Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews and Features

Farmer’s Bottega Restaurant Feature

Farmer’s Bottega features local artisan ingredients and organic produce in New American and Italian dishes. Italian-born chef and owner Alberto Morale, co-owner of the Fig Tree Cafe, opened the Mission Hills restaurant less than two years ago. We loved working with San Diego Restaurant Week last January. SDRW reached out again to tell me this month’s theme is local produce and we were happy to accept an invitation to preview Farmer’s Bottega.

Oxtail Ravioli at Farmer's Bottega Restaurant in Mission Hills, San Diego

The Oxtail Ravioli with cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions and herbed goat cheese immediately called out to me. The sauce was flavorful, rich with umami and balanced with the fresh green taste of the dandelion shoot garnish. The housemade pasta had the perfect aldente bite.

The Baby Birds Farm family

Our whole silly family found the staff friendly and hospitable. The hostess offered each girl full sized coloring books and a small tupperware of crayons, which kept them content during ordering. We also enjoyed exploring the back patio and garden space.

Total comfort food

Housemade Meatballs at Farmer's Bottega Restaurant in Mission Hills, San Diego

The Housemade Meatballs were something special. The starter is presented oh so cozy in a small cast iron pan, and topped table-side by copious parmesan. The meatballs are cooked in a rich and spicy tomato sauce with fresh herbs. We requested an extra round of the Bread and Cie toast to sop up the last bits.

Featuring fresh and unique produce

Yellow Watermelon Salad at Farmer's Bottega Restaurant in Mission Hills, San Diego

Our waiter, Matthew, was very personable. He steered us towards the Seasonal Melon Salad. This week’s salad featured super sweet yellow watermelon, feta, wild arugula, and spicy caramelized pecans. The lemon vinaigrette was light and overall the salad was a refreshing balance to our other meat-heavy choices. In addition to buying direct from local farms, Specialty Produce supplies their fresh vegetables and fruits, sourced from San Diego growers.

Farmhouse Decor
Farmer's Bottega Restaurant in Mission Hills, San Diego

Farmer’s Bottega is decorated in a comfortable “farmhouse” style, perfect for either date night or family. Oversized glass containers hold pickles and preserved lemons. How sweet would a date be under this wall of crate boxes?

Top Quality Meats

Buffalo Filet at Farmer's Bottega Restaurant in Mission Hills, San Diego

The herb-rubbed Buffalo Filet was also excellent, served with garlic mashed potatoes, swiss chard, asparagus, crispy onions, roasted Maui thyme and a petite Syrah reduction. The filet was cooked a perfect medium rare, and super tender. Unfortunately, I was not fast enough around my family to snag any of the asparagus and barely grabbed a corner of the crispy onions. I wished for more!

You have to eat dessert during restaurant week!

NY Cheesecake with fresh berries at Farmer's Bottega Restaurant in Mission Hills, San Diego

We finished our meal with a New York Cheesecake with fresh berries, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

After such inventive and satisfying starters and mains, the desserts were unflawed but not as memorable.

Molten Chocolate Cake at Farmer's Bottega Restaurant in Mission Hills, San DiegoAll in all, considering there wasn’t a drop left on the plates, they couldn’t have been that bad.

At one point I looked over at my three-year-old and she was doing a combination shovel/inhale on the Molten Chocolate Cake.

Tips for Farmer’s Bottega

  • We only ordered items we were told would be on the Restaurant Week menu. However, since Farmer’s Bottega features seasonal produce and locally sourced seafood, artisan meats, cheese and breads, selections may vary.
  • Our waiter let us know that they would offer the $40 SDRW menu not just the one week, Sunday, September 25th through Sunday, October 2nd, but would extend for a second week, too.
  • Reservations recommended: (619) 458-9929.
  • If you miss SDRW altogether, they offer a pre-fixed date night menu on Wednesday nights, and happy hour all night Tuesday at the bar. The TV’s at the bar were playing the Food Network. My kind of place!!
  • If you go, please tell them Baby Birds Farm sent you!
  • As mentioned, our food was offered free of charge. Opinions and photos are mine.

Farmer's Bottega Restaurant in Mission Hills, San Diego

Farmer’s Bottega

860 West Washington Street
San Diego, CA 92103

(619) 458-9929

www.farmersbottega.com

HOURS
Sunday – Thursday
8 AM–3 PM | 4:30 PM–10 PM
Friday – Saturday
8 AM–3 PM | 4 PM–10:30 PM

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!

 

Barmel

If you have been following the #BurdFamilyRoadTrip on Instagram, then you might have seen we recently went up to the Monterey Peninsula. With Nana taking very good care of the Little Birds, we escaped for a date night into my hometown of Carmel. It happened to be the busiest weekend of the year up there, as the Concours de Elegance seems to have grown into “Monterey Car Week,” and we couldn’t get a dinner reservation until 8:45 pm. So we decided to get a drink and bite beforehand. Since I’m a longtime fan of Mundaka, trying out the new Barmel next door was an easy choice.

Barmel cocktail and tacos

Mundaka owner, Gabe Georis, took over the old dive next door about a year ago, and completely redesigned the space — which is very approachable, comfortable, timeless yet contemporary. The “bar” is vintage and there is a small stage for live music. That night a bluegrass trio played. The Barmel Facebook page is the best place to see the line up. The Georis family does great restaurants. They also know music. Papa Bird can be hard to please, so it was super satisfying to see him relax and enjoy the food, drink, show and feel.

barmel menubarmel menu

Since I couldn’t find a menu online, I’m sharing it here, even though they aren’t the best quality photos, and the menu probably changes frequently. Chef Brandon Miller of Mundaka does the food here, as well, and I suspect they share a kitchen. We tried all four of the street tacos. And then ordered more. Living in San Diego gives us a taco-critiquing license and they were tasty, as was my “Country #2” cocktail (Bourbon, Absinthe Rinse, Lemon, Ginger.) We got to chat with the chef, a total character, as he took a break to hear the music and sip a Calimocho. I also slipped away for a few minutes to shop for cute clothes for me and the girls in the new boutique, Kai Bella, in the same courtyard. Super cute stuff.

And our dinner reservation? The moment we sat down at the other restaurant, Papa Bird missed the atmosphere and wished we had stayed at Barmel. The other place has a great reputation as “farm to table.” But their waiter had pushed us to order a Caprese that had underripe tomatoes. Underripe tomatoes. Even had they been ripe, it would have been a boring plate, and I was wishing we had ordered the mozzarella stack at Barmel with house made cheese.

Maybe next time. I’m sure we will be back!

Barmel Info

  • San Carlos St, Between 7th and Ocean Ave Carmel, CA 93921 (That’s as close as an address you will get for Carmel — it’s too quaint for street numbers.)
  • No website but here’s the Facebook link.
  • Hours: 2:30 pm – 12:00 am, Daily
  • Live music: Thurs-Sat 7-9pm, DJ’s Fri/Sat 9-midnight.
  • Happy Hour: 4:30-6:30pm.
  • (831) 626-3400
  • Kids are okay! Just have to be 21+ to sit at the bar.
  • No reservation at Mundaka? Have a drink at Barmel, and they will get you when a table is free.

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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!