Claire's on Cedros

>> Sunday, November 27, 2011

Date of Dining: 6/25/2011 
Price: $8-12 per plate
Location: 246 N Cedros Ave, Solana Beach, CA 92075

The Quick Bit:
+ Fresh, Organic, Seasonal Ingredients
+ Bright and friendly atmosphere
+ Patio Dining available
Δ Parking situation could be improved
Δ Lines can be long if showing up late

While I tend to cover more of the fine dining, bistro, and food truck scene in San Diego, the historical food culture in San Diego actually revolves more around brunch. The story is that a large portion of San Diego revolves around the surfer culture where they need to get out into the ocean to catch the high tide around 6am. To arrive in time to surf, the surfers are unable to eat any breakfast. Then, they expend a lot of energy surfing and are starving around the time they finish surfing - just in time for brunch.
While the surfers are primarily responsible for restaurants needing to cater to hungry customers between the breakfast and lunch hours, the concept of brunch really caught on within the San Diegan culture. Instead of just the beach dives, the demand for better brunch options caused an evolution to more sophisticated brunch spots. Coupled with the farm-to-table organic and green movements, Claire's epitomizes the casual yet trendy San Diego Brunch Spot.
Claire's on Cedros focuses on providing organic and seasonal fair for brunch in an environmentally friendly atmosphere (Claire's is the first LEED Platinum certified restaurant in San Diego). Claire's is run by Claire Allison and Terrie Boley. Allison actually invented the recipe for Milton's multigrain bread before selling the recipe to the owners of Milton's. Boley is an entrepreneur who actually started up two technology companies. However, being a friend to Allison, Boley saw an opportunity to for a great restaurant and started up the business with Allison. I invited two friends along for brunch to check out the resulting product.

tuscan benedict - 2 poached eggs, sauteed spinach, roasted tomatoes, Italian sausage,
croissant, homemade hollandaise
I ordered the Tuscan benedict as it seemed to be the "deluxe" benedict - I'll usually order an eggs benedict for brunch places to be able to compare as it is a great dish to show off technique, creativity, and flavor all together. The Italian sausage actually had a nice kick to it, which was a welcome addition in the morning as a caffeine substitute for slapping you in the face to wake you up. The spinach was well prepared and the tomato added a nice amount of sweetness to balance the spice of the sausage. The earthiness of the egg yolk and the hollandaise really tied all the flavors together. Another aspect that can easily be overlooked was that the croissant was toasted perfectly. Usually croissants are either too well done or not toasted enough, but my croissant was right in the sweet spot of doneness.
mushroom and roasted tomato omelet - sauteed mushroom, spinach, shallot, thyme, brie cheese
The mushroom omelet was very well prepared and cooked well technically. The combination of flavors was very enjoyable and would definitely satisfy a vegetarian as well. At no fault of the chef, the particular tomatoes that were diced into the omelet were overly sweet, which ruined the balance of the dish. Still, the dish was very enjoyable and I would order it again. The brie cheese was a nice touch to elevate the dish from a traditional omelet dish.
stuffed strawberry french toast - brioche bread stuffed with ricotta with strawberries
and strawberry butter
The french toast was an excellent addition to those looking for a sugar rush. Like all the other dishes, the french toast was technically prepared very well. For the strawberry lover, the addition of the fresh strawberries and strawberry butter were a good way to create a great strawberry overload. While this was technically supposed to be breakfast, this dish was more of a great well balanced dessert. The flavors of the strawberry and the butter of the brioche and the creaminess of the ricotta really worked in a delicate harmony.

Claire's on Cedros provides a great elevated brunch experience without breaking the piggy bank. The dishes were executed with high technical precision and the use of organic and seasonal ingredients definitely brought out all the flavors of the food. I can't wait to go back to Claire's to actually sample more of the lunch side of the brunch menu.
For the great brunch experience, I'm awarding Claire's the bit award. It is definitely one of the San Diego brunch spots to check out!


Burger Shootout #1 [Updated]: Gourmet Food Truck Burgers - take 2

>> Sunday, November 20, 2011

It has been a long time since the last burger shootout. Part of the reason for the delay is that I've eaten so many burgers that I'm a little sick of them. The other reason for the delay is just that I have had less time to travel around to the various burger restaurants. The other issue is last time I did a burger shootout, I said that my scoring methodology for fast food burgers was a little off. Thus, I'm posting the first shootout again with the updated scoring system as well as two new additional trucks.

Also, if anyone wants an opportunity to be on TV, Eat Street will be shooting some of San Diego's Gourmet Food Trucks this coming week.

If there was one food that epitomizes the hunger that San Diegans have, it's the burger. While outsiders might think that San Diegans go crazy over the fish taco, the true food that all San Diegans love is the burger. It's so in demand that every restaurant has to have a burger on their menu.

Naturally, it only makes sense for an intrepid blogger as myself to embark on a journey of adventure and discovery to find San Diego's best burger. However, with the format of this blog, it wouldn't be fair to pick one best burger. Therefore I have decided to pick the best burger in each of the following "tiers": food trucks, fast food, casual dining, restaurants. In the coming months, I will have a series of "burger shootouts" where I compare the burgers from all of these levels on some set of criteria, which will vary by each tier.

This week, I'll start with the gourmet food trucks:

The Criteria:
I've decided to try and revise the overall scoring mechanism by first normalizing scores within each category and then weighing the categories. The three categories I've settled on are taste, value, and miscellaneous. Within each gourmet food truck burger evaluation, the category weights will shift based on the category where the burger lies. The taste category covers aspects concerning taste including overall taste, taste of each individual component, and cooking temperature. The value category is simply the amount of food received for the money (including sides). Finally, the miscellaneous category covers the items that are inherent to the category of the challenge.

  • Taste: Worth 50% of the overall score
    • Overall Taste - worth half of the taste category
    • Patty
    • Bun
    • Other fillings
    • Cooking Temperature
    Value: Worth 20% of the overall score
    Miscellaneous: Worth 30% of the overall score
    • Ease of consumption
    • Sides
    • Ticket Time
Additionally to qualify for this shootout, the truck needed to serve an actual burger of some form. I also decided that instead of trying to order the same burger at each food truck, I would allow each truck to serve me what they considered to be their signature dish.

The Contenders:
In the following section, I will give a brief overview of each of the contenders (in alphabetical order) in the shootout.

Bitchin' Burgers: website
Bitchin' Burgers is one of the newer food trucks in San Diego. As the name of the truck suggests, they specialize in burgers. What is not said is that they specialize in burgers made of grass fed beef. I did some searches to find out more about who owns and runs Bitchin Burgers, but the information does not seem to be readily available on the web at this time.

I've previously covered Devilicious in this blog, but since I last covered them, demand has them creating a new burger of the week every week for the menu. Additionally, since the last time I covered them, there has been some staffing changes. Chef Dyann HuffmanManning now fully owns and operates Devilicious while her husband Mark operates little brother truck Kalbiq.

The Gooch: website
The Gooch is possibly San Diego's newest gourmet food truck. Like Bitchin Burgers, not much comes up in a search about the owners of The Gooch. The Gooch seems to be focused on bar food, which fits their modus operandi as they frequently can be found serving food to bars. What attracted me to The Gooch was their naming convention on their two signature dishes; The Goochie Pop and the Goochie Mama.

Green Truck: website
While many food trucks try to portray an environmentally friendly image by using local and organic ingredients, the Green Truck is truly environmentally friendly. The truck runs on recycled oil and their kitchen is solar powered. The Green Truck isn't actually a single truck, but a collection of three trucks that run in LA, OC, and SD. Their signature dish is an all made from scratch veggie burger called The Mother Trucker.

MIHO Gastrotruck: website
While many of the trucks in this shootout are newer trucks, MIHO is one of the first gourmet food trucks on the San Diego scene. MIHO is run by Kevin Ho and Juan Miron (hence MiHo from the first two letters of each of their lats names) and focuses on organic and local produce. Miron and Ho both worked in the kitchen of the popular North Park restaurant, The Linkery before deciding to partner up to purchase the food truck. MIHO's menu changes weekly but has always included some form of grass fed burger.

Curiocity Catering: website
Curiocity is run by Chef Jason McAllister who is partners with Chef Antonio Friscia of Stingaree. The focus on the food is to provide seasonal, sustainable, and organic restaurant quality food on the truck. Chef McAllister previously worked with Chef Friscia in the kitchen for five years before opening the truck. Their signature dish is a king crab risotto called the deadliest catch.

Eat at Recess: website
Eat at Recess is a truck that focuses around bringing the nostalgia of playing in an elementary school playground back to the streets. The food is high class variants of what you would have expected to find in your elementary school cafeteria and there is some adult playground fun built into the truck itself.

The Shootout:
Bitchin' Burgers: (I apologize for the poor image quality as I had to use my camera phone for this)
Chipotle Gouda Burger
I was extremely surprised from this burger when it was served. I thought that they had given me a regular bacon cheeseburger instead of the chipotle burger. Upon asking for details about the burger, I was told that the gouda cheese is mixed into the hamburger meat before it is formed into a patty. This didn't really work with my idea of a great burger because the juiciness of the burger was reduced by the cheese that was already integrated with the meat. Additionally, they burger was cooked medium as they had to cook the burger long enough to melt the cheese. Finally (as can be seen from the photo), the 1/3 lb meat+cheese patty was out of proportion with the thick brioche bread. The chipotle flavor from the aioli was also lacking to some degree and needed to be stronger. This burger was pretty much like a bad Blood Brothers song

Taste - 38.75
  • Overall - 30
  • Patty - 75
  • Bun - 15
  • Other - 50
  • Temperature - 50
Value - 20 - $8.50 for a 1/3 lb grass fed beef burger (probably more like 1/4lb of meat), no sides
Miscellaneous - 65
  • Ease of Consumption - 90
  • Sides - 40 - Sweet potato fries were standard frozen ones

Overall score: 40.625

Pasilla Pepper, grilled onions, sweet corn topping with fried egg on a burger
This burger from Devilicious was the best burger I had eaten this year when I tasted it. The pasilla chili added a nice depth of flavor and was only mildly spicy. The sweetness of the corn juxtaposed with the spiciness of the pepper was very welcome flavor combination, especially when paired with the grilled onions for additional depth of flavor and the earthiness of the oozing egg yolk to marinate all the flavors together. Additionally, Chef Manning prepared my burger to a perfect medium rare maximizing the juiciness of the meat. Eating this burger was like listing to a Linkin Park hit.

Taste - 90.625
  • Overall - 100
  • Patty - 50
  • Bun - 75
  • Other - 100
  • Temperature - 100
Value - 70 - $7 commodity beef burger + $1 for egg + free side salad
Miscellaneous - 45
  • Ease of Consumption - 10 - It got all over the place
  • Sides - 80 - I enjoyed this burger with some mushroom risotto fried yummies
Mushroom Risotto Fried Yummies
Normalized Score: 74.0625

The Gooch:
The Goochie Pop
Disclaimer: I was suffering from some palette fatigue when I tried this burger as I had already had another burger and alcoholic beverages, so I've gone ahead and bumped the taste portion up a little to compensate for that.

I was excited for The Goochie Pop because people seemed to like the reviews for it. I was also intrigued by the "bacon jam." Ultimately, I was disappointed. They took my "as rare as you're willing to go" statement a little too far and served a rare burger. This wouldn't have been a problem except they didn't seem to get a good sear on the outside of the burger, so the burger was completely lacking the charred goodness that is expected from a burger. I also felt that for a rare burger the meat to fat ratio was probably more of a 90-10 than the expected 80-20 as even the rare burger wasn't very juicy. Finally, there either wasn't enough bacon jam or the flavor of it just wasn't intense enough to not be drowned out by the thickness of the bread.  The burger from The Gooch was similar to the famous Dramarama song as the lyrics (or the bread in this case) was so thick that it distracted from the other elements of the song.

Taste - 65
  • Overall - 60
  • Patty - 90
  • Bun - 55
  • Other - 75
  • Temperature - 60 - Rare
Value - 50 - $8 for a grass fed beef burger and no sides
Miscellaneous - 70
  • Ease of Consumption -70
  • Sides - N/A

Normalized Score: 62.5

Green Truck:
Mother Trucker
The mother trucker sauce seemed to be a combination of beets and something else. The beets gave it the red color as well as the sweetness. Overall, the burger was pretty enjoyable for a veggie burger. However, it distinctly lacked the juiciness and the savoriness in a regular burger, which totally removed a lot of the enjoyment for me. The trucker sauce, although it tasted good, was a little too thick and dripped around while eating. The burger from the Green Truck was like listening to a classic rock song where the lead vocalist is female instead of male.

Taste - 61.67
  • Overall - 70
  • Patty - 50
  • Bun - 35
  • Other - 75
  • Temperature - N/A
Value - 90 - $6 for a burger made from fresh and local produce
Miscellaneous - 72.5
  • Ease of Consumption - 85
  • Sides - 60 - hand cut sweet potato fries with chipotle ketchup - unfortunately the fries were soggy, but the ketchup was awesome

Normalized Score: 71.46

MIHO Gastrotruck:
MIHO Grass Fed Beef Burger
It's been awhile since I had this burger, so I don't remember exactly what the topping was. From the photo it looks like a brie burger with mixed greens and bacon. When I ordered this burger, I was extremely happy with the result. I had previous meals from MIHO where the burger was mediocre at best and I felt swindled for paying as much as I did. Of all the burgers I tried, this was probably the closest to a standard american cheeseburger, and sometimes all you want is the standard burger executed to perfection. This burger reminded me an all time rock and roll classic.

Taste - 84.375
  • Overall - 90
  • Patty - 90
  • Bun - 50
  • Other - 75
  • Temperature - 100
Value - 35 - $8 for a grass fed burger with no sides +$0.75 for bacon
Miscellaneous - 82.5
  • Ease of Consumption - 85
  • Sides - 80 - hand cut kennebec fries with house made ketchup, these fries were double fried also, so they had a nice crunch (unlike previous miho visits with the soggy fries)

Normalized Score: 71.56

Curiocity Catering Truck:
All Natural Brand Beef Burger - organic vine ripe tomato, local romaine, pickles,
curiocity sauce, potato bun
The Curiocity Catering burger takes a Brandt Beef patty and tops it on a potato bun and features the traditional toppings from local producers. While the burger seemed like a good idea, it suffered from horrible execution. My patty was cooked to be well done, which really ruined the burger for me.

Taste - 27.5
  • Overall - 30
  • Patty - 20
  • Bun- 35
  • Other - 45
  • Temperature - 0
Value - 75 - At only $7 for a brandt beef burger, the food was not overly pricey despite the lack of execution
Miscellaneous - 80
  • Ease of Consumption: 80
  • Sides - N/A
Overall Score: 52.5

Eat At Recess
The Bully - 1/3lb grass fed beef patty, smoked applewood bacon, bbq sauce, grilled onions, cheddar
I was excited about the Eat at Recess concept when I heard about it. Paired with grass fed beef, I thought that the formula would be the recipe for a home run. Unfortunately, when I tasted the burger from Eat at Recess, I was disappointed in the results. The main issue with the food is that while all the individual components are good, the meat to bun ratio is heavily skewed in favor of the bun, which unbalances all the flavor combinations. Additionally, despite having a conversation with the owner about rare meat in juicy burgers, my patty came out somewhere closer to the medium well side.

Taste - 46.875
  • Overall - 50
  • Patty - 75
  • Bun - 0
  • Other - 75
  • Temperature - 25
Value - 75 (7.50 for a grass fed burger with no sides is still on the expensive side, but it remains affordable)
Miscellaneous - 67.5
remedial tots
  • Ease of Consumption: 85
  • Sides: 50 an order of tater tots was obtained with this. Unfortunately I didn't agree with the flavor combination in the tots
Overall Score: 59.0625

From these results, Devilicious took a narrow victory over the surprisingly showing of the Green Truck. Devilicious scored high in the taste, but nearly lost the shootout due to the mess that was created from eating the burger. The Green Truck scored high in the value segment where other trucks struggling, making up for the above average taste, possible suggesting that the weighting of the scoring system may have been inaccurate. Following in a close third was MIHO, which had a great burger, but was undone due to the pricing of their burger.

In the lower tier, we had The Gooch, Bitchin Burgers. Curiocity Catering, and Eat at Recess. Originally The Gooch offered tater tots with the burgers, which would have increased the value score, but since there were no tots, they fell out of competition. I also didn't order any sides from The Gooch, who perhaps needs to add some more compelling sides than just onion rings. The truck that needs the most work in my opinion is Bitchin Burgers. I feel like that truck is still trying to find its way as it originally started with burgers on ciabatta bread (luckily for me they moved beyond that), and now is mixing the cheese with the patty. Not only does this seem to lessen the serving size of the meat to the customer since it is measured to 1/3 lb, it also seemed to remove some of the juiciness of the burger. Curiocity suffered from execution issues when I visited, but they could be churning out great burgers now. Finally Eat at Recess's burger suffers from the meat to bun ratio, which clouds the flavors of an otherwise successful buger.


Nine Ten - Happy Hour

>> Sunday, November 13, 2011

Date of Dining: 9/9/2011
Price: $5-8 per dish during happy hour
Location: 910 Prospect St, La Jolla, 92037

The Quick Bit:
+ Great price point at happy hour
+ High quality ingredients
+ Great desserts
Δ Seasoning of dishes was extremely uneven
Δ charcuterie could have been more inspired

While on the hunt for burgers, a friend passed me a tip to try the burger at Nine-Ten during happy hour. As I was already there, I went ahead and decided to sample more dishes off the happy hour menu in addition to the burger. Nine-Ten has a great happy hour deal as all the bar dishes are half priced during happy hour. Additionally, they have a $5 glass of red and white wine which rotates regularly.
Nine-Ten is located as part of the Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla. Nine-Ten is headed by Chef Jason Knibb whose food is characterized as "earth-to-table" meaning he only uses the freshest regional ingredients in his cuisine. Chef Knibb has trained under many chefs including Wolfgang Puck at Eureka, Roy Yamaguchi at Roy's Kahana Bar and Grill in Maui, and Trey Foshee at Tree Restaurant. 
While the fine dining restaurants are usually expensive to be inaccessible to many people, a lot of these restaurants will have a happy hour menu where the food is cheaper. A lot of times, this is the best way to sample the food of a restaurant to decide if you enjoy the food before committing to a larger and more expensive tasting menu. 
At Nine-Ten I ordered a selection of dishes and asked them to be coursed out. I did also order a burger, but that will be covered as part of a later blog post.

Charctuerie plate - La Quercia proscuitto, house-made rabbit rilletes, varzi salami
While La Quercia is a great proscuitto to have at home when purchasing from the market, the quality is not quite at the level of what should be expected from a fine dining restaurant. The rabbit rilletes (back) were the best item on this plate as they were full of flavor and well balanced. What brought this dish down was the pickles. Most of these were too strongly pickled and had a really strong acidic odor from the pickling liquid. 

tuna tartare
The quality of the tuna was exceptional. Mixed with the avocado puree and the konbu, the tuna was perfect. Unfortunately, there were some soy-ponzu spheres that were also served with this dish. When these spheres were broken, the resulting flavors were very strong and overpowered the other rather delicate flavors of the dish. Fortunately it was easy to avoid the spheres so the dish was still very enjoyable.
hamachi sashimi
Again, the quality of the hamachi sashimi was exceptional. Alone, the taste, texture and oil of the hamachi didn't need much extra to really highlight the natural flavors. However, the button mushrooms seemed to have either been pickled or marinated in an overly aggressive and salty liquid, which completely ruined the dish. Had this not been a happy hour bar menu, I would have sent this dish back.

lamb meatballs - pine nuts, saltanas, san marzano tomato sauce, grilled artisan bread
The San Marzano tomato sauce was the highlight of this dish. Mixed with the pine nuts, the sauce was extremely flavorful, sweet, and interesting. Unfortunately, the lamb meatballs did not stand up to the sauce. The integration of the lamb into a meatball killed most of the gamey meat flavor that would have been necessary to contrast the sauce.
short rib panini - aged cheddar, onion marmalade
This was the best savory course of the evening. The panini was cooked very well and the onion marmalade was an excellent contrast to the tender and flavorful short rib. The cheese tied all the flavors together. This dish was so good on the savory side that I would return in the future to just order this dish. At $6 during happy hour, this is an absolute steal.

Strauss yogurt panna cotta
This was the best dish of the night. The texture of the panna cotta was just right and the flavor gave just the perfect hint of sweetness. The lychee and raspberry added a nice contrast of sweet and tart, and the toasted granola gave the nice textural contrast that was needed to round out the dish.
warm hazelnut cake - marscapone cream, plum, figs
While this dish was also well composed and very enjoyable, it was completely overshadowed by the panna cotta so I don't remember too many details about it. The figs were perfectly ripened and very enjoyable on their own.

I was extremely impressed with Pasty Chef Jack Fisher's desserts. As I had almost not even ordered dessert, it was a good thing that my companion insisted that the dessert was ordered. On the savory side, I felt that many of the courses left an extra element to be desired. The only really good dish from that side was the short rib panini.
On the other hand, if I was to evaluate each of the dishes I had at the happy hour price, I would be extremely happy with the food to price ratio. For the price in which the food is being delivered, it is a smoking hot deal. If you're in La Jolla during happy hour, I would definitely recommend stopping by to enjoy the slightly diminished fine dining food at happy hour prices.
As an additional comment, I really disagreed with their choice of artisan bread as the bread left a strange aftertaste almost of raw flour in my mouth. I'm sure others really enjoy the bread that was used, but any courses containing bread seemed to be diminished for me if only because of the bread.


About This Blog

gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
If any special treatment is provided to the blogger, full disclosure is presented at the beginning of the post.

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