Thursday, July 22, 2010

Heaven Sent Desserts

North Park, San Diego is a bustling, re-vitalized area of America's Finest City that is now a hub of quaint shops, restaurants, and the arts. The main drag through North Park intersects at University and 30th, and dominating the southeast corner is nestled a seeming neighborhood giant- Heaven Sent Desserts. A towering two-story building that is understated but powerful, I was anxious to give it a try and see what all the fuss was about. With such a gigantic space and a solid position, I was expecting some sugar delicacies the likes of which I'd never seen.

Despite the great, long, late hours and catering available, when it comes down to the desserts themselves, I straight up, no holds-barred, just plain wasn't impressed. Red velvet cake with cream filling, coconut shavings, spongey chocolate? The icing was a plasticky mixture similar to mushy glue, and nothing about the rich delicacy of a well-made red velvet cake was apparent at all in this dish.

Don't even get me started about this pseudo coffee imitation flavored poor excuse for tiramisu.

Hey, maybe we went on a bad night. Maybe the pastry chef just had an off day- it happens! However, despite the location and seeming guarantee of goodness, with plenty of other dessert fish in the sea, my shadow won't be darkening their doorway anytime soon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Eclipse Chocolate

If I had to pick sweet or savory, 9 times out of 10 I'll pick savory. When dining out, I prefer an appetizer to prep my tastebuds for the entree to come rather than save room for dessert. However, at least once a month (guess when) there occurs an occasion in which if I do not get some chocolate on my tongue ASAP, I'm likely to fly into a homicidal rage. I know that this pains my sweet-tooth fiancee to no end, but to each his own. The chemistry of sugar, chocolate and sweets in general is a mysterious and somewhat unknown realm to me as I most of the time steer clear from it. The preciseness of baking irritates me, but whenever I come across artisan or homemade chocolates I'm likely to give it a whirl, and am often surprised at the subtle nature of the sweet.

Eclipse Chocolate opened last year on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park next to the newest Luigi's location, and any block which contains a great pizzeria and chocolatier is a solid block in my book. Since gourmet chocolate isn't a daily weakness of mine, last night was our first experience at the recommended shop. Even after 9 pm, the tiny location was bustling with yuppies on Macbooks and ladies in heels being "so naughty, I really shouldn't!" By this point in the evening, the cupcakes on display were looking a little worse for wear, but the display of truffles was presented appealingly and beautifully at the counter.

Once we picked one truffle, a few more followed, and the flavors from left to right are: vanilla bean & sassafras, lavender & sea salt, balsamic & pink peppercorn, and goat cheese & tarragon with fennel pollen. All were filled with a luscious chocolate ganache, and varied as much in quality as they did in flavor. These were only a quarter of the varieties offered, and the range of flavors was surprisingly vast and well thought out to appeal to an entire range of flavor enthusiasts. My runaway favorite was the lavender and sea salt, not just in flavor but in quality of the ganache melding with the chocolate shell. It was by far the thinnest truffle with the highest quality filling, with subtle flavors that still made themselves known throughout the bite. I can't say that the flavors married with each other and provided that same complex bite transition as well in any of the other three, but none of them were unpleasant by any means. The balsamic truffle was a close second, but I'd recommend it only if you are an adventurous dessert seeker!

Did I mention that my fiancee is a chocoholic? Let me re-emphasize this. Ashton is insane about chocolate on levels comparable to a hormonally imbalanced woman who just got dumped by her boyfriend and is watching a Lifetime movie while crying about her love handles. If you think that we were going to stop with a few truffles, you've got another thing coming. Beneath the truffle display were the Chocolate Roccos, chunky chocolate logs with a variety of fillings. Did I really sell you on those with that description?

He selected the Citrus Honeycomb, which comes with their homemade vanilla bean marshmallows with 72% dark chocolate rocky road, along with some honeycomb candy, bee pollen, & candied citrus peel. They were kind enough to slightly heat and slice it for us, and besides the end pieces, which proved to be a little tough and lacking in the filling department, it was a decent treat with a solid flavor base. I personally would have gone for the Chili Burnt Caramel with canilla bean marshmallow & 38% milk chocolate rocky road studded with burnt caramel toffee & cayenne candied pecan, but there's always next time.

I feel like I need to mention that we got a salted caramel and rosemary cashew yellow cupcake with chocolate frosting, but their lack of airtight display and the late hour did not prove favorable to the cupcakes. Avoid unless fresh.

Overall, I found it to be an innovative addition to the local scene, and while it might take a little more to impress me with the dessert department, I found the menu to be well thought out, and with a little work on storage to maintain freshness, a pleasant place to spend an evening.

Eclipse Chocolate
2121 El Cajon Boulevard
North Park, San Diego, 92104

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Currant: American Brasserie

One of my regular haunts in Richmond just happened to be the best brasserie in Virginia as far as I'm concerned, and a definite plus was the fact that my best friend just happened to be one of the highest up chefs in the kitchen, which contributed to many a dining experience ending in an engorged belly and a painful toddle back to my apartment. I find the consistency of French cuisine in America comforting, and Can Can was my first true experience which I found to be great during brunch, lunch, happy hour, and dinner on a regular basis. The sentiment was confirmed when I was lucky enough to brunch at Bouchon in Las Vegas, but since moving to San Diego, I hadn't found the same caliber of Franco-cuisine. However, that aforementioned best friend/chef just happened to move here only a few weeks ago and during his job hunt stumbled upon Currant in downtown San Diego. It was a fortuitous discovery and perfect opportunity to put it to the test!

With Andy being jobless in a new town, and I being sadly underpaid, we decided to take advantage of the half-price happy hour menu, which is a solid 3 hours long every day. A happy find! The offerings proved to be pretty standard French-American cuisine, so with our usual selection of mussels (we opted for the French curry option) and fried pickle chips, both at 50% off, we toasted our cocktails (also on special during 4-7) and relished in our success. We had a few minutes until the bartender acknowledged us to take our food order, but they seemed pleasant enough, and with the other half of the small center-room bar being occupied with what seemed to be the male cast of the Jersey Shore dizzy with Cosmos, it was an excusable oversight.

The decor tiptoed the line of lavish and gaudy; many subtle classic touches were easily overlooked with the overabundance of garish additions. The bar itself dominated the already small space (the restaurant is located within the boutique Sofia Hotel on Broadway), and with it crowned on four corners with massive pillars, it almost seemed to be squeezed in as an afterthought. The lounge area adjoining the bar boasted several sage green velvety couches with pouf pillows aplenty- more nightclub than restaurant. Details fought to be recognized, and I felt somewhat claustrophobic nestled next to a giant support pillar on the left, a closely placed bar stool on the right, the section of the bar which no more than three people would fit at comfortably, and the floating cocktail rack above, which was towered over by another decorative screen which wrapped around the bar near the ceiling. Too much.

Our food arrived, and while the mussels were especially tasty with a thicker-than-expected yellow curry sauce, I was disappointed with the ratio of unopened (therefore inedible) mussels to opened. The fries were no contest second place to Can Can's, but certainly not bad by any means, and while the sauce seemed too similar to curry gravy to counter the nature of mussels which I find flourish in a thinner broth, it proved to be a glorious dipping sauce perfect for the frites. The fried pickles did not come breaded as expected, but battered in a light and delicious tempura batter with paired nicely with the house ranch. I personally find dill by itself to be somewhat overwhelming and prefer it as a paired herb, but for $3 I was satisfied with the plate. However, it falls short of the normal lunch/dinner price of $6, which piques my curiosity to the difference between the "cheaper" (i.e. less time taken by a generally less experienced cook) happy hour servings vs. the dinner portion.

Overall, it was a positive experience, and a place that will most certainly draw me to downtown when few places appeal to me enough to fight the traffic and pay for parking. Despite the oppressively small bar space and odd Gaslamp clientele, the happy hour prices are on the money, and the familiarity of brasserie style is one that will keep me coming back, perhaps even for dinner!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

2010 San Diego County Fair at the Del Mar Fairgrounds

Ah, the state fair. An American pastime that really brings out the Midwest in people! Fried foods, overpriced rides, neon lights, and plenty of cankles to be had. I've been to the Virginia State Fair before, so I figured that California was going to be a cakewalk, and with the theme this year being "Taste the Fair", how was I going to miss the festivities?!

We started off strong, and Andy and I enjoyed our first selection of chocolate covered bacon, which was surprisingly delightful! Large portions of thick bacon with sea salt sprinkled over the chunks- we definitely dove in head first with this one. After one piece, enjoyed under the hot sun, I was pretty ready for something a little more savory.

Fried pop tarts, fried butter, fried pickles, fried everything under the sun was displayed proudly, but our second choice of the day was cheese battered in corn dog casing and deep fried, as seen enjoyed by Felicia! Can you really think of any better way to marry the delights of cheese and the overabundance of fried?

At this point, I was ready for an actual dish with some real sustenance, and after scouring the fair for the biggest, spiciest, most loaded italian sausage I could find, I settled on one, smothered it in onions, peppers, and mustard, and scarfed! Andy decided a few greens were in order, and ordered an aptly-named Zucchini Weenie, which was a hot dog stuffed inside a hollow zucchini dipped in corn dog batter and fried. Phallic as it was, it was not depressing in any way.

Avocados are already filling enough as it is, so to have a basket full of the fatty, oily, delicious fruit's nutritional value completely demolished by MORE oil and heat, well, what's not to love?

A new friend.

At this point, I was nearing diabetic-coma status and inviting a heart attack, so I decided to end the day with something light- a deep fried Reeses cup. Nothing like a apertif to help settle the stomache! Ah, only in America.