Paradise!

Longhi’s
3 locations (Oahu and Maui)

Waikiki Aquarium
2777 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI

Diamond Head Crater

Waiola Shave Ice
2135 Waiola St
Honolulu, HI 96805

Dole Plantation

64-1550 Kamehameha Highway
Wahiawa, HI 96786

Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
2 locations in Oahu

Yotteko-Ya
1960 Kapiolani Blvd, #214
Honolulu, HI 96826


Chicago – Again and again

The past two weeks I have been on travel for training and have been getting as much as I could in every aspect: knowledge, networking, and most of all – FOOD.

Last week, I was back in the great city of Chicago and this time, I was actually in the city versus my first trip to the Second City where I was mostly there to sleep.  Granted, it helped that my fellow colleagues all wanted to go out each night to get the most we could together.

However, when I first arrived in the city on Sunday night I was on my own since I had yet to know who was in town.  I quickly checked in and headed straight out to take the metro to my first food destination: Blue 13.

I found this restaurant from researching online and had great ratings, along with fabulous raves from foodies like myself.  When I arrived, it was quaint little restaurant with a warm overall feel to it in its minimalist interior design.  As far as I could tell, there was only one server and one host who bus tables when it became busier through the night.

To begin the meal, I ordered a simple Mixed Green salad:

The salad of mixed greens, shaved carrots, and radish tossed with Dijon vinaigrette and topped with a generous amount of pecorino.  A great, refreshing start to the meal.  There is little for me to say about the salad other than it was a great salad.  Plus, the fresh, hot bread that came out along with olive oil to dip in made a delish start to the meal.

For my entrée, as I was dining for one, I ordered the highly recommended “3 Birds” Lobster Pizza:

I know what you’re thinking already. Yes, I did know I was ordering a thin crust pizza in the city known for deep dish.  However, if you come here, I am going to echo what I had found during my online research – this is a must have dish.

The crust was charred perfectly and thin so that you would have to do the fold right down the middle to make sure everything stayed on.  This is a white pie with a roasted garlic puree base, caramelized onions, chunks of lobster, and manchego cheese to hold it all together with a sprinkling of herbs.  This pizza has the sweetness that reminds you of a cheesy, yummy, lobster bisque.  It all balances so well together that I couldn’t stop eating it.  I pushed myself beyond the point of bursting because it was that delicious.  However, I sadly left behind two slices that were stripped of their lobster pieces because my stomach said, “Please…no more!!”

Despite my comatose state at that moment, I still ordered a dessert because how can I call this meal completed until I did?!  So of the 3 dessert choices, this was the one that perked my interest: Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Waffle.

Understand that I had no more intention of stuffing myself, but when I saw “candied bacon” I knew I had to try it.  What came out was a waffle, drizzled with chocolate sauce, topped with candied bacon and hazelnut, and paired with butter pecan ice cream.

First off – the candied bacon was the best part of the dessert.  You’re wondering what did it taste like right?  Just imagine breakfast, where you have a side of bacon with your pancake/waffle, and the maple syrup drips over to the bacon.  It was sticky, sweet, crispy, and salty.  The waffle did not have chocolate chips and needed more peanut butter.  Overall, I would suggest you skip this dessert, try a different one, or just order yourself another lobster pizza.

This is the type of restaurant you go to with friends to just catch up, share some good food, and enjoy the evening.  The two servers were great and attentive, but when it got a little busier by the time I had finished my meal, the lack of staff was apparent.  Still, friendly service and great food is the equation for a satisfied customer who will return.

Blue 13
416 W Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60654-5714

The following night, after our first day of training, a group of us went out to grab dinner at The Publican where if it oinks, it will end up cooked at this restaurant.  I loved the open space design which was to resemble a barn.  To add to that, their booth seating had little doors to encapsulate diners as if they were in a pig stall.  The rest of the restaurant was set up with communal tables where you could be sitting next to a complete stranger on one side and your friend on the other.

We went family style and ordered various dishes off the menu to share.  I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, with a few inserts by me, so enough grazing through the pictures!

Beets with Clementine segments and yogurt – this was my favorite side that we had ordered that night.  Sweet and tart, great palate cleanser.

Charcuterie plate: pork pie, trotter-foie gras terrine, head cheese, milano, morteau sausage, pickles & mustards

Turnips with rosemary

Cajun Shrimp with Grits – the grits had soaked up all the Cajun spices and shrimp juices.

Fried Smelt with mustard greens and raw onions

Country Ribs with mustard greens & grilled red onions

Sweetbread with sweet potatoes, black trumpets & green garlic-watercress pesto

Pork Belly with fresh chickpeas and stuffing – decadent and you feel so guilty for eating this fatty yet delicious piece of the pig. (*gurgling sound*)

Lamb Sausage with lentils, mint, meyer lemon & yogurt – I love lamb…I love sausage…I loved, LOVED this dish.  The mint and yogurt balanced out the gamey flavor of the sausage and the casing had a great snap to the bite.

Yams

Frites

Apple & Rhubarb Crumble with crème – heaven in one’s mouth.

Waffle with pear butter & plum marmalade – highly suggest that you do not waste your time with this one.  It was nothing special at all.

Dark chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream – a darker heaven in one’s mouth.  Then again I am the biggest fan of dark chocolate, so if you don’t like dark chocolate (WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!) then this is definitely not for you.

The Publican also has a wide beer and wine selection, as well as servers who are willing to mix you up a great cocktail if you desire it.  The restaurant has a fun atmosphere especially for big groups.  Just make sure you don’t have any vegetarians in the group otherwise they will most likely go hungry.

The Publican
837 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607

On our last night in the city, our dining group only grew to an even larger number than the previous night.  This time around, upon my insistence on move to more ethnic flavors, we decided upon a restaurant that has several locations throughout the country, but still supposedly made great food.  That night…we our taste buds did the samba at SUSHISAMBA!

Once again, we ate family style and tried a little bit of everything.

Edamame organic soybean, sea salt, lime

Tiger shrimp tempura

Salmon sashimi seviche marinated in mizuna, aji amarillo, and orange

This dish was the sunshine of my night (wait…um…yea, I’ll still stand by my description)!  It was fresh, bright, sweet, spicy, turns your life around because it was just that amazing.  It would even put a smile to the worst Debby Downer that you know! (Unless he/she doesn’t like fish…but even then! This dish may convert him/her!)

Yellowtail sashimi seviche marinated in ginger, garlic, and soy

Tuna sashimi seviche marinated in coconut, lime, and serrano chilies

Of the 3 seviches we ordered that night, this was the most disappointing for me.  It didn’t have the vibrant flavors of the salmon nor yellowtail seviches. 😦  However, our fish adventures had just started because out came our platter of various sushi rolls:

(Going from left to right): Spicy Tuna; Bobo - brazil seared kobe beef, avocado, kaiware, shiso, red onion, chimichurri ponzu; Unagi tamago - freshwater eel, zuke tuna, cucumber, tempura flake, wasabi crema;Rainbow dragon - freshwater eel, red bell pepper, cucumber, mango, avocado

Charcoal roasted mussels garlic, white wine, Peruvian chili

Unfortunately, the mussels did not taste fresh (consistently) and so we asked for them to return it and traded for:

Spicy Popcorn Shrimp – sweet and spicy, fried tempura shrimp.

We also ordered the churrasco “supreme” (aka meatfest) with: rio grande grilled hanger steak, ribeye, pork tenderloin, chorizo and linguica.  This was served with sides of white rice, black beans, collard greens, and farofa.  Additionally, various dipping sauces including malagueta pepper oil and chimichurri:

Meat-palooza!

The Miso-marinated Chilean sea bass roasted organic vegetables is one of those dishes that I still think about.  This is the perfect example of a perfectly cooked fish that is so smooth, so fresh, so buttery, so fracking delish that I gurgle as I giggle with giddy.

Whole crispy red snapper spicy red curry sauce, scallion, ginger, coconut rice – the rice was good! The fish staring at me…not so much.

Side of Peruvian corn – it’s like hominy; I wasn’t much of a fan.

And of course, we had to have desserts.  Note the plural form of that: desserts.  We really went all out for dessert and there were no regrets what-so-ever afterwards because they were all delicioso!

Coco duo: Brazilian dark and white chocolate custard, chocolate pearls, praline

Peruvian hot chocolate served with traditional churros

Rosca: housemade doughnuts, vanilla glaze, chocolate hazelnut sauce

Warm chocolate banana cake maple butter, banana chip, vanilla rum ice cream

Cassava carrot cake brown butter ice cream, cinnamon cream, rainbow carrot chip, orange reduction

Carmen Miranda:  seasonal fresh fruit, pop rocks, lemon sorvete…sorry, no pictures for this one :(.  I can describe to you what it was: a bowl of fresh berries that included strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, with a sprinkle of pink pop rocks (not enough apparently since the tasters didn’t feel the effects of it) and a scoop of lemon sorbet.

I don’t know which one I liked more, but I did know I had a taste of everything and there wasn’t one that I didn’t like!  Even though it is not a local restaurant, this place has a fun atmosphere and serves stellar food with great service.  SUSHISAMBA…I think you will have to be part of my favorite small, national chain!  One note though: of all the food we ate, it unanimous that the “sushi” part of the restaurant was something that fell short on with the exception of the “seviche.”

SUSHISAMBA
Several locations in the US

Thank you Chicago for showing me yet another good time! 🙂


Continuation of Valentine’s Weekend

To continue and wrap up the last segment of the Valentine’s Day weekend with CP, on the morning of the end of our weekend in Vegas, I had planned for us to go to my new favorite restaurant in Vegas: MoZen Bistro.

The restaurant is tucked in the elegant Mandarin Oriental Hotel and getting there was a little bit a discovery.  However, since I have been to the restaurant it was not so hard to get to the second time around :).  CP on the other hand thought it was quite hilarious on: 1. how hard it was to get to the restaurant (unlike other restaurants in Vegas) and 2. the door men and women were wearing full coats and top hats. Anyways…on to the food!

It was Sunday early afternoon when we arrived at the restaurant at 11:30am, which is actually my standard lunch hour anyway, so it was perfect!  I had read about their brunch menu and wasn’t sure what to expect exactly:

“Chef Rawat has prepared internationally inspired dishes that include a variety of limitless passed items as well as your selection of a main course and a full dessert and cheese buffet to finish.”

So I was wondering what I would really get…turns out: it was a buffet style for appetizers, first course(s), main course is menu ordered, and buffet style again for dessert.  It was definitely unique and once I saw the layout, I was excited!  I wish I had taken a picture of the layout, but I can recall it by memory.

Starting from the left and moving to the right as it wraps around restaurant: a fresh sushi station with pre-cut rolls made in small batches (2-4 rolls at a time) and cut to order sashimi.  Next to that, was the salad and antipasto station with a wide selections of cold cuts, grilled vegetables, salads, and cheese.  Following that was a table of fresh fruit from melons, pineapples, mix of berries.  Last but not least, was a table spread of cold breakfast items such as pastries, cereals, yogurt, and such.  Finally, the dessert station was actually off to another side of the restaurant that wasn’t as apparent since it was tucked away in a corner.  However, you can never hide desserts from me!

With so many choices, I had to be really discerning.  For my first plate…

Almond Croissant, Spicy Tuna Roll, and Seaweed Salad.  I know, I know…Why did you get an almond croissant with sushi!? Ok, look…I LOVE almond croissants and I could NOT resist when I walked by.  I had to get one, but rest assure…I did not mix the 2 together while chewing :).

The tuna was so fresh, nice and spicy to the way I like it  and the sushi rice was perfect.  The salad was a nice crisp, refreshing palate cleanser for me and I moved on to the croissant.  My, my, my…so fabulous!  The pastry was flaky and crunched each time I bit into it.   Inside was the ever delicious almond paste to add to the decadence of this pastry.

I also got myself a plate of yellowtail and salmon sashimi.  My only complaint with the fish was that I could tell it was fresh, but it was TOO cold.  Sashimi should be chilled, but this was TOO cold and it made me a little sad because I really liked it and the temperature just ruined it for me.  Still…I enjoyed this little plate of fish goodness.

OH! By the way, part of the brunch experience of MoZen includes random little “additions” to the meal that comes as little taster dishes.  They were all different and I’ll just let the pictures do the talking!

Caprese Salad Bite

Shrimp Cocktail with Thai Chili Cocktail Sauce

Har-Gow (Shrimp Dumpling)

Ceviche

There was also steamed mussels and fresh oysters.  Insane right?! And this was just additional dishes that acted like bread and butter that would be passed at other restaurants.  MoZen really knows how to make their diners feel like they’re a million bucks without necessarily spending a million bucks!  Love, LOVE it!

I could not leave without trying a few more items:

This was a mini cinnamon bun lollipop with edible gold leaf!  In the background is a mini mason jar with plain yogurt and fresh berries.  I did not particularly like either of the two taste-wise, but I do like the presentation.

Moving onto CP and my main entrees:

Not a surprise right?  Especially if you know me or have been reading my rants – the Pan seared scallops with tapioca pudding, fried buttermilk chicken liver, bacon & poultry jus.  I was very hesitant on the chicken liver because I have had chicken liver in this rice dish my mom used to make for us during the winter, and I did not like it.  However, once again by battering and deep frying will always make everything taste 10x better!  I really loved the liver surprisingly.  The scallops were seasoned just right (unlike the over salted ones I had the following day at Mister A’s), but it was over cooked.  If only I could take the seasoning of these scallops, with the scallops from Mister A’s, I then would have the PERFECT scallop!  Still the dish was really enjoyable with the tapioca pudding, which made the dish fun to eat even more.

CP went with the following:

The Tekka Don – Marinated big eye tuna on a bed of warm Japanese rice with nori, served with miso soup.  Basically, the marinated tuna was like poke-style marinade, but sashimi sliced.  CP had a dried out, sore throat so this was perfect for him.  He lapped up both bowls and loved every bite of it.  I smiled as I watched him go at the food, reminding me of how his enthusiasm for food has grown so much in the last 3+ years we’ve known each other.

However, the one food group that I have still yet to fully bring CP over is…DESSERTS!

Coffee Creme Brulee

Strawberry Panna Cotta

Housemade Marshmellow with Berries

Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding

I tried 4 of the multiple options which also included cheesecakes, mini cupcakes, etc.   My favorite: the INTENSE coffee infused creme brulee!

All in all, this restaurant has done me well again!  I’ve been here for dinner and now brunch and both times were amazing.  Thank you to the cooking and waiting staff for an great afternoon and delicious food!

MoZen Bistro
3752 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89158

 


A trip down memory lane

It has been so long since I have: 1. Logged into my account to WRITE something, 2. seriously considered putting up a post, and 3. actually logging in and writing a real post.

I have failed tremendously as a blogger.  As such, I hereby consider myself an n00b once again in the food blogging world.  Please be nice to me.

A year has come and gone as it always does.  However, this year I do not have a big trip to look forward to.  For the past 2 years, I have made a summer trip overseas to Europe on both occasions.  My first trip was back in the summer of 2008.  The trip was my graduation present to myself and also, my last real BIG trip before I started my career (aka being an adult).

In 2008, I made my first trip off of the North American continent since I was like 4 or 5 years old?  I don’t even remember the last time I set foot off of this continent because I was so young.  On top of that, I was setting out on my 25-day excursion on my OWN.  Well…technically, I wasn’t completely by myself since I was joining a tour group.

For 25-days, I let the good people of Contiki decide where I should be, where I would be staying, and where I would be exploring in general.  My gosh…25 days of non-stop traveling, carrying my 45 pound luggage on my own (I would get a little help occasionally) and going around foreign countries with little to no knowledge of the native tongue.  However, it was one HELL of an adventure!

I don’t even know where to start to describe my very first trip to Europe.  So instead, I’ll give a reader’s digest version and let the food pictures document my trip!

During my 2008 trip, I visited the following countries and cities:

  • UK – London
  • France – Paris, Beaujolais Wine Region, French Riviera, Nice
  • Monaco
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Italy – Verona, Venice, Pisa, Florence, Rome, Pompeii
  • Greece – Corfu, Athens

These were the main cities we had visited during our trek through Europe.  There were other cities that we had made stops in between our destinations, but they have since been lost on me.  However, as you can see here, I had my wide range of sights, sounds, and cuisines!

Please do keep a few things in mind:

  • I had just graduated and left my part-time job about 2 months before the trip and I had spent majority of my savings on the trip.
  • My choices were limited at times and thus, I ate a lot of bread and anything to keep me from starving.
  • Yes, I did more than just gelato (you will see a lot of it).  However, when I was in Italy, it was the end of June and the heat plus humidity was KILLING me.  All I wanted during the day time was gelato and ice cold water.  That’s all I needed honestly.

For the record: I was well fed and never did I once go hungry for long.  And I am sure there’s the question of weight gain.  The honest answer is I had no idea.  I stayed away from the scale after my trip and the whole summer for that matter because you know what?  I was about to start my working life and I was going to have as much fun as I possibly could in those two and half months!

Let the reminiscing begin!!

London, UK:

Chicken Tikka Masala with naan

Sandwiches from Harrod's

Dessert from Harrod's - a pistachio cake with strawberries

Paris, France:

One of MANY baguette sandwiches I had, but they are so yummy!

Laudree...I squealed in delight just thinking about this place

My precious!!! These beautiful macaroons were amazing and well worth the money.

Delicious pizzas/cheese foccaias from a little bakery. A cheese (back) and a proscuitto & goat cheese (front)

Look at the stack of Nutella

Nutella, banana, coco crepe - best combination ever

Duck a l'Orange

Beaujolais Wine Region:

Wine tasting

Bruschetta

Roasted chicken with vegetables

Tiramisu-like dessert...still was really good

Barcelona, Spain:

The amazing market right off of La Rambla – La Boqueria

Falafel sandwich with seasoned califlower from Maoz

Garlic Bruschetta

Traditional Paella...the pan was bigger than a tire rim!

French Riveria, Nice, Monaco:

Lasagna and salad

Prosciutto & Goat Cheese Salad

Sangria

A different goat cheese and prosciutto salad

They killed smurffs to make this cold, creamy, blue concoction

No smurfs for me, only Fig gelato!

Venice, Italy:

One of my favorite surprise flavors!

Pisa & Florence, Italy:

Best fettuccini alfrado I've ever encountered! Nothing like that the States make.

Eggplanet pizza

Gelato MOUNDS...get in my belly!!

At a group dinner in a little restaurant where we were crammed into a little basement dining hall.

Cold cuts

2 types of bruschetta: white bean and tomato paste.

Pasta course

Roasted chicken

Rome, Italy:

Eggplanet Parmesan

Yes, more gelato because I needed it to function.

Ham and cheese sandwich

Corfu & Athens, Greece:

Chicken plate with pita and fries

Kataifi - honey drenched dessert. Much too sweet even for me

Misc Snacks throughout the trip:

I still think about these amazing Paprika Pringles...I only wish they had these in the US

My goodness...the amazing little Bacetti. Chopped hazelnuts mixed in a smooth ganache, topped with a whole hazelnut and enrobed in dark chocolate.

Really cute snack - a wafer shaped like a hippo, filled with hazelnut (or chocolate) cream and chocolate dipped and covered with crunchies.


Eating around…Part III: Unassuming Jewels

Know the feeling when you find something wonderful that has been under your nose the entire time? The feeling of, “Why haven’t I ever noticed this before?!” or “I can’t believe I didn’t try or come sooner!”

When you have one of these moments, you feel as though you’ve just discovered a precious treasure that you don’t ever want to let go. That’s how I feel about a few things in my life lately. Being that this is the last of the 3 part posts of my eating adventures in San Diego, I feel that the one constant theme is just that – finding a precious treasure that I do not want to let go ever and wish to share the wealth with as many people who will listen (even if it means having more crowds to battle with).

I know this is a food blog, but let me diverge temporarily to something not food related yet on the same theme. It’s been over a month since I’ve been with CP and it’s funny…he was always in front of me, yet we both didn’t know what the other was thinking or feeling or even if we were available! We worked together, talked together, walked together, stressed together, and ranted and complained to one another for 5 months. Even before THAT, we had vague memories of seeing one another around campus and during group exams on a few occasions. But it wasn’t until the summer rolled around that we finally got the time and opportunity to see where *this* would lead. Now I find myself thinking, “I found this wonderful treasure that has been in front of me all this time and…” Well words cannot describe the feelings I that are inside me but they are wonderful.

On the other hand, words can describe yet another treasure I was introduced to by my sweetie! On the morning of the Padres vs. Giants game, CP wanted to surprise me before we went and all he said was to not eat anything in the morning. I love surprises and so I was excited! We got to La Jolla, parked and walked in the back, neighborhood streets to arrive in front of a bustling little “cottage.”

It was probably before 10 am when we arrived and there was already a line waiting for the chance to sit and dine with all The Cottage had to offer its Sunday patrons. There have been numerous times that I walked by the Cottage in the past, but I never tried it. Yes, I thought about it and have heard good things about it, but I so rarely go out for breakfast. I tend to keep it simple when it comes to breakfast with either some sort of fruit, yogurt, or sometimes even a quick pastry. However, I do like having the occasional pancake or french toast to mix up the routine a bit.

Pancakes are one of those things that I just never make at home even though it’s not that hard. That is why it’s usually what I get when I do go out for breakfast. So guess what I got that morning?…

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Pancakes! And since I wanted feel healthy about it, I ordered the Oatmeal Pancakes with blueberries (extra). CP and I have the same love for anything blueberry! Thus, it was no surprise he ordered the Buttermilk Pancakes with blueberries.

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The only way you could tell our pancakes apart was that his were a light, golden yellow color; whereas mines were a dark brownish color. Even the plating was the same: berry sauce squiggles, a slice of strawberry and two orange quarters. Simple presentation for a simple dish but man…both pancakes were suberb! Light and fluffy and loaded with blueberries.

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My oatmeal pancake tasted nutty from the use of whole wheat flour and oats. CP’s pancakes had the rich buttermilk taste that I love just as much, but my guilty conscience would not let me get away with anything other than something somewhat healthy.

The three discs of homey-goodness stayed with us well into the afternoon. CP also had a side order of bacon with his meal because he had to satisfy his craving for bacon. I got to admit, it did smell darn good as the plate sat between our mains. Although I didn’t have any, my sweetie said they were cooked just the way he likes them and it fulfilled his need for pork…mmm.

From a morning jewel, this night time jewel has been up and around for some time since 2000. I forget where I even first heard of the place, but when it came to finding a place for a special dinner, it was one that came to mind almost immediately. I didn’t want to do Italian, too cliché. I didn’t want to do American, too plain. I wanted something different and flavors that I had hope that my sweetie would like, but never tried before. So when I read up on Parallel33, I made my decision.

[Note: due to some technical difficulties, the pictures from here on will be not of good quality. I apologize for it and for not doing these dishes justice…I will have to replace my camera asap.]

First off, I actually drove by the restaurant twice and had to make two U-turns before we found it. It had been right there, in front of us, yet we both kept missing it. However, the blame is really mine since CP didn’t know where I had planned on taking him so he couldn’t help. In the end, we found the little restaurant and found parking relatively fast afterwards! Even with the little bump in the road in the beginning of our evening, finding parking in Hillcrest/Mission Hills on two consecutive nights without too much trouble, I had high hopes….and Parallel33 didn’t fail to deliver.

We arrived half an hour early for my 8pm reservation, however the host was very nice and promptly seated us in the little alcove that connects the lobby/bar to the main dining area. I would have loved to sit in the main area, but the alcove was just as nice. Our server was very tentative, energetic (in a good way) and we received excellent service throughout our entire meal.

We started off the night with an appetizer:

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The Ahi Poke with Asian Pear and Mango, two kinds of seaweed, a spicy wasabi dressing, and green tobiko all on top of a fried wonton skin. We first tried the poke and it was all very clean flavors and fresh. However, this dish didn’t come alive until you eat it whole – all the components together. It was only then did we both go: WOW.

The fresh tuna melded with the crisp pear and sweet mango was given a crunchy, salty texture from the wonton skin and seaweed. I’m not sure if what I tasted was suppose to be the spicy wasabi dressing, but there was definitely a slight spice when I ate it whole but it didn’t remind me of wasabi at all. Either way, this appetizer is worth trying if you ever visit.

Our entrees arrived not too long after we polished off the appetizers. I was torn between three dishes. It was hard to choose since everything sounded so good especially when our server described the special for the night. She did a fantastic selling job, but in the end I went ahead and got something that I have been wanting for sometime:

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Pan Seared Coriander Crusted Scallops, Purple Sticky Rice, Asparagus, Roasted Kabocha and Cashew Nut Spicy Kung Pao

Man oh man! Where do I start…How about the main star? This dish came with four giant scallops that had been encrusted entirely with coriander and seared perfectly. The scallops remained very tender, not chewy at all which is the problem I run into when I have scallops. Nope, these babies were soft and gave way easily when bitten into, and the flavors!

First off, the scallop themselves were sweet, but then you also have the coriander to give you the first *POW*! Mixing with the natural sweetness of the scallops, the coriander added a spicy kick with a touch of citrus! This complemented well with the “kung pao” sauce that gave the second *POW*! It was spicy to the point (for me) that it wasn’t burning off my tongue, but enough so I could feel the heat.

The purple sticky rice made me think of some sort of Korean wild rice, if there is such a thing. It was sticky like Korean rice; however it was much nuttier and even heartier. It was great with the sauce! Sadly though, I wasn’t able to finish all of it but I made sure to get all the rice at the bottom that was soaked with the sauce. CP had some of my rice and fell in love with it! He even helped me polish off a good portion of it in the end, so not much went to waste.

CP is a huge fan of fish and Halibut is his favorite so when he saw it on the menu, he was pretty much set on what he was going to have:

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Pan Seared Alaskan Halibut, Israeli Cous Cous, Indian Curry spiced Tomatoes, Mustard Greens, Roasted Bell Pepper Lemongrass Sambal

I think my favorite thing about this dish was the color of the sauce and the sauce itself! It is Parallel’s modern take on the traditional Southeast Asian sambal. Using bell peppers instead of chili peppers, so it was not hot but slightly sweet. There was some tang to it that I think accompanied the halibut wonderfully! Speaking of which, the halibut was cooked perfectly too. It was flaky, tender and no trace of fishiness at all. CP loved his entree and was literally mopping his plate clean (along with mine).

I think that our entrees really reflected the owners and chef’s idea and inspiration behind the restaurant. According to its website, the restaurant is located on the 33rd parallel and its food and architecture is inspired by all the countries that sit along the same parallel. Japan, China, India, the Middle East, and Morocco are all represented in their menu as well as the decor. Just between CP’s and my entrees, we were able to get a little bit of all these countries! And quite frankly, I find this idea ingenious! Rather than just saying your cuisine is “fusion,” you are sticking with a very specific yet broad theme. There’s so much that one can work with when it comes to the food from these countries – whether in ingredients or flavors. Parallel 33 will definitely be one of my jewels of San Diego.

So with that, I leave you with this: Go out there and explore! If you are a San Diegan, native or implant or even just a visiting San Diegan, there is so much out there to be discovered! Be curious! Be daring! Be adventurous! Don’t let the unknown deter you away from seeking out new places because you never know what treasures you will find.

The Cottage
7702 Fay Ave
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 454-8409
Parallel 33
741 W. Washington St.
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 260-0033