Thursday, March 22, 2012

No. 215: Foodventurous Travels - San Diego Daytrip


My friends and I went on one of those 'just because' daytrips to San Diego earlier this month, and while we didn't check out anything new foodwise, it was pleasant to re-visit some of my favorite spots. Moreso given the unexpectedly sunny-yet-breezy weather down there.
Cinnamon Roll @ Urban Solace
We started off with a brunch at Urban Solace, a North Park restaurant serving up contemporary American fare with a few eclectic twists. For the table, we shared the buttermilk cinnamon roll with cream cheese frosting and pecan butter sauce. While decadent, I'm surprised that this roll doesn't taste particularly heavy. The butter pecan sauce wasn't too sweet, and the frosting was whipped to an almost cloud-like frothiness.
Salad @ Urban Solace
And even though I didn't feel particularly guilty from sharing that cinnamon roll, I opted for a light brunch entree, an arugula/endive/radicchio salad with avocado, grapefruit, hazelnuts, goat cheese and roasted garlic vinaigrette with some grilled shrimp. And overall, a very enjoyable salad that maintained an incredible of balance of flavors and a fun mix of textures from all those components, and the garlic vinaigrette wasn't overpowering at all; in fact, there were only wisps and tinges of its pungency.
The Big Apple @ Urban Solace
Perhaps more impressive are their cocktails. I had the pleasure of trying The Big Apple with Leopold Brothers' NY Apple Whiskey, Campari, Apple Cider, Lemon and Bitters. It might look almost too sweet and fruity on the menu, but it's definitely not - the Campari's herbal bitterness definitely tempered the other ingredients, and the cider is more about the bubbles than sugar, making this a delightful daytime sipper.
Balboa Park
Following brunch, we took advantage of the lovely day to trek in and around Balboa Park, starting off at the Museum of Photographic Arts -- a cozy, intimate space with a few carefully-curated collections, though I was amused at the irony of them forbidding any photo-taking inside.
Organ Pavilion Concert
This was followed by a leisurely stroll through the El Prado, a brief pause at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion for a free concert and finally, The House of Pacific Relations' International Cottages where there was a pre-St. Paddy's Day music & dance festival from the House of Ireland (along with a slew of other exhibits, performances and food/drink samples from the other houses.)
Lost Abbey Tasting Room
After the trot about the park, we decided it was high time to check out a brewery, and opted for the Lost Abbey, where we tasted a few of their eclectic, Belgian-inspired brews (along with some California-esque beers from its more mainstream sibling, Port Brewing.) 
Beers @ Lost Abbey
Before leaving, I wanted to snap up a bottle for their Carnevale (my current fave of their line,) but that ran out so I opted for the peppery, spicy Red Barn Ale instead.
Cocktails @ Craft & Commerce
With the sun slowly sinking below the horizon, we dove back down to San Diego proper to dine at Craft & Commerce, a fairly new restaurant & bar that does beers & cocktails (and of course, beer cocktails) pretty well. Having had our fill of brewskis already from Lost Abbey, we opted mostly for the latter, though I simply couldn't resist Curieux's siren call and got the Up in Smoke (nearest one in photo above,) where the Jim Beam-aged beer is mixed with Islay Scotch, fuji apples and lime, and the peaty smokiness was a much welcome addition to the fruity & oaky notes. Equally delicious was conbon's Lay Lady Lay (farthest one in above photo) with Raspberry Lambic, Champagne and Ginger -- surprisingly not too sweet and the ginger's spiciness definitely amplified the fizzy fun.
Salad @ Craft & Commerce
Still not quite out of my salad craze, I got the citrus & avocado salad with fried goat cheese, marcona almonds, jicama and citrus vinaigrette. The dressing was sweeter than the one @ Urban Solace, but again, this was a fun fiesta of different flavors & textures. I particularly love how the small spheres of goat cheese croquettes lent a slight decadence to this dish.
Broiled Oysters @ Craft & Commerce
While we wanted to try their roasted marrow; that went out so we opted for the broiled oysters that wound up being sensational; the meat was succulent, velvety and briny and I loved the crisped up seaweed topping on it.

All in all, it was time & money well spent . . . and I can't wait to dive down again another day trip of eats, drinks and adventures.

3823 30th Street 
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 295-6464

155 Mata Way #104  
San Marcos, CA 92069(800) 918-6816

675 W. Beech St. 
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 269-2202

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

St. Patrick's Brunching . . .

Last week I posted a sneak peek of the cocktail I'm serving for a St. Patrick's brunch with friends, so I figure I might as well blog about the brunch I whipped up for the occasion too.

Starter Bites & Sips
Along with the Irish-Italian-American, I also had bottles of Killian's Irish Red Ale & Guinness Extra Stout on the ready. And to give the on-time guests something to nibble on while waiting for latecomers, I bought a loaf of Irish soda bread (which apparently has its own preservation society) and some Kerrygold tub butter. Normally I don't keep salted butter around the house, but the salted, creamy Irish butter worked well with the dense, sweet & raisiny bread (and it didn't hurt that Fresh & Easy was having a buy one, get one free promotion either.)

Along with the bread, I also put out some "crunchy greens" of pistachios and wasabi peas.
Emerald Isle Salad
After everyone arrived, I started tossing my Emerald Isle Salad. Like the "crunchy greens", its homage to Ireland is in name only, being a hodgepodge of different greenish ingredients (spinach, butter lettuce, scallions and pistachio with a wasabi-lime dressing [recipe below]) I originally wanted to throw in some avocados too, but found out the ones I had on hand weren't quite ripe enough yet. Nonetheless, it was tasty and sophisticated at the same time with a myriad of different flavors and textures building upon each other, binded with a dressing that's delightfully tart, a little sweet with just a tinge of sinus-opening pungency from the wasabi and mustard.
Irish Beef StewRoasted Potatoes

For the main course, an Irish Beef Stew (originally intended to be a lamb stew, before I discovered that my local markets sold out of the stewing cuts of lamb...) and, a slightly truer homage to Ireland, Roasted Garlic-Rosemary Potatoes. The stew recipe is pretty basic and super easy... I simply browned two pounds of beef with a little salt and pepper, then tossed that in with bite-sized pieces of celery, scallions and carrots. Then I added a cup of broth and some herbs (rosemary, thyme and oregano) and let it simmer overnight in a slow cooker on the low setting. Lastly, a sprinkle of curly parsley & scallions for a little color and fresh flavor right before serving.

For the taters, I pretty much followed this CHOW recipe with just a few minor tweaks and had fantastic results (crispy, well-seasoned exterior and fluffy starchiness within.) And since both came out piping hot, it was a much appreciated entreƩ for my friends who drove through the cold & rain for the occasion.
Beer Float
Originally I intended to make some Irish Whiskey truffles for dessert but the ganache didn't quite set in time so I went for a quick sweet fix, Guinness Stout Floats. And one seemed to mind, if the empty goblets afterwards were any indication.

So there you have it, a St. Patrick's Day brunch that provided lots of comfort, yet thrown with little effort -- in tune with my party hosting style. I'm glad to squeeze one final use out of that slow cooker before the warmer days of Spring return, and I definitely plan on remaking that dressing for future salad 

Lime-Wasabi Dressing (simply combine and whisk away!)
4 oz. extra virgin olive oil
1 oz. rice vinegar
juice & zest of 1 lime (preferably organic, since the skin is used)
1 teaspoon green wasabi powder (alternatively, 2 teaspoons wasabi paste)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon brown sugar
a few dashes of freshly-cracked pepper

Friday, March 16, 2012

Recipe 31: Irish-Italian-American

I know, I know... tomorrow green beers and Irish car bombs will be all the rage for St. Patrick's, but instead of a drink that's (artificially) green to the point of frightening or one that's as crazy un-PC as hell, why not celebrate it with a little class? You can go easy-but-chic (and brunch friendly) with a Guinness Black Velvet, or in my case, the Irish-Italian-American . . . a Manhattan twist utilizing ingredients from the three distinct-yet-intertwined cultures and traditions.
Of course, since it *is* St. Paddy's -- feel free to have a little fun and name this drink after your favorite Irish-Italian-American (here's the few I recalled & tweeted from the top of my head)

2 oz Irish Whiskey (Jameson or Bushmills would be fine, but I opted for John L. Sullivan since I found out that it's aged in Bourbon barrels, whimsically taking the Irish-American theme another level... and the bottle looked pretty awesome too!)
1 oz Italian Vermouth (Punt E Mes for me, since it's a nice balance of sweet & bitter with a real nice herbacious depth)
2 dashes Gary Regan's Orange Bitters (though Peychaud's would fit the American theme too)
1 ripe strawberry (A Luxardo or brandied cherry would work fine too if you want to keep it classic, but I loved how the sweet scent of the strawberry eases out the spicy edge of this drink... and gives you something light & refreshing to nibble on afterwards)

1. Chill the cocktail glass, preferably with ice water.
2. Combine the whiskey and vermouth in a mixing glass, add a few ice cubes (the larger the better to minimize dilution) and stir gently for about 10 seconds
3. Strain into cocktail glass and add 2 dashes of bitters
4. Garnish with strawberry and enjoy!

Monday, March 05, 2012

No. 214: Lamb Burger-ing Across LA

I might not be able to handle 30 hamburgers for 30 days straight or even cope with six courses of lamb in one sitting, but over the past few months I've had a dalliance, possibly an infatuation, with lamb burgers. Compared to its way more common beef patties, ground lamb burgers, with its tender-yet-lean texture and sweet-gamey flavor, are just so much more elegant and sophisticated . . . akin to turning that simple little black dress into a chic outfit with the right accessories. 

Speaking of accessories, I find that lamb burgers are often adorned with more daring veggies, sauces and cheeses (I guess chefs figure since they're already using an eccentric meat, why not push the envelope on everything else as well?) Of course, this makes the bovine counterpart's almost-formulaic toppings look very plain Jane. Iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion, cheddar-ish cheese & the 1000 Island-esque dressing? *yawn*

And as such, I've gone on a journey exploring lamb burgers at different venues around town, and here are my thoughts on them:

Public School 612*; $13 a la carte

Public School 612 Lamb Burger
Public School 612 Lamb Burger
The joint that really got me hooked onto lamb burgers (until that time I'm always worried they'd be too gamey,) the version here is adorned with a tomato-cranberry jam, arugula and melty brie cheese. And I'd say this is the best lamb burger for a beginner to dab his or her toes into... the patty itself isn't all that gamey, and one can't really tell if the unctuousness is from the brie or the lamb. Furthermore, it is contrasted with the sharp peppery bite of the arugula and the fairly intense sweet-tang of the jam, making for such a vibrantly-flavored burger that one doesn't even think much about if it's beef, lamb or otherwise. 

Extra tip: Their "Cutting Board" of assorted charcuterie and cheese is generously portioned and well worth the $14 (or however it's divided amongst your friends.) I also loved the brown bag fries here, and while beer is their forte, they did a decent job with the Sazerac too! And from eyeing their menu, I can't wait to return to try the fried cheese curds.

Comme Ca; $16 w fries & on Tuesdays only (when they do their burger nights)
Comme Ca's Lamb Burger
Another good starter choice for the game-phobic, the patty here is actually a Merguez lamb sausage, so the bulk of the pungency is from its hefty herbs and spices. It is nicely complemented with the peppery arugula, as well as caramelized onions and roasted peppers. Unfortunately, I didn't realize until afterwards that it came out on the wrong bun, and a hearty ciabatta would've stood up better to the juicy burger and wet toppings than the softer & spongier brioche-like bun. But still, this was more well-liked than the two beef burgers our table ordered (and a close contender to #1 with the breakfast burger, really a glorified and gravy'd up Sausage McMuffin.)

Extra tip: If pairing burgers with wine is your thing, this is the place to go on Tuesdays; they have a nice list with quite a few delicious-yet-affordable selections by the glass or bottle (we wound up splitting a bottle of Rhone for around $45.) Of course, their cocktail list is not to be ignored either...

Short Order; $15 a la carte
Short Order Lamb Burger
Short Order Lamb Burger
I've deemed this the 'very green' burger for the sheer amount of arugula they threw in there, further bolstered with salsa verde garnish. And I love the whimsical use of feta as the cheese for this burger (and enough to overlook the messy cheese crumbles that fall off with each bite.) Whereas the two previous burgers seem to downplay the lamb's gaminess factor, this one tasted more like a celebration of it. It may look like a lot of greens, but they are definitely flavor backdrops in comparison to the earthy, sweetgrassy patty of lamb.

Extra tip: The burger is a la carte, but you should definitely splurge on the sides too! My +1 and I loved the Short Order Spuds that tastes amazingly half-baked & half-fried plus the springy and not-heavy-at-all macaroni salad (both $4). Oh, and splitted a Coffee Malt Custard Shake for dessert ($6.)

The Tripel*; $11 w salad
The Tripel's Lamb Burger
Upon first bite, I decided this was the funnest of the lamb burgers sampled. Simply put, it was party of flavors going on in my mouth. The cucumbers and pickled onions lent a refreshing familiar-but-distinct crunch (and I much welcomed the break from arugula on my lamb burgers) and the honey-harissa aioli is a wonderful "just right" sweet, spicy & pungent accompaniment to the burger without overpowering the flavor of the lamb. And I also love that this burger comes with a well-dressed salad on the side... so I can feel ever-so-slightly less guilty by dodging the fries and getting more leafy greens in my meal.

Extra tip: As the name suggest, Belgian-style beer is king here and their ever-changing taps are worth a check out (that night, I rekindled my love for Victory's Golden Monkey for $7.) Another must-order is their parmesan-poppy biscuits with a honey butter dip ($6), two-bite-sized pieces of heaven that hits you with the holy trinity of savory cheese, sweet butter and fluffy cloudlike carbs.

Haven Gastropub; $16 w fries
Haven Lamb Burger
Haven Lamb Burger
While I enjoyed all the lamb burgers I've tasted, this version is my favorite. I absolutely love their use of onion sprouts as the 'greens' for this burger; it does double duty of adding crunch & flavor. Likewise, the tzatziki sauce spread provides a cooling, herbal tang that adds creaminess without weighing the whole thing down like an aioli might've. And lastly, it is balanced out by the buttery sweetness of an onion jam, and as someone who always keep a supply of caramelized onions in the fridge, I approve!

However, I do have slight reservations about its accompanying dirty fries. They are flavorful but are hardly crispy at all. In fact, only the potato skins has an actual crunch, whereas the other sides have that oil-soaked flaccid-ness that's not very appealing (and despite my love for French fries, I couldn't bring my tastebuds - or blood vessels - to finish these.)

Extra tip: All of their craft cocktails lean towards the sweet side (e.g. their Manhattan variation features a Walnut liqueur & their Negroni spin switches out the standard Campari for its sweeter cousin, Aperol) so I'm more inclined to order beers here (after trying 2 of them and finding both way too sugary, I didn't even want to chance it with a standard cocktail.) 


So there you have it--five delicious lamb burgers all over L.A. to suit a multitude of palates & preferences. And yes, I've since had my share of bovine burgers, and solidly delicious as they are, every time I try on that simple little black dress of a beef patty my eyes and tastebuds always seem to yearn for the more edgy & flamboyant ovine outfit instead. But I find solace knowing that a lamb burger is never far away (not to mention plenty more to discover around town!)

*Disclosure: the burgers @ Public School 612 & Tripel were comp'd.

Public School 612
612 South Flower Street  
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 623-1172

Comme Ca
8479 Melrose Avenue  
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(323) 782-1104

Short Order @ The Original Farmers Market
W 3rd St 
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 761-7970

The Tripel
333 Culver Boulevard  
Playa Del Rey, CA 90293
(310) 821-0333

Haven Gastropub (Pasadena)
42 South De Lacey Avenue
Pasadena, CA
(626) 768-9555


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...