Friday, May 29, 2009

Beer Battered Fish Taco Extravaganza

The name Demmon is synonymous with "excellent taco making". Taco Sundays were a regular part of the week for many a young soul in Northern Virginia from 1999-2003, and sporadically since then. Mama D's tacos were a thing of wonderment, and even though I live a stone's throw away from our authentic Mexican friends and eat Mexican cuisine multiple times a week, I often crave the unique flavor that only Mom's cooking seems to be able to capture.

However, I can't remember her ever exploring the art of the fish taco, so I decided for my inaugural taco attempt I would risk everything and go for the gold... en flaky crust of beer battered fish tacos. (Ignore the pun or act impressed). A quick Google search yielded a gigantic amount of results, so being a poor twentysomething I picked the recipes that included the most ingredients that I already had, or could substitute. I already had the red snapper, corn tortillas, extra sharp cheddar, colby jack, and fresh organic romaine, but what is a fish taco without white sauce? Just a dry taco. This search yielded the most hits with approximately 2,993,830,247 different ways to make them, so what I eventually did was:

1/2 cup ranch dressing (it said yogurt but I didn't have any and ranch is delicious)
1/2 veganaise (it said mayonnaise, but since mayo is gross and I would never use it again, why buy it?)
1 jalapeno (big and somewhat wrinkly, I like to think the older they are the hotter they are. This is completely not true.) Can use a habanero, whichever flavor you prefer.
The juice of 1 fresh lime
Generous helping of cayenne (probably around a teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Add the mayo and ranch/yogurt with the lime, mix, dice the pepper as small as possible and add with the seasonings. Mix well, it should be a little drippy but not runny.

The beer batter was pretty much the easiest thing in the world. 1 cup flour, 2 teaspoons salt, and one beer (not dark). I used Bud Lite because I'm ashamed to have it in my refrigerator and this was a good excuse to get rid of it without having to drink it. I cut the snapper into 1 inch pieces and dipped them in the batter after heating the oil to medium heat. Each piece took about a minute to cook to a light gold color without turning brown and getting burned, and provided a super light, crispy shell that wasn't too "fried". Nothing is more annoying than getting a Fried Batter taco when all you want is some evidence of fish buried deep within the taco. Afterward, I fried the corn tortillas for about a minute, folding them halfway through to ensure the right shape and crispiness! Perfectamundo!

Mama D, you would be so proud.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


As much as I like to think my blog is the end-all-be-all authority of everything food, that is (sob) not the reality I'd like to believe. In a city of millions, there are plenty of talented foodie writers who have been at this for much longer, and are established as credible voices in the community. I've added a few links not only for my reference, but for you, the readers, to have a variety of blogs to choose from! Please, feel free to suggest even more, because more foodies = more power!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Considering about 3/4 of our friends are vegetarian, and about half of those are vegan, we eat a pretty fair amount of animal-free foods on the reg. We've been hearing about Sipz Fusion Cafe in Clairemont for some time, and finally made it there yesterday with promises of veg treats that were second to none. I was pleased with the size of the menu and the variety of items they had available (although it DOES get a tiny bit old having every single 'S' on the menu replaced with a 'Z', but hey, I can deal with it). Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Italian, plus totally vegan desserts- a dream for any vegan who enjoys eating out and gets tired of bread, potatoes, and salad. I was honestly torn between a couple of noodle dishes and rice dishes, which was surprising considering I EAT MEAT! Finally, with the waiter's recommendation, I got the Spicy Basil "Chicken", which was stir-fried with snow peas, baby corn, basil, celery, baby bok choy, mushrooms, and carrots with a side of rice and a spicy basil sauce. It was spectacular! The "chicken" was well cooked, not too squishy, the bok choy was sauteed wonderfully and absorbed the flavor of the sauce without becoming soggy, and the sauce itself was tasty, thick, and in excess. The rice, however, was undercooked and rather hard, but it didn't stop me from wiping the bottom of the bowl clean.

Ashton got the Thai Curry Chicken, which was even better than mine. The curry sauce was more like a curry gravy, and his was pretty substantial with eggplant, potatoes, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots as the main ingredients. Less (as in no) veggies with a strong leaning toward starch generally does tend to fill one up more, I suppose. Still, the sauce is definitely what made it happen for me. Mike got the Pad Thai, which was... good. Not mind-blowing. But solid. The orange chicken looked great, and I'm guessing next time I'll be getting the Japanese Fire Noodlez, because it was definitely worth a return trip. Cheap, delicious, quick, and it pleases the vegan and non-vegan alike. WIN.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Country Kabob

We were feelin' Greek last night, but since we've gone to Alexis on 5th Avenue in Hillcrest a few times we figured we'd try something new. Normal Heights is an awesome neighborhood with a ton of bars on Adams Avenue, and no shortage of good restaurants either. We found the Country Kabob next to the Ould Sod, and I was immediately hopeful when the decor was authentically Greek- bland.
With high expectations that the food would not match the bland decor, I couldn't decide between a few things, because the menu was small, but had all the classics. Finally I opted for the Spanikopita and Mousaka combo plate, which came with tzatziki, two kinds of rice, pita, and steamed veggies. The spanikopita had a really bizarre flavor and was pretty mushy, with an overwhelming taste of lemon and not spinach at all. The flaky crust was alright, but woefully lacking the crisp that would have added some substance against the squish. The mousaka was infinitely better, but still only in the realm of simply "good". Simple flavor, well-cooked, but nothing awe-inspiring. The rice was hard, the veggies were soggy, and the tzatziki was flavorless. However, the pita was excellent, nice and hot with a perfect texture, and the Greek salad came with just the right amount of dressing and fabulous feta (but the olives were pretty mushy, bleh).
If there's a next time, I'll definitely try the Gyro/Kabob platter or something more dependent on the pita. It wasn't great, but for a quick bite of Greek I'd stick to Alexis until I find something better.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


If gluttony is a mortal sin, then to dine in Sin City is to dine well. My first trip to Vegas might have been for work, but my true goal was to eat well, eat often, and eat a lot. I absolutely succeeded in that goal, and through the good, the bad, and the expensive I experienced some of the Vegas greats. I won't bore you with the details of how I got to each place, but prepare to experience a 5 day extravaganza of food and drink second to none.

Planet Dailies at Planet Hollywood Towers:
Upon arriving to the Las Vegas Hilton I stopped by the Sports Deli to grab a Cuban sandwich before heading to the trade show to set up (it was no Kuba Kuba, I can tell you that). I met up with some co-workers to begin the booth, but by around 10 we were famished and decided to try a late-night spot for drinks and nibbles. The VIP lounge attendant suggested Planet Dailies at PH Towers, so we headed over there where I promptly knocked back a few rum and cokes to soothe my caffeine cravings while also achieving the higher purpose of forgetting my problems. Michel decided that dessert was in order, and with reassurances that he would definitely not leave hungry he ordered the monstrosity you see below:

Part cookies, part brownies, 3 scoops vanilla, 2 scoops chocolate, 100% delicious. Between 3 of us we finished about half before our bellies were strongly protesting the sudden excess of lactose. Let's just say it was worth it. As you can see, Michel is obviously impressed.

Benihana at the Las Vegas Hilton:
The second night was an entire group event, and someone suggested Benihana despite my protests that you can eat Benihana anywhere! Let's eat somewhere classically VEGAS! I was outnumbered, however, and the convenience couldn't be argued since it happened to be in our hotel. The service was pretty mediocre-to-bad, but I'm still a sucker for the little show they put on. I like to be entertained while eating. Since it wasn't on my dime, I started with the Sashimi sampler, and soon followed with the 3 S's: Sapporo, Steak, and Shrimp. I didn't bother with pictures of the main course (yes, Benihana is always good, but everyone knows what their shrimp and steak look and taste like. Not too much innovation there). I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the sashimi- definitely a B+ grade. Not the best, but for a chain certainly nothing to sneeze on.

BLT Burgers at the Mirage:
First day of the show! Months of planning, lots of money spent, spilling blood, sweat, and tears- the efforts were finally realized once the show opened. What better way to celebrate a long-awaited kickoff then by getting hot, steaming piles of beef? Since the Mirage is right across the street from the Venetian (where the expo was held at the Sands expo center), we toddled across the street to enjoy some famous burgers at BLT Burger. Without calories in mind, I ordered an All-Nighter milkshake (Kahula, Bailey's, Espresso, and Coffee Ice Cream) with a BLT Burger + Vermont Cheddar and "fat fries" (from options of skinny, fat, waffle, or sweet potato- excellent!) Let me just tell you something. When you've had a long, hard day that you have worked towards for a LONG time, there is NOTHING like having the first sip of an alcoholic milkshake, followed by a bite of one of the best gourmet burgers in the country. The All-Nighter was one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth, and that's not even a sexual joke. The burger had only the best ingredients, was cooked to perfection, and the fries were not too salty, not too soggy, and had a great flavor. These guys obviously know what's up.

Tintoretto at the Palazzo:
Ashton arrived just in time to meet me for a late lunch, and we had Italian on the brain. Since we were at the Venetian, I wasn't surprised to hear they had at least 5 possible restaurants, so we figured we'd stroll by them all and wait for one to jump out at us. Tintoretto seemed to have it all, "patio" seating (the confusion of time and environment in Las Vegas is a constant sensation that I don't know if I would EVER get used to), good prices, fast service, and a tasty-looking menu. I started with a Caesar salad, which had a really great dressing. Halfway between a cream and vinaigrette, fresh croutons, crisp lettuce- I'll give it a B+ for deliciousness.

I didn't hesitate to order the calamari to start. I love squid and eat it almost every chance I can get. This was lightly fried, with a pretty normal marinara dipping sauce. It's not hard to make calamari (or anything fried) taste good, so I'll give it a B- for already being delicious, but Tintoretto not doing anything to make it more so.

There were a few pasta dishes I was deciding between (also the pizza, which looked incredible), but I ended up going with the ravioli in a vodka sauce. It was the perfect portion, and the fresh Parmesan brought was the best part of it. The sauce was nice, nothing spectacular, and there was more of a focus on the actual ravioli than what it contained. Granted, it was good pasta, but nothing you couldn't get from the grocery store.

Ashton got the Brie-Spinach-Tomato panini, which I can only praise. The Brie was second to none, the bread was crisp and perfectly flavored, the spinach was cooked wonderfully, and everything melted together for a marriage of flavors that were delicious to experience. I'm fairly certain that the man-statue standing directly across the piazza from us scaring children and winking at women made the meal even better, though.

Sushisamba at the Venetian:
I had been craving sushi for some weeks now (it's an expensive food to like!), and since the sashimi "sampler" at Benihana wasn't exactly a pile of fish, we decided to go to Sushisamba at (where else?) the Venetian. I'd heard seriously good things about the Japanese-Peruvian-Brazilian fusion, and since it was our last night in town we decided to throw caution to the wind and go balls out. I'll give it an A+ for atmosphere and service, an A for innovation, but overall a B for general taste. I had a few good, a few bad, and a few simply yummy dishes. However, what REALLY drew me in was the SUSHI BAR. It was tantalizing to be sitting only a few inches away from the piles of sashimi, and it took all of my strength to not break the glass, brandish a knife, and cut my way into heaven.

Our waiter was superb and offered lots of recommendations, including the Japanese "Sawagani" river crabs, which were fried whole and sprinkled with rock salt and served with lemon. The gimmick definitely outweighed the flavor, but the crunch outweighed it all. It wasn't terribly interesting to eat, but to look at was great!

Another recommendation was the Yellowtail sashimi app with jalapeno and lemongrass. The sauce was supposed to be the key part of it, and it was. The lemongrass was somewhat the overwhelming flavor, but the jalapeno ends the bite. Simple, fresh, three solid flavors melded into one. A great dish.

I LIKE sushi rolls, but if I'm really in the mood I tend to stay away from them in favor of just straight up fish. Why bother with all the rice and filler when all I REALLY want is sashimi? Still, the Capoeira roll caught my eye, so we snagged one of those as well. Softshell crab, avocado, boston lettuce, scallion, and chipotle sauce melded together for a very fresh and warm roll that was pretty okay. The chipotle and crema dipping sauce served on the side was so spicy that a minor amount completely dominated the entire roll, but with the warm unagi sauce as another option it flourished. The end pieces contained the fried limbs of the crab, and the fried taste was the entirety of the bite. All in all, this was good. Not great. A little bland, over-fried, and depends too much on the sauce for flavor (but I'll give that saucier an A for his efforts).

Next up was the Sea Bass and Miso skewers with Peruvian corn. If you've ever been curious about the differences between Peruvian corn and perfectly respectable American corn, just keep in mind that size DOESN'T matter! It was larger, starchier, and a little sweeter than American corn, but was an interesting, fresh new flavor to me. Apparently it's very difficult to get fresh in the United States, but the owner or chef's brother (conveniently!) has a produce farm in Peru so they've got the direct source.
They marinate the sea bass for 36 hours in red miso paste, and then grill with butterscotch ice cream topping to create a sweet shell that provides a little tang and locks in the miso flavor while keeping the freshness of the fish alive. Ingenious. A delectable dish.

The Kobe beef appetizer was something that I especially wanted to get. Lightly seared otoro kobe beef, with warm Japanese mushrooms, ponzu gelee, and a truffled tofu crema. It was a fantastic variety of temperatures- cool beef, warm mushrooms, and room temperature crema delicately flowing on top. The gelee was apparent without adding an overwhelming spice, and the dish seemed to get sweeter with every bite. It was the most complex of the dishes, with a lot going on in the palate without becoming confused. A lot of light flavors melded together perfectly for a great dish.

Since we were such excellent, enthusiastic patrons, our superb waiter brought us an after-dinner treat to keep us talking sweet. Our choices were banana or mango, and we selected banana and eagerly awaited what might follow. The presentation was the best of the night, and the dish was perfect in its own right. One "taco" provided 3 small bites, exactly enough to get a sweet taste without getting stuffed. A honey crust enveloped a candied banana drizzled with homemade chocolate and finished with a smattering of dulce de leche. Light flavors, light snack. Perfect end to a great meal.

Thomas Keller's Bouchon at the Venetian:
Thomas Keller is like a modern day Michaelangelo that cooks. A classic in his own realm, a god in the kitchen, known worldwide for his emphasis on FRESH. Going to his French Laundry in Napa is a dream unfulfilled for me, but this was a fantastic opportunity to sample his cuisine in a brasserie setting.

I've only recently become a bloody mary drinker, but I spied one on the bar that just looked great. I ordered it spicy, and it came in a glass of absolute deliciousness. Even with stirring pretty heavily, the bottom of the glass ended up pretty salty, but in its entirety it was solid.

A mussel fanatic, I almost never visit a French restaurant without getting some mussels. The only ones on the menu here were the standard white wine/garlic, so we ordered a dozen of them and this is what came:

Obviously not a dozen. Our waiter was, for lack of a better term, crappy. He was completely unsure of himself, took a VERY long time to do anything, and I get it. Brunch gets busy. Don't think I don't sympathize, but this was pretty bad. Anyway, once the runner dropped off the mussels and the waiter didn't come by for some time to see if they were all right, we just figured we needed to eat them ASAP. They were spectacular. Absolutely perfectly cooked, no empty or barely open shells, and the container was perfect for actually dipping the mussels into the sauce and sopping it up with the bread. I'd say they were in the top 3 of well-cooked mussels I've ever had, but they should definitely consider some innovation as far as the flavor goes. Classical French is understandable, but it IS 2009. Perhaps a red sauce? Just a thought.

Of course, what would an order of mussels be without their fries? They didn't come with aioli, or even ketchup, and either would have been welcomed. Lightly salted, but not fried enough. They tasted good, and I use that word as a generality. Anything fried with salt is going to taste good, but did it satisfy me? Eh.

The Bouchon French Toast came immaculately displayed, exactly the quality of simplicity and elegance that I had expected. Flaky, soft, perfect warmth and texture were melded in a tower of perfection. The first bite was pure ecstasy, nutty, with no overwhelming flavors- simply a harmonious union of textures and flavors. The thin sliced apples on the top provided the perfect crunch to match the brioche and custard layers which flaked beautifully the entire time. Top notch.

Ashton got the Tartine du Tuna, which looked great and tasted even better. This was no Chicken-of-the-Sea mayonnaise crap. This was wonderfully fresh tuna whipped into a spread and served open-face with chilled eggs, fresh lettuce, and kalamata olives on fresh baked levine bread with even more fries. If you are a tuna fan, I'd recommend it, but I prefer my tuna in steak or sashimi form, not the sandwich form. Just personal taste, but this was obviously a grade A catch.

All in all, I dined well, and came out exactly $1 ahead in slots. I'd say it was a win-win week.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bread & Cie

It seems like Bread & Cie of Hillcrest is the San Diego equivalent of Billy Bread in Richmond. Warm bread, crisp outside, fluffy inside, with a wide variety and carried in many local restaurants as their bread of choice. We've had Bread & Cie products in a few places around here, and often buy a loaf of either the Rosemary and Olive Oil bread of Goat Cheese and Garlic at the Hillcrest Farmer's Market to get us through the week. I craved a delicious sandwich yesterday, so we finally made the trek over to the mother lode on University to get to the good stuff. It was insanely crowded, which means it must be good, and the menu looked spectacular. Ashton opted for the Imported Mozzarella: focaccia bread with roasted red peppers, olive tapenade, red onions & mixed greens, and I got the California Panini (provolone, salami, kalamata tapenade, fresh tomatoes, and a side of cucumbers). We snagged a spot outside on the sidewalk and drooled over the other customer's selections until it was finally our turn to munch.

Of course I didn't bring my good camera, but I'd wager these pictures are still drool-inducing in their own right. Unfortunately, the menu link above is woefully incomplete, but this just means to get even more delicious options you'll have to go in there and check it out directly. Besides just providing bread to local restaurants and markets and running the small cafe inside, they also offer catering and lunch box options for the busy businessperson who craves something other than the vending machine. Maybe one day I will work closer to home and will be able to enjoy these treats mid-week! Until then, I am envious of everyone who gets to enjoy this bread daily.