Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lunching @ The Museum Cafe (MCASD-LJ)

Heigh-ho, hope everyone is having a great weekend. I had a nice drive up the coast to San Onofre and back with my windows rolled down. It was so beautiful and felt great! :) Definitely want to share photos eventually but I've been putting effort into getting many of my older stuff out. My meal photo-documenting hobby started much longer before my blog and so I have quite the backlog that's been bugging me lately. Today I have a few meals from the cafe at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego - La Jolla to share.

If you never been, the Museum Cafe is a nice casual place to bring friends from out of town for both a quick bite or leisurely lunch. Hunting down parking doesn't seem as bad this end of town either and I personally like checking out their bookstore once in a while..

I'm gonna go through these fairly quickly... First up is the Cove Burger ($10.50).

I admit the description of my platonic ideal burger lately has been influenced by reading articles from likes of Damon Gambuto, Nick Solares, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and (most recently) Josh Ozersky.. So you won't find the crazy crusty char and overflow of juices here, but this was still a nice moist burger with a predominant impact of Smoked Gouda. The somewhat smaller and thin slice of chez shown below actually packs a punch of smoked gouda-ness and was the right amount for my burger IMHO.

Both the multi-sesame seeded bun and texture of the patty is very soft and fine. It's a delicate burger where I subconsciously find my pinky pointing in the air as I take a bite.. ;)

Was about a 3~4 year gap between my second Cove Burger shown below and it tasted exactly the same. The roasted rosemary Yukon Gold Potatoes are fantastic by the way. Yay for consistency. :)

Sorry, I can't seem to find this steak dish on the menu so must have been a special the day.. (?)

Looks really good nevertheless..
I am pretty familiar with the Ultimate Grilled Cheese ($9.95) though. That's because I have a few friends that are die hard melted gooey cheese fans.. ;)

I never had it but I've been told it is very good. Here shown ordered without prosciutto.. (what?).

The Applewood Bacon and Avocado BLT ($9.95) on the other hand was something I had and happily sank my teeth into.

Were a lot of thick-cut crispy smokey bacon. So satisfyingly salty to contrast those cold veggies and ripe avocado.

I had a few soups.. ($3.95 for a cup)

This was a chicken vegetable with a light tumeric flavoring.

Was very nice with large chunks of tender chicken. Wow I guess I'm pretty predictable with my soup shots..

Gazpacho was offered as a special one day.

I remember the cold soup had a great sweet tomato flavor and the cool cucumber and celery was particularly perfect for the warm weather.

I had a whole bowl of their vegetarian chili ($5.50) one day.

Was also good but my one and only dud here was the Roast Beef Sandwich ($9.50). Was mentioned to be certified CAB which I'm sure it was but the cold thin slices were like that of deli meat. I also couldn't detect any truffle oil in the mayoli or caramelized onions.

Otherwise I've been pretty happy lunching here and wouldn't think twice about visiting again.

Good food in a great location..

The view is usually never too shabby.. ;)

Museum Cafe (MCASD), 700 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Get Your Unagi Appetites On! It's Doyo No Ushi No Hi..

I posted on Japan's National Eel Day or Doyo no Ushi no Hi on one of my ramblings last year. It was a late announcement but luckily 2009 was one of the rare years when the day happened to be observed twice (something to do with the complicated solstice equinox zodiac way of calculating the day). So anyway this year I've been determined to announce in a more timely manner so that we can all get our 2010 grilled eel groove started off on the right foot. Tomorrow, Monday July 26th. In the name of helping to build up our stamina so that we can all endure the grueling hot summer days ahead in good health (so I am told).. Let's get our Unagi appetites on! Allez cuisine!

A Doyo no Ushi no Hi post on Kat and Satoshi's Our Adventure In Japan Blog..

For today I dug up photos of a Japanese grilled eel dish derivative I had in Nagoya back in 2005 called the Hitsumabushi. I knew it was from a famous restaurant where the dish was supposedly invented but had forgotten the name. With a little google images reverse engineering search I found out it was Atsuta Houraiken-honten (honten - meaning original or main location).

This place was super cool. Was basically like stepping into some baller person's Japanese mansion which to no surprise it was in fact originally a Ryoutei at one time and if I heard the youtube interview right they have been around since Meiji 26 (or 1893). I remember totally smelling the eels being grilled from the dense sweet smoke coming out through the kitchen's vent out back. Drool.

The Hitsumabushi partly gets its name from the circular wooden container - a Hitsu.
Mabushi I guess means to mix rather than sprinkle which is the word for Chirashi that most are more familiar with probably.

The grilled eel is cut into smaller pieces so to be able to mix with the rice. But what is also unique to the Hitsumabushi is that you are encouraged to enjoy it several ways. Naturally first by itself..

My four attempts to get a good 'chopstick macro' all failed (was back when I had my old camera). Anyhow then second, you're recommended to try the rice and eel again with several yakumi condiments.

Here some finely chopped negi chives, wasabi and shredded kizami nori. There are a few different pickles to nibble on in between as well.

Totally yummy. By the way the quality of the eel was absolutely superb. Nothing like the sad balloon shaped blubbery stuff you find sometimes in the markets. The ultra fine texture of the meat is consistent from head to tail, and maybe with a slight more chew than the fluffy less oily Tokyo-style since it is not pre-steamed and instead grilled directly over binchotan charcoal. You can read the difference between Kansai and Kanto style of cooking unagi on Kyoto Foodie here.

A nice osuimono broth break. I think that was yuba tofu skim in the center and the balls were wheat gluten bread called fu. This colorful festive variety that resembles a child's hand ball is temari-fu (手まり麩).

On a side note, when I have friends that ask me about what "Umami" is I try to explain it's what makes a perfectly clear light broth have body and flavor and not taste like water... The invisible umph. I don't know, maybe that's not a very convincing explanation. But both kombu kelp and katsuobushi dried/smoked bonito which are the base of basic Japanese dashi stock making are packed with the stuff.

The third way to have the Hitsumabushi is Ochazuke style with (in this case) a light broth poured on top (but as the name suggests hot tea is often used also). After you've tried the dish these three ways, you can then have the rest of the meal the way you most prefer. Thank goodness! ;)

Nijiya-SD is currently having an Ushi no Hi sale by the way that ends tomorrow. So whether it's in a more formal unajyu box or casual donburi bowl, grilled plain or slathered in sauce, as nigiri, a roll or chirashi-zushi form, whichever way you choose to have your Unagi make sure to have some tomorrow! :)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cafe 21 - A Quick Revisit

It's so great to see small neighborhood businesses doing well. I posted on Cafe 21 two years ago when they were called Cafe 2121.. Oddly (to no surprise) the majority of the writing was me venting my silly frustration on how I couldn't get over-easy eggs in my breakfast burritos anywhere in town (someone please tell me why!?), haha.

But what left me with such a lasting impression at the cafe was the hard working husband and wife team (whom I believe are Russian) that seemed so determined to make sure that my visit would be a complete joy. If Cafe 21 had a breakfast burrito on their menu without a doubt they'd make the eggs any which way the hell I wished as long as they knew it would make me happy. :)

But here there would be no need since there was something better. Their poached eggs sandwich - Presto Pesto Eggs. Aside from the mushroom omelet that I had once, that's all I've ordered. Anyhow after a couple more of these sandwiches I just stopped visiting for no real reason. Off doing other food bloggery things I guess.

So I've noticed recently driving by that the place had a new sign and even a fresh inviting exterior color. It was also completely filled with people! (The photo below was taken right after the brunch rush.) So great to see. One lazy Sunday after spending time at Twiggs next door I decided to check the place out after the crowd had subsided.

Matching the outside the interior decor had also really come together. Much more cozy now with even a projection slide show of images of their hometown.

I got my usual of course. Prices have gone up some where the soup and sandwich combo is $9.95 (at the time $7.50). Their entire menu can be downloaded online but I had to document the dinner offerings because I particularly love handwritten ones. I think the dinner hours are new for the cafe.

Two poached eggs with roasted red pepper, feta cheese, spring greens and pesto. Messy as ever where I thought the previous version that used a toasted french roll fared much easier to eat. But other than that, equally delicious as my first.

The scratch made soup of the day was chicken vegetable and was also fantastic.

I also had a Super Power Antioxidant Rich Green Tea, iced. Always nice to know all my brunch options in my neighborhood. :)

Cafe 21, 2736 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lunching @ Kealani's - A Several Year Retrospect... (Visual Food Coma Warning)

I must have been inspired reading Kirk's most recent loco moco adventure to finally gather all my images of meals I had at Kealani's and share. Kealani's was my first Hawaiian spot I visited after moving down to SD and so the place evokes warm fuzzy memories. At the time the place was quite cozy only a third or less its current size where you were almost able to view all the gift shop offerings while you were sitting at your table having your meal. ;) Anyhow not sure why it took so long for me to put this together.. Maybe I was annoyed by the consistently mushy rice, haha.. but more on that later. I do admit (IMHO) the plate lunches here may not be the best examples you might find in town (I have since found Island Style, Home Style and Leilani's to name a few) but I feel the prices are right and as my number of visits over the years would prove to show I've always enjoyed the friendly staff and atmosphere. The very close proximity to the beach certainly never hurts especially during the days when I would feel the need to venture out a bit and decompress during my precious lunch hour.

Before I forget, Kealani's full menu here with updated breakfast (Mon. & Sat. only). Prices have gone up by 50-cents across the board but I'll be listing what I paid at the time. Also a warning that viewing the entire set of images on this post will most likely cause visual food coma. So have a pillow ready in the case you're induced into a nice afternoon nap.. ;)

So for starters their Loco Moco (mini, $5.75). Was pretty straight forward but the pic below used to be one of my favorite photos for the longest time. Was taken during one of the early visits roughly four years ago (my first actual visit around 2001).

The beef patty had a nice crust if not cooked a bit overdone, but the brown gravy and grilled onions seemed to compensate well as most loco moco's do. Recently I've started to prefer the egg with crispier edges but the single sunny side had nice runny yolks.

I remember being really intrigued by the Aloha brand Soy Sauce.. I've since seen them sold at Marukai Market.

The Kalua Pig (also a mini, $4.95) would actually be my first documented meal photo here. Sorry for being all nerdy and pointing that out, haha.

Not an expert by far of kalua pig but I thought it was decently moist and smokey. Despite the mini size this most always proves to be more than a good fill for me where here the generous pork serving started to feel a bit monotonous near the end and I had a hard time finishing. Never craved a bowl of miso soup so much. In fact like Vietnamese com tam dishes I always felt a small cup of any soup would be a great complement to plate lunches.. But that's just me.

The Chicken Curry ($5.95) which is a Wednesday special.

Was a home style version similar to what my mother would make, more watery/stew-y than the viscous thick rue based "restaurant" variety. Still pretty satisfying with ample amount of tender chicken and large potatoes and carrots.

It seems I tried the Lumpia this day (2 for $1.75). Remember these coming out piping hot.

A sweet dipping sauce is not provided so you'll have to make do with other condiments. I just had it plain. The filling had a fair amount of ground meat though I couldn't quite make out what kind. Probably pork. I also remember it having a lot of fresh grated carrot flavor. I thought it gave it some character.

A few sandwiches in row.. You can read about my nerdy thoughts on Teriyaki Chicken Sandwiches here which includes Kealani's version. Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich ($3.95 with fries).

Despite it being a thigh portion the meat was a bit dry but it had some nice char.

Personally could've used more teri sauce (though there's a bottle of it on every table) and maybe some raw onion slices but the price which includes the fries makes it hard to complain. Felt the same about the Katsu Sandwich (chicken, also $3.95). The fried katsu's interior could've also been more moist but the exterior was nice and crunchy.

The katsu sauce here is island style which is a more tangy ketchup based. I personally prefer mine drenched in the trusty all purpose Japanese chunou sauce with some fine shredded cabbage but then again, that's pressing my personal katsu sandwich preference and probably not how it's done on the island at all.

I tried the Saimin (small, $2.75) partly because as I mentioned I would crave a light soup of some sort to go with my meals.

Now I know the people who have tried or grew up with the fresh scratch made is going to say how much I'm missing out but I actually enjoyed this, even despite the overcooked noodles.

The soup with its subtle bonito stock flavor reminded me a little of Okinawa Soba, albeit the inexpensive packaged stuff. But it was a nice surprise and I even liked how the spam gave the broth some extra flavor (Spa-mami if you will, ha). :)

The Teri Beef Sandwich. The beef was well seasoned but also a little on the tough side. I planned ahead this time and ordered it with a fried egg ($3.95 + $0.50).

The egg helped, though not in maintaining my chiseled fashion runway figure, he he.
The Spam Musubi ($1.75) again could've benefited from less mushy rice. The spam slice was on the thin side as well. Despite this, spam musubi's seem to never fail at being a quick satisfying snack.

The Mochiko Chicken a Friday special ($5.95) was quite tasty. Probably my favorite of the bunch.

A sweet/savory from I'd guess a sugar and soy sauce marinade. The mochiko rice flour coating also gave it a nice light mildly sweet starchy crust. The chicken was well flavored and didn't need any of the teri sauce dip. With some fine shredded cabbage, scallions and maybe sesame seeds, I imagined this could be a great donburi. :)

The Pork Adobo is offered as a special on Tuesdays..

Had some subtle bay leaf and peppercorn seasonings. A bit muted in flavor where I thought it could use a sharper soy sauce flavor (in my humble opinion) but still pretty tasty nonetheless.

The Mahi Mahi Musubi ($1.75) didn't really do it for me and I'll be sticking to fried spam next time. So much for elevating my gourmet status the spam lover that I am, haha. ;)

Da Roast Pork is a Thursday special.

The tasty pork with the addition of fork tender cabbage, carrots and potatoes, fared much easier to finish than the Kalua Pig. I wish they offered this in a mini though because the portion still proved to be a challenge for me (specials aren't offered in the mini size).

Finally the last is the Tutu's Plate which I recently had after a long dry spell of visiting. I thought I'd check the place out again to wrap up the post. I was seriously craving fried spam this day and was glad to see the Tutu's Plate (spam, Portuguese sausage and egg) up on the specials board (Monday).

Very filling for $6.50 but I would've happily traded one of the eggs and a scoop of rice for more of that salty pork luncheon meat. The Portuguese sausage had a nice spice heat but surprisingly was a bit dry.

But yes, the side of gravy I had asked for earlier came to the rescue... ;)

Glad cause it's hard to finish all that rice even with the mac salad. The small Saimin which I tried again was the same as last (except for the slight mark up). I wonder if there is any place here or in L.A. that serves up a more serious rendition.. Although I have to say I even liked the version at L&L so it's not too hard to impress me with a Saimin.. :)

Well hope you enjoyed these. As usual a more entertainment based personal visual retrospective if anything but I really do feel better now that these are finally out seeing the light of day.

By the way, fries with teriyaki sauce aren't such a bad combo.. Ok, now I'm completely out.. [(--)]ZZzzz...

Kealani's (Encinitas), 137 West D Street, Encinitas, CA 92024