Adventure #8: Operacaffe

•April 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Picture this: A chill April evening, 4th Avenue is bustling as always, ambulance sirens blaring, traffic stretching as far as the eye can see, and Horton Plaza looming over the most inconspicuous little Italian cafe wedged in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.  Zoom in and you’ll find crowds of people cheerfully dining on old-fashioned Northern Italian fare.  With a romantic ambiance, extremely friendly service, and affordable cuisine, Operacaffe definitely captivates its patrons ranging from high school prom goers to old married couples to friends filling up on carbs before hitting the town.

Once again, thanks to Groupon, I learned about Downtown San Diego’s newest Italian gem, and for only $20 I received a $45 voucher.  Parking at Horton Plaza was plentiful and easily validated, our waitress was extremely friendly (not to mention the constant supply of water and bread), and the restaurant overall offered a certain level of coziness.  Unfortunately, I do not remember the exact names of our dishes because A) I ordered off of the Specials menu and B) they have yet to update their online menu (but their website is professionally done and deserving of curious foodies).

We started with a very meaty fried calamari.  It was definitely a larger portion than at most restaurants, but the breading eventually became a little too much for me.  Next came the main courses: a spinach ricotta ravioli served with lobster and artichoke and a porcini mushroom ravioli in a vodka sauce.  The pasta consistency was al dente for both, while both sauces packed a powerful flavor punch.  If I had to choose my favorite between the two, I would have to go with the mushroom one.  There was more sauce and flavor – a clean and enjoyable dish.  The spinach and ricotta taste of its counterpart got lost in the flurry of ingredients, although the lobster and artichoke did provide a flavor combination that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Lastly, we were too full by the time the dessert menu came, but I will definitely try their tiramisu the next time I go (the owner boasted about it in a review I saw online).

Despite spending my time striving for food critic mastery, I realized that often times what makes unforgettable dining experiences can not be limited to the confines of your dinner plate.  Little things like their cheap-looking IKEA dinnerware and the somewhat overly-salty focaccia bread basket pale in comparison to heartwarming company and stimulating conversation.  If you’re looking to make that first date magical, Operacaffe is the place to be; its quaint interior coupled with candle-lit tabletops ooze romantic vibes and its delicious menu items have a habit of keeping both the customers and their wallets full.  You’ll thank me when your sweetheart is eagerly hinting at date number two and you have the money to oblige.

Adventure #7: Punjabi Tandoor

•March 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

After the last finals week and the last “spring break” of my life, I am back in San Diego ready to continue my adventures.  So, let’s rewind 2-3 weeks ago when I went to Punjabi Tandoor with Shailey, Stevie, and Anna.

Many of you who know may not know this but my childhood didn’t include that many home-cooked meals.  In fact, my dad, brother, and I spent most of our weeknights eating at random restaurants and dining on different cultures’ cuisines.  For a lot of people out there, partaking in something like Indian food may seem reminiscent of an Anthony Bourdain episode on the Travel Channel, but for my family, I guarantee the Wongs have absolutely “No Reservations” spending Sunday brunches at an Indian buffet.  Having been to countless Indian restaurants in the past, it was a no-brainer when Shailey asked to go to Punjabi Tandoor.

Before ever arriving, I expected this place to be a nice sit-down restaurant, so when we drove up to this middle-of-nowhere hole-in-the-wall establishment, I was surprised at both its modest appearance and its flock of customers.  With indoor seating limited to at most 20 patrons, we were lucky enough to snag a table.  We ordered our meals at the cashier and waited patiently for our numbers to be called.  Peering into the kitchen area, I saw what appeared to be a family-run operation with traditional cooking methods, which in my eyes meant cooked-to-order.

Considering I have been cultivating a four year UCSD diet completely devoid of Indian food, my excitement showed; my combo order ($8.99) included the Saag Paneer (surprise! my absolute favorite Indian dish is vegetarian), the Chicken Vindalu (too many choices, so I stuck with something safe), rice, nan (Indian flatbread), and raita (Indian yogurt dip), while I added a Mango Lassi (mango yogurt drink, $2.49) and Vegetable Samosas (2 for $1.99).

The food was incredible.  Of course, the considerable waiting time for our food didn’t help, but still, this was a culinary experience no doubt fit for a king.  The Mango Lassi at Punjabi Tandoor is possibly one of the best I’ve ever had – full bodied mango flavor, silky in texture without too much ice, and refreshing beyond belief.  The samosas came to me perfectly fried and still steaming as if to say “we’re too hot to handle”; I drowned out such madness by drenching each and every bite in the tangy sweet and sour sauce (the green minty sauce was okay but my palette prefers the sweetness of the red).  And for the main course, the long grain rice went perfectly with my curries absorbing the tremendous flavor.  The Saag Paneer was exactly as I remembered it and the little cubes of goat cheese provided a tofu-esque texture to the dish.  Next time, however, I would probably opt for a lamb curry rather than chicken because after tasting Stevie’s and Anna’s (not too gamey and fully saturated in flavor), my chicken seemed to pale in comparison.  But beware, from what I could tell, each piece of lamb lacked consistency in how it was cooked; some were chewy and tough, while others submissively fell apart the moment you tasted it.  Overall, I left my plates completely spotless (not to mention Stevie’s and Anna’s); I will definitely be back ready to see what else Punjabi Tandoor has to offer.

Punjabi Tandoor: Cuisine of India
9235 Activity Road, Suite 111
San Diego, CA 92126

Adventure #6: Piatti

•March 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Wowzah, I have not posted anything in a LONGG time (probably because I’m semi-broke at the moment).  Luckily, this past weekend was Sonya’s birthday, so I finally had an excuse to go out and spend money.  My adventures continue! And this time, I have a camera that works…

For Sonya’s 22nd, we went to Piatti in Downtown La Jolla.  Throughout my entire college career, ALOT of people have referred me to Piatti saying it serves some high quality Italian cuisine (and has the best bread), but for some reason, I waited three years to finally try it out.

I’ve actually been there twice this year and both times, the party I was with started with the Fritto Misto (Fried Calamari & Vegetable) as our “Antipasti”.  For $12.95, you can enjoy some fried calamari, shrimp, and miscellaneous vegetables with an AMAZING lemon aioli.  Usually I like to squeeze some lemon over my fried seafood, but with the aioli packing a huge lemon punch, it was almost unnecessary.  The dish itself didn’t stand out too much.  I did find the fried cabbage a little awkward, but hey, you got to have your veggies :).  **The photo below isn’t how they serve it, I was just too hungry that I forgot to take a picture before digging in.**

Oh yeah, and how can I forget their infamous bread! You get a typical loaf of bread (I have no idea what kind…white?), but it’s not served with a typical balsamic vinegar and EVOO (extra virgin olive oil, but rachel ray says EVOO so I thought I’d try it out).  In fact, you get a dish with the vinegar, EVOO, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flake, and I think more (that’s all my taste buds could discern).  Both trips involved me demolishing 2-3 baskets of bread, enough carbs to feed a village in China.

In terms of a main course, what I’ve seen at Piatti is that people like me who aren’t use to fresh pasta misconstrue the texture to be undercooked (I’m guessing, haha the alternative is that I’m right and it was undercooked).  Although I’m a huge fan out traditional Italian food with simple dishes highlighting the taste of the ingredients generally with a light tomato sauce, I generally go for the rich creamy counterparts at restaurants, so during my two visits, I opted for the Rotolo (Rolled Pasta Filled with Wild Mushrooms, Ricotta, Spinach & Porcini Mushroom Cream Sauce) and the Orecchiette (Shell Shaped Pasta, Grilled Chicken, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Asparagus & Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce).

I absolutely love mushrooms, and this mushroom sauce was as they say “Bellisimo!” (*pinches 5 fingertips together and kisses them*).  Ironically, my favorite dish on their menu masquerades itself as the cheapest.  Hooray for me!  It wasn’t the most filling main course, but I was sitting pretty with all the bread in my tummy anyways.  If you look at the picture, they kind of went overboard with the whole presentation scattering the greens and cheese all over, but I didn’t care; this satisfied my craving for mushroom pasta (last time I had something similar was CPK’s mushroom ravioli, which I enjoy too).

At Sonya’s birthday dinner, I was tempted to go with the safe, cheap, and delicious option, but my audacious palette kept me from straying from a cardinal rule of foodie-hood: variety.  I chose the Orecchiette, and given the tremendous impression the Rotolo left on me, I was a bit disappointed.  The shell-shaped pasta was clumped together, the chicken wasn’t very moist, and even though I’m a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, they began losing their flair.  The Gorgonzola coating was thick, creamy, and bursting with flavor, which made me very happy as I got more bread to sop up the remaining sauce.

Overall, my two outings to Piatti left me with diverging opinions about this place.  Experiencing in one occasion slow service, a delightful mushroom pasta dish, and fluctuating temperatures in bread definitely contradicts the friendly attentive service, the mediocre orecchiette, and piping hot bread at the birthday dinner.  Obviously, these differences don’t scream five-star versus fast food, but I’d like to portray to my readers a consensus on whether Piatti is merely a pleasant dine-in restaurant or an outstanding “I’m going to bring a date here” knock-her-pants-off-with-culinary-nirvana foodventure.  Safe to say, I’ll stick with the former for now.

Piatti Ristorante & Bar
2182 Avenida De La Playa
La Jolla, Ca 92037

Adventure #5: Big Fish in a Small Can

•February 10, 2010 • 1 Comment

Like I’ve said before, I have enough Chicken of the Sea tuna to survive a nuclear holocaust, and since I got tired of the same ol’ tuna and cracker routine, I decided to try cooking (aka culinary experimentation in my case).  With all the knowledge and skills gained from years of watching the Food Network, I felt like it was time to invent a recipe, and not just any recipe, but a recipe that would harness my immense stockpile of tuna.  This is where adventure #5 begins…

TUNA CAKES!

Chapter 1: Ingredients to this battle…

Ingredients

2 cans of tuna (7oz)

1 Red Bell Pepper

1/2 White Onion

Parsley (A Good Amount)

Lime Juice (Lemon is probably better)

3 Eggs

Bread Crumbs (I use crushed Ritz Crackers, about a full roll)

Salt & Pepper

Mayonnaise & Sriracha (Up to you, I didn’t measure)

*Garlic (I forgot to add this, so I don’t know if it’s necessary)

Chapter 2: ALLEZ CUISINE!

Step 1 – Finely chop your onion, bell pepper, and parsley.  Beat your eggs.  Smash your crackers.  Drain your tuna.

Step 2 – Find a large mixing bowl to combine your tuna, veggies, and eggs.  Season with salt, pepper, lime juice, Sriracha, and mayo.  Then, based on the consistency, add appropriate amount of bread crumbs (you don’t want it too runny or the mix won’t stick together).

Step 3a – If you choose to bake them, preheat oven to 375.  Line a cookie tray with foil and be sure to use Pam/butter/oil (you will definitely regret not doing so).  Mold your mixture into little cakes (size is up to you, bigger for dinner, smaller for Hors d’œuvre) and space them evenly on your tray (they won’t expand).  Bake for 18-25 minutes, depending on size/until golden brown.

Step 3b – If you decide on pan-frying them, just grease up a pan with olive oil and fry your tuna patties at medium-high heat.

Step 4- Serve with a Spicy Mayo (Sriracha + Mayo).  Bon Appetit!

Chopped Veggies + Beaten Eggs + Smashed Crackers

Chapter 3: Judge’s Decision – And the Winner Is…

Taste – The canned tuna taste still lingered, but overall, I feel that this dish came out really well.  The parsley and red pepper gave it nice color, and there was enough bread crumbs to maintain a solid structure and texture.  The Sriracha supplied a decent kick, but for someone with my spice tolerance, I should have put more.  Maybe next time I should try it with Cayenne Pepper or Red Pepper Flakes.

Plating – I used a white plate with a leafy design placing the baked cakes on the left and the fried patties on the right.  My other plate was Housemate Nick’s midnight blue plate, which contrasted the lighter colors of solely the baked ones.  I garnished both with sprigs of parsley and smeared Spicy Mayo on both plates.  It looked pretty enough to me. 🙂

Originality – This was my spin on the traditional crab cake.  I wasn’t sure what would be good inside a crab cake, let alone what would work.  Luckily, my countless hours absorbing the knowledge of Food Network Chefs (except Paula Dean, no butter was used in the making of this dish) paid off and I enjoyed some variety for once in my dinner (there were leftovers too!).

Overall, this was a very enjoyable experience for me.  It took about 45 minutes to prepare and cook everything.  I will definitely find time to come up with something else to cook or even find recipes online/on tv to try out.  Also, if you have any ideas, let me know!

Sidenote: Do not buy Sunny D Smoothies.  They taste AWFUL.  Don’t be sucked in by the 3cents/oz; it is disgusting.  Stick to the classics like OJ and apple juice.  I just saved some of you a $1.49.  You’re Welcome! 🙂

Adventure #4: Olde City Grill

•February 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This past week I have been resorting to frozen taquitos, cans of tuna, and bagels.  Reality check: I am still a college student without a paycheck, so as much as I’d like to go out every night, I can’t (cue world’s smallest violin).  Luckily, to cap off my week, my alter ego (RH) rescued my tummy from boredom while making a compromise with my wallet.

Housemate Jeff introduced me to Groupon last weekend (Sunday), where we found one hell of a deal.  For $10, we each got vouchers for $25 worth of food at Olde City Grille and decided on Thursday to be the night for our house to eat together.  I looked forward to this all week; not only was I swamped with homework and studying for the last midterm of my life (muahaha), but my meals, as mentioned earlier, weren’t satisfying and filled me with resentment towards Costco’s seemingly good deals on bulk.  Finally, Thursday night came and I was ready to get my grub on.

We used GPS to get there, but as we passed our destination, we barely noticed it.  In fact, I’ve been up and down Garnet tons before but never noticed it, kind of like Platform Nine and Three Quarters (I probably just lost half my readers, all 2 of you haha).  Anyways, we were greeted by our vivacious waitress whose voice and mannerisms reminded us all of Rachel Ray.  It took awhile to get our order in, not because of bad service but because there was so many choices to choose from.  After a bout with indecisiveness and indifference, our party finally settled on the 24″ Cheesesteak Italiano, the Works pizza, and a pound of both Spicy Garlic Wings and Buffalo Wings.

Let’s talk quantity.  I literally stuffed my face that night – the cheesesteaks were bursting with meat and the pizza needed two hands to eat (Sonya even had to roll it into a makeshift calzone).  Even though I would definitely recommend Olde City Grille, I suggest you stick to the Philly cheesesteaks to maximize your experience there and only order the pizza when in a large group (they only come in one size, HUGE).  The wings were good sized and delicious, but when charged ~$8/lb, you don’t really get the most bang for your buck.  All in all, this place lived up to all my self-hype and I will definitely be going back.

Note:  Yes, this place is right across the street (kinda) from PB Bar & Grill.  Yes, technically, eating dinner at Olde City Grille and going straight to PB Bar & Grill is a plausible idea.  No, it is not a good idea.  In fact, Nick and I tried this but both of us had our own individual reasons why not to ever do it again.  He went to PB, and with all that food in his stomach, wound up being the world’s most expensive date.  I, on the other hand, made the game time decision of heading home instead, where I proceeded to take part in my first ever three hour food coma.  I woke up at 2am and could not believe it; I’m just glad this didn’t happen in public.  We all have our kryptonites; good ol’ American fare is mine.

Olde City Grill
967 Garnet Ave
Pacific Beach, CA 92109

Adventure #3.5: With Great Bagel Bites Comes Great Responsibility

•January 30, 2010 • 1 Comment

This has nothing to do with my restaurant hunt, but it does have something to do with food.

I woke up today to the smell of something burning, and as I went downstairs, it began to smell like bagel bites.  I later found out that my roommate (we’ll call him Precious to avoid embarassment) was making three bagel bites for breakfast and cooked them too long causing them to burn.  Fast forward to the end of the night and having returned from a night of drinking in downtown SD, Precious had the munchies and decided to reach for his staple, bagel bites.  He made them, began watching TV, ate one, and passed out on the couch still clutching his fork.  I came downstairs and stole three, but surprise surprise!  They were rock hard.  The whole point of this post is that I just wanted to say…Who fucks up Bagel Bites?

Adventure #3: Pescatarianism – Sipz & Roppongi

•January 30, 2010 • 1 Comment

What is pescatarianism? A pescatarian is a vegetarian that includes seafood into his/her diet or in David’s and my case, a failed vegetarian.

It all started this past Sunday when David and I met up with Nick and Lydia for a vegetarian lunch at Sipz (we were originally going to go to McDonald’s lol).  Sipz is a quaint Vietnamese-owned vegetarian fusion cafe off of the 805 in Clairemont Mesa Blvd.  I honestly was expecting bland rabbit food with imitation chicken for lunch, but instead, I was pleasantly surprised with Restaurant Hero sized portions and HUGE flavor for a very reasonable price.  I ordered the Spicy Basil Chicken bowl because I like it hot!  Anyways, after we ate, David and I foolhardily agreed to be vegetarian for a week, but the next day, I got a text from him saying “Tuna’s okay right?”.  And that is how I became pescatarian for the week (ended today because honestly, a diet of only bananas and frosted mini wheats can’t be good for you).

Also, this past week, Jon, Alice, and I continued our new weekly restaurant hunt by going to Roppongi in Downtown La Jolla.  We went because Jon’s a huge fan of their happy hour (1/2 off appetizers).  Their happy hour lasts from 3-6 (?), so a little piece of advice: if your name is Jon and you plan on making it to Downtown La Jolla during rush hour, leave earlier and account for bad drivers and cops.  We left my place close to 5:30pm, and I was certain we’d miss the happy hour window of opportunity.  Somehow, by some act of a higher being, we made it there and ordered with two minutes left to spare.  They’re known for their Pan-Seared Scallops w/ Onion Pancakes as well as their Polynesian Crab Stack.  We also ordered their Hamachi Taro Tacos, the Miso Glazed Japanese Eggplant, and the Mongolian Shredded Duck Quesadilla (failure to comply with pescatarianism).  These dishes originally 14-17 dollars, were totally worth it; this is high-quality food in a high-class environment.  Lastly, we decided on ordering and sharing a dessert.  The Creme Brulee Cheesecake with Passion Fruit Sauce and Coconut Sorbet was, in all our opinions, better than anything we experienced during Restaurant Week.  Although desserts aren’t part of happy hour, I highly suggest you order this particular dessert; it’s like my taste buds went on a honeymoon in my mouth.  Overall, the happy hour was well worth it and shouldn’t cost you more than $10-$15 for a filling taste of their fine tapas.

Sipz Cafe
5501 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92121

Roppongi
875 Prospect Street
La Jolla, CA 92037