Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Izakaya Sakura

There's no sign for the restaurant and it's in the same strip mall as the Original Pancake House and next to a military recruiting office. It looks like you're heading in to enlist, but you're heading into an izakaya or Japanese pub.

I've only been twice, but the food has been consistently excellent. The chirashi above was incredibly fresh and filling. The oyster was perfect, the shiso leaf a nice touch, and I even liked the uni (sea urchin), which I don't normally prefer.

All I can say is try it. I intend to return ASAP... anyone want to join me?

Izakaya Sakura
3094 Convoy St. #121
San Diego, CA 92184

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bite, revisited

Note: Bite has closed.
I haven't been since my first and previous visit to Bite and the happy hour has been so good that my friends and I have returned several times since. The patio's an awesome place to sit, sip, and catch up with each other. Our first visit was rather fortuitous, as we planned to have margaritas at Baja Betty's, but it was both packed and done with happy hour. Bite's next door, so we dropped by.

Champagne/sparkling wine cocktails are $4, which are a light and refreshing way to end a workday. My favorite is the Spring Bellini, which is prosecco with a scoop of strawberry sorbet in it.

The happy hour menu changes slightly, but one staple is this lovely puff pastry topped with caramelized onions and nicoise olives.

The CWG likes to order pates, which have been excellent. The following is a duck liver pate with dried cherries and pistachios. Accompaniments include the traditional mustards, capers, onions, and
cornichons, or pickled baby gherkins.

During subsequent visits, she's ordered a duck liver mousse with a port-based glaze on top, which has been absolutely fantastic. No photos, but that's definitely a perfect dish for patio-seating and people-watching. It's decadent, pungent, and still very light.

Another great appetizer is their grilled flatbread with a white bean and roasted garlic hummus. The hummus falls a little flat, but the bread is warm, tender, and flavorful.

Tirrone ordered the restyled caprese salad, which was gorgeous. Check out those dark cubes... balsamic
gelle. Who makes jelly out of balsamic vinegar? It's pretty fabulous.

1417 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Los Angeles: Pho Ly Truong Kiet, Sinbala

During our last visit to Los Angeles, my mother wanted to introduce us to Pho Ly Truong Kiet, a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in pho ga (chicken noodle soup). Imagine a big bowl of noodles in fresh chicken broth, served with poached chicken.

I think poaching chicken in its skin is a great method of preparation. If done well, the chicken stays incredibly moist. Even though it can be bland, Vietnamese preparations always serve the chicken with a pungent and/or spicy dipping sauce.

My mother had befriended the delightfully sweet owner, who runs the establishment with her family. She recommended that we order bowls of plain noodles in broth with half of a chicken to share, which would be cheaper than individual bowls of pho ga dui, which is the chicken noodle soup accompanied by chicken with skin/bone.

Mom also wanted to try their version of Hainanese chicken and rice, which was good, but the rice was a bit bland.

Also, their banh cuon, a rice flour mixture cooked into thin wrappers, then wrapped around a mixture of ground pork and woodear mushrooms.

Cooked bean sprouts, cha lua (Vietnamese pork sausage), and fried scallions top the dish. I'd say this was the weakest dish. The wrappers were overdone and the filling bland. The overall effect was a limp rice noodle roll.

Later that day, we finally found ourselves with a table at Sinbala. It's a Taiwanese restaurant with a healthy following, but I wouldn't know how the food is because we're not willing to wait ages for a table. Following a huge dinner at Chang's Garden, we crossed the strip mall in hopes of having dessert at Sinbala. Good thing we did, because I've been craving shaved ice like no other.

$5 buys five sweet items to pile the shaved ice on. I picked boba (tapioca balls), grass jelly, almond jello, flan, and some other gelatinous sweet that I can't remember. Yes, I tend to go for the jellies and not the taro, lychee, etc. On goes the shaved ice with a hefty drizzle of simple syrup and, my favorite, condensed milk.

Take that, Sno Cone.

I'll be back soon for some savory eats.

Pho Ly Truong Kiet
303 E. Garvey Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91755

651 W. Duarte Rd., Ste. F
Arcadia, CA 91007

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream with Michael Phelps

I'm on a diet.

Don't laugh, I really am.

It's more like an aggressive mission to lose the ungodly amount of weight I've put on in the last 5 years. Hence, there hasn't been much to say about food lately. However, that'll change once I find myself on a better eating routine. Right now, food is energy and I need to limit how much energy I consume. I hate that outlook, especially since I find food so fascinating.

To keep myself from going completely crazy and risking a total binge, I'm sticking to TWD and keeping my skills honed. Hopefully, I'll find some volunteers to consume the products. Since cooking and baking are stress-relievers for me, I'll focus on enjoying the journey instead of the destination.

This week's TWD is Blueberry Sour-Cream Ice Cream (page 434), brought to you by Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity. Dorie Greenspan calls it the "summeriest of summertime ice creams" and I can't help but agree. It's as light and refreshing as a sorbet, but with the heftier weight of a regular ice cream. She says a hand-crank ice cream maker is perfect for this recipe, which is good, because I have a hand-crank maker with a cylinder that is frozen the night before.

Of course, one should not leave the ice cream in the cylinder and wander off to watch the fabulous Michael Phelps win yet another gold medal. The ice cream froze up nicely, but I didn't aerate it very much, so it's a little dense.

It's also more lemon than blueberry. Dorie calls for the juice and zest of 1/4 lemon, but I have lemons that are either ridiculously tiny or giant mutants. I used the giant mutant and added too much lemon juice. The taste is awesome, but it isn't quite blueberry. There is a nice tartness reminiscent of the berries and sour cream, which goes really well with the acidity of the lemon.

We watched Henry VIII without dessert this week, but I'll have to reunite him with TWD soon. However, the light and quasi-diet-friendly dessert is totally Olympic-worthy. To stick to my portion sizes, I busted out our smallest spring-loaded scoop (about 1 tablespoon total volume) and put scoops in cute square Crate & Barrel pinch pots.

Good dessert, good TV, and for this ex-swimmer, a chance to see her sport in the spotlight for a change. Go Phelps!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Black and White Banana Loaf

Wait, it's Wednesday. Sigh.

Anyway, one of these days I'm going to get back on track with all of the blog-baking, but for now, the Black and White Banana Loaf (page 232), brought to you by Ashlee of A Year in the Kitchen. I love this recipe... it was easy to make and I marbled for the first time. Yes, that's a verb. At least I say it is.

The batter should be thick, so it doesn't blend together easily. Don't mix the batter too much once it's in the pan. Run a butter knife in a zigzag once down the pan. Then, don't touch it. No, really, leave it alone. Another key to a tender bread is to minimally mix the batter. Don't develop the gluten too much or else it'll be tough.

For the chocolate, I used Ghiradelli's 70% cacao baking bars. The recipe also called for rum, but I didn't have any, so I used a liberal dash of brandy.

Woohoo! Look Ma, I marbled!

Where was Henry VIII? Well, he missed this week's TWD and we enjoyed his antics with M.S.'s and D.'s chocolate chip cookies instead.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Birthday and a Goodbye (Prosciutto Palmiers, Tiramisu)

Well, what do you know... this little blog turns 1 today! I can't believe it's been a year. AoaAF has underwent a lot of changes since the old days. Many thanks to all of you who stop by my little corner of the interweb!

Switching to a sad note, my friend Tirrone is leaving for Illinois very soon and we wanted to send him off with a good meal and good friends. To keep things simple for a busy cooking weekend, we decided on a BBQ, with homemade hamburgers and chicken-apple sausages. One of our appetizers was prosciutto palmiers, a recipe from Chow. It's a quick recipe that produces large quantities, which makes it perfect for larger groups. I've changed the recipe slightly and, next time, I'd like to use an egg wash to give the puff pastry a little shine and some extra moisture.

Prosciutto Palmiers
(by Sharron Wood for Chow, recipe doubled from original)

Makes approximately 40 pieces

1 package store-bought puff pastry, thawed (1 pkg. typically has two "slabs" of puff pastry)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons water
6 ounces of thinly-sliced prosciutto (3 oz. per "roll", which is half of the original recipe)
1/2 to 1 cup grated Gruyeres cheese (Emmentaler and Comte can also be used)
Egg wash (1 egg, beaten, mixed with a little milk or water to dilute)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

On a floured surface, roll out each puff pastry to a rectangle of approximately 9 x 13 inches. Try to keep the edges even and trim if necessary. In a bowl, stir together tomato paste and water until smooth. The paste must be easily spreadable. Using the back of a spoon, spread half of the tomato paste mixture on to each pastry rectangle. Arrange slices of prosciutto on the paste, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle cheese evenly over prosciutto.

Roll long edges of rectangle towards the center, so the folds look like window shutters. Fold the halves together, so the roll forms "elephant ears". Wrap with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 5 minutes. Remove from the freezer, make sure the roll is firm, then slice off the ends (discard the ends). Cut the roll into 1/2 inch slices and arrange on a baking sheet, keeping them about 2 inches apart. Brush lightly with egg wash, then bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool until safe to handle. Best served warm.

Tirrone also requested a tiramisu, for which I dug out an old and very faithful recipe. I grew up during the tiramisu boom of the 90's, when every restaurant had their own version. I love the stuff and wanted to make my own, so I found this recipe during my third year of college. I even won a dessert contest at work with it.

Classic Tiramisu
(by Carol via Allrecipes, original can be found here)

6 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
approximately 2 x 12 oz. packages ladyfingers (I recommend overestimating how much you need... leftovers are great for snacking)
approximately 1/2 cup coffee liqueur for dipping
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

In a double boiler, combine egg yolks and sugar. Over low heat, whisk constantly for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and continue whisking until yolks are thick and a very light yellow. Add mascarpone and beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold into yolk mixture and set aside. Trim ladyfingers to size for lining a 9-inch springform pan. Dip each ladyfinger lightly and quickly in the coffee liqueur and neatly line the pan. Add 1/3 of the filling over the bottom layer, then line another layer of ladyfingers on top. Repeat once more, then add the remaining 1/3 filling to top off the pan. Dust top with cocoa powder and chill overnight.

Bon voyage to Tirrone and here's to another year of great eating!