Sunday, October 31, 2010

Holy Hidden Gem!

I stumbled upon the most amazing restaurant I have been to in a long time! Tao a small gem on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights has only been open for 1 year and I am so glad I found it. I tried to eat there last Thursday night and there was a 25 minute wait. Now I was even more intrigued. It was jam packed.
They only take reservations for 6 or more and my friend and I crossed our fingers and went back to Tao last Saturday night. With luck and Halloween being on our side we got a table right away.
Tao feels like the kind of place that will be around for years. Kind of like your favorite mom & pop Italian food restaurant. It has a casual atmosphere and the all the walls are covered in writing by past guests who dined there. Most of the messages on the walls are rants and raves about how amazing the food is.
We were overwhelmed with the menu as there are so many amazing choices.
Our sweet neighbors sitting next to us were regulars and made some recommendations. Turns out they work for the Department of Environmental Health and were not working but enjoying what was about to be my favorite meal I have had in a long time. Observing the meals being served at the tables around us I knew we were in for a treat!
The food at Tao is Vietnamese and Japanese Cuisine. Two of my favorites cuisines combined into one? Is this even possible? The owner & chef is Chinese & Vietnamese and has a Japanese grandmother so this is the real deal when it comes to Asian fusion comfort food. His wife was our waitress and she was such a doll.
Shortly after we sat down and ordered our drinks a complementary salad was served to us. Mixed greens, a sweet fruit vinaigrette, chopped walnuts and tofu. It was delicious but what caught my attention was the tofu. It is HOMEMADE daily and simply melts in your mouth. I don't think I can eat tofu anyplace else. The tofu is what they are known for as many of the dishes include it. In fact they use all 100% soy oil, no MSG and a totally separate cooking compartment for preparing all the vegetarian dishes.
We started with one of the 20 soups on the menu. The Pho Beef Noodle Soup (rice noodle, thin slices of beef, onion, scallions, cilantro, basil, bean sprout, lemon & herbs). The next time I have a cold I will be forgetting chicken noodle soup which is the Jewish penicillin. I am now going to eat Pho the Vietnamese penicillin. The only thing is the temperature could of been a little hotter but the flavors were fantastic and it didn't stop us from eating it.
I ordered the the Eggplant Tofu dish. (Japanese eggplant, breaded tofu with garlic sauce) The spicy level I ordered was a #6 and our waitress stopped me as a #6 is considered really spicy. So I dropped down to a #4 and it was perfect. Also when ordering the rice that comes with most of the entrees you get a choice of steamed, brown or half & half. I went with the half and half and I love that they offer that option. Although next time will order all brown. It was a mix of brown and wild rice. I loved it. This dish was awesome! The eggplant and tofu were a great combination the sauce was spicy and sweet. Amazing!
My friend had the Hainanese Chicken Rice Pot (shredded boneless chicken, shitake mushroom, broccoli, onions, garlic, ginger, scallion) It was incredible. Everything was cooked to perfection and the flavors were amazing. I mean how can anything be bad when served in a clay pot?
To top it off they bring you homemade complimentary ice cream. The flavors of the evening were green tea and pineapple coconut. We got both. They came drizzled with a strawberry sauce, fresh mango & strawberry slices. I mean really? Was this evening all a dream?
As if the evening couldn't get any better our bill was only $42.00. That includes wine and beer.
My friend Jen described Tao as being a Hybrid Vigor restaurant.
(Hybrid Vigor - the increased function of any biological quality in a hybrid offspring. It is the occurrence of a genetically superior offspring from mixing the genes of its parents.) I think that sums it up. Take Vietnamese & Japanese with touch of Chinese and you get a Superior Offspring called Tao. It is SUPERIOR!
3332 Adams Ave. San Diego 92116

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cueva Bar

Cueva Bar just opened last Saturday in University Heights and its only a few blocks away from my house. Hallelujah! If you don't live in the area this is a great tiny, quaint, new restaurant & bar that you should visit. Once they get their liquor license this place will be rocking and rolling. They will be serving wines from Spanish speaking countries and Portugal. Also they will have 6 local california micro brews on tap. They will also serve bottles of handpicked artisan beers from around the US and world.
The ambiance is nice and I love the space they picked. It could be a little darker in there with maybe some candles to give it that cave like ambiance. After all Cueva means cave in Spanish... but I have to give this place a break as they opened up 4 days ago.
One thing I don't have to give them a break on is the food. It was delicious. They serve Argentinian Tapas and they are fantastic. You can check out the full menu here.
We started with the Pita Bread & Veggie Plate served with hummus & guacamole. The pita bread was served piping hot and is baked when you order it. I have never had such fresh pita bread before. The guacamole was really good too. I like my guac with chips but this pita is so fresh you can dip it in just about anything and it will taste good. Who would of known? Loved it!
We also had both of the two salads offered.
Spinach with apples & cherries served with an apple cider vinaigrette and Mixed Greens served with blue cheese hazelnuts served with an apricot vinaigrette. If I had to pick my favorite I would say the Mixed Greens did it for me.
We ordered the special Guela Patty's Potato Soup which is a family recipe of the Owner & Chef Osvaldo Blackaller. It was so good! It was thick, hearty, and had a peppery kick to it. It was the favorite of the evening. Oh and they served it with some more fresh hot pita bread. Got to love that!We also ordered the Chicken Empanadas & Beef Empanadas. They were gold and toasty on the outside and the inside filling was generous, flavorful and juicy. Delicious! They were served with a homemade chimichurri that I couldn't get enough of.
One of the items I didn't get to try was one of the flat breads. I noticed the table next to ours getting theirs and was so jealous. We were just to full to eat anymore. Its all good though, now I have something to go back for.
Cueva Bar
2123 Adams Ave. San Diego CA. 92116

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Indian Spiced Carrot Soup with Ginger

One of my favorite things about fall is making home made soups. I can eat soup every night of the week on a cold fall night especially if its home made. There is nothing better.
This recipe I learned in my cooking class and is by Molly Stevens. It's easy, fast, healthy and delicious! I was surprised how this exotically spiced soup has an incredibly velvety texture and absolutely no cream is called for in this recipe. I love creamy soups but feel so guilty after I eat them because of all the calories & fat. If you love creamy soups, love Indian food, but sometimes feel guilty after eating them then you will love this recipe and you won't feel one ounce of guilt. I promise.
Indian Spiced Carrot Soup with Ginger
2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon curry powder (preferable Madras)
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled, sliced into rounds (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
5 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Plain yogurt (for garnish)
Grind coriander and mustard seeds in spice mill to fine powder. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add ground seeds and curry powder; stir 1 minute. Add ginger; stir 1 minute; Add onions, carrots, lime zest. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
Add broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until carrots are tender; about 30 minutes.
Cool slightly. Working in batches, puree in blender until smooth. Return soup to pot.
Add more broth by 1/4 cupfuls if too thick. Stir in lime juice; season with salt & pepper.
Ladle soup into bowls, Garnish with yogurt, lime wedge & serve.
per serving: 163 calories, 8g fat (1g saturated) 0mg cholesterol, 140mg sodium, 19g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 6g protein

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Take 2

The owners of Neighborhood, Noble Experiment & El Dorado recently opened up a new gastropub and cocktail lounge called Craft & Commerce in Little Italy. I recently had dinner there but this was my second attempt as my first attempt didn't go over so well. On my first attempt my friend and I got there around 7pm on a Friday night. They don't take reservations so we figured we would wait at the bar, have a drink and then dine. When we arrived we had a hard time finding the hostess and the hostess stand. So we went straight to the busy bartenders who were slammed at the overly crowded bar where people were eating and others were yelling over their head to order drinks. My friend was one of those yelling over the patrons dining at the bar and asked if we could check in and get a table for dinner. We were told to write our name on the chalk board and it would be at least an hour wait. It was complete chaos and instantly were turned off. We decided that we didn't want to self write our name on a chalk board listed with 20 people ahead of us and decided to get out of there and go someplace else. It seemed so unorganized.
I really wanted to try the food and give this place some time to work out the kinks so I went back a second time. This time I went on a Wednesday night at 5:30. I knew it would be easy enough to get a table at that hour. This time I was seated right when I showed up.
The menu is nothing to out of the ordinary but has many gastropub options which always sound good to me. Some of the items included:
Apple Wood Bacon Cracker Jacks, Fries & Pickles, Cheese Board & Cured Meat Board, Candied Apple Salad, Brisket Sandwich, Heritage Burger, Hot Dog Trio, Mussels w/ Fries, and Fried Chicken.My friend and I had the Mussels w/ Fries to start. The muscles were really good. Not to many small ones in the bunch. The fries where shoestring fries which I love. The sauce that the muscles and fries were in were a little on the buttery side but tasty.We also ordered the Citrus Avocado Goat Cheese Salad. It was okay. The goat cheese was fried but served cold which was odd, and the citrus over powered the salad. There was maybe two pieces of avocado and when I order a salad with avocado I want more then 2 pieces. I didn't love it.
The Fried Chicken was the best. Served with Buttermilk Slaw, Garlic Green Beans, Fingerling Potatoes, and Red Chile Vinegar. The chicken was crispy on the outside and moist in the inside. The potatoes were heaven on a plate. I asked the waitress what they were made with and she said magic. Good answer for the moment but I really think she had absolutely no idea what they were made with. Educating your waiters might be a good idea.The decor was a bit confusing. I got a southern/western American vibe from the way the bartenders and waiters were dressed, the blues music playing in the back ground and the rough wood tables. Not sure I know what the stacked old books were about. Vintage library perhaps? They had a book on tape playing in the bath room which was different.I think its a bit over the top and the restaurant has somewhat of an attitude. Its the "I'm the cool kid" attitude. Not sure I was feeling it and felt like I needed to be wearing a fedora and suspenders like the bartenders in order to fit in.
As it got later into the night I noticed the bar starting to fill up. People walking in confused looking for the hostess, the patio filling up with hungry impatient men in business suits just wanting to sit down and order a burger. The chalk board was filling up as well and we were paying our bill getting ready to leave. The next people who sit down at our table will be so glad to have a table and not a seat at the bar with people ordering drinks over their heads. I don't think I will go back to this place to eat but would go back and try some of the amazing looking cocktails they had on the menu. Who knows, maybe I will be ordering it over your head while you are eating some down home amazing fried the bar?
Craft& Commerce 675 w. beach st. san diego ca. 92101

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Just The Biscuit"

This morning I went on a 4 mile walk through San Diego's Embarcadero and downtown with good friend of mine. I actually felt like a tourist in my own city seeing things I have never seen before and taking in the beautiful scenery. It felt so good to do that and made me appreciate the spectacular city I live in.
After climbing the stairs at the convention center multiple times we headed back to the main event of the mornings activities.
The stop was restaurateur Terryl Gavre's Cafe 222 downtown located on 2nd & Island. Cafe 222 has been open since 1991 but I had never been before and so it was about time I tried it. The restaurant decor had a quirky feel to it. Bright lime green walls, bright colored gerber daisies & chandlers made out of coffee cups and spoons. I was excited to see what the quirky menu had to offer.
The staff was super friendly and very accommodating. We were seated almost immediately even though there seemed to be a big crowd. I loved how they offered free coffee to those that were waiting. A nice touch.
We wanted to order something from each category on the menu so we could see what this place really had to offer and keeping in mind we needed to try savory & sweet dishes and we did just that.
We ordered...
Eggs Italia - scramble of tomatoes, goat cheese & pesto served with potatoes and focaccia toast
In House Specialties
Tamales & Eggs - Two pork tamales and two eggs topped with Mexican gravy served with griddle potatoes & toast (minus the toast adding "The Biscuit" made with Gruyere cheese & green onions)Griddle
Peanut Butter Banana Stuffed French Toast - featured on The Food Networks "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" with Bobby Flay.At first everything tasted so good and I don't know if it was just because I was hungry from a good work out or having a late 10am breakfast. (I tend to get up early and be half way through my to-do list at this time) Either way we started to process the flavors and food we were indulging in and I started to hear us saying things like. "Should the eggs be hot"?
The flavors of the Italia Scramble were great and I liked how it was dotted with melted goat cheese. Also the bread was good too. It was one of the dishes I liked the most but it was lukewarm. I would of liked it more if it was piping hot.
The tamales & eggs were okay. I think that San Diego has so many great Mexican food restaurants and if you are going to serve Mexican food it needs to taste authentic. The Mexican gravy was a bit over powering and the pork inside was salty and over flavored too. I didn't really taste the pork but I tasted Chili...and lots of it.
The Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast was okay too. I maybe took two bites of this dish. The first to taste and the second to make sure I didn't like it. I was expecting rich and wanted rich. I wasn't getting it. As my friend keep eating it I saw that it was picked over and torn apart and she realized that she wasn't eating it because it was good but was searching for the peanut butter wanting it to be better then it was too. There was not much peanut butter at all. We expected some hot french toast with hot peanut butter oozing out as we cut into it. It was more like sugary dry sandwich with a minimal amount of peanut butter and slices of banana, again served warm not hot.
When we were done with the main event of the morning we were driving home and talking about all the food we just tasted. My friend asked me, "So what did you like about the place"?
I simply replied with "Just The Biscuit". It WAS served HOT and so good. Everything you would want in a biscuit and more and I love myself a good biscuit. Who would of thought, the substitute, the side dish, the after thought, the biscuit would be the favorite?
I will be going back just for them and maybe a side of hot eggs along with another stroll through The Embarcadero.
Be a tourist in your city for a day and hopefully you will find "The Biscuit" too.
Cafe 222
222 Island Ave. San Diego CA.