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San Diego Restaurant Week 2011

Last month was San Diego’s 2011 semi-annual Restaurant Week.  For those who aren’t familiar with Restaurant Week, here is the quick break down: for a week, restaurants all over San Diego county have 3-course (sometimes optional 4th course) prix fixe menu showcasing at times the restaurant’s best-sellers and/or customer favorites for dinner.  However, this year’s fall round of RW included lunch prix fixe menus of 2-course options at certain restaurants! Some restaurants will also extend to a second week, but they don’t usually announce that on the website til the day before.  For those wanting to dine at the 5-star restaurants, but don’t have the pocket change to spar, this is a great way to get the full experience of the restaurant at a discount!

This time, I made it a mission to hit up at least one restaurant…and ended up going to TWO restaurants with CP.  Granted, it does get expensive if you’re going to more than one restaurant, but reading ahead of the menu choices and you could be walking away with a steal.

1. Whisknladle

Our first restaurant of the week was a restaurant CP and I had  already visited before, but I love – Whisknladle.  The best part of their menu during RW was: their ENTIRE menu was part of the event.  You could select any appetizers for your 1st course, any entree for your 2nd, and any dessert as your closer, all for $40.  Now if this is not a deal…then I don’t know what is!

First Courses:

Caesar Salad – whole romaine lettuce dressed in “made-to-order” dressing (according to their menu), topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and croutons.  Nothing special, just a refreshing salad for CP and always a favorite for him.

Potato Gnocchi in a brown butter-ale creme, finished with a gratinee of Brie de Meaux and chives.  Luscious!  Wait…is that even an adjective to describe food??  Not sure, but that’s how this felt.  The little potato pillows were just firm enough. with a little chew. to give you a bite, but somehow still remain light feeling.  Then the rich, brown butter-ale creme that coated each and every single pillow was ridiculously rich and guilt ridden,  but you couldn’t care.  No, you couldn’t get over how smooth, a touch of sweetness, and creamy it felt in your mouth.  Then that brie!  Oh that brie…sweet, tangy, more oozing of creaminess.  Man…this appetizer made me ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ as I devoured it.  Needless to say that I enjoyed my appetizer very much!

Second courses:

Taglietelle with house made spicy pork sausage sugo, pepperonata, and a light sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Beautiful, wide, ribbons of pasta cooked just perfectly to uphold the even more amazing sausage sugo.  That sauce held itself could have held its own against a battle of sauces.  The weak, basic “bolognese” of tomato sauce and crumbled pork would cower in fear of Whisknladle’s sugo!  I cannot keep myself from shouting, “SUGOI!!!” (sorry…I know…very cheesy >.<)

Seared Maine Scallops in a chilled green curry, roasted squash, tinkerbell peppers, spinach & capelin roe.  What can I say?  Can I ever escape ordering scallops when given the choice on the menu? Very, very rarely (if ever) would I pass up scallops.  Whisknladle did not disappoint in preparing my favorite shellfish.  Perfect sear to give the nice, crispy, caramelized crust, without overcooking (too many times that has happened to me).  Sweet, salty, cripsy, soft, buttery, bitter (from the peppers), and light.

Third course:

Dark Chocolate Pots de Creme topped with a layer of salted caramel and served with roasted banana cake.  Ok this pots de creme was magical, but  cloyingly sweet after your second or third spoonful.  I suppose that’s why they had the banana cake, but I almost wanted something something salty on the side.  However, I would have taken some ice cream to go with it, or whipped cream to just help break that sweetness.  Still delicious, although it was the first time I had to leave a dessert unfinished (*GASP!*).

Oh look! There’s the vanilla ice cream that I needed!  Except this was CP’s dessert and even though I had a little bit (to go with my dessert), I didn’t want to take more.

Our server was great – helpful, friendly, and attentive where needed.  Again, Whisknladle remains on my top list!

1044 Wall St.
La Jolla, CA 92037

2. Crab Catcher

Now this is one restaurant I have never been to and had been in my “maybe” list of the Restaurant Week choices for several years.  This time however, CP did not partake in the RW prix fixe menu since he did not find pairings that suited his taste.

First course:

Crab Bisque – roasted red bell pepper broth, Meyer lemon crème fraiche.  This was not mind blowing, but I did enjoy the bisque.  I could have used some more crab, but the bisque was thick and rich, and citrus from that lemon crème fraiche did help enhance the flavors.  Although, I will say this bisque went great with the complementary foccaia they provide as part of the bread service.

CP’s Caesar Salad….told you – it’s a standby fave of his :).  Different presentation (pre-cut for the lazy), same concept – romaine lettuce, croutons, parma, and dressing.  “All hail Caesar!”

Second course:

Dungeness Crab Pappardelle with sweet heirloom peppers and lobster mushrooms, in a creamy Thai basil garlic sauce.  Man, oh man, where do I begin?  Let me count the ways this was a fail for me:  1. Not nearly enough crab, 2. Pasta was cooked a little more than I like, and 3. This was the weakest sauce on pasta I have had in a REALLY long time.  When I see “Thai basil garlic sauce”, I expected to get basil (I barely), garlic (not sure if there was any), and flavor – this was definitely NOT there.  This pasta made me so sad.  So very, very sad.  The crab mound on top was the best part of this plate and I ate it all up.  Everything else…I wanted to return.

Sea Bass with Maryland lump crab stuffing, fingerling potato, Haricots Verts, with a lemon thyme mustard sauce.  For once, I was seriously jealous of CP’s entree – I WANTED IT FOR MYSELF!!!!!!! The sea bass was tender, falls to the slightest pressure of the fork, and the perfect sear.  The crab added that extra natural sweetness, and I wanted it!  *Sigh*…but next time, I’ll just order this one for myself!

Third course:

Warm Chocolate Torte with candied macadamia nuts and topped with Tahitian vanilla gelato. This dessert should come with a warning: “You are about to enter chocolate nirvana!”  I think this torte has to be, hands down, one of the richest, chocolatey-est, dessert I’ve had in town.  They got it right by giving you a giant mound of vanilla gelato because you DO need it.  Also, in the center of the torte is a mountain of oozing, warm, lava pool of salted chocolate.  The only thing that could have made this better?…ANOTHER scoop of ice cream!

I would come back for the sea bass and the torte.  Those are a must!  Everything else…I can live without it again.

1298 Prospect St
La Jolla, CA 92037

Dungeness Crab Pappardelle locally grown sweet Heirloom peppers, lobster mushrooms,creamy Thai basil garlic sauce


Returning to NYC

My first time in New York was a complete culture shock and I just didn’t have enough time to do everything a tourist does in the city, PLUS touring all the eateries.  However, my second trip to the city was just one of two things to do: go to work and eat.  Guess what I liked doing more?

I must say though, one down side for a foodie in such a huge city with so many options for meals and snacks, is the hard question: what should I eat?!

So again…I will let my pictures do all the talking :):

Momofuku: má pêche
15 west 56th street
new york, ny 10019

summer rolls – pork/ shrimp/ tofu, lettuce, daikon, peanut

broccoli with red miso and sesame

noodles with pork belly and fried pig skin

Locanda Verde
377 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10013

Blue Crab Crostini with jalapeno and tomato

Pappardelle with lamb bolognese, ricotta and mint

Roasted Sea Scallops with sicilian cauliflower and citrus

Gelato: Chocolate, Cardamom, and Buttermilk

357 6th Ave
New York, NY 10079

Tuna Tartare

Salmon and Tuna Nigiri

Uni and Unagi Nigiri

Scallop with Shiso Leaf Roll

Rice To Riches
37 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012

Inside the rice pudding bar!

Tiramisu Rice Pudding

luent in French w. Toasted Coconut & Graham Cracker bits

88 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Toro Tartare with osetra caviar, sour cream, wasabi, dashi-soy

kakuni (ten hour braised pork) with congee cooked with soy-scallion jus made from the braising liquids

International locations and limited locations within US

Pistachio Gelato

Wafels & Dinges Truck (and Mini too)
Various locations in Manhattan (dependent on day and time)

Leige Wafel with Nutella

Tasty Dumpling Inc
54 Mulberry St # E
New York, NY 10013

Dumplings: Pork & Chives; Pork & Cabbage

It was a whirl wind of a week of training and food!  My favorites this time?…

  • Locanda Verde – this restaurant really surprised me by the quality of food and the simple, yet dazzling flavors.  This restaurant will be a must visit here on out whenever I find myself in the City!
  • Rice to Riches – I now understand all the rave about this place…it’s freaking delicious (and I used to make rice pudding by the quarts).
  • Morimoto – the toro tartare of course…the congee that came with the braised pork was soaked with pork goodness, amazing.
  • Tasty Dumplings – um…duh, dumpling filling were great, but needed more to the ratio of wrapper.  Also, their dumpling wrapping was too thick in my opinion.

I will be back New York!  I love you and the whole city’s talent for creating some of the best morsels!

If you had a black hole of a stomach…

What would you want for the ultimate buffet/sampling of your favorite foods?  Here would be my list of delicious dishes and one-off items I would want:

  • Almond Croissant – Tartine Bakery (San Francisco, CA), Payard (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Tofu Stew – Tofu House (San Diego, CA)
  • Chicken Makhani (Butter Chicken) and Began Bertha – Punjabi Tandoor (San Diego, CA)
  • Cannoli – Solunto Bakery (San Diego, CA)
  • Gelato (any flavor) – Papalecco (San Diego, CA)
  • Drunken Noodles and Spicy Fried Rice – Amarin Thai (Mira Mesa: San Diego, CA)
  • Green Curry – Antique Thai (San Diego, CA)
  • Cupcakes – Elizabethian Desserts (Encinitas, CA)
  • Falafel – Mama’s Lebanese Bakery (San Diego, CA) or Armenian Cafe (Carlsbad, CA)
  • Xi Long Bao – Shanghai House (San Francisco, CA)
  • Sushi (sashimi) – Sushi Ota (San Diego, CA)
  • Sushi rolls – Harney Sushi (San Diego, CA), Sushi Okoze (San Francisco, CA)
  • Red Beans n’ Rice – Bud’s Louisiana Cafe (San Diego, CA)
  • Ice cream – Mariposa Ice Cream (San Diego, CA), Bi-Rite Creamery (San Francisco, CA)
  • Sandwich (Hot) – Spicy Pickle, Sandwich Emporium, Earl of Sandwich (San Diego, CA), any shop in Paris
  • Tapas: Sautéed Meatballs al Jerez; Shrimp Croquetas; Brava Sautéed Potatoes; Fabada – Cafe Sevilla (San Diego, CA)
  • Thin Crust Pizza – Bongiornos New York Pizzeria, Cucina Urbana (San Diego, CA), Delfina Pizzeria (San Francisco, CA), John’s Pizzeria (NY, NY)
  • Spicy Eggplant with Ground Pork – Dumpling Inn (San Diego, CA)
  • Smoked Bologna – Earl’s Rib Place (Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Smoked Turkey and Green Beans – County Line Barbecue (Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Cheese Danish – Ingrid’s Kitchen (Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Smoked Ham – Gates BBQ (North Kansas City, MO)
  • Lamb Shank – MoZen Bistro (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Chocolate Budino – Cucina Urbana (San Diego, CA)
  • Pumpkin Custard – Luv-It Frozen Custard (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Harvest Pie – Coco’s Bakery (national chain)
  • Macaron – Lauree (Paris, France), La Maison Du Chocolat (NY,NY and international)
  • Chicken and Lamb over Rice – 53rd & 6th Halal Cart (NY, NY)
  • Tuscan White Bean soup (seasonal) – B&B Ristorante (Venetian: Las Vegas, NV)
  • Chocolate Duo – Opera Patisserie (San Diego, CA)
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie – Norstrom Cafe, Potbelly(multiple locations)
  • Egg Tart – Golden Gate Bakery (San Francisco, CA)
  • Saffron Spaghetti with Lobster; Seared Scallops – 1500 Ocean(San Diego, CA)
  • Gobo Salad – Wa Dining Okan(San Diego, CA)
  • Grilled Chicken Wings; Salmon Rice Ball with Broth – Yakitori Yakyudori (San Diego, CA)
  • Peanut Butter Cookie – Extraordinary Desserts (San Diego, CA)
  • Olive Oil Gelato – L’Arte del Gelato (NY,NY)
  • Belgium Waffles – Any fresh or packaged even in Germany
  • Strozzapreti Bolognese – La Terrazza (Vancouver, BC)
  • Crab cakes and Crab Soup – Jerry’s Place (Prince Fredrick, MD)

Man…I realized that I really like eating when writing this.

So readers – want to share what YOU like to eat and from where? 🙂

Bertrand at Mister A’s Valentines Dinner

On Valentines Day, CP and I had originally planned on spending the whole day together but we both had too much work to get done.  So we both begrudgingly went into the office that day.  However, CP had planned a wonderful dinner which was a surprise until a couple weeks before when he told me.  I don’t know who broke down first: me in asking and curiosity taking over, or him because he really wanted me to know.  Either way, he was able to get an early dinner reservation at one of the restaurants with the arguably best view in San Diego: Bertrand at Mister A’s.  The reservation was much earlier than I would normally eat dinner, 4:45pm, but it was just perfect to watch the sun set!

It was our first time at the restaurant and apparently, according to CP, he had been trying to get a reservation here for other Valentines Day which fills up quite quickly.  Once we step foot into the dining room, we both knew why.  The whole west and south side of the dining room had a panoramic view of downtown San Diego and the harbor.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  The restaurant must definitely factor in the view into their prices because you are getting superb food and the best view of the city.

For Valentines Day, Mister A’s had a separate pre-fixed menu:

Once we decided on the items for the night, we moved to the bread:

The selections for the evening were sliced sourdough and baguette.  This came with room temperature butter.  It was perfect for spreading onto the soft and tasty bread.  I normally refrain from eating too much from the bread basket, but the fact that the nice, warm bread with soft butter melting just right…it was hard.

The amuse bouche helped me break away from the bread.  It was a small, savory pancake topped with a slice of smoked salmon, creme fresh, and capers.  A nice play on lox and bagel.  I really enjoyed it and wished we had more, but then…I suppose that the amuse bouche did its job! 🙂

First course, my appetizer was the House Made Maryland Blue Crab Ravioli with Crawfish Tarragon Sauce And Leek Fondue.  The appetizer was actually quite generous in portion.  There were 5 decent size raviolis stuffed with blue crab meat and no fillers!  It was straight up blue crab and the sweetness of the crab played wonderfully with the crawfish tarragon sauce.  In the middle was a pile of chopped, sauteed leeks.  A perfect bite had a little of everything together and it was absolutely delicious.  The raviolis were cooked just enough and the shellfish as well.

CP’s appetizer of Crispy Baby Calamari And Fresh Black Tiger Shrimp drizzled with Roasted Pepper Oil.  This came with a side of Basil Aioli Sauce.  Ok…first off, this dish looked great!  However, it goes against 1 of the 2 rules I have with eating which is that I cannot eat something that is still staring back at me.  I’ve said it many times that if it wasn’t for the fact that I love animal proteins so much, that I would be a vegetarian.  I don’t like to see how the animal that is on my plate was once alive.  I know they were once alive, but when I want to eat them…that’s the last thing I want to think about!

Anyways…back to the dish!  CP loved his appetizer.  I tried the calamari and loved it too.  However, I wonder why they pair it up with this aioli sauce?  I think it would have been just as good without the sauce, but that doesn’t mean I did not think the sauce was not good either!  I was just wonder…

For my entree, I had the Pan Seared Maine Diver Sea Scallops with Saffron Emulsion and Bell Pepper Polenta.  I apologize for the bad photo…I realized it doesn’t really do much for this dish as I was cataloging my pictures.  Let’s just go from the main to the supporting players:  The scallops were seared and cooked perfectly so it was not tough or chewy (nothing worse than that, it gets me real angry when I get an overcooked scallop).  However, the downfall to this wonderfully cooked shellfish was that it was over salted!!  I was so sad that I kept hoping it was just one scallop that got over salted, but alas it was not!  Also, I think the foam topping it was made from basil or parsley and it was not necessary in my opinion.

The supporting polenta on the other hand actually the unexpected surprise.  It was smooth with just a little texture from the grains of cornmeal, mixed with the saffron emulsion, it was absolute, pure delight!  I wanted to pick up the plate at the end to lick it right off the plate.  The subtle sweetness danced like merry little lambs across my tongue!  Loved, loved it!

CP went all out and order the surf and turf: Grilled Prime Angus Beef Tenderloin “Rossini” with Cabernet Sauvignon Sauce and Maine Lobster.  Ok, even I had no idea what “Rossini” was and had to research this one.  Turns out that it’s a style of cooking that includes foie gras, truffles, and a demi-glace sauce.  This now makes perfect since as you can see, front and center: a beautifully grilled tenderloin, topped with foie gras and shaved black truffle.  Talk about decadence!  I’ve never tried foie gras and CP just couldn’t get himself to eat it, so I wasn’t going to let it go to waste!  I knew it was rich, so I grabbed a slice of baguette and ate it with that.  I was expecting myself to be torn by the taste, but found myself really liking it!  So instead, I was torn on the fact that I liked it!  Well…it is not like I will be getting this everyday so I just let myself enjoy the fatty, smooth, goodness.

I really did not try most of CP’s dish, so I took his word that he told me the lobster (all 1/2 pound of it) was sweet and delicious.  The beef was cooked to medium just as he likes it.  Oh! I did try the mashed potato stack that was with the dish.  It was mashed potatoes mixed with (oh look..) more black truffles, and sitting on top of little hash brown crisps!  At first I thought it was Parmesan, but to my surprise, it was potato!  It was seasoned just right and I really liked the idea of how it was presented.  Maybe I’ll use this one in my next dinner party ;).

Finally, as all good things must come to an end, our dessert courses were shared between CP and myself:

Red Velvet "Napoleon"

Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches

By far, the biggest disappointment of the whole meal.  So we had the Red Velvet “Napoleon” with Cream Cheese Mousse and Sweet Cream Gelato, and the Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches.  Where should I start with my sadness?…The “Napoleon” was just 2 slices of dry red velvet cakes with a not so stellar cream cheese mousse, topped with meringue.  The cake was much too dry and the mousse could not save it at all.  The best part of this dish?  The sweet cream gelato and even then I’ve had better.

The Macaron ice cream sandwiches came in 3 flavors (left to right): chocolate, pistachio, and raspberry (with vanilla ice cream).  Ok…first off, the macaron shells were way too thick and cakey to be a proper macaron.  A macaron should be light, airy, and moist. Yea…these were none of the above.  It was the right vehicle for the ice cream which was too icy!  UGH!  The dish kept failing at every turn!  Even the flavors of each ice cream tasted artificial and I was just over it by then.

Thank goodness for these views to save the evening!

I had a wonderful night with CP and with views like that, I can overlook little things that brought me down during the meal.  Since I had my love with me, I was literally on top of the world that evening!  Thank you love XOXO

Bertrand at Mister A’s is a great restaurant, romantic feel, impeccable service, and…hm, what was it?  Oh yea! BEST VIEWS EVER!  I would highly recommend the restaurant for very special occasions because they will treat you right.  I think this will also be a great place for lunch or brunch during the weekends!  Maybe I’ll come back later this summer to try it out again (skipping desserts this time).

Bertrand at Mister A’s
(on the 12th Floor)
2550 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103

San Diego Restaurant Week Recap

As many of you may have known, San Diego hosted  it’s 7th Restaurant Week and this year, more than half of the participating restaurants extended their RW into the following week.  This gave restaurants more opportunities to introduce themselves to new audiences and thus, creating a bigger fan base.  Some may like RW, while others do not and I think (which I have felt myself as well) it is due to the fact that for regulars, their restaurants are suddenly overtaken by new customers who ware clamoring for the pre-fix menu.  What you have to realize is this kind of exposure for restaurants is a great way to build up their client base.  We must not be selfish because we all want our favorite restaurants to survive one of the toughest and cut throat  industries.

I participated in 2 RW menus for restaurants I had been wanting to visit for the longest time: Nobu San Diego and Cucina Urbana.

Both restaurants are very different in nature, but both were exquisite in food and service.  There is a reason why Nobu is so highly regarded and why locals cannot get enough of Cucina Urbana.  Nobu is sleek, chic, and hip.  Cucina Urbana is rustic, homey, and modern.  Either one can do no wrong and lived up to what I had expected when I stepped foot in each.

Nobu – San Diego (Hard Rock Hotel)

The appetizer to start the night off was the Salmon Tataki Salad.  Lightly seared salmon sashimi was accompanied by shaved root vegetables, with cilantro dressing. Usually I am not a big fan of seared sashimi because I think it takes away from the beauty of the fish, but in this case, I found the sear to be perfect.  The center was still beautifully fresh and melted on my tongue.

For our entrees, CP and I each ordered something different and split it:

The Artic Char with with Jalapeno Cauliflower was pan-seared so the outer skin was crisped up and then roasted.  The skin did get charred a little too much but it did not effect the fish itself thankfully.  The char was tender and delicious.  The jalapeno cauliflower was so good that I could eat a bowl of it on its own!

Nobu’s take on Fish n’ Chips made me want to eat more fish…mostly because they used Chilean sea bass.  I want to talk to whoever came up with this idea of battering and deep frying sea bass!  Granted, it was delicious with a slightly thicker tempura batter, but why would you deep fry a beautiful fish like sea bass?!  I love sea bass…like it is my TOP fish choice and I would never, EVER think of deep frying it.  It feels just wrong…but yet…it did taste oh so heavenly…I was torn!  The chips were a little limpy and sad, but that honey anti-cucho sauce was so good that I just wanted to dip everything in it!

Each entree came with a Spicy Tuna roll.  My only grip about this was that the menu promised me spicy yellowtail (which is my favorite fish for sushi), but instead tuna came.  I love tuna and everything, but my hopes were up and then shot back down.

However, nothing shot me down as quickly as the dessert…

Nobu’s best-seller and customer favorite dessert: the Bento Box.  This is a Araguani 72% chocolate fondant cake, with a sesame crisp and green tea matcha gelato.  First off…I know that the Valrhona Araguani dark chocolate is one of the best to use for a deep, dark, bittersweet chocolate and my chocolate preference leans on the dark side.  However, this cake was just….terrible.  First off, I think the chef forgot the sugar all together.  It was bland and bitter, which I could not even tell if it was from the dark chocolate or it was burnt because it actually tasted burnt to me.  This made me really sad because I always look forward to desserts!  Sigh…thank goodness the green tea gelato saved the night! It was smooth, light, and packed with matcha awesomeness!  (By the way…do YOU see any sesame crisp?…no? neither did I..until I finished my gelato and found this semi-clear sugar-like crisp.  I’m guessing that’s the sesame crisp?)

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Nobu.  The restaurant is definitely one of those “hip”, “mod”, “the cool place to be”.  The music was loud, the customers were more or less inebriated, but the service was friendly and attentive.  Will I be back for more? Heck Yes!  (Will I be having the Bento Box again?…not in this lifetime or next!)

Cucina Urbana

Another night, another meal!  CP’s chopped house salad really was chopped and tossed! It was medley of soppresata (salami), pepperoni, olive, red onion, tomato, asiago, pepperoncini, and some lettuce.  Not sure if I’d really would call this a “salad” in my terms, but it was delicious bowl of chopped meats and vegetables (mostly the former).  It was all tossed in a vinaigrette that was sweet but had a little bit to it too.

My first course choice was the roasted baby beet and orange salad was divine! Light, summery salad with lots of color and it was simply fun and smart.  The baby beets were tender and delicious with the cashews.  I think my favorite part were the scoops of ‘yo-goat’…or basically, goat’s milk yogurt.  Goat cheese is my absolute favorite cheese in the whole, wide world!  However, I’ve never had goat’s milk yogurt!  Just imagine goat cheese…but SOFTER!  HEAVEN!!!

We went with the pizza pre-fix menu so CP went to where his Italian heart will always be: a red pie with pepperoni and fennel sausage.  The nice charred underskirt of the baked dough held the sweet red sauce, with house-made mozzarella and the meat. CP gave 2 thumbs up to the wood fire oven pizza and proceeded to consume the whole thing.

I HAD to try their signature pizza with guanciale (pork belly!!! Get in MY belly!!), fingerling potato, brie, bésciamela, and 2 fresh cracked eggs!  O.M.G…Ok…how should I start?  This was like…a ridiculously indulgent breakfast-like pizza. The pork belly melted and flavored the pizza.  The saltiness of the pork melded well with the salty brie and then when you broke the yolk of the egg and let it spread through the pizza.  It’s just an indescribable experience!  Then to top off this amazing pie was a spicy chili sauce the waiter brought over and let me in on the fact that it is the perfect pairing.  My gosh…was he right!  The chili sauce elevated the pizza to 10 times higher and for once, I truly could taste the spice.  Oh lordy….*drooling at the thought*

The pear crisp with mascarpone gelato was not all that impressive but still good none-the-less.  In comparison though…

The chocolate budino with chocolate chantilly and salted chocolate biscuit….CHOCOLATE ORGASMIC PSYCHEDELIC EXTRAVAGANZA!  “Wow” would be an understatement.  Let me help put this in context….I had already had 2 full courses which did include a sizable pizza…and the fact that I could still taste and have my mind be blown away by this budino….yes, it was just that good!  Budino is Italian for pudding and that’s just what it was: a dark chocolate pudding. Thick and unadulterated chocolate pudding that was intense in flavor.  Perfectly balanced, just sweet enough, but still a dark chocolate pudding.  The chantilly helped lightened up a bite if you were (like me) already feeling like you’re at your breaking point in your stomach.  The salted chocolate cookie was good, but I found myself not wanting it because it got in my way of the budino.

I love Cucina Urbana for it’s rustic, no frills, yet still very much stylish atmosphere.  They present food as it is and let’s the food’s own brilliance shine through.  All the chef does is perhaps polish it up and gives its a nice pep talk before it makes its debut on your table.  Wonderful experience.

I must say that this year’s RW did not fail to impress me.  The number of restaurants now participating in this event has seem to grow with each passing year.  This shows that restaurants now understand the power of this well sponsored and advertised event is to their advantage.  I have also noticed that a lot of restaurants continue to promote the pre-fixed menus (yay!) for both the cost-conscious consumers and encourages regulars to try something new at their old haunt. A good addition to a restaurant’s recipe for a long life in a world where only the best of best can shine through the decades.

Nobu (in Hard Rock Hotel)
207 5th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 814-4124

Cucina Urbana
505 Laurel Street
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 239-2222

MOzen Bistro – Las Vegas, NV

Two weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas for work again and once again, I found myself with the cash to spend for food yet, I would have to eat alone.  This may sound a little sad, but you know…it did not phase me too much.  Mostly because with no other mouths to which I must account for their differing tastes than mine, I could eat anything I wanted and I tend to go all out.  So for one of the nights, I decided to splurge on a great meal.  However, even though I had a budget that would be more than any one person can eat, I still had to be mindful of what I did spend (aka I could not go out to a place that would charge me $25 for an appetizer course).  With that frame of mind, I found on a highly rated restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel – MOzen Bistro.

The restaurant is an fusion of Japanese, Indian, Thai, and Korean flavors, with a dash of American twists sprinkled intermittently.  They describe themselves as a sampler of the “flavors of the east.”  Although from the surface the restaurant sounds like it is thoroughly confused, I can assure you it is not because without going into detail, I had a sample of the range of flavors they could work with and I was surprisingly impressed.  Their attention to details to the dishes were astounding and even their space was very well thought out.  It may not have been on the 23rd floor of the hotel, but the restaruant was beautifully designed in a cozy space.  Basic, elegant, chic, and completely my style.  As it was a Monday night, the restaurant was really quiet with only a couple of covers other than mine.  However, granted that it was a slow night and the wait staff could have slacked off, the service here at MOzen was always attentive and friendly.

After some consideration from my waitress recommendations where she mentioned that the restaurant has one of the most arguably fresh sushi available, I started off my meal with the salmon nigri.

Two cuts of tender, fresh, vibrant pieces of salmon appeared before me, sitting atop of little bit of sushi rice.  I must say, this salmon was definitely comparable to some of the finer sushi restaurant’s I have visited here in Vegas.  I do apologize for the poor quality of the photo though.  The lighting in the restaurant was dim and I tried to not use my flash, but then this is the result.  In looking at this picture, you cannot grasp how beautiful this simple little fish was.  I may need to come back to try other cuts and take proper pictures next time.

Next up, for my entree, I knew I had to try this when I saw it on the menu: Northern Indian Lamb Shank Curry.  Ok…let it sink in…it is a bone-in lamb shank simmered in a rich, dark curry.  Two of my favorite things merged together: lamb shank and curry.  I was in heaven I thought from just reading the description, but then when the whole meal came out…

I could only stare in awe.  I think my mouth may have been hanging open with a giddy air about me when I sat with this meal before me.  The menu described everything that would be coming to me, but I don’t think I completely registered the sheer breath of this meal until it arrived to me.  It was an amazing sight and the aroma was just overwhelmingly mouthwatering!  The lamb shank was cooked so tendered it  was almost fall of the bones.  The curry was rich, earthy, and complex with multitude of spices working together to draw you in for more and had just the right amount of “kick”.  I would have just picked up the bowl and slurped it all down had I been at home (or at least in a restaurant with more people so no one would really notice me doing that).  However, I lapped up all the yummy curry with the lamb and basmati rice.

Above the main course was the naan which wasn’t quite the rustic, freshly made naan that I had come to enjoy and love at authentic Indian restaurants.  However, at least they did not give me pita bread and tell me that was naan (that makes me SO angry! Come on! Like really?!?!) but I question whether it was made in house.  Either way, it was the perfect vehicle for one of the surprises of the night which was the lentils!  I love, love curry lentils, but so often I am disappointed by the lentil dishes I get because they are bland, watery, and plain sad.  MOzen’s lentils were NOTHING of that nature. It was POW in your face flavor town!  Quite honestly, the lentils could stand as a main dish on its own, perfect for the vegetarians palates and yet, scrumptious for the carnivores like myself.  The lentils were just as rich as the lamb curry, but not as spicy.  It is hard to describe it other than it was an explosion of AWESOME.  (MOzen…can you just hand over the pot of lentils to me now?…)

The entire meal was one amazing adventure after another.  My only criticism would be that it was REALLY hard cutting into my lamb shank that was sitting in the bowl.  I kept thinking if I cut the wrong way, I would just tip the bowl over and lose all my precious curry.  Perhaps if MOzen could find some flat bottom bowls and change the plate it sits on top of, then the eater would be less scared to cut into his or her meat.

Even after that monstrous meal for one, I had to finish the dinner off properly with dessert.  I know I could have walked right next door to Bellagio for dessert at one of my favorite patisseries, Jean Philippe Patisserie, but I wanted to see how MOzen handled desserts.  When I took a look over the menu, the offerings all sounded good yet my stretching stomach reminded me that I only had a little room left, so I opted for the house-made gelato.  The waitress told me ALL the flavor selections they had for the day (there was at least 10 flavors, so it made me wonder if it was perhaps the central kitchen making it and distributed to all the outlets in the hotel) and my ears perked at a few.

Starting from the bottom and going counterclockwise: salted caramel, pistachio, and pumpkin spice.  Of the three, the pumpkin spice was the one I was most excited to order yet…when I finally tasted all three…it ranked #3 overall!  I have an obsession with pumpkin everything so that says something because the pumpkin spice gelato was still really good.  However, the winner of this show was hands down, no question, all the eggs in the basket (ok I know, you get it)…it was the salted caramel!  The balance was just so right that it made me forget how full I was because I couldn’t have enough!  The pistachio was #2 and even though I wish they did not use food coloring, the flavor was still quite strong with my favorite nut.

This was one of the best meals I’ve had at on the Strip for some time now and for the end bill ($77 with tax & tip) was well worth it.  The chef had a brilliant idea and was able to get a well trained team to execute it to perfection.  Everything I had that night was spotless and my tongue was giddy with joy by the end.  Thank you MOzen for making me believe in what a good great meal should be in Vegas!

MOzen Bistro
(in the Mandrin Oriental Hotel)
3752 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89158

Chicago Part Duex

My colleagues and I unfortunately had to work a little during this weekend.  Normally, it would not be an issue but the fact is that we were in Chicago for goodness sake!  I was about to chuck my laptop out the 19th floor window being stuck indoors, in a city that I had never been to!

“What the shit?!…”

That was the phrase of the week, literally.  This is why I took the initiative in deciding for the team as a whole that we needed something great to break up this crappy start to the weekend. Thus, I ordered for us the Chicago icon: deep dish pizza!

Gino’s East

We were staying in downtown Chicago and Gino’s East was not all that far away!  Turns out that the place actually delivered to hotels and so we had an order of the Cheesy Bread with marinara:

and Gino’s East Supreme deep dish.

The crust had to be at least 2 inch high, which was needed for all the ingredients that were piled into this gorgeous break to a crappy day.  It had chunky tomato sauce, mushroom, peppers, onions, and half sausage patty, half pepperoni.  Of course, there was an oozy, gooey cheesy layer buried underneath all of that.  It was so delicious!

Leonidas Chocolate Cafe

Sometime between lunch and dinner, a pick me up was needed.  I was going to get coffee at first yet ended up going to Leonidas Chocolate Cafe because I needed ice cream or gelato ASAP!  It felt like an emergency and all the alarms in me were going off shouting, “I. NEEDED. THIS. NOW!”  So…

My medium cup of gelato was HUMONGOUS!  I got half toasted coconut with almond and fudge, and half Belgium chocolate.  I realized as I was eating this was that: my gawd I was so terribly depressed and this is why I am enjoying this even more.  Secondly, I should have gotten all Belgium chocolate.  It was smooth, creamy, and bittersweet.  The best chocolate gelato I’ve had in some time.

Now also in passing, I saw a plate and bags of macaroons being displayed at the cafe.  How could I ever pass up the opportunity?!

They looked much better than tasted sadly :(…I should have just stuck with the gelato and maybe some chocolates.  Oh well, how could I have known until I tried it for myself?  Live and let learn!

Later that evening, when the guys decided the stay in for the night, my new friend/colleague (PR) and I went out for dinner.  We were both craving tapas all week and decided we both needed it!  However, since we didn’t have the car, we walked the 2.5 miles through downtown to the restaurant.  It was actually a really nice walk except for a certain area we had to walk through, but we were both quite hasty in getting to the restaurant so nothing exciting happened.

Tapas Valencia

The spread included (starting from the top and going clockwise): lamb tenderloin with caramelized onions and mushroom, stuffed mushroom caps with cheese, and stuffed peppers with goat cheese.

Goodness gracious….it was an explosion of flavors!  PR and I have been feeling trapped with the choices of food we have been eating and desperately needed this change up in our diet.  However, just 3 tapas would never satisfy the two of us, so we had an order of the vegetable paella!

The paella was good and it was what we both wanted: something flavorful, fresh, and light too.  I had 2 criticisms about the dish: 1. not enough crust!  This is the best part of paella in my opinion!  Also, when one thinks of paella, one would think saffron being the key spice for the rice yet this one was more tomato base.  The entire meal was the best meal we had since arriving to the city!

The following day, PR and I went on an architectural river boat tour which was very informative and fun!  I love learning the history of a city and I realized even before the tour, how beautiful the buildings were in the city.  After our tour, we met up with  the guys to grab a late lunch.


We had another staple of the city that was not all that far from the hotel again!  Portillo’s had a fun atmosphere and there were so many options to chose from.  However, what I wanted was an Italian sausage, onion rings, and a milk shake!  And that was exactly what I got:

Look at the glory that is the delicious, greasy, fatty food that you know you shouldn’t have but you just can’t help it because it has been quite “shitty”.

The Italian sausage was typical, but the bun was a soft crusty bread that was so much better than a hot dog bun!  I wish I had grilled onions and peppers to go with it :(…The onion rings were fried super crispy and even though I would normally complain at the number of rings I got that day (very few), it ended up being just enough.  The milkshake was a chocolate milkshake with chocolate cake pieces mixed into it.  W.O.W.  Talk about chocolate overload!  It was so rich that I couldn’t finish it and had to recruit my colleagues to help out.  Overall I enjoyed myself again with this meal and would do it again in a heart beat.

That was pretty much my time in Chicago.  I wish I had more time in the city, but we did our best in between work and commuting.  I would definitely be coming back to Chi-town (hopefully not for work) for more!

Gino’s East
Multiple locations

Leonidas Chocolate Cafe
59 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611

Tapas Valencia
1530 s. state st
Chicago, IL 60605

Multiple locations