Jul 182014
 

Recently, S and I had a nice weekend getaway in Las Vegas with a few friends – Vegas is our favorite place for a mini-vacation, actually… it’s close enough to drive there, but it’s just far enough away that I can really take a break from the stresses of life, haha. We’ve had several “fine-dining” meals in Las Vegas, including Fleur and Lawry’s Prime Rib. On this recent trip, we made reservations at Bouchon Bistro, one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants. I’ve been wanting to try it for a long time and was really looking forward to the meal!

We stayed at the Palazzo hotel, so it was an easy walk over to Venetian, where Bouchon was located. I felt shy about taking photos of the restaurant, for some reason. It was pretty crowded and lively.

Complimentary Bread, Butter, Pistachios

Complimentary Bread, Butter, Pistachios

We started off with some complimentary bread and butter, and… pistachios? Interesting, but pretty neat. I was a little disappointed that the bread wasn’t warm – I had pretty high hopes for it since my friend raved about his visit – but it was still a nice bread.

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I love pistachios and couldn’t help eating them! In Chinese, pistachios is called “Happiness Nut” – the word “happiness” is composed of the characters for “open” and “heart” – which is kind of like a pistachio, with their cracked shell. Makes sense, no? I always thought that the Chinese name for pistachio was really cute.

We decided to share three entrées, a cheese plate, and an order of foie gras, which you can’t get in California. 

Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard [$49/5 oz]

Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard [$49/5 oz]

The foie gras was served with toasted baguette and sea salt – I didn’t feel like it needed the salt, since it was plenty flavorful already. The foie was so rich and creamy; I absolutely loved it and savored every bite. I did feel like sharing a 5 oz portion between four people was a bit too much, though – we didn’t want any of it to go to waste, but it was so rich that it actually filled us up before our entrées even arrived.

Fromage du Jour - 3 pc tasting portion [$15.25]

Fromage du Jour – 3 pc tasting portion [$15.25]

Continue reading »

Jun 022014
 

Recently, my best friend/roommate from college came to San Diego from the East Coast; unfortunately she was here for a conference and didn’t have much time to hang out, but we were able to have dinner together on her last night here, along with one of our other college friends. We chose Searsucker – S and I have been there for lunch and have been curious about their dinner menu. It’s one of the restaurants owned by Chef Brian Malarkey, who was a contestant on Top Chef, one of my favorite TV shows. (I haven’t seen his other show, though.)

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The restaurant was more noisy than I had remembered, but it was quite lively and upbeat. We had made reservations and were seated promptly. Our server was a really energetic and nice lady, who took us through the specials and brought these out for us, free of charge:

Cheddar Puffers

Cheddar Puffers

They’re listed on the menu for $2, and I was already planning on ordering them, but now we got to try them for free! These cheddar “puffers,” or little biscuits, were absolutely delicious. I loved how soft and fluffy they were. And served warm… mmm.

We decided, for the sake of trying as many things as possible, to order several small plates and a couple of entrées to share.

By the way, all the photos look blurry and dark, because the restaurant was quite dark. Usually if it’s just S and me, he will help with the lighting with his cell phone flashlight, but since we were busy catching up with our friends, I decided to just snap some quick photos so that we could all start eating.

Squid "Sweet Heat" [$9]

Squid “Sweet Heat” [$9]

This was squid cooked in a sweet-chili sauce and tasted very Asian. I wasn’t overly impressed since the sauce tasted just like something that, well, a Chinese take-out place would have. The squid had a nice bouncy texture, though.

Beef Tartare, Pickled Radish Beer Mustard, Yolk [$13]

Beef Tartare + Pickled Radish Beer Mustard + Yolk [$13]

I was quite happy with the beef tartare – I haven’t had beef tartare in a long time, and this version was really enjoyable, especially with the crunchy pickled veggies to add a bright flavor. The dish was served with crispy housemade chips.

Mushrooms + Burrata + Toast [$13]

Mushrooms + Burrata + Toast [$13]

I really loved the roasted mushrooms and creamy burrata and have been wanting to make this at home! Continue reading »

Jan 292014
 

Before this January’s Restaurant Week ends, I wanted to share just one more restaurant for you to consider, especially if you love steak: Ruth’s Chris. S and I have been wanting to try it for a while, especially since some of our friends claim that it’s their favorite steak in San Diego. We’ve tried The Butcher Shop and Donovan’s and enjoyed our experiences there, but we’re always up for trying new steak places, hehe. So, when our friends asked if we wanted to go to Ruth’s Chris for RW, we jumped onboard immediately.

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There are two Ruth’s Chris locations in San Diego: Del Mar and downtown, on Harbor Dr. We were in the downtown location. Parking options were a bit scarce… valet was $6, but I think you could also park farther down by the adjacent hotel. Not sure; we forked over $6 for convenience.

The restaurant is quite nice; the dining area is actually all upstairs, so that guests could get a better view of the ocean I suppose. The day we went, it was already pretty dark, and we weren’t seated by the window, so there wasn’t much of a view unfortunately. The dining room was super busy and lively – I actually like the busy atmosphere, even though it was a bit dim for my liking (hence, all the pictures are going to look a bit weird/off).

Complimentary bread & butter

Complimentary bread & butter

We got a couple loaves of warm bread and butter to start. Nothing spectacular about the bread, but I had a slice since I was pretty hungry, haha.

The Restaurant Week menu is quite generous, since they offer both a Petite Filet and a 12 oz. Ribeye (in addition to roasted chicken and Atlantic salmon) for the entrée. The regular menu is also available during RW.

For my appetizer, I chose the Shrimp Cocktail, and S chose the Seared Ahi Tuna. I believe everyone at our table picked either one of these, haha.

(Oh man, sorry about the quality of the photos. As I mentioned, the lighting here isn’t the best…)

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Shrimp Cocktail

Seared Ahi Tuna

Seared Ahi Tuna

I really loved the jumbo shrimp, which was perfectly cooked and dressed lightly with a mixture of tartar and cocktail sauce. S wouldn’t have any of the shrimp, but he was nice enough to share a piece of the ahi tuna with me, which was pretty tasty as well. I thought the portions were really generous, too! There were five or six jumbo shrimp, and eight pieces of the tuna.

Onto our steak…

12 oz. Ribeye

12 oz. Ribeye

Petite Filet

Petite Filet

Continue reading »

Jan 172014
 

I still can’t believe that it is 2014, and halfway through January already. But you know what that means: San Diego Restaurant Week is almost here! From January 19-24, over 180 restaurants will be offering special menus – $10, $15, or $20 for lunch, and $25, $35, or $45 for dinner. This year, I was invited to a sneak preview of the Restaurant Week experience at George’s California Modern in La Jolla. S has visited George’s once a couple of years ago and really loved it, and I was really looking forward to the meal.

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George’s California Modern is the fine-dining restaurant in the George’s at the Cove group, all located in the same building in downtown La Jolla. Upstairs is George’s Ocean Terrace, a rooftop dining spot with a beautiful view, and downstairs is George’s Bar, featuring both indoor and outdoor seating.

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We were lucky to get a table by the window. By the time we arrived, the sun had already set, but the dusk sky was still lovely. I can imagine dining here during sunset would be awesome. Sorry for the terrible picture with all the restaurant light reflections, though.

Given the wonderful atmosphere, we couldn’t resist ordering a couple of cocktails (Huh? What do those have to do with each other? Haha. Okay, I think we just wanted to try the cocktails).

Sea Dew Collins (left) and virgin Xolo (right)

Left: Sea Dew Collins [$12]; Right: virgin Xolo [$5]

S tried the Sea Dew Collins: Stolichnaya vodka, rosemary infusion, Punt E Mes vermouth, and lemon. It was this restaurant’s version of the Tom Collins, I believe – he really enjoyed it. I’m too lightweight when it comes to drinks, so I ordered a virgin Xolo: grapefruit, agave syrup, Gran Centenario Anejo (omitted for the virgin version), and black salt rim. Basically, grapefruit juice, hehe. I liked it, though – especially drinking from the rim so that you get the salty-sweet mix, and I imagine that the alcoholic version would be sweeter with the tequila. It was a bit too tart for S.

Complimentary bread & butter

Complimentary bread & butter

After taking our orders, we were presented with some warm, pre-sliced baguette bread. I loved the rustic crust on the bread and wanted to eat the whole loaf, but had to restrain myself…

12-flavors seasoned salt; sea salt; fresh black pepper

12-flavors seasoned salt; sea salt; fresh black pepper

We were also given a tray of seasonings, which confused us at first because I thought it was given to us to eat with the bread. Haha.

Anyway, we decided to try three appetizers from the Restaurant Week menu offerings:

Japanese Hamachi; frozen cucumber meringue, finger lime, smoked ginger-soy gel

Japanese Hamachi; frozen cucumber meringue, finger lime, smoked ginger-soy gel [add'l $4]

If I had to pick one word to describe this dish, I would say “refreshing.” The hamachi was fresh, and the cucumber meringue was a perfect, light accompaniment. The finger limes were my favorite part, though – they were crunchy and had really brightened up the entire dish. Tying it all together was the smoked ginger-soy sauce, which added some salt and depth of flavor to the light ingredients.

Beets; dilled cured golden trout, crème fraîche, juniper

Beets; dilled cured golden trout, crème fraîche, juniper

Beets are one of my favorite veggies – I love the bright colors and earthy taste. Here, beets and beet purée were paired with cured trout and trout roe – a combo that I never would have thought would work, but it turned out quite nicely because the trout’s saltiness brought out the sweetness of the beets.

Soft Egg; onion compote, chanterelles, parsnip foam, brassicas

Soft Egg; onion compote, chanterelles, parsnip foam, brassicas [add'l $2]

When I saw the soft egg and chanterelles on the menu I knew I had to try it – two of my favorite things in one dish. This was my absolute favorite. The egg was cooked perfectly – runny yolk with the whites just barely solidified and holding it together.

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The chanterelles were really nice, as were the roasted leafy greens (I believe there was kale, Brussels sprouts, and maybe some purple kohlrabi), which provided a nice crunch to contrast with the soft egg and parsnip foam. I actually couldn’t taste much the parsnip, but the foam was more of a creamy purée.

Continue reading »

Dec 042013
 

Let me preface this post by saying that this, was the best meal of my life.

(Incidentally also the most expensive. But hey, you only turn 25 once, right? Haha.) So yes, it was my birthday, and I really wanted sushi. Originally, I had suggested Sushi Diner, but S actually said, “Why don’t we go somewhere nice?” I was really pleasantly surprised, and remembering how much Kirk of mmm-yoso loved Sushi Tadokoro, that’s the place I chose.

The menu features a “sashimi omakase,” which I knew was probably a platter of the freshest sashimi that day. But I wanted the full-on sit-at-the-sushi-bar-and-interact-with-the-chef experience, which I’ve only read about but never tried. I was a bit shy about asking for that option, but the chef understood immediately that we wanted the “full omakase.” He told us that the price range would be around $80, which we thought was quite reasonable. I had heard that a similar omakase experience at Sushi Ota would be around $120.

Anyway, there are a LOT of photos in this post, so I’ll stop rambling and get started on the pictures. I tried to remember exactly what Chef Soichi told us about each piece of fish, but sometimes I couldn’t quite catch everything. Haha.

Fresh Oyster (Source: Seattle)

Fresh Oyster (Source: Seattle)

Monkfish Liver

Monkfish Liver / Ankimo

Started out with a couple of “appetizers.” When I heard that the oyster was from Seattle I knew that it’d be good, and indeed it was. I was equally impressed by the monkfish liver, which I’ve always wanted to try. It was every bit the delicacy that I’ve heard about – creamy and rich, even better than foie gras. It was served with grated ginger and a seaweed/ponzu sauce.

Sashimi: Sanma (Japan), Toro (Spain), Kanpachi (Japan), Big-Eye Tuna (Hawaii), Uni (San Diego)

Sashimi: Pacific Saury/Sanma (Japan), Bluefin Tuna Belly/Toro (Spain), Amberjack/Kanpachi (Japan), Big-Eye Tuna (Hawaii), Sea Urchin/Uni (San Diego)

The sashimi platter came after that. I was surprised to see bluefin tuna and felt pretty guilty about eating it, but honestly, it was so good. That’s all. My second favorite was the uni, of course – it was super creamy and very sweet. As for the others, I’ve never had either sanma or kanpachi before. Both were pleasant first-time experiences, and the big-eye tuna was very good as well.

Now begins the procession of nigiri. They were presented to us on our own plates, and we were instructed which pieces should be eaten as is, and which ones should be dipped in soy sauce. Our wasabi and ginger pieces were replenished throughout the meal.

Halibut, cured with kelp seaweed

Halibut, cured with kelp seaweed

Golden-Eye Snapper, with yuzu citrus and Himalaya rock salt

Golden-Eye Snapper, with yuzu citrus and Himalaya rock salt

Continue reading »

Nov 282013
 

This post is loooong overdue – in fact, it’s from San Diego Restaurant Week, all the way back in September. Haha. I guess I forgot about it and was looking through my folders recently, and realized that I never did this post… Well, you could say that this is in preparation for the next RW, in January!

I had originally only planned to visit one restaurant for RW, Nine-Ten, but some of my friends persuaded me into checking out another one. Particularly, one friend who was leaving San Diego soon and was telling me about how this could be his “last Restaurant Week in SD,” etc. etc. So of course I had to go. In the end, we got a group of six people for dinner on the last night of the September RW.

By the way, all the photos in this post are courtesy of my friend J! He has a much nicer camera than mine, that does much better in low light. I actually got another friend, “Uncle E,” to take photos as well, but his camera was too nice, and the files are too big for my little blog… hahaha.

We were seated promptly by the hostess, and soon after we were presented with some baguette slices:

Bread

Bread & Butter

It was pretty good bread, but I wasn’t particularly dazzled by it. But then, this came next…

House Corn Muffins

House Corn Muffins

I have a spot soft in my heart for cornbread/muffins. Anything corny, I guess, ha! But these were so delicious. They arrived at our table warm, freshly baked, and they tasted delicious. Soft and fluffy and buttery and corny. Mmm… we asked for seconds of these, and the next batch arrived warm, too. This restaurant knows the way to my heart. (Ah, if only S knew that all he had to do was present me with warm, freshly-baked, delicious bread, I would have started dating him long before I actually did. Heehee.)

Amuse Bouche: Spot Prawns with Mango Puree

Amuse Bouche: Spot Prawns with Mango Chutney

We were pleasantly surprised with an amuse bouche (“taster bite” that’s supposed to whet your appetite before the meal starts), poached spot prawns with a sweet-and-sour mango chutney. I really enjoyed the prawn, which was fresh and cooked perfectly. I was also a bit sad that S wasn’t at the dinner, since he would have given me his prawn, haha… 

Anyway, for Restaurant Week, Market offers a three-course dinner for $40. Between the six of us, we tried four different appetizers: 

Fuji Apple Salad & Roasted Apple-Brie Tart

Fuji Apple Salad & Roasted Apple-Brie Tart

This was J’s appetizer. I noticed that most of the appetizers had two components. I tried a bit of the apple-brie tart – the crust wasn’t so flaky, but I did love the pairing of apples and brie. I like apples and brie better than the traditional apple with cheddar, actually – the creaminess of brie contrasts well with the crunchy apples. The salad was made with butter leaf lettuce, and a caramelized honey-cider vinaigrette, drizzled with vanilla balsamic. I didn’t try the salad itself, but J seemed to enjoy it.

Alder Wood Smoked King Salmon & Crispy Potato Cake
Alder Wood Smoked King Salmon & Crispy Potato Cake

Continue reading »

Nov 012013
 

A couple of weeks ago, S and I celebrated our five-year dating anniversary! We decided to go to Donovan’s for steak, since we had a gift card and a LivingSocial deal ($40 for $80 worth of food & drinks… I bought the deal several months ago in anticipation for a celebration! Hehe). I was really excited since I had heard good things about it, and both of us love steak.

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We made the reservation a bit late, so the only time we were able to get was 9:15PM on a Saturday night. The popularity of the restaurant actually made me feel even better about going, haha. There are two locations in San Diego: La Jolla and Gaslamp; in addition, there is a Donovan’s Prime Seafood. We were in the La Jolla location.

Complimentary bread & butter

Complimentary bread & butter

I had made a note on our OpenTable reservation that our dinner was an anniversary celebration, and both the hostess and our server gave us congratulations. I was a bit embarrassed and pleasantly surprised, haha. Anyway, our meal started out with some warm bread and butter. I was feeling pretty hungry since it was quite late, but the bread wasn’t anything too special so we tried to eat less of it since we figured that it’ll be a big meal ahead of us.

Between the gift card and the LivingSocial deal, we had $155 to spend, so we decided to go all out. Haha. Here are our appetizers:

Lemon & oyster fork

Lemon & oyster fork

Half-Dozen Oysters on the Half Shell

Half-Dozen Blue Point Oysters on the Half Shell [$14]

Norwegian Smoked Salmon

Norwegian Smoked Salmon [$14]

Toast for Smoked Salmon

Toast for smoked salmon

We chose two light appetizers, raw oysters and smoked salmon. I really loved the Blue Point oysters, which were really refreshing and didn’t taste too briny or “fishy,” as some raw oyster varieties can be. It was served with tabasco, cocktail sauce, and horseradish, but even without any accompaniment (except for a squeeze of lemon), the oysters were delicious. As for the smoked salmon, I was a bit hesitant at first because a lot of smoked salmon tends to be too salty for my liking, but the flavor of the smoked salmon here was perfect. I ate one piece by itself, and the other with the capers, onions, and hard-boiled egg. I used to hate capers, but now I’m actually a pretty big fan, haha.

For our entrées, we decided to share two steaks, a filet mignon and a ribeye, our favorite cuts:

10 oz. Filet Mignon with Au Gratin Potatoes and Vegetables [$45]

10 oz. Filet Mignon with Skillet Fried Potatoes [$45]

Continue reading »

Oct 052013
 

For Restaurant Week this year, I had a difficult time choosing between trying something new or visit one of my previous favorites (such as Whisknladle or Oceanaire). But when one of my fine-dining-loving friends, J, invited S and me to join him for dinner at NINE-TEN, I accepted immediately – decision made! He told me that it was one of his favorite restaurants in San Diego, AND I knew that the sous chef of this restaurant would be competing on this season of Top Chef (no spoilers please – haven’t watched it yet!), so I was looking forward to checking it out.

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NINE-TEN is located right next to the Grand Colonial Hotel in downtown La Jolla – in fact, I believe that the restaurant shares its restrooms with the hotel lobby (just an FYI, haha). Both the hotel and restaurant look pretty fancy.

On the SD Restaurant Week website, there were only two or three offerings to choose from for NINE-TEN’s RW menu. However, we were pleasantly surprised when we saw that there were quite a few more options for the three-course meal. All the of the appetizers and most of the entrées were available!

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Complimentary bread

We were given some baskets of bread to start. Nothing too special, so I didn’t have any trouble restraining myself before the meal.

First up, appetizers:

Hamachi Sashimi

Hamachi Sashimi; marinated baby shiitake mushrooms, scallion vinaigrette

Hamachi Sashimi

Hamachi Sashimi

I chose the Hamachi Sashimi, which was recommended by J. I really liked the quality of the hamachi – quite fresh (although it had just a tad of fishiness in the aftertaste). The vinaigrette really helped to brighten up the fish as well. The baby shiitakes were good, but I did miss a bit of a crunch in the dish – everything was of similar texture, and I wish that there was something to bite on.

Jamaican Jerk Pork Belly; baby carrots, swiss chard, plantains, black-eyed peas, spicy jellies & sweet potato purée

Jamaican Jerk Pork Belly; baby carrots, swiss chard, plantains, black-eyed peas, spicy jellies & sweet potato purée

Continue reading »

Sep 152013
 

During my last trip to Las Vegas, it happened to be during their Restaurant Week – so of course I had to plan a visit to one of the many famous restaurants in Vegas. After looking through all the options and their menus, I finally settled on Lawry’s Prime Rib. At first, S wasn’t too excited since there’s a Lawry’s in Taipei (which means it’s not too exotic for him, I guess?), but I convinced him that we probably wouldn’t be going to Lawry’s when we were in Taiwan, anyway. Haha.

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The Restaurant Week menu consisted of their famous “Spinning Bowl Salad,” a 10 oz cut of prime rib served with sides, and choice of dessert, for $50.13. I thought it was a good deal, considering the regular menu pricing for the 10 oz cut was already in the forties.

Complimentary bread

Complimentary bread

Started the meal with some warm sourdough. We were all really hungry and polished this off rather quickly, which we’d later regret. Haha. Keep reading.

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Our waitress with the spinning bowl salad. I believe the bottom bowl is filled with ice to keep the salad cool, and to allow the top bowl to spin. It was pretty nifty, haha. She also poured the dressing into the salad as it was spinning to make it even throughout. I always have trouble when making salads at home to mix the ingredients properly… maybe I should try this spin method. (Uh-oh, I can see S freaking out already about cleaning up salad pieces from all over the kitchen.)

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The Famous Original Spinning Bowl Salad

Okay, normally I won’t go into details about salads, but this one was really good so I’ll actually talk about it. The salad was a mix of lettuce, baby spinach, shredded beets, chopped eggs, and croutons, and tossed with a French dressing. It sounds simple, but the flavors were actually really nicely balanced – I think the sweetness of the beets really complemented the tangy French dressing. It’s definitely a salad that I’ll try to re-create at home.

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On every table, there were two seasonings: the famous Lawry’s seasoning salt (red cap), and this seasoned pepper. Our waitress recommended us to try it on our salads, and I really liked it. It was mostly black pepper, but also mixed with some dried bell peppers, which added a nice flavor. I hope this is available in grocery stores!

Okay, that’s enough about vegetables. We were here for the meat!

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Everything is done tableside at Lawry’s, including carving the steak! The silver carts roll out to your table, where you would normally get to pick your cut of steak and doneness.

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Lawry Cut Prime Rib with Mashed Potatoes and Creamed Corn

Lawry Cut Prime Rib with Mashed Potatoes and Creamed Corn

Continue reading »

Sep 092013
 

Cucina Urbana had been on my to-try list for quite a long time, but S and I had never really found the opportunity to go. We had tried to make reservations during several Restaurant Weeks, but they were always booked. A few weeks ago, however, one of our friends generously took us out to dinner to celebrate his new job, and we picked Cucina Urbana.

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Other than “upscale, modern Italian food,” I really had no idea what Cucina Urbana was all about. Two of the people in my group had visited before for Restaurant Week and really enjoyed it, though.

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The restaurant was a bit crowded and dim, so I didn’t get many photos of the interior. However, I liked the rustic-modern crossover style of decor.

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 I love it when restaurants offer complimentary bread. I used to take this for granted, until recently I realized that not every restaurant does this. Remember my meal at Sea & Smoke? No free bread. Haha. At Cucina Urbana, there are two types of bread in the basket: a regular sourdough, and a toasted raisin wheat bread. Most of us enjoyed the more exotic raisin bread, but S preferred the sourdough, because the toast was “too crunchy.” Haha…

Vasi: Burrata + Roasted Garlic [$8]

Vasi: Burrata + Roasted Garlic [$8]

S tried one of the “vasi,” literally “jar.” It’s basically a little jar of spread, served with bread. He picked the burrata and roasted garlic, which was really delicious. The burrata was very creamy and tasted quite fresh. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of the roasted garlic. It wasn’t as soft and roasted as I had hoped, but still quite good.

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The Vasi was served with grilled bread (my favorite), and more of the sourdough and raisin toast.

Pizze: Pancetta + Brussel Sprouts Leaf [$15]

Pizze: Pancetta + Brussel Sprouts Leaf [$15]

Our table got a couple of appetizers to share. First up, pizza. All of the pizza options actually looked really good to me, but in the end we went with the first one listed, featuring pancetta, brussel sprout leaves, fontina cheese, red onions, roasted garlic, and calabrian chili. The chili pepper, although not too spicy, added a nice kick, and I thought that the ingredients all worked well together. The crust was thin and had a nice crispy on the bottom. Overall, a really good pizza. Continue reading »