Vessel Restaurant

S and I first visited Vessel Restaurant at the Kona Kai Resort during a media preview dinner last year, and we had an absolutely wonderful experience. We were lucky enough to be invited again for a summer menu preview a couple of weeks ago, and of course we happily obliged.

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The tables were set beautifully in the private dining area. This was to be a beer-pairing dinner, and the four beer tasters were already prepared.

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Sorry for the blurry photo. I guess my camera (and I) decided to focus on the butter in the back instead, haha. The four beers that we tasted were: Alesmith .394 Pale Ale, Refuge Blood Orange Belgian Ale, Stone Delicious IPA, and Maui Coconut Porter. Out of the four, I really enjoyed the Blood Orange Belgian and the Coconut Porter – which was also S’s favorite.

After catching up with some blogger buddies and making some new friends, we were hungry for dinner! There were a few baskets of asiago cheese rolls, which were awesome, and I really had to stop myself from eating, like, 6 of them. 

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This was our menu for the evening… and also why I reminded myself not to eat too much bread.

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48-Hour Pork Belly

48-Hour Pork Belly; Beer: Maui Coconut Porter

Our meal started out with a 48-hour roasted pork belly. It was so incredibly tender and simply melted in your mouth. It was served with plantain powder, sweet potato spaetzle, and a mole sauce with anise and chocolate. The mole sauce really did it for me – the bitterness and sweetness really complemented the pork belly well.

Roasted Pear

Roasted Pear; Beer: Alesmith .394 Pale Ale

After the pork belly, we were given a simple roasted pear. But don’t be deceived by its simplicity – this was packed with flavor. I loved the caramel notes in the roasted pear, and the cheese was actually a blue Stilton (the chef wasn’t able to get Roquefort). I enjoyed the floral notes in the dish but couldn’t taste much of the black pepper in the vinaigrette.

Corn Dusted Albacore

Corn Dusted Albacore; Beer: Refuge Blood Orange Belgian Ale

I was looking forward to this dish, given that I have a corn obsession. The albacore was fresh and seared lightly. It was served with a savory bacon powder and onion jam – I really enjoyed the sweet and salty interplay. This dish was additionally paired with a serrano-corn custard, which I found to be too sweet and not spicy enough. I liked the fresh corn at the bottom of the custard, though.

Dry-Aged Ribeye

Dry-Aged Ribeye; Beer: Stone Delicious IPA

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Table No. 10 revisit

Table No. 10 is one of S and my favorite “fine-dining” restaurants in San Diego, with its creative menu and lively atmosphere. So, when our friends visited from out of town, we decided to treat them to a dinner there!

I sort of wanted to sit at the Chef’s Table, but I thought that a regular table would be better for conversation. By the way, I forgot to take a photo of the menu so I can’t quite remember the exact names for all the dishes, but luckily I still remember most of the details.

Flux Capacitor

Flux Capacitor

We started out with a Flux Capacitor cocktail, made with gin, rosewater, violet liquor, lemon, honey, maraschino, and lavender, and it’s served with dry ice to create a “steamy”, bubbly effect. It was lightly sweet and quite tasty.

Deviled Eggs

Deviled Eggs

S and I liked the deviled eggs a lot last time, so we ordered it again. It was mixed with Dijon mustard and tarragon for a slightly minty taste. This time, though, I felt like while these were good, I didn’t feel like they were special enough to try at a restaurant.

Parker House Rolls w/ Bone Marrow Butter

Parker House Rolls w/ Bone Marrow Butter

I usually get a bit miffed when restaurants don’t offer complimentary bread – I believe this was $4, but my goodness, it was quite worthwhile. The bone marrow butter was so good – it was full of the rich, meaty flavor of marrow but didn’t taste too greasy. It’s funny how impressed I was just by butter! Haha.

Beet Salad

Beet Salad

I love golden beets, and this little salad really brought out the best of them. This was served with cranberries, microbasil, whipped crème fraîche, and a honey vinaigrette. All of the flavors were quite nicely balanced, and this was a really nice and refreshing dish.

Grilled Octopus

Grilled Octopus

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Twenty/20 Grill & Wine Bar

Recently, I was invited to Twenty/20 Grill & Wine Bar in Carlsbad, located in the Sheraton Resort & Spa. I rarely go all the way up to Carlsbad, but S and I thought that it’d be a fun experience!

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It’s a pretty fancy hotel restaurant, with plenty of outdoor seating and a beautifully decorated interior. We were seated promptly, and I noticed as I was glancing around the restaurant, that Mary, of This Tasty Life, was there too, along with Jake and his son S (haha, I just noticed that there were two “S”s at this meal!). We were pretty excited to see each other and asked the hostess if we could just all sit together, since the more the merrier, right?

Black Smoke [$10] & Templeton Manhattan [$12]

Black Smoke [$10] & Templeton Manhattan [$12]

S and I each ordered a cocktail. I was immediately drawn to the Black Smoke, which has Los Amantes Joven mezcal, blackberries, lime juice, and agave nectar. Tequila is one of my favorite alcohols, and I’ve been trying more mezcals lately. This drink was basically a much smokier version of a margarita, and I really enjoyed it. S chose the Templeton Manhattan, which is their current “Barrel-Aged Cocktail”. He thought it was pretty good, although he later said that he should have just ordered a whiskey on the rocks since he likes that more than cocktails, haha.

Colorado Tin Cup Mule [$11]

Colorado Tin Cup Mule [$11]

I had to get a picture of Mary’s mule, which was served in a tin cup with a carabiner! Isn’t that awesome? I would totally carry that around with me.

Complimentary bread

Complimentary bread & herbed butter

Ah, bread. So filling yet difficult to resist. The bread was warm, the butter was herb-y and whipped, and I had to exercise all my self-restraint to not eat the whole loaf.

The head chef, Julian, came out to chat with us shortly after the bread was served. He said that there was a special Chef’s tasting menu for the evening, or we could order a la carte. I ended up being the only person who ordered the tasting menu… haha.

Salad - pickled melons, tomatoes, basil vinaigrette

Salad – pickled melons, tomatoes, basil vinaigrette

Part of the reason that I was the only one interested in the tasting menu was this salad – no one else was a fan of pickled things, and this had pickled canteloupe, honeydew, and shallots, in addition to compressed watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, and a basil vinagrette. Funnily enough, though, Chef Julian ended up giving everyone a salad. I really enjoyed this – the pickled melons mellowed out the sweetness of the fruits, and paired nicely with the compressed watermelon, which was extra sweet and juicy. The basil vinaigrette’s flavor was quite light, though, and I thought the dish could have used a bit more of it.

Wild mushroom toast [$10]

Wild mushroom toast [$10]

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The mushroom toast had ricotta cheese and truffle oil, and topped with arugula. I really enjoyed it, since mushrooms and ricotta cheese are two of my favorite things!

Braised lamb [$36]

Braised lamb [$36]

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Sea & Smoke revisit

I first visited Sea & Smoke shortly after its opening – along with fellow bloggers Mary and Faye – and really loved it, but haven’t found the time to return until recently. This time, I brought S and our friend A, both of whom haven’t been here before. The menu has changed quite a bit since my last post, so I was quite excited to try some new things.

Ode to Oaxaca

Ode to Oaxaca [$9]

A decided to try the Ode to Oaxaca cocktail, which is made with mezcal, amaro bitters, citrus, and ginger syrup. It was quite good, with plenty of smokiness from the mezcal.

Basil Cream Biscuits with garlic herb butter [$7]

Basil Cream Biscuits with garlic herb butter [$7]

We had a hard time deciding whether to try the biscuits or skillet cornbread – but since S and A both aren’t huge fans of cornbread, we chose the biscuits. I remember really liking the biscuits at Urban Solace, the sister restaurant of Sea & Smoke, so it was no surprise that these were so good – a nice golden crust, with fluffy and buttery layers. The garlic herb butter spread was also quite delicious.

Grass-Fed Beef Tartare

Grass-Fed Beef Tartare: shallots, chives, capers, parmesan, black pepper crème fraîche, poached egg [$12]

I enjoyed the poached egg but thought that the seasoning on the beef was a bit light.

Vanilla Scented Beet Salad

Vanilla Scented Beet Salad: orange, arugula pesto, pistachio, garlic goat cheese, cress leaves, citrus vin [$10.5]

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Juniper & Ivy

Last month, S and I celebrated our six-year anniversary! We chose Juniper & Ivy, Richard Blais’ first restaurant in San Diego, as our celebration spot – both of us were big fans of Chef Blais on Top Chef and have been wanting to try J&I for quite some time.

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We requested to be seated at the Chef’s table (or counter) when making the reservation, and we were lucky enough to get a spot there so that we could watch all the action going on in the kitchen!

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We decided to get a cocktail since this was a special occasion, after all:

A Little R&R: rye, rum, citrus, maple, vanilla & clove [$12]

A Little R&R: rye, rum, citrus, maple, vanilla & clove [$12]

This was really interesting – the maple and vanilla in the drink made it pretty sweet, but it tasted pretty good. (Well, I’m not sure if it was too sweet for S, but I liked it a lot.)

The food menu is divided into sections such as “Snacks”, “Raw”, “Small Plates”, etc, and like many New American restaurants nowadays, everything is meant to be shared. We decided on a variety of smaller plates in addition to a couple of larger entrées.

Slow-Roasted Beets: Bartlett pear ricotta, marcona almond, miso honey vinaigrette, living kale [$12]

Slow-Roasted Beets: Bartlett pear ricotta, marcona almond, miso honey vinaigrette, living kale [$12]

I never knew that S was that into beets, but when he expressed interest in trying them, I immediately agreed. The beets were tender and really tasty, especially paired with the miso honey vinagrette. I remember wishing for a bit more ricotta, though, for some additional creaminess.

Swedish Meatballs: red kuri, McCart's preserves, pumpkin seed pesto [$12]

Swedish Meatballs: red kuri, McCart’s preserves, pumpkin seed pesto [$12]

We liked these house-made Swedish meatballs, but to be honest, the flavor wasn’t overly impressive. I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t anything that made these stand out above the average meatball, even though the flavor combinations sounded so good.

Buttermilk Biscuit with Smoked Butter [$5]

Buttermilk Biscuit with Smoked Butter [$5]

I was looking forward to the biscuit after reading rave reviews, and this totally delivered. The buttermilk biscuit was warm and fluffy without being too crumbly, and the smoked butter and sea salt added a perfect depth of flavor. I would have been happy to eat another one!

Carne Crudo Asada: quail egg, cotija, jalapeno [$14]

Carne Crudo Asada: quail egg, cotija, jalapeno [$14]

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Vessel Restaurant at the Kona Kai Resort

Recently, S and I were invited to a Media Dinner to try out Vessel Restaurant, a newly renovated restaurant at the Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island. We’ve never been to Shelter Island before and thought that it was quite a nice and pretty part of town!

Apparently, the renovations to the restaurant changed things up quite a bit from what it was like before. I thought that the centerpiece at the bar was really neat:

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There was a good variety of spirits and drinks – S tried a Manhattan and really enjoyed it. There were also some punch bowls for the Media Dinner – “The Local”, which is made with gin, St. Germain, pressed lemon, and cucumber soda; their Mai Tai, made with spiced rum, pineapple, and orange, and a virgin Mojito. I got too excited with the drinks and didn’t take photos, oops…

The restaurant itself looked quite nice and cozy – here’s an example of one of the tables:

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I really liked the colors of the restaurant – various shades of green, aqua, and blue. It fit well with the seaside theme and provided a relaxed yet classy atmosphere.

Here’s our menu for the evening!

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First up, our amuse bouche:

Beef Carpaccio: popcorn shoots, preserved lemon, crispy capers

Beef Carpaccio: popcorn shoots, preserved lemon, crispy capers

I’ve only had beef carpaccio once before, more than four years ago. Carpaccio is thinly-sliced raw beef, and this was super tender. The dish had just enough flavor from the olive oil and popcorn shoots (the yellow shoot that you see), but wasn’t overpowering. I also adored the crispy capers that provided some textural contrast with the tender beef. What a delicious start to the meal! S and I gobbled this down in minutes. (We eat super fast, and I normally don’t notice until we go to a group dinner like this – our plates are empty and everyone around us is working on their second piece… Oh well.)

Heirloom Apple Salad: butter lettuce, Humboldt fog, granola, lemon olive oil, petite celery

Heirloom Apple Salad: butter lettuce, Humboldt fog, granola, lemon olive oil, petite celery

Our next course was an apple salad, which was perfect because it was just the start of apple season! Actually, Executive Chef Roy Hendrickson came out to speak to us, and he told us that apple season is actually delayed this year compared with before. There are several types of apples in this salad – Granny Smith, braeburn, and honey crisp – each of which contributed a unique flavor. I was also super happy that the salad was paired with Humboldt Fog, one of my favorite cheeses EVER. Even S, who always crinkles his nose at cheeses, loved it! I was actually quite surprised by that, but it made me happy, hehe. So, both of us really loved this salad, and I definitely recommend it if you’re visiting soon because I bet that the apples will taste even better.

Porcini Dusted Sea Bass: wild mushroom, Peruvian potato, smoked bacon dijon emulsion, avocado mousse, pistachio, upland cress

Porcini Dusted Sea Bass: wild mushroom, Peruvian potato, smoked bacon dijon emulsion, avocado mousse, pistachio, upland cress

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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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[Las Vegas] Bouchon Bistro

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]

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Searsucker

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! …

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Ruth’s Chris Steak House (Restaurant Week)

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

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