Monthly Archives: March 2013

Weekly Travel Theme – Time

astrolabe

(Astrolabe, Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris, France)

Despite the US clocks having undergone our Daylight Savings change several weeks before the rest of the world, I am delighted by Ailsa’s choice of “Time” as this week’s travel theme photo challenge from Where’s My Backpack. Time can be represented in so many ways – long, stretched shadows falling across faces or façades, spring flowers blooming quickly before succumbing to the heat of summer, or very literally with images of timepieces, forever locked in that moment by the snap of a shutter.

sundial nepal

(Stone sundial, Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Nepal)

I am a huge history buff, as well as a lover of gadgets. Combined this means that I seek out the weird and wonderful tools and implements of the past to document and pour over, whether at a museum (where this behavior is encouraged), or walking down the narrow streets of a medieval city (where my attempt to get the right angle for a photo may cause an accident). One of my favorite things to photograph are clocks – of all eras. Here are some of my favorite timepieces from my travels, across time and space.

sundial cluny

(Sundial, Musée Cluny, Paris, France)

astrological clock, venice

(Torre dell’Orologio, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy)

astrological clock strasbourg

(Astronomical clock, Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, France)

sundial chartres

(Sundial, Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France)

pocket sundial

(Pocket sundial, Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris, France)

modern clock

(For when you are feeling a bit French)

 

 

 

Taco Tuesday – South Beach Bar & Grille

carne asada

Why is it that moving always takes so much longer (and much more effort) than originally thought? I was in my new home over three weeks ago, unpacked and set-up more than two weeks ago, but things keep slipping through the cracks. There are still addresses to change and things lost in the mail (including our CSA re-subscription – fixed now, but very sad for a few days). Most dramatic was the loss of the internets for the past several days due to a miscommunication with our cable provider and the technician who cut the cord, literally. I am a pretty self-aware individual and I know the extent of my web addiction. Withdrawal definitely happened – boredom, frustration, excessive iPhone emailing – let’s just say that this weekend wasn’t pretty.

obThat’s the long story to apologize for my sudden absence – now we are back and better than ever (at least the signal is) and just in time for Taco Tuesday! After my delicious luck at World Famous, I’ve been on the lookout for comparable beachfront taco hot spots. Every friend and colleague I query has their own personal favorite, but one particular haven was mentioned time and time again – South Beach Bar & Grille in Ocean Beach. Their claims of being home to the world’s best fish taco were just too much of a challenge to pass up – it was definitely time to check it out.

pier view

We strolled down Newport Ave, Ocean Beach’s main drag last Wednesday night, bypassing the crowded farmer’s market in favor of tacos, straight ahead. The bar was already hoppin’ by 6:30, filled to the brim with shoppers, students and surfers alike, filling up on tacos before heading home.  Unfortunately, the sun was not shining as the view from our seats, bellied up to the bar in the newly remodeled second story, would have been stunning had there been a sunset. No matter. It was still peaceful and fun to watch the surfers try to catch their last waves of the evening as the sky started to dim.

cevicheWe ordered margaritas and ceviche to start. I have always thought that ceviche was made of raw white fish and veggies cured in a lime juice until ‘cooked’. Yet lately it has been arriving as a tomato-ey concoction, comprised of more precooked bay shrimp and goopy, sweet canned sauce than the fresh, bright flavors of off-the-line seafood and citrus. It is fine for what it is – a suitable snack before the main course – but I am starting to wonder if I am missing a trend in ceviche popularity. Are local restaurants known for the quality of their fish really taking this (seemingly) easy way out? No matter, for me it is quickly losing it’s appeal as a crowd-pleasing appetizer choice. 

mahi

(Grilled Mahi)

Our tacos arrived quickly after the appetizer, leaving us to precariously shuffle plates around the bar as we (or, I) made sure to nab at least one taste of everything. My dining partner ordered a grilled mahi taco, served on a flour tortilla with cheese, red cabbage and housemade pico de gallo, as well two carne asada street tacos, small corn tortialls stuffed with the eponymous marinated grilled steak, pico de gallo, guacamole, queso fresco and lime (seen at the header).

wahoo and calamari

I ordered a grilled wahoo taco (left) and a fried calamari taco (right), both complimented by cabbage, salsa, cheese and a sour cream sauce. Overall, the tacos were extremely tasty. Each one was a substantial meal in itself, even the mini carne asada street tacos, which were well executed, succulent, flavorful and moist – as long-marinating beef should be. The kitchen was turning out a huge variety of seafood tacos at a remarkable rate, so I wasn’t that surprised that the grilled mahi taco was on the dry side while my grilled wahoo was tender and succulent – just a small timing issue in the kitchen. I was most impressed with the quality and quantity of fish in each taco. These were not a collection of thickly breaded cod scraps that found their way into tacos as an alternative to excess waste – in some cases these were whole filet size pieces deliciously wrapped in tortillas and sauce. Definitely a winning combination.

big fish

In what is becoming just as much of a tradition as Taco Tuesday, our eyes were far bigger than our stomachs. Our consumption pace slowed as we watched the last of the light disappear from the sky, losing sight of the pier and ocean directly in front of us as darkness settled. We caught up over the last few bites, discussing which taco stands to explore next and trading notes on other, favored happy hour spots. Once we had let our food settle enough to be able to move off of our (very comfortable) bar stools, we strolled back through the last of the farmer’s market crowd, admiring the side street of just local art, tasting homemade kimchi and contemplating a variety of purchases that were never made solely based on complete laziness and the aversion to carrying anything but our taco-filled selves back home.

I will definitely be back, hopefully with more friends in tow for tacos and sunset done right.

South Beach Bar & Grille

5059 Newport Ave

San Diego, CA 92107

(619) 226-4577

(note – cash only, although they do have a generic ATM in the bar area)

Thai Feast – Sab-E-Lee

sabelee

I love being ‘in the know’ – I am a voracious news hound and the backlog on my overstuffed blogroll will never be clear (I was close during my bout with the flu; unfortunately I can recollect little from that week). That desire to be trusted with insider knowledge burns most brightly when it comes to food and, more specifically, learning about hidden jewel restaurants whose patrons struggle between spreading the gospel of the life-altering meals or keeping silent, lest the rest of us ruin their experiences.

sabelee menu

Finding these spots in a new city requires either a bottomless budget (and the metabolism of a hummingbird) to weed through possible candidates; or, if you are lucky, the willingness and generosity of a guide (or two) who are willing to share their hole-in-the-wall finds. I am certainly not in a position to consider the former option (on either front), but am grateful to have made a few new friends who are making a point to take me under their wing and show me the ropes around town.

tomka soup

Two of them (he of the guest post and she of these massive strawberry mimosas) were insistent that I join them at their favorite strip mall treasure, Sab-E-Lee, to celebrate the closing of their escrow. Housed in Linda Vista (and another, newly opened second location), this brightly lit, rambunctious 6-table Thai eatery dished out some of the most authentic and flavorful Thai food I have tasted.

green curry with chicken

Admittedly, I have little to no authority in this area, but both of my hosts had lived in southeast Asia and swore up, down and sideways that each dish brought back memories of their times abroad. It may be a trope that you can know good ethnic cuisine by the composition of the clientele, but it is one I trust and one that applied here throughout the night. In fact, I think we impressed our waiter by our combined ability to keep up with the pace and spice level of the food rolling out of the kitchen (note to self: they are not kidding about the scale – choosing 8/10 for all dishes may have been just a bit masochistic).

crispy pork and chinese broccoli

While trading jibes about what it means to grow up and be a ‘real’ adult (apparently buying a house does, but getting married and having a kid does not?), we shared one dish from almost every menu category. I had put myself in their hands completely and they, in turn, rewarded me with a survey of their favorites. First, Tom Ka: chicken in a soup made of lemongrass, coconut milk, mushrooms and lime. Next, Green Curry: chicken in a green chili-based curry sauce with bamboo shoots and eggplant. These dishes were just warm ups for the main event duo of Beef Pad See Ew (pan fried noodles with soy sauce, Chinese broccoli and egg) and Crispy pork & Chinese broccoli fried rice. Each dish was well balanced – spicy yes – but not so much as to overwhelm the flavor of the ingredients. The vegetables were fresh, the large portions of meat always tender and moist and the service fun and patient. My only regret was that I had no room for Mango with Sticky Rice, one of my all-time favorite desserts. I am saving that for next time.

padseeew with beef

Sab-E-Lee is in the corner of a small strip mall, surrounded by competing gas stations. They do not take reservations or have a liquor license (although did not seem to mind BYOB and even provided glasses) and you have to walk through the kitchen to use the restroom (inordinately exciting when a big order is coming through). It is not necessarily a place that the uninitiated diner would wander into while exploring the neighborhood. Yet, after seeing the line of people waiting for a seat at 9pm on a Friday night, I don’t think they can help but attract some attention. They certainly have my business from here on out.

Sab-E-Lee

2405 Ulric St

San Diego, CA 92111

858-650-6868

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taco Tuesday – Easter Tacos!

easter taco

Easter reminds me of tacos. A bit random, but stick with me. I know we still have another week and a half before the holiday, and I certainly am not in a hurry for time to pass (in fact I could use a few more hours in each day), but I was reminded today about Easter tacos in Paris and I’ve been craving them ever since.

kitchen crowding

(tiny Parisian kitchens…)

Let’s back up just a bit. While in Paris, I made a group of spectacular friends. They were, without exception, the sorts of people you feel blessed to have in your life – smart, adventurous, sarcastic and crazy about food. They were also American expats, mostly west coast transplants. Not only could we spend time together bemoaning French peculiarities from a similar perspective, but we could also commiserate about roadside artichoke stands or the hole in our lives that used to be filled by quality, cheap Mexican food.

prepping the grill

(lighting the grill)

That last point was the impetus for our Easter taco celebration. One particular girlfriend hosted an Easter taco party, without fail each spring. I am not sure if the idea had roots in her own family’s tradition, or if it was that Easter usually fell at a time where the stranglehold of the dark grey Paris winter was finally waning, and we all were starting to feel restless for the spring and summer to come. For whatever reason, that night represented the kickoff to spring. Despite inhabiting a relatively small flat (as we all did), hers opened up onto a patio of the same size, virtually doubling her living space once the weather was cooperative.

veggie fillings

(veggie filling of pinto beans, corn, mushrooms and cheese)

Easter taco night meant lighting the grill for the first time in the new season and enjoying a long, lingering night of copious food, drink and friends – the first of many to come.

toppings

(toppings)

What brought on this burst of nostalgia, you ask? Turns out that we weren’t the only ones willing to go lengths to enjoy our tacos. Today my internets were abuzz with news of the grand opening of the first tortilleria in Paris, Mil Amores Tortilleria. Although tasty, affordable and authentic Mexican food has been a trend on the upswing in Paris for the past couple of years (completely delicious, by the way, if you could wrangle a seat in one of the tiny dining rooms available), this opening marks the shift of south-of-our-border cuisine from passing fad to established market, offering hot-off-the-griddle tortillas to Parisian restaurateurs and home chefs alike.

carne asada

(carne asada)

Seeing the enthusiastic chatter moving back and forth between my friends about this new development made me wistful. While I have yet to miss the city of Paris, I constantly think of those people who were so special to me that remain there. One status update caught my eye, from that same friend who started the Easter tradition amongst the group, posted with a link to the tortilleria announcement, “Easter tacos are right around the corner!”. It stopped me in my tracks. I miss my people and our taco tradition. I wish I could be there with them this year, welcoming spring, taste testing the new tortillas and standing around the grill. Looks like I have about ten days to figure out how to start my own Easter taco tradition here.

Everything AND the kitchen sink

I know I have said this before (and this will be the last time) but, between the illness, multiple conferences and moving, I feel like the last month of my life has flown by with very little to show for it. Particularly anything blog worthy. This is particularly true when it comes to my kitchen activities as of late – it is challenging to prepare meals with any sort of theme or intention while unpacking boxes just enough to pack for another trip. Yet, although I feel like most of my recent cooking has been slapped together and haphazard, there have been a few stand-out hits to which I would like to return. In between all the salads and take-out, of course.

So, let’s put this unexpected hiatus firmly behind us with a giant CSA round up (three shares worth) and a review of the recipes that stopped us in our tracks and motivated us to slow down and enjoy a few moments together.

CSA, week 5 CSA week 5

(clockwise from top left: fennel, oranges, white onions, cabbage, red potatoes, blood oranges, lemons, spring mix, cauliflower, carrots, chard, cilantro)

potato soup

This hearty potato soup (substituting italian chicken sausage for the ham) is my (and The Bat’s) new favorite way to use fennel – a common CSA item with which we usually struggle to find uses.

lemon bars

Between the CSA share and my grandparent’s overabundant citrus trees, I was swimming in lemons (still am, actually). These lemon bars, a recipe recommendation from Camille, saved the day. I made them repeatedly and foisted them on friends, co-workers and family. No one complained. I am not much of a baker, but these are now at the top of my list for whenever I need a delicious and easy go-to dessert (the crust is genius, I’m looking forward to trying some type of banana/coconut cream pie version one of these days).

valentine's dinner

carrot cake

My Valentine’s dinner (it *has* been a long time since I posted, sheesh!) for The Bat also was designed around using our CSA share: roasted wild salmon with lemon and thyme, smashed sweet potatoes and a spring mix salad with roasted cauliflower. I rarely cook meat in ‘steak’ form – especially seafood, which scares me with the potential for dryness. I’d highly recommend this recipe for anyone with similar fears – it was easy to follow and produced a perfectly cooked filet that was still moist and creamy. We finished our special meal with a slice of the. best. carrot. cake. ever. I promise. It goes to my lack of baking skills that carrot cake is my fancy dessert of choice, but once you try Barbra’s recipe, I dare you to find anything tastier. Really. Try it. Now.

lemony shrimp

I continued my venture into the fishy unknown with this shrimp sauté.   Recommended by a good friend, it was a great way to use up more lemons (subbed in for the lime) and the cilantro. Getting pre-shelled/veined shrimp at Trader Joe’s made this meal super quick to prepare and, as such, it has been added to the regular rotation. Here I used quinoa to soak up the delicious sauce, but it would be equally as good (or better) with whole wheat pasta or brown rice and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

CSA, week 6

CSA week 6

(clockwise from top left: bok choy, blood oranges, lemons, tangerines, lettuce, green kale, chard, carrots, radishes (!) romanesco, cauliflower and strawberries (!))

shortcake

The appearance of strawberries and radishes in the CSA is my most robust indicator that spring is finally on its way. Unfortunately it was also about the time that all of the life-craziness converged. We really enjoyed our first strawberry shortcake of the season (eating the rest straight out of the carton) before kitchen creativity was put on hold. At this point, all I remember were lots of salads. And roasted crucifers. And citrus juice. Lots and lots of juice (and maybe some mimosas).

CSA, week 7

CSA wk 7

(clockwise from top left: cabbages, clementines, Meyer lemons, blood oranges, artichokes, chard, strawberries, carrots, beets, purple kale, radishes and romanesco)

And, now we are up to speed. I am currently working my way through this week’s share, picked up at the last minute upon my return from Atlanta. It is so nice to be in my new kitchen, unpacked, with lots of good lighting and counter space. I have plans to share more of what I have been working on next week, but in the meantime, I will leave you with a few of my favorites so far:

artichoke

Really there is nothing better than fresh steamed artichokes. They are one of my favorites, so much so that I even wrote this handy, dandy primer on preparing and eating the globes at my old blog, Researching Paris.

strawberries and champagne

I am having so much fun meeting new people and fostering new friendships now that I am feeling settled in the city. Nothing does that better than a strawberry champagne cocktail, right? Especially one only slightly smaller than the size of one’s head? These berries and their accompanying champagne were the perfect housewarming gift for some already-dear friends last weekend (if I do say so myself).

st patty's dayLastly, this post would not be complete without the traditional St. Patrick’s day dinner of corned beef, cabbage and red potatoes. I was thrilled to see the cabbage arrive in such a timely fashion and cooking up this holiday meal was a great excuse to have our first visitors over to break in the apartment. If that evening was any indicator, we have much fun and food to look forward to in our new home together.

Taco Tuesday – World Famous

ocean view

There are some restaurant locations that are so stunning that, really, the quality of the food is almost secondary. Luckily, happy hour at the beachside Pacific Beach institution World Famous does not require that extent of sacrifice. World Famous is known for their stellar happy hour specials (each day comes with its own particular discount), and I was particularly intrigued when a friend mentioned that Wednesday’s star was $1.75 lobster tacos.

single taco

In the guise of celebrating a dear friend’s departure from San Diego, I was able to convince our group of friends to trek down to the beach for sunset views and bottomless lobster tacos (well, sort of, but at $1.75 a piece it is hard to imagine that we could eat so many that the cost would become prohibitive).  Straddling the fuzzy border between the Pacific and Mission Beach communities, it was not the most easily accessible weeknight dinner destination, but the tacos and cocktails easily made up for any discomfort sitting in traffic.

russian mule

Moscow Mule

The drinks menu was extensive, filled with traditional favorites and bartender specialties. However, due to the dramatic discount on the tacos (they are normally about $5), there are not additional happy hour bar specials.  This actually turns out to be a rather important point to keep in mind, as drinks go from $7-10, the bar tab stacks up much faster than you may think based on taco consumption alone.

view from inside bar

The restaurant is divided between the formal dining room where locally caught seafood is served to well dressed patrons occupying window tables, with only a thin pane of glass separating them from the cool ocean breeze, and the more rambunctious bar area, where all of us happy hour revelers are corralled. Bar seating is first come, first serve and after about 6pm competition to snag a table (especially for a largish group) can get fierce. We grabbed the last one and settled in for the feast.

taco plate

Tacos started coming – 2, 3, even 4 at a time (some eyes were definitely bigger than stomachs). Each corn tortilla was topped with an entire tail of a slip-tailed lobster, breaded and fried, cabbage, tomatoes, a thin layer of sour cream and cheese.  The breading on the lobster was a bit heavy for such a tender, mild-flavored meat; however, the lobster itself was abundant and moist within its starchy shell. Each table featured a bottle of house-made roasted tomato salsa that we slugged onto each taco with abandon;  the sharp, vinegary tang cut right through the residual heft of the occasional bite heavy on extra breading and tortilla.

guac

Not unexpectedly, there was not a lot of choices on the bar menu for the vegetarian in our group, but she seemed more than happy to dive into their guacamole and chips while we were shoving tacos at our faces. The very fresh pico de gallo and chunky guacamole certainly were worth their full asking price.

drink2

Drunken Mermaid

After far too many tacos (my final count was four!) and another round of tasty beverages (those are serranos in my drink) we were all very content with our new happy hour discovery. Perhaps not the best seafood taco I have ever had, but the view, price (18 tacos for $31.50 total), drinks and the company made it a great (and definitely repeatable) mid-week break. To top it off, a long walk along the beach boardwalk watching the moon rise over the waves would be the perfect way to digest and, as happy hour goes until 11pm, maybe even create room for one more.

moon

In (mostly) Images – Georgia Aquarium

I am currently in Atlanta attending a meeting all about viruses, in particular HIV. There has been one key discovery that is already making waves, and to be amongst 4000+ other scientists during these moments is its own kind of awesome (in the literal sense of that word). To kick off the week’s events, the conference organizers held a welcome reception at the Georgia Aquarium, housed just next door to the conference center. In some ways, this seemed a very apt choice – although the ocean is vast, expansive and viruses are certainly the opposite – our limited understanding of the landscapes, ecosystems and biology of the sea mirrors our lack of detailed knowledge regarding the microscopic events occurring in our own bodies, especially when under attack by pathogenic viruses. Or maybe I am reading between the lines a bit too much and they just wanted us to enjoy one of the best aquariums in the country. Either way, it was so much fun. I could have stayed for many more hours than we were allotted.

The aquarium is divided into several thematic exhibits and we traveled through each completely, one-at-a-time. This set-up was quite helpful in developing a more complete picture of each ecosystem on display. Enough words, here are the photos:

Cold Water Quest – the spider crabs were fantastic, all poised to attack those of us beyond the wall of glass. I included the photo with the spectator reflections so you could get an idea of their size! Sad that my dolphin and beluga whale photos did not turn out so well…

anemones spidercrabs giantoctopus 

River Scout – this exhibit included the first of the overhead fish tanks. These are my absolute favorite (you don’t want to know how many photos I have of fish bellies). Plus, albino alligators. Enough said. 

manyfishes overhead sturgeon albino croc1 albino croc2

Tropical Diver – in case you were wondering, none of these photos have been altered from the color on display in each tank.

lionfish fluorescent fishes coral reef lion jelly jelly tank moon jellies 

Frogs – A Chorus of Color – unfortunately some of the more colorful ones were asleep already.

green green 2 

Ocean Voyager – the pièce de résistance was this exhibit, made of a single, enormous tank housing several species of sharks, rays and – most impressively – four whale sharks. We walked around the tank and had views from small windows, a glass-enclosed under-tank tunnel and from a 60 foot glass viewing room – complete with tiered seating. It was tremendous and our last stop for the night… the staff who had stayed late to accommodate our group had to harass the last of us to leave this magical place.

whale tunnel manta flyby whaleshark giant ray whale shark overhead

big window whale shark w remora with manta