Chicago Trip Recap, Part 1: Hot Dogs and Deep Dish

S and I, along with one of our friends, recently went to Chicago for the first time! We did all the touristy things, hung out with his sister V (who is attending culinary school!), and had a wonderful time. I really loved Chicago and definitely hope to go back for future visits. We ate a lot of yummy food on the trip – I carefully planned out the “food itinerary” – and just writing these recaps is going to make me drool onto the keyboard.

Our first stop after arriving in Chicago was Portillo’s, which V recommended to us. There are many locations, and luckily one of them was just a short walk from the hotel.

Portillo's

Portillo’s

We found out that it’s not really a restaurant, but instead a food court of some sort, and you order at the counter of your choice. We were there, of course, for the hot dogs.

Hot dog assembly 

Here they are, being assembled! I like that the little holders look sort of like the taco holders that we see so often here in San Diego, haha.

Hot Dog

Hot Dog with everything: mustard, relish, freshly chopped onions, sliced red ripe tomatoes, kosher pickle, sport peppers, piled onto a perfectly steamed poppy seed bun

This hot dog was amazing. The flavor was spot-on. I really loved all the accompaniments, especially the relish and peppers, and I even enjoyed the pickle a lot! (S and I normally don’t eat pickles because they’re either too salty or too sour.) I was actually kind of sad that I had to share this with two other people… and if it weren’t for the fact that we were about to have a real dinner in about an hour, I would have insisted that we get another hot dog.

Chili Cheese Dog

Chili Cheese Dog, served with onions

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Table No. 10

S and I had date night a few weeks ago, and I wanted to try one of the newly-opened restaurants in San Diego – out of Ironside Fish & Oyster, Juniper & Ivy, and Table No. 10, only Table No. 10 had reservations available on a Friday night (at a reasonable dinner time). We were quite excited, since we had read so many positive reviews about the place!

Table No. 10 

The restaurant had a very modern feel to it. Downstairs is the kitchen, and a “Chef’s Table” – basically a counter looking into the kitchen, where you can eat and watch the chefs work.

Chef's Table

Chef’s Table 

I wish we had known about the Chef’s Table before making reservations, but the seats there were already taken so we went upstairs to the dining room. I really liked the decor there – unfortunately, it was too dark to take too many photos. 

Pretty lamp!

Pretty lamp!

We started off the evening with a cocktail. I had a really hard time deciding between the “I’m Messin’ with Texas”, and the “Flux Capacitor” – which is served in a bubbling Erlenmeyer flask. In the end, my curiosity about the brisket-fat-infused whiskey won out, so we went with the Texas-themed drink.

I'm Messin' with Texas

I’m Messin’ with Texas: whiskey cocktail infused with brisket fat [$12]

S and I both enjoyed this; the brisket fat added extra smokiness to the already-smoky whiskey. I don’t see this drink on their online menu anymore, but hopefully it’ll still be available by request.

For the food selection, we had heard that the “Bites” and “Small Plates” were the best, so we ordered several items.

Deviled Eggs

Deviled Eggs – thyme, yogurt, radish, and chives [$6]

The deviled eggs vary by day, and that day was with thyme, yogurt, radish, and chives – sounded pretty good to us! I haven’t had deviled eggs in a long, long time… several years, probably. I liked the refreshing flavor of the chives and yogurt but felt that the radish flavor was a little muted. Still really good, though – I’m inspired now to make deviled eggs again.

Octopus, Portuguese Sausage, Potato, Sorrel

Octopus, Portuguese Sausage, Potato, Sorrel [$14]

Our waiter recommended the octopus, which is grilled on a wood plank. S commented that it tasted like Taiwanese street food… haha. The smokiness of the grilled octopus paired quite nicely with the Portuguese sausage, but the most impressive part of this dish was the potato. It had a perfectly crispy exterior, yet was soft on the inside (sort of like mashed or puréed potato) and basically melted in your mouth. I wished that there were more than two pieces of it!

Scallop, Pork Belly, Sunchoke, Coconut Cream, Natural Reduction

Scallop, Pork Belly, Sunchoke, Coconut Cream, Natural Reduction [$16]

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Snacks Series: B. Toffee

I was recently sent some samples of B. Toffee, which is an award-winning toffee brand! The company is in Newport Beach, California – I love local businesses, so I was quite grateful to try out their tasty treat!

B. Toffee

B. Toffee

The toffees are packaged so beautifully! I totally believe in “eating with your eyes first”, and when these arrived I couldn’t help but admire how “delicious” it looked!

B. Toffee 

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Hotel Thrillist at the Hard Rock SD

I was invited to attend Hotel Thrillist last Friday at the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown San Diego! Hotel Thrillist is basically a giant party thrown by Thrillist.com – there are 3 events throughout the weekend, but the one I was most interested in was the Taste of Thrillist on Friday night, obviously, since that was the “food” event.

Hotel Thrillist 

The party is located at Float, the outdoor lounge on top of the hotel. I’ve actually never been to a Hard Rock hotel or café before, so it was pretty cool to see the one in San Diego.

Hotel Thrillist 

We arrived late (parking, ugh), and the line for the event was already quite ridiculous. But finally we made it – just in time for Brian Malarkey, Top Chef contestant and owner of Searsucker and various other restaurants in SD, to make his welcome speech.

Brian Malarkey

Brian Malarkey 

Brian Malarkey 

We were starving, so we immediately started waiting in line for the food as soon as he stopped speaking, haha. One of the first stands we hit up was Duck Dive…

Duck Dive

Duck Dive

Duck Dive: Seared Duck Breast with Risotto

Duck Dive: Seared Duck Breast with Risotto 

I know it’s hard to tell what in the world is going on here, but trust me, it’s duck with risotto. The duck was really nice and tender – I’ve never been to Duck Dive before since it’s located in PB and we hate driving there, but this bite made me want to go and try it out sometime. S and I came back around for seconds later that night, haha.

Casanova

Casanova Fish Tacos

Casanova Fish Tacos served up a pretty refreshing shrimp ceviche. Unfortunately, my picture was too dark (even darker than the duck pic)…

Salt & Cleaver

Salt & Cleaver 

Moroccan Lamb Sausage with Tzatziki

S&C: Moroccan Lamb Sausage with Tzatziki

At this point, I think I figured out that I needed to use flash… Anyway, I’ve been wanting to try Salt & Cleaver for a while but haven’t gotten around to it yet. The lamb sausage was a bit dry, although I enjoyed the tzatziki sauce.

Searsucker

Searsucker 

Hamachi Tartar

Searsucker: Hamachi Tartar

The hamachi tartar from Searsucker was pretty delightful. I really liked the cassava(?) chip that came with it, and the hamachi was really flavorful. I wanted seconds of this one later on, but they had ran out already! Sadface. Continue reading →

Solare Ristorante – Restaurant Week

San Diego Restaurant Week is upon us again! From September 21 through 26, you can enjoy a two-course lunch or three-course dinner at over 200 restaurants in San Diego, with lunch priced at $10, $15, or $20, and dinner priced at $25, $35, and $45. S and I have visited several restaurants during SDRW over the past few years, and this year, we were fortunate enough to be invited to try out Solare Ristorante, a cute little Italian restaurant in Liberty Station.

Solare Ristorante 

Solare is offering a $20 lunch and $35 dinner, with some additional items that you can add on for extra. S and I love Italian food, so we were pretty excited to visit.

Blushing Lady martini

Blushing Lady martini [$9]

I chose a martini, per our waiter’s recommendation. This is made with vodka and grapefruit and pomegranate juices, with a grapefruit rind. S said that it tasted like juice, but I enjoyed it, hehe.

Housemade focaccia

House-made focaccia

Shortly after being seated, we got a bowl of house-made focaccia bread, along with olive oil for dipping. S loved this focaccia and said that it was full of umami. He has never, ever made such a “foodie” comment before so I am documenting this historic moment here! The bread was indeed quite good, and we ate way too many pieces of it before realizing that we had a big meal ahead of us.

There were four items in the “Options for Sharing” section of the menu, which were basically little appetizers or sides that you could add on for an extra charge. S and I decided to try a couple of them, since they sounded pretty good!

Kobe Meatballs

Kobe Meatballs: vintage hand-made American Kobe beef meatballs, served with sautéed rainbow chard and pecorino Crotonese [$14] 

The Kobe meatballs were really yummy and flavorful – I loved the melted pecorino on top, and the sauce that accompanied it – especially the sautéed rainbow chard. It was quite an elevated version of the classic meatball with tomato sauce. 

Arancini

Arancini: classic Sicilian crispy rice balls with beef, pork, and veal ragù, sweet peas, and mozzarella [$9]

Arancini inside

Arancini inside

The best way that I can describe arancini is like a hush puppy, but with rice instead of cornmeal. I’ve never had it before and loved it here! I really enjoyed the flavor of the crispy exterior, which was like toasted rice. I could have eaten all of these without the accompanying ragù – the sauce was good, but the rice balls were truly the star. After eating one, I told S that I like these even more than hush puppies, and he was quite impressed since he knows how much I adore hush puppies, haha.

After those two “snacks,” our appetizers arrived…

Zuppa di Funghi

Zuppa di Funghi – Mushroom bisque: maitake, shiitake, and porcini mushrooms infused with thyme and served with black truffle butter

I was initially worried that S wouldn’t like the soup, since it had shiitake mushrooms in it, but he ended up loving it. I guess the creaminess of the bisque and the truffle butter offset the shiitake taste that he doesn’t like. Also, I’m guessing that the restaurant used fresh instead of dried shiitake, which actually has a pretty different taste. Anyway, we liked this soup a lot – but we’re easy to please, as long as there’s truffles, haha.

Burrata e Prugne

Burrata e Prugne: Gioia cheese burrata served with Regier Family Farms plums, grilled asparagus, house-made balsamic pearls, and fresh basil

Burrata e Prugne

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Onami Seafood Buffet & BBQ

Recently, my good friend Y celebrated her birthday at Onami Seafood Buffet & BBQ. She and her boyfriend are always on the hunt for good deals for food, and her boyfriend loves all-you-can-eat places! S and I have never been to Onami before, so we were quite curious about what the place would be like.

Onami Seafood Buffet & BBQ 

The restaurant is located inside the Westfield Mission Valley mall, near the Macy’s Home Store and food court.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get very many good photos of the buffet lines – most of them turned out quite blurry. (Sadface.) So, I’ll just share pictures of S’s and my plates:

Assorted sushi, sashimi, nigiri

Assorted sushi, sashimi, nigiri

My friends like this place because of the variety of sashimi and nigiri. We were initially a bit wary of eating raw fish at a buffet, but it turned out not too bad. The salmon was the freshest, out of all the sashimi. I also liked the salmon skin nigiri and went back for a couple more of that later in the evening. 

More sushi

More sushi 

I’m not sure what’s at the back of this plate… Looks a bit like chicken teriyaki, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t get that. The seaweed salad was not bad.

Cold soba noodles

Cold soba noodles 

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Little Italy Mercato

A couple of Saturdays ago, my friend and I went to the Little Italy farmer’s market – it’s been rated as one of the best farmer’s markets in San Diego, and I LOVE farmer’s markets so I was looking forward to checking it out.

This post will be a lot of photos… Random things that I found at the market, people that I thought were interesting. It was my day to practice taking “outdoor” photos!

Little Italy Mercato 

This farmer’s market is huge – it spans four blocks in the Little Italy neighborhood (actually, that might be pretty much the entire neighborhood…). We had to circle around a bit for parking, but were lucky to get a meter spot with 30 minutes left! Score!

One of the first things that caught our eyes was this seafood stand:

Poppa's Fresh Fish 

Oysters and SEA URCHIN! Sea urchin is seriously one of my favorite foods – I love the briny flavor and creamy texture. A and I decided to share one.

Live Sea Urchin 

Poppa's Fresh Fish stand 

This awesome lady was cracking open and cleaning sea urchins. We stood to one side and watched her work with formidable efficiency!

Sea Urchin

Sea Urchin

There’s our sea urchin! It was so, so good – there’s just nothing like fresh sea urchin. I briefly debated getting another one before deciding that there are tons of other things to eat. (Later on, we also saw several other stands offering fresh sea urchin. I didn’t compare prices or quality, but I’m assuming they’d be pretty similar since they all came from La Jolla.)

Mikolich Family Honey

Mikolich Family Honey

Mikolich Family Honey 

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Carnitas’ Snack Shack – Del Mar

Carnitas’ Snack Shack is one of my favorite restaurants in San Diego – they certainly serve up some really delicious sandwiches and pork dishes. However, their North Park location is quite small and gets really crowded – S and I have been there at 10PM and still had to wait at least 20 minutes to order! So, when I heard that they were planning a second location in Del Mar, I was quite excited.

Carnitas' Snack Shack 

The Del Mar store took over the space formerly occupied by The Counter. (By the way, I heard recently that many locations of The Counter have been closing… I guess the mini chain isn’t doing so well?) The restaurant space has been changed up quite a bit – the front entrance is now on the side, and there’s a patio seating area.

Mural 

I thought this wall art was pretty cute, although having cute pigs serving pork sandwiches is sort of morbid when you think about it… haha.

You still order at the counter when you enter the restaurant, and the food will be brought out to you. There was plenty of seating, both inside the restaurant and out on the patio when we visited for lunch on a Sunday. In the middle of the restaurant is a long communal table, and there were booths all around. 

We decided to try the Triple Threat sandwich here – we’ve had it before on our first visit, and S had thought that it was a tad too salty. But since it’s such a favorite among customers, he wanted to give it another shot. 

Triple Threat Pork Sandwich

Triple Threat Pork Sandwich: pork loin schnitzel, pulled pork, bacon, pepperoncini relish, shack aioli [$9.50]

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[Irvine] Four Sea Restaurant

I’ve been in Chicago for the past week, so the posting schedule got a little messed up – sorry! The trip was super fun, and I’ll definitely be sharing pictures from some of the amazing meals that I had in the coming weeks! My friend also suggested a fun new series to start for this blog, so please stay tuned as I’m working to get that going!

Today’s post is from Labor Day weekend, when S and I made a day trip to Irvine. The main purpose of the trip was to visit the newly-opened Din Tai Fung in South Coast Plaza, but of course we also had to fit in at least one more meal. After much research and deliberation, I chose Four Sea Restaurant, which serves up an authentic Taiwanese breakfast. I love breakfast in Taiwan – it’s my favorite meal of the day there – so I was quite excited, but also a little bit nervous because I’ve been pretty disappointed by Taiwanese breakfast food in the US.

Four Sea Restaurant 

Four Sea has several locations, one in Irvine and three in LA (so not fair.. why not San Diego?). My friend told me that the Irvine restaurant is a lot less crowded than the LA ones.

Four Sea Restaurant 

The place is open everyday from 6:30AM to 3:30PM, so they only serve breakfast food here! We arrived close to 1PM, and the place was quite empty already. In fact, some of the staff had already started mopping the floor in one part of the restaurant… It was a little weird.

Anyway, as you walk in, there’s a display case of house-made pastries to greet you. I couldn’t resist and bought a Black Sesame with Egg Yolk pastry, which I enjoyed later at home:

Sesame Egg Yolk Pastry 

Sesame Egg Yolk Pastry

Sesame Egg Yolk Pastry [$2.90]

The pastry was nice and flaky, and the sesame paste inside was pretty intense. I did think that it could be a bit sweeter, though – it would have made better contrast to the salted egg yolk.

Anyway, back to the restaurant…

Marinated Beef Sandwich (牛肉醬肉燒餅)

Marinated Beef Sandwich (牛肉醬肉燒餅) [$4.20]

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Supernatural Sandwiches

Supernatural Sandwiches has been on my radar for quite some time, especially with so many features on Eater and Zagat, as well as other blogs. They had been a farmer’s market stand in Hillcrest for a while before opening a brick-and-mortar shop on Miramar Rd. However, initially the shop’s hours were only open Monday to Fridays, so it was a while before S and I got a chance to visit. On a recent Friday, S and I, along with one of our other friends, went to check it out for lunch since our bosses were out of town, hehe.

Supernatural Sandwiches 

The interior is pretty crowded. There’s a walk-up line, seats along the wall at a counter, and a few tables.

P1060062-2 

There are the “Supernatural 7″, which are seafood-based sandwiches, and the “Sinister 7″, which feature more meat. I thought it was funny that this place had such a strong comics theme.

I was immediately drawn to the Neptune, which has diver scallops and bacon.

Neptune

Neptune: sauteed sweet local scallops, crispy smoked bacon, buttery toasted bun, spicy pyro aioli, zesty enchanted sauce, fresh local greens [$9.75]

The scallops were quite fresh and sweet, and I thought that the smoky and salty bacon paired quite well with them. I did think that there was a little bit too much sauce, though, which overpowered the delicate scallop flavor a bit. The bun was quite buttery and soft, which was really nice. My friend thought that the bacon was a bit too salty, but S and I actually liked it.

Cthulu

Cthulu: lobster roll with umami butter [$15] 

We also shared a lobster roll (well, S didn’t partake since he doesn’t eat crustaceans). I was excited about it because it’s been a long time since I’ve had a lobster roll… maybe a few years! I liked this one because the lobster flavor was prominent, with just enough flavor from the butter. My friend told me that it’s rare to see so much lobster claw meat in San Diego, since on the West Coast, lobsters tend to have more tail meat than claw. She thought that this was just okay, though… Then again, her last lobster roll was from the famous Luke’s Lobster in NYC, haha.

Cthulu 

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