Sea Rocket Bistro

>> Sunday, July 29, 2012

Date of Dining: 4/28/2012
Price: $5-12 appetizers, $18-25 entrees
Location: 3382 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104

The Quick Bit

+ great selection of seafood
+ technical execution of seafood was excellent
+ sustainable seafood sources
+ nice relaxed neighborhood atmosphere
Δ you pay for the bread (but it's Sadie Rose)

While I was digging through some of the old photos I haven't written a story about, I noticed that I left out my visit to Sea Rocket Bistro. This should be considered a capital offense on my part (or maybe it's calculated since it won't be as crowded).
While many who visit San Diego seem to think it should be a great destination to eat seafood, the quality of the seafood restaurant usually doesn't live up to expectations. Sea Rocket Bistro sets out to buck that trend by providing well prepared and unpretentious seafood dishes - it's the equivalent of the farm to table concept except for seafood. The seafood is sourced locally and comes from sustainable sources.
Sea Rocket Bistro is headed by Chef Tommy Fraioli, who previously worked at Bing Crosby's. However, I was introduced to Sea Rocket by fellow food writer Rodzilla and from my meeting with previous chef (and still part owner) Chad White. While Sea Rocket gained some fame from Chef White's obsession with uni, Chef Fraioli has really taken the concept to heart and raised the execution to a higher level.
Sea Rocket has a daily happy hour and special events on certain nights. We were able to catch the tail end of happy hour prior to the meal.

Happy Hour

country bread - Sadie Rose country bread with ramp butter
One important note is that in order to get bread at Sea Rocket, it has to be ordered separately. While this keeps costs down, it may come as a shock to others.
While Bread and Cie gets all the publicity, I've secretly come to enjoy the breads from Sadie Rose, so I was happy to find that the bread served at Sea Rocket was Sadie Rose. At least for the money, I knew I was getting a great bread.
uni shooter
As one of the more publicized dishes at Sea Rocket, I knew I had to try this. This ended up being a nice amuse as the uni was very fresh and had a great flavor. The bubbly soda water brought out some of the flavors and lended some acidity to smooth out the dish.
fish tacos - yellowtail, mackerel
This was my least favorite dish of the evening. The skin of the mackerel was charred to the point where it overwhelmed the flavor of the fish, and I don't think the tortillas were warmed before plating. While the slightly spicy sauce was nice, it didn't really go well with the otherwise raw cabbage.


local oysters - carlsbad luna oysters, citrus honey mignonette
The Luna oysters from Carlsbad Aqua Farms speak for themselves in terms of quality and value. We are truly blessed to have some of the best oysters in the world available locally to us. The no fuss mignonette was a nice way to highlight the quality of the Luna's without overwhelming their flavor
local steamers - clams, mussels, white wine
I thought the plating of this dish was a little weird with the bread laid around the plate, but since bread doesn't normally come with the dishes, it does make some sense. The clams and mussels were cooked perfectly and really allowed to shine.


pan seared corvina - bok choy, mushrooms, mustard
This was the best dish of the night. The corvina was cooked to perfection with a crispy skin, but a moist and tasty meat. The accompanying veggies really emphasized the meaty flavor of the fish. The mustard was a bit unnecessary, but it was nice to have for some variety. Overall, I was very impressed with the technical execution of this dish as well as the flavor combinations. Sometimes something prepared simply is the best way to enjoy it.


uni ice cream - shiso leaf
No visit to Sea Rocket is complete without the uni ice cream. We were instructed to use the shiso leaf along with the ice cream, but I found that I enjoyed the ice cream fine on its own. For all the hoopla, this really worked as a person who enjoys uni. However, if someone is not really a lover of uni, it will probably seem strange (similar to a bacon ice cream). The best way I can describe the flavor is that it is the sweetness of the uni flavor with a tiny bit of the bitterness. It is also not super sweet, so it wouldn't function in that capacity of a traditional dessert.


With a constantly changing seasonal menu and well executed technical cooking, I was very impressed with my visit to Sea Rocket Bistro. When people ask me for a seafood recommendation in San Diego (not sushi), my only recommendation will be for Sea Rocket Bistro. This is truly the one seafood destination in San Diego worth mentioning.
For the great menu selection, technical execution, and simple preparations that allow the flavor of the seafood to shine, I award Sea Rocket Bistro the gigabyte award!


The Boiling Crab (Mira Mesa)

>> Thursday, July 26, 2012

Date of Dining: 7/21/2012
Price: $8-9 per lb of protein (shrimp, clams, mussels, sausage), market price/lb (crab, lobster, crawfish)
Location: 9015 Mira Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92126

The Quick Bit

+ everything you love about other Boiling Crab locations 
+ great spicy marinade for seafood
+ lots of fun to get messy with your friends
Δ everything you dislike about other Boiling Crab locations

The Boiling Crab was started by Dada Ngo and Sinh Nguyen in 2003; the first location was in Garden Grove, CA. While it was not the first Vietnamese inspired Cajun (or is it Cajun inspired Vietnamese) restaurant in the US, it really popularized the Cajun flavored seafood boil concept in Southern California.
In many East Asian cultures, the social setting of eating together with a big group of friends and family is very popular. Usually a large pot is involved in the cooking and then friends and family sit together around a large table to socialize and a very casual setting.
After many Vietnamese fled Southeast Asia following the Vietnam war, they found refuge in all parts of the United States. Within the US, certain pockets seemed to attract many Vietnamese immigrants; Garden Grove, CA was one while Louisiana was another. As Cajun food is heavily inspired by French cuisine much the same way Vietnamese cuisine was, and with the high availability of seafood, many Vietnamese found similarities in Cajun cuisine. 
From these bases, Ngo and Nguyen opened The Boiling Crab in Garden Grove, introducing one popular cuisine of Vietnamese migrants to another group of migrants. The restaurant was an incredible success and two more Boiling Crab locations were opened in Garden Grove. Yet even with the increased restaurants, diners often had to wait over an hour for a table.
Here are few things to know about The Boiling Crab for the uninitiated
  • you order by the pound, so come hungry or with a large group
  • you eat with your hands and things get really messy, you are given a bib to wear when dining
  • a lot of garlic is involved in the sauce
  • there are no reservations, and waits are usually at least one hour
  • they have to go orders available
  • I don't know that I'd call it authentic Cajun cuisine, but perhaps Viet-Cajun
As a big fan of The Boiling Crab in Garden Grove, I spotted construction of the San Diego location about two months prior. I watched carefully for when it opened determined to visit. While I missed the grand opening, I did make it over soon after.
dozen oysters
These were pretty standard oysters, but at $15 for a dozen, they were pretty cheap. They were nicely shucked and fresh tasting. One slight complaint is that they didn't include any sauce.
sweet potato fries
These were the standard frozen sweet potato fries, but they add a nice change of pace from the seafood, so they were a nice addition.
fried catfish basket
This was the first time for me to get the fried catfish basket, and I was extremely impressed. The catfish was fried perfectly and came out really hot. The batter had a nice kick to the flavor and really worked well with the flavor of the catfish. I also felt that portion of this was extremely generous given the price. The cajun seasoning on the fries was a really wonderful surprise as well.
seafood bake bag
When ordering, one selects the protein(s), sauce(s) and spice level. As stated before, the proteins are sold by the pound. The sauces are some combination of "ragin cajun," lemon, and garlic. If you want all the sauces, it's called "the whole SHA-bang." There's really no other way to order it than the whole sha-bang, so that is how I would recommend the order. Finally as far as spice level, cajun food is known for its spice, so I wouldn't recommend anything less than medium.
Additionally, I highly recommend ordering the corn on the cob. The corn comes out ridiculously sweet when contrasted to the other flavors and is a great side/change of pace from the other items. The corn is usually thrown in with the entire seafood bake.
seafood bake bag - shrimp, clams, mussels, sausage, corn
We stayed away from the market price items and went for all the standard items. The best item in the entire bake was the clams. Each clam was large within the shell and the flavoring and freshness of the clams was really spot on. Additionally, we didn't have a single clam that didn't open in the process of the bake. The corn was also excellent (as previously mentioned). While I consider the shrimp and Andouille sausage to be staples, they neither stood out any more or any less than the other components. While we have a lot of local Carlsbad mussels, these didn't seem to be the same species. Thus, they seem a bit inferior when compared to some of the other local seafood product.


Overall, I'm extremely excited by The Boiling Crab opening in San Diego. The fact that it is a franchise makes it lose some of its luster, but I really enjoyed it much more than its "copycat cousin" in San Diego. Our group enjoyed the seafood bake so much that after "ordering a lot" in the first bake, we even ordered an extra serving of some items. 
For the relatively cheaply priced seafood with its fun social atmosphere, The Boiling Crab is awarded the megabit award!


Cucina Enoteca - Interrupt

>> Sunday, July 22, 2012

Date of Dining: 6/9/2012
Price: $7-13 appetizers, $14-25 entrees (lunch)
Location: 31 Fortune Dr, Irvine, CA 92618

The Quick Bit

+ interesting and diverse menu selection
+ great trendy atmosphere and decor
Δ prices could be more approachable for lunch

Cucina Enoteca is the latest restaurant of the Urban Kitchen Group (better known for running Cucina Urbana and Kensington Grill in San Diego). Through whatever forces of fate, I actually ended up trying their restaurant in Irvine before any of the ones in San Diego.
Cucina Enoteca is basically Cucina Urbana moved north to Irvine; the restaurant is owned by Tracy Borkum and the kitchen is headed by Executive Chef Joe Magnanelli. Chef Magnanelli is also in charge of Cucina Urbana, and focuses on trendy takes of Italian classics while bringing a modern feel to the dishes. While Cucina Urbana claims a $20 limit on all dishes, I noticed many of the lunch entrees at Cucina Enoteca had creeped into the mid $20 range, so the pricing aspect of the restaurants doesn't seem to align.
spring risotto - sea beans, asparagus, tomato
The risotto was well cooked and had a nice flavor for a vegetarian dish. The dish was balanced so the flavors of vegetables were able to shine through the rice.
CE brandt farms burger - braised short rib, fiscalini cheddar, honey mustard aioli, truffle fries
This was the best dish of the meal. This is the famous Cucina Urbana burger taken north. The burger was well cooked and the short rib gave the flavor an extra punch to take the flavors more complex. The fries were cooked very well.
lamb bolognese rigatoni - artichoke, feta, nepitella
The pasta was slightly overcooked, but the bolognese was well made. Overall, the dish was unremarkable, but also was not outstanding either.


With my short glimpse into Cucina Enoteca, I feel that there is some potential in the restaurant. However, it doesn't seem to have fully captured the magic that I hear about Cucina Urbana in San Diego. I feel that I should visit Cucina Urbana soon to give the proper comparison. If Cucina Enoteca is able to fully bring the Cucina Urbana experience to Irvine, then I expect the restaurant to be a success.


Red Light District - Flash

>> Thursday, July 19, 2012

Date of Dining: 7/13/2012
Price: $12-15 per entree
Location: 409 F St, San Diego, CA 92101

The Quick Bit: 

+ house made breads for lunch
+ great service and friendly front of house
Δ water could have less chlorinated taste

Red Light District in Gaslamp is the new venture of Chef Jason Maitland. Graduating from the New England Culinary Institute, Maitland previously worked as sous chef to Chef Carl Schroeder at Arterra and was the Executive Chef at Flavor Del Mar. Maitland's cuisine at Red Light District seems to be cooking American foods with complicated technique but presenting them in a clean and laid back manner.
As part of the Comic Con crawl, I visited Red Light District for lunch one day.
duck confit flatbread (half order) - hoisin, scallion, red onion, arugla
This flatbread order appeared to be more of a flatbread with a salad on top. While the flatbread itself was baked excellently and had a nice crispy crunch, the elements on top including the duck were cold. I appreciated the flavor combinations of duck, arugula, and hoisin, but thought that overall the dish lacked some finesse. Most of the time, the flavor combinations were out of balance.
maine lobster roll - melted leek, scallion, drawn butter
As a lover of seafood (and lobster) I appreciate any dish that includes a fresh lobster. The lobster in combination with the leeks was prepared well, as the slight garlicy taste enhanced the lobster. The roll was a house made bread, which was fresh and well toasted. The upgrade to the salad was also appreciated and included a nice champagne vinaigrette and a nice selection of fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, the lobster was slightly overcooked
braised short rib torpedo - roasted tomato, aged white cheddar, buttermilk hot dog bun
The short rib was braised well and full of flavor. The cheese did a good job of tying all of the elements of the dish together. Overall, this was a nice sandwich.


While there was nothing wrong with the meal at Red Light District, there was also nothing that really stood out about the meal. Overall, the experience was somewhat average and felt like a meal I could get at any slightly high end chain restaurant (e.g. Cheesecake Factory). While perhaps there is a demand for such places, especially in the Gaslamp, I didn't feel there was anything in the meal to justify a return visit in the future.


The Knotty Barrel Gastropub - Flash

>> Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Date of Dining: 6/14/2012
Price: $9-15 per person lunch
Location: 844 Market St, San Diego, CA

The Quick Bit

+ great beer selection
+ great tasting gastropub menu
Δ appetizers could be more original

Yes, the Batmobile was parked in front of the restaurant when I was eating. How cool is that?
The Knotty Barrel is one of the newest and few gastropubs in San Diego. My take on what they are trying to achieve that is different is to cater more towards an actual bar while having good food.
Serving as a consulting chef of the Knotty Barrel is Chef Ted Witte. Witte was the former owner and chef of Cafe Lavande in La Jolla and also the former executive chef of Kensington Grill. Most of the Knotty Barrel's menu is inspired by Witte.
While the Knotty Barrel wasn't advertising to Comic Con attendees with any sorts of specials, there were plenty of customers who were visiting the convention. Simultaneously, throughout July, the Knotty Barrel is trying some new menu items that will ultimately get on the final menu.
knotty wings - spicy sweet chili
We started with the knotty wings. The wings were fried really nicely and the sauce was surprisingly balanced. Usually on a wing you get too much sauce or way too little and lost the taste of either the sauce or the chicken. However, these wings were prepared perfectly. The sauce had a good balance of sweet, spicy, and tangy.
alaskan cod sandwich - truffle fries, black garlic
The biggest surprise was the Alaskan Cod sandwich. The fish was fried really well and without a strong batter - which I was fearing. However, the black garlic spread that came with the sandwich was really the perfect spread in relation to the fish. The flavor of the fish and the garlic had a great interplay and they really complemented each other.


Comic Con presented me a great opportunity to try out the Knotty Barrel. After visiting, I know that I will be back to sample more of the menu in the future.


Gaijin Noodle + Sake House - Flash

>> Sunday, July 15, 2012

Normally, this is the place for The Quick Bit, but since this post is going to be short, there's really no need.
As I mentioned last week, Comic Con occurred this past week. This is good as I was able to sample cuisine from a number of gaslamp establishments, and I will be making several short posts this week to talk about all of them.
Gaijin Noodle+Sake House is Chef Antonion Friscia's new venture. When I spoke to Chef Friscia previously, he said that it was his take on a Japanese+Italian fusion with cocktails.
We were led to Gaijin on the premise that there was a Comic Con Lunch Special where we could order a 1/2 bowl of noodles with some other appetizers for a discounted priced. Unfortunately, we were informed that the appetizer of our choice (carnitas bao bao) was unavailable despite being the lunch special.
Normally, this might be a place where I go Bane and rage like crazy, but in the spirit of keeping positive spirit, I think I can just let the pictures do the talking
kimchee "noodles"
spicy miso chasu hakata ramen


Since I want avoid a transformation into a big green hulk, I'll end on a positive note - at least I didn't get sick!


Convention Center Guide

>> Sunday, July 8, 2012

As a precursor to Comic-Con, I finalized my convention center guide. It might seem a little short, but the other restaurants aren't really worth it.

I won't be updating this week as I will be one of the attendees at Comic Con.


Muzita Abyssinian Bistro

>> Thursday, July 5, 2012

Date of Dining: 6/20/2012
Price: $8-13 appetizers, $9-21 entrees
Location: 4651 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92116

The Quick Bit

+ great unique carbohydrate
+ unique cuisine style
+ african beverages available
Δ cuisine style could throw some non-adventurous eaters off
Δ appetizers could be more authentic

As many of my coworkers know that I write about food as a hobby, I often get a lot of encouragement or questions about the hobby. Based on some of the feedback I get, I've been able to improve the blog. One of the suggestions I received was to include some of my coworkers in the meals on occasion. However, that in itself presents some challenges as many coworkers are vegetarian, or perhaps not too adventurous in diet.
One day, one my coworkers raved to me about a meal he enjoyed at Muzita; after looking at the restaurant's website, I thought there might be some nice potential in a restaurant where I could invite all my coworkers along.
Muzita is an Abyssinian Bistro which serves Ethiopian or Eritrean food. What this really means is that to eat, one uses their hands and a special bread called injera to hold the food. The injera is a cross between an Indian roti and cake in that it is rolled out in sheets, but is very light and fluffy in texture. At Muzita, the injera is made in-house. The actual cuisine is somewhat of a cross between North African stews and Indian curries.  Entrees served in a large family style plate are even covered with a mini straw tagine-like cover.


teff encrusted bamya - okra, whole teff, awaze roasted tomato, caramelized cippolini onion,
golden pepper emulsion
This dish seemed to be poised as a vegetarian crowd-pleaser. The okra was nicely fried and were arranged in an artistic tower shape. 
sambusas - alitcha atakilti, hamli, dorhi tsebhi
fillings (left to right) - chicken, spinach and collard greens, stewed vegetables
The sambusas seem to be an Eritrean take on Indian samosas. They came as a variety platter of different flavors. The dough covering was nicely fried and the sambusas were enjoyable overall.
crispy calamari kilwa - cornmeal coated calamari, brined peppers, preserved lemon harrida sauce
The calamari were tasty, but again this seemed more like a crowd pleaser.


As I didn't sample all the entrees, I've only included comments on the ones I tasted.
The entrees are mainly broken down into protein or vegetable with two sauces - tsebhi and kilwa. The tsebhi is more of a heavy herbal and spice mix while the kilwa is a tomato based sauce.
tsebhi dorho (upper right) and siga kilwa (lower left) - hamli, alitcha atakilti, injera
I settled on the tsebhi dorho (chicken) as my entree and shared with siga (beef) kilwa. The entire dish was served on a bed of injera, and additional injera was provided to couple with the meal. The all of the cuisine was spiced heavily and aggressively. Of the two sauces, I appreciated the tsebhi more - there was a real depth of flavor to the sauce, which reminded me somewhat of a mole.
prawn kilwa
I also had the opportunity to try a prawn kilwa. The sauces really were the same and the protein didn't really contrast much or add much flavor to the dish. My guess is that historically, these heavily spiced dishes were developed either as a result of using the spices for preservatives or to cover the taste of spoiled meat, so the quality of the protein is somewhat covered. Still, the heavy spices were enjoyable for a meal.
shiro - ground chickpeas
As previously mentioned, I dined with a large group of vegetarians as well. Surprisingly, the shiro was the dish of the night for me. The flavor, spice, and consistency of the shiro was great. It really resembled a hummus that had been heated and taken to another level in terms of spice and texture. Paired with the injera, this was perfect for dipping and soaking in lots of flavor.


When sampling new cuisine types, it is often important to keep an open mind about the food. I felt that overall, the experience was rewarding and the food was very tasty. The injera was a very special staple food and one has to try a good one themselves to really understand how special it is.
On the other hand, a classically trained French chef sampling this food would feel that all the main components were overcooked. While this level of cooking remains loyal to the traditional aspect of the food, it could also be the last straw to ruin a non-adventurous eater's experience as there already are no utensils.
Overall Muzita is an interesting dining experience and I would return, but I'll probably order the shiro as my entree next time.


Cowboy Star - Foiehibition

>> Sunday, July 1, 2012

Date of Dining: 6/29/2012
Price: $90 for 3 course prix fixe (includes fundraiser for CHEFS)
Location: 640 Tenth Ave, San Diego, CA, 92101

The Quick Bit

+ great steaks
+ great menu beyond steak
Δ steak seasoning could be perfected

With the Californian ban on selling foie gras starting today, I didn't actively seek out opportunities to gorge myself on foie gras for the prior month even though many might have expected it. Mostly, this was because many of those chefs offering foie tasting menus seemed more about cashing in on the ingredient going away rather than actually supporting and lobbying for foie gras to stay. My friend Rodzilla has a great writeup about this. However as time was winding down, I did feel an urge to get some foie gras again; I just wanted to make sure I had it in a restaurant where the Chef actively supported getting the foie gras ban overturned.
My last post about Cowboy Star was during restaurant week where I covered a menu beyond the standard steaks. For what they were billing as Foiehibition, Cowboy Star offered a special Mighty Moulard Duck tasting menu. The idea was to have a celebration of the entire animal and not just focus on the foie gras. This was perfect for me as while I did want some foie gras, I wasn't ready for another four plus course tasting menu of foie gras.
mighty moulard tasting menu
While ordering drinks, I was directed to a new specialty cocktail that caught my eye:
hog ranch - bourbon, beef consommme, bacon lardons
One amazing part of this drink was the smell; the aromas of the consomme really permeated through the drink along with the smokiness of the bacon lardons. The drink was basically bouron on steroids - all the upfront flavor of the bourbon was there, but the beef consomme completely masked the burn, so that there was an incredibly smooth finish. The bacon lardons were cooked very well and added a nice smokiness.


brioche, fig, balsamic reduction, goat cheese
A complimentary amuse is always provided by Cowboy Star. Unfortunately, I didn't think this one was balanced. While I wanted to get a large dose of fig, it was the one flavor that wasn't able to fight through the goat cheese, brioche, and balsamic.

First Course

yellow corn soup - sweet summer corn, watercress pistou
The soup was an extremely satisfying mouthful. While it was a hot soup, I felt this could have worked cold as well. The flavor of the corn was so sweet and concentrated that it was an extremely enjoyable flavor. Further, the mouth feel of the soup was silky smooth.
foie gras - seared foie, hickleberries, toasted brioche, vanilla infused salt
The foie gras was seared and seasoned to perfection. For my last piece of foie gras in California, I was extremely happy to have a perfectly seared piece to convey the purity of flavor that I would be missing. Most impressive was that it was not too oily. I was extremely happy with the pairing with huckleberries as they added the perfect mix of sweetness, tartness, and jaminess.

Second Course

buttermilk fried sweetbreads - apple savoy slaw, crispy potatoe, bourbon sauce
The sweetbreads were fried to perfection, and were a very generous portion. For those who love sweetbreads, these were prepared perfectly. For those that don't enjoy sweetbreads, this simple preparation is not going to win anyone over.
confit - confit of duck leg, frisee, preserved blood orange rinds, duck egg, foie gras crouton
This was my favorite course of the evening. The skin on the duck confit was crisped to perfection and all the elements of the duck were on display - rich gamey meat flavor, crispy savory skin, beautiful duck fat, and of course the foie gras. I'm glad that the croutons were not modified in any way and were merely more of the seared foie cubes. While this dish isn't going to win any awards, it was a great salute to the noble duck in all forms.

Third Course

18 oz cattleman cut rib chop
No visit to Cowboy Star is complete without an order of steak. Choosing to get an item with the bone in, we settled on the rib chop. The portion was extremely generous and the steak was cooked to our specifications. There was not really anything to complain about on the steak as it was very well executed.
roasted bone marrow
We also got an extra side of bone marrow to go with the steak, which we ate happily with the steak. I did think the bone marrow was a bit aggressively seasoned. I would have preferred to have them not season it and bring out a side of salt instead.
magret - pan roasted duck breast, braised turnips, crispy leeks, savory cherry sauce
The duck was cooked beautifully and the plating was done very well. The crispy leeks added a very nice depth of flavor to the duck and the turnips. The turnips were very well done also and contrasted the cherry sauce of the duck. Overall, this dish was a success and a great way to end the salute of the duck. I was actually happy that this dish didn't include any foie gras as it wasn't needed.


As I mentioned in the past Cowboy Star isn't just a great steakhouse, but it is also a great restaurant. I was really worried about gorging on foie gras, but I felt that in sharing the foie gras, I had just the perfect amount to say goodbye. I also felt that the menu to salute the duck was tasteful all around as well as to the idea that foie gras can be served in a tasteful manner. Cowboy Star re-affirmed their gigabyte award.


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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