Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Should Restaurants Get Second Chances?

February 13, 2011

Have you ever had a good and bad dining experience at the same place?  It catches you off guard, like a 70-degree day in the middle of January.  You can’t help but wonder what went wrong and if it was the dish you ordered or if the chef was just having an off-day?

This was the recent experience I had at the new Eden Restaurant in Hillcrest.  I want to preface this by saying that I am a HUGE fan of Eden for it’s food and ambiance (they’ve catered a few events for my company in the past and I loved the food).  I went out for brunch and I didn’t like the particular breakfast item I ordered, which is not to say their other items aren’t great because they all sounded ah-may-zing, but I was looking for something healthiful that day (yes, I totally made up that word).  Now I’m rambling but it’s only because I really do care and love this company as a whole, and I don’t want my review to negatively reflect them in any way.  But, I disgress… let’s get to the food!

I recently went out for San Diego Restaurant Week, an entire week where restaurants in San Diego create a prix fix 3-course menu.  It’s a great way to get out and try new restaurants in San Diego at an affordable price.  In fact, I went to two dinners that week.  My second dinner was at Eden in Hillcrest and consisted of a three course menu with several options for each course.  I happened to choose the following:

Appetizer Course

Gumbo di Vinci

Bayou fare simmered with soul and served with a Dungeness Crab Hushpuppy.

Main Course

Porcini Pillows

House Ricotta Pasta Pillows, Porcini Browned Butter, Wild Rocket and Sun Dried Tomato.

Dessert Course

Banana Cream Pie

Chef Scotty’s Favorite since Kindergarten…comforting, sweet and delicious.

Sadly, I didn’t get a photograph of the first dish.  I was so hungry that I just dove into the food when I arrived and didn’t even think twice until after I had scarfed down the gumbo.  I enjoyed the gumbo even though I am not a huge fan of spicy foods.  I felt like this dish had a nice balance of heat and wasn’t over-powerful to the point that I wouldn’t be able to finish it.

The porcini pillows were amazing.  That is a dish that I could eat over and over again.  I never used to be a fan of mushrooms but in the last few years they have really grown on me, and this dish definitely reminds me of what I was missing out on all of those years!  The wild rocket salad tasted like it had a hint of truffle oil, which sealed the deal for me.  I also just discovered truffle oil last year and every time I see it on a menu I feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

Last, I chose banana cream pie for dessert.  It seemed like a strange thing to find on the menu of a gourmet restaurant in San Diego.  For me, banana cream pie is reminiscent of Indiana and pot-lucks on a hot summer day.  However, Eden’s executive chef, Scotty Wagner, is from Wisconsin so I could definitely see the connection.

Bananas are one of my favorite foods in the whole world.  I know that seems like an exaggeration, but it’s true.  I LOVE anything with bananas.  Banana pudding, bananas in ice-cream, banana ice-cream, banana’s foster, banana bread—you name it.  So when I ordered the banana cream pie, you have to know that going into it, I had HUGE expectations.  Was the pie good?  Yes.  Was it the best pie I ever had?  Not by far.  I have a recipe for the BEST banana pudding you will have ever unleashed your tastebuds on, and there is no question that my banana pudding could have easily trumped this pie.  It is a Paula Dean recipe, after all.

I did, however, get to try my friend’s dessert, which was their Pana Cota with Kefir Lime Dust, Fresh Pineapple & Kiwi-Lime Coulis. Three words: to die for.  Looking back, I would have totally gone for that instead.

So, getting back to my original story about the good/bad restaurant experience, after Restaurant Week I returned to Eden to check out their brunch.  I heard many good things, especially about their $10 bottomless mimosas which sounded too good to be true!  My friend and I decided to check it out one morning after yoga.  Unfortunately, I was not feeling the mimosas at the time since it was the morning after an evening of wine drinking.  Also, the yoga before and some recent lifestyle changes towards a more health-conscious diet made me skip over all the really great sounding dishes, for something simple and healthy.

I tried their Omelet Caprese since it was the most healthy looking thing on the menu.

It was meh.  Yes, official food blogger terminology—respect.  Compared to my last breakfast at FARM, there was no comparison (pictures don’t lie).  I wasn’t feeling the “three eggs with buffalo mozzarella, basil & sun-dried tomatoes.”  The eggs were rubbery and flavorless—overall a huge disappointment.  Had I ordered the menu items that truly captured by attention, like the crabcake benedict or their angel toast, a spin on the classic french toast using angel food cake soaked in frangelico (DROOL), it may have been a different story altogether.  Note to self: splurge when going to brunch.

I guess the moral of the story is don’t judge a book by it’s cover, or in my case don’t judge a restaurant by one bad experience.  Luckily I had the good experience first, which is why I came back.  But I guess what I realize is that a particular dish should not be representative of all that a restaurant has to offer.  That dish may not be the restaurant’s strong point.  Maybe the dish is too simple, or maybe healthy-fare isn’t that establishment’s specialty.  Whatever the case is, I think it’s important to give restaurants another shot before writing them off completely.  You may be surprised what you find.

FARMbloomington: Putting the Comfort Back into Midwestern Comfort Food

January 2, 2011

We all have our favorite comfort foods.  Foods that we grew up on, meals that we ate for special occasions, Sunday suppers, or that special meal our mothers prepared for us when we were sick.  The smell or taste of a particular dish can elicit memories of the time and place when you first had it. So, when asked to write a restaurant review on comfort foods, it only seems appropriate to come back to the place where my food memories started, back to a small town in Southern Indiana.

When I went home to spend Christmas with my family, I decided to check out FARMbloomington, a relatively new(ish) restaurant in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana.  The chef, Daniel Orr, was originally from Columbus, Indiana (where my mom grew up) and went away to school to study restaurant management.  After graduation, Orr traveled all over the world, working at restaurants in France, Belgium, New York City, and Anguilla before settling back into Bloomington’s quaintly world-class dining scene.

FARM’s focus is on using fresh and local ingredients, fusing together the flavors of island cuisine and Midwestern cooking.  The best part about the restaurant is the ambiance.  Filled with vintage 1950s memorabilia, the overall feel and decor is convincing enough to take you back to your grandmother’s kitchen.

Old Stove

I had heard that FARM has an amazing brunch on the weekends, so my dad and I decided to check it out.  No breakfast would be complete without biscuits and apple butter!  I ordered their biscuit bowl—four homemade biscuits served with real butter and apple butter.  As far as food goes, biscuits and apple butter are a true Southern Indiana staple.  Even better is when the biscuits are fried, which you can get at the Nashville House in Brown County.

FARM Menu

The South has grits—we have apple butter.

 

Biscuits Bowl

Biscuits with applebutter

But that was just an appetizer!  For breakfast, I ordered their special of the day, the vegetarian omelet with root vegetables and my dad ordered their take on eggs benedict.  Both came with a side of “homies” and not the kind wear baggie jeans and say “sup?”  These homies were french fries pan fried with tomatoes, red peppers and onions.

Eggs BenedictEggs Bennies

Vegetarian OmeletVegetarian Omelet

My veggie omelet was tasty, but I think my dad ended up with the winning dish.  Their poached eggs were stacked on top of flaky homemade biscuits instead of the usual english muffin.  I think it was that simple touch that satisfied my Midwestern tastebuds.  What would have been even more of a comfort food for my family, at least, was their biscuits and gravy.  My mom used to make biscuits and gravy for us when we were growing up, but being the picky eater I was as a child, I would not touch the gravy with a ten foot pole.  These days, I love a good plate of biscuits and gravy.

If you’re looking for some good ‘ol Southern Indiana comfort food, FARM’s the place to go.  In addition to a well-known brunch, FARM was recognized in ’09 by Food Network Magazine as having one of the best burgers in the nation for their bison burger.  Breakfast, lunch or dinner, FARM is a nice change of pace from the usual with their fresh spin on traditional favorites.

Outrageous Oats!

August 26, 2010

Okay, so my oats obsession is still going strong.  Came up with a couple new combos.  Get ready for raspberry peanut-butter & cacao oats and blueberry-banana vanilla-mint overnight oats!

Raspberry Peanut-butter & Cacao Oats

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
  • Handful of raspberries, smashed
  • 1 container Activa light vanilla yogurt
  • Splash of soy milk
  • 2 tsp almond butter
  • 1 tsp cacoa nibs

Mix the first three ingredients together, then top with almond butter and sprinkle cacoa bits on top.  Refrigerate overnight.  Part of my inspiration for this one came from a recent recipe for Almond Butter & Raspberry Panini on Chocolate Bread.  Go ahead, drool.  I did.

Also, if you don’t know already, cacao nibs are sweet raw chocolate bits.  They come from the cacao plant, the same plants whose beans used to produce chocolate and cocoa products.  The raw cacao beans can also be used in this form, where they are sweeten in 100% pure cane juice and organic cacao liquor to bring out the chocolate flavor.

Blueberry-Banana Vanilla-Mint Oats

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
  • Handful of blueberries, smashed
  • 1/2 banana, mushed
  • 1/2 container of Trader Joe’s Vanilla-Mint Greek Style Yogurt
  • Splash of soy milk

Mix all ingredients together, then garnish with 3 blueberries on top.  Refrigerate overnight.

So, I have to tell you, these oats were a totally random creation of items I had on-hand.  As a side note, blueberries don’t smash as well as raspberries.  I was a little bit worried about the taste because they also weren’t as sweet as the raspberries, so I added half a banana to the mix.  Also, the mint was a strange combo in my greek yogurt, but it didn’t make the oats any less enjoyable!

In a taste-test comparison, raspberry peanut-butter cacao oats were way more indulgent!  Pretty much like eating dessert for breakfast, but healthy!

Did I convince anyone yet to try their own version of overnight oats? 🙂  If so, what did you come up with?

Ode to Overnight Oats!

August 23, 2010

Recently I’ve seen a lot of posts about overnight oats and decided I had to do one of my own.  I have a slight obsession with overnight oats.  I can’t even remember when this obsession started.  What I do remember, however, is my friend Jazz mentioning overnight oats to me.  I asked how she made them, did a little research online on the blogs, and I’ve been having overnight oats for breakfast pretty much every day since!

My obsession with oatmeal in general has been going strong for about a year and a half now.  I’ve always enjoyed those instant packets of Quaker oatmeal, but it wasn’t until I visited Jasmine last June, before moving to San Diego, that I discovered the delicousness that is old-fashioned oatmeal.  It blows instant oatmeal out the water!  Seriously.  Real, fresh ingredients taste so much better than that packaged stuff, not to mention it’s way more filling and better for you, too!

Anyway, back then I’d cook my old-fashioned oatmeal on the stove and substitute half of the water it calls for with milk instead.

In fact, here’s a picture of me enjoying some of my very first old-fashioned oatmeal.

Caught in the act... my love affair with old-fashioned oatmeal.

I would top it off with a spoonful of peanut butter and I’d suddenly end up in bliss-ville.  Yes, bliss-ville is actually a place… those Mickey D’s commercials weren’t lying.  Just don’t count on a “Frappe” as your ticket!

However, the days of stove-cooked oats are no more.  Overnight oats are where it’s at.  Now, some people prefer their overnight oats warm (Jazz).  Others, like myself, enjoy them cold.  The best thing about overnight oats is that you can “have it your way.”  (Must… stop… McDonalds… references!)

Last week I concocted the best overnight oats recipe to date!

Pumpkin oats!

  • 1/3 cup oats
  • 1/3 canned organic pumpkin
  • 1/2 container Light Vanilla Activia
  • Splash of soy milk
  • 1/2 mashed overripe banana
  • Dash of cinnamon on top

Directions: Mix ingredients together in container and let sit overnight.  Then in the morning, wal-lah!  You’re oats are done.  An overripe banana is the key ingredient because it makes the oats sweet without adding any unnatural sweeteners.

Tonight I am trying out a new recipe for overnight oats.  I went grocery shopping today and noticed my bananas were way too ripe to make the usual. I almost always include bananas in my overnight oats.  But, variety is the spice of life, no?

Here’s what I came up with…

Raspberry oats!

  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1 container Light Vanilla Activia
  • Handful of raspberries, mashed
  • Splash of soy milk

Gotta love the 99 Cent Store—raspberries for a dollar are virtually unheard of!  My oats got picture-perfect, thus the single raspberry on top.  Tomorrow I’m thinking of adding some sliced almonds or a teaspoon of almond butter to my oats… NOMS!

So, that only leaves one question…  What’s your favorite breakfast?

Cheers,

Jess

The San Diego Wine, Cheese & Chocolate Festival!

June 29, 2010

Well, it’s been nearly a month ago, but I’m finally getting around to posting pictures from the San Diego Wine, Cheese & Chocolate Festival that took place on June 4th.  Boy does time fly!  This month has been busy for me, what with the end of one internship and the beginning of a new one with ONEHOPE Wine, but that’ll be the topic for another blog entry entirely!

Now, I’m going to give you the details of the event through the planner’s point-of-view!

The WCCF, as I shall now refer to it, is a fundraiser for the Women’s History Museum of San Diego.  The past couple of years the WCCF’s been held in Balboa Park, but this was the first year the event was held in Balboa Park’s Spanish Village.  It was a beautiful venue and perfect for accommodating the size of this year’s event.

I came on board the WCCF in February through my internship with Lindsay Pomeroy of Wine Smarties, whose been involved in this event since it’s inception.

Besides helping out in pretty much every area of the event, Lindsay’s main focus was securing all the wine donations for the event.  She did a great job because there was definitely more than enough wine flowing at the event!  We had some great sponsors including…

Jake-Ryan Cellars

Hill Family Estate

Skylark Wine Company

ONEHOPE Wine & PRP Wine

Orfila Vineyards & Winery

Fallbrook Winery

I was assigned with the task of finding cheese and chocolate sponsors for the event, which sounds a lot easier than it actually is!  You try calling local businesses during a recession and then ask them to donate their time and product for 600 guests, and let me know how that goes ;).

Luckily there were a lot of great businesses in San Diego that generously agreed to be a part of this year’s event.  This event would not have been possible without the donations from our sponsors!

Here’s a few pictures of our lovely cheese & chocolate sponsors…

Big Kitchen

I want to send out a special thank you to Judy and Mark from Big Kitchen!  We couldn’t have pulled off the festival without their help.  They loaned us kitchen supplies, baskets, and had staff from their restaurant help out in our kitchen.  HUGE thanks to them!

Cupcake Love

Let me just tell you a thing or two about Cupcake Love.  They have the best cupcakes ever!  Their chocolate cupcake with whipped peanut butter frosting is to DIE for!

I really can’t say enough about them other than you have to go check them out :P.  Their store front location is in Solana Beach.

Ghirardelli Chocolates

Godiva Chocolates

Eclipse Chocolat

I wish I could pay homage to each and every sponsor, but my blog can only handle so much!

Even Jasmine, my friend and fellow blogger showed up to check out the event and do a write-up about it on her blog.

At the end of the day, I think the festival turned out to be a huge success.  I’m so glad I got to be part of such a great event.  With that said, I’ll leave you with some festival highlights below…  Enjoy!

Cheers,

Jess

Santa Monica!

May 30, 2010

This past week I drove my friend Jasmine up to Los Angeles

Jasmine is a writer and soon-to-be publisher author!  She runs her own blog called Eat Move Write and is currently in the works of writing her FIRST book!  I hung out at a local Starbucks while she met with her agent up in West Beverly Hills.  Her meeting didn’t take long and afterward we decided to check out Santa Monica since we were about 10 minutes away.

We ended up walking around downtown Santa Monica.  I was enamored by all the cute shops and loved how the streets were completely closed off from cars, leaving pedestrians free to walk in the middle.  Although they had your staple expensive clothing and high-end stores you would expect from L.A., my favorite stores were a toys and games shop called the Puzzle Zoo and Ye Olde King’s Head, a shop that carried imports from Great Britain.  I bought a t-shirt at the games shop for $5!

We also stopped to eat at this wonderful French country-style cafe called Le Pain Quotidien (The Daily Bread).

All of their coffees were Peruvian organic! *so proud*

I ordered the Chicken Curry Salad Tartine with side of harissa-cranberry chutney.  De-Lish!  I ate about 3/4s because I wanted to save room for…

You guessed it… dessert!  It was a lemon custard made with fat free yogurt.  It was ok.

After lunch, we walked around some more and then headed down to the boardwalk where there were ride, shops, and more restaurants (though I didn’t get any pictures of that… whoops!).

The ocean was absolutely beautiful.  Even though we were freezing cold, we were determined to walk down the entire boardwalk!  When we finally made it to the end, we were in for a big surprise…

Mr. Seal was waiting to greet us!  Say cheese!

It was a fun little trip to L.A., but I’m glad to call San Diego “home” for now at least!

Cheers,

Jess

A weekend gettaway at Hearst Castle Part II

May 14, 2010

Last weekend, I went with a couple girlfriends up to visit Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California.  Even with the trip being so short, we managed to cram a lot into those 2 1/2 days which is why I’ve broken this trip into 3 different blog posts!  I like to give all the deets!

One of the things I didn’t realize until only a couple days before our trip was how close we were going to be to wine country!  Paso Robles, a huge wine hot spot in Central California, was only 45 mins – 1 hour from our motel!  They have somewhere around 180-odd wineries.

After touring Hearst Castle, I really really wanted to visit a winery but since most of them closed by 5pm, we decided just to go out to dinner.  We found a brochure at the motel and were sold on a little restaurant called Matthew’s that promised to deliver local wine, local ingredients, and “wine country cuisine”.

We started out with some local wine from Dancing Stallion.  We decided to try their 2006 Syrah which was absolutely amazing!  Very rich and full bodied with high tannins and a lush mouth-feel.  You could definitely smell the dark cherry and blackberry aromas!  Some of the best Syrah I have had to date.

The food was just as delicious!  I ordered the pumpkin ravioli.  I love anything with pumpkin.  Fall is my favorite season, so it shouldn’t be any surprise.

Pumpkin ravioli

I also split a salad with Julie.  I love fruit salads!  This one had pears and oranges and was topped with walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, and a champagne and citrus vinaigrette.  It was très magnifique!

Fruit salad with Gorgonzola, walnuts, and champagne vingarette!

I love that the portions here were so small.  One, it makes you feel less guilty for indulging!  Two, the food is very rich and satisfying so you don’t need much.  Three, it leaves more room for DESSERT(s)!  We happened to order three.  What?!  There was three of us… 😉

Chocolate martini

Chocolate pave with pistachio

Apple caramel bread pudding

My favorite was the apple caramel bread pudding.  I’m not a huge chocolate fan—definitely not into the rich chocolates unless they are mixed with something a little more mellow to balance out the flavors.  For that reason, I didn’t love the chocolate pave which was pretty much like a supper rich, dense chocolate brownie with berries on top.   The chocolate martini on the other hand wasn’t bad with its layers of cream, ice cream, strawberries, and drizzle on top.

We each paid about $50 for the meal (ouch!) but it was totally worth it.  Sometimes you need to allow yourself to indulge in a wonderful meal that you know you can’t get anywhere else 🙂

I’m currently plotting my next adventure up to the Central Coast so I can finally visit their wineries!

Cheers,

Jess

Crepe making 101 with “Chef” Nate!

April 5, 2010

My roommate Nate has been talking up his crepe making skills for awhile now.  All talk and no game, right?  Well, last Saturday I finally got to try his famous crepes and they were ridiculously good!  Nate was very kind to share his recipe with me and to demonstrate how to make crepes step-by-step.  Anyway, I will let the pictures speak for themselves… 🙂

First thing’s first… COFFEE!

Chef Nate

Didn’t you know coffee is the most important ingredient for any good recipe?  (Especially Starbucks coffee!)  Load yourself up on caffeine before you get started because you are going to need to pay very close attention to the rest of these instructions!

Dry Ingredients

First you will need to gather your dry ingredients and mix them together in a large bowl.  1 cup of flour, 1/8 of tsp salt, and 2 tsp of sugar.

Next gather up your liquid ingredients.  You’ll need 1/3 cup of water, 3/4 cup of milk, 4 tbsp of melted butter, 4 tbsp of brandy, and 3 eggs (1 egg, 2 whites).

Mmmmmmm… brandy!

Quick fact: Did you know that brandy is made from wine?  The difference between brandy and wine is that brandy undergoes a distillation process which concentrates the alcohol, turning fermented wine into what we know as brandy.

Next you want to add your liquid ingredients in this order:


Add water & milk, then mix!

Add butter & mix!

Add brandy & mix!

Add eggs & mix!

My roomie was feeling lazy and didn’t want to separate the egg yolks at the time, but you definitely want to make sure you use 1 egg and 2 egg whites otherwise the flavor will be a little off and the crepes will taste more “egg-y”.

After all the mixing is said and done, you want to coat your skillet with butter spray and scoop a generous portion of the batter into your ladle, pouring it into your skillet in a circular motion (think of a clock).  Cook on one side until the crepe begins to form and flip to cook on the other side using your spatula or do it Nate’s way by using your fingers.  Using your fingers will give you more control so the crepe doesn’t break.

Your finished product should look something like this!

That’s basically it.  The best part is getting creative and adding all of your toppings!  The sky is the limit when it comes to crepes!

I got a little excited and dug into my first crepe before taking pictures!  WHOOPS!  You can’t go wrong with Nutella and bananas 😉

Anyway… This is what a proper crepe should look like!

But I almost forgot the most important thing…

COFFEE!  Crepes and coffee make great companions.

And remember ambiance is everything!  Nate picked up some lovely flowers for our crepe extravaganza but you could just as easily use fake flowers, a candle, or nice dishware to jazz up your kitchen table!

Good luck everyone and let me know how your crepes turn out!

Cheers,

Jess