Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Laksa, how I love thee

We are currently living in Sydney, Australia and I have discovered something that reminds me of my mama's coconut crab soup in all its humbly delicious glory. It is called "laksa" and I've been told that it is Malaysian in origin, though the melding of food styles in Southeast Asia allow for lots of flavor crossovers. When we return to San Diego, I am going to try to ferret this bowl of coconut goodness out. You will love it if you love spicy food!

It is made with coconut milk, tumeric, tamarind, lemongrass, garlic, hot peppers, galangal (which is a rhizome like ginger), and other stuff that is delicious! Coupled with this savory broth are rice noodles, tofu, bean sprouts, and fish (prawn, fishcake, some shredded fish). You garnish this loveliness with ground shrimp paste/chilis and then dive headlong into it. OMF it is FANTASTIC! It is a shame that Malay food is not more prevalent in California...or maybe it's MY shame that I'm not looking hard enough. If anyone has suggestions on places to eat Malay food in San Diego (or Southern Cal to widen the net), then please post. Alternatively, I wouldn't mind something home-cooked - I'll bring the libations, my appetite, and my gratitude :)!

Here's a link to another blogger with what could possibly be an authentic recipe...I'm not vouching for it, but I'm going to ask the cooks at my local joints about the ingredients:

Monday, January 25, 2010

A new year - a (sort of new) beginning

1/25/10: After almost 4 years of nothing, I've been inspired to post again! Some of you may have participated in last week's "Restaurant Week" in San Diego. There were about 180+ restaurants with fixed price 3-course menus at either $20, $30, or $40/person. I am not talking crazy talk, and let me say that that shit is "right on time!" for the pocketbook. Well, if you were able to get out of the house & drive the (sometimes) perilous roads, then MAYBE you were able to take part in this festival of relatively cheap eats :). Heavy rainstorms are NOT "right on time..."

Me, my SO & some friends went to the Wine Vault in Mission Hills (Mission Base? I often wonder why the bottom of the hill is still referred to as a "hill"). Let me say that in general, the food was great & the wine pairings very spot on. I should have followed my instinct & ordered the items that caught my eye (sunchoke bisque, barley risotto & panna cotta) - but what I DID have (salmon tartare, braised short rib, and sherry sundae) were delicious. The service was a bit on the leisurely (read "slow") side, but considering the good company we were with, that wasn't much of a problem - except when the bread was slow in coming & people wanted to do some sopping up of the plates...very classy ;-p! The price was $30/person and the wine flight (3 wines paired w/your courses) was an extra $16/person (and they were not "mini" servings, mind you). Normally, the Wine Vault would not be classified as a "cheap eat," but I would recommend it most definitely during "Restaurant Week."

One of my pet peeves about restaurants are when they offer a fixed price menu, some places will chintz on the items. So I like to compare the fixed menus with the offerings on the regular menus - if a restaurant is worth its salt, and wants to be TRULY customer-oriented, then one should find many similarities betwixt the two menu offerings. Ok, that's my opinion, but whether you have $30 or $300 to spare - money is money and I think a reputable restaurant would want to put its best face forward no matter who the customer(s) may be. The Wine Vault is certainly a winner!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

5/11/06 - One more thing - on Sundays between 9a - 1p, the Hillcrest Farmer's Market has a shitload of fresh organic and conventional produce, nuts, plants, granola, beans, & flowers. They also have crafty people displaying their wares, AND a food area at the backside (near the DMV building). Within that food area are certain "must try" items: african samosas, flourless chocolate cake, chile relleno, and argentian sausage & empanadas to name a few items! It is one of my favorite things to do on the weekend. It's nice to walk around, people-watching, sampling foodstuffs, and then having some grub while sitting on the sidewalk. Our girl loves to rip into the fruits & veggies that I pass on to her (with her 2 little budding teeth) - and you get some sunshine & quality time w/family, friends, or even alone. The market is on Normal Street at the DMV. Parking is atrocious, so get there early because not only are you fighting for spots w/market-goers, but churches as well. Support our local farmers and give directly to them when you can.

5/11/06 - I can not BELIEVE that I haven't written about Dao Sun on El Cajon Blvd (near Texas St)...shame on me!

First off, this hole-in-the-wall doesn't have a parking lot, and sometimes street parking can be tricky. The guy who takes your order is normally this kooky kind of waiter/cashier who likes to make little snide jokes on the side, but he says them so fast that sometimes it's hard to catch :). If you engage in a little banter, then he'll give much better service.

Back to the star of the blog - the food. Try the garlic chicken that is like a lightly-battered & fried delight doused in a yummy sweetly-tangy garlic sauce served on white rice. It hits the spot just right. And then there's the pork w/lemongrass (oh my f**k - it's delish!)...they also have summer rolls, and spring rolls that you wrap w/lettuce and cilantro w/a nice sweet & spicy sauce. I haven't had one of those in years, and I love 'em!

However, stay away from the tonkatsu (pork cutlet) as it was too dry. This place is one of those joints that has multiple Asian items, but is really good at one type (in this case Vietnamese). Not that I have a problem w/those restaurants (once I find out which cuisine they're good at).

Prices here are $12 - $15 per person for dinner, and slightly less for lunch. You will like it, I'm sure.

Oh - and just 2 doors west of Dao Sun is Pomegranate. It's a eastern european eatery (I think Latvian or something like that). I ate there once w/a friend, and was very smitten with their salad sampler. Now, "salad" seems to be something much heartier in eastern Europer than lettuce-type stuff...think along the lines of potato salad or a bean salad. Anyhow, I'm going to have to revisit that place & get the names of the other stuff I ate - so more later on Pmegranate. But, this place wasn't too cheap so it's not going to be a common hangout.

5/11/06 - I can't believe that it's been over a YEAR since I last posted...well, I guess that's what getting knocked up & having a kid will do to one's free time. BUT my daughter is a gem, so I wouldn't have it any other way ;-).

Evening dining has become a thing of the past now (she sleeps early), so I'm all about the breakfast meal. Lately, I've been having a good run of luck with Cafe on Park (on Park Blvd. between University & Robinson). The cornmeal & honey pancakes are Yum-E, and the scrambles are pretty damn good as well (though I don't go for them as much as sometimes they have ludicrously large slices of onion in them). Prices run less than $15 for a meal + coffee, and sometimes the wait can take awhile. However, they have rotating artists on display, so it's a good place to get a meal and a dose of cultcha'.

Coffee there is fine, but for someting better just walk your feet south on Park about 1/2 block to a coffee house called....hmmm, the name escapes me. Anyhow, it's near a dog & cat wash store, so you can't miss it. The atmosphere is mellow, and there's free cards, chess, Life, etc etc to while away the time if you don't have a paper, book, or are attached to your damn cell phone speaking oh-so-loudly.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Breakfast at The Big Kitchen (South Park)

Alrighty - found another little neighborhood gem. Well actually it's been around since 1980, AND featured on Food Network, but it's a new find to me! Kind of a hole-in-wall joint (intentionally) with a relaxed flava and good eats. Breakfast fare is typical (eggs, BIG pancakes, muffins, meat, etc), the prices are very reasonable (about $6~$9 not incl. tax), and the portions are decent (not huge, but not tiny). A regular customer told me that people swear by the muffins & coffee cake there as well (which I didn't try for lack of stomach space).

The owner is a funky, socially & community-minded woman named Judy (the "beauty on duty" says the menu) who seems to have a fondness for French greetings, the Grateful Dead, and hiring cute wait staff :). While we were there, regular customers were greeted not only with "bonjour," but a hug & kiss as well. It's worth your time to get down to Grape & 30th (I think the exact address is 3003 Grape) and check it out, but leave any fussiness or attitude at the door PUH-LEASE. (Note: apparently Whoopie Goldberg waited tables there, and Rachel Ray published one of the tofu recipes in her "$40 a day" book.) I can't wait to try lunch there...

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Bale French Sandwich Deli (Linda Vista Road, south of Genessee)

I believe this general neighborhood is referred to as "Little Saigon" with good reason. As to the name of the deli - I don't know what the hell it means, but I can tell you that the bahn mi sandwiches and all the other delish Vietnamese items are totally D.G.! For $1 (I'm not kidding) you can have a steamed sticky rice ball filled with pork and wrapped in banana leaf. They serve Vietnamese coffee iced or hot for $1.25 (and it's a good sized shot in the ass for that much), and then there's the sandwiches. Let me not wax too philosophical about them - but GodDAMN are they making me drool right now! The baguette is just right (crunchy crust that has pieces shatter off as you bite through) with a soft and chewy texture inside. The marinated pork loin, ham, marinated veggies (daikon & carrot), cilantro, and fresh jalepeno (no onions for me) just add so much layering to the flavors. It makes you want to just cry with gratitude. Besides this, they have some fried bananas, summer (salad) rolls w/peanut dipping sauce, various dumplings (which I haven't tried, I'm still too much in love w/the bahn mi), and hot dishes for lunch. They're located in a strip mall nearby Rite Aid & an Asian supermarket. Try them - you won't be disappointed.

Gelato (Mission Hills)

The exact name escapes me, but I have 3 words - molten lava cake. I think I'm having an orgasm right now...ahhh, that was good :-). And the gelato is tasty also! Flavors are limited (~10 types), but all very well-made and they'll let you taste test all of them (I've done that). Prices are very reasonable, and there's alot of counter-culture rags in the store to read while you relax in or outdoors.

Saffron (Mission Hills)

They serve Indonesian/Vietnamese/Thai-ish kind of food. But the melding of culinary flavors works, and works well. They have some very good pho-like (it's not true pho, it's similar) dishes, salad rolls, and rice noodle dishes (like Thai pad see iew, but not quite). Try it when you have about $8 burning a hole in your pocket. And if you've got leftover bucks, walk on over to...

Alibi Bar

A real neighborhood hole-in-the-wall booze hole. They served food for a short time, but alas no more. Drinks are cheap, the patrons are regular joes, and they have a few pool tables. Be forewarned - don't bring your attitude problems with you, cause this is NOT one of those places. If you want a bunch of assholes trying to cop attitude, wait staff that suck, and overpriced items -> then get the hell back to L.A.

Oh, and I just noticed that there's a hot dog stand in the front called "My Greasy Weiner"...weiner heaven here I come - WOO-HOO!

Hash House (Hillcrest/Balboa Park)

Oh my f**k is this place D.G. (Damn Good)! Eating there is like gulping the "drink me" bottle and sliding into a tastebud-tantalizing Wonderland. The comical element of the size of the plates (really, they're platters - let's just call it like it is, shall we?) makes even a big-boned individual such as myself feel rather svelte. That is, until you eat. The theme here is supposed to be midwestern, but my SO being from Indiana (and being a marvelous specimen of his ilk) it leaves me hard-pressed to imagine that stuffing that many carbs into your gullet would result in someone weighing less than a metric ton. So, methinks that the flavas are midwest "inspired," but the extremely generous portions are just because the chef/owner is a very magnanimous person. Prices are reasonable (that is to say you can split a platter for about $8/person). Espresso is also excellent (and that's high praise coming from a former Seattlelite and current coffee snob). But while I mention espresso, I'm NOT talking about the super-sweet concoctions on the menu...those look a bit too much like dessert, so I'll try them at night.

Amarin Thai (Hillcrest)

My nickname isn't "Pickled Papaya" for nothing - and this place HAS it! If you're not a garlic wimp, then try out the green papaya salad which is so terrific that I finish up the dressing also (nothing goes to waste). Prices aren't exactly cheap, but if it's any consolation, their food is phuken great. Also, there's a little bonus in that they own the wine bar next door, and during happy hour all the wine is 1/2-price (I shit you not).

Places to avoid because the staff SUCKS (Hillcrest)

"LIVING ROOM" COFFEE SHOP AND "ONO SUSHI" (read my previous tirade/blog). The coffee shop has one helluva bitch behind the counter, although I like the goods & the atmosphere. Talk about fricken power-tripping...this chick is gonna make you feel like the fact that you ordered something is a complete imposition on her. We actually avoid this place when we see her behind the counter. Otherwise, the baristas and other staff are very nice, but perhaps she's cowed them into subservience. Too bad for the owner, but our money (and yours) is better spent in more friendly places (like Diedrich Coffee near Trader Joe's). Who needs that negativity when all you want is a cup of joe?

Hillcrest Sushi Bar

Wannabes say that "Ono Sushi" is the best in Hillcrest, but they don't know that the sushi chefs at that place go to Hillcrest Sushi to eat - that is a fact Jack. This place has fish that you could swear was wiggling with life just moments ago, and the seaweed salad is a hearty serving enough for 2 or 3 people to share. When it comes to fresh fish, I'm a Pacific Islander whose family ALL fish in the great blue Pacific, so eating here is like eating at our family gatherings when the tuna was just unloaded from Uncle's boat. Oh, and the staff and chef are very attentive and eager to make suggestions - not like Ono Sushi where they are all fricken brats that don't deserve any tips, and made us wait 30 minutes extra for our order because they forgot to give our order to the chef (they were too busy socializing w/a bunch of assholes about what they were going to wear to the club that night). Avoid at all costs unless you are one of those assholes...if you are then make yourself at home there, but be reminded that the sushi ain't that good. 'Nuf said.

Crush (Hillcrest)

Hillcrest is the predominantly gay area of town and the place that we presently call home. There are lots of little nooks & crannies to forage around, so if you find a good parking spot (and that's not really easy), then spend some time walking around. Here's a spot to check out:

Crush: This little bar is on University Ave sandwiched between a small flower stand and some restaurant which I haven't visited yet. Strangely enough there aren't alot of patrons but there should be! They have some very tasty tapas, particularly the mediterranean smorgasbord (my apologies for the linguistic mix), and perky hot toddies. There is other stuff on the menu, but I haven't made my way through it completely. So far, I have two words for this place - Yum "E" Price is moderate, but add a few drinks and that can get a bit more "moderate"...and I ALWAYS add a "few" drinks (smirk).

Thursday, November 18, 2004

In the beginning, there was (sun)light...

and now me & my SO (significant other) are living in San Diego amongst all the other warmth-seeking population.

As a recent transplant from Seattle (where delicious food and great people abound), I have been trying to slowly feel my way about town for cheap eats. Of course, being "good eats" is certainly assumed as a priority above all else. Well, my road is still not too well-traveled, but let me share some tidbits I have discovered. Now, when I say "cheap" I'm not talking about surviving ala Madonna-style on popcorn in NYC, so there's going to be some places that hover around $20 a pop w/some refreshment on the side. But that's not because I shun other places, only cause I haven't gotten to them yet - so be fricken patient. Also, I have some tips on places to AVOID because either the food stinks or the staff sucks. Eating out should be a fun experience, not one that makes you feel like crap. Good vibes are key to my experiences.

Obviously, I assume that these places have been on the SD culinary map for some time, but if not (and a finger-waggling "shame on you" to food critics here) then check out the areas. Enjoy!