Sunday, December 23, 2007

Urban Solace, Part Deux

Stopped by this fabulous little North Park restaurant again. It was hopping, but they did change one thing by letting people call ahead to put their name on the list. They're still not great at estimating wait times and there's not a lot of room for waiting, so that's not helpful when it's cold. We were told 45 minutes from the time D. called, but still had to wait an extra 25 minutes or so after we arrived. Still, I thought it was worth it, although D. felt his house burger was not as good as last time.

I ordered two appetizers as my entree. They were the pan-roasted black mussels in smoked tomato butter. It was excellent. The butter mingled well with the juices from the mussels for a great sauce. I think I detected a little white wine.

I paired those with the warm cheese biscuits with orange honey butter. The biscuits were flaky and delicious with a nice hint of chive. They were very reminiscent of scallion pancakes in flavor and in the flakiness of the dough. The orange honey butter was good, but it overpowered the biscuit flavor, so I didn't have much of it.

We had a bottle of the petite syrah from Jewel, a winery in Lodi, CA. It was a mellow red with hints of berry and raisins (not a stretch since wine and raisins are both grapes). Another great meal at Urban Solace and we'll be back yet again.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lolita's Taco Shop

This Mexican restaurant has been in San Diego for as long as I can remember, but I tried it for the first time on December 11. It's in Clairemont Mesa across the street from 99 Ranch Market.

It's a counter-service restaurant with delicious Mexican-American classics. Tacos, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, etc. I ordered the Adobada Plate, which consisted of marinated picadillo pork, rice (I substituted more rice for the beans), fresh guacamole, and two huge flour tortillas.

I made my own burritos from pieces of tortilla and the portion size was enough for two meals. Prices were very reasonable. For the huge amount of food plus a soda, it set me back around $8. I'd definitely visit this place again.

Friday, December 21, 2007

December brought a couple of opportunities for birthday cake. Well, one opportunity and one extremely late birthday cake.

For D.B.'s birthday in early December:

It was chocolate cake from one of my favorite recipes, Gale Gand's
Featherlight Chocolate Cake, frosted with cream cheese frosting. The filling was the cream cheese frosting whipped with some dulce de leche.

M.T.'s birthday came in October, but we didn't have our act together for cake-making then. So, nearly two months later, we had a German chocolate cake.

I messed up on the filling, which called for the "goo" to be stirred until it's "very thick". I stirred until it was very thick, but it turned out to be too thick, so the filling was more like a soft macaroon sitting on and in between layers of chocolate cake.

The chocolate cake came out to be dense and slightly crumbly, so imagine a brownie topped with a macaroon. Yum. The German chocolate cake recipe came from the Birthday Cakes cookbook.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dumpling Inn

(From December 1)

Finally! Pictures from Dumpling Inn! It's one of our favorite places and we eat there at least once a month. It's good to have some decent Chinese food nearby. It couldn't compete with a lot of restaurants in Los Angeles, but for San Diego's paltry Chinese restaurant scene, this is as good as it gets. See my previous reviews of the place.

The famed potstickers:

We ordered the beef noodle soup, which is a change from our usual pork and pickled cabbage noodle soup. The beef noodle soup at Chang's Garden in LA is the best I've had in a long time and while Dumpling Inn's is decent, it doesn't really hold a candle to Chang's. The most obvious point of comparison is Dumpling Inn's use of machine-made noodles and Chang's use of handmade noodles.

Last, but not least, we ordered the
xiao long bao or soup dumplings. The skin's a bit thick, but I like it that way. If anything, I take a bit of issue with the filling, which is a bit bland. However, it does have the bit of flavorful soup in the dumpling that must be slurped upon biting into it.

There will be more pictures from future visits, so stay tuned.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Be Back BBQ

Note: Be Back BBQ has closed.

(from November 30)

We went to this tiny rib joint on Adams Avenue for dinner on a rainy Friday night. Quite honestly, I liked everything except my ribs. Great service, great flexibility in the menu (you can order lunch dishes for dinner), and good prices.

I ordered the lunch portion of the pork ribs, which include three ribs and one side. I found four ribs, which was a nice surprise.

The cole slaw was quite good. My take on cole slaw is that it should be "classic". I generally dislike attempts to dress up cole slaw or use atypical ingredients/spices. Be Back does their cole slaw the old-fashioned way, keeping the cabbage crisp and the sauce tangy.

What I didn't like about my ribs was that they were extremely tough. The meat fell off the bones, as it should, but it was cooked to a jerky-like consistency. I had a painful issue with my gums after a particularly hard piece wedged itself between my teeth. No joke. However, the sauce was good, so had the ribs not been so dried out, it would have been a great dish.

D. ordered the rib dinner with mac 'n' cheese and potato salad. Both sides were pretty good. His ribs weren't dried out at all and he mentioned that they were nice and tender. I must have had a bad batch or something.

The owner very kindly comped us free slices of sweet potato pie. This was my favorite part of the meal. The custard was chilled and not too sweet. I liked it a lot. It was very similar to pumpkin pie, but the custard was thicker and it wasn't as cloyingly spicy as pumpkin pie fillings tend to be.

Definitely worth a return visit. I think I will order the chicken next time, as D.D. had it and it, too, fell off the bone. Just the way I like it.

Monday, December 10, 2007


(From November 23)

Thanksgiving was a weeklong affair. I left November 17 for Los Angeles, then on the 20th to the Bay Area. D.'s family opted for a turducken this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Turducken in the package. They basically de-boned the turkey, but left the body's shape intact by leaving the leg and wing bones in. Then, they wrapped the turkey around side-by-side slabs of duck and chicken. In between the meats, they put a wild rice and mushroom stuffing. I guess it acted a bit like a glue or it would provide moisture during roasting.

Turducken roasted:


The turducken kind of crumbled during slicing, leaving hunks of the individual birds instead of a jelly-roll slivers of all three. Here's my dinner plate, which consisted of stuffing (not the stuffing from the birds), candied yams, green beans, mashed potatoes, turducken pieces, and a roll.

The turkey was a bit dried out, but roasting one of these babies takes longer than the average unstuffed turkey, so that wasn't a surprise. The chicken was ok and I loved the duck. Duck holds out well to extended roasting, plus it was kept moist by the stuffing and being wedged under the turkey.

It was definitely a great dish, but I'm not sure I'd do it again. It's a bit too much bird.

Sushi Ota

(From November 14th)

This place is arguably one of the best sushi places in San Diego. Darebear (hehe... gotta love a nickname that irks) and I met for dinner with plans to take on a proper
omakase. Not an omakase menu, but true chef-chooses-adventure omakase. I wimped out at the last minute and opted for their omakase menu: a preset of not-advertised nigiri and rolls. Sigh. I'll take the plunge some day soon.

It comes with clam miso soup. From the top left: fatty tuna,
cockle, albacore tuna (I think), mantis shrimp, red snapper, saltwater eel. From the bottom left: yellowtail, squid, sea urchin, salmon roe (my favorite!), and rolls of a crunchy root and shiso leaf (white center) and tuna/cucumber (red center). We ordered one plate each, then followed it with a rainbow roll. Excellent fish, excellent sushi chef and waitress, and a good time overall. The only downside is that the hostess was rather insistent that we leave by 7:30pm and made a point of reminding us three times. Ugh. I understand that you're busy and you have a reservation schedule to maintain, but that's just rude.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Original Pancake House

(From November 10)

Like IHOP, but better. I really enjoy the occasional visit to
The Original Pancake House, which is surprisingly large nationwide chain. It's very busy and service is quite good, but watch out for the host at the front. He's a bit surly and not very helpful, but the waitstaff is great.

Nothing much to say about the menu, because it contains classic breakfast foods. The pancakes are very good and on my last visit, I had the strawberry waffles. Unlike most breakfast places, it's not a Belgian waffle. It's a classic thin waffle, which I love. Crispy, yet slightly tender.


Note: Bite has closed.

Visited this incredibly hipster place in Hillcrest with D., my uncle, aunt, and cousins. Great food, but the ambiance was a bit much. Loud music, bad acoustics, and a very stark contemporary decor. Friendly staff, very helpful. Our server was the exception, unfortunately. Our server seemed almost contemptuous of our group from the beginning, which was a little shocking. Even though she came close to sneering at us, at least the food arrived warm and our drinks were refilled occasionally. They started us off with crostini topped with eggplant tapenade, which wasn't on the menu. The rest of the items, except dessert, were from the menu.

Potato Pancake with Smoked Trout, Dill Crème Fraiche and Apple-Apricot Chutney- Pretty good dish, especially the chutney. I'd say, if anything, I didn't really taste much of the potato pancake, but the accompaniments were delicious.
Yam Gnocchi with Rock Shrimp, Toasted Hazelnuts, Haricot Vert and Sage Butter- The worst dish of our meal... the gnocchi were mushy and greasy and the shrimp had an overwhelming "fishy" flavor, like they weren't fresh.
Deconstructed Nicoise with Seared Ahi Tuna “au poivre” in Tellicherry Peppercorns- One of the best dishes of the meal, with crisp green beans, delicious slices of hard-boiled egg, and perfectly seared tuna. The components were so fresh and well-prepared that the dressing was almost unnecessary.
Pizza of Rock Shrimp, Grilled Corn, House Smoked Tomato Sauce and Feta- very good with a crispy crust. The rock shrimp worked better in this dish than the gnocchi.
Housemade Duck Proscuitto with Wine Poached Seckel Pear and Mache- I liked the flavor of the pears, but they completely overwhelmed the proscuitto and I couldn't taste the duck at all.
Foie Gras Crème Brulee with Anise Fig Bread “Panini” and Intense Herb Sprout Salad- I loved the creme brulee, which had the nuttiness of the foie gras, the fluffiness of a mousse, and topped by a caramelized sugar crust. My uncle felt that the anise fig bread was a little too strong and kind of dominated the creme brulee's flavor, but I liked it.
Steak Frite, Red Wine Marinated Flat Iron Steak, Garlic French Fries, Béarnaise and Lamb Meat Balls, Rich Spicy Tomato Sauce with Grilled Polenta and Wild Arugula- my reaction to both these dishes are "they're very good". They are, but nothing outrageously special about them. (picture below of the meatballs)
Hand Rolled Raviolis of Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine Demi Glaze, Marscapone and Porchini mushroom salt and Crispy Veal Sweetbreads wrapped in Pancetta with Red Onion Jam- I didn't try these, but everyone else liked them. I don't eat veal and sweetbreads are brains... even I'm not brave enough for that, yet.
They had a dessert special that was almost like a mini-baked Alaska. Pistachio ice cream covered with meringue and sitting on a little piece of molten chocolate cake. The meringue was toasted. It was served with little bits of cherries (like the multi-colored maraschino cherries). It was incredible. Hopefully they'll serve it for a while.
For wine, we ordered a bottle of the Ercavio Tempranillo. I'm not big on wine, but I really enjoyed it. It's not dry at all and slightly sweet. I'd definitely go back, as I thought the food was fairly inventive and generally well-executed. I'd probably ask for another server, though.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot and Grill

(From November 8)

This place is definitely a splurge and an experience. I have lots of pictures and very few descriptions.
Little Sheep is on Clairemont Mesa Blvd. and recently opened.

They bring a pot of broth to an induction cooktop and you order plates of meat, veggies, and dumplings to cook in the broth as the cooktop keeps it simmering. Chief did the ordering, so I'm not sure what many of the dishes were, but I'll do my best. Here's our broth, which was half spicy, half plain:

The broth was flavor full, spiced with a variety of Chinese herbs and spices like star anise. Lots of scallion ends (the white parts) were also in the broth. First dish was traditional sesame bread, which is spongy and yeasty. Yum.

There was lamb.



Seafood platter (front), variety of meat/fish balls (left), pork intestines (top), and fish balls (right):

Dumplings of pork filling wrapped in a porous egg wrapper (left). The wrapper holds up in the boiling broth very well. On the right are tubes of fish, which were incredible:

Beancurd (fried tofu):

More dumplings, shaped a bit like tortellini. I wasn't sure what they were filled with.

And lastly, a gigantic tray of vegetables, which I can't really identify except for the Napa cabbage (top right and in bowl):

The fragrant broth made the best of every ingredient. I thought this was a fantastic meal, but it was quite pricey. Worth a return.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Urban Solace

(From November 6)

I was excited to try
Urban Solace, a new restaurant in North Park. If anything, this one's a keeper. I love to try new places and even more excited when they turn out to be good. They focus on gussied-up comfort food, hence "urban solace." Comfort food turned hip for an urban neighborhood.

D. ordered the house burger with aged white cheddar and grilled onions. He said it was an excellent burger, especially since they cooked the meat to his liking. Served with yummy sweet potato fries, the dish was a great deal at $8.75.

I had the Maine lobster and artichoke pot pie with the fennel infused pastry . The pastry was crispy and the filling tasty, but I didn't detect any fennel in the pastry, nor was there a lot of artichoke or lobster for a good-sized pie. There were lots of cubes of vegetable, which I'm pretty sure were carrots. I couldn't see color at all, but they were crunchy and a little underdone for a pot pie. The chunks of lobster were quite good and a little sweet. The warmed frisee salad was delicious with cooked tomatoes and a bit of olive oil.

D. and I split a side of the mac 'n' cheese. The charred tomatoes and bacon added a nice touch to a well-made mac 'n' cheese. I like it best with sharp white cheddar and that's how it's done here.

M. had the yellowtail BLT. He said the fish was overcooked and a bit dry, but it wasn't a bad dish overall. Also accompanied by the sweet potato fries.

J. had already eaten, so she had a cup of the tomato fennel soup. It was interestingly presented in a jar and topped with a large crouton and a drizzle of creme fraiche.

For dessert, I had the peanut butter chocolate creme brulee. Yes, that's right, three of my favorite things in one dish. The custard was a bit dense, but I didn't expect a light custard when peanut butter's involved.

D. ordered the chocolate cake. It was really small and we didn't think it was worth the $6 price tag. It was good, though.

J. ordered the key lime pie. It was excellent. I thought it was very fluffy and the lime flavor was fresh and light.

I'm definitely going back to this place. Service was good. Our server seemed a tad overwhelmed (they were busy), but others stepped in for her, so that was nice to see. They have a bluegrass brunch on Sundays, so that's something to look forward to.

Tofu House

My previous review mentioned a need for pictures and here they are. Tofu House is serviceable. Good lunch and decent (albeit a bit spacey) service. They serve panchan with your meal. Strips of cooked pollack, pickled daikon, pickled spicy cucumbers, and kim chi.

Here's a shot of their signature dish, a cast-iron bowl of boiling soup brought to your table. The first thing you do is crack an egg or two into the soup so they'll cook. Then you eat the soup and its contents with rice, which is in the metal bowl.

Quite good and I'm there at least once a month.