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tarts

Restaurant Week – The Red Door

Restaurant Week has all of San Diego out and dining about the city.  CP and I was part of the Sunday evening crowd, for the first day of Restaurant Week.  Although we both have been to this establishment, I wanted to return because I thought that our first visit was not the best representation of what the restaurant could offer.  Therefore, our first restaurant was a return trip to The Red Door in Mission Hills.

Appetizers

So CP did not go with the pre-fixe menu, but still had a starter.  His choice – the Crab Cake, with fresh lump crab and no fillers.  It is paired with roasted red bell peppers, kalamata olives and sun dried tomato with sweet basil dressing.  Now the order actually comes with TWO crab cakes, and as you can see that was not the case.  However, they quickly realized their mistake and added the additional cake (with all the fixings) immediately.  They also took off this order on the receipt because of the mistake, which I found to be a nice touch of customer service.  Kudos!

My first choice in my three course meal was the Shrimp Creole, which I had the first time I came here and fell head over heals for it.  The dish was presented in a skillet rather than a composed plate, but still as delicious as I recalled.  I couldn’t get enough of the sauce again!!

Entrée

CP’s entree of choice: the Red Door Burger – char grilled ½ lb meyer natural ground beef, buttermilk bun, American cheese (but CP didn’t want it), caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and house burger sauce (aka thousand island).  The shoestring fries were crispy, just the way I like it.

My entree, my second choice, was the Lamb Meatballs – ground Colorado lamb with roasted garlic, feta, pine nuts, home made gnocchi, tomato, spring raab, and chimichurri sauce.  Um…how could I describe my thoughts?  Let’s see…THIS is one of the MANY reasons why I am finding my personal desire to give up lamb to be SO hard!  It was great dish as a whole, but one area of improvement – the meatballs could be a little more tender.  After that, you have achieved perfection my SD friend.

Dessert

Last time, I tried their fruit cobbler (which is one of two choices on the RW menu) and it was not that good.  So I tried something different this time!

For my finale, I chose their signature dessert: the Banana Cream Pie with graham cracker-walnut crust, and chocolate & caramel sauces.  I think this could be a good dessert if: 1. tone down the whip cream a little, and 2. increase the pastry cream filling.

I still love the restaurant and this time around, the service was much better.  It’s a perfect time for you to try The Red Door during Restaurant Week to sample some of their signature items.  The menu will be available through the end of the week on Friday (1/20).  Bon Appetit!

The Red Door
741 W. Washington St
San Diego, CA 92103

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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! 🙂


The best of my San Francisco trip

I didn’t want to do this. I know it would just EAT up time that I should be using to do other things. But I can’t shake this gnawing feeling away…that SF deserves a post on its own. Darn it!

Well, what can I say? I love San Francisco for many reasons: efficient public transportation, friendly people, beautiful city when it’s not raining like crazy, and ummm……….oh who am I kidding?! I love the city because of the food! San Francisco holds some of the best tasting food I’ve had the pleasure of trying. From an authentic bowl of preserve egg jok, to the freshest seafood, to the ultimate egg custard tart, to the abundance of talented bakers! This year’s trip to the bay city had some hits and misses. I went with my two best friends (‘M’ and ‘L’) the day right after my last final. So here were the food highlights of my trip:

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My first sundae at Ghiradelli – the Cookie Sundae with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and topped with whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. The best part of this? The chocolate chip cookie underneath the ice cream because it was warm and it contrasted with the cold ice cream so wonderfully. There was too much chocolate at the bottom and I would’ve been happy with less. We chose this through the consent between ‘M’ and myself, but had I chosen my own, I would have gotten the Dark chocolate raspberry sundae because I think the dark chocolate would have been much better than your typical (but Ghiradelli) chocolate sauce.

The Golden Gate Bakery in Chinatown is THE place to go to for your Chinese baked treats. If you’ve heard of it, then you know what I say is true: no one does an egg custard tart better than them. People line up, pack into the tiny space, and phone in way ahead of time for their custard tarts. The shell is perfectly flaky and has a flavor on its own. The filling is wonderfully balanced – not too sweet, not too “eggy,” and has the perfect texture – just firm enough so it’s not runny, but soft enough so you know you’re eating a custard. However, I am sad to say that this year, I was not able to get my hands on even ONE! When I went in, the women behind the counter told me that it would be approximately half an hour to 45 minutes because they were baking them and there were orders already for them. And I saw at least 5 of those pink boxes, folded and ready to be filled with these delectable treats. I sighed and accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to get to have my favorite treat, so I bought 2 of the coconut tarts that I had seen in the window as I walked in.

521111688_aefc31b326.jpg I’m sorry the picture isn’t good, but I took this picture that night at the inn and it was just horrible lighting that my little camera could do nothing to improve. As you can see, there’s only 1 tart in the bag. I ate one after my dinner that day and I was surprised by this tart. I wasn’t expecting much, but was fully taken back at the quality of it. The coconut was not super sticky nor overly sweetened. You could taste the coconut flavor and it washed over me and sweeping me into bliss. The shell was like a flaky cookie? I’m not sure how I would describe the shell, but I know this is how I want my tart shells to be like. Excellent!

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Dim sum in Chinatown was not that good, there are a few points that are worth mentioning. First, the hom sui gok (top left) was fresh out of the fryer so it was absolutely, positively DELICIOUS. Had it been sitting out for a bit…then I’m not sure. The woo gok (bottom right) had a curry filling inside and this was the first time I had ever seen that. It’s usually just a savory meat filling inside with the taro around it, but this place made their filling with curry. And the bean curd skin wrap (bottom left) was the 2nd favorite of mine because of their use of curry flavoring for the sauce they braised it in. Maybe this restaurant really likes using curry as their flavoring for everything. But once again…the curry sauce wasn’t traditional, yet it was mighty tasty.

We ventured into Japantown the same day (our theme was around the world?). And for dinner, I had a sushi roll.

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Inside: shrimp tempura and cucumber. Outside: salmon, tuna, fresh crab, and tobiko. My favorite part of this roll would have to be the fresh crab meat on the top. The roll as a whole I thought was mediocre and thus, I was severely disappointed. The last time I had a sushi roll in J-town, I had the pleasure of enoying the freshest fish and the tastiest blending of flavors in a roll. We should have gone back to that restaurant.

 

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Another disappointing meal…I don’t know why I was having such bad luck with my meals this time around in SF. This was from DELICA rf1 in the Ferry Building Marketplace. A Japanese deli that gets points for their nice design of the storefront, but the food?….They failed. Going clockwise from the greens with little beans in it: Hajiki salad, spinach salad, fried shrimp cake, chicken meatball, and chicken-tofu patty. The best tasting items? The hajiki salad – nice crunch and flavor – and the shrimp cake probably because it was fried.

Now onto the BEST meal of my entire weekend in SF. So good that even now I still crave for these items and sadly, I’ve yet to fulfill that urge. If there was only one place I INSISTED on going to in San Francisco, it was Tartine. On our last day in the bay area, we ventured out to SoMa’s neighborhood and I am glad we went (so were ‘M’ and ‘L’).

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The. Best. Breakfast. The fragipane (almond) crossiant was….there are no words to describe how good this was. The crossiant was flaky, buttery, and baked thoroughly with a slight singe. In my opinion, the singe actually enhanced the flavor and nuttiness of the almonds! The whole thing was baked, cutted in half, then a good slathering of fragipane (almond paste) on both halves, and finally sprinkle sliced almonds inside before putting this masterpiece back together again. Finished off with a light dusting of powdered sugar. Add a cup of fresh, good coffee….*muah* Magnifico!

Most places aren’t as generous with the fragipane as Tartine, which is sad. But I’ve gotten some good recommendations for the Westgate Deli in Downtown San Diego so I will be going later this week. Hopefully, I will find an almond crossiant that is close if not up to par with Tartine’s.

Along with my crossiant, I got the Buttermilk Current Scone

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It had just come out of the kitchen and I could not resist! Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of my scone that I took to-go, but here is the whole tray of them on display! Man, Tartine has set the standard really high for scones and crossiants that San Diego will have a hard time matching. The scone was a little hard on the outside, but soft and somewhat dense on the inside. They sprinkled coarse sugar on top that added a nice crunch to the scone every time you took a bite. Also, the currants are dispersed pretty evenly throughout the scone and added a little sweet sharpness.

And finally, my last item that I purchased was the fragipane tart topped with blueberries (I think).

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I was not expecting a flaky, pastry crust when I got this tart. I was actually expecting and wanting a sugar dough tart. So when I ate this the next day, it reminded me of my amazing crossiant the morning before. However, it wasn’t the same. This tart was still good, but I would probably get the crossiant instead of this if I want my fragipane fix. I do want to try the coconut cream pie instead! Next time Tartine…next time.

Tartine is amazing. I envy San Francisco because they have a bakery like this at their fingertips. Heck, I envy San Francisco for all their food offerings. That is why I now insist on trying everything in San Diego because I know it has its gems too. It is my desire for good food that I will seek out San Diego’s must eats!


A sweet-filled day

I do things on impulse…and this was one of them. It started with just an innocent trip to Whole Foods Market, which ended up with a trip to Bread & Cie as well.

I’ve been wanting to go to Bread & Cie for the longest time but never found myself there. Mostly because parking in Hillcrest is usually horrendous. However, it was a weekday and early enough so that the streets were more or less clear. Score!

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When I got there a little bit before 11am, and they were starting to put in the desserts in the case. I think I stood there and contemplated for a good 5 to 10 minutes. And it was good thing too, cuz I had decided on one item but was debating on a second item. That was when I saw a lady put in the tiramisu tart! I’ve heard about it and wanted to try one of my all time favorite desserts. So very few places get it right…

So I got the Pistachio cupcake w/ saffron pear buttercream

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I found myself torn with this cupcake. I WANTED to like it, I really did! The combination sounds like it would taste good and I caught a hint of its potential, but unfortunately the cupcake itself was WAY too dry. I prefer my cupcakes to be light and fluffy, but dense cupcakes will only work for me if the flavors make up and exceed my preference. The saffron pear buttercream on the other hand was DEVINE! I loved the flavor combination and its silky smooth texture. If anything, the buttercream was the highlight of the entire thing.

A slice of the tiramisu tart

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I’ve heard good things about their tiramisu for sometime. It was the REASON why I wanted to visit this bakery. Tiramisu is the dessert I choose as my favorite if asked to pick only ONE favorite. I liked Bread & Cie’s take on the traditional Italian dessert with putting it on a sugar dough tart shell. I’ve never seen it done this way….I’ve seen, made, and tried tiramisu in a: coffee cup, bowl, traditional pan/dish style, chocolate shells, and as individual little cakes. I liked their tart, it provided additional texture to the dessert, but I still like the way a traditional tiramisu is mostly a soft mouth-feel dessert. It had some coffee flavor but it was mostly the chocolate powder on top that overpowered everything else. I believe that with tiramisu, one should be only sprinkle a small amount coco powder on top. Otherwise, your entire mouth gets covered with the coco powder with each bite, thus ruining it. As, I have a question: where’s the liquor?! I like to be able to detact SOME liquor in my tiramisu! This didn’t even give any subtle hint of it!

While at WFM, I bought a carmelita bar

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Terrible, just a terrible bar. The bottom layer of pecans completely separated from the chocolate layer on top, which also had a crumble topping on it. This made eating the dessert nearly impossible and VERY messy. I’m a fan of messy food, but this was just ridiculous! I am definitely NOT buying this again!

 Overall….I think my little dessert adventure was interesting and fun. I finally got to Bread & Cie and next time, I will be bringing my friends and perhaps I will try their bread instead. Or I saw another tart (forgot what it was) that looked promising.