Friday, December 28, 2007

The Green Leaf

With the exception of a bit too flustered service, we enjoyed the food at Tamarind Tree restaurant so much that we decided to take another foray into Seattle's International District while we were there. After having a good look on Yelp, we found The Green Leaf, a Vietnamese restaurant that many users were comparing to Tamarind Tree and more often than not, claiming it was even better. This was all the encouragement we needed to set off.

Learning my lesson from Tamarind Tree, I called Green Leaf ahead of time to make reservations for 4, but the woman on the phone said she did not take reservations for that small a number which I found rather odd. This feeling soon turned into a bit of annoyance when there was only one table remaining at the restaurant and it was unfortunately situated directly in the path of an icy wind tunnel that was created each time the door was opened (which was frequent due to the delivery people). To say that the decor of the place is a step down from Tamarind Tree would be a vast understatement. This was very much a hole-in-the wall restaurant you go on your lunch break as opposed to Tamarind where you could easily take a date or a crowd of friends.

Perhaps I should have tried something more adventurous, but I was so delighted by the Chili Chicken with Lemon Leaves at Tamarind Tree that I ordered a similar Lemongrass Chicken dish at Green Leaf. My dad ordered the house special noodle soup, Kym had the Vegetarian Vermicelli and my mom ordered the same thing as me only with shrimp instead of chicken.

The food arrived completely separate of each other which was a bit strange and always a bit awkward as people's food gets cold and you have no idea how long it will be. My chicken was quite good, though admittedly not quite as good as Tamarind. My dad found the noodle soup overcooked, especially the meat inside. My mother's lemongrass shrimp was oddly much more spicy than my dish which she wasn't quite able to handle unfortunately. In a reversal of fortunes, Kym was the most happiest with her dish finding it very delicious, particularly the tofu which was probably the best she's ever had!

Maybe we didn't make smart menu choices, but right now, given the similarity in prices, there's little question over which Vietnamese restaurant I'll go back to next time I'm in Seattle.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Dinner

My parents recently installed a beautiful new kitchen in their house so there was an impetus to cook a great dinner for Christmas. Instead of the typical roast dinner, we decided to cook an international cuisine and after some discussion, settled on Mediterranean.

We were fortunate to come across a Gordon Ramsay tv special that included a perfect recipe this theme:

Eggplant Caviar

Serves 3-4

2 medium eggplant
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut into halves
2 tbsp rock salt
Few sprigs of thyme and rosemary
Olive oil, to drizzle
150ml sour cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Small bunch of cilantro, leaves chopped
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the eggplant in two lengthways, then score the flesh with the tip of your knife in a criss-cross pattern. Rub the garlic halves over the scored sides of the eggplant and stud two halves with rosemary leaves and the other two halves with sprigs of thyme.

2. Drizzle over the olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Sandwich a rosemary-studded and a thyme-studded half together, with the garlic halves, and wrap tightly in foil to resemble a tootsie roll. Repeat with the other two halves. Place on a roasting tray and bake for 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

3 Remove the foil from the eggplant , discard the herbs and scrape the flesh and garlic on to a chopping board. (Use two spoons when you’re doing this as the aubergines will still be steaming hot). Chop to a coarse paste.

4 Heat a saucepan with a little olive oil and add the eggplant paste. Cook over high heat for about 30 seconds, stirring frequently, until the juices have evaporated and the pulp is thick. This will also help to intensify the flavour of the eggplant.

5 Stir in the cilantro and sour cream and season to taste. Add a squeeze of lemon, spoon into a dipping bowl.

We served it along side toasted baguette for a delicious appetizer! This really turned out beautifully with a very interesting flavor.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tamarind Tree Restaurant

Last night was my first night in Seattle for Christmas vacation and my mom took us out for dinner at a nearby Vietnamese place they recently discovered and very much enjoy.

Tamarind Tree restaurant is located in the International District near to a plethora of other Vietnamese. Although it is tucked away in the corner, the decor of the place really makes it stand out as a classy restaurant in comparison to the the other Vietnamese places nearby.

I have never been to a Vietnamese place like Tamarind Tree--only hole-in-the-walls. Although we were fortunate enough to find a parking space in their packed lot in the back, we were not so lucky with finding a table. In all honesty, we were a bit aloof not to call ahead and make a reservation, somehow forgetting that it was a Friday night. The restaurant was bustling and we were almost tempted to head home again when we were told it was a 45 minute wait. I'm not sure if they are new to being this busy, but they didn't seem very well equipped to handle people waiting. There was nowhere to sit, no menus to look at and to make matters worse, the hostess accidentally skipped over us making our wait even longer.

When we eventually did get seated, I ordered the Chili Chicken with Lemon Leaves while Kym and my mother both ordered the specialty, Tamarind Tree Crepe. I was very happy with the chicken dish which came in an ample size and tasted delicious. My mother was also happy with her Crepe in spite of the fact that she realized after it was served that she had meant to order something else. Kym was not quite so fortunate and received a non-vegetarian crepe which is never a pleasurable experience for her to bite into and when the correct order finally arrived, she didn't like the greasy combination of deep-fried tofu inside the deep-fried crepe.

While I would say they have some bumps in the road to fix, I have to keep in mind that they continue to have very low prices for some great food and atmosphere. Definitely recommend the place!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Capitol City Brewery

Situated very close to Union Station and Georgetown law school's campus is Capitol City Brewery. Because of its location, Kym passes by it all the time on the way to school so Monday we decided to give it a try along with some of our friends. Probably due to its location as well, the place gets pretty packed in the evenings. Although I did like the design of the place with the immense copper vats in the middle of it all, the inside felt a bit too much like a college frat part--probably due to the particularly young age of the crowd all standing around with beer and shouting--so we got a table outside under a patio heater. It was still a bit cold, but worth it.

We started with a round of Capitol City's own brew. The beer was pretty good, notably the pale ale was crisp and refreshing. The amber on the other hand, wasn't a favorite.

For dinner I had the meatloaf which came with a spicy gravy that made for a strange and simply bad combination. I normally like trying new combinations and enjoy spicy food, but the combination ended up being poor.

Kym had Cobb salad holding the chicken and bacon of course. This dish was also a bit odd as they crumbled up the boiled eggs in a layer on the outside which looked weird and was a strange way to eat an egg. There was simply too much egg as well. Other than that bit, the salad tasted good, particularly the dressing. The side of mashed potatoes she added along side was delicious, no complaints there.

One of our friends got the jambalaya which like the meatloaf fell prey to a strange combination of otherwise tasty jambalaya poured over strong cilantro rice which again made the dish taste strange.

Overall we had some good food and drink, but some strange flavor combinations on the menu to be sure.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Spinach, Green Pepper and Corn Enchiladas

Friday night and a little free time so we broke out the oven mitts and spatulas (party animals, I know)! Tonight on the menu, some delicious vegetarian enchiladas. There's something about the combination of spinach and cheese that rarely fails. The recipe was as follows:

1 cup cottage cheese (we used the non-fat type we had just fine)
10 oz frozen spinach
1 onion
pinch of cumin
1 1/2 cups corn (canned or frozen)
2 green peppers
2 T grated parmesan
pinch of salt

6 flour tortillas (the whole wheat variety we used were delicious)
1 1/4 cups salsa (preferably the fresh salsa in the refrigerated section rather than jarred)
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup milk

1 1/4 cups grated cheese (any good melting type)

In an oiled pan, saute the onions and peppers until golden brown, ad the cumin and thawed spinach. While this is cooling puree the cottage cheese in a blender/food processor, and stir in the saute mixture, corn, Parmesan and salt.

Stir the ingredients of the sauce together and pour a thin layer into a greased 9x9 baking dish. Then roll the mixture tightly into each of the 6 tortilla shells and place them side by side and pour over the remaining sauce. Finally, sprinkle the melting cheese on top.

Bake at 375 for 25 minutes covered, then an additional 5 minutes uncovered to brown the top.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Subjectivity of Wine

Jonah Lehrer over at recently wrote a fascinating piece entitled the Subectivity of Wine. The article delves into the intriguing question of how much we are fooling ourselves when throwing down large sums of money for 'good' wine. I can't say the experiments he cites are too much of a shock. The power of the mind and placebos is well established. Oftentimes people don't even notice the complete lack of alcohol in an alcoholic drink, so it's not too surprising that people have trouble differentiating between the quality of those that do contain the bitter substance of alcohol within.

The most fascinating part was the so called 'experts' who could not even recognize that they were being served white wine. Of course, this this a great example of the power of the mind since they saw red wine and they were told they were drinking red wine, but still for none of these tasters who think of themselves as having such astute palates to recognize this is remarkable. After reading this it reminded me of how France's national wine tasting refuses to cover up labels when tasting wine.

Personally I've never been one to spend a great deal of money on wine, particularly at a restaurant. When I stop to think about it--am I really getting an extra $35-55 worth of enjoyment out of a moderately priced wine than I am out of the house wine? Not to say that I can't appreciate a great wine (at least I think I can, but this article casts doubts on that previous assumption), it's just about the actual dollar value of that appreciation. That of course makes sense in conjunction with wine's connotation with the wealthy since millionaires are likely going to be much less discerning over $20-30 spent.

I think I'm also much more likely to appreciate a $7-10 glass of beer (so long as its not a lager/light beer) than I am a $7-10 glass of wine. Perhaps that is just me and my unsophisticated pallete, but I remember well what an Italian sommelier once told me: the most popular wine in Italy is not a robust red from Chianti or delicate crisp white from Liguri, it is a brand of boxed cooking wine (and no, it is not just used for cooking).

Friday, November 30, 2007

Spaghetti with spinach and goat cheese

Lately it's felt like we've got into the rut of cooking the same dishes over and over, so last night we broke out one of our favorite recipe books, Quick, simple, and main-course vegetarian pleasures, for inspiration and found a simple but tasty looking recipe, Spinach Fettucine with fresh spinach and goat cheese. I didn't really know where to find spinach fettucine (and couldn't quite be bothered to find and drive to a specialty shop), so we went with the whole wheat spaghetti in our cupboard. We also substituted the plain goat's chese with a garlic and herb variety from Trader Joe's (Kym was not a pleased with this substitution as she thinks the herbs overpower the goat cheese itself, but I disagree).

The recipe is pretty simple, you fry some garlic and red chili pepper flakes in olive oil, then add in fresh spinach until wilted, toss with pasta and crumbled goat cheese and season. It's simple and quick, but it's also very delicious. It was so tasty in fact that I resisted adding some mango chicken sausage I had picked up while at TJ's.

Speaking of TJ's we started off with some frozen bruschetta (fitting in with the Italian theme) I had spotted there while picking up the baby spinach. Unlike many frozen goods at Trader Joe's, however I can't speak very highly of it. The bread was simultaneously burnt and undercooked while the tomato topping, as you might imagine, was not particularly nice compared with brushetta made from fresh tomatoes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Po Siam Thai delivery

I'm not sure when they rolled it out exactly, but Yelp has added links to online menus. Through this we were able to find another non-pizza delivery place (yay!), Po Siam Thai. The prices there are definitely good, about $6-9 an entrée. The selection there is good, certainly better than the rather small menu of Red Mei. It has the classic dishes and then some, but still not too crazy of an amount off dishes as I've seen some Asian takeout places have. The delivery time was pretty good as well, about 30 minutes.

We got the Pad Thai and Massamun Curry. The Pad Thai in particular was easily the best I've had here in DC. The Massaman curry, though not fantastic, was still very tasty even if it lacks a bit in comparison to ones I've had on the west coast. We also had the 'Fried Bean Curd' appetizer AKA tofu with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce, which is a sauce I've had before--specifically the 'spicy' element in a peanut sauce--and it was a delicious combination of the flavors.

Certainly this place show a lot of potential, we''ll definitely be trying it again. It's a good place to get delivery Thai if you feel like shelling out a few more bucks than at Red Mei.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Last night we were headed up to our local shopping center to pick up some needed housewares so while there we decided to see if there were any worthwhile chainy-type restaurants. We weren't spoiled for choice there, the main choices we could see were a Mexican restaurant called Don Pablo's and a microbrewery, Hops. Both options were new to us West-coasters and since we have tendency to have a bit overly-high expectations since living in Southern California, we went for Hops.

Table for two was a small wait so we had a seat at the bar to try out a couple of the Microbrews. Personally I always expect at least a short list if not a description of the beers they make, but this place had neither which is annoying as I hate having to ask a busy bartender who is hurrying around if he could stop and list the beers for me then wait while I decide.

I went for the darker ale while Kym had the lager. Neither was very flavorful, though I did appreciate the frosted mugs which are always nice. Another instance of not particularly great customer service was not being able to take the tab with you to the table from the bar so I had to sit there waiting to get his attention and the check while Kym went to the table.

The vegetarian menu options for Kym were nonexistant and when we asked the waitress if there was any sort of veggie burger or anything they could do she said a flat and abrupt "No." which came across as rather rude, but Kym found a salad that worked and I went for the chicken and shrimp alfredo linguini.

Kym also ordered some 'Pub Chips' to start which she was very much looking forward to given the lack of any entree for her. Now, maybe this is an East Coast or Southern cultural thing I'm missing but when I hear the term 'pub chips' without descriptions, I picture the kind of fat fries that come with fish and chips. Retrospectively, a quick Google Image search seems to agree with me. Alas, we discovered that 'pub chips' here means something along the lines of soggy Ruffles potato chips.

The food arrived pretty quickly, my linguine was okay, but Kym's salad was completely drenched in dressing. I'm not one to be as sensitive to this as some salad-eaters I know, but this was ridiculous, everything was downright soggy. I suggested she send it back, but she didn't want to make the fuss.

When we go the check the waitress put it on our table and mumbled something to us that all we could really make out was the word 'cashier'. Given the service so far, we assumed this was Denny's style paying since we did see something that looked like a register on the way, but ran into the waitress on the way out and found she had said "I'll be your cashier" which I find an odd thing to say, particularly when done rather inaudibly, when that is the default method of paying at a restaurant and I've never viewed it before as a waitress simultaneously filling the dual roles of server and cashier.

Atmosphere was fine and seating was comfortable, but that didn't make up for the poor service and food.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Due to various financial and academic concerns, we were unable to make the trip home for Thanksgiving, however we were able to have some of our friends from DC over as they were remaining in DC as well for the same academic concerns.

Though we missed seeing our families, we had a great time hosting our first Thanksgiving. The menu was:

  • Sushi rolls to start (beautifully made courtesy of our Japanese friend!)
  • Turkey (of course)
  • Pear and Ginger Cranberry sauce
  • Yorkshire puddings
  • Onion gravy
  • Green Bean Casserole (I had never heard of this before, apparently a very common dish for Thanksgiving in the South)
  • Roast vegetables (Onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, yam
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Mushroom Roast
  • Vegan salad (a delicious spiced bean and corn based side-dish)
  • Apple Pie
  • Pumpkin Pie

I have to say everything turned out very well, particularly considering the size of the menu versus the size of the kitchen in our 1-bedroom apartment. The turkey had been worrying me a bit in the build up to Thanksgiving as the Thermometer never seems to give me an accuratae reading. The only way to accurately gauge is the tried and tested method of actually cutting into it, but that of course releases the juices. In the end the breasts were probably a bit more cooked than I would have liked--next time I'll keep it breast-side down for longer, but it still was delicious. I also tried carving the turkey with a different method than regular by cutting off the entire breast and then making smaller, perpendicular slices. This ended up being a much better method and I whole-heartedly recommend it.

Needless to say, we were stuffed to the brim after this enormous feast. Even the smaller ones of us.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Daniel O'Connell's Restaurant and Bar

Last night, being a Friday night, we took a walk up King Street to find something to catch our fancy. For whatever reason we were really in the mood for some fish and chips (minus the fish part in Kym's case). Originally we had planned to Eamonn's, which I had heard from a coworker has some of the best fish and chips you can find in DC. However, when we got in there I couldn't understand what they were thinking when they designed the layout. There appeared to be plenty of floor space yet hardly any tables or chairs. Certainly nowhere to possibly sit down and with the prices they were charging, that really wasn't going to fly, so we ducked out and kept walking down King Street.

After a good walk, we finally came across a place that looked like they might have what we were looking for, Daniel O'Connell's restaurant and bar--basically an Irish pub/restaurant. The place looked pretty busy and the prices not too extravagant (at least on the bar menu) so we headed on in. I didn't get a chance to see the downstairs, but the upstairs, at least where we were seated felt rather packed in and claustrophobic. Nothing too crazy, but certainly not one of the restaurants strongest points.

We started off with a couple of drinks. I tried the O'Connell's-brewed Ale which I didn't think was particularly good. And as I found out when I got the menu, unlike most places I've been to that brew their own beer, it was not less expensive than any other beer on the menu.

As planned, I ordered the fish and chips. Kym, on the other hand, didn't have a single vegetarian entrée available to her so was forced to go with a starter salad and a side of chips. I'll never understand why restaurants who already serve burgers don't just keep a few vegetarian burgers in the freezer.

The food took a while to arrive and when it did wasn't great. The chips in particular were poor as they tasted old and reheated which is completely unacceptable when you consider how cheap they are to make and how much they were charging for them. Also, as any restaurant serving food from the British isles should, they had malt vinegar on request, but unfortunately it was a wide-mouth bottle clearly designed for pouring out into measuring cups in a kitchen, not for sprinkling onto chips. Kym's salad was too small of a portion for a $9 salad, the dressing wasn't great and the goats cheese was very sparse. My fish wasn't too bad, but the batter was a bit on the soggy side.

Lastly, the service was pretty poor. It took two tries to get the dessert menu, Kym's coffee arrived cold and the replacement cup didn't return until after the dessert was finished when she had been looking forward to having it alongside the dessert.

Not a place I recommend, certainly not on a busy night.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bombay Curry Company

Last night we were really in the mood for some Indian but we hadn't made a recent trip to our local Indian grocery store so we were forced to look for some prepared options. With the exception of those 3rd party delivery services that charge you an arm and a leg, Indian delivery food does not appear to be an option around near. Fortunately we found the Bombay Curry Company in Del Ray which is not too far from us at all.

They have their own lot so parking lot there so parking is a cinch which is nice plus since it was a bit out of walking distance from us. The decor, though similar to most Indian restaurants I've encountered, was still very nice and appreciated. Some of the hand-carved artwork was especially beautiful.

Though I'm always very partial to onion bhajis, I resisted and tried something different--Chat Papri which is an appetizer with chickpeas, potatoes and flour crisps mixed with a yogurt sauce and spices. It was definitely an interesting change of pace, but probably not something I'd order again soon.

For the main entrée, I ordered lamb Korma along with a nan bread (which unfortunately did not come in any other type than 'plain') while Kym had the vegetarian combination platter which she had been very much looking forward to ever since seeing the option online. In the end however, the dishes were decidedly mediocre. All of the flavors were a bit bland and below what I've come to expect from Indian food. Given the lack of other nearby options, we might give Bombay Curry Company another chance, but not in the near future.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares

Lately I've started watching Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares which recently began its first season in the U.S. after 4 seasons (and now currently a 5th) in the UK. My previous knowledge of Ramsay was watching a few episodes of Hell's Kitchen which I found pretty awful in concept and even more so in its execution and left me with the mistaken impression that Gordon Ramsay was nothing more than a foul-mouthed stereotypical Nazi chef.

However, after watching some episodes of Kitchen Nightmares (if you can get a hold of the British version, it is significantly better produced) I've come to quite like the guy. Though there is no doubt he is foul-mouthed and can be quite harsh on some people, you can see that he only really wants people to succeed and if that requires some harsh objective advice, he is more than capable of giving it.

It's also clear from the show just how talented he is, not only as a cook but as a restaurateur businessman. He seems very good at identifying exactly what needs to be done at the restaurant to increase their cash flow whether that be simplifying the menu, using fresher ingredients, replacing the head chef, reorganizing the waitstaff or a complete reconcepting of the restaurant.

It's an intriguing show because there's no guarantee of what the end will be. Ramsay will give some solid advice to the failing restaurant and try to convince and motivate them to make said changes, but in the end it is up to them whether they will pull themselves together and right the ship or continue to make the same mistakes and lose everything. The choice seems easy from a passive audience's standpoint, but it's hard to imagine just how difficult it would be to put so much of yourself on the line in terms of money, dreams, reputation and effort and then to accept blame for the failures and change.

As tough as the show makes the industry appear, it does rekindle the excitement of running a restaurant.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse

This week I was fortunate enough to get to see a stand-up comedian at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse. Now although I found the act entertaining, I can't exactly speak highly of the establishment. Now I preface this by saying I really like the concept behind the place. Basically it looks to have been an old theater which they renovated for movies, live music and comedy along with a decent selection of beers on tap. The place definitely has a lot of character and not as cookie cutter some of comedy club franchises can be.

However, the organization behind the place is really terrible. I bought my tickets ahead of time online and then arrived almost an hour ahead of time to get some good seats and maybe a drink. The last time I did this for a show, the club was smart enough to start assigning people seats while they had a drink in the main lobby. Instead at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse they decided to make you wait in line outside in the cold to pick up your ticket. To make matters worse, plenty of people seemed resigned to this fate so the line was actually starting to build up. My friend and I decided that good vs. okay seats and a comedy show wasn't quite worth an hour in the cold--myself especially as I hadn't foreseen the necessity of a winter jacket. When we asked if we could just go inside for a drink at the DRAFTHOUSE before waiting in the line outside we were told this was impossible?!

After going for a drink elsewhere we got in line and to add insult to injury, the people behind us who hadn't bought tickets ahead of time actually moved through the queue faster than us as the person scrolled through the will call list looking for our names. When we got inside, I realized why so many had been willing to wait in line for so long--there were some pretty bad seats inside. The seating is a bit like stadium-style seating however some 'levels' are 10-15 feet deep with multiple rows of seats which can put people directly in your line of view which would be manageable if you weren't above the act which really messes up your view.

Well to take some solace from the experience, at least I learned a bit of a lesson about the Arlington Drafthouse if I am ever forced to go there again--bring warm clothes!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bugsy's Pizza Restaurant

Saturday was further exploring of King's St along with some of the friends we've managed to make in the couple of months since moving here to DC. We started at around where King St intersects with Hwy 1 and wandered towards the river. As can be the case with a larger group of people, choices were whittled away until you came at the lowest common denominator where everyone is happy: pizza and beer. After we had a look at the Potomac (a lovely viewing location is just north of King st when you get to the end) we saw nearby Bugsy's Pizza Restaurant (and sports bar) and liked the prices enough to head in.

Although in a bustling part of King St, the bar was thankfully not too loud and talking was not a problem. We started off with some pitchers of beer. The selection on those was not great and the pitchers were that small size where you wonder what's even the point of the pitchers at all. The pizza selection was equally nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps I'm a bit spoiled from recent feasts of zpizza, but I thought the choices were a bit lacking.

However, when all was said and done, the quality of the pizzas were superb. We opted for the Olympic pizza which came with garlic herb sauce, mozzarella cheese, artichokes, onions, mushrooms and feta cheese. I've found that white sauce on pizzas can often be overly rich but the sauce here had just the right balance. The artichokes were of very good quality which is often not the case at other places. Overall, it was a good meal, though exploration of other locations in Old Town will certainly continue.

Friday, October 26, 2007

(Almost) Perfect Roast Chicken

Last night we treated ourselves to the always-delicious Roast Dinner. Kym usually takes care of the roasted veggies, Yorkshire pudding and gravy while I, in true patriarchal-style take care of the meat. Probably a bit unbalanced since the meat is for me really, but at least it has given me a lot of practice roasting chickens:

The first step of course is buying the raw chicken itself. At my vegetarian wife's request, I always purchase a free range hen. I can see her point of course--I don't exactly like the thought or sight of battery-caged hens--but I'd be lying if I said all the chicken I eat is free range. As a bonus point, the free range chickens, like the eggs they lay, do seem to taste better than their counterparts and are usually a bit more manageable of a size (less worry of overcooking the breasts while cooking the legs all the way through). I have heard that Kosher chickens are the best choice, however I have yet to see a combination Kosher and free range chicken. Maybe some day? For now, Trader Joe's has a pretty decent price on their free range chickens, though there is certainly a sizable premium you pay for the guilt relief.

The second step is one that most people seem to go without but can drastically improve the taste and texture of the chicken: brining. Though it takes a bit of foresight and planning, the final product is rewarding. Simply dissolve 1/2 cup of salt into 1/2 gallon of water in a stock pot. Then place the chicken into the water and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. If you can squeeze the chicken into a gallon ziploc back and remove as much air as possible, even better.

After brining, remove the chicken from pot or bag and pat dry with paper towels. Place on a V-rack roasting pan (I strongly recommend lining the bottom with aluminum foil for easier clean-up) breast-side up and set aside. In a small bowl mix together 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup dijon mustard and 2 Tbl of fresh or dried mixed herbs. Then
using a pastry brush, brush the breast-side of the bird, sprinkle with kosher salt, flip over and repeat. For the final preparation of the bird, peel 5-6 cloves of garlic and toss in to the cavity of the bird.

Place into a pre-heated 375 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes, then flip over the bird and increase the temperature to 450 to finish off the breasts for approximately 20-25 minutes or until a thermometer in the thickest part of the breast reads 160 and the thigh reads 165. Now as a side note, in my experience I've had the best results going by the color of the skin (a dark golden brown) rather than the thermometer. Of course when using the latter method you need to slice open part part of the breast and legs to make sure its not dark pink on the inside and that the juices run clear. The down side of this of course is are allowing juice to escape from the chicken which brings me to the final part: let the chicken rest! This is an essential step to avoiding stringy dry meat. Allow at least 25-30 minutes for the bird to rest before carving it up. It will still be plenty warm, like a lot of cooking it just requires patience and planning.

When carving the chicken up, although the slices will look cleanest when done with a chef's knife, I love the convenience of an electric serrated knife. Start with the breasts, then cut off the drumsticks, flip over and slice off the thighs and wings. If that's enough meat for the meal, I prefer to let the rest of the chicken cool off and pick the meat off later to refrigerate. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Prepared Whole Foods

One of the great things about our location our fortunate proximity to both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods--each under a mile from our apartment. I was afraid that moving to the East coast would make me lose these two mainstays of my grocery shopping, but fortunately their massive success on the West Coast has allowed them to start populating neighborhoods over here.

Currently, Whole Foods is a place I reserve chiefly as a supplementary store for products I simply can't find anywhere else. Favorites such as free range eggs, Quorn, Halloumi cheese and Paneer simply aren't available elsewhere from what I've found. Whenever I wander through the store full of fresh organic vegetables, mammoth-sized prawns and delicious cheeses from around the world, I dream of someday being well-off enough to shop here. Not that it stops everyone, I've heard some peers refer to the store as "Whole Paycheck" as they succumb to the sights and smells of the store even with their modest income.

One part of the store that I've never tried out too much is the prepared food area. I have heard good reviews about it from friends so I decided to give it a try. In classic Vegemeatarian fashion, Kym went straight for the enormous salad bar while I dived into the international cuisine section with an array of meat dishes. Since you pay by the weight, I decided to forgo most of the starch-based dishes and try small amounts of several of the different meats. Kym is often disappointed with salads she gets outside of the home, but the wide selection at Whole Foods allowed her to create a more than satisfying concoction. I was very happy with all the different tastes I was able to assemble as well and it was even pretty healthy in terms of high protein and low carb.

As always seems to be the case at Whole Foods, the one downside was when we came to the register. Both of ours were approximately $12 each which is quite a bit to pay considering you you are serving yourself buffet-style and the ambiance is a grocery store. Still, a very delicious meal which I hope to do again sometime soon!

Monday, October 15, 2007

zpizza Delivery

We've certainly found our new favorite delivery place in zpizza. With the exception of Red Mei, we haven't had much of any luck finding non-pizza delivery food. There are services like Dr. Delivery and Takeout Taxi which deliver on behalf of a variety of restaurants, however when ordering for just two people, the prices for delivery end up a bit extortionate. I'm not sure whether the high prices are due to lack of competition, lack of demand or simply a high cost of business, but as of now, its not a feasible alternative--at least for us.

Luckily we have found a delivery place that although is another in the long list of pizza joints, is anything but 'just pizza'. Unknown to me, zpizza is acutally a growing franchise but you wouldn't guess it from its atypical menu. From Crimini and Shitake mushrooms with Truffle oil to pesto-based sauce with soy cheese and veggie burger crumbles, it has everything under under the sun. Thankfully it doesn't have the ridiculous policy that Pizza Nova in San Diego (the main 'high quality' pizza place in the area) had which didn't allow half-and-half specialty pizzas.

It even has the option of whole-wheat pizza crusts which I don't understand why more pizza places don't offer. And no, I'm not deluding myself into thinking this option makes the pizza healthy, we both really much prefer the taste.

On top of the great food they offer, zpizza also has a really well-build website which lets you place orders online as well as see tantalizing photos of the specialty pizzas they offer. So far, the service has been both fast and accurate--the latter which can definitely be a problem when dealing with people over the phone in a loud and/or busy call center.

If you're in the area and haven't given zpizza a try yet, be sure to do so!

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Long-Expected Party

Well we've continued to try to explore King Street a bit further recently and last night came across a great spot off the main street a bit: Bilbo Baggins. Though some might find the name a bit odd for a cafe/restaurant with no affiliation to Tolkien's book, I love it (and I'm not even the big LOtR fan out of the two of us).

As you might expect from the name, the inside is a bit cozy with low ceilings, and small floor space, but I really liked the atmosphere (with the exception on one particular customer whose obnoxious shouting voice seemed to indicate that she wanted to be the attention of not just her own conversation, but the entire bar--but I can hardly fault Baggins for that).

The service was a bit ditsy (I had to repeat both drink orders to her), but definitely friendly. It had a nice hole-in-the-wall neighborhood feel to the place that I really enjoyed.

The best part of the place, however, was easily the beer selection which comprised a 3-page long list of beers from all around the world. I get the impression that an extensive international beer selection is much more commonplace on the East Coast than it was in California which is a bit ironic since most of the domestic beers the places list are in fact from California, even San Diego specifically. I'm a sucker for Belgian beers and I was certainly not disappointed by my selection, neither in flavor nor expense really. In fact, though many would probably view this as almost blasphemous, when I'm spending less than $10/glass on a drink, I realized that I much more appreciate truly high quality beer than a glass of wine for the same price.

The food looked very interesting as well. Certainly not the typical pub fare that I've been seeing prevalent around DC as you can see from their lunch specials. Although very original, I can't yet comment on the quality since the couple next to us left quite a bit of their appetizers uneaten. Who knows though, they might have just had boring palates.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Red Lobster

Yesterday Kym dragged me to IKEA to finally get some 'essentials' for the apartment like candles, couch cushions and more flower vases. On the way there we spotted a Red Lobster which has become something of a running joke between us. Last year I received a $25 gift card to Red Lobster and was looking forward to it (since I have only had a whole lobster one other time in my life) when I looked up the menu online to find out they didn't have a single menu item that was vegetarian. I know that some people say "well if you don't eat meat, don't go to a place that calls itself something like Red Lobster" but in reality people go out to eat in groups and sometimes people in these groups might have different eating habits. Anyway enough ranting, the bottomline is that I had had this Red Lobster card burning a hole in my wallet for over a year now. Due to my kindness in going out to IKEA with her, Kym reciprocated with agreeing to finally go to Red Lobster.

Thankfully, although a committed vegetarian, Kym is far from one of those "I can't eat this if the cooking utensil has touched a dish containing meat" so, trooper that she is, she ordered shrimp fettuccine alfredo and picked out the shrimp. Myself, I figured when in Rome, order a live Maine lobster for one.

This being the second lobster I had eaten in my life and first in almost 10 years, I looked quite the fool trying to crack the shell and eat the crustacean. The last time I had the benefit of a friend who was versed in the ways of lobster dissection, but this time my dining partner was unfortunately as clueless as I was.

Still, donning the bib and diving into fresh lobster was rather fun. Being honest, it wasn't quite as good as I remember it. I don't know if that's just a hazy memory or if the restaurant I ordered from before had better ingredients and/or cooking methods. Given that my first lobster was at a well-respected restaurant near Pike's Place Market in Seattle and this one was from a chain restaurant, I can easily see it being the latter reason. Still it was a lot of fun and I'm sure I'll do it again some time, though maybe not at Red Lobster (as if I could convince Kym to go there again any time in the foreseeable future without a gift card).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Las Tapas Birthday Night

For the night of Kym's birthday we invited some of the friends we've made in the short time we've been here and headed to Las Tapas on King street. Tapas has long been one of our favorite types of cuisine, but its never quite the same with only 2 people sharing the dishes (and it's not quite fair for me to order a meat dish in those situations). So with six other people joining us for the occasion we were very much looking forward to it.

An immediate nice touch was that even though I couldn't see many groups of our size in the restaurant, Las Tapas was well prepared for such groups with large round tables making for much easier sharing of the dishes (no pushing together rectangular tables!)

Dinner was great fun as tapas meals tend to lend themselves to a more interactive dinner in comparison to the ones where people get their individual dishes and puts their heads down until finished. The food was definitely good. They had classic Spanish tapas dishes like garlic shrimp and patatas bravas as well as main dishes like Paella that you could share as well. The decor and atmosphere were very pleasant and the service was good--although there was a strange situation with the check where they were unable to split the 'required gratuity' (is that an oxymoron?) that they put on parties of 6 or more which left me with a funny looking bill including a 150+% tip and an extra blank line for 'additional tip'!

The only detraction from this place was that I thought the dishes were a little expensive. The vegetable paella in particular was $17 while consisting mainly of rice in a modest-sized dish. Still, a great meal overall with some pretty good food and fun atmosphere.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Yesterday was my lovely wife's birthday so I decided to bake her a cake. Remembering one of our favorite desserts that we've ever had at a restaurant (Roy's in San Diego), I looked up some recipes for Flourless Chocolate Cake.

Currently when it comes to finding new recipes, I go back and forth between Cook's Illustrated's New Best Recipe cookbook (my overall favorite cookbook) and It can be difficult to choose which go to. In a way it is like deciding between a published encyclopedia and Wikipedia. One is almost always well-researched, proofread and accurate while the other is an consensus of a huge number of contributers which can also lead to some fantastic information. In the end I went with a commentator's modification of a highly-rated recipe on, but it's certainly possible that New Best Recipes' would have been better.

Regardless, the recipe turned out delicious:


- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 18 oz bittersweet chocolate
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 6 eggs (3 whole eggs, 3 whites)

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
2. In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the water, salt and sugar. Stir until completely dissolved and set aside.
3. Melt the bittersweet chocolate in the microwave in a bowl with a splash of water (mix together every 15-30 seconds until melted). Pour the chocolate into the bowl of an electric mixer.
4. Cut the butter into pieces and beat the butter into the chocolate, 1 piece at a time. Beat in the hot sugar-water. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time.
5. Amply grease a 10 inch round cake pan (preferably a springform pan, in which case you need to double-wrap the pan with aluminum foil to avoid water from the water bath seeping in). Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Put this pan into a larger pan (I used our large roasting pan for this) and fill this pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the cake pan.
6. Bake cake in the water bath at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for 45 minutes. The center will still look wet. Chill cake overnight in the pan. To unmold, dip the bottom of the cake pan in hot water for 10 seconds and invert onto a serving plate.

My suggestion is to put pieces in the microwave for about 15 seconds so that its the consistency some refer to flourless chocolate cake as 'molten chocolate', before serving with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Absolutely delicious, I think next time I might experiment with using milk chocolate, though the contrast in temperature and flavors of bitter hot chocolate and cold sweet ice cream was superb! It's times like this that I dream again of going to culinary school to be a pastry chef.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Though our most proximate general locations to go out are Old Town and Del Ray, while searching Yelp I found a place very nearby to us, Rustico. I've always wanted to have a comfortable place to have regular stops with right around the corner, so I had high hopes for Rustico. Unfortunately, I doubt this is going to turn into that sort of place.

The first problem with Rustico is the name. Although it is a nice sounding name, unless the owners were going for irony, 'Rustico' seems a very strange name for the joint. In Italian, 'Rustico' means 'peasant' which is odd for a place with $6-10 beers and $15-25 entrées. "Goat Cheese & Duck Trap Smoked Salmon Terrine" isn't exactly what comes to mind when I think of 'peasant food'. The clientèle there was certainly anything but peasant-like but rather surprisingly upscale.

This is not to say that I didn't like Rustico. The beer list was more than extensive, the food looked very tasty and the mosaic-style decorations were very cool. However, it was not what I was hoping for from the local neighborhood bar/eatery named 'rustic'.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bar Louie

Having been here in D.C a few weeks now, we finally made the trip into the heart of D.C. along with the swarms of tourists. By that I mean the zoo, White House, Washington Monument, and the National Mall (apparently a massive National park and not a building of Brookstone's and Discovery Channel stores as I had believed). After cruising the area for a while, the heat and amount walking we had done that day started to weigh on us so we headed back towards the Metro. Along the way however, the promise of appetizers, a cool drink and air conditioning beckoned us to give a place there a try, specifically Bar Louie.

Apparently Bar Louie is a fairly well-established chain of bars in the Chicago area, though I had never heard of them. Quickly I could see why it would be popular. Though some might see it as 'confused' I quite liked the meshing of different styles of bars. In one sense it was a lounge with comfortable booths an low-level lighting. In another sense it was a sports bar with screens playing the college games in most every direction. In a few hours, it looked like it could easily turn into a night club-type setting with good music playing, a long, well-stocked bar and standing tables.

The food was pretty standard bar fare but definitely some tasty looking options to decide between. The service was very friendly and accomodating, however I had one gripe which was that the tortilla chips we ordered were distinctly a bit...stale. And no, this is not coming from some spoiled San Diegan, as I confirmed at the next restaurant I had chips at. Based on everything else about this place however, I am almost certain this was an unfortunate one-off mistake and not an indication of the overall quality of the place given everything else.

Prices were about what you would expect at this sort of place, definitely not to crazy, but not exactly any Happy Hour steals on the menu. Overall though, somewhere I could see myself returning to next time I'm in the area!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Chadwick's Happy Hour

Right now we are unfortunately without that great coupon book we used to abuse in San Diego, so last night we decided to check out what local happy hours there are with a combination of Yelp and DC Happy Hour Guide.

Our first stop was Stella's which looked like a good happy hour, but after the half hour walk to get there we found it was closed! And not the 'closed-between-lunch-and-dinner' type of closed, I mean 'out of business' from what we could tell. This even more disappointing given the fact that our second choice was on the complete opposite side of Duke street.

Fortunately the quality of our second stop made up for this. Chadwick's happy hour menu is chock full of classic and yummy bar food for very cheap prices (around $3-4 per dish) and the drinks are nicely priced as well ($2-3 for bottle beer and well drinks).

The atmosphere was a refreshing mix of all sorts of different people. The first person we sat next to was wearing a tuxedo (which worried us a bit a first that we weren't properly dressed) followed by college age kids, followed by 40+ couples on a date and even an older gentleman in a fisherman's cap appearing to buy his dinner for the night with the low-priced happy hour appetizers. Although it was very busy, the ceiling was huge which prevented the sound from reverberating too much like it did in Murphy's, the bartender was extremely friendly and the food service was quick.

The dinner entrees looked delicious as well, but the happy hour will probably be what draws us back in the future!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Murphy's Trivia

Although we thought on principle we needed to do more exploring of our surrounding neighborhood eateries, the lure of Quiz Night at Murphy's Pub was too much and so we headed down there at 8:00 last night.

The special of half-price burgers was great for me, but I thought it was rather strange that the veggie burger was not included in this. I guess it was because the veggie burger is cheap in the first place, but still, a bit odd.

Going to trivia nights was something I did several times as a student in Hull and always enjoyed being humbled as we'd always get walloped, especially when I offered no help on the more Euro-centric questions.

In some ways this trivia night was even better than the ones I had been to in England. Specifically, it was six different sets of ten questions including two special picture rounds and a clever 'theme' round where all the answers had a double-entendre related to golf. The quizzes I went to in England tended to be around 30-40 questions, so the extra length was nice. Although my English wife might not agree, I also appreciated having a better chance at answering the more American questions.

I do have one gripe about the night. While we were a ways off from winning of course, the top two 'teams' were actually one rather large group of friends/trivia buffs who I'm sure were conferring with each other most of the night. While its fine for a bunch of people to work together, its a bit cheeky to call yourselves two teams and nab two of the prizes. I imagine the 4th place team who missed out was probably a bit more miffed than I was.

Still, all in all a very fun night (much less crowded than Saturday night as I expected) and a long one too what with 60 questions!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Red Mei Delivery

It's been a long week so far and while we didn't feel like cooking, we didn't quite feel like making the 2 miles there-and-back walk to King Street so we decided to check out a delivery place available in our area. A nice arrangement our apartment building has with local eateries is a wall where they can put brochures up which I much prefer to my previous situation of brochures hanging on my doorknob as I got home or slipped under the door.

As you'd expect the majority of the brochures consist of similar looking pizzas, and while I certainly am a fan of pizzas, I don't eat it in the frequency that the proportion of brochures would seem to indicate is the norm. Eventually we found Red Mei, a 'fresh Asian cafe' which looked promising and also importantly: cheap.

The menu selection for vegetarian was existant but not abundant. Usually Asian food is great for simply being able to substitute Tofu into most dishes, especially curries and noodle dishes, but here there seemed to only be two vegetarian dishes, not even spring roll appetizers. Fortunately for us those two dishes sounded tasty--Pad Thai and Coconut Curry.

While it was nice to have delivery available (a service not by any Asian food delivery I could find in San Diego), I can't exactly commend the service. While on the road, the driver had to call me to give him step-by-step directions to our place (a large apartment complex named after the neighboring Metro stop) and then forgot to bring a pen with him to sign the credit card slip in the lobby.

The food hit the spot, but admittedly it wasn't the greatest Pad Thai I've had, but it did at least taste a bit 'fresher' than some others I've had. The Coconut curry was good as well, but again nothing spectacular. It might be that Asian food simply isn't going to be as good on the East coast as it was on the West and maybe I should focus on the European and seaside food which the East coast should be superior at. Perhaps though, this was simply what you get for $6.99/entrée delivery food around here for which I shouldn't really complain. If I'm feeling both thrifty and lazy again here in the future (a distinct possibility) I might ring Red Mei up again.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Introduction to King Street

Last night was our first real exploration into King Street. After a small bite to eat at our place, we headed to King Street to look for a place for appetizers and drinks. Normally our favorite places to go out at night are pubs where there's usually less blaring music, more seats and it easier to chat. So when we came across Murphy's Irish pub, it looked like just our kind of place.

To begin with the atmosphere was great. There was an older British guy playing and acoustic guitar and singing old drinking songs. The service was friendly and relatively fast, the food prices were decent, and Sam Adams Oktoberfest was on tap. Kym had a Ploughman's sandwich giving her a taste of home and I had the staple burger. Both tasted pretty good; it was your standard pub fare.

As the night went on however, the fact that it was a Saturday night began to show. The place filled up to the point where it no longer resembled much the pub we had entered at the beginning of the night. And while I might personally disagree with the principles behind California's smoking ban, I was reminded of the benefits it gave me as the bar filled up with smoke. As we found it more and more difficult to hear what we shouting at each other, we decided to call it a night.

All in all, it was a fun night and I think we'll go to their Trivia night that they have there on Tuesday's, but I don't think I'll head there on a Friday or Saturday night again anytime too soon. Good thing we have an entire city left to explore!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Arrival in DC!

Well we made it! Quite a trip- with all the driving done in 3.5 days.
So Washington DC here we are- ready to eat! (among other things). Actually we have decided to live in Alexandria, Virginia. Just a short metro ride to downtown DC. We are completely loving Alexandria where we live close to Old Town and the wonderful King Street. As soon as we saw King Street we knew this was the place for us- it is lined with interesting looking eateries- tapas bars, Indian restaurants, Thai, fish and chips, Irish pubs- all within a few blocks walk from our place!
We are also happy to see that our fears about grocery shopping have been eased. We have Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Costco and 'Giant Foods' a short drive away. Most stores seem to stock our usual staples, with a few exceptions and the Whole Foods is an improvement on Hillcrest's.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Food cross country

Well there definitely is not a whole lot of options when it comes to vegetarians eating on the freeways of America. We have been following route 40 most of the way and Subway has been consistently our best bet. (A horrible never to be forgotten incident at Taco-Bell has scared Kym off roadside burritos for ever). One other reason initially for our choice of Subway was that we had been generously given a subway gift card- but after discovering that this card was not accepted in the majority of states this became less of an issue. (In fact this type of behavior on the part of subway would usually have led me to forgo eating there at all, but as I say, there was little option.)
Subway has been very varied. Gone is the fresh spinach, cucumbers and veggie patties of California, replaced instead by dodgy looking Subway pizzas in many of the Southern States we've passed through.
Other places we have visited have been Wendy's (jacket potatoe makes a nice change if a bit heavy on the carbs and low on, well, take your pick: vitamins, protein, minerals... The meat eater of the couple, I have enjoyed this small change from a sandwich to a burger. Variety can be everything at times!
One other surprise successful trip was actually to MacDonalds. Kym ordered the Southwestern Salad without the chicken and really enjoyed it! She even got the added benefit of some protein from the beans. And don't even let me get started about the fruit and yoghurt plate- I think she is in love. Maybe a return to reality and a wealth of culinary options will restore her to her senses. I must say though I was surprised at McDonalds myself- they really got hit by Supersize me, everything at least seems a lot healthier since the last time I ate there years ago- and no option of large fries anymore. The media is a powerful force!

Despite all this we are craving proper food- a thai curry sounds like the most wonderful thing ever right now!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Moving on....

It is with a great mix of sadness, anticipation, and excitement that I must move this blog to new pastures on the other side of the US. My wife has won a place at Georgetown Law school and we will be shortly heading over to Washington DC to spend three years over there. The blog will follow us, (inevitably under a new name!), and we will continue to explore and have culinary adventures on the East Coast!
We will definitely miss wonderful San Diego and all our favorite culinary hang outs- but we look forward to seeing what DC has to offer!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Electronic Cooking!

I was recently given a DS Lite for my birthday which was a fantastic gift! Not only do I get to have all sorts of tetris, animal crossings, and Mario fun with my friends around the world, but I also have a new way of cooking. (One that is a lot cheaper and a lot less likely to make one gain weight than the regular kind!). There are two great cooking programs on my DS: Cake Mania and Cooking Mama.

Cake Mania is basically a lot like purple place, if anyone has played that. The story is a young girl out of culinary school trying to make enough money to get her grandparents bakery up and running ( a worthy goal I think, I always appreciate the back-stories behind these little games!). In order to make the money you have to make cakes of different shapes, frost them with various colors and then add on different sprinkles and toppers. As time goes on you make double and even triple layer cakes. Along the way you need to please critics, brides, busy businessmen, and even vampires! It's a lot of fun, that bears something of a relation to real cooking in so far as time management and doing 20 things at once in a clear systematic order without forgetting anything. I have had a lot of fun with it!

Cooking Mama for me s a little less fun in the sense there is no clear aim/ and no back-story. However the game itself is much more varied. You are given a variety of recipes to follow and go through slicing grating, mixing, flipping, fanning and all sorts of other things with your stylus. You might even have to blow on the sauces, or the coals of the BBQ. At the end of each recipe you get a little medal based on how well you completed the recipe (bronze silver or gold). Success will also allow you to open up new recipes.
One aspect I found a little difficult s that most of the recipes are Chinese/ Japanese in origin (styles of cuisine I don't tend to cook with very often.) In some ways this was kind of fun- to learn new aspects of cooking in a roundabout way, unfamiliar ingredients and cooking methods. However it would have been fun to electronically cook some of the things I am more familiar with- Indian, Italian, Greek, American etc.

Both games have been incredibly fun- I hear they now have Cooking Mama for the Wii- it sounds really fun- maybe someone will invite me to play sometime!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mama's Bakery & Lebanese Deli

We've lived on Alabama street for over a year now in San Diego. Whenever we mention this fact to anyone we are immediately asked if we have tried out Mama's Bakery & Lebanese Deli. Maybe it's because we never travel up that far north on our street, or maybe because generally when we eat out we tend to go somewhere more comfy to sit down, have a drink and be "out" whatever the reason it is only very recently that we have managed to end up eating the place.
As you drive down Alabama street, this place really does not too inviting and if it wasn't for the rave reviews I might have passed it by. Once you pull up and walk inside however you see a clean airy space full of wholesome people tucking into equally wholesome food.
The rave reviews were, as they often are, spot on. I was immediately impressed with the breadth of the menu- so many new (to me) and interesting options to choose between. We chose a couple of different wraps and a veggie combo type platter. The home made pitta/ flatbread that is used for the wraps is absolutely fantastic, fluffy and warm and quite unlike any other pitta I have had in San Diego. Sauces used to complement the wraps were also top notch, and the chicken in my wrap was so just fantastically tender- done to far greater perfection than many of the fancy eateries in town. We were also enamored with the veggie platter- I often end up being extremely disappointed with falafel at the fast food Mediterranean places, it tends to be dry, or greasy, whit very little remnant of it's chickpea past. This was quite different though- lemony, very moist and extremely moorish! The hummus was wonderful and the tabouli so chock full of parsley it was delicious.
What a wonderful place- and just down the street. If only the seating area was a little more comfortable I think we'd be here at least once a week!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The trip

Well unfortunately a lack of internet access made it really hard for me to write about my culinary exploits along my trip around California- here is a quick run down of some of the high- and low- lights culinaririly speaking.

ESPN sports lounge- pretty awful. After the Uvas bar this was where we ate on our second night in Disney. It was everything the opposite of Uvas- awful service, dreadful atmosphere and not particuarly good food. IT was also incredibly cold, despite being indoors and made our huge 24 oz beers much less enjoyable as we were all close to shivering.

Yosemite- Well the first stress in Yosemite is the bears, in an attempt to cut down on campsite visits all food must be kept in bear lockers. This includes everything right down to bottled water and lip balm- creating some what of a stress for self catering. However this was not a problem as Curry Village, where we camped, served some of the best pizza I have had in a while, absolute huge with great crusts and generous toppings. We also tried their buffet- very varied and great value. We had planned also on a trip to the Ahwahnee hotel which looks absolutely stunning, but with 10 people in our party prices looked a bit steep. We stuck with cocktails and were not disappointed.
As a side note Yosemite was just amazing, so well visited and yet so incredibly pristine, I was stunned in so many ways- and yes we did get to see 2 bear cubs.

Next stop was Santa Cruz, where we stayed in cabins along the River. This was where we spent my birthday and I had a fab Italian meal at Cafe Mare with- wait for it- real Italian waiters whose English was terrible (very authentic). Between us we had squash stuffed pancakes, endive and gorgonzola salad, wonderful fresh minestrone, and gemelli del fattore ( a great succulent chicken brest with baby spinach pine nuts and a creamy sauce). Being my birthday the waiters brought out a great tiramisu with a candle while others shared hazlenut ice cream and other delicacies. (We then spent the evening in line for Harry Potter and the next several days reading it in the under shade of redwoods and on the sandy beaches of Big Sur.

After passing through Monterey (seeing sea otters and sea lions along the way) we stopped at another camp ground in Big Sur. Here we had my personal culinary highlight of the trip at 'The Village Pub'. We entered the pub looking for food and were handed a small scrawny menu of fairly typical food- burgers, fish and chips and the like. We then asked what beers were available- and thunk! a huge 8 page menu fell on the table detailing a huge variety of beers from around the world, ranging from $3 to $18 per bottle. The bartender/ server was a fantastic character who had the exact glass for every beer he sold, and played along to the seventies music on the guitar round his neck whenever there was a lull at the bar. The food it turned out was also very good, with big fat trips drenched in malt vinegar pleasing the English contingent of my party. The beer and indeed whole pub was so great that we returned the following night. This is not an experienced to be missed if traveling through Big Sur,

Las stop- Santa Barbara. Here we visited a few different places. First stop was the Natural cafe which had hearty and healthy food, both vegetarian and non for great prices (especiallywith this being right on the State street main strip. We also visited Pascucci an Italian restaurant that was fairly good value although had nothing on Santa Barbara's Cafe Mare. Final stop was the Cajun Kitchen, highly recommended for breakfast, but not in my opinion as good as our San Diego staples.

All in all a fantastic trip, makes me realize just how wonderful and varied California is and makes me want to jump right back in the car and complete exploring.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Uvas Bar

I have family in town right now and so we are doing a mini trip of California, Disney, Yosemite, Big Sur and Santa Barbara, I will aim to keep updating with our culinary encounters along the way.

Disney, as I have posted before has pretty terrible eating in the park itself (although the new Pirates of the Caribbean Restaurant did look rather exciting, if not perhaps worth the wait. We decided to go out to Disney Village for our dinner and settled on the Uvas bar which has outdoor seating in the center of the Downtown Disney area. For a party of six with certain requirements this small menu did really well at fitting the bill- let me tell you what we have to contend with:
Two vegetarians, one pretty fussy eater, one person who doesn't like pasta and two people who really like their meat- this can be pretty tricky to accommodate everyone and not eat pizza every night. The Uvas bar was perfect however and we ordered- mezze platter and a wonderful manchego salad for the veggies, margharita pizza for the fussy and then a steak and a burger for he two two meat lovers, with the remaining two getting roast chicken and fries. The food was actually really very good - and although the price tag was a little high, it was not outrageous for Disney, and certainly had the quality to go with it. Best of ll was the atmosphere, sitting out surrounded by the many fairy lights of Downtown Disney and feeling quite the tourist- it was the perfect start to what should be a wonderful holiday.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mc P's Irish Pub

I don't know why, but wherever one lives one inevitably gets into certain routines and forgets about some of the great places nearby to visit. For us this is the case with Coronado- for some reason we almost never make the trip across that spectacular bridge although it really is only 5 minutes away down the I-5. This is one of the great things about having guests - you take them to places you might often brush over.
We recently had a guest in town for 10 days, and as such most of the tourist spots got hit, including Coronado. I felt so awful that we had neglected this great place for so long- the beautiful long beach with sand so soft and fine, the irresolute Hotel Del and the sidewalk cafes that pose a reasonable imitation of Europe.
Walking along the main strip after a moseying around the Hotel Del's shops and ice cream parlor
we came upon Mc P's Irish Pub, which seemed like a nice place to sit out in the sun with a cold beer (why there are not more beer gardens in our sunny San Diego I will never understand) , so we stepped inside. There was live music playing, and the pub although not really being very Irish was one of the better imitations I have seen. The service was slightly brusk and disgruntled (making my wife feel at home) and the beer was great. Most importantly the chips (french fries) were really very good. We have searched long and hard for good chips in San Diego and the pervading scent of malt vinegar told us that these were ones we should try. Thick cut, very moist and squishy, these were getting close to the perfect British (or UK-ish) chips we are so fond of. Mostly however, Mc Ps was just a very pleasant place for a drink, sitting in the semi shade of the over head trees, listening to the live guitar music we were glad we had guests and glad we made the trip to the island.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I usually try to keep this blog relating to all things culinary- we do restaurant reviews, post recipes and talk about awesome food purchases (plus review our own home cooked meals). So keeping with the culinary theme, here is a movie review, on the awesome new Pixar movie Ratatouille.
The film, for those of you who don't know, is based around a rat, who has a burning desire to be a chef- and was absolutely hilarious (and quite touching). It is definitely my fave of the animated movies to date (partly perhaps because although I am not a scuba diver - Finding Nemo- I am a cook, love food and have worked in a kitchen. The depiction of the kitcehn with the evil master chef and other side characters was spot on (well as spot on as a movie about a rat who can cook could be). There were lots of little side foodie jokes (I love the fact that the villain was a guy who wanted to manufacture frozen foods), and most importantly the culinary parts, pairings, recipes etc all seemed to make sense. In fact the ratatouille that is the climax of the movie really did look quite delicious.

I urge all of you food loving readers to head out and see this great movie soon!

Saturday, July 07, 2007


We recently went to try out the new Hillcrest eatery 'Bite' located where the Living Room used to be and right next to Baja Betty's- in fact they did such a quick turn around I didn't even notice the Living Room had left (although perhaps I am not very observant). The menu is tapas and a sharing philosophy ( although don't be expecting the cheap prices of Apertivo).

The first thing of note was the decor- which had been previously described to me as 'very graphic designy', this seemed about right, and indeed our graphic design dinner partner seemed fairly impressed. The lighting was dim, with a small light in the center of each table illuminating a floating gerber daisy- nice center piece, but not so practical, the light being electronically placed we couldn't move the flower vase which is perhaps not the ideal design in a restaurant that advocates sharing several plates of food amongst your party.

Next thing up was to order our food- we went for a cheese plate, eggplant with beets and boursin, a grilled cheese baguette with mushrooms and a pizza with peaches and proscuitto to share between the four of us. Something which I found interesting was that unlike other tapas restaurants I have been to, the plates all arrived separately, one after the other (in no particular order), this was actually a nice touch and lead to a long enjoyable meal, trying nibbles of a variety of dishes without getting too full.
The food was all excellent, with the cheese baguette and the eggplant dish being our two favorites (the boursin was so creamy and perfect). The mini pizza was a little disappointing as where our champagne cocktails- a specialty of Bite, who in fact hosts a champagne cocktail happy hour nightly. Each of us tried a different cocktail, one with Rose, one elderflower and one raspberry- none were impressed and we quickly switched to wine. The other major lowlight of the evening were the bathrooms, these were very clean and beautifully designed, and the mens bathroom seemed great to me. However in their bathroom the girls found a large fish tank with three fish in, one of whom was definitely dying, swimming around the bottom of the tank with scale rot. This depressing sight (coupled with the lack of plants, and pebbles in the fish tank) really put a downer on the girls evening and they returning to the table one by one more than a little sadly.

Bite was a fun night out, the food was top quality, but the prices still seemed a little high for tapas. I hope that if we do come back we can avoid the spectacle of dying animals.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A few updates

I wanted to catch up on a few updates to previous recent posts:

First- Happy Hours: we have had some great responses to our post about Happy Hour, and definitely plan on trying out Chive and Donovan's pretty soon. I also found some good San Diego based Happy hour websites including Happy Hour Mag Online and also San Diego Happy Hour both of which have some great suggestions.

Next- Picnics: We took the advice given to our picnic post and headed out to Kate Sessions Park in PB. Wow, I was stunned, I don't know how I had never been up there before, the park was beautiful enough in itself, with gorgeous trees and flowers ( a great tribute to a great woman), however it was the view from the park that was draw dropping, you can sit on the grass and just have the whole of San Diego laid out in front of you- stunning. What was even more amazing was how quiet the park was, you would think more people would like a piece of this wonder.

Finally: The Wedding brunch. We went ahead and went to Poseidon for the wedding brunch and things went off very nicely. The restaurant did put us inside which was a slight pity, but everyone seemed pleased with both the location and the food. I have to say I still don't understand why it was quite such an ordeal to find a place for 25 (Poseidon still acted like they had done us a huge favor). The restaurant was far from being packed, with no wait for brunch, and the additional $350 or so we must have spent should have been something they might like?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Mission- North Park

Of all the wonderful breakfast places to eat in San Diego, for some reason we had never yet gotten round to trying one right in our own backyard- the Mission cafe in North Park. Often put off by the very long lines out front on the week days, and then often preferring a seaside view or such like, we had never yet given this legendary spot a try.
Having a rare weekday morning to ourselves today we decided to give it a sh. Happily there was no line at all outside the cafe and we were seated almost immediately in the slightly understated dining area. We enjoyed the art covering the walls and the hustle and bustle of the incredibly fast waiters. in fact this this is really the one overriding impression given to me t the Mission. The speed of these guys was phenomenal. no sooner were we seated and our order was taken, the order being taken our food arrived in 5 minutes tops (well I suppose it was possibly a little more, but seriously, these guys were very fast).
The food was also wonderful, something that arrives so quickly would usually be disappointing on the pallet, but not so. I had taken advice from San Diegos various food blogs and reviews and gone with the French Toast. It was perfection. The chefs had taken a loaf of cinnamon bread to fry up, and served it with a wonderful syrup, sweet and luscious and slightly moist, this really was the most perfect French Toast I have eaten. My wife went for the papas locas which were also fantastic, the potatoes were chunky and perfectly cooked (soft inside crispy outside). far better that these tiny little squares of potatoes that seem common at breakfast places around town. The chillies added a wonderful spice, and the beans and sour cream countered with some coolness. the two breakfasts were at once among the more interesting fare we have encountered, the most nicely presented, and the most delicious tasting. Now we can properly see why people stand for an hour or so outside this great cafe. - Oh and the prices were great too!

Monday, June 18, 2007

A big mistake

We like our boiled eggs a little runny in the middle. We usually have boiled eggs in salad and a little runny egg yolk seeping into the salad dressing is always a good thing. I find that about 8 minutes 30 seconds makes for the type of egg we prefer. So yesterday night I put on a pan of boiled water and went to boil 10 eggs for the following week. Now most likely what happened is the sheer amount of cold eggs in the pan of water brought down the temperature so much that 8 and a half minutes was just not enough to cook them fully. When I opened the first egg up I found that it was very very runny still inside, in addition to a runny yolk we even had a runny white (not what we were looking for). The eggs have all been drained now, and the water poured away so popping them back on the stove doesn’t seem like an idea. Suddenly I come up with a plan. I have heard in the past about using a microwave to poach eggs. I figure a little blast might finish them off nicely. I plan to try this out with one egg first, popping it in for 30 seconds. My wife is skeptical, I ask her advice on the 30 seconds. This is where some misunderstanding comes into play. My wife is thinking that I am putting all the eggs in a bowl of water and throwing them in the microwave- she suggests 2 minutes for this venture. What I am actually doing is throwing 1 egg straight in the microwave- no water. I took my wife’s advice and did this for 2 minutes.

We took the egg out- it looked fine. We cooled it down under some running water and my wife began to peel off the shell………….. BOOM! The whole egg explodes, it covers the entire kitchen the noise was incredibly loud coming from one little egg. My wife was covered in egg, her hands scolded.

The humor of the situation is now creeping in, but let me tell you, microwaving eggs is not a mistake we will be making again.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Happy Hours?

Well, it's Friday, which means time for some sort of Happy Hour outing. We have been searching in San Diego to try and find a really good Happy hour. A recent internet search came up with an article from the UT which suggested Zoccalo Grill as having the best Happy Hour in town. The review was incredibly good so we decided to give it a shot.
Entering the restaurant we asked the host outside what hours happy hour ran- he didn't know. This didn't seem like the best sign, but undeterred we walked on in. The restaurant, although almost empty of people was awash with servers, hostesses and cooks. There were actually 4 people standing at the greeting point, not knowing quite who to address, we were told by 2 of the 4 that they knew nothing. Eventually we managed to get the attention of the other two who were chatting away and were taken to a table.
Finally seated, we told out server we were just here for happy hour, and he presented us with the menu. We were severely disappointed. The margaritas were still pretty expensive (even the 'house' variety), as was the food. Most things seemed maybe a couple of bucks cheaper than usual. The only thing I could see in a usual happy hour price range were some sweet potato fries, so we settled on these and a couple of house margaritas. Several servers passed our table over the next few minutes, although ours was not to be seen. eventually he did appear, took our order and then returned into the sea of staff, that were standing around in all sorts of places, some watching TV some leaning against the bar having a chat, some crowding the greeting point.
With so many staff, and two or three bartenders in the vicinity of the bar we didn't think it would be long before our drinks arrived. Unfortunately however there was a good 10-15 minute wait before some miniscule glasses with weak watery margaritas arrived. Our food meanwhile was nowhere to be seen. The waiter informed us it would be 'right out', and then returned 15 minutes later baring a tiny little plate of some deep fried sweet potatoes, just like the ones we make at home- there was maybe half a potato worth of fries there. The dipping sauce was not especially pleasant. This being 15 minutes later we had of course finished our drinks before the pitiful fare arrived. The waiter asked if we would like another and was met by a resounding "No Thank You" from the both of us. We finished up, waited another 10 minutes for our check, watched the hoards of staff standing around, and speeded over to Cafe Coyote where we new we could at least get a good sized cheap margarita, and a dollar taco.
So- not a good experience, and we are still on the search for a good Happy hour. I have been told McCormick and Schmicks is exceptional, so we shall try this soon. Any other advice would be wonderful. Here are some places we like:

Lot81- cheap (good) beer, a $5 burger and other great happy hour food.

Gulf Coast Grill- some very nice happy hour food ( we like the fried green tomatoes and the quesadilla). Great prices on drinks. Monday night is all night Happy Hour.

Basic- $5 martinis and free pizza

Kensington Grill- changes each night of the week. Usually has a good quesadilla going. A very chill more classy happy hour.