Wednesday, April 28, 2010

La Fachada

When a Mexican brings you to their favorite food spot, you stand back, pay attention, order what they order, and prepare for some tasty shit. I like to think that I can taste my way through the standard Tex-Mex and spot a genuine hole-in-the-wall promising to serve some the best comida north of the border, but much of the time the best of the best places are those hidden deep in ghettos, behind crumbling walls, past flickering neon, and filled with cheap plastic chairs with nary a paleface in sight. When my co-worker who hails from our southern neighborland caught sight of my salsa tattoo a few months ago, he engaged me with tales of homemade menudo, fresh tortillas straight from generations past, and the best damn tacos you can imagine. When I proudly announced my successful trip to Tacos el Gordo, he sneered and told me I had no idea what I was talking about. My interest piqued, and he offered to take me on a lunch excursion the likes of which I haven't seen. How could I turn it down?!!

La Fachada isn't terribly far off the beaten path (just beyond Golden Hill on the south side of Market Street in Logan Heights on 25th street), but its promise of an amazing meal was apparent once we turned into the parking lot. A warehouse-esque restaurant sits beyond a small paved lot behind an open black fence, but all of the lunch action was taking place around the smoking grill next to a parked Roach Coach, surrounded by Costco folding tables and chairs with stacks of paper plates held down by jars of salsa and large bins filled with marinated peppers, carrots, and limes. Short, sweet, and to the point, the menu had the normal offerings of chicken and carnitas tacos, along with authentic crowd-pleasers such as lengua and cabeza, and even venturing into unknown (to me) territory of bucha and beyond! We went there for one thing and one thing only- damn good tacos.

We were not to be disappointed. While we waited (all 2 minutes- fresh and fast!), a heaping pile of grilled onions and peppers lay crackling across a charcoal grill, and we were encouraged to help ourselves to soaked radishes and limes. Our food popped up shortly, and the pig out of 2010 commenced. The major qualms that my co-worker has with Tacos el Gordo are few, but critical- too expensive, and too small. Personally, if the food is right, then $2.50 for a taco doesn't exactly make me want to blow my brains out with stinginess, but why pay more for less? La Fachada's tacos weren't obscenely bulging to the point of absurdity, overindulgence just for the sake of it, but they absolutely beat Tacos el Gordo on that point. As far as taste goes, I found it to be apples and oranges. Both superb in their own right. Does sitting in the sun surrounded by mariachi music, friends, and scents of grilling meat beat sitting inside a "fast-food" atmosphere? Maybe it does. All I know is these were some DAMN good tacos. We found what we were looking for. Venture into the neighborhood and take a chance. You won't regret it.

La Fachada
20 25th St
(at Imperial Ave)
San Diego, CA 92102
(619) 236-8566

Pictured above: Bucha, Cabeza, y Carnitas tacos with tomatillo salsa, hot salsa roja, grilled with cilantro and onions on fresh tortilla, squeeze of lime.

Monday, April 19, 2010


If anyone has ever read The 21 Balloons, then you know that Krakatoa is a force not to be reckoned with. The mammoth diamond-bursting volcano erupted with such violence as to disrupt the secretly wealthy world's elite and force them to escape via balloon. Classic!

While Krakatoa in Golden Hill proves slightly less volcanic, it remains an active and bustling spot to get a caffeine or just friendly neighborhood buzz. I was introduced to it some time ago during my work's weekly Friday group lunch, an event that is vehemently discussed, pondered, argued over, and ultimately bargained for each week with intense enthusiasm and prejudice. Over the last few months, Krakatoa has remained one of our regular selections not only for the proximity to the office and inexpensive menu, but for the consistent quality of food and atmosphere.

Cozily tucked behind large palm fronds, just past the tiki guard, a quaint wraparound porch lolls its way around a small green house occupied by professionals and scenesters alike. The coffee menu boasts a healthy selection of flavors and styles, and the entire menu is available all day. Having been partial to the lunch selections (the Colima being my regular choice), when friends and fellow food appreciators James and Stephanie were in town from Richmond we sprung on the opportunity to enjoy a lighter brunch option.

While I find their coffee to be generally tasty (avoid the chai- I've been fooled a few times and find it to be unfortunately watery and flavorless), they also have a smattering of iced teas that seem to rotate. The blood orange tea popped out as the most obviously delicious choice to me, paired with their fresh lemonade which was a splash of delight. While I was tempted by their oversized and tempting desserts (which I have only heard wonderful ravings over and have yet to sample), it was a bit early to satiate my sweet tooth. Lighter fare beckoned, and with affordable prices, a fantastic porch gathering area, great people watching, and a bustling neighborhood, what wasn't to like?!?

Breakfast options range from sweet treats to health conscious and everything in between. My everything bagel with veggie cream cheese, fresh cucumber, and cold tomato screamed fresh, and Ashton's avocado-smeared bacon crumbled El Jorullo was a great balance of savory crisp and slightly sweet spread. Their fresh fruit was actually fresh, contrary to what many places serve as the standby of tasteless melon with a few scattered grapes, which was an extra-pleasant bonus. The menu isn't unbelievably extensive for first meals, but with excellent offerings for build-your-own sandwiches, along with ready-made sweets and daily specials, there's absolutely something for everyone. Next time I'll leave room for their famous dessert- stay tuned!

1128 25th Street
San Diego, CA 92102-2105
(619) 230-0272

Monday, April 12, 2010


Nowadays, it's hard to find a happy medium between the highly-sugared bland yet hugely available McCoffees (or whatever they are branded as) and the upscale but totally worth the cost also hugely available Starbucks blends. Plus, while we all love our neighborhood coffee shop, I hate to admit that sometimes convenience is king and price is a major make-or-break for my cup of morning joe. However, for those connoisseurs who refuse to lose an iota of flavor and are ready to pay the big bucks for a morning jump start, I invite you to take this CNN quiz to see how your coffee knowledge REALLY measures up!

If you've got the tastebuds and the ca$h, then forget the coffee hajj to Columbia- head to the great dirty city known as Baltimore and make a beeline for Spro, a hot spot for coffeeheads with bulging wallets and empty pockets alike. Spro owner Jay Caragay emphasizes freshness, flavor, and only the highest quality bean in all his roasts, including the famed $13 a cup brew that has tongues wagging for more. While it's not the most expensive bean on the planet, (that title belongs to Kopi Luwak, "a bean that is eaten, partially digested, and excreted by the rodent-like Common palm civet. These legendary beans are worth $600 a pound, or $50 a brewed cup." via CNN) by all taste tests it seems to measure up to the cost. A good cup of coffee should be dynamic, fresh, and experience metamorphosis while it cools, and Spro claims to have some of the best stuff around. I'm anxious to get back to the East Coast and try it for myself! Until then, 7-11 will have to do.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

From Me to You

This is one of those times when the work can speak for itself. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you From Me to You, a photoblog from NYC. The photography speaks for itself, and the writing's not bad either. My only qualm is his occasional use of the typewritten word seemingly pressed upon antique pages, which lends an extremely classic motif, but alas it also doesn't lend itself well to the readers' eyes. Nevertheless, take my word for it and check it out. A delightful blend of photos, food, enthusiasm, design, and more. An inspiration to stop using a phone camera and do the food justice. Other patrons be damned!!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Noble Experiment

A spritz of bitters, a splash of soda, egg yolks, egg whites, cucumber, mint, lemon, cherries, blackberries, not to mention the actual hearts of gin, whiskey, but never vodka are all possibilities to wash over your tongue and warp your mind when you enter Noble Experiment. You might not be able to see it from the street, and if you can even manage to find it entry is not guaranteed without a reservation which are set via texts. This catacomb-eque room oozes elegance, from the a flickering red sign upon a deeply stained wooden wall in the oppressively small entryway, spooky gold skull wall first visible upon entry, mirrored end tables, only a handful of white vinyl booths, an overwhelming white and crystal chandelier dangling from a ceiling covered with gilded images of duchesses and the English countryside. Did I mention this was a secret bar?

It only fits 25 to 30 people at a time, and entry is not open. This month old aptly named Experiment promises to be one of San Diego's hottest new trends, and I'm predicting a major hot spot for impressing first dates. With drinks about $10 a pop, it's not a major steal that keeps tongues wagging about the mystery of the place, it's the ultimate hand-crafted cocktail served by true spirit masters that will keep the place as packed as it can be; with only 8 barstools, it proves to be an exclusive club indeed. A short menu is available for those mystery-seekers enjoying the experience and mystique rather than in search of a pre-Prohibition style drink, but with old methods with a new twist, I predict that within a month there will be a waiting list to attend the Noble Experiment. I'd recommend staying as close to the bar as possible- it was a treat and a delight to witness a true artist at work. I'm sure for a nice chat the booth would prove a cozy and intimate setting, but why go to a psuedo-chemistry lab and not observe?

I confess, I'm already guilty of diluting the secret, which I hope people are able to continue to enjoy despite the inevitable mystery being solved by the general population. Once the secrecy of the location and experience get completely overrun by the Gaslamp rats, at least the cocktails will speak for themselves. You can't knock any bartender that asks you if you have any allergies before hand-crafting a drink complete with impurity-free hand-cracked ice! To those interested in any standby drink served at a meat market in order to complete some sort of Friday night hopeful carnal fulfillment, don't bother. There's a fantastic beer bar in the front of the building. However, for any adventure seeker, liquor fanatic or not, looking for an exciting alternative to the standard PB or Gaslamp experience, don't be shy about trying it out. It will definitely leave you wanting more.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

333 Pacific

What I wouldn't give to have the Midas touch! David Cohn seems to have found out the secret of turning all he touches into gold based on his extremely successful restaurant group, which covers 11 restaurants in San Diego and 1 in Maui. I had the opportunity to meet him at a food trade show before the opening of his 11th restaurant in Oceanside last year, and was struck by his pleasant demeanor, ability to cut the business chit chat bullsh*t and speak frankly without the hint of rudeness or elitist superioriy. To be honest, if I was in his shoes I'm not so sure I'd be so nice!

His latest venture, North County's 333 Pacific off the Oceanside pier, is still in its infancy and yet has been met with more acclaim and praise than many more established restaurants over years of toil. Multiple awards have already been won; steak and seafood blend together for a wildly innovative and solid menu, and with hundreds of their hand-selected vodkas from around the world, not to mention a formidable wine list to pair the food with, it's a match made in heaven. Entering the restaurant you are met with a mix of people- mostly nicely dressed 20 and 30somethings hobnobbing in the dimly blue lit vodka lounge, maybe a small handful of kids who haven't reached their teen years, a whitehair here and there, and what seemed to be the most attractive waitstaff in Oceanside. It was extremely upscale with no snobby overtones whatsoever. The view is unbeatable, and the space is large enough to accommodate an intimate pair or a huge family gathering.

Ashton and I had been trying to find an excuse to make the 40+ minute trek up to North County and justifying spending what promised to be a triple-digit meal. Based on 333's reputation, this was not the kind of place that we would be able to hold back. We finally had the opportunity for our 2 year anniversary, and to seal the deal I made sure to make the reservation online. A unexpected pleasantry I found was the "special requests" option on the browser. "Sure", I thought, "I'll just ask for a nice, intimate table and they'll do that. Doesn't hurt to ask, right?" Apparently not! Once we got there, we were quickly escorted to one of the enclosed-patio tables with a stunning view of the Pacific. Unfortunately, our reservations fell after the sun, but the people watching was just as good.

Surprised with the good start, we only had to open the menu to be even more impressed without having touched a bite of food. The waitstaff was impeccable. Elegant without being stuffy, knowledgeable without being snobby, the waiters danced around us in a constant ebb and flow of service without once interfering with the actual experience. Since we both had fish on the mind, we decided to start with a steak appetizer. A Kobe beef tartare salad was the special of the evening, and it came as though the greens were picked upon ordering and the meat had simply been peeled off a live animal. Lightly seasoned with pepper, the steak was just warm enough to accent the chilled greens with tossed veggies and a light Asian dressing. Absolute balance on a plate.

For the main course, Ashton decided to go for one of the more 'comfortable' dishes offered- wild striped bass sauteed with a sweet velvet corn sauce and paired with Maine lobster fritters. This proved to be a heavier dish, but one that sat well with the tastebuds! Velvety was the perfect adjective for the sauce, which was ladled with the perfect amount over the absolutely divine fish. I swear it was fresher there than much of the fish you could get on the East Coast! The fritters, though a side, spoke loudly and declared that yes! The word "fritter" can be found even here in the swanky Southern California food scene! Maine lobster is some of the best in the world, and that was proven again and again with every bite.

However, once I spied the word "ahi" on the menu, my mind was made up. The sashimi grade tuna came to life on a bed of elegantly steamed sushi rice and baby bok choy with an enhacing shiitake miso soy sauce. For some reason, I can never get bok choy quite right, and I still manage to enjoy the Asian green, so imagine my delight when I come across it when it prepared not just correctly, but magnificently! I've always said that if I were to work in a kitchen I would love to be a saucier, because I find that the true art lies with the details. Sashimi grade ahi tuna is hardly a blank slate to start with, and the addition of a delicately crafted sauce is the backbone that separates the simply good dishes from the award-winning, orgasm-inducing ones.

How, you might ask, could we find room for more? I can assure you that no bit was left on our plates as we obediently followed our mothers' instructions to clean our plates. Our server, seemingly via a psychic connection, offered us an anniversary dessert, but we quickly decided upon the pumpkin and white chocolate mousse cheesecake. I love the word "cheesecake". How can you go wrong with cheese AND cake?!?!

Just another special, unexpected touch to seal the wonderful experience of the evening. Many kudos to the chef, waitstaff, and obviously talented team of fine restauraneurs. An absolute must.