Thursday, January 25, 2007

Downtown Eating

After eating at The Oceanaire, I thought hmm, should try to get downtown to eat more often. No doubt that Red Pearl Kitchen (right around the corner) is on my list. Well, thanks to nearly a week of jury duty, I had a rare opportunity to lunch downtown for 4 days. That’s a nice side benefit – okay maybe the ONLY benefit unless you are really hardcore about the whole fulfilling your civic duty bull.

First up I had decided that I’d check out that Indian buffet at Monsoon on 4th Avenue if they were doing it for lunch. They were and I helped myself to several plates. Not quite Punjabi Tandoor quality but pretty good. For atmosphere, it’s a 180-degree turn from that “hole in the place” complete with nearly elegant high back chairs and white tablecloths. And at $13.99 you better believe I’m spilling more than a little glop on their nice clean linens!

They don’t seem to do all that great of business for lunch – I only saw about 10 other customers over the time I was there so you might see a heavy skin form on some of the buffet dishes. The Vegetarian Tikka Masala was just okay (again go to Punjabi in Miramar for this one) but Tandoor chicken was good. No doubt there was enough to eat – I thought the Chicken Mulligatawny soup was great. Of course they have that spinach dish and some sort of lamb dish – maybe Lamb Vindaloo. I know I've missed something. A good sampling of food with a couple of simple desserts.

I vaguely remember sampling this buffet on a Gaslamp "taste of" tour.

Samba Grill
The second day I actually got picked to a jury so I needed to find some place to drown my sorrows. A liquid lunch at The Yardhouse? Mmm? Maybe! But what if blurted out the wrong thing in the afternoon session?

Then I decided what about that Brazilian Steakhouse place in Horton Plaza? Passing up other food court choices I wound up at Samba Grill. This is where the servers come out with loads of meat on long metal skewers and slide or cut off a serving for anyone interested. Yes, all you can eat meat! Perfect for an afternoon without a chance at a bathroom break.

San Diego’s very own mmm-yoso guy did a great write up last summer of this place. I think lunchtime is great time to check this restaurant out on the cheap – $13.99. But even at lunch I was offered over 10 offerings of a variety of meats. Sausages, beef ribs, sirloin and filet mignon, marinated chicken, turkey wrapped in bacon, maybe bacon wrapped with turkey that was wrapped with bacon again and then deep fried. Okay forget that last one. As I said, even at lunch, plenty to eat.

Along with the meat served tableside, they have a mostly salad buffet that was just okay. Nothing special there except they did have some sort of doughy bread ball. I don’t recall the name or if I even knew the name there – but I liked it a lot. Besides cold salads they had a few warm items like meatballs and lamb in a dark sauce.

Café Cerise
By day 3 I thought maybe I should ease up on the all you can eat stuff so I thought a visit to Café Cerise was in order. The place gets a few good mentions on Chowhound – and we sampled there for a downtown taste of once and I remembered that they seemed to be a restaurant excels in careful preparation of good products to create some great food. Or something like that.

There have been some rumors that they would be closing – they just don’t seem to attract enough business. At lunch I saw all of 7 other diners – so hardly a crowd. It’s a shame as the food is really good! I started off with a Caesar Salad With Parmigiano-Reggiano, Capers, Coddled Egg And Roasted Garlic for 5.25 and on the waiter’s recommendation got a Open Faced Lamb Sandwich, Covered with Bleu Cheese with Butterleaf Lettuce and Chanterelle Mushrooms for around 12.00 – or that is nearly how I remember it listed on the menu.

Looks like the menu is printed and changes daily. It’s a real steal for lunchtime I think considering quality and the pricing is about the same as anything from Red Blobster to Abblepees – or just a couple bucks more.

Grab and Go
The last day was a simple Grab & Go sub – a spicy tuna that was the special of the day. It was good – right around noon this place (2 blocks from the courthouse on C Street) gets line out the door busy. Around $5.50 or so.

I never did get to the Yardhouse though I think it would be next on my list – maybe.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

El Bizarro Wait

Oops I mean El Bizcocho – one of the top rated restaurants in San Diego. I’d say it would be an understatement to say that this place is a few levels above our economic and social class. But naturally Restaurant Week gives us a chance to try a few restaurants we might not bother to go to otherwise.

Here we were greeted and lead to our semi-private table without any delay – but then there was about a five-minute wait for our menus. The regular menu was on the left side with the restaurant week menu on the right, which seems to very closely match what had been listed online. We must have given the wrong hand signal or maybe didn’t cough correctly as there was an abnormally long wait before our waiter approached for our order. Maybe they though we were reading the wine list. The wait time might be excused if the place was filled to capacity, but upon looking over the dining area, at the time we were seated it was around ¾ full.

Eventually we ordered and the appetizers came out within a couple of minutes. But then there was a long delay before the entrée and a fairly long wait for dessert. Our feeling that the wait time was unusually long was confirmed by our waiter who apologized for the delay in the entrees and the desert courses. Here is what we had as copied from the restaurant week website:

First/Appetizer Course:

Day Boat Sea Scallop with Wine Cured Sausage, Mushroom Flan & Chive Froth

Hamachi “Crudo” with Butternut Squash Puree, Baby Fennel & Ponzu Vinaigrette

Second/Main Course:
Seared Baramundi with Crispy Chorizo, Manilla Clams, Potato Confit & Saffron-Curry Broth

Lamb Loin with Garbanzo Bean Puree, Tomato Confit, Baby Spinach & Olive Reduction

Third/Dessert Course:
Chocolate Veloute with Rum Braised Bananas & Caramel Ice Cream

Goats Milk Cheesecake with Armagnac Infused Winter Fruit & White Pepper Gastrique

The food was good – but extremely small portions. I don’t know if this is typical (French sized portions?) or if they passed out tinier portions because of restaurant week. I guess I’ll assume we were served what we would have received if we ordered from the regular menu any night of the year. I won’t embarrass myself by critiquing food I know too little about. Yes, it there were interesting sauces and reductions. That Chocolate Veloute was sort of a round cake with a soft warm center – we’d call it a lava cake. That Hamachi Crudo and Lamb Loin were just 3 bite sized piece each. Service was very professional – yet friendly and warm. We did see a nearby couple taking pictures but if they were bloggers I haven’t yet seen anything show up online.

El Bizcocho is in the Rancho Bernardo Inn. They do a Sunday Brunch (complete with a Bloody Mary station!) that we may check out at some point – I’m sure they have some pretty great food and since it is all you can eat there won’t be any snacking required once you get home.

Monday, January 08, 2007


I imagine most that happen by to read this blog have already ate a meal or three here – Restaurant Week in San Diego kicked off for us at The Oceanaire at 4th and J. This ain’t a Joe’s Crabshack, baby! I went in expecting a seafoodie version of Ruth’s Chris – I think that is pretty accurate. It has a reputation as a $$$$ restaurant so it was a surprise that they remained at the $30 price point when many have went up to $40 (even The Yardhouse fer chrimey sakes! WTF?) Anyway, the week is perfect for bargain hunters.

They present the restaurant week menu a little differently than others. Instead of one sheet of listed 3 courses and the 3 choices for each and that’s it, they present their regular menu with some options highlighted in bold to indicate you could pick them as part of restaurant week (no mention of this until we asked.) And they had an extra 2 or 3 choices for both the main course and apps. Sweet!

Shortly after being seated they set down a half loaf of bread and a relish plate filled with a couple of celery and carrot sticks, a couple of radishes, etc and a little bowl of herring. My wife is a big fan of herring (picked fish – usually in a wine sauce) and it is a New Years Eve tradition to eat it (said to bring good luck even though we’ve had a checkout girl nearly throw up in her mouth at Von’s recently – well, not quite but it did draw a “wha?, ewww” reaction.) Besides the wine list - they have a list of "classic old school" cocktails like the Harvey Wallbanger and the probably the Howdy Plunger and so on. We ordered a Tequila Sunrise and a "James Bond" Martini. Both good!

Appetizer Course
  • Maryland Inspired Blue Crab Cake. This was a pile, slightly flattened, of crab meat. Delicious! Almost total crab meat – no breadcrumbs to be found in this puppy! Thumbs up.

  • El Diablo Squid. Let’s not be disgusting and just call it calamari! It’s lightly battered, deep-fried and then mixed with a whoa-nelly hot (to us) sauce.

Main Course

  • Oregon Stuffed Petrale Sole: Blue Crab, Bay Shrimp and Brie with Lemon Beurre Blanc. You could really taste the beurre. I’m just kidding. This was a real winner.

  • Swordfish “drunken” with a cherry reduction. It was pretty good – not too dry or anything. There were some nuts mixed in with the cherries (pretty much covered the fish.)


  • Cappuccino Praline and Raspberry/Chocolate Cake. Both of these were a layered cake with either alternate layers of mousse or raspberry filling with a sponge cake.

A tremendous value as the entrées were listed around $28. The crabcake is listed around $13 and the squid over $10 and I’d assume desserts would be $7 or $8 (no price listed.) Cocktails are in the $8 to $10 range. Because of the way the menu is presented (with RW options in bold) I suppose they caught some unsuspecting visitors paying normal price. I wonder. Of course, they are probably pretty booked up each night – I’d think that reservations would only be available booking with a hotel concierge.

The menu did vary somewhat from what was posted online as it was missing Lobster Bisque and Oysters Rockefeller. No biggie – what we got was great anyhow. They were out of a couple of desserts (Crème brûlée and a Fruit Crisp) but still had 4 or 5 to choose from. Maybe their “real” desserts are a little more elaborate. I did pull some descriptions directly from the RW website – if they prove to be slightly incorrect from what was served. In the end, we had lots of food, it was all tasty and oh yea, the service was fine.

No pictures this round – I had the cell phone camera at the ready but without using the flash any previews of photos looked too dark. I wasn’t about to use the flash.

We just have one more restaurant planned for later this week.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Knockout Pizza

After extended weeks of holiday snacking, candy and general overindulgence we needed something to settle our stomachs. Pizza? Sure, why not. Some might try Tums or Maalox Plus – nope, not here. Pizza is the sure cure. For awhile it was no-no food in our healthy house but no more! Enter, maybe?, Knockout Pizza? This location is in a Mira Mesa mall – yep, next to the Food Court, under the stairs. Pretty much all they sell is 18 inch pies. Unlimited toppings for 16 bucks. By the slice is also available.

Pictured here is the “Hells Kitchen” a supreme type pizza. How was it? Pretty good. Still, I wouldn’t mind a little more of each of the toppings, especially the meat. They are said to be one of the best NY style pizza in San Diego. Sure, that is on their menu and website. But I think there are a couple of other Knockout Pizzeria locations in the northern coastal area and I think they were started by someone that worked at Bronx Pizza or ate there once so it’s probably a reputation that is earned by now.

So, thumbs up to Knockout. It had a zesty sauce and you could fold it up and gobble it down. Plus I drive by there every day so it could be a semi-regular stop.

But what about the other pizzas I blogged about? Well, looking from top left with chain pizzeria Domino’s and their cracker thin to (moving clockwise) that Buca di Beppo to the deluxe Coney Island Pizza in the lower right corner and finally over to the Z-Pizza Mexican – hell I thought these were all really good. That Domino’s is sort of our guilty pleasure standby. I wouldn’t mind finding other cracker thin crusted pizzas out there – but I’d also go for some Chicago deep dish. (And you KNOW I think that Beppo does an awesome pants poopage inducing pizza – it was a greasy pie, friends!) And of course, Z-Pizza gets a call from us every once in awhile. They have some great non-traditional type pizzas.