Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pomegranate Russian-Georgian Restaurant

Pomegranate has been on the must-eat list for years. My friends and I have been talking about trying it ever since we moved to North Park. Yet, we never went. Finally, J. and I met up with her friends for dinner last Saturday.

Two things to note about this restaurant... arrive early and bring cash. For a less crowded and noisy dining experience, definitely arrive prior to the dinner rush. We left just as the noise level began to increase exponentially. The staff is attentive, but that drops precariously when they become more busy. It took a while to receive our check. Also, they are cash only and not inexpensive, so remember to make a run to the ATM prior to eating.

We decided to order their appetizer sampler, which was delicious. There were six salads on the tray, with the larger portions in the middle and top being more Russian and the four smaller scoops along the bottom being more Georgian.

The middle was a cold cabbage salad mixed pickled with a variety of spices. The top was a potato salad with a mayonnaise-y dressing.The bottom four, from left to right: bean and eggplant, shredded carrots, marinated peppers, and shredded beets. These salads were prepared with lots of garlic, which I do not object to.

I picked golubtsi as my entree. Cabbage rolls stuffed with ground beef and simmered in beef stock, carrots, and tomatoes. The result is a very hearty meal. I made my way through one cabbage roll and I was done.

It was accompanied by a buttery rice and spiced potato.

It was a fantastic meal. Not cheap, but hearty and delicious. My entree was practically two meals. So, if you're looking for a homey, vaguely kitschy, and fabulous place for dinner, Pomegranate fits the bill. I can't wait to return to try more of their dishes. Next time, though, I'll bring plenty of cash.

Pomegranate Russian-Georgian Restaurant
2302 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92104

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers: Opera Cake

My second challenge for the Daring Bakers is gateau l'opera or opera cake. A multi-layered cake involving jaconde, a nut-based biscuit, buttercream, mousse, and a ganache glaze. I've never made this before, but I've certainly had it at some point in my life.

The recipe is quite long, so I won't reprint it here. It was based on the opera cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan's
Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle/Timothy Moriarty's Chocolate Passion. May's challenge involved "light" colors and flavors. While opera cake is traditionally chocolate, the challenge required the DBs to look to non-chocolate flavorings. I decided to stick to the path of least resistance. The challenge recipe already used almonds, vanilla, and white chocolate, so I stuck to those flavors and added fresh strawberries. When I baked this, strawberries were running for $0.77 to $1.35 a quart. That's local Carlsbad strawberries, so the season was clearly in full-swing.

My favorite part of this challenge was the
jaconde. I had tons of almonds on hand, which was a convenient coincidence. The cake is nutty and rich, although it came out too thin for me. I used two half-sheet cookie sheets, which is slightly larger than the jelly roll pans required in the recipe.

Next time, I will put all of the batter into one sheet pan, cut it into three pieces, and end up with a smaller cake. The almond meal is combined with whole eggs and sugar, then folded into whipped egg whites.

The beginning of folding... turned out a lot better than it looks!

The buttercream required a boiled sugar syrup that is cooked to 225 degrees F. I let mine go to 240 degrees F while I took this picture:

Turned out fine. The hot syrup is poured into eggs and egg yolks while they're being whipped in a mixer. There was a whole vanilla bean's worth of seeds in the syrup and I amped up the vanilla flavor by adding extract on top of the bean. Butter is added to the egg/syrup mixture to complete the buttercream. The end result is something like a pastry cream, with the extra vanilla being a nice touch.

I didn't find this recipe difficult, just time-consuming. The great thing about it was that all of the individual components could be made one at a time, then assembled later. So, I spaced it over a week in preparation for a belated Mother's Day in LA (Mom wanted to celebrate a week after Mom's Day proper, to avoid crowds).

Assembly was fairly easy. The jaconde was brushed with a simple syrup, which was flavored with limoncello, then covered with buttercream and strawberry slices (see first photo). This step was repeated once more, then topped with the last layer of jaconde. After that came the white chocolate mousse, which consisted of white chocolate melted with some heavy cream, then folded into whipped cream. After that, a white chocolate glaze was poured on top.

White chocolate overkill.

I would have thinned out the ganache glaze a little more, because it hardened quite a bit, making it like a white chocolate bar on top of a cake. Too much and too sweet. I would have also changed the mousse to a light lemon to bring out more of the strawberries.

The edges were trimmed off with a sharp knife to produce the final product. The too-thin jaconde led to sagging corners where the cake was thinnest. Hence, the slope of the cake.

Closer look at the layers.

Another DB challenge done! I can't wait for June's challenge. A big thank you to Ivonne, Lisa, Fran, and Shea for hosting!

And of course, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY, Mom! I love you!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Vo's Cafe

Update (February 25, 2011): It's been nearly three years since this post and I regret not having posted an update or recent photos. Vo's has been a regular on our rotation and the owner, François, is amazing. D.'s favorite is still the fried rice with beef, chicken, and egg roll combo. Mine is their phở gà, or chicken noodle soup. Their egg rolls are delicious.

This post receives many hits and I wanted to add a some current information for those of you dropping by. Vo's has been a great addition to the North Park area and I hope you have the opportunity to meet François and try his food.


Vo's is a new Vietnamese eatery in North Park. Located in the walk-up cabana formerly occupied by Tio Tito's, Vo's dispenses more-than-decent Vietnamese dishes.

The menu is short and sweet, with emphasis on stir-fries. Rice plates, stir-fried veggies, and bun, rice vermicelli served dry with meat and herbs, are the dominant features of the menu.

Walking right up to the window, D. and I each ordered the Vo's special combination: fried rice topped with grilled beef and chicken and accompanied by a spring roll (my order) or an egg roll (D.'s order). The beef was overcooked and dry, but the chicken and rice were excellent. Spring roll was pretty good, except it could have used more herbs.

D.'s egg roll was good and he also wanted potstickers, which aren't Vietnamese, but he always orders them when they're on a menu.

They were ok. Methodology was fine (frying, etc.), but the filling was a little bland. All in all, a good meal and a welcome new addition to the neighborhood.

Vo's Cafe
2632 University Ave.
San Diego, CA 92104

Friday, May 23, 2008

Yoshi Sushi

Yoshi Sushi, located in Mira Mesa, is a good deal for decent sushi. For $19.95, one can eat as much freshly prepared sushi as they would like. It's better than Todai, not quite as fabulous as Sushi Ota.

During one of our blazingly hot days (now replaced with cold gray days), I lunched with the gents from the chemistry department. I'm not a particularly huge roll fan, but the soft-shell crab at Yoshi is pretty good.

There's a variety of cooked items on the menu, like hamachi kama or the grilled cheek of the Japanese amberjack (yellowtail). It's delicious and smoky, with the "dark" meat of the fish cheek flaking easily off the bone.

The nigiri (pictured at top) is good and very fresh. They should use a higher grade of fish, which would be more flavorful. Their salmon tends to run on the fattier side, which makes it buttery and fantastic, but the tuna is rather flavorless.

It's a bit pricey for lunch, of course, but it's a welcome splurge every now and then. Still, for that "crappy sushi" fix, I'm wondering if Todai might be a better deal. More bang for buck and their sushi is not much worse.

Yoshi Sushi
6715 Mira Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92121

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Visit to LA: Banh xeo and Kee Wah Bakery

Some tidbits from our recent visit to LA. Mom made banh xeo again (yay!) and, this time, sent some batter home with me. I don't know why she wouldn't just tell me how to make the stuff, but maybe this is a test to see if I can fry the suckers up correctly. Now, these pictures are from Mom's, but I will post on how mine turned out after I've had a chance to make them.

The key to a perfect crust, she insists, is using a few drops of oil on a very hot pan. Too much makes the banh xeo greasy, too little probably would lead to an overly brittle shell that would break upon folding.

Another highlight of our visit was Kee Wah Bakery in Monterey Park. I love this little Hong Kong-style bakery and its selection of buns and cakes. During the Moon Festival, they make mooncakes, too. Yum.

The bun cases:

My favorite buns, custard and the "piggy buns" (pictured), although Kee Wah's have a milk powder custard instead of coconut.

If only we had bakeries like these in San Diego.

Kee Wah Bakery
729 W. Garvey Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91755

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wah-dings: Gardens, Caterers, and DIY

I'm running a little low on material, so I thought I'd write a post about wah-ding planning. I'm using "wah-ding" because my original post about planning was picked up by blog scrapers and posted on bot-run blogs. Ick.

We've settled on a site, the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. Venue selection wasn't too bad. We visited, we chatted with site coordinators, we took pictures, and we griped about how every site we saw didn't match up to the JFG. Other places had time restrictions (many said the party had to end by 9pm or 10pm, due to their location in a residential area) that we weren't sure we could work with. What do we do? Chase people out at 9pm? Oy. We were suckers for the JFG's gorgeous mix of outdoorsy and elegant, so we're very happy to finalize a site.

Other venues we loved:

The Darlington House

Water Conservation Garden

Caterer selection, on the other hand, was frustrating. Some don't return calls or emails. They're only available during weekday business hours, which is understandable because many events occur during the weekend. Everything, from phone calls to emails to meetings, have to be done during the workday. Hey, we happen to have full-time jobs, too. It still continues, as we're starting our tastings.

I'll post more about catering when the tastings are over, but for now, a recap of the most appalling conversation in this whole search:

One rep actually had the bloody
gall to imply that we were out for a free meal when I inquired about pre-signing tastings. After I incredulously asked her how she could expect us to even consider her company without tasting the food, she confidently (or delusionally) told me that they are so good and their events are so exclusively customized that tastings are unnecessary and they only take place at the end of the timeframe. That is, you taste your wedding meal not long before your guests do. Then, she haughtily told me that that's the way it's done.

No, ma'am, people research before they buy things. If you tell me that I have to blindly sign a contract without any inkling of how the product will turn out, I'm running in the other direction. She was also rudely condescending of our decent-sized budget, basically telling me there was no way we could have a wedding on that amount.

I was also asked by another rep who was financing the party, us or the parental units. What?! What bearing does it have on anything?

Rant over. Now, we're headed to the fun stuff...

Budget-wise, we're putting the huge majority of our budget into food and drink. The way we're looking at it, people are going to be traveling quite a distance to celebrate with us and there is absolutely no question that we will provide a delicious meal and some good booze.

To save money, we're doing a lot on our own, like invitations, flowers, and centerpieces. The JFG was already pretty booked up for 2009 when we contacted them, so our choices were May, early June, or August. In the end, we chose August, which gives us 15 months to plan this sucker. We're hoping to lock in our major contracts (venue, catering, photographer) ASAP, then focus on smaller things. In other words, I will indulge my wannabe-crafty self with lots of DIY projects.

Some ideas:

These trees are great, but instead of place cards, I was hoping to display photos of friends and family like this couple did. For us, however, it won't be limited to married people only.

I can't wait to cobble this guestbook together post-wahding. We're hoping to put cameras with the cards, so hopefully we will have photos of most of our guests to go with the messages. Taking it one step further, everything will be pasted into a scrapbook.

I'd have to say that this wedding is inspiring. It's outdoorsy and elegant in its simplicity, which is what we really want. I love the dress. My mom does, too, and it's a shame she doesn't know Oscar de la Renta (like the bride's mom) so he could design something similar for me. Hehe.

All right, all right, I'm gushing a bit. Hey, while I'm offended by the broad assumption that every engaged female wants to be a princess bride, it doesn't mean that I don't appreciate elegant details. I'm hoping that those DIY projects turn out as lovely as they look on the blogs.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Punjabi Tandoor

Punjabi Tandoor is, arguably, one of the best lunch spots in San Diego. Despite being one of the best Indian restaurants in town, it is located in an industrial strip mall a block off of Miramar Rd. I was really excited to find this place, because it's like having a Vik's in San Diego.

Upon walking into the small restaurant (4 small tables, 1 large, ample seating outside), one is greeted by two dry-erase boards listing menu items and possible combinations. The day's offerings are on the steam table in front. From the mixture of meat and vegetarian items, a combination is formed, topped off with naan.

I've been sticking to the vegetarian combos, but I have to give a big thumbs-up to their chicken makhni. Whew, that stuff is amazing! Tandoori chicken cooked in butter, yogurt, and tomato gravy. Kim ordered that at a recent lunch and it tasted fantastic.

My first visit, I ordered alu mater (potato pea curry) and my favorite saag (mustard greens and spinach) to go with basmati rice and naan.

That same meal came with a vegetable samosa (fried dumpling), which sat in a bed of mint-coriander chutney (the green) and a tamarind sauce (the reddish brown).

The sauces are good. Really, unforgettably good. I say this because the flavors are strong and cling to the palate for hours to come.

My most recent visit was with Kim and I was able to take a few more photographs. Many thanks to Kim for putting up with my wedding-planning-addled rambling. I'd literally spent a week mired in wedding bureaucracy (emails, vendor proposals, meetings, etc.) and was slowly losing my mind. Our fabulous lunch was a much-needed break. The naan:

My meal, although I should have opted for that delicious chicken makhni:

Same combination with my beloved saag, but I had mushroom masala instead of the alu mater. Upon hearing that I was a wimp when it came to spicy foods, the kind woman behind the counter snuck in a spoonful of channa masala (chickpeas) for me to try. It wasn't too spicy, but it was one of those dishes where the heat would build. It was delicious and I would definitely brave the mouth-burn for it.

I am going to start branching out and ordering different combos. What I really love is that they serve kheer (rice cooked to a porridge with evaporated milk and served cold) with the combinations. Either kheer or raita, a savory yogurt dipping sauce, but I prefer the sweet.

Punjabi Tandoor
9235 Activity Road, Suite 111

San Diego, CA 92126

Tel: (858) 695-0956

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My First Blog Award: Thanks, Sharon!

Sharon from Culinary Adventures of a New Wife gave me the "I Love You This Much" blog award! Thank you, Sharon!

Also, many thanks to everyone who has stopped by the blog. I've had a lot of fun writing it and it's come a long way over the last 9 months. Also, thanks to all of the food bloggers who continue to set the bar for excellent food writing and from whom I draw inspiration.
Part of receiving this award is the fun of passing it on, so here are my picks:

Foolin' Around in the Kitchen- Follow Kim's entertaining adventures in the kitchen and the yummy creations that result from the occasional "oops". Like myself, she's new to the food-blogging scene and I think she's done a great job with her blog in the last few months.

Alice Q. Foodie- Alice's blog was one of the first I started following and she has inspired me ever since. She's also the first to put my blog into her link list, starting the transition of a quiet food journal with bad pictures to a public blog with slightly better pictures. Hehe. Thank you, Alice!

Thanks again, Sharon!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Kiyo's Japanese Restaurant

M. found this cozy little restaurant tucked away in the Gaslamp. I don't normally brave the crowded Gaslamp quarter for meals, so it was a rare visit to the area for me and D. Kiyo's seems to be a family-owned business, with Kiyo-san himself behind the sushi bar.

Sorry, the picture above is blurry. My camera freaks out a little during evening light conditions.

D. doesn't eat sushi, so he looked at the cooked offerings. We were both a little floored to see that the prices were pretty high for basics like chicken and beef teriyaki. These weren't combinations, either, just a la carte items served with salad, soup, and rice. D. went for the beef teriyaki, while I chose the chirashi sushi.

Beautiful, isn't it? My only complaint about this dish was that the fish could have been fresher. Despite the vibrant colors seen in the photo, once the slices were unearthed, it was clear they had lost a little bit of their color. The knife skills of Kiyo-san (who came to check on us and to inquire about our impressions of his masterpiece) are impressive.

It's pricey, but visit for a quiet and cozy evening of sushi. Avoid the cooked dishes. We sat at a table, but if there's a next time, I'd sit at the bar. Word on the interweb has it that the best of their inventory and repertoire are showcased at the bar.

Kiyo's Japanese Restaurant
531 F Street
San Diego, CA 92101

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Pasta Carbonara with Carrots and Beets

This isn't anything outrageously creative, but I'm posting it because the pictures are so damn pretty. I've been itching to make this pasta carbonara recipe from Chow again. This time, I had baby beets and carrots from the CSA that were rapidly softening. I'm displeased with the quality of Tierra Miguel's root veggies. Whether we put them in the fridge, leave them out, cut the tops off, leave the tops on, they become soft within 2 days. I don't know why.

Anyhoo, I needed to use them, so I decided to throw them into the carbonara. I undercooked the linguine, making it really al dente, but it tasted pretty good. This is the pasta in the pan, right after the eggs were added. The heat needs to be off, unless anyone enjoys scrambled eggs in their pasta.

The final product:

This is a great quick meal. It takes 15 minutes to prep and 10 more to put together.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Day of San Diego Eats

We made several fun food stops this past Saturday, beginning with Belgian Frie in Pacific Beach. It's a fun little place where we picked up fries and waffles for breakfast... isn't that great?

The menu's composed largely of fries and waffles. I admit to being a fan of the chalkboard menus. When they're done well, they look great.

The fries are served a variety of ways or plain with a variety of sauces. D. and D.B. had the fries rancheros, topped with poached eggs, salsa, cheese, and sour cream.

D.D. and I ordered the lemon poppy seed waffle. Since Belgian waffle batter is yeast-leavened, it can be cakey and not at all crisp. However, this waffle was gorgeous and fluffy with a nice crust. It was topped with a great blueberry compote, lemon zest, whipped cream, and poppy seeds. The batter could have used more lemon flavor, but it was very good.

Of course, we ordered a lovely cone of fries with three dipping sauces, garlic mayo, curry ketchup, and honey mustard. The dipping sauces were fantastic and the fries were double-fried, making them nice and crispy.

Afterwards, we made a pit-stop at the cook's playground of Great News. One of these days, I'm going to post about Great News, but this post is already extensive enough without it. D.D., a Point Loma native, mentioned that he had heard about Cupcakes Squared and wanted to try it. Of course, I would never oppose a mission to satisfy one's sweet tooth.

Upon entering, we were offered samples of the Lilikoi, a vanilla cupcake with passionfruit frosting. The frosting was excellent and tangy with passionfruit. However, the cupcake didn't impress, because it was greasy. It squished with a little bit of oil when I bit into it. Oy. It was somewhat of an awkward moment, because we were surprised by the sample being... well, not that great.

We were also taken aback by the prices. The square cupcakes, while cute, weren't very large. They were about a 2-inch cube, but were selling for $2.75 to $3.50 apiece. While I understand that quality ingredients were used, it's still a bit much, considering our impressions of the sample.

D. ordered the Chocolate^2 and the S'mores (left and top, respectively), while I ordered the Lemon and "Red" Velvet (bottom and right, respectively). The "Red" Velvet intrigued me, because Cupcakes Squared doesn't use food coloring. I could definitely live without dyeing my innards red, but I can't live with bland. While red velvet is typically mild, this was a plain buttermilk cake with very little flavor. Texture was ok, but on the dry side. Once again, the frosting was fabulous. D.D. felt it should have been denser, since it was cream cheese, but it was delicious.

The unifying theme of this visit was that Cupcakes Squared makes killer frostings. While I love frosting, I don't think that anything can stand on frosting alone. Nope, not even cupcakes and their almost 1:1 ratio of cake to frosting. We all felt that the establishment had potential, but needs to work out kinks in their craftsmanship and consistency. I bring up consistency because my lemon cupcake was the winner. The cupcake had the warm eggy flavor of a pound cake, the lightness of a chiffon cake, and plenty of lemon. Although the frosting was supposed to be lemon, I was happy that it turned out to be a light and wonderful vanilla buttercream. I'm not sure if that was intentional, but whatever... I don't argue with good things.

D.B. and D. were pretty much done with the sweets, but D.D. and I were chatting about The Elegant Truffle, which had received raves on Chowhound.

Hey, we were already in the neighborhood.

The friendly staff hands out samples galore. I stepped out to take a phone call and apparently missed, as D.B. calls it, "a truffle buffet". Egads! When I returned, I was able to sample a dark chocolate brownie, which tasted fabulous, but was really dry. I couldn't resist the dark chocolate cheesecake and D. bought a dark chocolate-dipped banana.


Yeah, it was that good. For those who like creamy cheesecakes, this isn't for you. This was a slice of dense, rich, fudgy heaven. The chocolate was explosive... bitter, dark, and sweet all at once. I'm sure it's sitting in my aorta right now, but I have no regrets.

We returned home to do some gardening and hang out with Bear. For dinner, we met up with M., C., and M. at Pizza Port in Solana Beach.

It was packed. Obscenely so. People were practically shanking each other for tables. If it weren't for eagle-eyed C., we would have ended up eating on the sidewalk. Once we sat down, we had the opportunity to enjoy their delicious creations. D. and I love the Carlsbad, a pesto/feta pizza with artichoke hearts and chicken.

There was also the Monterey, with more artichoke heart goodness buried under a classic tomato/mozzarella topping. Yum.

I love a weekend of eating well.