Thursday, April 19, 2012

San Diego's BIG week in cocktails

Sam Ross in motion. Read about the future of cocktails, according to him, and his latest project in today's Food & Wine Magazine online post.

World renowned mixologist Sam Ross 'tended bar at Noble Experiment-- arguably San Diego's craft cocktail cultural hub-- this past Sunday and Monday. The nationally recognized East Village speakeasy has put our town on the map of places to drink classic cocktails in the US, and the man who's usually behind the bar is to credit for that; it was announced earlier this week that resident mixologist Anthony Schmidt has a feature in Food & Wine Magazine's Cocktails 2012 guidebook. Buy it here. 

It was Schmidt's Old Fashioned that garnered the nod-- a great compliment to his skills, noted the bartender, on his Facebook page earlier this week. 

And, the good news for distilled spirits sippers doesn't stop there...

Next week, Noble Experiment's big brother and adjoining pub, Neighborhood Ale House, will be rolling out its draft cocktail program. Say what??? The first of its kind in San Diego, the 18 tap system is a collaboration by designer Paul Basile and West Coast Beverage Inc. and will feature Schmidt's sweet nectars, plus wine and sodas. 

For a preview, check out what Schmidt revealed in this week's CityBeat Nibbles

Sam's take on my favorite cocktail of all time-- the Ramos Gin Fizz.  The only addition to the classic was fresh raspberries. Made with Beefeater. Absolutely magnificent. 

A big thanks to Sam Ross for bringing his expertise to San Diego, and naming Schmidt as a tequila-slinger to watch in this blurb from today's F&W article: 

"I do a fair bit of work out in San Diego, and I’m always shocked at the amount of people coming in requesting smoky mezcals—substantially more than what I was exposed to in New York. I’m not the hugest fan of tequila and mezcal, so it’s been a challenge for me. I have to find a way to make drinks that maybe I wouldn’t necessarily drink. I’ll always look to a couple of great bartenders—Phil Ward [NYC's Mayahuel] and Anthony Schmidt [San Diego's Noble Experiment]—whose tequila and mezcal drinks are sensational. I’ll go to my little booklet of their originals and make something of theirs."

Burgers lately

Every few months, I go on a complete burger-bender, and the last couple weeks have been just that. It all kicked off when I re-visited an old favorite: Hodad's bacon cheeseburger. The crunchy, juicy bacon patty (yes, patty) is unlike any burger topping I've ever had, and a sure favorite.

A common complaint with Hodad's burgers is that they're just too big to get your mouth around. Wussies! Do like me and order the veggies on the side-- meat, cheese and bun only is a sure way to eat this beast without experiencing the tragic "burger blow-out."

I must've missed the memo- Hodad's now has a third location in Petco Park. It's got the same kitsch at the other locations.

Follow them on Twitter.

Smashburger along with Stone Brewing Company presented a special media dinner that included a seven course pairing followed by a Padres game. It's no secret that I love Smashburger (salads and all!), and lately I've been completely obsessed with their crispy chicken sandwich. The food is affordable and consistently delish, and the service is friendly. What more do you want?

A big thanks to Elle Communications for organizing this event, and to Smashburger's VP Wayne Mandelbaum for being such a gracious host.

Give the San Diego burger a try-- it's delicious with a squeeze of lime and fresh guac.

The San Diego burger is available nation-wide this month only (but outside of town it's called the  Fresh Mex) 

It's almost impossible to resist Smash's fried pickles. They always come piping hot with batter intact! 
To fuel my recent binge, I've been reading Serious Eats' A Hamburger Today series. Local food writer Erin Jackson is a bona fide burger expert and serves as San Diego's beef-n-bun correspondent for the site that also includes the useful Chain Reaction series. On a recent trip to Mission Valley, I decided to take her recommendation and try The Habit Burger Grill, originally out of Santa Barbra.

As Ms. Jackson reported, everything on the menu is under $7 and the burgers are tasty. 
The "char burger" rings in at a whopping $2.95 (add cheese for .50), and the thick cut fries were crispy with velvety centers. 

My one complaint: not enough char on the burger. With "char" in the title, I want to taste some flame-licked beef, and that I did not.

I do, however, love that Habit burgers come with a generous slathering of mayo. The burger was flavorful, salty and frankly, I wanted to order another. Instead, I got a vanilla cone for .95. Soft serve, FTW!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Evolve Cuisine @ Caffe Calabria

This Friday, April 13, tickets will go on sale for Evolve Cuisine's next dinner series happening at Caffe Calabria in North Park. The event, whose theme and menu will also be available on Friday, is scheduled for Monday, April 30 and Tuesday, May 1. Pizzeria Calabria is normally closed on Monday and Tuesday nights, save for special events. 

Since no menu details are confirmed, all we can do is suspect (and hope) that Barron's theme will involve coffee.  

Yesterday, I recapped Evolve's last dinner, The Cambrian Event. Read that here.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Evolve Cuisine: Recap & News

Chef Daniel Barron and his team of culinary mad-men-- that is, mixologist Mike Yen and pastry chef Jeff Bonilla-- led diners through a nine-course, oceanic feast for the senses with the pop-up concept's latest, The Cambrian Event at Fixtures Living (3/30). 

For those of us that slept through geology class, let's review: the Cambrian was the first period in the Paleozoic era during which time all animal life was aquatic. 

Barron's main ingredients came from local seafood purveyor, Catalina Offshore Products, with additional sourcing from Santa Monica Seafood, Direct Ship Sitka Alaska, and Better Halfshell. The culinary experience was remarkable and challenged my perception of seafood, how it's prepared and the accompanying flavors and textures that I wouldn't expect to work based off menu descriptions alone. 

With each course there was a gasp and then silence, followed by foodgasmic noises-- moaning, giggles and even rounds of applause. The Evolve Cuisine Forward team certainly thrilled us by way of delicious intricacies; Yen's mid-meal cocktail course elicited screams from the ladies; and Bonilla's sweet, shrimp cake confection  was a mind-boggling, delightful finale. 

Modernist cuisine is something I've experienced only a handful of times, so I'm afraid that my words and photographs do little justice in recapping The Cambrian Event. Days prior, Barron advised that I just sit back and enjoy, not bothering with writing down descriptions and taking the perfect pictures. I controlled myself to an extent, and enjoyed myself wholeheartedly. 

Evolve's next event will be announced this week sometime, with another scheduled for Fixtures Living at the end of May. Rumor has it that Barron and his crew will be opening and temporarily occupying a new restaurant with their pop-up concept for 2-3 weeks, also sometime in May.  

The Cambrian Event recap: 

One of Yen's cocktails: a take on the Bay Breeze. What I found particularly remarkable was that its capsule had the texture of a ripe piece of fruit's skin when bitten into. Ten more, please.

Barron's first course included two seared, hand-picked sea scallops with a pistachio-toffee-like crumble. The caramelized, sweet nuts accented the scallop's natural sugars, all of which sat on top of a pistachio "fluid gel." Served with watermelon serrano chili "crisps" (that were more like flattened pieces of cotton candy) made for an incredible start. 
Second: venus clam wrapped in kelp with Sunomono gelee, fermented black bean sauce, Bac-Ha, raddishes, Wasabi agar agar and lotus root chips. The dish was salty, vinegary and plentiful texture-wise. 

Next, a real show-stopper: Sweet, refreshing and elegant, a divine, whole San Diego spot prawn swam in a chilled, oceanic broth with mango, daikon, shaved green papaya and sesame powder, garnished with a fried shrimp shell. Purified sea water was poured over liquid co2, with Barron advising that we inhale the sea breeze deeply before diving into what proved another fantastic dish.  

Spot prawn close-up. 

This dish was incredible. Crunchy, flavorful sea beans served with a smoked soy-sauce and truffle espuma and a sweet sesame dressing. Freeze dried, coffee toasted sesame seeds were the perfect topper. I could eat these all night, in bed. It was such a savory, decadent dish-- our whole table was flippin' out. It was also served with a uni-bisque in a syringe, to be sucked down first, but I'm allergic so I couldn't experience that portion of the dish. I can't imagine it getting much better, though.

This was crazy: Mike Yen's margarita, made to look like sushi.  Nectarine posed as ginger, and fish eggs were not-- they were balls of tequila! All of the drinks traditional flavors were here, just in costume. Lime and salt included. *Applause*! 

 Fresh yellowtail was sous vide then pan-seared and served with clarified peanut butter -- oh, YES!-- raisin coulis, braised celery and toasted rice. The flavors reminded our table of sate. We loved this dish especially and would like to see clarified peanut butter packaged and in grocery stores ASAP.

Barron and his team of mad-culinary-scientists plating his second to last course. 

Tender, pink grouper cheek over charred ramps and the best damn slice of cucumber I've ever had. Go figure, it was compressed. In its shell, strips of New Zeland blue abalone had a Tzatziki-like sauce, fresh mint and strips of wood-grilled, cilantro naan bread. I am not a huge fan of abalone, but this dish made me reconsider. (I was about to pocket the gorgeous shell but a server put the kibosh on that idea.) 

Curry's crazy cousin: Halibut cheek confit (in coconut oil) over red cargo (rice) topped with a ginger-kaffir-dashi sheet and coconut powder. The statement piece was of course the  unseasoned, tender white asparagus that accompanied such a dramatic (and delicious) finale. 

Dessert plating! 

Jeff Bonilla pulled off what seems to be a consistent failure on Food Network's Iron Chef series, and that's the use of seafood in a dessert. The Baja shrimp "whipped prawn brulee"  was spongy and sticky sweet with tangy buttermilk gelato serving as the prefect foil. Streusel, micro thyme and bourbon creme crumble were incredible touches. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

More Brunch!

In CityBeat's Food Issue out today, I covered three boozy brunches that are worth checking out based on the funky food to crafty drinks, and of course, the experience each location has to offer. 

Easter brunch is a big to-do, so take advantage of the options in my article and beyond. Such as... 

Alchemy's Easter Brunch Menu is available this Sunday, April 8th from 10am - 2pm

It's $32 prix fixe, and some items from Alchemy's regular brunch menu will be available, too. 

Course 1: Fennel Strawberry Salad or Minestra di Farro
Course 2: Arctic Char or Braised Masala Lamb Leg 
Course 3: Cranberry Bread Pudding or Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake 

Grant Grill's Easter brunch tradition continues this Sunday with a top-notch buffet that's something of San Diego legend. Preview the menu here.

Here are some outtakes from my boozy brunch adventures. If you're wondering why no additional pictures from Tractor Room, well, I could only eat one dish there (so. much. food.), so that was the only one photographed in the original article. Enjoy! 

Drinks at Craft & Commerce (left to right): Queen Mary (no vodka! Gin or tequila!), Lay Lady Lay (Framboise, champagne, ginger), Early Riser (bourbon, maple syrup, bacon bitters?!), and the London Chai (chai infused gin, lemon juice, egg white, sugar)

Duck leg cassoulet @ C&C

Jalapeno biscuit with lamb patty, ham, egg and spicy cheese fondue @ C&C. The potatoes are out of this world. 

mmm, bacon. C&C. 

Bratwurst hash @ C&C

One of Cafe 21's best sellers: the house-made lamb sausage omelet served in a skillet.  Fresh baked bread, too. 

These shortbread cookies are baked fresh every morning at Cafe 21 and this time featured homemade raspberry jam. 

Almost had to change my order when the strawberry French toast came out! (Cafe 21)

Delicious. Potato cakes with corn and shrimp, poached eggs and a cilantro cream sauce. (Cafe 21)
Ohhh yeah, baby.