Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A brunch by the Sea

Charged with the task of finding a brunch for my cousins upcoming wedding, I recently have delved into the world of Del Mar and La Jolla eateries. Initially we seemed like the like perfect candidates for this task- knowledgeable about San Diego's geography, big brunch lovers, thrifty, and, without have actually ever gone to cooking school, students of all things culinary.

These were our requirements:

Somewhere that not only seats 25, but takes a reservation for 25

Somewhere that will take a reservation for 25 at 11am

Somewhere that serves brunch on a Saturday

Somewhere with prices of $12- $14 per head

Somewhere with yummy food

Preferably somewhere with a pleasant ambiance suitable for a wedding.

Somewhere between the Temple (La Jolla) and the Reception ( Thousand Oakes, north of LA)

The task turned out to be a tricky one, and I would have been absolutely lost without the help of Jim, San Diego's resident Sunday Brunch Master. Jim your site was invaluable on this occasion, as as ever I thank you!

With the geographic requirements, and the thought that we were already facing a 2+ hour commute up to Thousand Oakes in mind, we decided to look mainly in La Jolla, Del Mar and Cardiff. This has the obvious problem of clashing with one of our other requirements- $12- $14 per head. Coupled with the Saturday brunch requirement we managed to narrow our search down to a very few restaurants. these we then called, one by one, and one by one were told that there is no way a reservation for 25 people can be made in the middle of Fair season. (I hate the Del Mar fair, and hate it even more after this long search).

The good part about all our restrictions, was that it really left us with very little choice. When we happened on Del Mar's Poseidon and were told that a reservation could be made for us- furthermore a reservation on the patio overlooking the sea, we were overjoyed! We decided to head up to Del Mar and check it out the next possible weekend.

May Gray would not be my first choice time for brunch by the sea, and the weather in Del Mar was much as expected, overcast and more than a little gloomy. Still the fact that many people were still heading to the beautiful beaches cheered us up a little, and added that relaxed vacation feel to our morning mood. so many people were at the beach indeed that parking, as it almost always is in Del Mar, was a nightmare. Del Mar is I believe the only city in the county that has parking meters working every day of the year. Not only are they always working, but they cost $2 per hour! this being the cases we really had little choice but to valet at Poseidon, something we never do. The valet was $3, and almost cheaper that the mater, not to mention the fact that we couldn't find a meter to begin with! Valeting really was about the dumbest thing I have ever done however, we drove up (through the valet parked cars), stepped out of the car and let the valet park it maybe 15 feet away.... not the greatest start, and the thought of all the wedding guest having to do this was irritating. Still, we kept our spirits high.
We were seated for brunch on the outdoor patio- this does afford a wonderful view of the sea, and seemed very luxurious. Still there were a few improvements that I believe could and should be made- the paint, for example, was horribly flaked off most of the chairs, a scruffy look, which once noticed, seemed very at odds with the Del Mar beach setting. The wait staff, who were so attentive as valet's and hostesses, were not the best at serving food to tables, coffee was only topped up every half hour or so, and waiters failed to inquire about any problems you might be encountering.
The food, however, was very good. I got a chicken sandwich (thank goodness not burnt "blackened" chicken, but just regular grilled chicken, nicely cooked and with great, though unoriginal, fixings. My wife got a spinach omelet that was really delicious, filled with some juicy mushrooms, and topped with decadent cheese. The house potatoes were also great, and for once the servers did remember my requested side of mayonnaise.

So- a good choice and we are happy. Perhaps not our favorite place in San Diego, but the sea view alone should make for a great wedding day brunch, and the lowish prices make for happy mother of the groom!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Russo's House

We had a nice little lunch at Russo's house this weekend. Having missed brunch hours we were looking for somewhere new close by to try out. Italian isn't something we tend to eat out very much (an easy thing to prepare well at home, and often overpriced at restaurants). Russo's house is somewhere we have often passed by, nestled up by 1st Avenue and University this homely little spot is quite small, with a nice patio outside to take up some rays (although May Gray doesn't seem to be offering us too many).
Going through the menu we settled on a couple of fresh looking pasta dishes. A nice touch at Russo's house is the ability to chose from a wide selection of different noodles with your chosen sauce. I should point out that at this point, (having missed brunch and not yet eaten) we were absolutely starving, and therefore a little disappointed not be offered some bread or something whilst we waited for our meal. Still, the service was quite fast and we sat in the calming patio sipping on a crisp, and very reasonably priced Chardonnay.
Our pasta arrived and was very nice, I suppose I always feel, as mentioned before that this is something that I could have quite easily prepared at home, but it is nice to be pampered on a Sunday afternoon. The ingredients were very fresh, diced tomatoes, frehs herbs, capers and garlic combinign to make a wonderful dish. The higlight for me was the italian sausage which really added a great dimension, evoking flavors i haven't tasted since my last trip to Italy.
Still having some Chardonnay left our waiter persuaded us to grab a small dessert to share to end the meal. We settled on a lemon cheesecake. The cheesecake was good mainly because cheesecake is always good- it was by no means spectacular however the lemon too faint, the cake not rich enough and the crust hardly there. Still cheesecake is always good and we reflected for a little while on how strange it is that so much of the food we enjoy comes from 2 animal species..... and then we came to the less pleasant part of meal- finding a thick black hair in the center of the cake. I'm not sure what it is about finding hairs, but it really can be pretty gross, particularly when contrasted against the creamy white texture of the cake. Luckily for the staff I think we were certainly mellowed by the Chardonnay and did not make a big deal. Our waiter handled everything incredibly well, managing to make a joke of the whole thing whilst also being extremely apologetic and, of course, comping us for a new cake.

Well, don't let our hair experience put you off this nice little restaurant- at least ti shows the food is being home made! If you are looking for good reasonably priced Italian fare Russo's house is a good bet.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wonderful Spinach Pie

A new great product at TJs- well maybe not new, but new to me anyhow. Trader Joes makes a really wonderful low-fat Spankanopitta. This is one of my favorite dishes, and I love to make
it myself, although brushing every sheet of filo with olive oil, sauteing leeks and shallots, and crumbling feta can be a little time consuming. I don't have many pre-made frozen foods I like to buy, but this one is really wonderful and can be made into a great healthy meal in a few minutes- add in some tzatziki, hummus and a nice Greek salad and you are there.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Top Picnic Spots

With Summer nearly upon us, I thought it a good time to post some of my top picnic spots. I'd love to hear other suggestions:

Morley Fields- Only a few blocks form our house we love to head to Morley Fields, it gets a little crazy on sunny Sundays sometimes, but you can usually find a table. Lots of fun things for kids to do and generally a nice place to relax- plus we love checking out the mock Renaissance battles that go on out there.

The Protea Garden- Wild animal Park- perfect in December and January, almost always sunny and pleasant. Escondido gets a bit too hot in the summer, but the winter months are perfect. The Wild animal park is always a fun place to go for a day outing and the Protea Garden offers the perfect picnic spot- hidden from most of the tourists, and a far better option than the awful overpriced food sold at the many booths and cafes.

Ocean Beach- If you can find parking then OB can be a great spot for a picnic, lots of tables which don't get filled up except during the tourist season. There is usually a nice sea breeze and you can head off down to the beach after your lunch.

La Jolla Shores- lots of BBQ pits and picnic tables, the shores offer a wonderful place for a picnic with a view. Of course this is probably an area to avoid in July and August, as parking can be a nightmare. After your picnic you can enjoy a nice stroll down to the Children's pool and see the seals, or check out the wealth of marine birds on the cliffs.

Bird Park- another great one close to home, Bird Park affords a spectacular view of the Coronado bridge, and never seems to be very crowded. Take one of the benches, or just set up some chairs and look out at the view. Bird park is also close to our favorite VegN Out, so you can pick up soem food to go inf you are feeling lazy.

Santee's Mast Park- Santee usually affords good weather, and Mast Park offers some wonderful views of the San Diego river. Sit on one of the benches and check out the red-winged and tricolored blackbirds, the coots morhens and red tailed hawks which fly overhead. Utter paradise

Friday, May 04, 2007

Cafe on Park

Recently with my parents in town we had a scenario by which we wanted to get something for lunch, that wasn’t far, and that could be carried back to my Dad who was working on a powerpoint presentation for a conference. Not being exactly enticed by our very local ‘Philly Grill’ I decided to head over to Park Blvd where I knew there were a couple of little places that did sandwiches- namely Café on Park and Urban Grind. The corner of Park and University is not a nice location, and I must say my mother seemed a little hesitant to believe that we might find some good food there. We perused both menus ( both offering an interesting selection of sandwiches) and eventually settled on Café on Park- which had so many wonderful options. Inside the restaurant was incredibly nicely laid out, calming and fresh. I settled on a Avocado and Brie sandwich whilst my mother got the highly recommended tuna melt taking home a meatloaf sandwich for my father. Having been offered a nice selection of sides we settled on the Butternut Squash soup and headed home.
Opening up our little packages at home, we could not have been more thrilled, everything was excellent, incredibly fresh, meticulously prepared with the most high quality ingredients. The Sandwiches were all wonderful, but the butternut squash soup really topped everything- delightfully creamy and rich without being overly sickly as I often find soups can be, it really was heavenly. We are definitely excited to have found such a great eatery so incredibly close to our house, and I feel ashamed that I have not visited before now.