The Linkery - 7th Anniversary

>> Sunday, February 26, 2012

Date of Dining: 2/24/2012
Price: $7-14 per appetizer, $20-35 per entree
Location: 3794 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104

The Quick Bit:
+ house made sausage links
+ special menu for anniversary celebration
+ cooking temperature of meat was spot on
Δ seasoning in dishes could be more consistent
Δ ambiance could be warmer and friendlier

While deciding what to do on a Friday night, I came across The Linkery celebrating its seventh anniversary during the weekend. Naturally this became the event to attend. The Linkery was on the forefront of the San Diego movement towards Farm to Table. As much as possible, they try to source their ingredients from local farms and make all their food themselves.
The Linkery is one of the restaurants owned by Jay Porter, whose restaurants all share this philosophy. I mention Jay because he is actually more prevalent in his restaurant's website than the chef is. He is also an active participant on many local San Diego food communities. He contributes his opinion when it is warranted and usually gives an insightful viewpoint from the restauranteur.
The Linkery's kitchen is headed by Executive Chef Max Bonacci. Bonacci was named the reader's choice best chef for San Diego City Beat, but I wasn't able to find any additional information on his background.
As part of the 7th anniversary, The Linkery featured a selection of sour beers and some special menu items:
Cuvee de Tomme, Lost Abbey 
el salchichero - french fries, house made longaniza, house cured bacon, spring hill cheddar
pastured hen egg, avocado, marinated onions
When we decided to order fries, I tried to go for the classic version, but was shamed into getting the biggest, most complete order of fries. Inevitably the problem with these types of dishes is that you have no idea how to attack the dish; do you enjoy the elements separately, do you try to mix them together? This dish suffered similarly. While the house cured bacon and the egg stood out as great elements in the dish, I didn't really get how everything was supposed to integrate. Perhaps the biggest issue was that the longaniza was somewhat unspectacular and reminded us of ground beef.
board it up - chaurice (near) bucyrus bratwurst (far)
From the linkipedia:
Chaurice: a class Creole sausage, really spicy pork, onion, new mex chile powder, garlic, clove, cayenne, red pepper flakes, allspice
Bucyrus Bratwurst: Bucyrus is a city in central Ohio that is known as "The Bratwurst Capital of America." Pork, ceal, caraway, ginger, milk, poached in beer
I felt that both sausages lacked a little salt, so a small dish was brought out. With a light application of salt, the flavors started to pop out. The Chaurice was a spiced sausage that really highlighted how spice can really enhance the flavor of meat. However, the flavor was somewhat one-dimensional. I enjoyed the bratwurst as there was a complex depth of flavor to it. The interplay of the different meats created a more subtle, but interesting flavor profile in how the flavors came together.
I actually respect that the sausages themselves don't have salt as the sausages are generally a smaller part of a larger dish. Adding salt in both places would probably result in overly salty dishes.

choucroute - link of choice, cured pork belly, house cured saurkraut in white wine and berkshire pork,
house made mustard, house made beer bread
The link of choice was the kasekrainer:
kasekrainer: An Austrian "cheese sausage" pork, cheese, paprika, cayenne, marjoram, sage, garlic
When I ordered this dish, I thought this was going to be the best dish of the evening. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I found myself disappointed. While it was on the menu, I didn't expect the cheese to actually be integrated into the sausage and ooze out when cut. I also didn't get the smokiness or spicy from the sausage as I felt the cheese somewhat overpowered those flavors.
The house cured bacon and saurkraut were excellent. However, there was a cheese melted on top of the kraut that threw the balance of the dish off.
berkshire pork chops - kumquat, oyster mushroom, spring onion
This was the best dish of the night. The kumquats were a key component to the dish as they contained a nice amount of sweetness and acidity that balanced the fattiness of the pork. The pork chop was cooked perfectly medium and the flavor of the pork through the fat was really enjoyable.
I once heard a comment about Chef Gavin Schmidt's sous vide beef brisket being exactly what beef should taste like, and I felt that this Berkshire pork chop really epitomized the greatness of pork. It was full of the pork flavor, fat, mouth feel, and was complemented by some nice sides. Further, there was a very generous serving of two chops.

While the menu items I ordered were from the anniversary menu, these anniversary dishes were "old favorites" that were brought back. The menu is reflective of the high quality of food served at the Linkery, and the restaurant experience was enjoyable. The house cured bacon was incredibly tasty each time it appeared, and the berkshire pork was also extremely enjoyable. Glancing at the current menu, I'm sure the coq au vin is interesting as well as the grass fed steak.
Note: When dining at The Linkery, an 18% gratuity is automatically assessed to the bill. This is ultimately lower than I normally tip, but it was somewhat of a shock seeing the total a little higher than initially expected.


Fish 101

>> Thursday, February 23, 2012

Date of Dining: 11/12/2011
Price: $10-$15
Location: 1458 N Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA 92024

The Quick Bit:
+ well-prepared fresh seafood
+ good variety of seafood dishes
+ "blue water" seafood model but in north county
Δ Could be more value for the price
Δ Dinner ambiance could have been more upbeat

Finding ourselves without our better halves on a cold, rainy November weekend, Gourmand's Review and I organized a little "blogger date" to check out Fish 101. Positioned as a pre-DDD (Diners Drive-ins, and Dives) Blue Water in North County, we decided that if the restaurant lived up to the billing, it would be a great little location to enjoy regularly.
I'm not sure if it was due to the rainy weather, but while I expected a relaxed and friendly beach dive, I found the ambiance to be a little more tense and strained. We decided to order a wide variety of dishes and share so we could get a good handle on the menu. Another aspect that seemed strange was that while the restaurant was mostly empty, we felt pretty rushed through much of the meal.
today's crudo "ceviche" - halibut, tomato, onion, micro-arugula, corn chips, avocado
We started the meal with the ceviche/crudo. All the ingredients were fresh and well prepared, but the preparation lacked some oomph when coming together. Instead of enjoying a ceviche, I felt more like I was eating salsa that included chunks of fish.
steamed clams - white wine, leeks, garlic, tarragon
While we wanted to order the steamed mussels, the delivery for the day seemed to be delayed and we had to settle for the steamed clams. While the clams were cooked well, the dish seemed to have a few flaws. The use of garlic in the sauce was a bit heavy-handed and resulted in an overly pungent broth that was also a bit on the salty side. Additionally for the $9 charged for the dish, I like I was eating gold as the price per clam seemed to be around the $0.80 range.
grilled yellowtail salad
Getting to the Blue Water type portion of the menu, the fresh fish selection of the day was the yellowtail. We chose to enjoy this as a salad to see what would be included. The fish grilled well and full of fresh flavor. The  salad on the other hand seemed a bit lazy as the lettuce was still in large chunks and the dressing was uneven. 
fried oyster po'boy - french roll, lettuce, tomato, pickled red onion, spicy aioli
Fortunately, we ordered a fried oyster po'boy that saved the day. This was the best dish of the night. The oysters were super fresh Carlsbad Luna oysters that were sweet, succulent, and fried to perfection. The pickled red onions added a nice freshness and acidic element to bring through the flavor of the seafood. Both Gourmand's Review and I also commented that of all the dishes ordered, we though the serving size of this dish was the best value.

While most of this review was largely negative, Fish 101 was not a horrible restaurant. If you brought down the prices of all the dishes about $2 to be in line with Blue Water prices, I would be singing praises. Unfortunately, Fish 101 seems slightly confused as to its place in the community - do they want to be the great value volume-based neighborhood dive or do they want to be more of a restaurant. The food would be great for a dive, but lacks some sophistication for being a full-fledged restaurant.
I recommend Fish 101 for that lunchtime seafood sandwich stop, but feel like the experience was a little out of place for a dinner experience.


Fukada - Interrupt

>> Sunday, February 19, 2012

Date of Dining: 11/23/2011
Price: ~$15-18 per person with combo and appetizer
Location: 8683 Irvine Center Dr, Irvine, CA 92618

The Quick Bit:
+ hand made udon and soba
+ nice selection of side dishes for izakaya-style dining
+ organic ingredients and brown rice substitutions are possible for healthier dining
Δ service can be inattentive
Δ possible long wait times as no reservations are taken

Fukada is one of those neighborhood hole-in-the-wall places that has outgrown the hole-in-the-wall moniker into something much larger. Situated across the 405 freeway from the prominent Irvine Spectrum, Fukada is one of Irvine's few non-chain restaurants (well I guess technically that is not true since there is Fukada2Go) and serves elevated traditional Japanese everyday food. 
Fukada does two things different from other Japanese restaurants. First, they use higher quality organic ingredients for some dishes, and second, they hand-make their udon and soba. The combination of these two factors means that the food at Fukada has a purer quality to it, which elevates the taste above other similar restaurants. 
On a trip to the restroom, it is possible to see the windowed room where all the noodles are hand-made daily on the premises. 
Growing up in OC, Fukada was one of my favorite destinations for a high quality taste of Japanese cuisine. While the food doesn't quite measure up to the same food in Japan, the bar doesn't fall too far below that mark. When I visit the OC, I still visit Fukada quite frequently as I have yet to find anything quite the same in San Diego.
I went to Fukada with one of my college classmates, who is a self-professed ram-maniac. We ordered a bit skewed off what I normally order in order to accommodate.

A staple side of many Japanese restaurants, the gyoza is usually a good representative of the other food offered at the establishment. However, using the gyoza to judge Fukada would be a mistake as the average gyoza don't compare to the rest of the high-quality food offered.
fried chicken wings
One of the signature appetizers, the fried chicken wings are a perfect bit of savory fried goodness. Sometimes doing something simple correctly goes very far and these fried wings with ponzu-dashi sauce had just the right combination of salty savory chicken to acidic umami. These were a great complement to the other dishes we had on the table.
In addition to these appetizers, Fukada offers a selection of broiled fish; I highly recommend the broiled yellowtail collar if it is available. They also offer a high quality selection of sashimi (although it's not anywhere near the level of Kaito, it is still above many entry-level sushi places) - perhaps one of their best dishes is the sashimi salad which mixes some tataki-style grilled sashimi on a bed of organic mixed lettuce.

Fukada's claim to fame is the noodle combinations. For lunch, there is usually a special of a noodle with California roll or crunchy roll. However, there is also the combination of noodle with donburri available throughout the day.
When ordering noodles, one specifies hot (in a dashi broth) or cold (with dipping sauce) - if the hot option is selected, then a choice of tanuki (tempura batter) or sansai (mountain vegetables) is available.
hot soba sansai
As my noodle of choice is the soba, I usually swap between the cold and hot soba, but when I select the soba I always go sansai. The soba flavor is really allowed to come through with the high quality dashi stock that the noodles are served in. The mountain vegetables offer a variety of healthy flavors and textures to complement the noodles.
The ten-don is a standard donburi that contains two shrimp tempura cooked into an omelette form topped in a rice bowl. While this is a pretty standard Japanese preparation, the use of higher quality ingredients really highlights the flavors.
hot udon tanuki
spicy tuna-don
My dinner mate elected to go with udon and the spicy tuna don. While I didn't actually sample his meal, I'll work off my memory of many meals at the restaurant for the udon - I've never tasted the spicy tuna don.
The hand-made udon really makes a difference in the flavor of the noodle as the udon has a much more supple texture that creates a different mouth-feel from the mushier frozen variety. There is also just the right amount of resistance in the dough to give the correct chew experience. The draw of the tanuki ramen is the contrasting textures both in the beginning and as the bowl goes on; the tempura bits start crunchy at first and then morph into sponges full of the dashi flavor.
In addition to the noodle combos, there are some other noodle dishes available as well. Of particular note, the nabeyaki udon is impressive as it contains a variety of ingredients to build a great sampling of many flavors.

Sometimes the preparation of ingredients simply to highlight the flavors is the best way to go. Fukada is a great example of this practice. I consider the restaurant as comfort food, but unlike the extremely unhealthy kill your arteries comfort food, Fukada is comfort food at healthy levels. When anyone asks me for an everyday restaurant recommendation in Orange County, Fukada is my go to recommendation. While it's no longer really a secret place anymore and the lines can be long, the food is worth the wait.
As one of my favorite stops in OC, Fukada gets the kilobit award.


PrepKitchen (Little Italy)

>> Thursday, February 16, 2012

Date of Dining: 2/11/2012
Price: $8-24 appetizers, $14-30 entrees
Location: 1660 India Street, San Diego, CA 92101

The Quick Bit:
+ large location overlooking much of Little Italy
+ well cooked, well seasoned food
+ wide range of interesting appetizer choices
Δ entrees could be more exciting in concept
Δ space could be more conducive to dinner conversation
Δ service could iron out some kinks.

From the minds that brought us Whisknladle (which I previously covered), PrepKitchen Little Italy has been in the works for the greater part of a year. I first heard about PrepKitchen Little Italy when I dined at Whisknladle during restaurant week, and it finally became a reality on 2/1/2012. 
PrepKitchen Little Italy is still managed by Chef Ryan Johnston, but it seems like he is not the one managing the kitchen. At the time of this writing, I was unable to locate information to who was running the kitchen. However, the feel of the dishes was still as if Chef Johnston was in charge of the menu.
The goal of PrepKitchen was to provide a place to "eat Whisknladle quality food on a regular basis while sticking to our restaurant employee budgets." While the other PrepKitchen locations in Del Mar and La Jolla did stick to this concept, the Little Italy location definitely should be called "Whisknladle South." This is a bit unfortunate as Little Italy also seems to be an area that generally caters to two forks instead of three forks on the pricing scale. As the location is the largest of all the restaurants, it seems as if PrepKitchen Little Italy has the potential to become the flagship restaurant of the Whisknladle Hospitality Group.
I attended the dinner at PrepKitchen with fellow bloggers Gourmand's Review and Rodzilla. We were given a prime table overlooking the India and Date St intersection. One interesting part of the meal was that despite the reservation size we made, our table was short of a chair and I was standing around waiting for about 10 minutes before a chair was brought over for me. Once we agreed to share all the dishes that were ordered, Rodzilla pointed out that Gourmand's Review had a really interesting ordering style. It went along the lines of "we want everything on the menu from here to here" (it was about a third of the menu).

cutting board (full) - house cured meats, cheeses & accompaniments
The cutting board was the equivalent of a charcuterie board. The cheeses that seemed to be featured were swiss, brie, and comte. The meats included a sopressata, pate, and terrine. The accompaniments were dried berries, candied walnuts, olives, and pickles.
The great part of a charcuterie plate is that there are so many different flavors and sweets and sours all over the plate; it is a great way to experience a variety of flavors in the meal. My favorite cheese was the comte as it had a nice bit of saltiness and a balanced flavor that neither too overwhelming or too weak to stand up to the other flavors. From the meats, I enjoyed the pate the most as it was full of strong flavors. My favorite accompaniment was the candied walnuts; it seemed like the walnuts were dipped in a local honey as the sweetness had a floral quality to it.
scallop crudo - kumquat, fennel, celery, tarragon & sea salt crackers
The scallop crudo was a great balanced appetizer and one of my favorites. The scallops were full of flavor and surprisingly not overwhelmed by the flavors of the accompanying herbs and kumquat; the strength of the kumquat acid actually cancelled some of the herbs so that the flavor of the scallop still came through.
terrine of the day - duck "meatloaf" (liver)
Since the only thing to go off was the waitress's description of the food, she described the terrine as a "duck meatloaf." Fortunately the website does clarify the terrine as being a duck liver terrine. While duck liver seems to suggest foie, this terrine unfortunately was not a foie gras terrine. It was however very well made and full of savory duck flavors. I found the accompanying watercress to be a great touch. The mild peppery yet fresh flavor of the watercress was the perfect herb to pair with the terrine.
flatbread - gouda, pancetta, pickled cippolini onions, gala apples, thyme, and parmesan
I have been a huge fan of the whisknladle flatbreads in the past. Instead of coming up with another juxtaposition of chili and cornbread comment, I'll just wish that the flatbread had some porchetta and black currants instead.
local mussels and frites - garlic, white wine, aioli
 The mussels were cooked perfectly tender and the garlic white wine sauce was a nice accompaniment. The combination was a classic preparation and really featured the freshness and flavor of the mussels themselves. The sauce was perfectly seasoned as well, which is sometimes a problem with these dishes.
confit pork belly - pickled fennel, escarole & cider glaze
This was the second best dish of the evening. The pork belly was cooked perfectly and the savory flavor mixed with the fat was extremely satisfying. I had a little trouble locating the pickled fennel on the plate, but I'll forgive the kitchen as the pork belly really stood on its own. The cider glaze added just enough of a sweetness to really bring out the savoriness of the meat.
cotechino sausage stuffed squid - putanesca and breadcrumb salsa
This was my favorite dish of the night. The squid was cooked perfectly so it was tender and the sausage had a great balance of salt, fat, and spice to contrast the squid. The putanesca sauce and breadcrumb salsa added the needed bit of acid and tomato sauce to really round out the flavors of the dish. 

blue plate - bay scallop risotto with baby fennel and tarragon gremolata
When we heard the blue plate special, we were excited enough to break form and each order a plate of the entree. This was perhaps an error on our part as the dish failed to live up to the expectation. Of all the dishes, this was the most under-seasoned. The portion to cost ratio of the dish can probably be really called into question as well.

Desserts: (stressed backwards)
bread pudding- banana, dulce de leche & coconut candied walnuts
The bread pudding was a nice surprise to me as I had previously had some rather poor experiences with desserts at Whisknladle. Fortunately, this bread pudding was really well-made and packed full of flavor. The ice cream, walnuts, and bread pudding really came together well to form a great way to end the meal.
Jojo's Cookie Plate - (right to left) lemon bar, nutter butter, chocolate chip
These cookies were well made. The nutter butter recreation was perhaps the best elevated re-creation of the three cookies, but all the cookies were very enjoyable.

Comparing Whisknladle to PrepKitchen Little Italy, I definitely prefer Whisknladle. However, that is not to say that PrepKitchen Little Italy was not a success in itself. Most of the appetizers were outstanding; -perhaps some of them were better than dishes at Whisknladle. I was really impressed by both the stuffed squid and confit pork belly. As with any new restaurant, PrepKitchen Little Italy still has a few issues to iron out. Service seemed to have a few kinks, and the entrees on the menu deserve an upgrade.
In the end, it is still hard to overlook the great tasting and well-prepared food. PrepKitchen Little Italy is definitely one of the spots to check out in Little Italy. I'll be looking forward to visiting again in the future.


A Simple Supper with Gavin Schmidt/Happy Birthday gastrobits!

>> Sunday, February 12, 2012

Date of Dining: 2/10/2012
Price: $150 for everything including alcohol pairing and service
Location: Shhh!... It's a secret!

The Quick Bit:
+ Chef Schmidt's last service in San Diego?
+ Illuminati excitement around an underground dinner
+ A real standout dish all around
Δ The price could have better reflected the experience, especially for no alcohol options
Δ Some dishes could have used better technical execution

My how time flies! Today marks the 1 year anniversary of gastrobits! In the 1 year since I've started blogging about my food adventures, I've over 35,000 hits to the blog. In the last year, I've learned a lot about photography; I upgraded from a point and shoot to a DSLR and then upgraded DSLRs once I understood what I wanted out of my camera (I'm currently shooting on a Sony SLT-A77 in case anyone is wondering). I've gone from posting on my whim to posting regularly once a week to posting twice a week. I've gone from an irascible, irritable dalek in my criticism to an effusive, ebullient gourmand. Okay I think some of the geeky humor could probably return to the blog - maybe I can be the Chris Pine James T. Kirk instead of the William Shatner James T. Kirk.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the visitors to the Chefs who have put up with me and given me some very memorable meals. It is an honor and a privilege to taste the artistry that is put into composing the dishes and I hope many more chefs will share will be their artistry in the future. I also want to thank all the readers, especially those who follow all my posts. You are the ones that keep this thing going. I hope you have all been able to share in my appreciation of the food put out for me to eat, and I hope I can continue to share these experiences with you.
When I thought about what I was going to post about for the 1 year anniversary, I had all sorts of weird ideas. However, doing some sort of summary post didn't seem appropriate as we just had the gastrobit awards for 2011. Naturally I came back to the meal that convinced me to start writing a blog - more specifically I came back to the chef that prepared that meal for me- Chef Gavin Schmidt. What better way to celebrate the 1 year birthday than with another meal with the Chef that inspired me to start it all?
Chef Gavin Schmidt needs no introduction on this site - I have enjoyed countless dinners with him in the past year. I've even started the conspiracy theory that Chef Schmidt is actually a hobbit. Unfortunately, since the closing of Blanca, I chef Schmidt has not been able to find another restaurant to helm. He is to the point where he is going to be moving back to San Francisco. Thus the meal you are about read about was one of Chef Schmidt's last meals in San Diego. For those other hobbit fans out there, rest assured that if he does have another pop-up event I will do my best to be there to cover it.
A Simple Supper is a San Diego incarnation of the underground dinner concept. In an underground dinner, guests congregate at a secret location where a chef prepares a meal for the diners. Generally, underground dinners occur because food is served that otherwise cannot be served at a restaurant (certain cheeses, foie gras, etc), or because there is some specific theme to the dinner (miracle berry). By joining the mailing list, perspective guests receive an email about a dinner and then arrange to attend if the details interest them.
In this particular underground dinner, the theme seemed to be a mix of Chef Schmidt's San Diego goodbye and a special experience for Valentines Day. As most know, Valentines Day is a notoriously bad time to go out for dinner in a restaurant if you actually want good food. The food provided by Chef Schmidt in the underground dinner would hopefully be far superior to what is served in another restaurant.

Hors d'ourves:
champagne cocktail
The champagne took on some of the minty flavor, but was otherwise a sweet and buttery champagne.
ciccoli - mango, caviar
The hors d'oevres started with some of Chef Schmidt's famous charcuterie - more specifically the ciccoli (my favorite). This particular piece was enhanced by being wrapped with mango and topped with caviar. The sweetness of the mango cut into some of the rich fat of the ciccoli and was complemented by the saltiness of the caviar.

profiterole -oyster mushroom, parmesan, mustard
Somehow I missed taking a photo of the profiterole (cause I got too excited for the next one). The profiterole was a bite-sized piece of puff pastry. The center filling was a warm gooey mass of the cheese, parmesan, and mushrooms. The creamy filling left a nice mouth-feel during the tasting and was seasoned well. The mustard prevent the cheese from being too overwhelming and the mushrooms added an element of both umami and earthiness.
still life - oyster, spot prawn, apple, uni, avocado, dashi
While the still life returned in bite-sized form, the composition of it was completely different to the one I got used to. The smokey flavor of the dish came through in the dashi, but the overall taste of the dish changed in the one-bite form. While certain elements that were usually enjoyed alone couldn't really be savored in the same way, I was still happy with the composed bite. My mouth pretty much told me too many good tastes were happening together at the same time and filtered out some of the flavors to prevent my mind from becoming overloaded.
dumpling - chicken, foie gras
This dish was a take on the dish I named the best dish I had in 2011. This dumpling was very similar to a xiao long bao except that instead of the pork filling it was chicken, and instead of the pork stock base, it was a foie gras stock. The foie gras was definitely apparent in the flavoring of the dish and it was a great bite to get the foie flavor. Again, the dumpling skin was hand rolled, delicate, and just the correct thickness.

First Course:
salad of dungeness crab - carrot, lemongrass, pea tendril, rau ram, creme fraiche, wood green sorrel, lime
This was the best dish of the night for me. All around the table, we though this dish was truly special - it was perhaps the best dish I've had since TBL3. Right away, the smell the dish gave when it was brought out was amazing as the smell of the crab permeated the senses.
Chef Schmidt commented that he is unable to serve this dish in a restaurant due to the logistics in creating the carrot gelatin sheet that wraps around the crab salad. In this dish, the sweetness of the carrot complements the sweetness of the crab while the creme fraiche marries the elements for a silky mouth-feel. The herbs provide some pepperiness that moderates the sweetness. While the technical explanation might sound good, sometimes the emotional response might be better; this dish just really highlighted the purity of flavor in dungeness crab - it showed me the essence of dungeness crab flavor.

Second Course:
artichoke nasturtium soup - roasted fennel, roasted artichoke, nasturtium
The nasturtium soup was pureed to a very silky smooth texture. The mouth feel was very full bodied and luxurious in the mouth. The nasturtium soup reminded me of watercress in flavor, which gives a mix of an herb and pepper flavor. The roasted fennel added a nice herb contrast flavor, while the roasted artichoke added some earthy flavors. Overall it was a solid soup.

Third Course:
roasted duck breast - puffed faro, foie gras sausage, duck skin, cashew, granola,
cara cara orange, cauliflower
The best part of this dish was the foie gras sausage - it had a deep rich flavor that I just couldn't get enough of. The puffed faro, granola, and cashew mixture was nice as well. The elements gave a lot of additional texture to the dish. I felt the cara cara orange was a key component to the dish and wished there was more to it. Orange is a classic flavor to pair with duck and the additional acidity and sweetness from the orange may have enhanced this dish even more.

Fourth Course:
grilled beef brisket - yam mosaic, truffle vinaigrette, raddicchio 
The brisket was cooked sous vide first before being finished off on the grill. The truffle sauce gave the dish a mouth-watering aroma and paired well with both the yams and the brisket. The brisket was well-cooked and featured a grass fed brisket the way beef should taste. 

Fifth Course:
earl gray cake - candied kumquat, pine nut brittle, orange blossom ice cream
The pine nut brittle was easily the best part of this dish, but the earl gray cake was fantastic as well. The cake really captured the flavor of the tea and was a nice savory cake to contrast the sweetness from the brittle and the sweetness from the ice cream. The ice cream almost acted like a frosting sauce use to tie the brittle and cake together. The candied kumquat added just a bit of tartness and acidity to round out the dish. 

To finish off, we were given a chocolate heart and some chocolate chip cookies as a parting gift.

Overall, I was extremely pleased with the dinner. Chef Schmidt's cooking skills were on display and they haven't diminished since Blanca closed. The dungeness crab salad goes on as the first amazing dish of 2012. If I'm going to have more dishes of that caliber to have to compare for the gastrobits awards, then I'm going to eating very well this year.
As of the time of this writing, there may still be two seats available for the Simple Supper on Valentines day. If you are interested, feel free to send your email information to the Simple Supper website to reserve the spot.


Heart di Vite - 1st Annual

>> Thursday, February 9, 2012

Date of Dining: 2/5/2012
Location: Scripps Seaside Forum, 8610 Kennel Way, La Jolla, CA 92037

The Quick Bit:
+ Proceeds go towards donating for a good cause
+ Top San Diego Chef talent in one spot
+ Variety of cuisines on display
Δ Parking for the venue was difficult
Δ Event seemed somewhat rushed to enjoy and savor all the food

I was delighted when I saw the 1st Annual Heart di Vite event announced. Many of the top chefs in San Diego were participating and the event was catered towards raising awareness towards sustainable farming and biodiversity as well as fund raising students at UCSD. Not only was it a great culinary event, it was a great opportunity to learn more about the real issues facing the food industry today.
During the Heart Di Vite presentation, a focus was drawn to the effect of global warming on vineyards, overfishing of the ocean and sustainable fishing habits, and how current research at UCSD would serve to improve in these conservation efforts.
While I am out enjoying the best food available in the most exciting preparations, it is easy to lose sight that there is sometimes a price paid for enjoying that food in front of me. This event was great in that it showed that there is a lot of great tasting food available that is sustainable and not harmful to the environment.
Note: Since it will be another year to the next Heart di Vite, I will highlight each of the chefs and the food they prepared and also provide a link to the restaurant where you can enjoy their cuisine.
Note: I tried my best with the photos, but with the changing lighting conditions, not all the photos are up to par 
Chef Oliver Bioteau - Farm House Cafe:
Restaurant: Farm House Cafe
Location: 2121 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116

mushroom wrapped white seabass - braised pork belly, pommes puree, london sauce
Chef Bioteau's cuisine is high quality French cuisine prepared with seasonal, organic farm to table ingredients.
The seabass in this dish was well-cooked and retained moisture. The mushrooms used in combination with the seabass did a good job of adding some earthy flavors without overpowering the delicate flavor of the bass. However, the star of the dish was the braised pork belly. The pork belly was braised and full of flavor, but also crisped up before serving so that there was also an element of textural contrast. For me, the pork belly, stole the spotlight in this dish. I would have enjoyed a large plate of the pork alone.

Chef Trey Foshee - George's California Modern:
Location: 1250 Prospect Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037
campechana - prawn, scallop, octopus, avocado, lime, cucumber
Chef Foshee needs no introduction here as I previously enjoyed his TBL3 experience. His food focuses on Modern Californian cuisine using the highest quality ingredients with great presentation and impeccable presentation.
Living up to expectations, I felt the campechana was the best dish of the event. A campechana is a Mexican seafood cocktail similar to a ceviche, but also containing a vegetable soup base in addition to the Tiger's Milk. All of the seafood was cooked to tender perfection and the purity of the flavors really came through. I especially enjoyed the interplay between the natural sweetness of the scallop with the sourness of the vegetable broth. Overall, this was a great dish and one of the few ones that I came back for seconds on.

Chef Jason Knibb - Nine-Ten Restaurant:
Restaurant: Nine-Ten
Location: 910 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037
green farro porride - roasted brussel sprots, lamb panchetta, puffed wild rice
Chef Knibb is also another chef previously featured on this blog. Chef Knibb was recently on Iron Chef America whose cuisine embodies the use of the best ingredients in cooking.
Chef Knibb's dish was probably the most fun dish of the night. The variety of textural elements in the dish was extremely enjoyable. Instead of going for a lot of textural contrast, this dish instead showcased different types of crunch. The lamb panchetta was prepared to be crispy and gave the savory meaty crunch. Comparatively, the brussel sprouts displayed the roasted vegetable crunch that only brussel sprouts can convey. Finally, the puffed wild rice gave a crunchy soft feeling. The entire dish was a textural wonder to behold.

Chef Andrew Spurgin - Campine Catering:
Restaurant: Campine Catering
korean fried chicken - wakame potatoes - banchan
Chef Andrew Spurgin has been one of the key contributes to the Cooks Confab and headed many popular catering organizations in San Diego.
The best part of this dish was the kimchee. The flavoring of the kimchee was bold in execution and authentic in flavor. Other elements of the dish seemed a little koyaanisqatsi in both the individual preparation and overall composition.

Chef Antonio Friscia - Campine Catering, Gaijin Noodle + Sake House
Restaurant: Gaijin Noodle + Sake House
Location: 627 Fourth Ave, San Diego, CA
gigantes "super bowl" chili - pomodoro feta, herb pesto
Chef Antonio Friscia has been exploring many project lately since the kitchen at Stingaree shut down. He is involved with Campine Catering, Curiocity Food Truck, and most recently Gaijin Noodle + Sake Bar. He was excited to tell me that Gaijin would be a fusion of Japanese and Italian food as well as featuring specialty cocktails from Snake Oil. He quickly dissuaded the notion that his restaurant was trying to be a Momofuku Noodle Bar "West" - I do hope he does have 63 degree eggs though.
This bowl of chili took me by surprise as I had very low expectations of it. However, it was packed full of flavor, spice, and a certain comfort quality expected of great chili. The corn bread that accompanied the dish was also moist and well-prepared, but I didn't really understand the pairing as the sweetness of the corn and the spice of the chili seemed to work in a parasitic dissonance rather than a symbiotic juxtaposition. Fortunately, the well-seasoned and bold flavored chili itself more than made up for the other elements of the dish.
Gaijin Noodle+Sake Bar is tentatively scheduled to open the week of February 12th and features a yakitori bar in addition to the noodle bar.

Chef Chad White - Sea Rocket Bistro, Gabardine:
Restaurant: Sea Rocket Bistro
Location: 3382 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104

Restaurant: Gabardine
Location: 1005 Rosecrans, San Diego, CA 92106
sea urchin wrapped with lardo - uzu, lime, buzz leaf, ghost salt
Chef Chad White built his reputation with well-prepared sustainable seafood at Sea Rocket Bistro; it is one of the places I have on my list of places to go, but have not found the time. Fortunately, I was able to meet chef White at Heart di Vite. 
Perhaps best known for his uni ice cream, it comes as no surprise that Chef White decided to feature uni as his course at Heart di Vite. This dish was the item I had the most servings of at Heart di Vite, but I felt that the flavor came mostly from highlighting the natural flavor of the uni. All the elements served to bring out more of the uni flavor and complement its rich decadent flavors.
Chef White has teamed up with Brian Malarkey to be the head chef of Gabardine. According to Chef White, the theme of the restaurant is a Portuguese Seafood Bar, which is exciting to me since there is nothing like that concept (to my knowledge) in all of Southern California. While I thought I might be done with Malarkey Restaurants, I guess I'll have to make an exception for Gabardine; hopefully I just won't have to meet him again.

Chef Jeff Jackson - A.R. Valentien at The Lodge at Torrey Pines:
Restaurant: A.R. Valentien
Location: 11480 North Torrey Pines Rd, San Diego, CA 92037

pho - bone marrow flan, friend shrimp ball
Chef Jackson's food focuses on farm to table cuisine. A.R. Valentien is one of San Diego's top fine dining restaurants but seems to not be mentioned very often for some reason. I had a very productive discussion with Chef Jackson during the event and I hope to be able to visit sometime this year.
This was another dish where I had fairly low expectations going in. However, I was extremely impressed with Chef Jackson's preparation - he was able to really hit an authentic flavoring of the pho stock. The soup had the correct balance of anise, savory, and sweet, and since the ingredients used were high in quality, the soup featured a very nice purity in flavor that sometimes gets muddled when enjoying pho. The sliced jalapeno added a nice surprising kick to substitute for sriracha, and the micro-basil added the expected freshness.

Chef Katie Grebow - Cafe Chloe:
Restaurant: Cafe Chloe
Location: 721 9th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
house merguez sausage - yogurt vinaigrette, roasted red kuri squash sumac, israeli couscous
Chef Grebow heads the kitchen at Cafe Chloe. Her culinary philosophy focuses on the creative use of ingredients in a rustic style.
Merguez sausage seems to be one of the recent culinary trends I have seen in San Diego. One of the great features of the merguez is when the gamey flavor of the lamb comes through in the sausage as it allows for strong counterpoint in the accompanying elements of the dish. Individually each of the elements of the dish were well prepared, but I think I missed on how the yogurt was supposed to tie all of the elements of the dish together.

Chef Melissa Mayer - Martini Media:
Restaurant: Martini Media
raw oyster
fried oyster
Chef Mayer's works as a Chef for Martini Media and is involved with many events at Suzie's Farm. Her culinary philosophy lies in the use of simple, sustainable, organic farm to table ingredients. She competed in the Food Network Challenge on Mac and Cheese.
The raw oyster was more of a traditional preparation. However, the plating of the dish was exceptional as there was an incredibly pleasing element of eye candy to the dish. The oysters where infused with some smoky flavor, which really allowed the natural sweetness of the oysters to be highlighted. The fried oysters featured a spicy sauce and and some picked vegetables for some sour acidity. While the fried preparation was also enjoyable, I preferred the raw preparation by far as it served to highlight the natural oyster flavor in better greater purity.
I overheard Chef Mayer mention that she may be leaving San Diego, but I hope it isn't true. I just discovered  her talent and hope to try more of her food in the future.

Chef Jack Fisher - Jack Fisher Confections:
Affiliation: Jack Fisher Confections

Restaurant: Nine-Ten
Location: 910 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037
single origin chocolate - yogurt foam, apricot pearls, vanilla meringue
When I heard Jack Fisher would be preparing dessert, I was very excited to see what he was going to offer.  Fisher is most famous for his desserts at Nine-Ten - especially for the panna cotta. I had a great experience there myself, so I was looking forward to the dessert.
Fisher was really able to deliver on this dessert; sometimes there's no better way to finish off a great meal than a classic chocolate cake. This particular cake was rich with flavor and retained a large portion amount of moisture. The vanilla meringue added a touch of texture, the apricot pearls added a fruity sweetness to contrast the rich decadent sweetness of the chocolate, and the yogurt foam prevented all the sweetness from overwhelming the senses. Overall the dish was still a little too sweet for my liking, but it was still a very satisfying finish to a great meal.

When this event first caught my attention, I was a little apprehensive as attending would mean that I miss my first Super Bowl in fifteen years. Yet after attending, I'm very happy that I did as it was a great experience. There was also a magical sunset that really over-delivered in the ambiance. I'll close out by sharing some moments from that magical sunset


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.

  © Blogger template Webnolia by 2009

Back to TOP