Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wild Animal Park

I know the blog's about food, but I'll occasionally post about interesting locations that we've visited. J. took us on a backstage tour of the Wild Animal Park. Here's a shot of the new baby elephant hiding under mama.

Say it with me now, "Awwwwww."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Mission

I like going to The Mission in North Park for breakfast.

Their stuff is pretty good. On Sunday, October 14, I met up with T., K., C., and C. for breakfast. The food is simple and usually very well-made. I say "usually" because I once had burnt french toast there. Otherwise, it's all very good.

I wasn't very hungry, so I ordered a cheese quesadilla. The prices were very reasonable and this dish was $4.75.

Everything was very fresh. The cheese (white cheddar, I think) was delicious and melted nicely, keeping the quesadilla crispy and not greasy. The salsa was fresh and yummy. Very basic with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice, and salt/pepper.

T. had the desayuno burrito. It looked really good, but it was loosely wrapped and almost fell apart when he picked it up.

K.'s blueberry-banana pancakes. She ordered blueberry and C. ordered blueberry-banana, but they switched the plates. They didn't notice until the chunks of banana began surfacing on K.'s plate. The berry sauce they dribble around the plates is incredible.

K. also ordered a side of potatoes (home fries?).

The food is great and the prices reasonable. The downsides: the wait and the service. D. doesn't particularly like The Mission and I don't blame him. Waiting 45 minutes or more for pancakes is usually not worth the time.

The service is usually ok. Snotty is par for them, but occasionally there's a friendly server. This time, however, the service was shit. There was no other way to put it. Our waiter disappeared for long periods of time, making our meal run to almost 2 hours. The manager attempted to seat our party of 5 in a small booth for 4. He was snippy when we said we couldn't fit and could wait longer. They rarely cleared off empty dishes, making the table (which was already small) very cluttered. Drinks were rarely refilled. Then, there was the pancake switch. They should have known who ordered what and delivered the correct dish to that person.

I can put up with the service, because it isn't a high-end place and I gauge the gratuity accordingly. The wait, however, is also a sticking point for me. I like going when there are fewer people and the lines are short.

Monday, October 29, 2007


This Hillcrest eatery is packed on weekends. By packed, I mean that the hostess will laugh when you ask if they're taking walk-ins. I've enjoyed my previous visits there, but will I wait over an hour for the food? Probably not. Then again, I'm not willing to wait over an hour for most food.

On Saturday, October 13, we met up with friends at Arrivederci. I'd have to say that perhaps a little bit of the shine wore off (the restaurant, not the friends!). The last time I was there, I enjoyed a squid ink risotto that was quite delicious. This time, I had the spinach gnocchi with blue cheese cream sauce, which was fine. That's kind of the only comment I have about the entire experience. It was fine. Nothing terrible, nothing incredible. We had to wait, even with a reservation. The service was good. Ambiance-wise, they do a lot to create the feel of a rustic Italian building, but the noise is deafening. You have to scream to talk to your neighbor. Nothing particularly intimate about that.

The good part was that my gnocchi was nicely done. Not a ton of spinach flavor, but it was mashed spinach instead of spinach puree, making the leaves slightly recognizable. The sauce was a basic cream sauce. A tad on the heavy side and while it tasted like blue-cheese (I don't know which kind), I would have preferred more of a punch of the sharp flavor that typifies blue-cheese.

The bad part was the noise, the really salty bread, and the fact that T.'s toes were merciless mowed over by a lady and her walker. I was not a fan of the pile of vomit that greeted us when we exited the restaurant. It was literally right on the edge of the patio and D. almost stepped in it.

D. and I were discussing the menu and while the food was good, we felt it was rather unimaginative. Three bases (tomato, cream, wine) formed the majority of the sauces and the ingredients were pretty basic. His meal (tortellini with ham, peas, and cream sauce) could have been mine except for the blue cheese and the different pastas. I think that Italian food has become so mainstream nowadays that it isn't enough to stick to basics anymore. It needs to be inventive and work with a variety of materials from all regions of Italy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

D.'s Fabulous Dinners

Photos in this post have been deleted... newer photos have been added here. The link for the photo of the spaghetti/eggplant was broken and I have decided not to reload it.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, life has been hectic lately. I'm incredibly blessed, however, by the fact that D. is a fabulous cook. During the last week, I came home to several great meals, but two were particularly noteworthy.

The first was one of D.'s excellent kinda-homemade meals. Courtesy of Trader Joe's, the eggplant cutlets were excellent. Pre-made with the dollops of cheese and sauce, they were light and flavorful. D. tossed the angel hair with some spaghetti sauce (we like Classico's tomato and basil or sun-dried tomato), the gourmet tomato medley from TJ's, Parmesan cheese, and basil from the backyard. It was a great meal and the fact that quality ingredients are readily available make it that much better.

A few nights later, D. made his trademark flank steak with green beans, baked potatoes, and K.'s fabulous sweet potato casserole as a side. Holy cow, that casserole is good. I almost ignored D.'s awesome steak, green beans, and baked potatoes for it.

The flank steak, as always, was cooked medium-rare and was tender and flavorful. He uses a spicy-ginger marinade from Vons. Buy the marinade and upend the bottle into the bag. Add the steaks, then freeze. Then, whenever you want to eat it, defrost it the night before and plop it on the grill. Quite easy for great results.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Star Trek party

Saturday, October 6, was our Star Trek party! This entry comes so late because life has been absolutely insane lately. I barely have time to turn on the computer at home, let alone finish a whole blog entry. Plus, there were issues with uploading photos, so that added to the delay.

Good company, as always, for a showing of
Voyager, Star Trek (the original series), and The Next Generation. D. was a big help, taking the lead with several dishes. I was overly ambition and planned a menu that wasn't easy in terms of getting the dishes out in a timely fashion. However, the dishes turned out beautifully, so I can say that my (or rather, our) A-game was definitely on.

Our cooking day began with the desserts. Molasses spice cookies (
Bon Appetit Nov. 2006) started off the day's baking:

The cookies were a little flat, but the spicy and rich flavor was quite nice. They're a bit like gingersnaps without the spiciness that's usually associated with ginger. I liked them a lot.

There were the red velvet cupcakes (
Bon Appetit June 2006):

They were topped with a cream cheese frosting. The red food coloring was a bit of a pain to work with, but the recipe was easy and the cupcakes super-moist.

D. made his trademark chocolate chip cookies. They're always fabulous and he definitely has a way with them. He says he uses the recipe on the Nestle chocolate chip bag and adds a little more vanilla, but I think there's a special touch to them that's associated only with him.

The whole wheat dinner rolls (
Bon Appetit November 2007)... these are the rolls being proofed right before baking, while they're cooling, and after they've been pulled apart and put in a bowl:

They were a little too dense, though. The flavor was ok. I was expecting something lighter. Apparently, the secret weapon in these rolls is instant potato flakes. They were supposed to make the texture even fluffier, but I'm not sure that happened in this case.

Last on the baking list was a
lemon angel food cake. It's yet another Barefoot Contessa recipe. I think it turned out beautifully.

I used an aluminum angel food cake pan. The pan is left ungreased so the cake can climb the walls. Once the cake is finished baking, it is placed on a wine bottle to hang, so gravity doesn't collapse the cake. When the cake is cool, it is carefully removed from the pan with a butter knife. A quick glaze of 2 cups of powdered sugar, the juice from one lemon, and some zest was mixed up and drizzled over the cake.

The cake was very light and the lemon flavor subtle. It would be fine on its own, but the glaze was a nice touch. After the party, I took a slice and paired it with macerated strawberries, which was fabulous.

As for the entrees, those turned out fabulously, too. D. used a family recipe for meatballs, which are braised in grape jelly and chili sauce (usually Heinz 57). The sauce is amazing and it's hard to believe that it's grape jelly, which I'm not fond of. This dish is wonderful with a bowl of rice.

We also made carmelized onion flatbreads (
Bon Appetit February 2006), which came out really well. D. did a great job with the onions, which require quite a bit of patience. There was also a carrot orzo (Bon Appetit March 2007), potato pancakes (Bon Appetit January 2006), manchego/pear/fig jam crostini, and ham/Gruyeres/onion quesadillas.

The flatbreads had a creme fraiche drizzle that was really runny during preparation, but baked up really nicely. I like the carrot orzo's subtle flavors of carrot and parmesan cheese. The bland pasta muted it out just enough. D. fried the potatoes crisply and they were topped with creme fraiche and diced red onion.

The crostini was good return for flavor vs. effort. Manchego is a pretty mild cheese with a smooth flavor. It pairs well with the sweet pears and the really sweet fig jam. The quesadillas are inspired from a Trader Joe's frozen pizza. It's the greatest combination ever... smoky ham with the semi-sharp Gruyeres cheese and strong onion.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Chevy's, Pho Tu Do

Note: Pho Tu Do is now closed.

It's been a crazy few weeks, work-wise. Not too much done in terms of cooking. However, I have a couple of pictures to share.

Last night, we dropped by Chevy's because we had a coupon. Keeping my previous bitchy post
in mind, I avoided the seafood and the enchiladas. I especially avoided the seafood enchiladas. Anyhoo, I ordered a soft picadillo beef taco. Granted, "picadillo" is Chevy's word for "cooked ground beef". Picadillo is supposed to contain more than that (even the Mexican version, which can be used as a taco filling) and I can say that Chevy's picadillo goes nowhere compared to K.'s fabulous Cuban picadillo.

Chevy's picadillo taco did taste just fine, however. What I liked best was the flautas. Chevy's website describes it as:

Salsa Chicken with roasted red peppers, grilled corn and a melted trio of cheeses, rolled in flour tortillas, lightly crisped with chipotle aioli drizzle. Served with mango-habanero salsa and homemade jalapeño jelly.

I tasted the chicken, the cheese, and the fried tortilla. It was kind of spicy, which I attribute to the peppers. Where was the corn? Whatever... it was still delicious. The chipotle aioli is pretty good, but the spicy, tangy jalapeño jelly is amazing. It's the perfect thing to put on something fried. There was no mango-habanero salsa. They were very kind and substituted beans for more of that yummy sweet corn tomalito. Yay, corn!

The picture's rather dark because I didn't want to use the flash in the restaurant, which was pretty dimly lit. Blinding our neighboring tables wouldn't make me the most popular patron.

Next picture is of a typical lunch item: pho. We go out for Vietnamese often and while I usually stick to the rice plates, pho is
the Vietnamese dish. Stereotypical or not, pho is one of the first dishes that comes to mind when Vietnamese cuisine is discussed. At least, when it's discussed in the United States.

There's so much more to Vietnamese food, but we'll start with pho. The broth is pungent with a hint of sweetness. I usually order mine with slices of beef and strips of tripe. You can have yours with meatballs, brisket, flank, whatever. As long as it was part of the cow. For those who don't like red meat, there's pho ga, which is chicken-based.

Pho is served with a side of Thai basil, lime slices, bean sprouts, and chili slices. It's ridiculously cheap and is quickly served, thus making it an optimal lunch dish. This photo was taken at Pho Tu Do, which is pretty good (I don't agree with the Yelp reviewers). Their banh beo is awesome, but we didn't order it this time, so no picture is available.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Ah, good ol' Trader Joe's pizza dough. Here's the one D. and I made last night.


  • Gruyeres cheese
  • goat cheese
  • basil (from the garden!)
  • cherry tomatoes
  • prosciutto
  • tomato sauce
  • red onion
  • garlic

Not the best picture, but the pizza was delicious. Upcoming projects: my first attempt at pho and a "tapas" party!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Just a quick note on the hors d'oeuvres we made this weekend. Really wish I took pictures. The recipes were simple and easy to make in bulk. We made Giada's parmesan popovers and the prosciutto palmiers from Chowhound. The recipes:

  • Parmesan popovers
    • Mini-muffin tins work best for these. Try to serve them warm, as they taste even better that way.
  • Prosciutto palmiers
    • I used two 6-ounce packages for three batches of this recipe, so their guideline is a little much for the prosciutto.
    • This recipe is super-easy, but the ingredients are a little pricey.
    • Palmiers are flaky cookies that are shaped like ears. Puff pastry can be purchased at the grocery store, look for them in the freezer section. Once I rolled it up, I put it in the freezer for 5 minutes to firm up, then moved it to the fridge until I was ready to slice and bake.

I need to bring my bloody camera with me! I've been to several places this past week and could not take pictures. We made hors d'oeuvres over the weekend and I forgot to photograph them before taking them to a party. Oy vay. I'm totally slacking.

Last week, I went to:

  • Ono Sushi
  • Extraordinary Desserts
  • Dumpling Inn (still no pictures)
  • Tofu House (still no pictures)
  • Dao Son
Ono Sushi's one of those seen-and-be-seen hipster joints in Hillcrest. As sushi bars are all of the rage, this one's filled with people dining on fusion-style rolls. Very little raw fish seen in the rolls. The rolls are quite good. K. and I enjoyed the Baja roll, which had seared ahi and avocado, and the soft-shell crab roll, which had soft-shell crab tempura and was wrapped in soy paper instead of seaweed. The service is excellent, but it probably is better to arrive before the rush. It's expensive, so be prepared for sticker shock.

Extraordinary Desserts used to be one of my favorite hangouts. Emphasis on the past tense. K. and I left Ono Sushi and stopped there for dessert and some more gab. The service, for once, was excellent. The cashier was friendly and the woman who brought our desserts was very kind. However, I'm so over Karen Krasne and her desserts. I still love her pavlova, but everything else is incredibly meh. I had the Moroccan, which I once loved, but now can't handle. It was very, very, very sweet. Shockingly so. It's supposed to be chocolate and pistachios, but the sweetness was overwhelming. There wasn't any sign of the depth of flavor that good chocolate has. The pistachios whimpered because they were stamped out by the mindblowing sweetness. Did she forgo sugar in favor of corn syrup? Krasne also subscribes to the "overpower the senses, so they think it's fabulous but they didn't really taste anything" philosophy.

This place is only worth it for the pavlova. And maybe the tea.

I've heard a lot about Dao Son, most of it favorable, but D. and I weren't overly impressed by it. I ordered the miso noodle soup. I was vaguely intrigued by it, but it was egg noodles with a bouillon-ed broth. And it wasn't soy paste that was doing the flavoring. It was literally water and chicken bouillion. Not terrible, by any means, but not great. Did I order the wrong thing? D.'s chow fun looked like soy sauce, noodles, and chilies on top. He wasn't thrilled with it and he mentioned that the chilies were overpowering. He can handle spicy, but you can't just let the capsaicin speak for the dish.

I'd try it again, because it's cheap and it's hard to judge by only one visit. I'll order something different next time.

Tofu House is a favorite lunch spot. It's not fabulous food, but it's serviceable. I get the ridiculously overpriced grilled unagi (eel). They serve it on a red-hot cast iron plate (think the type of plate fajitas are served in) with onions. YUM. The banchan (Korean side dishes) are limited to kim-chi, kim-chi cucumbers (my favorite), pickled daikon, and slices of pollock cake. I should have taken a picture because it is quite pretty, but whatever... I'll try to remember for next time.

Dumpling Inn... fabulous as always and we had our usual potstickers, eggplant, and xiao long bao.

Wow, this entry seems like a bit of a bitch-fest. Sorry about that, folks!