Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Seven favorite bites & sips in San Diego

Even though SD is only two hours away (less... if you drive like a speed demon), with so many going ons in the rest of SoCal I'm lucky to make it down there twice a year. So when I do have the occasion to go, I try to make every moment, bite and sip worthwhile.

This most recent expedition (where I was helping out at a friend's wedding, then took a few extra days to explore on my own) was no exception. 

Of course, this made the task of narrowing down my favorites even harder, but I manage to eke out a top seven from the area . . .

7) Rye So Serious from Groundswell Brewing (Grantville)
Groundswell Brewing
While I'm no stranger to the burgeoning craft beer scene down here (and I did visit my longtime favorites of Ballast Point & Lost Abbey this time around), I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting breweries to try. Thanks to @VisitSanDiego's pointer to check out Grantville area breweries, including recently opened Groundswell Brewery.

Although the tasting room is pretty bare bones, they more than make for it with their whimsically named, creatively-flavored beers. My favorite of the four I tasted is definitely the pumpkin-infused Rye So Serious, where the typical spicy-bitterness of the rye ale is nicely balanced with the earthy-sweetness of the pumpkin. Alas, since this is a seasonal beer I don't expect it to stay on the menu long, but at least my runner-up (the Ginger Saison) is in their standard year-round lineup!

6) "Garden & Grains" from Juniper and Ivy (Little Italy)
Garden & Grains @ Juniper and Ivy
From a quick search for popular SD restaurants, this seems to be the *it* spot of the moment so I made a timely reservation to check it out (and it wasn't until later that I learned it was headed by Top Chef All Stars winner Richard Blais.)

Given my overindulgence earlier that day, I opted for a lighter meal . . . and super thankful that I did. Their simply named "Garden & Grains" was a vegetarian (perhaps even vegan) delight that even omnivores could enjoy. Crisp, fresh vegetables played nicely with the toothsome mix of ancient grains (incl. amaranth, wheatberries & quinoa) and sweet swirls of red and golden beet purees. As an added bonus, this dish saves fantastically well, from the half I boxed up and chowed down on the morning after.

Another practically a must try (from all the orders I've seen sent out from the kitchen), the decadently beefy and tender carne cruda asada with quail egg on toast.

5) Bone Marrow Sope from Romesco Mex Med (Bonita)
Having had the pleasure of enjoying Javier Plascencia's signature BajaMed style cuisine in Tijuana, I had to come to his first U.S. eatery in Bonita. Sure enough, the fare didn't disappoint and is one of those rare instances of "fusion done right" with a fun intermingling of European and Mexican flavors.

My favorite is the bone marrow sope. Served in the bone atop fried masa cakes, I love the DIY dramaticism of lifting the bone and watching that rich piece of marrow plop down. Top to your liking with beef jus, chipotle crema and salt, then sink your teeth into that savory, spicy lusciousness.

Also enjoyable, sweet piquillo peppers stuffed with a succulent crab & lobster salad, and crepes with a pointedly Latin-spiced berry sauce.

4) Prix Fixe Lunch at Nine-Ten Bistro (La Jolla)
3-course lunch @ Nine-Ten Restaurant
Prix-fixe lunches is not something I see often here, so when I saw that offering here (and one that lets you pick any entree off their standard lunch menu) I knew this was the spot to check out on my drive back up.

For $24, I had fantastic 3-course meal starting with a vibrant lobster bisque (where you can actually taste the seafood with a hint of sherry), then a perfectly cooked filet of Loch Duart salmon over an apple-mushroom-leek succotash. Last but not least, a heavenly pear bread pudding with walnut brittle and ginger-date ice cream. 

It hits the spot for my final SD meal and definitely made my trip to MCASD afterwards that much more pleasurable.

3) Pour Over at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters (La Jolla)
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters @ La Jolla
While craft beers are the beverage of choice in San Diego, I was surprised at the growing coffee roaster scene here too. This roaster is the perfect example, with a sharp eye to sourcing the finest beans while ensuring sustainability for both the environment and the farmers who take care of these plants. And their featured pourover (Panama Elida Estate) really is good to the last drop with wonderful notes of strawberries and peaches and silky-smooth mouthfeel.

And for a potable souvenir, I also got a pound of their direct trade El Injerto Red Catuai from Guatemala.

2) Smoked Tuna Tostada at TJ Oyster Bar (Bonita)
TJ Oyster Bar
Since I was already down in Bonita for Romesco, I figured I pitstop at nearby TJ Oyster Bar (which I've heard much about) too, which turned out to be a spectacular spontaneous decision. While they do serve oysters on the half shell here, their claim to fame are their various seafood cocktails, tostadas and tacos (particularly their fish tacos, which are .99 all the time at their original location.)

Both the fried fish & oyster tacos are solid, but what stole the show was their smoked tuna tostada, which had an almost pastrami-like flavor with the texture of loose meat, nicely complemented by the cool crema (along with a squeeze of lime and few dashes of hot sauce.)

1) "Oyster Surf 'n Turf 'n Earth" at Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar (Little Italy)

Bites & Drinks @ Ironside Oyster
Not an actual menu item there, but when I saw they offered fried chicken oysters and grilled king oyster mushrooms alongside their seafood fare, I couldn't resist the whimsy of a oyster three way. I could've blamed this silly ordering scheme on deceptively strong tiki cocktails (served in adorable whale mugs!) but the oyster is indeed one of my favorite pieces of the chicken, and I am always game for a hearty, meaty fungus.

And thankfully, my oyster surf 'n turf 'n earth actually paid off. The mushrooms were robust, meaty and wonderfully savory with that grating of parm, the fried chicken nuggets are nicely contrasted with a sweet-savory bacon jam (and beautifully nestled in oyster shells) and the actual oysters themselves (Deep Bay & Deep Cove) were sublime on their own, but even better with a squeeze of lemon & dash of mignonette.

With all these newly discovered favorites (on top my list of already existing ones) — next time I might actually need to take a week off in SD to check out everything on my to-try/eat/drink list!

Groundswell Brewing
6304 Riverdale St
San Diego, CA 92120
(619) 795-2337
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Juniper and Ivy
2228 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 269-9036
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Romesco Mex Med
4346 Bonita Rd
Bonita, CA 91902
(619) 475-8627
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Nine-Ten Restaurant & Bar
910 Prospect St
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 964-5400
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Bird Rock Coffee Roasters
5627 La Jolla Blvd
San Diego, CA 92037
(858) 551-1707
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TJ Oyster Bar (original location)
4246 Bonita Rd
Bonita, CA 91902
(619) 267-4577
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Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar
1654 India St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 269-3033
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