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Day trip to Mexico

On a seemingly cloudy start to a Saturday, a group of nine ventured across the U.S. and Mexican border for a foodie adventure.  What I am about to share in words and pictures, cannot fully explain or describe the experience and food we had.  It is something to be enjoyed first-hand and then one can appreciate it fully.

The day started early in Tijuana at Marisco el Mazatenos.  Now this place has been highly recommended by coworkers for the past couple of years and I finally got to taste it myself.

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They start with providing chips and salsa, along with a seafood consommé.  This consommé is your preview to the amazing food that one is about to partake.  The broth is rich with flavors of shrimp, tomato, garlic and spices we could not pin point.  With a little shredded lettuce, a squeeze of lime, you had yourself a cup of delicious soup to warm your belly.

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Our first indulgence was their ceviche.  It was refreshing, tart, sweet, and tangy and the appetizer to continue to excite the palate.

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The main attractions and the reason why we were all there for: the La Mazatena tacos!  Plump shrimp with garlic, tomato, peppers, and again probably with spices the restaurant will keep guarded.  Melted on the tortilla itself, was a layer of cheese to make it more tantalizing.

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All that was left was for us to dress them up with shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, crema/white sauce, and a spicy green sauce (their “secret” sauce that even when asked by my coworkers on different occasions, no one knew since it was a made by the owner in secret).  With a squeeze of lime, we were taken into taco heaven.

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I’ve had my fair share of seafood tacos, but it was the complete package that took me to a food bliss that no other taco has ever taken me.  Maybe I am over exaggerating, but from coworkers who have visited this restaurant on multiple occasions will proclaim again and again that this is the best seafood taco you will ever have.

That day, we had not only the shrimp tacos, but also the marlin and the octopus.  The octopus was amazingly tender and melted in your mouth.  There was no need to chew repeatedly on the meat in attempt to swallow it because it fell apart in your mouth.  (Sorry, we only had a fuzzy picture of it sadly…we were all a little busy eating and given it was our first meal of the day, we were quite hungry.)

Breakfast was delicious, the service was friendly, and with our tummies full, we headed south.

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The beautiful and off-season Rosarito beach is so relaxing.  We came the weekend right after the colleges’ spring break, so we pretty much had the beach to ourselves along with locals and the few vacationers.  The day was just absolutely perfect to just lounge around, play ball or kicking the ball around.  The was way too cold to swim; I tried putting my feet in the water and my muscles immediately cramped up from the cold.

Well after spending a few hours on the beach, we were all getting pretty hungry so we headed off to Puerto Nuevo.  However, along the way we did make a pit stop to get a snack:

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I forgot what this was called, but it translates to “coconut shrimp”.  As you can see, it’s not the fried coconut shrimp you would think.  This is literally a shelled out coconut, filled with cooked shrimp and cucumbers. Refreshing, sweet and tangy, a perfect little snack on our way to our meal.  (Actually, we also bought some tamales too along the way, but we ate those up so quickly that no one remember to take pictures sadly =(…they were quite delicious though!)

We arrived to the port town of Puerto Nuevo and for such a small town, there was no end in our choices for dining.  However, our intended destination was La Casa de la Langosta:

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And if it was not obvious what we were here for by just the name of the restaurant…

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Delicious, delicious lobsters!  At La Casa, you have 3 lobster options that they’ll either steam or fry (aka “Pueto Nuevo” style).  There is the large, medium, and smaller lobsters and rule of thumb from what I found is the smaller the fish or crustacean, or anything from the sea in general, tends to be sweeter and tastier.  Everyone went for the smaller, local lobsters, and most went Pueto Nuevo style, only couple went for the steamed version.  The meal came with soup or salad, rice, beans, and tortillas.

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Look at that pile of awesome, juicy, deliciousness.  Geez louise!  I can taste it just looking at the pictures.  The meat was juicy, sweet and just a little spice for good measure.  Who can say nothing taste better with a little spice?  Butter wasn’t even needed since it was plenty succulent on its own.  Just pile on some rice, beans and unbelievably soft and warm tortillas, we were in eating heaven.

Needless to say after our meal, we all kind of felt like Don Pisto…

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So what’s a team of foodies supposed to do with the sun slowly setting and full bellies?  Well…we enjoy the sunset, the scenery, and a couple of brewskis leftover from the beach earlier that day.  Aaaah…life is good.

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BUT WAIT!!!  What was that?  We needed more food?  Tacos?  Street tacos?  Why yes, please bring us more!

At Tacos el Franc (yes, the name was not lost upon us when a coworker suggested it because it was just too funny…or maybe we were suffering from food-induced dementia), they serve a simple menu of meat on corn tortillas.  Street meat…BRING IT!

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Oh delicious cone of carnivorous delight, why do you tempt me so?  How is it that you can still tempt me to consume you when my own stomach is still filled with the delights of the sea?

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I do believe at this point in the day, we were all just delusional and following our gluttonous instincts – especially one of us, whom probably won in the day’s eat-a-thon.  JA at the end of the day, polished another 5 tacos at el Franc and was still smiling at the end.

And although one would think that would be the end of the foodie trip to Mexico as would any normal, sane person would, but no, we were not sane nor normal to begin with.  We needed dessert before calling quits – off to find some ice cream!  Which we did and again, forgot to take a picture of our delicious and palate cleansing passion fruit ice cream.

That my friends, is how we have a good foodie adventure.  No diets.  No logic.  No room for weaklings or food-a-phobes.  All you need is a will of steel and determination and be willing to hand yourself over to pure pleasure of food.

Least to say, in order to truly appreciate what I’ve shared with you in this post, you have to experience yourself first hand.  There are no words to describe the experience without it sounding repetitive, so just soak it all in via the pictures and pretend you were there…until you finally make it there yourself! 🙂

Disclaimer: We had two guys with us who grew up in Tijuana and has made multiple trips back and throughout Mexico.  This made the trip a lot easier to navigate having someone who knew the landmarks and roads.  It’s helpful to have someone who knows the city/country, or if you were to travel there on your own, do a lot of research and mapping of your destination beforehand.  This is to keep you safe in a country that is more than willing and wanting tourists to visit, but to travel without preparation is not advisable.  But most importantly, remember to have fun and be willing to take on the unfamiliar because in the end, you’ll find yourself in a more familiar state of mind then when you first started.

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Ssam Bar (Momofuku)

As far as I’m concerned, NYC is pretty much my home away from home when it comes to woes of my stomach.  This city always offers us so much and even after a hard hit to the locals here the past week and still in a tough spot for many.

Despite all the mounting reasons why it would be better for a postponement of a department training, we continued.  To make the best I could for my time in the city, I still tried to give my business to the proprietors of the city.  This evening, a group of 8 hungry, hungry hippos (yes, it’s a MEGA version of the game) made its way down to East Village for Ssam Bar.

The last time I was at this Momofuku establishment was back in March, but it left a specific memory for myself – we need more people to eat!  Last time, it was only my friend KF and myself.  We did our fair share of sampling David Chang’s signature dishes, plus staff favorites.  This time, we had more than enough mouths to sample even more!

shanghai noodle – chanterelles, hearts of palm, trout roe

This was a cold, small dish of noodles that was dressed in what seemed like some sort of sesame sauce.  The roe added the little salt and the hearts of palm seem to freshen up my bite.  It was good, but not stellar.

crispy pig ear ssäm – yuzu kosho, umezuki, thai basil

Wow….the pig ear was fried super crispy and seasoned so well that I thought I was eating chips!  If you weren’t told you were eating pig ears, you could easily pass this for fried jerky.  Yums!

honeycrisp apple kimchi – maple labne, jowl bacon, arugula

This pretty much explains itself: kimchi-ed apples with bacon and arugula.  This is served with a maple yogurt that cuts the pickled apples.  The reason I ordered this dish for the table was because I remember this dish being the big surprise from my first visit.  It was unexpected in how much I liked it!

steamed buns – pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers, scallions

bbq bun – crispy pork belly, coleslaw, smoked mayo

lobster sandwich – sour cream crisps, iceberg lettuce

Yes…we had a LOT of the bun appetizers (actually we ordered all of them).  Everyone was floored at how good the steamed and bbq buns were.  Seems like the consensus at the table was that the bbq buns were the favorite of them all.  I personally had a gripe this time about the steam buns – the bread itself was too dry and just made me sad!  The buns used for the bbq version were nice and soft and fluffy.  Why?!?!  As for the lobster roll…it’s nothing special at all.  I would suggest skipping this one and go else where if the craving is lobster roll.

roasted quail – pineapple, spaghetti squash, vadouvan

I didn’t get to try the quail itself, but my colleagues seem to really like it.  One even said, “I wasn’t expecting anything and it is better than I thought it would be.”  I did try the spaghetti squash that was coated with what tasted like curry and it was good.

 

spicy pork sausage & rice cakes – chinese broccoli, sichuan peppercorn

This was the dish that I would say, should be the signature entree of the restaurant.  It was just as good as the first time – spicy, tangy, savory, cripsy, chewy, meaty, crunchy.  There is no way I was going to split one order with 7 other people, so I insisted on ordering 2 of them!  Everyone was loving this dish as well and diving into them.

charred spanish octopus – pine nuts, celery, black olive

O.M.G…this dish was MY highlight of the evening.  During my first visit, KF and I saw people ordering the octopus and it looked soooo good.  That’s why this time, I was determined to get it!!  Gee willikers batman! That is a darn good plate of octopus!! I mean…it was cooked perfectly that this was one of two times I’ve ever had octopus in my life when it was NOT chewy (like rubber). One thing I did have an issue with this was that it was overly salted.  Other than that, give. me. MOAR!!!!

After two visits during different times of the year, I found Ssam Bar to be addicting and consistent (more or less….fix that dry bun issue!).  The staff is attentive but not overly bearing and even took the time to talk to one of our colleagues because she wanted to modify an overly strong drink.  Would I be back?  Heck. YES.

Ssam Bar | momofuku
207 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003

My Ramen Obsession

As far as I can remember, I have loved all kinds of noodles.  It was a staple in my childhood diet especially when the only food I ate fell in the carbohydrates category, chicken, turkey, pork, and fruit.  To say the least my diet was very imbalanced would be an understatement.  Despite the fact that I have since expanded my eating horizon quite significantly, the foundation of my food love has never really changed all that much.

I love food that is flavorful – duh…I mean who likes bland food???  For instance: I have always loved tofu, but trying to eat it in its natural form without any sauces or spices, I cannot stomach it.  And despite the fact that I had try the little to no carb diet back in college, that didn’t last very long for me as the thought of bread, noodles, rice, pasta haunted me day and night.  Giving up my foundation was literally driving me insane!

Fast forward to today: I am eating carbs again and I love it!  However, I am more discerning about my choices in the various carbohydrate options.  One of the things that I never really thought much about was ramen.  Growing up in North Carolina, ramen meant Top Ramen or Instant Cup Noodles.  Even when I finally moved back to San Diego with my family, ramen had only expanded as far as the options that were given prepackaged with the fried and dried noodles.

Then my first experience with having ramen that was NOT from a package was at Tajima about 5-6 years ago?  Back then, that was the benchmark of delicious ramen for me.  That is until I tried my bowl of ramen while vacationing in Honolulu back in the Spring of 2011, then the mind blowing bowl from Hide-chan in New York during the Fall of the same year.  What I have known as “ramen” was forever changed since then.

So the most recent adventures into the ramen world while in San Diego included three of the “newer” additions to our wonderful city: Hinotez, Ramen Yamadaya, and Rakiraki.

Shall we begin going down the rabbit hole?

Hinotez

This restaurant came in after the old Honey Bee Café left their spot several years ago.  Sandwiched between auto shops, across from the rows of dealerships, and it’s next door neighbor (same building) is a bar, it isn’t exactly broadcasting itself in the best light.

That was why I was so surprised when I first stepped in that it was completely redone and looked the part of a ramen house.  Ok…good start!  A look at the menu and you know they are trying to just run a no frills shop and that’s just the way I like it.  The choices are limited and simple: ramen (limited choices), a few entrees from the kitchen, and then the short yakitori list.  The reason I came in was for their ramen, but I can’t go without at least trying their chicken thigh yakitori.  Here is the breakdown of Hinotez:

I have been back several times and although it never felt like we were intentionally being ignored or neglected, they seem to conveniently forget a part of the order the last three visits.  And each time, they apologize profusely and depending on the time and mood and fullness, I’ll either have them still put the order through or just have it skipped.

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A good broth is hard to find and time consuming to make.  That’s why I have to look at a restaurant lovingly when they do a good broth for me.  Hinotez’ tonkotsu broth is milky, thick, and flavorful.  It is on the saltier side, which makes it hard for me to finish the WHOLE bowl’s broth (though I do make a nice dent to it).  As for the noodles, it can vary from being slight overcooked to almost just right.

In addition to the ramen, we also ordered steamed gyozas and they were only ok.  Nothing to rave about nor complain about.  Just kind of “meh” (hence why there has never been a picture of it) and not worth your stomach space – skip it!

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As for the chicken thigh yakitori, that came with two skewers, I love!  The chicken was juicy and seasoned with only salt and that was all that it needed.  However, on my last visit, they didn’t quite grill it to that perfect caramelization on the outside that I loved the first two times.

Overall Verdict?…I hope that Hinotez will have more yakitori choices down the road, but this place has potential.  There are some things that need to be worked out such as consistency in cooking, but they have the flavors that can keep me coming back for more.

Ramen Yamadaya

Located in the same strip mall where Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot resides, this little (emphasis on little) shop is unassuming.  Yet it is Los Angeles chain that has graced our town (why can’t more of this happen????) and I was very excited to go try it one evening with my mom and younger sister.

Ramen Yamadaya has a small indoor seating area, with bar seating right in front of the open kitchen where you can watch the guys prepare your ramen.  There is also an outdoor patio area that has some limited seating as well.  Even though the place has been open just a little over two months, the word is out that Yamadaya is here.  Is it good you ask?  Well if you’re a chain with six locations in southern California, I would imagine they have the art of ramen down to the ‘T’.

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See those glops of fat floating at the surface?…Yea that’s what you look for when you’re getting yourself prep and hyped up for a delicious tonkotsu broth experience.  Just like Hinotez, these guys have the broth’s consistency down – thick and rich with porky goodness that coats your mouth and all the way down your throat before settling happily in your stomach.  Yea…this was freaking good.  Best part?  It was NOT over salted and thus…I only put down my spoon because I was going to be scraping the bottom.

When it was done, I had to dig myself out of that fatty, rich goodness to remember more about the rest of the bowl.  Noodles?  Yes, there was noodles and I had order extra just because I could see their portions run small.  They were cooked just right and even though I am not a slow eater (by nature), by the time I took my last bite, that was when the noodles felt a little “softer”.  Not bad Yamadaya…not bad at all (gawds I want myself a bowl now…*gurgling*).

The service was bare-bones – two front of the house servers on a Friday night with three or four guys working the kitchen (cooking, cleaning, etc).  Hence you may have a little more problems getting their attention when you really want something.  However, I’m all for helping myself to things when the restaurant’s small and short on staff.  For this bowl, I’m willing to sacrifice a waiter’s attention as long as he brings me my order.

Rakiraki

Actually…I didn’t make it to Rakiraki as intended, but hopefully by next week!

World of Changes

Wow…it has been almost three months since I’ve posted.  This definitely means that my one post per week did not happen at all.  The reason for that is because the last three months, I have been consumed with changes in my life.  The biggest announcement (and the cause for my hiatus) – I bought a condo!  My very first home and as happy I am that CP and I found a place we both fell in love with, a new place also comes with a lot of new headaches.  Considering that CP and I did not own very much of anything, we were on a whirlwind of spending to just furnish our new place and make it livable.

It was fun and stressful at the same time with all my traveling for work.  However, it is finally slowing down and I’m starting to finally be able to come back to my little blog.  Which is severely backlogged and I am terribly ashamed.  The one thing that does get me excited and pumped up is food.  Friends, family, and coworkers all have made that observation and have shared it with me.  Hence I am coming back to start my weekly posts!

Ever since moving into the new condo, I have been cooking a lot more for CP and myself.  I have found that my strengths in the kitchen is definitely more towards Asian cuisines.  I preach and try to practice “cooking from scratch” as much as I can.  However, I will sometimes use a little help from pre-prepared mixes.

Completely from scratch!!

Green beans & Mushroom with Veggie Fish; Scallion Pancake

Tempeh with veggies; Veggie Fried Rice

Spam & Veggie Fried Rice

Mapo Tofu; Veggie Stir Fry Noodles

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

Perhaps…not completely from scratch:

Jambalaya with Andouille Sausage

Yakisoba

As you can see…majority of the food that is made in our house is Asian influenced.  However, the few times that I try making “American”…it was not as successful.  Yet I’m not going to completely give up!  And since I have a backlog of pictures and reviews, I will get back on the posting wagon again.

M.I.A

Sorry y’all! I’ve been swamped from travel jobs, to weddings, to diving into the real estate market to officially be a homeowner!

I know there are no excuses other than just pure laziness and some times negligence of the site is the real reason why I don’t have a post. Granted, where I am currently…there is absolutely NOTHING to write home about. I am currently deployed to Nowhere, USA for a job and just miserable.

To give you an idea of the type of place I’m in:
– There is nothing but corn and soybean fields around the town I’m in.
– More than half of the businesses in the town are closed and only an empty building sits.
– Options for food are mainly nationwide chains.
– The few “local” shops have provided to be severely disappointing (even with extremely low expectations), or just too sketchy to eat.

Yeah…it’s a dang, gosh terrible place they dropped me off. =( *sigh*  Here’s a picture of a very pink plate of Pad Thai in the only Thai restaurant in this area (the picture doesn’t do the color justice…the noodles were close to the color of a Sweet n’ Low packet):

Lambs…my adorable little baby sheep

Yesterday I had to explain why I chose not to eat what I don’t eat – beef and more recently, lamb.

I know it sounds silly, sometimes maybe a little childish when I say it out loud, but no matter how it may sound, I can’t look at a little baby sheep or cow and eat them.  Many have countered (as I would too if I were in their shoes), “What about a baby chick?  Or a baby pig??”

Which to both, I do think they are just ADORABLE.  However, at least in the US, it is rare if ever you find a “suckling baby pig” or “roast chick with fresh vegetables” on your menu.  One – there’s not much to eat in terms of meat on either.  However, on the other hand, sheep and cows do have enough meat and demand for throughout the majority of their lifespan.  Case in point: Veal = a calf (aka a baby cattle) and of course lamb is what you call a young sheep.  You eat veal or beef, you eat lamb (baby), hogget (young, or mutton.

My coworker then threw out a classic, “Would you eat bambi??”  My witty response was, “Hmmm…yes, I have no problem right now eating bambi.”  Though logical thought for me (prior to any additional research) is: does the FDA allow for the sale of baby deer meat?  Do they even SELL baby deer meat??

So yes, I may be selective on what I chose not to eat and what to eat.  Can you say you don’t??  Do you not choose to eat one thing over another based on personal preferences and likes?  My decision and choice to not eat beef as previously stated, I haven’t had it in so long and I do think baby cows and even grown cows are adorable.  Smelly sometimes?  Yes, but I still think they’re great!  Now with the addition of lamb to that list of animal proteins I won’t eat, is one of the harder ones.  I do love a good lamb shank or lamb kabob, however I find myself completely guilt ridden after eating one.

I’ll defend my choices and people can keep throwing the “what about (insert some possibly cute creature)” scenarios at me.  All I have to do is look at this:

or this:

And I can feel justified again 🙂

Adventures into Adulthood

Despite whatever image you may have when you read the name of this post, I am not and have not been a “child” for a while.  What I am talking about is taking on more responsibilities of what one would think an “adult” should be taking on.  After several years of consideration, I have finally decided to invest in a home that I can eventually call my own.  I’m buying a house people!!!!

Well, to be specific I am buying a condo and I am not doing it alone.  CP and I will be going into this together and it has been a roller coaster of a ride – especially for me.

Trying to be supportive of CP’s studies for his CPA exam, I have undertaken the job of finding us the realtor, lender, and the research of every potential condo.  Over the past month, I have been learning the realty “talk” and getting first hand education on all the little nuisances of the world of real estate.  I have been even watching more HGTV because of it!

All my life, I have always had my feet planted firmly down on the ground.  I have grandiose ideas and fantasies of what my ideal situations would be since I was young.  Yet, no matter where those thoughts take me, my left brain is that annoying, too smart and too realistic nerd that keeps poking at me, reminding me that I can keep dreaming, but then there’s reality.

I went into this starting at the amount of liquid assets I could reasonably put up for our down payment.  Considering the traditional requirement is 20%, I knew that the higher that purchase price goes, the higher that requirement becomes.  Mortgage payments did not worry me as much because, again, I had a general idea of how much it would cost.  Hence, working with that “20%” number, I calculated backwards of where our cap should be based on the premise that we would not want to spend more than 40% of our combined liquid assets.

Then came the “Must-Haves”.  CP and I could agree that we needed space and a one bed and one bath would not work for us.  And that was about where our agreement ended.  CP seemed to have the grandiose ideas as I did, but the annoying nerd did not seem to exist in him.  It was definitely something we had to work out because in a world where money talks, we were limited.  Also, CP would like to live in certain parts of San Diego, which I would like to as well.  However, the prices as well as the availability were major limiters for us.

Hence, other than the 2 bed and 2 baths requirement, we were also looking for:

  • Renovated, spacious kitchen
  • Spacious “feeling” living space
  • In-unit washer/dryer
  • Good amount of storage
  • Double vanity for the master bathroom
  • Location: keeping it central (not too far in any cardinal directions) with easy access to freeways

We both would have loved renovated bathrooms too, but I reeled us back in again.  It would be NICE to have, but it should not be a deal breaker either if the price is right.  Therefore, the list above was what we went with.

Now after a long weekend of stress and un-restful sleep, CP and I have found a place that has met our requirements.  An offer has been submitted and as of writing this post, we are now waiting to see what happens.  Keep your fingers crossed for us!