Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Looney for Lupicia! (San Francisco)

This is A Mystery Eater posting! Fret not, Clayfu will be back shortly with more gluttonous eats and the like.

Now that spring is upon us, the birds are chirping and the days are longer, there is nothing I enjoy more than a nice cup of iced tea.
While the standard black Lipton is delightful, I prefer fruit-infused and flavored teas for my iced teas.

And now, for your brewing pleasure . . . starring . . .

Lupicia loose leaf teas! (applause from the audience)

With the supporting roles of . . .

Crate & Barrel Tea Clamp

Tea Steeper (uproar and raucous cheers)

A quick note on tea trinkets and the like. While you definitely can brew the loose leaf teas without any contraptions, the above gadgets make it much easier to drink tea without those pesky leaves getting in the way! The tea clamp was roughly a $5 dollar investment, and the tea steeper, around $14 (find it at your local Target or fine discount stores like Ross, Marshall's, etc). Clayfu prefers the tea steeper, since the water flows through the leaves and into the container, allowing the recipient to get all the benefits of a strongly brewed tea, without the leaves and twigs.

Having had the opportunity to try various teas from Lupicia, the favorites are as follows:

Houji Fruits Out of all three, the fruit flavor is the strongest in Houji Fruits, which makes it the ideal candidate for iced tea. Not overwhelmingly so, though. There is a nice balance of black, green, Muscat and apple flavors. As soon as you open the tin to smell the tea leaves, you’ll notice the distinct Muscat flavor. Look above at the tea steeper photo #1 for the rich dark color of the houji fruits.

Ripe Mango Oolong

Clayfu prefers the Ripe Mango Oolong due to the subtle mango flavor in the background of the fresh oolong tea. Apparently, oolong is the “middle” tea between green and black in oxidation! You can read more here, if you care. As the tea is brewing, the lovely scent of ripe mangoes fills your entire kitchen, inviting you to partake in this tea (but be careful, it’s hot!). The color of the oolong is above, in the tea steeper photo #2. While tasty as an iced tea, the sweet mango flavor is more prominent in the hot tea version. So, if you like fruity teas, perhaps its best to have the Ripe Mango Oolong hot.

Momo Oolong Super Grade

The Momo Oolong has a very light peach flavor, since the tea is flavored with white, not yellow peaches.

While you can purchase the various teas on-line (free shipping after spending $35), shopping at the store is a pleasant experience both for your olfactory system and taste buds. The store is divided into the major groups of tea—black, green, oolong, even decaffeinated and often times, there are samples of teas!

If you fancy, the sales associates can brew you a cup of a tea so that you can try the tea before purchasing. Now, don’t go abusing the system and trying ten different types of teas, but do take advantage of this if you are having trouble deciding between two very fragrant teas, or if you’re not sure how the scent of the tea will translate into taste. Also, they have little brochures by the door that talk about the different varieties of teas, what sweeteners to add (if any), whether to use bottled water or tap, etc.

Teas can be purchased loose-leaf in a bag, tin (for an additional $2), and some in tea bags. (from right to left). Another added bonus of the teas is they come with a label that tells you how many grams of tea leaves to use, coupled with steeping time.

One downside is that the tea is a bit pricey. This is not your $2.69 for 12 bags of Lipton/generic tea. The teas vary from $4.50 to $19.99 depending on grade and size.

Locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Clara, and Hawaii:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Buga Korean BBQ: Seafood Pot

One of my favorite places to get Korean BBQ in San Diego is Buga. Located off the 805 freeway Claremont Mesa exit, it's known mostly for its great selection of Korean BBQ. One day we saw two older Korean ladies eating a giant hot pot filled with vegetables and seafood. Since I pride myself on walking off the beaten path Frank and I decided to try something different and order the hot pot.

Buga has a section of their menu that is labeled "Korean Specialties", at the very top of that list is the aforementioned Seafood pot at $19.99 a person (required to get at least two orders).

After a bit of a way, and some munching of Panchan, the Seafood pot arrived. Placed on top of small portable propane grill a MOUND of seafood, vegetables, noodles, and tofu overflowed from a spicy rich seafood broth. You let the noodles, tofu, and vegetables cook for awhile before you even touch the ingredients of the pot. There are giant raw prawns, clams, and raw octopus mixed in with cooked sole waiting to be stirred into the spicy broth.

After about 5-6 minutes of staring at the pot one of the friendly waitresses (which seems to be a trait at all Korean restaurants) took a big pair of scissors and started cutting up the vegetables, noodles, and octopus and pushing them deep into the broth so that every ingredient is being cooked.

After once again staring at the pot for 5-6 minutes the same waitress came up and served us the food.

Each bowl was given udon, rice cake, napa cabbage, clams, large prawns, fish, cut up pieces of octopus, delicious soup soaked tofu, onions, golden mushrooms, and other assorted vegetables.
On a cold day with a strong appetite, I can't imagine many things topping this.

You have generous chunks of Sole still attached to pieces of thick bone so you can just gnaw at the meat. Freshly cooked octopus, chewy and meaty, the frozen tofu that just soaks up every single flavor of the soup.

Of course the very best part is the soup. Since everything has been cooking inside the soup for so long you get the flavors of all the ingredients. The natural Kimchi spices combined with a wide variety of seafood creates a rich fish broth that will scare away any winter/spring chills.

It also doesn't hurt that the Udon and Rice Cakes are a perfect compliment to the soup. Udon and rice cakes do a good job of absorbing whatever is around them if they are cooked long enough within the broth and this is no exception. They gave us a bowl of rice each, but I would have easily taken an extra bowl of this delicious rubbery udon.

I really have no qualms with this dish. I enjoyed it very much and I suggest it to all seafood lovers out there. The seafood is very fresh (prawns were really fresh and meaty, and came off immediately from the shell).

One thing I found funny was the varying sizes in the types of mollusks provided. They have mussels , clams, and even larger clams. I took a picture just to show you how large the "big daddy" clam was. The waitress had to literally pry it open, cut the meat in half and then serve it to us.

Buga Korean BBQ
5580 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA


Friday, March 21, 2008

Stone Brewery

While a student at UCSD I never drank beer, it was strictly liquor while going out on the town. This was mainly because all we ever drank was Miller light, Bud light, and occasionally we'll go high end and get some Newcastle Ale. It wasn't until law school that I was introduced to the world of Micro-brews and REAL import beers (Guinness and Heineken don't count). I can't believe that I spent so many years here (within legal drinking age) drinking the crap that is Miller/Bud, especially when San Diego is one of the Micro-brew capitals of America. It's like going from drinking boxed wine to Napa Cult Cabs, it just blows my mind.

In the forefront of San Diego Micro-brews is Stone Brewery. Located far north of San Diego in Escondido, not only has Stone put their brewery/packing area there but also their World Bistro and Garden. Running with the Stone motiff, their brewery/restaurant is a massive building covered in different rocks with a large garden.

So last Friday as San Diego basked in its sunny spring weather I received a phone call to go and get a drink at the aforementioned garden. Since I've never been to Stone and have been meaning to go there since the beginning of law school, I jumped at the chance.

After a very confusing drive there (the location is too remote/new for google maps) we arrived at one of the most gorgeous restaurants I've seen. A wide open multi leveled restaurant bordered by large metal tanks for brewing and a retractable glass wall that leads to the outdoor bar/garden.
look to your left and you see.... (the brewery/packing area)
Look to your right and you see.. (the beer garden (literally a garden)).
A gorgeous garden filled with streams, small bridges, benches, and rock pillars. After our tour (which we'll get to after) we just sat on a bench and had a beer. A very relaxing atmosphere to just hang out and chat.

But before our tour we decided to get some lunch on their outdoor eating area.

We were given a massive beer list (both sides) that rival the size of a wine list at a fancy restaurant. Reasonably priced at $5 a pint , you can also get samplers that allow you to try 4 oz tastes of the beers they offer. If you aren't eating, you can sit around the fire pit and have a beer at night.

After settling with a pint of Oaked Arrogant Bastard ($5) we ordered a few of their better known dishes.

The Mac Beer and Cheese.

I'm not exactly sure how they put in the Stone Smoked Porter into this (instead of water they use beer?) but they mix it with Garlic Beer Cheese and Stone Smoked Sausages. A bit of breadcrumb is sprinkled on top of the Mac & Cheese to add a crunch to the dish. The Mac & Cheese is just as the beer indicated, Smokey. The cheese itself tended to be too thick, usually when I eat Mac and Cheese I like it a bit smoother. My favorite M&C is probably at Sbicca , wonderful lobster M&C. The sausages were simple, nothing to complain about or rave about.

Duck Tacos

Three shredded duck tacos with a BBQ sauce, Micro Greens, and corn tortillas. On the side are black beans, mexican rice, and spicy pineapple salsa.

I love micro greens, you can put them on anything and I'd eat them, so in this case the bitterness of the micro greens really helped balance the sweetness from the BBQ sauce on the duck tacos. The duck itself was average, a bit stringy and dry, but I'm not excited marinated duck breast. I did like the combination of the bitter micro greens with the spicy pineapple salsa. I was surprised by the spiciness of the salsa. When you see pineapple salsa, you think sweet and savory not sweet and spicy. When you take your first bite you're looking all over the place for what's making your mouth burn (nothing a nice pale ale couldn't solve), the last place i thought of was the pineapple salsa. I wish I could get the recipe for that and make it at home. It was the real star of the dish. If it wasn't for the salsa and the micro greens I would have been disappointed by this dish. Especially at $17 for 3. If I had to pay the $21 dinner price, wooooooo wee.

Finally we had their "World Famous Beer Battered Onion Rings".
Labeled to be purposely undercooked and over cooked, they were mostly over fried and super oily. I'd never thought I'd say it, but this is one fried dish I don't want to ever eat again.
These were really thin onions that were so oily I felt the pimples growing on my face as I cut into it. I don't think the four of us had more than 1 each. When you cut it apart its just all dough, which is kind of disgusting. A great onion ring is a balance of crisp outer dough and flavorful onions, Nothing like this.

Luckily the average food was redeemed by the gorgeous garden and great beer. This is a wonderful place to just spend some time and hang out, but don't plan your meals around it.

Now the very best part of this brewery is the free tour they give a couple of times a day.

They give you an intro on the Hops and Barley process and take you through the brewing station.
So today they were brewing the Oaked Arrogant Bastard so they had a bunch of Bourbon Barrels with beer inside.
They also get their water from the Escondido Water reservoir (aka tap) , which apparently doesn't matter where you get your water from cause your beer will taste the same (a nice knock on Coors)

This is Stone's edition of their cold mountain water.

After a tour of their brewing area, they take you on a tour of their packing area. Thousands and thousands of bottles are being packed every hour.

The best part is that after the tour they take you to the bar in the store and give you free samples! FREE BEEEEEERRRRRR WOOOOOOOO. Yeah.. that's worth the journey in itself.

So if you want to take the scenic route and check out a well maintained property and some of the best beers in America, treat yourself to a visit of Stone Brewery.

Stone Brewery
1999 Citracado Parkway
Escondido, CA


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mamma Mia!

Benvenuto al mio blog humble! Speranza godete questa entrata circa alimento italiano!

Today we have something a special, an Italian restaurant in Pacific Beach owned by Italians with Italian servers and a head Italian chef that shout Italian at each other all night long. I feel like I'm back in Italy! (or not).

Mamma Mia

Located in a small house on Balboa Avenue the restaurant is owned by a husband and wife, husband does the greeting and the wife does the cooking (supervision I assume).

The fun thing of this restaurant is that the owner is a really loud guy, Francesco Mezzetti, but loud in that friendly "come give uncle Joe a hug" kind of way. He yells out to every person that walks in "CIAO BELLA! (if you're a girl)" and "CIAO *KISS KISS*" (that he knows, which does not include me) and gives them the patented European hug and kiss greeting. Actually he even goes to people's tables and yells at them. I guess its kind of nice if you like that kind of thing. The ongoing joke that we have is that every single person with any "power" at the restaurant seems to be yelling at this girl Franchesca to do something. "FRANCHESCA GO GETA SOME WATER!", "FRANChESCA SEAT THE TABLE OF FIVE"! Poor Franchesca.

The main problem with this restaurant is visible the moment you step in, it's really a small restaurant, at the most it has 10-12 tables and some of those tables are for 2. So if you decide after this posting that you want to go, I suggest that you get a reservation. Even with a reservation we still had to wait about 20 minutes to be seated. They have an outdoor patio, which on the cold days of San Diego really bring a chill down your spine. I do suggest eating in the hustle/bustle/loud inside eating area.

As well, since its located on Balboa Avenue there really isn't much parking available. You HAVE TO park on the street. What looks like a parking lot to the left of the restaurant is actually for the 7-11 that is strictly for 7-11 patrons.

After poor Franchesca seated us at the table we perused the menu. Pasta, pizza, standard Italian entree dishes, and appetizers on this 4 page menu.

Since it was 7:30 by the time we sat down for our 7pm reservations Frank and I (Eating Companion #2 is excluded from our appetizer) ordered an their appetizer of special of the day.

Two varieties of Zeppole, one with ham and mozzarella cheese and the other with mushroom and Gorgonzola, served with a side of Marinara sauce.

Deliciously crispy and airy fried bread. What more can you ask for? Lightly stuffed with the aforementioned ingredients, you get a good balance of dough and saltiness. Some could (and probably should) complain that they are a bit skimpy on the ingredients but as you may know, I love all things fried, so I might be a bit biased.

Next up is the cheese Ravioli with meat sauce.

Before I actually get into this dish, I'd like to get into something that I'm sure people have noticed while eating here. Almost every single sauce here that's not "cream" sauce is exactly the same. They are pouring the same "meat/cheese" sauce on every single pasta dish, may it be Cannoli, Ravioli, Lasagna, Gnocchi or whatever else. I wonder if anyone else has made this observation because I see a ridiculous amount of people talking about how authentic this restaurant is.

This restaurant is about as authentic to Italian food as PF Chang's is to Chinese food. I understand the people speak Italian to each other, they serve pasta, but everything is pretty typical Italian food fare, nothing you can't find at the Macaroni Grill. What I do believe is that its more "home style" cooking but it is definitely not "authentic" Italian. (I don't want to hear that its an Italian lady cooking, cause last time I checked in Monterey Park the authentic Chinese restaurants have more people from south of the border than from the far east). But do not let this detract you from coming to this restaurant, its still very good, I just wanted to address that concern. Now back to the Ravioli.

Perfectly cooked Ravioli and heavily stuffed cheese. In the picture you can see how plump the ravioli is. The noodles are cooked very well, doughy yet soft, and for ravioli this thick, I'm surprised that some pieces aren't undercooked and some aren't over cooked. The meat sauce is what's really good here. Like I said previously I have no qualms with the sauce, it is actually very delightful. It has a light creamy cheese taste to it but is mixed in with lean ground beef.

Next up is my Lasagna.

Inside the Lasagna is the same meat/cheese sauce that was on the Ravioli. Unlike the Ravioli, the sauce was pretty sparsely used on the lasagna, which led to a rather bland tasting meal. I felt like I was just eating forkfuls of dough. I mean, it was great dough, nice and thick but it definitely needed some more sauce on top or at least more filling inside.

Finally the Penne pasta with sausage and onions with oil.

Eating Companion #2' first statement was, I could make this at home (she wasn't happy with that).And she's absolutely right, you could make this at home if you were able to make peppery meaty sausages, perfect al dente penne, and a nice chili oil. On its face it is quite simple, but the preparation was the key to its success in my mind. Eating Companion #2 did not find it flavorful enough so she actually added the marinara sauce from the appetizer into this dish. To be honest, that actually made the dish exponentially better. Something to think about Mamma Mia. With the added tomato sauce it really reminded me of the spicy seafood pasta I had in Florence which was an absolute delight.

All in all Mamma Mia's is an enjoyable place. The previous time I had their Gnocchi, and like all their other dishes their pasta is TOP NOTCH. Their Gnocchi is without a question their best dish there.

So if you're looking for good Italian food with a home cooked style then head on over to Balboa Avenue and get ready to get verbally assailed by a loud Italian man.


1932 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 272.2702 (make sure you call for reservations)