Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tortillas, Steaks, and a Smackdown

Hot- pink walls covered in luchadores paraphernalia and illuminated by spinning disco balls?

They say time flies by when you're having fun. I'd say there's a lot of truth to it. I had a chance to reunite with a Taiwanese friend of mine whom I met when I was still going to school in Bay Area, California four years ago. She drove down from Irvine to meet me in San Diego. We went for a stroll in in downtown La Jolla and spent hours and hours reminiscing the past. I felt like hours just didn't cut it anymore. I needed days. Or months. It was a lot of remembering what my first few months arriving in the U.S were like. A lot excitement and a lot of adjustment. A lot of laughters and a lot of tears. Who knew, five years later, here I am, ready to leave and see what the other parts of the world have to offer.

Anyways, my friend and I decided to grab a few bites at Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop. Lucha means to fight or wrestle. Libre means free. La Lucha Libre commonly refers to the type of professional wrestling in which fighters are normally masked characters named by a pseudonyme. The term is used in Mexico and other Spanish- speaking countries. The movie Nacho Libre (with Jack Black in it) might ring a bell a little, yes?

Notice that it says "Reserved for Champions." I found out later that apparently you can make a 24-hour-in-advance reservation to self-proclaim your "champion" status.

I had Surf and Turf taco filled with marinated steak, shrimp, & avocado slices, smothered in a special sauce and Queso taco, which was grilled crispy cheese filled with steak and topped with more cheese and avocado slices. Other things on their menu include Tap Me Out, Undefeated Seafood Tacos/Burritos, Smackdown Quesadillas, and TJ Hotdogs (beef hotdog, wrapped in bacon!)

Like most taco shops, Lucha Libre has a small bar at the corner where you can spice up your tacos by making your own sauce. Their cilantro- lime sauce was phenomenal while their steak, on the other hand, was pretty dry. The fresh avocado slices seem to slightly make up for it, though.

I can't believe it's almost October already. I'm now back in Atlanta and trying to post all the San Diego entries as fast as I can before they get outdated. That is if I don't get distracted in between salivating over those winter squash soups that will start popping up all over the blogosphere and ahemm..figuring out what I'm going to do for Halloween.

Taco on Foodista

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Buttery Lobster Tails (with Edible Shells)

I might have made it clear in the past that I'm no way a fan of MTV show Jersey Shore. I did write a blog post about the show though. This doesn't mean I have something against Italians (or what they call themselves - guidos and guidettes). I actually love a lot of things about Italians. Well, to be exact, their food. And the size of it.

We stopped by in Little Italy in San Diego because E had been craving for sfogliatelle (some people call it lobster tail) for a while. Sfogliatelle is a seashell- shaped Italian pastry filled with cream. There's a bakery in town called Cafe Zucchero that's really famous for their cannolis and happen to have sfogliatelle as well. We had to call in advance and asked them to save the sfogliatelle for us. They would've run out of those buttery babies had we not done that. Trust me, the person right in front of us actually asked for them and the wait staff swiftly shook her head.

Here's a video from the TV show Cake Boss showing how they make sfogliatelle:

It was such a bummer. The sfogliatelle turn out to be not impressive at all. It was slightly unacceptable to be honest. The pastry shell was not at all soft nor flaky. The cream isn't the freshest and it's a tad bit on the sour side. It tasted like it had been sitting in the counter forever.

The cannolis on the other hand, were such superstars. The ricotta filling was more on the refreshing side, especially with the endearing presence of the succade (candied citrus). And the chocolate morsels added some kind of depth to the flavor of the cream. Dusted generously with powdered sugar, the shell was quite crunchy judging on the fact that these cannolis might have also been sitting in the counter (I'm guessing - for a shorter period of time than the sfogliatelle did?) for quite some time. The crisp texture could've been brought up a notch but it was far from being soggy.

We couldn't help but noticed the long line that's coming out of Filippi's Pizza Grotto. After changing a few words with some people with some foreign accents, we decided to join the crowd. We were in line for over in hour and decided to take our food to go. Not that the old-fashioned, red-checkered tablecloths didn't entice us enough, but I guess the weather's just too beautiful to pass up. It's a good thing that the pizza (or pie, however you want to call it) was actually worth waiting for.

The bread was insanely good. It must have been a really elastic, stretched, and nurtured with love kind of dough. Please note that I might be a little biased since I'm a sucker for thick, hand-tossed crust. The crust had just the right amount of crunch on the outside and once you dive in, it's pure soft, pillowy goodness. And the cheese, it was the freshest, silkiest, best- tasting mozzarella I've ever had sitting on top of my pizza. The toppings and the sauce weren't bad at all but really, the bread and the cheese outshone everything for me.

The goodness buried under the tomato sauce was a meat lasagna. Look at the size of that meatball. Oh my. I can't really say anything about the lasagna since I didn't take a single bite of it. And oh- the pizzeria is also a delicatessen, it has a good selection of Italian gastronomy from dried salami, specialty pasta, to Sicilian olives.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ocean Beach's Farmers Market in San Diego

Standing in the U.S Airways check-in line at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on my way back from San Diego to Atlanta, I was constantly scrolling my way down the streaming tweets on UberTwitter. There, I finally saw it. A tweet from Atlanta's local meteorologist saying that it was hailing and pouring like crazy. He used a different kind of terminology of course, a more civilized one. At that very moment, I wasn't feeling so glad that Georgia's on my mind. Humid, sticky weather? The non-existence of sandy beaches within 20 miles? Ah, not exactly my favorite place on earth.

So let me indulge myself again by reminiscing all the good times I've had for the past few weeks. Last week I went to Ocean Beach Farmer's Market in San Diego, thanks to E for taking me. A farmer's market isn't all about organic, locally grown produce. It's also about the community and supporting local businesses. And of course, for me, when is an occasion not an occasion to pig out?

These Kyoto grapes were the best grapes I've ever had in my life. If Concord grapes and konyaku jelly got married and had babies, it would be these grapes. They're so plump, soft, juicy, and melts in your mouth type of delicacies. They're not necessarily sweet, but still would be a treat to your taste buds.

This was my first time trying out homemade blinis. I had one osweet with jam filling and the other one was savory with cheese and potato fillings, prepared on the spot by a middle-aged Russian lady. She found it funny that I made several serious attempts on taking pictures of the food. Well lady, obviously we haven't met.

I don't want summer to end too soon. Stay here a little longer, please?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Hillside Spoils of Bogor

Another post from Weigy Widyanputra who's kind enough to share his culinary experience during his stay in Jakarta, Indonesia. Thanks, Weigy!

Hop in a car, drive away from the urban jungle that is Jakarta and in 2 hours, you will find yourself in Puncak, Bogor.

Skyscrapers get replaced with hills, rice paddies and clouds. Shopping complexes get replaced with store-houses selling local food, crafts and daily necessities. The only constant seem to be the traffic; seasoned drivers in both Jakarta and Bogor navigate like lions after gazelles.

The first hour of the drive you will still experience similarity but keep driving. Soon enough there will be only tiny shacks by the side of winding roads, with undulating greens, gently nudged by a cloudy sky.

If there is a consolation to the way we Indonesians drive, Bogor's traffic is sparse on the weekdays. This being the month of fasting also meant a lot of the places were closed in the day. Still, a family run satay shop waved us down, to signal that they are open.

We took a step in and was amazed by the view. This was a concrete-based, wooden-floored shack hanging off the side of a hill. Before us was an unobstructed view of the hills, a calming breeze and a blanket of fog.

Their specialty is "Sate Kelinci", that means "Rabbit Satay / Skewers" and "Sate Kambing", which means "Mutton Satay / Skewers". We ordered both, sat down and took in the view. In my head, I honestly couldn't stop thinking that if we were in any other place, this location would have been capitalized on, made into a fancy restaurant, charging exorbitant prices for a view coupled with okay food. In reality, satay is already served as overpriced, bland, appetizers at misguided fusion restaurants.

The skewers come topped off with fried shallots, bits of red onion, chopped fresh tomatoes and assorted chillies. Basking in both the light and sauce it's resting on, the view got even better.

The rabbit was cooked perfectly, the rabbit was springy but not chewy. The judgement to serve this not drenched by the sauce was also a great move. The consistency was top-notch, the presentation was appetizing and again, it tastes great. The way the meat has been treated matches and in some ways, exceeds some fine French chophouses I've been to. If you are looking for ways to try rabbit as a delicacy, this would be a great way to start. Simple, tasty and unobstructed.

The mutton received the same respect and care, at a glance it is impossible to tell the difference. The aroma sets them apart. The mutton had a more prominent aroma, strong but not overpowering. The fact that the garnish was identical reminded me that the strength in these dishes is in how they've showcased the flavors of each meat. The usual gamey aftertaste of mutton was noticeably smoother and not obtrusive at all. The slight tinge of blackened tips, coupled with a tender core, this is great mutton.

I asked the store-owner / chef if his is the best around here, he humbly replied in Indonesian, "Ah, all are the same, we've all been at this for years and years". It reminds me of a fact: simple eateries in Asia that specializes in one dish excels at it simply because they've been improving on a family recipe for decades. Simple eateries in Asia usually starts as sources of food for the locals who aren't of high or middle-level income brackets. Every ingredient is used to the most, in consideration of nutrition, taste and conservation. There is a delicate balance in the way the food is treated that you won't find in Outback or such.

All this cost me a meager $ 5.00 US. There is no name to this place, you simply have to look for a small turquoise barbecue shack with a great view when you are on your way to the peaks of Puncak (which means peak, by the way).


Photo Credits: Weigy Widyanputra

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"No Shirt- No Shoes- No Problem"

Sounds very So- Cal- ish to me, yes?

Ahh, summer will be over soon. At this point I am still in San Diego, California, with every cell of my body persistently making its own case of telling me not to withdraw myself from the Sunshine State. These days I've pretty much been pampered by the friendly sun and the refreshing ocean breeze that almost emulate a rejuvenating sanctuary - I mean, it helps me clear my head and refrains myself from fulfilling my every-5 second urge to tweet from my Blackberry. But really, what's been doing wonders to me is the constant company of a great girlfriend. Yes, you know who you are E (*wink).

Today E took me to Ocean Beach to try out one of the most popular burger joint in town which boasts more than a thousand reviews on Yelp. We met up with another friend of ours on the spot, who previously warned us about how the waiting line could be quite intolerable. Turned out it wasn't that bad. We waited for 15-20 mins and got seated right away. As you can see, it's got a very laid back, surfer shack kind of ambiance with all the surfboards hanging from the ceilings and the license plate-covered walls.

"No Shirt- No Shoes- No Problem" is their motto.

This is Hodad's that first opened on the beach at the end of Santa Monica Avenue in the very laid back neighborhood of Ocean Beach (or as San Diegans call it, OB) in 1969. Rumor has it they serve the perfect American trifecta: burgers, fries, and shakes. A very generous portion of them. This place is definitely not for the faint-hearted, at least portion-wise. It even got the thumbs up from Guy Fieri on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" on Food Network, agreeing that their bacon cheeseburger is quite a show stopper.

A basket of huge and crunchy deep fried battered onion rings arrived first on our table. A bountiful of them. But really, how many pieces of onion rings can you actually eat? There were four of us but we ended up finishing only half of it. They're not bad, but they're not the best. Especially with the breading looks a little bit darker than it should be, then you know how many times they've reused the oil for frying.

I got the smallest option on the menu called mini cheeseburger, which in my honest opinion, was far from being minuscule. It's almost the same size of an In-n-Out burger, only slighttttly smaller and a lot messier. Perhaps the fact that it's not the biggest burger on the menu has something to do with my patty being just an ok patty. Not juicy enough, not rare enough, not thick enough for me. Things might've been different had I gotten a bigger one, I can't say for sure. But they give you a lot of pickles to go with the burger. I normally like to have everything on my burger and end up eating all of it. But I actually had to get rid of some of them because it was just a little too much. I'm pretty sure this doesn't apply to most of my guy friends.

I didn't get their shakes - I'm not a milkshake person in general. I heard people are raving about it, though. I also heard that they have a pretty good beer selection. I happened to find a recipe of their famous bacon cheeseburger here on the internet. I don't know how close it is to the real thing, since I haven't had the real thing anyways. I'd love to come back for it though. But whatever, the recipe makes me salivate already.

Special thanks to E and A for taking me to Hodad's!