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Monday, March 24, 2008

Cocola: San Jose, CA

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I really don't remember what Town and Country was like- the site of the current Santana Row. What I remember was that Valley Fair, the mall across the street was a formidable giant and still is today. I remember reading in the Mercury News a few years back that it was the top grossing mall in all of California... it should still be looming around that spot today given its lofty shops, wealthy clientèle and the sheer effort required to obtain a parking spot. It seemed like overnight that Santana Row was erected and giving Valley Fair a run for its money. It's design was not a new concept in other metropolitans but very new to San Jose. The developers sought to combine living space with chic restaurants and pricey shops much like the developments that line the streets of Rome, Paris, NY, etc.

I hadn't gotten the chance to visit till recently. By the looks of it, I think the developers succeeded in their vision. There are fancy dining joints most requiring 2 hour waits, stores that can also be found gracing Rome's Spanish Steps or NY's 5th Ave. and living spaces for the young and hip with the means to afford it.

After a filling dinner, a friend and I were searching for a coffee joint to unwind and continue the night away by catching up. I thought of Santana Row... surely there'd be such a place there. We walked around a bit and came across Cocola. It looked inviting and though I've never been to France I'd imagine this to be just like any cafe there.

I perused the desserts in the showcase and decided on a mango mousse and hot chocolate. We then found a table amongst the crowd outside. I was somewhat disappointed to find such a classy looking cafe so poorly bussed. We ended up busing what was left on the unoccupied table we chose.

We were expecting to be at least called when our order was ready since it wasn't going to be brought to us. Not the case... the order was left at the counter with several other orders for us to pick up as we wished. We did already pay so it would have been nice to take a little care in making sure the order got to us. I suppose the cafe adopted some French haughtiness as well.
My hot chocolate was frothy and not too sweet. It was a nice cup of chocolate but I didn't think it was anything to write home about. An overwhelmingly sized cup, I had wished there was a smaller size but the cashier informed me there was only one size for drinks consumed on the premise of the cafe.
I always feel an inclination to get mango-anything. Since I spotted the mango mousse cake I went with that. I was again disappointed now with the plastic cutlery provided for the cake. Plastic cutlery seemed to take away from the presentation of the lovely dessert. The mousse was creamy, smooth and faintly hinted mango. What I believed to be sponge cake which the mousse sat atop didn't taste fluffy at all... in fact it tasted dry and on verge of being stale. B for mousse F for cake.

I've had better drinks, desserts and service but I did enjoy the atmosphere.
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Cocola
333 Santana Row #1045
San Jose, CA 95128
(408)551-0018

I've been tagged!

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I've been tagged by the lovely Andrea Suarez from Stones & Starlings ... be sure to check out her blog and online store at Etsy for beautiful handmade jewelry. She is becoming quite popular ... getting wholesale orders from boutiques and also does custom orders! My friend Crystal whom I've known since I was 5 will be getting married in the fall just ordered some customs designs to wear at her wedding.

Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person that tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
4. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
5. Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.

Six non-important things/habits/quirks about myself (revised):

1. I wanted to own a vanilla orchid plant after watching Simply Irresistible but after some research I found that the name of the plant used in the movie was most likely a factual error.

2. When I was in 4th grade I dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. I was obsessed with whales- I drew, study and thought about whales all the time.

3. My car is named ED. There's a story behind it and if you end up in my passenger seat, you'll probably end up asking me .... everybody who sits in my car for the first time can't help but ask (you would see why).

4. I won a county wide contest for my historical essay on San Jose's Japantown.

5. I almost always buy a cooking/food related magazine at the stand when I'm flying.

6. I'm a Greek/Roman myths nerd. I would be giddy in AP Lit class to be the only one to answer questions on allusions, metaphors and references.


The 6 blogs I'm tagging:


1.) Chubby Panda- The Epicurious Wanderer

2.) Clayfu + Food= Clayfood

3.) Foodhoe's Foraging

4.) Menu in Progress

5.) mmm-yoso

6.) Wandering Chopsticks

Friday, March 21, 2008

El Indio: San Diego, CA

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I'm still in the Bay Area but I should really complete the second part of my eating trip from last weekend. So here it goes. :)

Our meal at Blue Water was mighty delicious and we did have a fair amount of food yet we didn't quite feel satiated probably due to not eating lunch that day. A few days prior we had watched a local special which had a section on El Indio, alleged creator of the taquito in the early 40's after demand from customers for a quick take away lunch. As it happens, we actually pass by this place often but never thought to give it a run. Being a block away and still in search of sustenance we decided to try their taquitos.

 
It was around 7ish when we walked into an incredibly packed El Indio . I had never seen a Mexican joint so brimming with people. Though pleasantly surprised I felt confident about the food. We ordered three taquito specials- a taquito with cheese and guacamole.

I've had some pretty bad taquitos. Any of you who attended grade school in California and had the unfortunate experience of eating an overcooked stale taquito from the cafeteria know what I'm talking about. A scaring introduction to taquitos wasn't aided by equally stale ones I've samples at several of the "berto's"(Alberto's, Roberto's, etc.)

I was thus gleeful when I bit into one of these- greeted with a freshly fried crunch shell stuffed with moist shredded beef. Though the actual taquito was great, I think the serving of cheese and guacamole are on the scant side. I also thought the salsa bar was quite small as well.

I do recommend not coming at a peak hour for some more elbow room.
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El Indio
3695 India St.
San Diego,CA
(619) 299- 0333
8am-9pm daily
http://www.el-indio.com/index.html

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Catch Me in the Bay Area!

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I'll be visiting my family in San Jose from March 19th-27th. I'll try to post once or twice while I'm up there but I'll be very busy with family stuff so try is the operative word. My mom informed me that she and my dad have visited some restaurants serving up awesome food since my last visit and would like to take me to try as well. I'll make sure to take lots of pictures/notes and report back. See y'all back here definitely when I get back to San Diego. :)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill: San Diego, CA

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This past weekend EHK had to work quite a bit. I really don't like it when he has to work on the weekends because it takes away from such a nice respite. Afterwards, we didn't quite know what to do for dinner. I had thought about dropping by the Fish Market to pick up some Kumamoto oysters (and whatever else was good) since they had them in stock. Then EHK mentioned Blue Water where he and the boys met up a few days ago to catch up and grub. I was instantly interested since I had missed out so I met him at his work and we headed on down.

I was warned that this was not a fancy place. I guess he and the boys were mistaken about what type of place this was. One of them came in a tuxedo shirt and EHK ironed one of his best shirts for the occasion. Despite the very casual atmosphere I was assured that the food was excellent. It's an order and pay type place but they do bring the food to your table. EHK did all the ordering and I perused the fresh seafood case. They had a very nice, fresh selection and I'd definitely stop by and buy some if I were in the area in the future.
The first dish to come out was an appetizer of a half order of Washington(?) oysters ($10.95). So I've heard from most people that oysters should be consumed swallowed and not chewed. I personally don't understand how you can get a maximum feel for the flavor without chewing. After all, chewing and macerating the food is part of the tasting and digesting process. So you can count me in as a chewer while EHK is a swallower of oysters. The oysters were very fresh, meaty, tender and sweet. A nice alternative just short of going out and nabbing your own oysters.
EHK ordered a Seared Blackened Ahi plate ($17.95) for me. It came with buttery basmati rice and a fresh chopped salad. The Ahi was well seasoned and incredibly tender... so tender that you could just cut it with the fork. The rice it came with was equally as tasty. The perfume of butter caught me and I think I'll be asking for double portion of rice to replace the salad next time. Don't get me wrong, the salad was good and cleansing after the tuna and rice but the rice was YUM.
EHK ordered a Calamari Steak Sandwich ($6.95) but he shared half of it with me (I shared half of my plate with him so no I wasn't food hoarding). I was kinda hoping that this sandwich would come with some fries but I didn't read the menu thoroughly as it didn't and we didn't feel like getting back in line to order some. The sandwich was very tasty- the bread was toasty and filled with tender, breaded calamari steak. There was quite a bit of tomatoes and I'm not fond of eating it in a sandwich as it makes the sandwich slide around. Ever get to the end of a sandwich that had tomatoes in it and you left with an uneven amount of bread and filling? It bugs me so I just eat the tomato on the side. Looks over mayo-ed right? I'm one of those people who actually likes a lot of mayo/spread on my sandwich so it didn't bug me at all.

EHK says the clam chowder isn't so good here but the food that we did eat in this review was tasty so I'll recommend the above dishes.
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Blue Water Seafood Market & Grill
3667 India St.
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 497-0914

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Recipe: Shellfish with Lemongrass and Coconut Cream

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I haven't always been the biggest fan of shellfish. I had a traumatizing experience as child involving a poorly cleaned clam that left me with a mouthful of gritty specked clam flesh. I was a kid at the time and temperamental so I refused to give it another try until several years down the road when that memory had somewhat faded. Gritty shellfish still remains one of my pet peeves (for lack of a better word I can think of at the moment) which is why I say a little prayer when I do eat out that it has been cleaned and soaked properly.

EK and I are however now big shellfish lovers. It's so quick, simple and fuss free to prepare. A short trip to your local fish shop for what's in is always a nice departure from the gargantuan impersonal supermarkets. Since I live up in Carmel Valley area(by the 5 and 56), the closest shop to me would be The Fish Market by the Del Mar Fairgrounds/Racetrack. I really like the quality, variety and service here. I talked to the fish monger about what my plans for the shellfish were so he recommended manila clams and green mussels. I usually order about 2 x's more clams than mussels since they are more heavier and I also tend to like to eat them more.

EK complains that I can be a little methodical and stringently follow a recipe sometimes, not allowing myself to be more free and creative. HAH! I had all of the below ingredients leftover from cooking this past week so I decided to throw them together and ta-dah! We steamed some jasmine rice to accompany the shellfish and soak up the yummy shellfish flavored, coconut-y curry. The rice did turn out to be what we felt was a necessary side. The curry mixed with the rice was just plain delicious and I felt content eating it even after all the shellfish was gone.

Ingredients
  • 2 lbs of shellfish
  • 1- 1 1/2 cups of dry white wine
  • 2 tbs. of your favorite curry powder/ paste
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass chopped finely
  • 4 stalks of scallions chopped finely
  • 1 cup of coconut cream
  • bunch of cilantro chopped
  • 1 red chili sliced
  • ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Clean and soak shellfish thoroughly to make sure all the grit is gone.
  2. Place wine, curry powder/paste, lemongrass and scallions in pan. Heat and stir to desolve the curry. Heat medium-medium/high till alcohol is gone.
  3. Place heavier shellfish into pan first as this will take longer to cook. Cover and shake pan from time to time. Place lighter shellfish 2 to 3 minutes in as these should take a shorter time to cook. Take out shellfish as they open so they don't overcook. Complete cooking time should take 4-6 minutes at medium/high.
  4. Arrange shellfish on serving plate with some depth or a lip to hold the liquids in the end.
  5. Pour liquids from the pan through a strainer into a bowl. Discard lemongrass and scallions.
  6. Mix liquid with coconut cream, chopped cilantro and slice red chili. Add ground black pepper to taste. Pour over shellfish and you are ready to dig in!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Yogurt Lounge: San Diego, CA

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In the wake of the rise of popularity in Pinkberry, there have been a whole host of new shops popping up with Pinkberry-like frozen treat. Some shops like Pinkberry sell by the cup size while others like Yogurt Lounge sells by the oz. I really like the tart flavored yogurt-like dessert that these places sell but I have a beef with the prices. I feel that Pinkberry is slightly pricey for what it is and they are incredibly stingy with their serving. C'mon weighing the cup!!!! Seriously I don't think this is necessary at all. On the other hand selling by the oz. is deceptive. At Yogurt Lounge and Yogurt World it is sold at $.38/oz. You think that's pretty cheap right? Until you see all the flavors and toppings they have. You want to try it all and the next think you know you'll be forking over more than you what you thought you would when you walked in.

EHK and I have been fans of Teri Cafe for quite some time and it's first on our list when we are craving for some chicken terriyaki/katsu or ramen. Recently we noticed Yogurt Lounge open up a few doors down but didn't get around to trying it out for a while due to the cool weather. I had a conversation with JH a few weeks ago about the original tart flavor at various shops and she mentioned that I had to try Yogurt Lounge. I do like Pinkberry but at this point the closest location is still in Temecula. Why they put one up there and not smack dab in the middle of Convoy St. is something I can't fathom. Thus I don't have Pinkberry very often. A few months ago Yogurt World opened up but the first flavors were sweet flavors which I wasn't a fan of and didn't visit again until 2 weeks ago to taste the original tart which is just ok. Next to open up was Red Berry which had a nice taste but the texture was a little gritty. Personally I think Red Berry has the best deal. It's slightly cheaper than Pinkberry and you can pack on toppings on every size except for the small. Then there was Yogurt Lounge! I really like the flavor of the original tart here- it's lightly sweetened, perhaps less sweet than Pinkberry's version. It's quite tart and very smooth.

The one thing I'd change about this place is the cashier. I always see an older, not so friendly and helpful gentleman there. I'd think with such a decor that exudes youthfulness that you'd want at least a cheerful youthful looking attendant working the cashier as well. Oh well, I'm here for the frozen yogurt and not to make goggly eyes with the attendant so I'm not going to make a bid fuss.

*TIP*: the frozen yogurt is a little on the runnier side so give it a short first pump before you start filling your cup and you'll be fine.
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Yogurt Lounge
7317 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92101

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sushi Ota (revisited): San Diego, CA

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If you love sushi and you are in the vicinity of San Diego there is a good chance you've heard of this place or have given it a run and thus become hooked. I wrote about this place approximately a year ago and you can read it here. EHK and I used to save visiting Sushi Ota for special occasions but as of last October became frequent regulars - coming every or every other Saturday when in town. Along with our change in visiting frequency, or seating and ordering preferences have changed as well. We were big proponents of siting across from each other when we first started dating... its tough to maintain a conversation when siting side by side. So that meant siting "with the commoners" (as another regular put it) in the general dining area. I was blissfully ignorant for about 2 years! Heck the food and service was good so I didn't have much to complain about. At that time when EHK introduced me to Sushi Ota I had little experience in this delicious frontier. According to Jason on jatbar, I was experimenting with level 2 of 5 in sushi eating. Pathetic right? During those 2 years of being content in the general dining area I gradually worked up to level 3 and started touching on 4.

One day about a year ago, MK told us there was no comparable way to eat sushi like eating it at the bar in a good place. So we decided to give it a run and we were hooked. We've found that you can develop a good relationship with your itamae (sushi chef) thus leading to better cuts, more creativity, offerings of stuff not on the menu and better pricing. We've ate with several different chefs at Sushi Ota but one day we sat with Robert aka Atsushi and decided that we couldn't eat with another chef. He's originally from LA, I believe Lancaster and got an Electrical Engineering degree from SDSU but decided that working in that field wasn't for him. Good for us! He's been there 3rd longest behind Ota-san and his brother. His creations are exquisite, creative and tasty. His family is in the sushi business so I suppose it was only natural that he followed in suit. He commands quite a following of regulars so it's not uncommon to see other regulars and get to know their tastes as well.

When we first started siting with Robert we were used to ordering from the menu and stuck with that. He gradually weaned us from that by offerings of things not on the menu. We became intrigued and then I remembered Captain Jack leaving a comment on my old post saying he usually gets the omakase (chef's choice, entrust) with Ota-san. We asked Robert about it and he told us it was a multi course meal of different types of food but since we loved sushi so much he could make it a point to make it a sushi centered omakase for us. Thus began our real adventures into the sushi world. Every trip since then has been a different but wonderful tasting experience and we've been flirting with level 5!. Below are photos of our latest excursion.

We started off with 2 appetizers. The first was snow crab wrapped in sugar/ rice vinegar(I think?) marinated cucumber. I've had good experiences with cucumber wrapped anything and gleefully accepted this appetizer.


The second was miso marinated baby octopus. The octopus was just lightly chewy and the miso lent a nice flavor. I wanted to ask how this was harvest but forgot to. I definitely will next time.

 
Oh my we were so surprised to get a serving of toro so early. I'm always giddy with delight when I eat this. Toro prepared any way is just plain out of this world. I always feel that you don't have to take too much effort to consume this. Maybe a bite or two and the rest just melts like butter in the mouth.


I'm such a fan of salmon belly. Robert offered us salmon belly with a balsamic reduction sauce. It was interesting and different but just as buttery and tasty as the plain version.


The yellowtail was pretty good- light, tender with a subtle flavor. However, I'm a bigger fan of the jumbo yellow tail.


Robert presented us with very intrigue dish of baby sea eel and a small bowl of ponzu sauce for dipping. It was tasteless except for the taste of ponzu sauce that it was dipped in and the textures was soft and squishy. He told us that these were caught in the wild off the coast of Japan. Quite impressive! I can't imagine being able to catch these little critters.


We were informed that they grate fresh wasabi here. I'm not the biggest fan of wasabi so I don't use much of it.

 
I've had some terrifying experiences with oysters but EHK encouraged me to try the Kumamoto oysters with him(they are in the fancy shaped bowl). On this plate was also a piece of Japanese King mackerel and a snow crab leg. I'm glad I gave the oysters a run. They weren't extremely meaty but very tender, amazingly sweet and I love anything with a hit of ponzu sauce. EHK loved the Japanese King mackrel and didn't use any of the accompanying sauce but I wasn't really digging it. The snow crab was sweet and meaty but I like their Alaskan King crab which is way sweeter and meatier but more of a challenge to eat.

 
Next up was ama-ebi. I love shrimp but the wasabi was a little strong on this one. So much that it started to tickle my nose.


Robert really likes the "5 chiles of Japan" marinade. On the left is toro and the right is maguro. Of course you gotta start with maguro in this offering. The marinade is a little strong with maguro as there is no fat to cut it. The toro is really the way to go... the fattiness cuts and is a perfect complement to the spicy marinade. I've told Robert that I like this marinade with the toro(anything toro is good) several times but I suppose offering it to us like this makes us relish the toro more.


Next up was the head of the sweet shrimp lightly fried, asparagus and Japanese mustard leaf in a small pool of ponzu sauce. I'm not big on shrimp heads so I didn't enjoy it as much as EHK. I really liked the mustard leaf though... it had a very nice light crunch to it and ponzu for dipping!


Monk fish liver aka foie gra of the sea. I love just about anything liver and this isn't an acception. So deliciously rich and smooth the rice did do a nice job of making it not too overpowering.

  Marinated sea scallops! I used to think that scallops were hit or miss. I'd hate to get a mouthfull of scallops mixed with gritty sand... it's possibly the worst seafood experience for me. However I've had this numerous times with Robert and it always sliky smooth, light and refreshing.


Fried smoked fish roe sandwiched with daikon and a small mound of Japanese rhubarb. I'm deathly afraid of daikon ... there's a belief in my family that daikon gives you white hair or speeds up aging. My dad looks 10-15+ years younger than his actual age so I'll take advice on how to maintain a youthfull appearance from him to heart. I tried it just this once and I have to say I'm not hankering to try it again. The roe was interestingly crispy and smoky which contrasted greatly withe plain crisp taste of the daikon. I really don't remember much about the rhubarb other than it was marinated with miso.


Orange clam was the last thing we tried. It was a litter more chewier than I'd prefer. The flavor was very light and subtle. I'm still experimenting with subtle flavors. I'm so used to strong, in your face flavors and would very much like to learn how to appreciate the more delicate ones.

 
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Sushi Ota
4529 Mission Bay Dr.
San Diego, CA 92109
(858)270-5670
M: 5:30pm-10:30pm
Tu-F: 11:30am-2pm, 5:30pm-10:30pm
Sa-Su: 5pm-10:30pm

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