Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ruby Kitchen

It's pretty rare that I give even a mediocre review. I like to think that having a million awesome places to eat + a willingness to try anything = generally having a positive experience to share. Frankly, with the amount of amazing restaurants of every shape, size, and nationality, I don't waste time with places that might be just okay. Occasionally, I'll get dragged along to a pretty substandard place, but for the most part it's hard to get a strike in San Diego.

However, Ruby Kitchen in Hillcrest isn't just a strike. It's a bases-loaded, full-count, tied up, bottom of the 9th in the World Series strikeout. It's rare that I've ever eaten at a place this f@%*ing terrible. The foolish people on Yelp who give this place even the time of day are obviously either brain-damaged, or so ignorant to what food should actually taste like, let alone what even decent service is, that I won't waste my time trying to convince them. It's a completely lost cause.

I wanted to like Ruby Kitchen, I really did. Its next-door-neighbor the Ruby Room offers the typical Hillcrestian a hip and local spot to get their booze on, and Hillcrest has an amazing selection of eateries in every facet of cuisine. The Ruby Kitchen advertises itself as "late-night comfort food" that just happens to be available most of the day. I guess for those in the later throes of blackout, you could tolerate a cold sandwich with little-to-nothing to offer, but if you are even semi-conscious and rational, then take my advice. Save your money and run across the street for a superior meal at Mickey D's.

A quartet of us headed over there at probably 7 pm on a Friday night, expecting there to be at least a few pre-gamers looking to get a head start on soaking up their alcohol of the night. Apparently not. The place (which is ENORMOUS) was totally empty, so why did it take about 20 minutes to get 2 cold sandwiches, some wings, and a cheese steak?

Oh lord, where do I begin. The wings were coated in what I can only assume was ketchup with some pepper sprinkled on them, the 2 cold sandwiches would have satisfied only a starving refugee who has thus survived on cannibalism and fleas, and the cheese steak was more like a chilled rubbery mass of mystery meat with unidentifiable goo spread across the stale roll. Seriously, it's not even worth me wasting any more time thinking about it. If you go there after reading this, you're dead to me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tacos el Gordo

I feel truly sorry for Americans who consider themselves fans of Mexican food based on their excursions to places like Baja Fresh and On the Border. As a California to East Coast transplant, it wasn't often that I could enjoy a fresh carne asada taco, but I at least knew the difference between MEXICAN food and Tex-Mex growing up. Don't get me wrong, there's a time and a place for Tex-Mex, and I can get down with some fajita plates at Don Pablo's, but I'll always come back to my love of the street taco and lobsters caught that day from the waters around Ensenada.

Considering our proximity to Mexico, it's not difficult to find a great taco anywhere on any given day in San Diego. Still, there are a few joints that truly raise the bar for authentic Mexican food in America. Our friends have been describing the delicious delicacies at Tacos el Gordo on H Street in Chula Vista (less than 10 miles from Tijuana) and with promises of street tacos as good as any from a peddler in Baja, we jumped in the car and barreled down there to sample a few of their offerings.

Obviously, we had to try the tacos de lengua (tongue) and cabeza (head meat), and if you are squeamish about the thought of eating an animal's head, I've got some advice for you- stop being a pussy and just do it. I assure you that the meat skipped over by so many ridiculous Americans is some of the best meat off the animal. It's not like a giant raw tongue in a corn tortilla- it looks exactly like any other shredded meat in a taco shell. Having gotten those ordered, I spied the adobada, and having previously experienced some of the greatest meat flavor available, I added one to our order.

It took approximately 2 minutes from the time we ordered to the time we were paying for our tacos and racing to a table to devour the items on our plates, whose scents were wafting up in a cloud of glory into our nostrils and coating our tastebuds with tantalizing promises of deliciousity. We started with the lengua, which was simple, glorious, and hot off the grill. Tender, juicy strips of meat were stuffed inside a double corn shell, with only the marinade, onions, and a bit of cilantro marrying together in a symphony of fantastic. Still, I thought that was good until we started in on the cabeza. Did I say the lengua was good? Garbage compared to the cabeza. This taco was crowned with a dab of tomatillo green salsa, and was even juicier and more flavor-packed than season 3 of The Surreal Life.

Can it get better? The adobada proved that yes, it could. Heaven in my mouth, this taco blew all other tacos out of the water. Inexpensive, authentic, unbelievable tasting- the only thing that Tacos el Gordo has going against it is it's smack in the middle of a suburb, so unless you're a resident of Chula Vista you're going to have a bit of a drive. Still, it beats crossing the border for some cheap eats, so for a Mexican experience without needing a passport, this place is highly recommended.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Image from

I made very few New Year's resolutions this year, because I relate very strongly to Mary Poppins in that I am practically perfect in every way. However, one thing I did vow to make a more conscientious effort to partake in is more red wine. I have generally avoided this beverage and haven't given it much of a shot, but I feel as though 2010 is the perfect year to get on board. It's generally inexpensive, not as filling as beer, and with many more health benefits and a fraction of the fat. What's not to love? This by no means is my way of drinking less beer... just more wine!

So, with that in mind, today's excursion to Trader Joe's wasn't complete without a bottle of their finest red. Seeing as how I have absolutely no idea what the differences in wine are and as a complete wine n00b, I did what I generally would do in this situation- picked a label. What I ended up coming out with was Oreana's Red Table Wine, and at less than $10, it was a steal (or so I hoped).

Image courtesy of Just Karen's Flickr.

Apparently the end result of a mistake gone well, this red was actually quite tasty with a lot of flavor and it went down smoothly. Excuse the lack of actual wine knowledge- I'm still learning! This wasn't exactly the most enlightening experience, as I still couldn't taste, much less describe the differences between a solid Syrah vs. a tasty Cabernet, but stick with me. 2010- year of the wino.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Blind Lady Ale House

San Diego was recently named the Best Beer Town in America by the Men's Journal, and one of the places that helped us to acquire such a noble title is Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights. We had first attempted to drop by for a pint and a bite a few months ago, and unhappily were never served or helped. You know that feeling when you walk into a new place for the first time and you can tell it's not quite the standard way of doing things, but you can't quite put your finger on how it works? That's BLAH. It's a small joint on Adams Ave., in between 34th and 35th Streets with open shared seating (not unlike Pizza Port Solana Beach), and the "waitstaff" is more of a one to two person bussing and food running operation. To order, there's a cashier line for food, and a small bar to take your drink orders. The beers of the day are written in chalk above the plain taps (no fancy tap pulls here!) and it seems to be a consistently rotating and well thought out selection. Read here about their "Honest Pint" Certification!

Our second attempt proved more fruitful- after spotting their weekly ad in CityBeat, I noticed that they were kicking off their Saturday with a cask of Stone Vanilla Bean Smoked Porter. Generally, porters aren't my bag, but this sounded like something I couldn't pass up. Our initial plan was to head to Hamilton's Tavern for their Green Flash night, with 19 Green Flash beers on tap, free BBQ, and 3 hours of David Bowie in honor of his birthday weekend, but by the looks of the line wrapping around the corner half of San Diego got that memo too! Not discouraged, we decided that this was a sign to spend our evening at Blind Lady, which proved to be a wise plan. Families, foodies, and beer-o's alike were swarming the place, but even with 7 of us in tow we managed to finagle a spot after a few minute's wait. Now that we had our bearings, the separate food-and-drink ordering lines became less daunting, and the food selection promised to be top notch.

I'm still getting used to the idea that San Diego is filled with people who love beer as much as me... most of them more so! It's refreshing to know that the bartender at any given "beer" bar is going to know just what the hell they're talking about. He enthusiastically recommended the Stone brew, describing it as a beer milkshake. After an endorsement like that, how could I resist? The pour was perfection; the head took minutes to fall and the smell reached my nostrils even with his back turned to the pour. Generally, vanilla makes itself known much more by smell than taste, which remained true for this brew as well. Nonetheless, it was a surprisingly pleasant porter that went down more like a stout with a quick sweet bite during the aftertaste. It took a while to down the pint (this is definitely a "sipping" beer) but by the time I'd reached the bottom of the well-poured glass I was a little saddened by the lack of beer that I held in my hand.

Since we were nibbling as well, a second porter wasn't in the cards for me, so it was a Delirium Tremens next, which served as a great pairing to the clam appetizer and prosciutto pizza we had ordered. The clams were good, the broth was hot, buttery, and the sausage was a light and tasty side afterthought, but nothing spectacular. The pizza was fantastic- the crust, prosciutto, and all ingredients met in a sweet harmony of bliss that was well worth the $13 it cost. Others in our group also got the vegan butternut squash pizza with mushrooms and lemon zest, which tasted a little too clean and not enough like pizza to tantalize my tastebuds. The margherita pizza looked and smelled great, but unfortunately didn't make it into my mouth. Just something to look forward to next time- it's a definite recommendation for casual dining that's a step above the norm!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

San Diego Restaurant Week

It's that time again... time for the broke foodies of San Diego to crawl out of their holes, reach into their pockets, and manage to score a table at some of the pricier pubs and swankier sweet spots during the new decade's first San Diego Restaurant Week! In its 5th year and sure to be biggest so far, his event takes place from January 17 through January 22, and almost 200 restaurants are participating throughout the county. The pricier restaurants (the ones that I probably wouldn't be caught dead in with my tattooed arms and loud behavior) such as 1500 OCEAN at the Hotel del Coronado, Bertrand at Mister A's, and George's at the Cove top the price list with prix fixe menus for $40, while slightly less bourgeois but equally spectacular joints such as 333 Pacific, Coronado Boathouse 1887, and JSix are sandwiched at $30. Last but certainly not culinarily least, the $20 category comes in strong with contenders such as the newly re-located Point Loma Corvette Diner and Boathouse Restaurant. I'm declaring here and now that I will visit as many restaurants in each category as financially possible, and loving every second of it. I'm hoping to see a good turnout of foodies, new and old, coming out to enjoy what so many people are going without in this economy- food, friends, and fun!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Belated Oktoberfest- Julian

As a testament to my procrastination as-of-late, here's a very belated but nonetheless enthusiastic Oktoberfest blog! It was about our 3rd Oktoberfest celebration and both of our first times to the eastern San Diego city of Julian, which is a quaint mountain town known for its apples and pies... and apple pies! It was a beautiful crisp day, albeit crowded as hell due to the close driving vicinity but far away feeling appeal.

I can honestly say that this was the best damn hot cider I have EVER had. It helps a lot when the apples were probably picked that morning around the corner.

Welcome to the festivities! It was a tiny Oktoberfest in comparison to La Mesa and El Cajon which draw thousands of hungry drunks every year, but it was lively and filled with delicious treats!

The bratwursts were going fast, and there was actually a wait to snag one of the plump delicacies. Absolutely worth the wait, and with some extra sauerkraut and spicy mustard there was nothing to complain about, except maybe the drool stains on my shirt.

Like I said, Julian is one of the top places around to get apples, and their pies are second to none, as evidenced by this line outside the Julian Pie Company. You can get these all around San Diego, or even mail order them anywhere in the country, but there's nothing like getting them right from the source!

Ashton shows us his spoils and bounty of the day. My boy didn't disappoint me.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Una Pizza Napolentana

Friend and comrade in food/drink enthusiasm Amy McFadden shared this quick and drool-inducing video of Una Pizza Napoletana's owner from 2004-2009, Anthony Mangieri. Watch if you love pizza and salivation!

NATURALLY RISEN from michael evans on Vimeo.