Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lunching @ Department Stores - Zodiac, 59th & Lex, And Nordstrom Cafe

My personal memories of meals at department stores brings me back home as a child when my father would take me out as part of our Sunday stroll. The incentive for me (while I greatly enjoyed his company) was a plastic model kit of some sort from the toy department. After the visit I couldn't wait to get back home to build my Gunpla, fighter plane, U-Boat, or Japanese Castle (just kidding), but only before our usual stop for a meal on the top floor which was where the restaurants were located (not too different to a food court but these were actual sit down places). My meal was usually a plate of a very sweet meat sauced Japanese spaghetti, occasionally a Naporitan, or sometimes a Hamburg Steak. Darn if I only had a blog back then! And last on our way out was the ritual of perusing through the basement floor with all the Tsukemono pickles and tubs and tubs of Miso with all the freebie samples. Good times.

Wanted to share a few fun eats at department store restaurant/cafes here in SD (Fashion Valley).. No toy departments in any of these (boooring) but I managed to have a few good eats.

The Zodiac is located on the third and top floor of Neiman Marcus.. Visited Z-NM elsewhere but first time here in the SD Fashion Valley mall.

A small shot of consomme soup comes immediately in an espresso sized cup, complementary with every meal. Hot and tasty! :) The crescent shaped mini pastry thingy was lightly cheesy (how do you like my foodie vocabulary so far? haha).

You also get a choice of a Popover or a mini-muffin looking Monkey Bread. The monkey bread seemed popular this day. Never had it. I wonder if tastes of banana? The pink butter is Strawberry butter. Had it with my light crunchy flaky hollowy popover. Lovely.

I wasn't in the mood for a burger nor was I ready to splurge on a steak this lunch hour so I quickly settled for the salmon (~$18).. Was that lame of me?? haha.

I don't know, I guess I sometimes feel pressured in ordering something more interesting for the sake of my readers.. But the Coho was moist and seasoned well on a bed of tasty mashed spuds with a butter and caper sauce. Nothing crazy here just classy and good. As you can see presentation was very nice. The service was fantastic and just ON. I couldn't ask for a better server. If I were to be critical the dish could've been hotter (felt like it had sat a bit) but for the total experience was well worth it.

Outside I noticed the famous Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies.. But are they more famous for the urban legend $250 cookie recipe?.. One of my first fond memories moving to Los Angeles in the early 90's was Rick Dees announcing the recipe on KIIS FM. Even the radio station bought into the hoax! Since then as an antidote NM has produced a Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that can be downloaded for free.

But I think I way prefer the Yoku Moku. Uber buttery delicate cookie cigares. This box was $36. (Oops my partial reflection with camera is in it, dork!)

Back to the meal, you get a little twirly chocolate mint after your bill. No fortune words of wisdom or lottery numbers included.

That was pretty fun. :)
Throwing in the closest free parking structure in the mall.

Zodiac, 7027 Friars Road (Neiman Marcus 3rd Floor), San Diego, CA 92108

59th & Lex Cafe is in Bloomingdale's (also 3rd floor).

This time I was in the mood for a burger.. So I tried the Bloomie's Burger.

An 8oz patty that is mixed with herbs and seasonings.

At $9.50 the burger wasn't the most expensive I've had but it was overall underwhelming. The mix of the half-pound patty had a lot of herby flavor but the texture was rather stiff. I at first thought maybe it was over kneaded but I now guess maybe the pre-seasoning of sodium in the ground may have caused this. The potato salad I chose felt a bit under flavored but I wasn't in the mood for fries. Sorry can't think of much else to say except that the super cool waiter didn't charge me for the cheese on my burger which would've been an extra $0.75.

Somehow I know I will be back at 59th & Lex Cafe. Hint: Frozen Yogurt.

59th & Lex Cafe, 7007 Friars Rd (Bloomingdale's 3rd Floor), San Diego, CA 92108

In a rare Radiused Corner timely manner the Nordstrom Cafe has just reopened with a new make over just this week. Visited yesterday.

This outside photo with line was taken as I was exiting around 12:30PM, so the place is very popular. Since I never been I can't say how much or different it has changed. As for the lady-to-dude ratio I felt out numbered 9.5:1.. haha. So I knew the menu would probably be skewed but overall I had no expectations..

Did ask a close friend with much more Nordstrom Cafe experience what they recommended beforehand. Lots of salads and soups (I knew it, chick food!) with some special mention to the Tomato Basil Soup.

Wow look at that roasted veggie plate in the lower right. Bugs Bunny would be all over those carrots. Anyhow, got my tomato soup and ordered my main and sat.

I had my share of roma roasted tomato basil bisque soup stew stoup.. but I have to say this was pretty good ($3.50 for a cup).

The cheese crostini was so cheesy, cr(o)sty, good salty, moist, and.. yup very cheesy. :) Really enjoyed it and happily accepted a free second of this giant cheese crouton. (So the service starts out cafeteria-ish but ends full server-ish.)

While the Rustic Vegetables captured my interest for sheer visual impact I ended up with the Tuscan Roast Chicken ($10.25).

Rustic! I haven't seen a sprig of fresh rosemary so large since my Hash House AGG days..

Veggies all had a great char with good caramelization. The yellow and red peppers were so sweet. The large very thick deboned chicken breast was quite moist and flavorful with a trimmed but decent amount of skin with also the wing drumette intact.

The small corn on the cob was fun to eat. It unexpectedly made my SDFV department store meal experiences come full circle reminding me of other childhood memories. I now remember our butter in the butter dish was always shaped a 'U' after all the twirling with hot corn we'd do! :)

Nordstrom Cafe, 6997 Friars Rd. (Nordstrom 3rd Floor), San Diego, CA 92108


K and S said...

reminds me of the NM in Hawaii, though the butter served with the popover is poha (gooseberry), really addicting!

Masa Assassin said...

I never really checked out any department store cafes while shopping with the wife. Now all I need to do is run off to one of to one of those cafes with my flo TV, while she shops :)

Funny my childhood memories in department stores with my dad was getting a Slurpee at K-MART and the smell of fresh popcorn.

meemalee said...

I wish we had proper food courts here in the UK but apart from a few exceptions it's mainly Burger King and KFC kiosks.

Did I tell you I went to the Mamatoko Fuji TV cafe (it's not actually in the Fuji TV building but in Decks) and it was bit disappointing, so we didn't bother eating there :(

Dennis K. said...

Hi K&S, that does sound good!

Hi MA! That's awesome.. :) Department stores in Japan always had a food court of some kind on the top floor. Some even had a movie theater. The restaurants there were much more casual (catering to families) than these fancy cafes (mostly catering to women). Soba houses and family restaurants..

Hi meemalee! Yeah most shopping centers here are the same actually. Sbarro, Panda Express, in SD maybe a Rubios..
That's too bad about Mamatoko.. The location seemed a bit hard to get to!?

meemalee said...

We found the Mamatoko cafe by accident. We went to the FUji TV building and looked for the cafe and then gave up, went and looked at the giant Gundam again, decided to go to Decks for dinner and found the cafe on the top floor! Maybe it moved?

Anyway, I enjoyed meeting Gachapin and Mukku :)

Kirbie said...

I've only eaten at Nordstrom's cafe. Now I wish I had eaten at NM. The complimentary popover and soup looks yummy.

Dennis K. said...

Hi meemalee, gachapin is great! He's always trying new things and even scuba dives.. I'd hate to be that guy in the suit! Far as I know mamatoko was never actually in the Fuji TV building but glad you found it anyway. I'm still jealous you got to visit the Gundam!

Hi Kirbie, popovers are relatively flavorless but it has a nice texture. I didn't know Nordstrom Cafe was so popular!

fliu said...

Such a great post! I'm a huge fan of Nordy's cafe as well. I lose my mind over their Strawberry Chicken Salad dish. I'm not a fan of their tomato soup though - always thought it tasted like Prego sauce :) BUT, i laughed when i read how much you liked their cheese toast - I sooo love that too. If you ask nicely, they'll give you a few more for free.

I've tried out the NM cafe awhile back but it was just really expensive. I didn't and couldn't justify spending that type of amount for lunch. But the popover thing looked yummy! So did the salmon.

How was the mood at the Bloomingdale's cafe? I didn't even know they had a cafe there! I'll have to ck it out.

Thanks for the blog!

Dennis K. said...

Hi Fliu! Thanks for dropping by and commenting! Honestly this was all a curious experiment so I doubt I will be heading back to any of them any time soon.. Zodiac can get expensive fast for sure if you add soup or anything else to your meal. The food isn't super duper great but I still somehow ended enjoying myself maybe cause of the service. The little things add up maybe. I didn't take any interior photos of 59th & Lex but it's very bright and fun. My burger wasn't great so I don't recommend that while the rest of the menu was also on the high side. I heard they're known for their frozen yogurt? Of the three Nordstrom Cafe easily won for me for the value. But I'm very partial to my IKEA Restaurant, haha. :)

caninecologne said...

hi dennis - cool themed post! i've only been to 59th and Lex (i posted on in back in dec 08). i actually also had a nordstrom cafe free lunch pass (given to me by a very kind sales girl) but sadly, forgot about it and it expired. so i never went. yeah, i'm cheap like that. i would still go though - just to try their strawberry salad.

i've only been in neiman marcus once or twice. both times, felt out of place. not my cup of tea. not into luxe type brands y'know. plus i'm piss poor compared to most of the shoppers there.

back in the in the mid 80's, the may company (yes, it no longer exists) used to have a cafe in their store. i used to work for may co when i was in college, but the cafe was closed and they turned it into the employee lounge/break room.

word ver:

Dennis K. said...

Hi CC! I felt out of place in Zodiac too! If one comes in to rest their feet with an order of only soup they can get away with a small tab (while still sampling the consomme and bread/butter). Maybe I'm a weirdo but it was kind of fun.
Darn, I wished you or someone documented MayCo food!! :)