Tag Archives: san diego

The Cosmopolitan – Old Town San Diego

In a completely separate conversation than the other Restaurant Week Fiasco, I was invited to The Cosmopolitan in Old Town for dinner and to experience some of the new dishes new chef Andrew Sasloe had created for San Diego Restaurant Week. Travis and I hardly ever visit Old Town, and then usually only if we have guests in town. The last time we’d been in Old Town, there were still ladies making fresh tortillas in front of Casa de Bandini… So, naturally, I was curious to see how The Cosmopolitan looked and how the food was.

We were greeted by Catherine Miller, one of the investors and, I suppose I’ll call her, general manager and then led to where Delle and her husband were waiting. It was actually very nice to be able to sit with Delle and chat for a bit, since it’s rare I ever get to meet the PR people who generously invite us to so many events. We learned that The Cosmopolitan is meant to reflect the time of early San Diego development, which is why the menu includes a lot of American dishes. It used to be solely American dishes but its hard to be a restaurant in Old Town and not offer some sort of Mexican fare. For that reason, their Restaurant Week menu was actually two menus: an American menu and a Mexican menu, but you could order off either one and mix and match dishes.

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Izakaya Tajima – Shabu Shabu

If you’ve ever craved shabu shabu in San Diego, you know that there aren’t very many options, the ones available can be expensive, and they usually aren’t that great (i.e., craving not really satisfied). [ed. note – if I’m wrong and you
know of an awesome shabu shabu spot, please tell me!!]

After the Great Restaurant Week Snafu of 2011, we still needed to get dinner and there was no point in just turning around and going home. There had been twittering earlier about shabu shabu (or maybe hot pot? Or both?) and Darlene mentioned she was going to try the shabu shabu at Tajima, an option I was not aware of. So, being close the area and also on the early end of dinner time, we thought we’d check it out as well. There are two Tajimas: the Noodle House is located on Convoy and Izakaya is on Mercury. Shabu shabu is on the menu at Izakaya, but not the Noodle House (as far as I can tell).

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Smashburger open in Kearny Mesa

One might think with Smashburger opening in Kearny Mesa just weeks after their Rancho Penaquitos opening, one might get tired of burgers and shakes and fries, oh my! If that’s what you’re thinking, you’d be wrong – it kind of just makes me crave a delicious burger even more.

Once again, I was graciously invited to the sneak peek preview night in Kearny Mesa and happily ran into fellow bloggers: Mary of Foodies: a southern california food blog, Jenny of Vintage Sugarcube, Kirbie of Kirbie’s Cravings, and Marie of Meandering Eats. Travis had other plans that night, so I asked my friend Ben if he’d like to join me that night. Since he hadn’t been to Smashburger at all before, I was excited to show him how awesome the night was going to be.

I’m trying to be a better blogger, so I made sure to pack my camera in my purse the night before. Wouldn’t you know it, I had no memory card in the camera because I had recently downloaded pictures onto my computer and forgot to put it back in! And I wasn’t carrying a spare card. Boo. I managed to take a few pics on my iPhone, but since it’s an OLD iPhone 3G(not even a 3GS!!) the photos aren’t as great as they could be. I was actually quite sad about this because I think we ordered some of the best items that night.

After learning about Smashburger’s secret menu, I was very excited to try and order something “off menu”. I realize I could also get there by creating my own burger, but it’s so much easier to call it out by name and I wanted a Sin City burger. The fried egg on top called to me. The girl taking our order hadn’t keyed one in before, so there was a little bit of suspense as we waited to see what kind of burger was delivered [spoiler: the Sin City burger arrived]. I had never had a San Diego Smashburger, so we ordered one of those, as well as a Spicy Baja chicken sandwich (grilled), and a chili cheese dog. For sides, we ordered Smashfries, fried pickles, haystack onions, and veggie frites. I’ve ordered the veggie frites before and was perplexed by them, so I wanted to see if they were still the same [more spoilers: they are].

Read on to view our burger bounty…

Taste of Downtown

update: Taste of Downtown was rescheduled due to the crazy San Diego blackout – hope you can all make it!

This Thursday, September 29, 2011 is the 12th Annual Taste of Downtown – are you going?  I’ve never been to a Taste of Somewhere event, so I’m looking forward to walking the streets of the Gaslamp (and environs), courtesy of McFarlane Promotions.

With over 50 restaurants handing out tasty bites, I’m wondering if I’ll need to take advantage of the shuttle running between the three downtown areas… maybe it’s best if I just power-walk everywhere to burn more calories.

Have you been to Taste of Downtown before?  Any favorite spots to hit?  Any advice for this newbie?

Keep reading to see who’s participating this year…

Bali Hai – grand opening party

Our friends Cami and Jeff (who live down the street from us, which is just awesome) are huge tiki fans. They are also really creative with a good eye for decorating. I managed to paint my walls a non-white color; they’ve transformed their house into gorgeous scenes, including a tiki bar, collections of vintage tiki mugs, and various lamps that look like they belong, not like they were just strung up from the ceiling (which is how it would look if I tried to do such decorating). I’m pretty sure they introduced me to Bali Hai (and the infamous mai tais).

They love Bali Hai so much, they gave friends of ours a gift certificate… and then Bali Hai shut down for renovation. To be honest, the Bali Hai pretty much meant strong drinks and a gorgeous view to me. I’d eaten there a couple of times, but nothing on the menu really called out to me. And, if you know me, you know that if a place doesn’t have great food, I’m hard pressed to hang out there a lot. Then I heard that along with renovating the look of Bali Hai, there was also a new chef who would be turning out a revamped menu. That certainly got my attention.

So, when JWalcher Communications invited me to the grand opening party and mentioned there would be sample bites from the new menu, I was ready to go. I even finagled an invite for Cami and Jeff (who were equally excited, if not more so) and we all headed down on April 21st to see if the new Bali Hai lived up to all our expectations.

Bali Hai did an amazing job with the renovations. I’m no tiki expert, but the ones I was with were thoroughly impressed with the way the renovation design was handled. It looks bright and clean, but retains that old-school tiki charm without being cheesy, outdated, or too modern. They’ve added an outside patio to the second level (where the restaurant is) and built a beautiful pavilion outside. If you’ve been to Bali Hai previously, you might remember that funny room off to the right that didn’t seem to flow with the rest of the restaurant. That space has been opened up and serves as a bar/lounge area. So now, if you just want to go up and enjoy some drinks, you have a place to hang out! There’s a small private dining room that looks perfect for celebrating special occasions (or maybe even non-occasions with a large group!) and, of course, the gorgeous window views are all along the perimeter.

Admiring the views and wood craftsmanship is great, but we all know I was there for the food. You can check out the lunch or dinner menus here, or go to the website for the full range of food and bar menus.

Knowing I can’t handle Bali Hai-level cocktails on an empty stomach, I started with a pina colada and then walked the perimeter to ogle the food stations. When we walked in, there were food stations set up in the downstairs bar area, coolers of beverages outside, and then food stations set up around the bar upstairs. We started there (and I hear it was a little less jam-packed than the downstairs area). Our first bite was the Bali Hai take on loco moco. Loco moco is such a Hawaiian dish, you can go to McDonald’s and find it on the menu (something I have done more than once, along with ordering Spam, rice, and eggs). Bali Hai’s version is top sirloin steak with “oven dried mushrooms, green peppercorn demi glace, and sauce gribeche”. As an entrée, you’d get it with a side of rice. As a tasty bite, it was tasty, especially with the diced hard boiled eggs in the sauce gribeche (a nice touch, I think).

"loco moco"

The next bite was a slice of seared ahi topped with a raisin compote, which somehow paired really well with the ahi. It’s not something I would have considered as a sauce, and if I had seen it on a menu I may have paused, but having tasted it, I was pleasantly surprised.

seared ahi

Somewhere around then we snagged a skewer of tomato and watermelon that was being passed around. It’s served as a salad, with pistachios, feta cheese, and a balsamic syrup. I love watermelon (I even love mediocre watermelon as long as it isn’t mushy) and this was sweet and refreshing and well-balanced by the feta and balsamic. I also ate it before even thinking of taking a picture. Sorry. But! I did get a picture of the ahi tartare that was being passed (actually, I made Travis chase the girl down and snag one for me… being “media” I have all sorts of crazy demands). It’s served on a cracker bread, with pine nuts, on top of a dollop of avocado (more like guacamole). I love avocados and I love ahi and had no objections to scarfing it all down. Yum. I wonder if it’s served in a bowl and you assemble it yourself, or if it comes already plated onto the crackers…

ahi tartare

Then we moved onto the crispy spring rolls, which were hot but a tiny bit soggy on the bottom. They were good, but they were also kind of just spring rolls. Nothing really outstanding or new (that I could taste).

crispy rolls

It started getting pretty crowded and loud upstairs, but we had a nice table by the window, so I sent Travis downstairs to see what he could find. There was a guy playing music in the upstairs lounge area, which contributed to the noise level, but I was mostly entertained when he said something along the lines that most of the folks in the room probably weren’t around in the 1970s (maybe he was going to play a song?) If you looked around (at least from where I was sitting), I’d be willing to bet that quite a few people were definitely “around” in the 70s. Then Travis came back and reported that there appeared to be calamari and coconut shrimp, but the trays were empty. He did bring back a little short rib dumpling, surrounded by herbs and fried cellophane noodles. The first one we ate wasn’t hot, but it was still good. Later that night we got a hot one and it was even better.

"pho" shortrib dumpling

Somehow, we also missed the kahlua pork sliders (which I can’t find on any menu…) but the small taste I had off Cami’s plate was tender and flavorful. At this point, we decided to venture outside and downstairs and see the rest of the place. The new outdoor pavilion is a nice space and I’m betting there will be many events held there in the summer. Everyone else admired the look and the view; I discovered there was food inside and made a beeline for what looked like a grill. That was next to a buffet dish. That held pork loin in some sauce with bits of pineapple sprinkled around. Which is also not on the menu. This is a shame, because the pork was probably the best bite I ate all night (so tender and juicy!) I will have to do more investigating. While I was nibbling at the pork that is not on the menu, Darlene and Paul wandered in! And that was probably the extent of my “social media networking”.

tasty pork

After my pina colada and then a Midori+pineapple juice, I was pretty much done drinking. We explored the downstairs bar, confirmed that there were no calamari or coconut shrimp to be found, snagged a beef skewer (an appetizer on the lunch menu), and then went back upstairs because some boys wanted another drink. It took them a long time to get their drinks from the bar (it was really crowded), so Cami and I enjoyed sitting in the lounge area. Plenty of good people watching.

All in all, we were very pleased with Bali Hai. I can’t wait to go back for dinner and go through the menu, since it looks like any dish would make me happy. I’m glad they kept the “Chicken of the Gods” dish but don’t have the ubiquitous macadamia-crusted fish dish. I’m also happy to report that the mai tais and Navy Grogs are as boozy as ever!

Travis and a boozy me

Since we were in the area, we decided to also indulge at The Pearl with some bacon confit (So. Good.) and beers. We also had to watch the beginning of The Neverending Story, which really does seem to never end. And then I found out Alice Q did the same thing – chased her Bali Hai with some Pearl tastiness!

A huge Mahalo to Robert for the Bali Hai invitation. We had so much fun and can’t wait to go through the full menu!

Bali Hai on Urbanspoon

and we’re back! but not really

I’m going to tell you right now that hosting a conference is fun, exciting, exhausting, and fun. It’s a conference Travis and I have attended for the last five years as it’s moved around the Western U.S. and we have met so many young engineers in that time. I can’t believe all our planning (and I mean the planning of our entire San Diego group) is over, and at the same time I am so glad. Coming back home on Sunday, my mind was just exhausted and all I wanted to do was sit down and not think (I also ended up taking a nap).

You may think an engineering conference is boring and you would be correct in most cases. This conference, though, is a conglomerate of chapter officers and leaders and the sessions are targeted to learning more about all the different groups. An insider networking event, you could say. This year, I came back with the realization that Younger Members are the middle child of the ASCE family. There are general Section members and staff, and there are the college students – each are recognized and easily identified. The Younger Members kind of get forgotten. Don’t get me wrong, people know we’re there, but I’m not sure they know what we do. We’re mistaken for college students by the general members; students think we’re just old. But the truth is that we are a significant group, not just in size but in participation. We are the heart of enthusiasm for ASCE and it’s our members who try to keep the momentum going, who reach out to kids trying to decide if math is really worth learning, and who spend our Saturdays building houses, cleaning up beaches, and setting up events in the rain. We sit on ASCE committees, get involved in policy decisions, and create open communication across the country. And we also know how to have fun.

What impresses me most is the fact that you will see people returning from our socials at 1 am… and then you’ll see them bright and early and the 7 am breakfast. We go to these conferences to enjoy ourselves, but we take the sessions seriously, too. It’s an organization and a group I’m proud to be a part of.

It’ll probably take me a good part of the week to get back into the groove of things, not including all the post-conference wrap up and work catch up I’ll be doing. But we had a completely amazing time and it was really enjoyable seeing people have fun in our city.

Some notes:

· We used Five Star Tours for buses, which we used for a social night in PB, technical tours, the pre-conference tour, and our awards banquet. They had the best quote and did a good job, for the most part. My advice would be to make sure both drop-off and pick-up locations are clearly stated on the contract if they aren’t the same spot.

· For as complicated as they made things right up to the moment we got there, Stone Brewing (and the Bistro) did a fantastic job giving us a tour of the brewery AND treatment plant and accommodating over 40 of us for dinner and drinks.

· Dussini’s Loft Bar was a spectacular location for our Awards Banquet, but you don’t even want to know how much we spent there.

· Going to Farmhouse Café for brunch on Sunday, with good strong coffee and some quiet was outstanding. I also love how everything on their menu is delicious, so I never have to worry about ordering the wrong thing.

I used to have quippy titles

Now it takes too much brain energy and I just tell you what I’m going to tell you. I must be doing too much technical writing lately (you know, where you Tell them what you’re going to tell them, Tell them, and Tell them what you told them).

Back when we thought everyone was going to be in town (Travis included) for some birthday dinnering, Travis made reservations at Alchemy for me. The girls had been there before (girls + baby, I guess) and I had their vegetarian tasting menu (which was very filling and delicious) and we thought this would be a good time for Travis to finally get down there. I’m sure the fact that it’s next to Hamilton’s had nothing to do with the suggestion. So, plans were made, then people were being sent out of town, plans were tweaked a little and in the end I had a second birthday dinner with ¾ of our friends, minus one Travis.

I feel compelled to tell you about our dinner because 1) it was really good and 2) Alchemy is getting negative press by the regulars on that site. The All Important Collective Voice of That Site says that service at Alchemy is terrible and they are always rushing their diners and bringing new food out before you’ve finished the food in front of you. So, potential new customers who were looking for advice have now decided that Alchemy is no place for them and they will not go try it. Which is a shame. Now, you could say that as a happy customer it’s practically my duty to put my two cents in and say that I’ve always had great service (although, I’ve only been there twice) and never felt rushed. I could do that, except I’m not fond of public flogging or creating undue stress for myself, so I’m not posting anything. If I did enjoy public flogging, I would also post that I very much enjoy meals at Thee Bungalow, a restaurant owned by that wretched Cohn Group that is somehow ruining the food scene in San Diego? I just don’t get the attitude on That Site.

So. My birthday dinner? Delicious. I had printed out an e-mail from being on the mailing list that got us the tapas of the day, which was essentially fried cheese. Kind of like taking halloumi cheese, deep frying it, and serving it with a tiny pile of dressed greens (which did a good job of cutting the richness of the cheese). We also had a bowl of the parmesan frites, which were hot, crisp, and cheesy. Like the best garlic fries but without the garlic (or garlic breath). The boys had the burger (which must have been good because it was polished in no time), Abbey had the flat iron steak, and I went for the braised pork shank (my other choice was going to be the seasonal pan braised wahoo). Think of a good osso bucco, then replace the veal with pork and make it smaller. My pork was tender, not dry at all, and it tasted like a really good pig. There was a tiny bit of marrow in the bone, which I shamelessly dug out with my knife, and it was served with braised kale and a mini cast iron dish of sweet potato puree. Yum. I don’t really like braised kale (I prefer it in soups or oven-baked into crisps) but that’s only because it tastes rough and healthy. I mean, it tastes good, it just tastes healthy. I ate everything on my plate, though. I could probably have eaten another dish of those sweet potatoes.

You can’t have a birthday dinner without dessert, and mine was the chocolate trio: a chocolate-chipotle crème brulee (subtly spicy and creamy), a chocolate-peanut butter truffle (a bit too rich, actually), and a chocolate crunch thing topped with salted caramel (crisp and crunchy, buttery, and delicious). The chocolate crunch part was my favorite.

We ordered the tapas, then the parmesan frites, and then ordered our entrees when the drinks arrived. I don’t remember feeling like I had to wolf down what was on my plate because the next plate of food was arriving. Our water was filled regularly and our server came by often to check on us. Granted, it wasn’t very busy that night, but I didn’t feel ignored or rushed.

I also want to point out that both times I’ve been to Alchemy, it was with a baby. Now, he’s almost one so he can sit in a real high chair (although, the high chair seemed too low for the table), but the first time I don’t think he was able to sit up, so he stayed in his carrier. My point is, the people at Alchemy have always been super baby-friendly. They helped figure out the best way to stick the carrier in an upside-down high chair, they don’t mind the mess or the fussing (I don’t think he really fusses loudly, anyway), and the other night they picked up whatever toy was thrown on the floor with a smile. I’ve never had anything but friendly and good service at Alchemy. And I like the food.

Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that Travis got sent to Tucson. Now we’ll have to go back so he can try the food!