Category Archives: San Diego Restaurants

A Fun Day of Food and Family

Sorry I haven’t written much in a while. Life gets busy! Lately I have been sharing quick Instagram posts. It takes a fraction of time to post a quick picture there, and can be done “in the moment.” Yet instant is fleeting and soon forgotten. And days like this last Sunday are meant to be savored and remembered.

San Diego Food - 1

Ever since Papa Bird and I flew the coop to celebrate the first anniversary of the fun restaurant/night spot Kettner Exchange, we have had a gift card to their side business, Devil’s Dozen Donuts. The donut shop shutters up once they sell out and every time I’ve been by we were too late to get any. I try to feed the kids a balanced breakfast, aka not pure, refined sugar. But I got the tip that on the weekend they make a secret menu item: a breakfast sandwich with eggs and bacon on an unglazed donut. It sounded healthier, right?

Devil's Dozen Donuts

We also selected a salted caramel and a Nutella hazelnut “sweet treat.” My plan was for us all to share everything. But Littlest Bird (age 2.5) said, “No, I don’t want to share! I want the whole thing!” Little Bird (age 4.5) said, “It’s too pretty to eat.”

Devil's Dozen Donuts

If you go, you can park for free in the Kettner Exchange valet spots. Don’t miss the view from the second story balcony. (I guess I didn’t take a picture, but we enjoyed the Jacarandas, planes, and boats.)

Next the girls and I rolled over to our favorite place to shop, Specialty Produce. The last time we were there, Littlest Bird thought it was hilarious to run away from me. Keeping kids close is a big rule there as it is a busy industrial warehouse, with forklifts, carts, and lots of people. She even ran past an “employee only” sign into the truck loading area. So this time I asked her if she would like to “go uppies.” We haven’t worn Miss Independent in any wraps or the Ergo in ages, but she thought it was a blast to go for a ride. Problem solved!

Specialty Produce - San Diego

Along with groceries for the week, we picked up a baker’s dozen of local corn from the Farmers’ Market cooler. We were headed to a potluck that night. Alright, I didn’t think I’d be sharing a recipe today, but here is one:

  • Soak corn in the husk in water for 10-30 minutes.
  • Grill for 20 minutes or so at 375*-400*.

Simple food, peak of season… the best way to eat.

soaking fresh corn for the grill

We also brought summer berries and stone fruit (all from local farms and found in the Farmers’ Market cooler) to share with our friends. Clockwise from the top in the picture below, Carmen Miranda nectarines, blackberries, Saturn peaches, Persian mulberries, and elderberries. The elderberries were quite tart. I later looked them up in the Specialty Produce App and learned elderberries are meant to be cooked. Technically they are considered poisonous raw (oops) but the toxicity level is pretty low.

summer berries and stone fruit from Specialty Produce

All of the pictures in this post were taken with an iPhone, with the exception of the following. I received a new camera for my birthday and have been trying it out. This is a preview for an upcoming post for a nectarine pie. Please hold me to it so I finish the new recipe before summer is over!

Carmen Miranda nectarines

And if that weren’t enough yumminess for one day, we sampled nearly half the menu at the soft opening of a new restaurant. Urban Plates is a smallish chain with nine locations throughout California. They focus on “from scratch” salads, braises, pastries and more, and highlight quality organic and natural ingredients. If you have been reading my posts, you know that’s how we like to cook and eat! See the current menu here.

Urban Plates La Jolla

From left to right: the urban kid plate with grilled free range chicken, roasted Brussels sprouts with turkey bacon, and chargrilled focaccia, served with organic apple juice. Seasonal replenisher (a watermelon and mint agua fresca.) The grilled steak salad with pineapple-mango salsa, jicama, mint, coconut roasted cashews, and a mild jalapeno lime dressing. Corn and poblano soup. Moroccan chicken braise (free range chicken slow cooked with squash, onions, preserved lemon, olives, turmeric, paprika, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, parsley, cilantro) with brown rice. Seasonal green drink. And finished with a chocolate dipped macaroon and a slice of famous mango tart. It was all delicious!

Urban Plates Mango Tart

Ah the famous mango tart! This dessert is what started it all… My co-worker was raving about the tart one night and then brought one in for us to share. The fresh mango is perfectly ripe and painstakingly shaped into flower petals. The cookie crust is crisp and not too sweet and the rum cream filling subtle. Perfection! My dad would’ve loved this dessert. I snapped the above pic and posted it on Instagram. I then started following @urbanplates and learned they are in the process of opening a new restaurant location in San Diego. Their community manager invited us to the soft opening. That’s the best of social media, right there! I almost forgot to add, all of the money collected at the opening went to St. Vincent de Paul’s. I used to work at the shelter for four years and was happy to have our money go towards the homeless and hungry after such feasting.

Melissa D'Arabian at Urban Plates La Jolla

As we enjoyed our lunch, I noticed that the woman next to us, eating with her daughters, looked awfully familiar. Turns out it was cooking show host Melissa D’Arabian. She comes across on TV as genuine and friendly, and she is even nicer in person. We met three of her four daughters, and learned her daughter Charlotte loves cooking with her. Little Bird, who has been cooking since before she could walk. See this post of her first recipe here. For more cuteness, see this short video of Little Bird at age 3. She also LOVES watching other kids cooking. We have already seen some of Charlotte’s videos, like this one.

Urban Plates La Jolla

We will be back to Urban Plates, and I will order the refreshing steak salad again. As for last Sunday, our feasting did not stop there. We ate very well at our potluck with good friends. I left my phone/camera in the backpack and enjoyed the company. You’ll have to take my word that the food was all delicious, homemade with love and authentic. Arroz con pollo from a Cuban, homemade tabouli, Caprese, Asian grilled drumsticks, cornbread and potato salad, various tequilas, wine, cheese, cake….  Never stop, my friends! Keep eating and enjoying life.

Please enjoy, too!

Devil’s Dozen Donut Shop

2001 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101
619-780-0914
www.devils-dozen.com

Urban Plates La Jolla

(Opened yesterday)

8707 Villa La Jolla Dr
San Diego, CA 92037
858-263-0818
urbanplates.com/la-jolla/

Specialty Produce

1929 Hancock St., Suite 150
San Diego, CA 92110
800-221-9730
www.specialtyproduce.com

Prepkitchen Little Italy: A Restaurant Week Preview

Happy January friends! We may be passed the decadence of the holidays but we are still eating very well. Last night Papa Bird and I went down to Little Italy to the “partying step-child” of Prepkitchen locations.

prosciutto wrapped trout with carrots and lentils

I am collaborating with San Diego Restaurant Week (SDRW) to celebrate their 12th year of discounted fine dining and preview one of their 180 restaurants. You may know I’m a fan of seasonal, farm-to-table fine dining, so when they matched me with Prepkitchen Little Italy, I was thrilled. The Prepkitchen concept started with the La Jolla location as a spot “for chefs by chefs.” They serve seasonal comfort food, often Mediterranean-inspired. As it has expanded, each location has its own character, and Little Italy is known for being fun and in the center of nightlife.

Prepkitchen Little Italy

For those that have been living under a rock, San Diego Restaurant Week is when an impressive list of restaurants offer prix-fixe meals for a steal. A three-course dinner is $20, $30, $40 or $50 per person, and lunch (two-courses) is only $10, $15 or $20 per person. For reference, my entrée (the trout pictured above), would normally cost $28.50, so for $30 for the SDRW dinner at Prepkitchen, an appetizer and dessert are basically free.

San Diego Restaurant Week 2016

And let’s talk about appetizers. Prepkitchen is a particularly fun choice for Restaurant Week. They don’t offer a traditional prix-fixe meal with a few options for each course. They throw the whole menu open and let you pick from anything they are making that night. My pick of the appetizers was the Ahi Tartare (normally $14.50; GF) with a smoked onion puree, pickled shallots and crispy sunchokes. I was really hoping there would be some kind of crudo or sashimi dish available. I personally believe that all of the restaurants in the Whisknladle group (Prepkitchen, Catania and Whisknladle) do crudos exceptionally well. The General Manager (a sweet and friendly guy named Darin) told me they would keep one on the menu for SDRW. The menu changes nightly and the fish may change with the catch, but the basic idea will stay the same.

a wintery ahi tartare

The Ahi Tartare was definitely the most interesting dish we tried. Wintery, rooted and warming, yet refreshing at the same time. Papa Bird said tasting the sunchoke chip with the smoked onion purée reminded him of BBQ potato chips (in a good way.) The sunchokes certainly had the crunch of a perfect potato chip. The dish was light but substantial, and garnered an “I’d definitely eat it again.”

burrata, prosciutto, butternut squash mostarda, fried sage

I had checked out a sample menu before going down and was hoping the Burrata and Butternut Squash Mostarda would be there. It was! And should stay on through the season. Most of the squash is grown by the group at Milagro Vineyards. I wrote more about their farm2table efforts here. Mostarda is sort of like a jam or preserve with fresh mustard seeds. With quality ingredients, it was a classic combo: sweet and creamy from the burrata, with the salty prosciutto and crunchy pumpkin seeds and crostini. Satisfying. Probably the best part was the fried sage, perfectly brittle and crisp. (Normally $16.50 and GF without the crostini.)

Prepkitchen Little Italy January Menu

The menu changes every night, so I can’t promise every item will be there. In general, it will be similar, but may feature a different fish or cut of meat, for example. For entrees, Papa Bird chose the Fusilli Bolognese, with Beef, Pork, Rosemary and a ton of Parmigiano-Regiano (normally $20.50.) He was a trooper with my obnoxious photo taking, so I let him have one dish without stealing its soul. The GM was confident it would be on the menu throughout Restaurant Week and we all recommend it. The pasta was al dente, the proportions spot on. Cheesy and filling, it could easily have been shared.

Likewise, the Prosciutto-Wrapped Trout (pictured at top, GF) should be available throughout the week. For a humble fish, this was hands down my favorite dish of the night, with a sliver of lemon (rind and all) tucked into the fish. It rested above a bed of super flavorful lentils and shared its cast-iron tub with the cutest, sweetest agave-glazed carrots.  Topped with pickled mustard seeds and a liberal sprinkle of fresh parsley, I don’t think it even needed the prosciutto to be full of rich umami. Those carrots were super fresh and were sourced by Specialty Produce, who provide most of the restaurant’s fruit and vegetables. We chatted the server about the fun of going down to the Specialty Produce warehouse to shop as a home cook.

Other dishes that are popular include the Bacon Wrapped DatesBeef TartareMary’s Pan Roasted Chicken, and the Burger. Go! And please tell me what you order so I can vicariously eat more.

Prepkitchen Little Italy Drink Menu

Drinks are not included in the $20 lunch or $30 dinner, but are highly recommended. (You will be saving so much on the food, you will be able to afford an extra drink or two.) PKLI is known for their cocktails and eclectic wines and beers. My favorite was the Heart of Darkness with Tequila, Aperol, Lemon and Pomegranate Shrub. It was balanced, refreshing and very drinkable, as was the Comfort Blanket with Orange-Tea Infused Bourbon, Vanilla, Citrus and Angostura Bitters. Other drinks I’ve enjoyed there include the Colonel Jerry and Horse & Buggy. The beers and wine are thoughtfully chosen and unexpected. While they emphasize local makers, it is definitely not the same lineup as most restaurants around town.

budino

One of the best parts of Restaurant Week is that even though you are too stuffed for dessert, oh well, you have to get it. The Warm Chocolate Budino is a year-round staple on the menu because, chocolate. It is a chocolate pudding cake served in a wide mouthed mason jar, offering warm comfort with a zingy espresso gelato (house-made), whipped cream and little chocolate crunchies. I got half way through it before I felt guilty for not sharing it with our sweet-obsessed daughters.

Prepkitchen Little Italy Info

  • Get a reservation if you are thinking about going during Restaurant Week!
  • 1660 INDIA ST SECOND FLOOR, SAN DIEGO, 92101
  • 619-398-8383
  • prepkitchenlittleitaly.com
  • If you post a picture of any SDRW meal on social media, use #Food4Kids and tag the restaurant and Sysco will donate $1 to hungry children!

 

Brunch at Catania

Ever since dining at Catania in La Jolla, I’ve been looking forward to returning. I was happy to accept an invitation to sample the new brunch menu last weekend.

Brunch at Catania Coastal Italian in La Jolla

Joining a group of friendly San Diego foodies, I sampled several of the new menu items. Our waiter brought out Two Eggs and Ham (above) and let us know the Italian sausage and Prosciutto Coto were made and cured in house. The tomatoes, like the arugula in the salad below, were planted and harvested by the restaurant staff at the Milagro vineyards. It sounds like a farm to fable boast but the veracity is backed up by my friend from Revolution Landscape and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Brunch at Catania Coastal Italian in La Jolla, CA

The Arugula and Eggs includes pancetta, roasted mushrooms and Pecorino Toscano. I swear I’m going to start putting a poached egg on top of my salad now. I’ve mentioned before in my “restaurant recreation” posts how I like to get ideas from restaurants. I love finding simple, easy things that I can replicate or add to my cooking repertoire at home. I know some people think putting an egg on top of everything is a food fad that is past its time, but in this case my eyes are totally open to how delicious it is on top of a slightly bitter green salad. Try it!

Italian brunch at Catania in La Jolla, CA

Next up we tried two dishes that are worth getting out of pajamas to let the chefs make for you: Veal Milanese, with eggs, tomato and toast, and (my favorite) Eggs All’Amatriciana, eggs baked in a delicious sauce made from tomatoes, guanciale, white beans, swiss chard and breadcrumbs. The sauce was cozy, and homey, and made you just want to keep eating.

We sat on the patio again. I love how the atmosphere can be casual and laid-back, while still being special. I sent some good friends to the Catania patio at sunset for their anniversary. This time I spied a stylish shopgirl run in for a quick bite solo, and later saw her in front of her shop, which is visible from the patio. The third story deck is poised for some of the best people watching in La Jolla.

Polenta Pancakes at Catania in La Jolla, CA

Can I make a confession? I had super amazing ricotta pancakes at home before going to the restaurant… Papa Bird is a pancake master. I usually request pancakes on Mother’s Day. The Little Birds ask for them at five days a week (and get them four.) Still, I had never tried Polenta Pancakes. These were dressed with an abundance of fall fruit (persimmon, pear, figs, blackberries), lemon syrup and mint, and were light and fluffy.

Farro Oatmeal with Pistachio Marscapone, persimmon, fig and currants

The Farro Oatmeal was also topped with persimmon and fig, along with currants, honey and cinnamon. For me, it edged out the pancakes by the inclusion of a pistachio marscapone. Which was every bit as creamy and decadent as it sounds.

What To Order at Brunch at Catania

My two picks for a perfect brunch would be the Eggs All’Amatriciana and the Farro Oatmeal. Go halvsies with a brunch date, or just show up solo like the shopgirl, order them both, and bring any leftovers home for your afternoon snack. Then again — lunch items are also available and it’s hard to avoid one of the seasonal crudos. Decisions are the worst.

Catania has self-serve coffee and nutella brioches on a side board. It makes the place seem more home-like and is perfect for those that come hungry and can’t wait to be served.

Today’s Restaurant Recreation Inspired by the Catania Brunch

Rice Pudding with Papaya, Pomegranate, Grapes and Honey

I thought I’d for sure be trying out the poached egg + salad for breakfast soon, but I ended up finding inspiration this morning from the farro oatmeal plating. I made my Baby Birds these two bowls of rice pudding with cinnamon, topped with papaya, pomegranate, grapes and local honey. It was a hit, in part because I had them help prep the fruit. If you follow my kids’ cooking posts, you’ll know my philosophy is to bring kids into the kitchen from infancy.

VISIT CATANIA

Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday until 3 pm.

Catania website

7863 Girard Ave, Suite 301, San Diego, CA 92037
(858) 551-5105

Click to add a blog post for Catania on Zomato

Go and Let Me Know What You Think!

Catania Coastal Italian: Aperitivos at the Latest La Jolla Restaurant from Whisknladle

Featuring San Diego restaurants has been so fun lately. Papa Bird and I have enjoyed every single meal we’ve shared at Prep Kitchen and Whisknladle. So when my friend, Cassidy, invited me to happy hour, or “Aperitivo,” at Catania Coastal Italian, the latest from Whisknladle Hospitality, “YES” was an easy answer. In addition to the excellent, peak of season food you might expect, Catania has a peaceful ocean view and laid back, upscale vibe.

Gorgonzola Cheese plate at Catania

Disclaimer: We were invited by the restaurant to sample the Aperitivo menu and craft cocktails. I wouldn’t share here if I wasn’t impressed and thought my readers would appreciate. The general manager, Steven, even invited the two of us behind the bar to view all the Italian liquors, wines and craft beers. Being old (well me, not Cassidy), married moms, we tried not to get into too much trouble.

Catania Coastal Italian - behind the bar

Aperitivo Menu at Catania

The menu changes frequently with seasonal availability, but my pick of the summer happy hour menu was easily the Gorgonzola (pictured at the top of the post). On my first bite, I swore it was the best gorgonzola I had ever tasted. And I take my cheese seriously. Yup, this is the girl that once made a version of Humbolt Fog at home. I grew up sampling everything in the Cheese Shop in Carmel; it was the only store ever that had a charge account for my family. Anyway, at $6 during happy hour, the cheese plate is a surprisingly good value (especially for the upscale location in La Jolla), and is accompanied by fried almonds, a nectarine mostarda, grilled bread, basil and olive oil. Yum!

aperitivo happy hour menu at Catania

We sampled, clockwise, from upper left:

  • Beef Heart Carpaccio ($6), arugula, parmesan and olive oil.
  • Grigliata Mista ($9), Suzie’s Farm squash, peppers, eggplant, basil pesto, and bread crumbs.
  • Gorgonzola ($6), fried almonds, nectarine mostarda.
  • Prosciutto and Melon ($6), ricotta salata, saba.

Prices listed are for the happy hour, which is daily, 3pm-7pm.

Craft Cocktails

In addition to an impressive collection of Italian wines and craft beers, the cocktails are mighty tasty. Luckily, we were with a group of friendly foodies, and were able to taste many of the cocktails.

craft cocktails at catania

I gravitated towards the Grigio Bianco (Gin, Carpano Bianco, Lemon, Thyme and White Wine), as I’m obsessed with vermouth bianco, even simply on the rocks. Our waiter’s recommendation was a Boulevardier, which was not actually on the menu, but replaced the gin in the Negroni (gin, Carpano Antica and Campari) with bourbon. Another favorite of the group was the Api E Radice (vodka, honey, roasted carrot and lemon). Pictured above is the Ciao Bella in the foreground (bourbon, seasonal jam, sweet vermouth, angstura bitters) and a Seasonal Bellini in the background. The Bellini was a little sweet for me, but I am not a Bellini fan.

roasted carrot cocktail and sunset at catania in la jolla

Above is the famous roasted carrot cocktail and roasted olives. The olives ($6) were roasted with rosemary, orange, garlic and chili flakes, and inspired me to start cooking my olives (see how below.) As long as you are taking advantage of the “Aperitivo” hours, from 3pm to 7pm, the craft cocktails range from $5 to $8– totally reasonable!

So I Was Invited for Happy Hour but Stayed for More

Since the little birds were safe sleeping at home with their papa, and the menu looked so tempting, I ended up staying on! On the recommendation of Steven, I ordered a Yellowfin Crudo, that came with avocado, jalapeño oil, and a melon-cucumber granita that reminded me of a refreshing summer drink.  It was amazing, light and cool, perfectly balanced in taste. New friends Laila and Cindy also shared a bite of their Peach and Prosciutto Crostini (below.) I reposted it on Instagram. By the way, I recently made my (four-year-old) Instagram account public and have been enjoying sharing quick glimpses of food and our urban homestead. Please follow!

Catania is Truly Farm to Table

I’ve written before about how every restaurant that boasts a farm to table garden is not all that. And more recently, San Diego Magazine highlighted outright fraud in an article entitled Farm to Fable. Catania’s fresh food is the real deal. I’m so glad I stayed longer and got to hear more. As our water served us a plate of squash roasted with walnuts, rosemary, honey and parmesan, he told us how he and the rest of the staff had planted the squash at Milagro Farms.

“Our waiter planted the squash he served us.” True #FarmToTable – tweet this

Small world, but our friend and neighbor, Ari of Revolution Landscape, happened to help Whisknladle Hospitality set up their garden at the Milagro Farm Winery. Ari told me that the owners of the restaurant group are also part owners in the winery. They recently developed a portion of the winery with produce for the restaurants, and brought in Revolution to get them started. He confirmed that the restaurant staff helped plant. So I can confirm that our waiter wasn’t just boasting!

Easy Recipe Recreations and Inspiration

I love getting inspiration for cooking when I dine out. Some restaurant dishes I can only admire and go back for. But others are easy enough to recreate. After eating at Catania, I threw some Kalamata olives in a hot pan with some rosemary from our garden and red pepper flakes. Along with Carpano Bianco on the rocks and Gorgonzola crackers, I enjoyed “aperitivo” watching my kids dip in their kiddie pool.

Fried Olives with rosemary and red pepper flakeswatermelon, burrata, cherries and hazelnuts

Above is an example of a restaurant recreation from last month, a burrata, watermelon, cherry and hazelnut salad, inspired by a similar appetizer at Kettner Exchange — another quick post and recipe I only shared on Instagram.

Visit Catania

Catania website

Suite 301, 7863 Girard Ave, San Diego, CA 92037
(858) 551-5105

Click to add a blog post for Catania on Zomato

Go and Let Me Know What You Think!

Three San Diego Date Night Ideas: Bracero, Caffe Calabria [Giveaway] or Cook with Specialty Produce

Three cheers for date nights! Papa Bird and I have a professional Disney princess who babysits and sings. And with the Little Birds happily entertained, we are starting to venture out to more San Diego restaurants. Here are three of my top date night picks in San Diego for foodie couples — including a giveaway to one of them below.

Abby of Baby Birds FarmMany thanks to Jenny from Vintage Sugar Cube for the picture of Papa Bird and me.

Disclaimer: Specialty Produce invited us to a night of fresh Italian and Mexican dishes by chefs Javier Plascencia of Bracero and MJ Testa of Caffe Calabria in order to sample their Farmers’ Market Boxes. There was no obligation to write about them and my decision to post was based on my excitement to share them with you. Opinions are my own, as always.

shrimp and squash from specialty produce, made by chefs javier plascencia of bracero and mj testa of caffe calabria

1. Modern “Baja Med” Fusion at Bracero in Little Italy

Javier Plascencia’s restaurant empire in Tijuana ranges from the modern Misión 19 to Mediterranean/Mexican “BajaMed” fusion and often features fresh Baja California ingredients. Over the last decade, he has frequently outshone most San Diego chefs. Bracero Cocina de Raiz, named after a guest worker program that brought Mexican labor up to the U.S., is his second restaurant this side of the border (after Romesco in Bonita), opens tonight in Little Italy, and is at the very top of my list of San Diego restaurants I most want to visit. Check out a sneak peek of their modern Mexican fusion menu here, and see why I can’t wait.

Below is a sample of what to expect: Yucatan-style cochinita pibil sopes, made from heirloom corn masa, slow braised pork, heirloom beans and fermented pineapple. You can make a reservation for their upstairs dining room here, or try your luck walking in to the more casual downstairs and crudo bar. And if I haven’t convinced you to try Plascencia’s cuisine, maybe Jonathan Gold or Dana Goodyear can.

cochinita pibil sopes made by chef javier plascencia of bracero at a specialty produce event at caffe clabria

2. Neopolitan Pizza and Craft Cocktails at Caffe Calabria in North Park

When I was chipping away at my Masters of Social Work, I often studied at Caffe Calabria. I usually ordered a Viennese and brought home a bag of the beans they roast on site. Since then they have added a traditional wood-fire pizza oven from Naples, and brought in chef MJ Testa. Caffe Calabria has also started mixing craft cocktails with the same level of attention they bring to the coffee bar. Enter to win two free pizzas from Caffe Calabria at the bottom of this post.

My favorite dish of the night was chef Testa’s Grilled Prawns with farmer’s market box squash and peppers in a cream sauce, inspired by the Amalfi Coast of Italy. I was too busy chatting and the first dish she put out was inhaled by the crowd. For dessert, she roasted white donut peaches and served it with a honey marscapone crema.

As an aside, they have done a lot to renovate the upstairs and back patios. I would definitely look into Caffe Calabria for hosting a private event. The building was once a bank and has tons of character. North Park has changed a lot since I lived there, and there are a ton of bars and clubs to walk to after dinner. Want to be the lucky couple to win dinner there on me?

caffe calabria cappuccino with a roasted doughnut peach by chef mj testa

You can see more of our night in the gallery below.

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