Saturday, March 20, 2010

Photo Montage: El Camino as Haiku

We thought 'twas a bar
Foolishly not entering
'Til told that was wrong.

Ancestral decor
Mixed the contemporary
with traditional.

Packed with hungry folk
Red lights twinkle and glimmer
Tummies craving grows.

Promising menu
A fusion of tex and mex
Will not break the bank.

Praise Virgin Mary
Surrounded by artful leaf
My saliva flows.

Cousin and girlfriend
Ponder the selections well
Perhaps the special?

Not just one but four
Hot, flavorful, gooey, green,
A taste for us all.

Feeling so parched
One dollar adds tomato
Chelada it is.

Asked for extra juice
Perhaps it was a bit much
Not a giant fan.

Decided upon
Packed with sweet potato and
Sweet crema on top.

Very much enjoyed
Bean and rice presentation
Tasty treat in pot.

A bit of a wait
4 way split of sugary
Delightful churro.

I had to go pee
An exciting bathroom trip
Yielded door decor.

Saints be praised, lit flame
Offers homage to those gods
Dollar candles burn.

Mask hides emotion
I prefer to imagine
Camino is pleased.

A wet dreary night
How appropriate to end
Glistening outside.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Recipe for a bogus day

Main: Grilled portobello mushrooms topped with melted provolone and fried artichokes
Side: Mashed cauliflower and potatoes with garlic butter
Veg: Steamed green beans with black pepper and prosciutto
Dessert: Butterfinger ice cream with hot fudge
paired with beer of your choice.

Let's just say the day ended on a high note.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sea Rocket Bistro

Why is it that San Diego, a "seaside" town, seems to noticeably lack affordable, fresh seafood? The majority of restaurants in the greater San Diego area with an emphasis on serving our fish friends are either overpriced, sushi (while delicious, a cooked meal is often necessary), or el cheapo a la Rubio's. I had high hopes for Sea Rocket Bistro, a local, organic restaurant in its infancy with seemingly endless recommendations and ads in local weeklies. As a general supporter of food-with-morals, a perfect opportunity to finally put the Bistro to the test came with Ashton's 23rd birthday. Just a hop, skip, and jump down the bustling 30th Street area, the parking situation isn't ideal, but at 6:30 on a Tuesday we managed to find something in the same zip code, despite the proximity to about 5 other restaurants and a corner bar.

My first impression was impressed- the decor is spot on. Whoever decorated the space has a fantastic eye for color, simplicity, warmth, and friendliness. The soft green walls were accentuated perfectly with the school of swimming cardboard fish that cover the industrial ceiling, and twinkling lights splashed along the walls seemed to be a cheap and adorable way to draw you in. It seemed to be split into two different areas plus a bar with a chalkboard announcing the specials of the day, which is great if you were sitting at the bar but completely unreadable if you were anywhere else. Subtle touches included the warm wood furniture and beautifully framed photographs along the walls.

However, while decor is great and creates a warm atmosphere in which to set your expectations high, I don't eat photographs. It's going to come down to the food, which isn't 100% of the experience, but the most important and basic of dining out. The menu was just long enough to be impressive but without losing focus. I really enjoyed their $2 Tapas inclusions, a quirky idea to allow tidbits to be tasted without breaking the bank. Our waitress had a bit of trouble remembering all of the specials of the evening, but luckily there seemed to be a veteran Bistro'er to offer support and recommendations. We finally made our final selections of:
One dozen oysters
Sauteed sardines
Winchester Gouda Cheese & Honey on bread
San Diego Fisherman’s Stew (recommended and received spicy!)- squid, Carlsbad Aqua Farm clams & mussels, and market fish chunks simmered together in a tomato-based stew
Yellowtail special (sauteed with fresh local organic greens and sweet potatoes)
Carrot cake cupcake
Chilled Bread Pudding (with seasonal fruits, served with whipped cream and fruit garnish)

Let me start with the oysters. We had made a point to go on a Tuesday purely for the 1/2 off oysters. I've harbored some hesitation with our slimy friends, and have some good oysters along with bad ones. Let me tell you, one bad oyster cancels out the memory of 100 good ones. However, luck was with us, and these were a fantastic way to start the meal. I find that West Coast oysters are a little meatier and saltier than their East Coast relatives, but with a dab of their unique cocktail sauce and a squeeze of lemon these were top notch.

We'd been recommended the sardines from a fellow foodie friend, and they were a big disappointment. I'm not completely sure what I expected from the generally salty, prickly, and oily fishes, but they were exactly that. Would not order again anywhere.

The cheese and honey bread was superb. Two slices of fresh bread lined with a hard cheese and a dabble of honey- simple, sweet, light, and delicious. Could have eaten a loaf of the bread with a block of cheese and gallon of honey, but thank goodness it was tapas! A delight.

Ashton's stew was actually better than I had expected. Generally, I find that seafood stews are the leftovers ready to get tossed and the flavor completely depends on the broth. This tomato-based stew was recommended spicy, and came sort of spicy; as a hot sauce collector, lover, and enthusiast, I POSSIBLY have warped ideas about heat, but this was okay. Not the best, not the worst. It tasted fresh enough, and had a nice variety of what seemed to be generally fresh fish and assorted underwater creatures, but at the end of the day it was fish soup. Not bad.

My yellowtail was perfectly acceptable. I found it somewhat bland, lacking seasoning and when you depend on the fish to make up the majority of the flavor you really need to have some wizard hands to use subtle spices and preparation to enhance it to its full potential. This had a long way to go to reach its full potential, and the soggy greens and squishy sweet potatoes didn't add much. The sweet potatoes were an odd combination. Serious meh.

However, faith was restored with my dessert selection. The cupcake was a little slice of moist heaven. I perhaps speak too soon with a blanket statement of new-found appreciation. Ashton's bread pudding was more like sweet mush. If what they served was bread pudding, then slap my face and call me Sally. Let's just say Ashton didn't leave on such a high note as me.

When I had asked a friend with a similar love of dining what she thought about Sea Rocket, she thought for a moment and said "Some restaurants get too much credit for being local, organic, eco-friendly, etc. If it comes down to the food, Sea Rocket Bistro doesn't measure up." I wasn't quite sure what she meant, but after having experienced it for myself I can see what she meant. It has absolutely everything going for it, the process, the ingredients, the people, the vision, the location, the creativity, the niche, the atmosphere, etc. Unfortunately, if I had had a blindfold on I wouldn't have given it a second thought. I don't want to deter people completely from going there- not only are they extremely active in the community, avid supporters of sustainable food culture, and offer great incentives like 10% biking discounts and the like, it's not a BAD place, it's simply not amazing. There were highs, and there were lows, but all in all I enjoyed myself, the experience, and left a bit wiser about food vs. food culture.