Sunday, June 25, 2017

San Diego, Day 2 - Brunch and Beer

For our second and final day in San Diego, we made sure to celebrate a successful conclusion to our lightning trip, we decided to find a good brunch place.  We hadn't really looked before driving, but we knew that we wanted to be close to the airport, so that was where we concentrated our efforts.  In our wandering, we came across Liberty Station, a park, commerce, and art center located on the former NTC San Diego which closed in 1997.  It is a beautiful area with a large park and many of the former military buildings being repurposed.  Looking for a place to eat we found that we had several potential candidates located around the twisting roads of the former Navy base.  The first place we came across was a place called Soda & Swine, a restaurant that specialized in Meatball Sandwiches and eclectic sodas in a vintage space.  It looked really interesting but it wasn't quite open when we found it, and as we were leaving in the early afternoon, we really didn't have time to wait, so we continued our search.  We next came across Breakfast Republic, a breakfast place with creative dishes, a good beer list, and quite a bit of buzz.  This sounded really good so we decided to stop and try it out.  It seems though, that it was also very popular, because there would be a half an hour wait for a table.  We didn't really have time to wait, so this was out.  We noticed though, while walking from the car another place that was close called Fireside by the Patio.  We had no idea what to expect, but we also didn't have a tremendous amount of time, so we decided to dive in.  We first walked to what was apparently the rear patio, which was walled off, so we ended up walking halfway around the patio to find the entrance.  From what we could see from the outside, it looked pretty nice, something that was proven when we found the entrance.  The place had two large patios, one on either side of the building. Each was semi-covered with canvas tops, but there were no real walls, so it felt very open.  Fences, hedges, and stacked wood designated the boundaries and showed the entrance, so there was a very specific entrance. There were also several gas torches to provide heat (It was in the 60s, so while it wasn't cold, a little heat was appreciated).  The brick building between the patios, which held a very nice bar, a few tables, and the kitchen, was open on both sides and had a high ceiling, so it felt very open as well.  We were seated on the rear patio, where we approached the restaurant in the first place.  We wanted to sit near one of the torches, so we were seated next to the children's play area which looked so cool, I almost wanted to play there myself.  It had a wooden boat, a large wooden connect four game, a bags (cornhole) game, and what looked like a lot of wooden blocks.  There weren't many kids at the restaurant, so it wasn't an issue, but it did look like it would be a lot of fun.
 (Photo credit to Julia Farmer)
I started things off with a cocktail, that while not very standard, sounded very fresh and good.  As might be expected of me for those that know me, I did order a Gin cocktail.  Called a Liberty Libation, it contained Ford's Gin, Grand Poppy California Amaro, Basil, Cucumber, Lime, and Crushed Black Pepper.  It was very botanical and actually kind of floral as one might expect of an amaro made from poppies.  Cucumber, Basil and Lime are all common mixers with Gin.  I would expect the cucumber and basil to work together, and the black pepper should have and did work well with the cucumber.  What I did not expect was the lime to work well with the cucumber.  The drink was kind of a cross between a gin and tonic and another classic gin drink and they worked well together.  My dining partner had a flight of Bloody Marys which were also very good.  One focused on Cucumber, one on Smoke, and the last was a classic with Celery.  
(Photo Credit to Julia Farmer)
The food at Fireside by the Patio focuses on Grilled and Wood Fired cuisine, even with brunch.  Being in Southern California, there is also a lot of fresh vegetables on the menu.  For my main course, I went with a Pork Shoulder Skillet with White Beans, Roasted Tomatillos, Jalapeno, Onions, Two Eggs Over-Medium, and Corn Tortillas.  This was very good with a lot of very tender pork that was pulled.  The vegetables were cooked long enough to tenderize them somewhat, but not long enough for them to lose their crispness.  The eggs, I requested over-medium, because while I do like some yolk, I also like my white a little harder.  The Corn Tortillas were very warm and fresh.  My only complaint with the entire dish being that there should have been more of tortillas.  We also had an excellent Brisket Benedict with Roasted Corn, Poached Egg, and Foccaccia, and served with Breakfast Potatoes and a Biscuit with Whipped Butter and Jam on the side.
In addition to my excellent skillet, I saw something on the sides list that I had to have.  It was a Peruvian Potato Salad with Charred Green Beans.  Peru has over 3000 types of potato, but what is referred to as Peruvian Potatoes when they show up on a menu are purple potatoes, which is what these were.  They were cooked, like the vegetables, long enough to achieve some tenderness, but not long enough to let them lose their fresh crispness.  The beans, however, were very crisp, with a good char flavor.  I have to think that they were grilled very quickly on a very hot grill just long enough to get some solid grill marks.  They were mixed together in a typical mayonnaise based sauce and it was very good.  (The Brisket Benedict can be seen in the background with the Breakfast Potatoes).
After this good and hearty brunch, it was time to get to the airport, for our return.  We made it through everything very quickly which left us with over an hour before our flight was to leave, so we decided to finish things off at Stone Brewing's Airport Outpost.  The good thing about visiting a brewery's local outpost (as opposed to finding it in a store or in a bar) is that it will likely be fresher and you will likely find something that you wouldn't be able to find anywhere else.  We finished things off with a Collaboration Beer between Stone and Maine Beer Company (a collaboration in which I would be very interested in finding out how that happened) called Dayslayer India Pale Lager and a hoppy Lager called Who You Callin' Wussie? made by Arrogant Brewing, a side project of Stone.  It was a great finish to a to a good and quick trip.  I am definitely going to have to find a reason to return so I can explore some more.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

San Diego - Day 1

I made a quick trip to San Diego recently, and while other issues took first priority, where we were going to eat was important.  I had never been to San Diego, but I had been interested in it for a while.  It is a military town, specifically a Navy town (and I was in the Navy) and the military influence is obvious for those familiar with it.  It is right on the border with Mexico so there is also a very Mexican influence, and it is a sea, desert, and mountain town.  I knew ahead of time that it had a pretty good beer scene (and a pretty good punk rock scene), so I was interested to see what there was to see.  I will say that the city was surprisingly small and there was much less traffic than I would have expected.  Living in Norfolk, Va, another big Navy town, for four years, the traffic was much worse, so I was very surprised with how easy it was to get around.  We arrived in early afternoon and decided to grab some tacos while making a plan of attack and went to a place called Sarita's Taco Shop in Spring Valley.  The place was small and simple like a typical taco joint, with counter service and seating for about 20.  Generally, when I go to a taco joint in Chicago, I plan on ordering three tacos for a meal.  I did notice that the prices for a taco here were significantly more than the tacos in Chicago, but I also knew that prices in California are a bit more expensive than those in Chicago, so I decided to play it safe and assume that the tacos here would be the same size as those in Chicago.  It would also allow me to maximize the number of tacos I tried.  They had some interesting types of tacos, so I wanted to try what I could and ordered a Cabeza (Head), Birria (Goat), and a Shrimp Taco.  This place is also known for Carne Asada Fries, so these were ordered as well.  A big reason that the tacos cost more than the standard Chicago taco was that they were enormous.  The three tacos and the fries covered our small table.  I started with something that I knew that I would like, the Shrimp Taco.  The shrimp was chopped, shelled (obviously), topped with Pico de Gallo, and served in two tortillas with limes on the side.  The shrimp was sweet and the Pico tasted very fresh, crisp, and slightly spicy.  The lime added a nice contrast of flavor.  After the shrimp, I went for the Birria.  I had had goat before and liked it, but I had never had a birria taco.  Also served in two tortillas with limes, the goat was tender and shredded.  Texturally, it was like pulled pork, but it tasted nothing like that.  Goat has a slightly gamy flavor and it seems to have been braised in a red salsa because it was red and slightly spicy.  It was topped with Cilantro and Onions.  It was very good and I would happily try it again.  I had seen Cabeza Tacos at taco carts around town, but I had not had the opportunity to try one.  I know that the idea of what it is, the meat off of the skull of a cow, might put some people off, but it's meat and I had no problem with the idea of it.  It was served like the Birria, with two tortillas, limes, and topped with cilantro and onions.  It did, however, have the strongest flavor of the three tacos and was the richest.  As it was the third of three large tacos, it didn't get finished.  The Carne Asada Fries I tried (a few times) and they were very good.  It was like Mexican Poutine with crisp fries, chopped and grilled spicy Skirt Steak, Sour Cream, and Cheese.  While it was possible to eat it by hand, a fork did really help.

After we had accomplished what we came out to accomplish, it was time for a drink or two (and some food to help soak up the alcohol).  I had wanted to go to Pizza Port, a regionally famous chain of brew pubs associated with (although independent of) Stone Brewing located in the area known for both their beer and their pizza with many located on the beach.  Fortunately or unfortunately, I read the map wrong and we went to an area where I thought there was a Pizza Port, but was mistaken.  We went to Coronado, a peninsula on the ocean with a lot of Navy presence.  It is very pretty and while we did walk around, it would have been nice, if we had had the time to explore some more.  Luckily, we discovered that there is a brewery located on Coronado, the surprisingly named Coronado Brewing Company.  Located on the north side of the peninsula near one of the many naval bases, it is a low-slung brick building with a Naval/seaside theme.  It was pretty busy, so we had some time to look around before we were seated.  The floors were tile and there was a lot of polished wood that looked very vintage and reminded me of a sailing ship.  Looking into the brewing area, I was very surprised to see Copper Brewing Kettles.  Most kettles nowadays are stainless or aluminum.  There are advantages to copper, it removes sulfites, and provides a micronutrient for the yeast, but it is expensive and the actual differences are small.  It does look really cool in the brewery though.  They also had a one quart canning machine for crowlers (can half-growlers) behind the bar which looked pretty cool.

Before I was seated, I took a look at the beer list and saw that I flight would be in order.  I started, while we were waiting, with a Stay Kolsctal Kolsch.  It was light with a nice flavor, slightly fruity, with a dry finish, and would be a great summer beer.  When we were seated, we went with flights.  It could have been possible to choose 5 IPAs and while I like an IPA, it is generally not my first choice.  I like to experience other flavor profiles than simply hoppy.  Having said that I did choose a few IPA variations.  My list started with Waste the Day XPA, an experimental pale ale that varied the hops from batch to batch.  This batch was lightly hoppy with a slightly funky flavor.  It continued with Waylaid White IPA which was light, starting with a citrus flavor and finishing with a Belgian Saison funk, Conquista IPA (a collaboration with Cigar City Brewing of Tampa Florida, a collaboration I have to wonder how it happened), Sealift Hefeweizen. and Old Scallywag Barleywine, which was my favorite and had the highest alcohol content.  My partner's flight was similar although exchanged Stay Kolsctal Kolsch for the Waste the Day XPA and the Undertow Hoppy Red for the Conquista IPA.  The beers were all very good and despite having several IPAs, they were all very different and they did have several beers that were not IPAs.  As I had had a very large lunch, food was not big on my mind, although I figured that it probably would be a good idea to eat,  I decided to go with an appetizer (which turned out almost big enough for a full meal), the Calamari which were served with Lemon, Tartar Sauce, and Cocktail Sauce.  Despite being breaded and fried, they were some of the tenderest calamari that I have ever had.  The breading was crisp, but the calamari just melted in my mouth.  While I was served both tartar and cocktail sauce and did try both, I thought that these were better with the spicy sweet of the cocktail sauce.  The rest of the menu had a variety of seafood, as well as salads, burgers, pastas, and pizza and did look good.  My partner ordered a fish taco and some very good mussels (not pictured) in a garlic pilsner sauce and served with crispy garlic bread.  Everything was very good and we left nicely full to end day one of our trip. 


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sauce and Bread Kitchen - Foraged Feast

Having gone to several of Sauce and Bread Kitchen's monthly supper club dinners, I am starting to become a regular and become known by the staff.  It is very cool to see what they come up with for each of their dinners.    They do rearrange the space somewhat from dinner to dinner.  Usually my seat of choice is at the counter, but this evening, all of the seating was at two communal tables in the rear of the space.  As they are very creative and it is a BYOB, I try to come up with something interesting to drink.  This time I went with the Double Jungle Boogie American Double/Imperial IPA with notes of Mango, Pineapple, Tea, and a slightly bitter finish that I thought would go well, with what I expected to be the bitterness that would come from the foraged plants that we would be eating. 
For our first course, I did guess correctly on the bitterness because we ate Dandelion Greens which are pretty bitter.  Called a Dandelion Bacon Tartine, the greens were served with Crispy Bacon, a Cherry Tomato, and a light Vinaigrette on Toasted Brioche.  It was crispy, salty, and bitter from the greens and was a lot of fun.  While I did take a few bites of everything together, for the most part, I ate the individual pieces separately which were all good.
For our second course, we had a very interesting salad. It was a Spring Radish salad with Wild Watercress/Mustard Green Seed Pods, Chive Blossoms, and Green Goddess Dressing.  It was very fresh, crisp, and crunchy, with a little spice, and the Green Goddess Dressing added a salty and spicy creaminess.
I was not sure what Kuku was or what it was supposed to look like, but what we were served next, an Herbed Kuku with Stinging Nettles, Cattail Stems, Basil, Wisconsin and Michigan Mushrooms, and Radical Root Eggs.  After having the dish, I thought that I had had a Kuku and a Fritata, still not knowing what a Kuku is.  It is apparently an herbed Iranian egg dish similar to a frittata.  It was served with the Mushrooms and Cattail Stems, and the Stinging Nettle Leaves served on the side.  The kuku was very interesting, a little more dense than a frittata, and the mushrooms, cattails, and nettles, added flavor and texture.  It was very good, even if I didn't exactly know what it was. 
For our final savory dish we had Nashville Style Hot Fish and Chips with Wild Caught Catfish and Peruvian Potato Chips.  The catfish was lightly breaded and was very tender.  The hot sauce was spicy and tart, and the crisp dill pickles that were served on the side were crisp and cut the heat of the hot sauce.  There are over 3000 breeds of potato in Peru, although those potatoes that are generally referred to as Peruvian potatoes are purple as were the potatoes used for the very thin and crisp chips.
To finish things off, we were served what to me was very similar to a Strawberry Shortcake.  Called a Strawberry Romanoff, it started with Angel Food Cake and Strawberries.  Served with it was Strained Yogurt, Rhubarb Syrup, and Violet Flower.  The Angel Food Cake was very light and spongy.  The strawberries were fresh, sweet, and tart.  Both yogurt and rhubarb are sour and they were combined together although the flavors were distinct.  It was all light, sweet, tart, and a great finish to another fine meal.  I enjoyed both my meal and my company both, and I will continue to return.