Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thai Roast Chicken , what a deal! (SD)

Wow where has the week gone! Hope everyone in Southern California is doing okay!

For tonight's entry we'll be doing a little place in downtown San Diego called Saffron. Serves Thai soup noodles, curry, stir fry and all the standard fare. What it does that's a little different from all the other Thai restaurants is it has a side restaurant that essentially serves rotisserie chicken!

I found out about this place while eating dinner next door, I was curious what smelled so good. One of my dinner companions told me about Saffron, cheap filling chicken that tasted wonderful. So I dragged along Frank, my only friend with absolutely no fear of food with the ability to eat anything I'd eat (in San Diego at least). Why this precaution? Because the place not only smells like chicken, it seems to occasionally smell like someone pissed at the front door. The India st. locale is not exactly a top notch place to dine, so if you can get past the battered exterior, you might find yourself a gem inside.

The menu at the Saffron Grilled Chicken is pretty simple, you have your choice of a combination of chicken meat that comes with one particular sauce (peanut, siracha, sweet and sour, salsa, chutney), some jasmine rice, and some Cambodian salad.

I opted for the Two thigh combo $5.70(I'm a dark meat kind of guy) with peanut sauce and a side of Chicken Salad Egg roll $1.66 (apparently also a specialty here).
What a meal huh? With the salad roll you get an extra sauce so I picked the Siracha. When you mix the Siracha + the Peanut sauce together you get DELICIOUS! =)

The salad roll is essentially romaine lettuce with some sliced chicken and vermicelli. Really nothing to write home about.
But the actual roast chicken was pretty decent. It wasn't very flavorful but it also wasn't dry. Since they did provide a dipping sauce (which btw is awesome) it really adds a good amount of flavor to the chicken. I dont know if you can tell from the pictures but those are pretty big pieces of thigh. One even had a drumstick attached to it! O_O (i know!)

On top of that the jasmine rice taste good, it wasn't dry like normal restaurant white rice but separated enough where you can scoop mouthful's of it in without it being sticky like japanese rice.

My favorite part of the meal was actually the Cambodian salad. It tasted like a sour cole slaw. That's probably the best description I could give you. Nice crisp cabbage with a tangy sour sauce (almost like vietnamese fish sauce but sweeter/tart). I could definitely eat more of this!

All in all, the restaurant is a good deal, you get a bunch of food for relatively cheap.. since you bus your own tables you also don't have to pay tip! I got out of there slighly under $8! What a deal huh? If you don't get the salad roll (which I won't again) You can leave with a full stomach and a full wallet!

So if you ever find yourself on India St and you smell the waffing deliciousness of grilled chicken be sure to stop by at

Saffron Grilled Chicken.
3731 India Street
San Diego, CA!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Quick trip to good ol' Texas

My brother and I recently visited my father in Texas. On the way back from the Schlitterbahn Waterpark on Galveston Island we stopped by for dinner at a popular Bar-B-Q Smokehouse on the side of the freeway. Mikesha's BBQ. I don't know if Mike owns this joint, or Mikesha owns it, or its southern twang that I'll never understand. But one thing I do know is that this BBQ stop is seriously in the middle of nowhere. (let's take a spin around the parking lot to give you a better understanding of what I'm talking about!)

Facing away from the restaurant

To the right of the restaurant. And Ohhhh to the left to the left. (of the restaurant)

So this place really is in the middle of nowhere, but the restaurant itself was decently busy. The restaurant has a big hunting/wilderness feel to it. Everything's in brown wood and you have stuffed animals and animal heads all over the place.
The interesting thing about this restaurant is that unless you order a plate meal you order everything by the pound. Everything has been smoked already and is sitting in a big giant cooler/steamer to keep it warm. When you make your order they toss it out of the giant container (notice the small metal sheet on the far right of the picture) onto a piece of wood and slice awayThe workers here have amazing knife skills. They just dice away at insanely high speeds. After they show off their knife skills, the meat is placed on the machine and weighed. And presto chango, you have your meal.

After ordering your meat you go down a short ways to your left and all the appetizers/sides are laid out. You've got corn, Mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, corn, cole slaw, potato salad, mac salad and the list goes on and on. In case your wondering why the Pineapple Coconut, Creame Cheese Cinnamon, and Cream Cheese look like rice, mac and cheese and other assorted sides is because the signs are actually for the pound cake they have above the appetizers. Don't worry, I also gave it a good stare trying to figure out what was going on.

So we ended up with a pound of brisket, a pound of baby back ribs, a pound of sausages, and small sides of coleslaw, corn, and potato salad.
The interesting thing about this place is the use of plastic for everything. Plastic plates for your food, Styrofoam cups for your sides, plastic knives/forks/spoons.. you name it everything is plastic. Its great that this far down in Texas conserving for the environment hasn't become all the rage yet.

To go along with your meal is an island with Sweet onions, pickles, and sweet tea.

The onions are delicious, most raw onions have that kind of bitter sharp taste, but these are just amazing. As well the pickles aren't super tart and just a little bit sweet. And the sweet tea... oh.. I had 3 cups of it, the perfect amount of simple syrup in it. Not as sweet as the Chick Fil A tea, just perfect!

The brisket was good, not great.
Might have been a little dry for my taste. It had a great smoky flavor but I just like my beef a little bit undercooked.

The sausages were peppery and meaty.

Pretty good stuff, but since i'm not a huge fan of bbq'd links i dont have much to say.

The real bread and butter here were the baby back ribs
It made me want to sing "I want my baby back I want my baby back I want my MIKESKA'ssss baby back ribs. " Look at its great pink smoke rings on the ribs. Really meaty strong pork ribs. And what makes it better is the amazing BBQ sauce that they have. I tried to buy a jar of it but they don't sell it =( . The sauce is a nice sweet bbq with great hickory flavor. Combined with the savory ribs that this place offered.. wow I was just dunking my food in the sauce.

So if you find yourself on the 79 freeway in Texas stop by Mikeska's!
300 Business Highway 79 (Downtown)
Taylor, Texas 76574

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Eating in OC: Tradition by Pascal

My family and I celebrated Moon Cake/Mid - Autumn Festival (linked to wikipedia if you'd like to learn more about Chinese culture) with dinner at Tradition by Pascal. Rated by Gayot as one of the top 3 restaurants in Orange County, rated by Zagat as the best French restaurant in the OC for the last 10 years, and favorably reviewd by fellow food blogger Roger on his blog.

The restaurant is situated in a very unassuming strip mall off the 73 freeway in Newport Beach. The restaurant itself is not large at all, there are probably 15-20 tables at the most.

Apparently the day we went (a sunday) was the first experiment by the restaurant for a "family style" menu. You were given an option of an appetizer, entree, and dessert just like a standard Prix Fixe menu, BUT 2+ people would order the same entree and it'd come in a big family size plate. An interesting concept, trying to bring a little bit of casual fun dining within the world of fine dining. I believe its just a way to screw the customer with smaller portions, but the price is only $40. Two of my cousins got it and it truly was a small steak. No more than 16 ounces for the two. As well certain things on the normal dinner menu are not on the menu on Sunday's, like their famed rabbit. Sadly none of this is conveyed on their website nor on their front window which still displays the normal prix fixe menu for Sundays.

The nice thing about Pascal's on Sundays is that there is free corkage, one bottle per couple. Otherwise I believe its $20.

The service was okay. We had a relatively young/new waiter who seemed to still need some training. At least the head French waiter believed so, as we watched many a correction on his serving style. Of course the French waiter sounded rather pompous but that could be just the way all the French I've encountered working at nice restaurants sound. (Very odd, people mock the fact that French have pompous attitudes but I never really put it together till right now. I Always thought they treated me like crap at restaurants cause I'm young.) I also tried to order three different bottles of wine and each one wasn't available. Quite sad really. Wish I had the foresight to bring my own. For such a fine French restaurant the wine list is kinda small.
But water was refilled quickly, wine glasses were taken away, and ordering was prompt.

But even with the slight dinge on the service the food was very tasty. I'm by no means a fiend for traditional French fare. I do appreciate the grace of French food and look forward to my visit to France and its 3 star dining, but I've always considered myself a California Fusion kind of guy.

Before we ordered an amuse bouche was served. I understand that the amuse is usually something small, to just open up your taste buds, let us know what the chef's ability, but this was a little bit too small. About 4 pieces of brioche with some tapenade and a butter. I'm not sure if they realized that we had a party of 13. I wasn't even aware that they served it because my cousin sitting at the middle of the table ate it all before I had the chance to even glance at it (hence the lack of pictures).

Then they served french bread with a cute little butter tray that had a cute little cover on it, being all cute and buttery and creamy. I think I had half a basket of this sipping wine and waiting for the food as the sun went down. (We had arrived at 5:30, its the summer time.. the sun doesn't set until pretty late).

So to start off the actual courses of the meal , I persuaded my brother to order their famed Beet salad and I ordered the French Onion soup.
I will not lie, I have never ever eaten beets in my life. The color and texture just seem odd to me. But I am never one to back down from eating food at a fine restaurant so I gave it a shot. Creamy, yet just a bit of crispness. The beets ended up being saltier than they looked, I half expected something sour when I bit into it. The beets apparently were put together with a creme sauce that gave it that milky taste. A very interesting dish. My onion soup was a concoction of generous amounts of salt, onions, and cheese that didn't quite like to melt. I might just be odd though, I like drinking soup that has cheese that's so gooey that its stuck on your lips and you have to use your fingers to get rid of it. This fascination of mine is always working at full speed when I dine at the Souplantation.
I found the soup to be a little bit too salty for my taste, and the slivers of onions a little too thin. Of course no one else shared this opinion when I had my mom and brother try it. They both found it to be a shining example of what French Onion should be.

For our first entree my grandfather had ordered the Coq Au Vin, which is "traditional" Braised chicken with smoked bacon and a side of fettuccine. Those that had the opportunity to taste it loved it. I didn't have said opportunity, but I did get a clear look at the dish itself. Look at how the pasta is cooked. Its absolutely perfect, each noodle is able to sustain itself without trying to get too close to its brothers in the plate. There's no clumping and plenty of space. Ah true culinary skill lies in the small feats.

The next entree was the Lamb Chops which actually weren't on the menu.
Cooked to a perfect rare/medium rare and drizzled with a little bit of red wine reduction, this dish was heaven in my mouth. I love lamb, I especially love lamb when its cooked like this. Not a single centimeter of this lamb was rough, like snow in the hot sunlight, this lamb just melts in your mouth. Yum yum yum! This would have been great with just cracked pepper and sea salt, but the reduction really put it over the top!

The next dish is one of their more popular dishes, Bouillabaise Provencale. A spicy saffron and tomato broth stewed with steamed bass, mussels, clams, shrimp and squid.
Look at how French this restaurant is, they serve the dish in a Le Creuset pot! The broth is a thin soupy broth with strong hints of saffron in it. I personally thought it'd be nice if it was a little chunkier/solid but the soup is still very rich and refreshing. I believe it could use a few more pieces of seafood but eh~ saffron is expensive. I don't know why but I keep thinking a nice side of carbs (rice?) would do this dish wonders. But I guess it'd be too similar to a Cioppino.

My entree was the Restaurant speciality, Seabass au Thym, Baked Seabass with a Thyme Crust When I first ordered the dish I was afraid the Thyme crust would be overpowering and much too strong for my palate, but to my amazement the blend of the oily fish that is seabass plus the tomato creme sauce on the bottom of the fish gave the right amount of flavor to balance out the Thyme. The seabass itself was not a marvelous piece of fish. I personally love seabass, its my "fine dining" fish of choice. I expect the fish to flake when I press my fork against it, but the seabass bordered on almost rubbery. The real star of this dish was the tomato creme. I probably ate 5 pieces of bread scooping the sauce up, it was so creamy and rich *drool*.

After the entrees have come and gone, we settled for some dessert .

First we ordered the Creme Brulee. Which.. sadly was unavailable.. and hence was subbed for a caramel Flan.

Not quite the gelatin goo that flan normally is, with a really sensual caramel sauce. Tasty.

We also ordered an Apple tart with Vanilla bean ice cream . (which I didn't get to try)
And finally my dessert, fresh seasonal berries.

A mixture of strawberries, black berries, and raspberries topped with cream over a sugary baked piece of dough. I appreciate the balance all 3 elements bring into the dessert. Each added a different level of sweetness to tantalize your taste buds. Rich creme, sweet and sour zing of fruit and the buttery sugar of the baked dough. When I ate the first strawberry i was amazed at one of the sweetest strawberries I've ever tasted. Sadly my mom shot down the heaven in my mouth by making me aware it was most likely in a vat of sugar water before hand =(.

I do believe its not the best idea to come on a Sunday because Chef Pascal doesn't work on these days. The food is good, but its definitely not on my list of top restaurants in the OC. I'm sure its a completely different matter when Chef Pascal is there (so I've heard from people who have tried both cuisine without him and with him) and is worth a second visit.

My family all in all enjoyed the dinner very much. So if you'd like to visit Chef Pascal (on a friday/saturday) here's the location!

Pascal (tradition)
1000 N. Bristol,
Newport Beach, CA. 92660

Friday, October 5, 2007

Battle Royale Steak, FIGHT

I love going out to eat (as you can see from this blog) but there are certain things I like to prepare at home. One of those things is steak. I rarely rarely rarely have a good steak when I go out. I have decent steaks, but nothing that makes me go *hMmmMmm yumm* while I'm chewing its wallowing in my mouth. So I take it upon myself to make my own steak. The past month I've been experimenting on Costco steaks, trying to figure out the right amount of seasoning and cooking time to make that perfect rare to medium rare steak (on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being rare and 3 being medium rare, I want a 2!). So after finally (so I believe) getting the right cooking method I decided to have a "steak off". Knowing that a Costco steak would not do this competition justice I decided to get some high quality meat.

I gathered my brother, Nick, and Jason and fired up the grill/oven for a little taste test.

Bryan Flannery v. Siesel Meats . Just to preface, the Flannery steak's look a little brown because they've been in the freeze (vacuum wrapped) for about 6 days (in case there is confusion, I personally froze it, it came fresh). The Sisel was purchased the morning I cooked it.

Hailing from Nebraska by way of San Diego, weighing in at 15 oz's and 1 inch thick, a local San Diego favorite... Siesel's!!!
A strict fitness regime allows Siesel's Prime NY to be nicely marbled. A local favorite , respected by quite a few.. The butcher shop was recently purchased by the Cohen group that also owns Iowa Meat Market. hopefully it doesn't disappoint.

(funny story when I went to purchase this. Funny as in.. the butcher is an @$$hole.
me: "hi, do you have any dry aged usda prime?"
butcher: "no, just choice ribeye"
me: "hum... lemme get the usda prime strip"
butcher: "why do you say usda"
me: "um.. i'm just reading off the label, i fumble less with my words"
another butcher: "sir do you know what USDA stands for"
me: "(ready for a joke) you tell me"
butcher #2: "united states department of agriculture *looks smug and walks away*"
me: "uh... okay. i thought you were going to tell me a joke")

The challenger coming via 2-day UPS from Brandt Farms by way of Costa Madera in Northern California, weighing in at 14 ozs and 1.5 inches thick.. dry aged for 30 days ...Bryan Flannery's Prime NY strip!!
A heavyweight favorite on the Ebob forums, steak from a butcher loved all over America. Carried by Dean and Deluca. Strong bits of marbling are scattered all through the strip.

After an even seasoning of Kosher Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper and drizzled with high end California cold pressed olive oil, the two strips were tossed on the grill at 550F. (I couldn't get it any hotter). After about 5 minutes on each side to get a nice sear, I put the steaks in a Le Creuset french oven and put it into the oven at 225 degrees.
And boom. Steaks.
The general consensus was good flavor on both of them. Of course, the flavor is as much a skill of the cook (hehehe) as the steak itself. But both held its own on that aspect.
Where the steaks started to really pull away from each other was the tenderness as it hit your mouth. Both steaks gave way easily to our knives, you could have used a butter knife on either steak and you wouldn't have to work on it at all. Yet when it hit your mouth the tenderness and texture couldn't be more different.

The Siesel was a little bit dry, it tasted just a little better than the steaks I buy from Costco. They have a good flavor, decent texture, but definitely nothing to write home about. When you chew it, you have to give it a few chews before you could swallow it, but at the same time it seemed to dry out the more and more you chewed it. This was odd cause I really thought the marbling on the Siesel's was superior to the Flannery.

Based on the attitude at Siesel's, the price/quality ratio I don't believe I could ever go to Sisel's again. BUT if you'd like to try it here's the location.They do have alot of Choice cuts, but they are all 14-15$ and if their Prime tastes almost like Costco Choice... I think I'll stick with the 7$ a pound Costco steak.

4131 Ashton St
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 275-1234

On the other hand the Flannery was like butter. I honestly believe that's the best word to describe it. Its not so buttery like high end kobe where you can only eat slivers at a time, but it really just melts under the pressure of your teeth. Its so flavorful and moist I was sad I could only share to little of it with everyone. I kid you not, when you bite into it the juices just flow out.

Every single taster liked the Flannery steak. Jason said it was one of the best steaks he's ever had while he was eating it. My brother actually threw away part of the Siesel steak (MONEY WASTER!!!). And Nick just nodded his head with a "mmmmm" while agreeing with everything Jason said. My friend Chris split the shipping with me when I ordered the steaks and also gave it TWO THUMBS UP!

There you have it, an unanimous decision, Bryan Flannery steaks! And the best part is.. The Flannery was actually cheaper after shipping! (per lb.) He also sent me a nice box of dark chocolates that i promptly gave to my Port loving friend. If you want to experience the love and disgustingly good customer service that is Bryan Flannery feel free to shoot him an email at bryansfoods@yahoo.com. There's no online ordering yet, he told me they hope to have it up in the next few months. He can give you the price breakdown of the types of meat he has (or if you want i can email it to you myself) . The worst part of eating these steaks.. is the fact that everywhere you go whether it be Ruth Chris, Morton's, Rainwater on Kettner's they'll never match up to this California "super prime" (affectionately called, he picks only the top 5% of the prime)