[San Diego, CA] Cafe 21

802 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

between E St & F St in Gaslamp

(619) 795-0721

http://cafe-21.com/

http://www.yelp.com/biz/cafe-21-san-diego-2

 

My friends and I were in San Diego recently, and wanted to find a relaxing but good place for dinner near downtown / Gaslamp district, as we needed to catch the Amtrak back to LA.  So we turned to Yelp for some guidance.  There are two Cafe 21 locations in San Diego, one in Gaslamp and one in University Heights.  Both are highly rated, so we decided to give the one in Gaslamp a try.  We cabbed there so not sure about the parking situation in Gaslamp.  As always, read all of the street signs!

There wasn’t much of a wait on a Sunday evening, but the restaurant was busy.  They also take reservations.  It’s a pretty chill place and there’s even a tapas happy hour — will have to try that next time.

 

It’s a fairly large restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating.

 

First time seeing fresh herbs grown by the bar.  Awesome!

 

There are 6 different sangrias made daily.  On the day that we went, 3 were white/light sangrias and 3 were the red/dark sangrias.  Some of the combinations sounded very interesting and creative, such as the kumquat mint, and the grapefruit/red pepper/ cilantro.

 

We decided to try the Flight so that we can sample all 6 of the daily sangrias, which came in a tower of shot glasses.  Since there was 3 of us, the server brought us 3 larger glasses with ice, so that we can add the sangrias to the iced glasses.  The best one was probably the tropical one as that was the sweetest of the 6, and it was meh.  The rest was just too dry/bitter for me.  I’m a little spoiled though – nothing beats the sangria in Spain for me!  $21 for a Flight.

 

Grilled Pear Salad – mixed Greens, butter grilled fresh pear, almond slivers, dehydrated cranberries, feta cheese, house Honey balsamic dressing.  This was light on the dressing but really good.  The pears were grilled perfectly to be caramelized on the outside, and naturally sweet.  $12

 

Cristo Crepe – free range house roasted chicken breast, handmade crepes, mozzarella cheese, house made white wine apricot puree, powdered sugar.  We thought the apricot puree would be an odd accompaniment for the crepes, but it actually was a good pairing.  The crepes are a little denser than what I’m used to, but it was an excellent side dish.  $8

 

Mixed Fries – gluten free rice flour breaded portobello mushroom slices, eggplant and avocado fries served with goat cheese aioli, chipotle aioli and avocado pesto.  Almost all of our dishes were served on the huge wooden boards… and portions are more than generous, as pictured here.  I didn’t really care for the sauces and thought that the fries stood well by themselves, as they are already lightly dusted with salt and pepper.  So good… could not stop eating them…  $12

 

Duck Wings – slow cooked braised duck wings slathered in spicy apple cider glaze.   We don’t usually see duck wings on a non-Asian or French menu so decided to give this one a try.  It was spicy indeed, but really tender.  Would be really good with some beer / Coke!  There were more wings than we expected, but we managed to finish them all  : )  $12

 

Azerbaijani Kabob Platter – Zhatar Seasoned Steak Kabob, Lamb Sausage Kufta, and House Marinated Chicken Skewers, served with Avocado Pesto Sauce, Beet Hummus, Black Eyed Pea Hummus and cous cous.  The meats were juicy and lightly seasoned.  The cous cous is the Mediterranean one, so it’s softer and has more of a rice consistency.  The beet hummus didn’t have much beet flavor, but overall the dish was solid. $27

 

This is definitely a place I’d come back again!  I’d avoid the sangrias next time and just stick with the food.

[Reno] Sushi Pier

1290 E Plumb Ln
Reno, NV 89502

(775) 825-6776

sushipierone.com

http://www.yelp.com/biz/sushi-pier-reno

 

One of the things I look forward to most, whenever I’m in Reno, is eating at Sushi Pier.  For some reason, Reno has an abundance of all-you-can-eat sushi joints; they’re literally all over town!  I discovered this place a few years ago, from Yelp, and have visited a handful of times ever since.  Every time, food has been consistent and service has been really friendly.  It’s actually a very decent sushi joint.   I wish we had one in LA!!!

Sushi Pier is located about a stone’s throw away from the Reno/Tahoe Airport.  So it’s perfect for after a flight or before you get on one.  It’s located in the same plaza as Costco, which means there’s plenty of parking.  This year, Costco also started selling Sushi Pier gift certificates, $80 for $100 value I think, so it’s even a better value dining at Sushi Pier.  Not that it’s expensive to begin with:  lunch (with a limited menu but still AYCE) will set you back $17 and dinner is a very reasonable $23.  The prices that you see next to each menu item, is if you forgo the AYCE option and want to order a-la-carte or to-go.  I don’t think Sushi Pier takes reservations, so typical wait during weekend dinnertimes is 30 minutes to an hour.

My tip is to sit at the sushi bar – you are assigned to a sushi chef who will take care of your meal.  Service is faster, plus your orders will be made as you order.  So take your time, order a few nigiris or hand-rolls, decide on your next sushi orders, then eat some more!  I love it!  You can find the menu here, from the restaurant’s website.

Here are my sushi orders from a recent trip:

My sushi chef behind the counter of fresh fish.

 

The mussels appetizer – it was good but the sauce was a little too heavy for me.  The red drop is Sriracha sauce, so those of you who don’t do spicy, consider yourselves warned.

 

Salmon and maguro (tuna) nigiri

 

Squid, striped bass and seared tuna nigiri

 

Spider roll – yes, it’s included in the AYCE dinner menu

 

Customized salmon skin with octopus hand-roll.  Yummy!  If you’re nice to your sushi chef, they can basically make you whatever you’d like to order, as long as they have the ingredients.  Awesome!  Make sure to tip them well.

 

Topped it off with Happy Ending – tempura-fried banana with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  And yes, before you ask, dessert is also included as part of the AYCE menu.  The fried bananas were just ok, next time I’ll try a different dessert (if I still have room after all that sushi!)

 

Chunju Han-il Kwan

3450 W 6th St
Ste 106
Los Angeles, CA 90020

 

http://www.yelp.com/biz/chunju-han-il-kwan-los-angeles

 

I’ve been craving a good budae jjigae (aka army stew aka 部隊鍋)  for a while now.  It’s basically a Korean hotpot of mish mash, sort of a hotpot that the army/military used to cook up, with whatever they had on hand.  Typically, it’s a spicy soup base filled with kimchi, rice cake, Spam, hot dog franks, ramen, vegetables, etc.  I turned to trusty Yelp for some recommendations, and lo and behold, Chunju is the highest rated budae jjigae in LA, by a landslide.

Chunju Han-il Kwan is located in a small shopping strip, just about a block from the ever popular Kang Ho-Dong Baekjeong.  The center has its own parking lot (with free valet), but since the shopping strip is mostly eating places, it might be hard to find a spot once the lot is full.  The alternative would be to park on the street.  Be sure to read all of the street parking signs, as K-town is notorious for towing illegally parked cars.

I went on a Friday night and there was about a 20-30 minute wait for a table.  The ahjummas (server ladies) will hand you a menu to peruse and order, while you wait.  Budae jjigae takes about 20-30 minutes to cook, so by the time your table is ready, so will your food.  Service and table turns are fast, as the ahjummas run a tight ship.  Now on to the food!

 

Very Korean decor inside.  The interior of the restaurant is medium-sized, but since tables turn fairly fast, the wait is bearable.

 

The side dishes – lots of choices and they were all tasty!  My favorite was the chap-chae (Korean glass noodles) and the steamed egg.  You can ask for refills.

 

The budae jjigae!  Almost every table has an order.  Portions are pretty generous, I’d say it’s enough for 3.  It’s pretty spicy, and I’m not sure if Chunju can adjust the spiciness level.  As it cooks down, it gets more condensed, which means it gets even spicier! But, oh, it was so good and just hit the spot.  : )  I didn’t see it on the menu (maybe I just missed it), but just tell the ahjummas that you want to order it.  $26

 

We also saw that many people ordered the pancakes, so asked for a recommendation.  The ahjumma recommended the potato pancake.  When it arrived, it was huge!  It was filled with scallions and really delicious.  The texture is different from the Korean-style pancakes that I’ve had before… this one was a little similar to a mochi texture, although not as sticky.  I liked it without the sauce.  $14

 

I loved the budae jjigae here. Will be back!

 

Fishbar

3801 Highland Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

(310) 796-0200

fishbarmb.com

http://www.yelp.com/biz/fishbar-manhattan-beach-2

 

Fishbar is my favorite Manhattan Beach restaurant lately.  I’ve been here a handful of times and food has always been consistent.  Fishbar is located at the old Sharkey’s space, in north Manhattan Beach, right by El Porto.  It’s a pretty casual place, and set up like a sports bar, with lots of TVs inside!  I haven’t had any difficulty finding parking – there are plenty of metered street parking and there’s even the metered parking structure across the street.  The good news is, the meters now take credit cards!  I think it’s about $1 per hour.

Fishbar is actually a large restaurant and I haven’t had much of a wait here.  I’ve been during brunch, lunch and dinner.  It’s a “Seat Yourself” kind of policy, yet the service is prompt from the moment you sit down.  The only time I experienced some wait was when Fishbar was really busy, and so I had to flag down a waiter in order to get the check.  There’s a daily special almost every day – Shrimp Shack Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Crab Wednesday, Lobster Thursday, Saturday Brunch, etc.  Check the restaurant’s website for menu details.

Here are some recommended items:

Brunch

I was on the hunt for a brunch place in Manhattan Beach which wouldn’t have much of a wait.  From experience, most of the brunch places in MB (North End Caffe, The Kettle, etc) have at least a 30+ minute wait during the weekends.  I was getting ready to write a post on Fishbar, when lo and behold, I see that they also have brunch.  The menu looked really good, so the decision was easy.  And it turned out to be an awesome idea!

 

The lobster hash – crispy fried potatoes & brussel sprouts tossed in sweet & spicy chipotle sauce, sauteed lobster, two eggs sunny side up, and spinach hollandaise.  The brussel sprouts were out-of-this-world good!  I couldn’t really taste the spiciness of the chipotle sauce, but this dish had the perfect combo of taste and texture.  So good!!!  $14.99

 

Flat iron steak & eggs –  flat iron steak with 2 eggs any style, crispy fried potatoes & brussel sprouts.  My friend omitted the potatoes but really enjoyed this dish and said that we should make Fishbar our new brunch spot!  $13.99

 

Lunch

I’ve been here for Taco Tuesdays lunches for a few weeks now and have tried an assortment of different tacos.  The tacos at Fishbar, are of course, for the most part, seafood!  So here are my favorites:

 

Seared ahi tuna tacos – ahi tuna with cabbage, avocado mousse, pico de gallo and Thai chili sauce.  The Thai chili sauce adds just a bit of a kick, not that spicy.  $10 for an order of 2

Blackened salmon tacos – salmon with cabbage, avocado mousse, pico de gallo and cotija cheese. $8 for an order of 2

Sauteed lobster tacos – lobster with with cabbage, avocado mousse, pico de gallo, taco sauce and cotija cheese.  $9 for an order of 2

 

Hope you guys enjoy this place as much as me!  : )

 

Marion Crepes – Pop-up Store @ Torrance Mitsuwa

21515 S Western Ave
Torrance, CA 90501
 

Marion Crepes, the famous patisserie from Harajuku in Tokyo, has a pop-up store inside the Torrance Mitsuwa for a limited time!!!  I chanced upon it while I lunched at the food court last week, and vowed to be back during the weekend when I had more time.  The pop-up store will run until 3/30/2014, and there’s a 30 minute break daily between 4pm -4:30pm.

The line was pretty long today.  We waited in line for about 15-20 minutes just to place our order.  Once our order was in, we waited another 5 minutes for the crepes to be made.  There are only 2 workers at the pop-up store, so expect a bit of a wait.

 

 

The display case with the model crepes.  There are so many choices!  It’s mostly dessert crepes, with 2 different savory tuna crepes.

 

There’s also the option of adding additional toppings.  Go for the green tea ice cream!

 

All of the crepes are made fresh-to-order.

 

We got the #16 – nutella with banana crepe, and added the green tea ice cream.  The nutella crepe is a warm crepe, so they left the crepe on the pan longer – the result is a wonderful crispy wafer cookie texture.  The green tea ice cream really complemented the crepe – it’s so rich and creamy!  The gooey warm nutella and banana are winning combinations with the crepe.  So yummy!  $7.09 including tax

 

For sure, will be back before the pop-up store closes, so that I can try the other flavors!  🙂

Harry’s Chicken Cafe

1721 W Redondo Beach Blvd
Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 324-4231
 
http://www.harryschicken.com/
http://www.yelp.com/biz/harrys-cafe-gardena

 

This place was recommended to me by a co-worker.  It’s been around for many years, but was formerly known as Harry’s Aloha Chop Suey.  So as you can probably guess by its former name, Harry’s serves Hawaiian food.  Harry’s is located on Redondo Beach Blvd, in a tiny strip mall.  Parking is a bit sparse, but I think you should be able to park in the parking lots of the adjacent strip malls.

 

Besides the obvious Hawaiian-style fried chicken, there’s also Hawaiian favorites such as loco moco, saimin, chicken katsu, teriyaki chicken, spam musubi, etc. The fried chicken comes in regular and boneless versions.  The restaurant itself is a bit small, with only a few tables, which is why I think most people were ordering to-go.  Even though I ordered food to be eaten at the restaurant, they still served it to me in a to-go box, which worked out since portions are generous!

 

The store front

 

Menu is up on the board and there’s just a few tables inside the restaurant

 

I got the Harry’s Mixed Plate which comes with Harry’s Fried Chicken, char siu pork, spare ribs, fried wonton, macaroni salad and rice.  The fried chicken is coated in a sweet batter and was moist and flavorful.  My favorite was the spare ribs, which were fall-off-the-bones good, and drenched in a gravy.  The macaroni salad is actually a mix of a macaroni and potato salad, and pretty tasty.  The char siu (Chinese-style bbq pork) was also good.  The fried wontons were only ok for me.  Portions are pretty generous.  $8.95.

 

So far, this is one of my favorite Hawaiian joints in LA.  I’ll be back to try the loco moco!!!

[Recipe] Tomato-base Mussels

Ingredients:

1.  1lb of fresh mussels – I bought some from the Costco seafood stand, which were really great — comes in a 4lb bag at $2.99/lb

2.  1/4 stick of butter (either salted or unsalted is fine)

3.  4 tablespoons of crushed tomatoes

4.  1 chopped onion

5.  3 tablespoons or 4 cloves of garlic

6.  1/4 cup of white wine

7.  Salt

8. Sriracha sauce or any other hot sauce * optional

 

Directions:

1. Scrub clean the mussels, use either a vegetable brush or a clean toothbrush

2.  In a large pot, fill it about half-way with water and add some salt.  Bring to a boil.

3.  Add the mussels to the boiling pot.  It takes less than a minute for the mussels to start opening up. Once the mussels open, let it cook in the water for another 20-30 seconds.  Then drain.  This should get rid of additional gunk.

  

4. In a large sauce pan, on medium heat, sautee the garlic and onions in the butter.   Once the onions soften and begins to brown, add the crushed tomatoes.  Let the flavors meld for about 2-3 minutes.  Add the white wine and a pinch of salt.  If using salted butter, then use less salt.

5.  For those of you who like a little kick, you can add in Sriracha sauce or any other hot sauce to the mixture.  Let it cook for another 2-3 minutes, then add in the mussels.  Toss until the mussels are coated with the sauce, then serve immediately.

 

Note:  you can also make this dish without the crushed tomatoes.  It’ll just turn out to be a butter sauce.  Either way, the sauce is great with pasta, rice and bread! Bon appetite!

Monja TaiKer 艋舺台客

18558 E Gale Ave
Ste 108
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
 
monjaca.com
http://www.yelp.com/biz/monja-taiker-rowland-heights-2
 

Monja TaiKer has 2 locations.  I’ve only been to the Rowland Heights location, but supposedly there’s also a location in the SGV.  The Rowland Heights location is located in the mega-plex off of Gale,  which has boasts Half and Half TeaHouse, Music Box Karaoke, JJ Bakery Cafe, and the Magic Restroom Cafe.  Free parking is relatively easy to find, either the surface parking or the underground parking.  I’ve been to Monja twice, and haven’t had to wait for a table.  But the restaurant is medium-sized, so during peak times, I think it’d be about a 20-30 minute wait.

Monja TaiKer serves traditional Taiwanese food, ranging from small eats 小吃 like spicy wontons 紅油抄手 to assorted stewed goodies 滷味, to soups like four-flavor soup 四神湯 and pork chop noodles 排骨麵.  Portions are pretty generous and the taste is authentic.  Feels like you’re in Taiwan!

 

The assorted stew combination 攪和攪和.  There’s tofu slices, seaweed and stewed pig ear.  It’s a cold dish, but nicely flavored with a bit of a kick.  Mmmm…. $5.99

 

We had heard that Monja has really good beef noodle soup and they do!  This is the tomato sauce beef noodle soup 招牌茄汁牛肉麵.  The broth is light yet packed with flavor.  There’s lots of tender chunks of beef, with stalks of bok choy.  You can select either the thin or thick noodles.  We ordered the thick noodles, which has similar consistency to udon noodles.  Really good!  $7.50

 

We also ordered the house specialty – the Monja Red Grain Pork Noodle Soup 艋呷燒肉湯麵 with the thin noodles.  The Red Grain Pork is basically Taiwanese-style bbq pork 紅糟肉.  The Monja version is crispy on the outside yet juicy on the inside.  The pork comes on the side, and there’s both dark and white meat.  🙂  The noodles are in a pork broth, topped with stewed minced fatty pork and sprinkled with scallions.  Yummy!  Easily shared among 2 people.  $7.50

Churros Calientes

11521 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(424) 248-3890
 
churroscalientes.com
http://www.yelp.com/biz/churros-calientes-los-angeles
 

Ever since our Europe trip to Spain last year, my friends and I have been scouting for a Spanish-style churros place in LA.  So we were really excited to see that there’s a highly-reviewed one in West LA!!!  Churros Calientes is a very small place, easily missed if you’re driving along Santa Monica Blvd.  We went on a Sunday and it was pretty easy to find metered street parking in the area.  We went at the perfect time, because we snagged the last table — can’t imagine how crowded it must be normally; I think it fits 12-15 the most inside.  There are just a few tables, with a few bar seatings.

Besides churros, Churros Calientes also has a small menu of soups, salads and bocadillos (Spanish style small sandwiches).  As we came here after lunch, we didn’t get to try them.  Next time!

 

Look for the sign and the al fresco seating!

 

The bar seating area – as you can see, the place is pretty narrow….

 

We liked the handprints along the wall!

 

The churros con chocolat!  An order comes with 6 pieces of the churros with a small cup of the chocolate.  Very close to the ones at Chocolateria San Gines in Madrid, except the chocolate at Churros Calientes has a bit of almond flavor. The hot chocolate was rich and chocolatey, without being overly sweet.  The churros were light and crunchy.  We went for the original but you can also order filled/topped churros (chocolate, strawberry, guava, etc).  Yummy!  $6.75

 

The coffees at Churros Calientes are actually quite good as well!  The café con leche aka latte came in a large mug.  $4

 

Enjoy a leisurely afternoon, with some churros con chocolat, coffee and soothing flamenco music!

Quality Seafood

130 S International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

(310) 372-6408

 

I’ve been coming to this place a few years now and every time I come, I discover and try something new!  Quality Seafood is a seafood market, located at the Redondo Beach pier.  It’s hidden in a corner, close by the docks and the old arcade.  Even though Quality Seafood is a seafood market, all the seafood that you see, can be prepared either steamed, grilled/broiled or fried for free!  There is a lot of live seafood, ranging from crabs and oysters, to sea urchin and clams.  In addition to live seafood, there’s also a wide assortment of fresh whole fish, cooked seafood, clam chowder, ceviche, etc.  During the month of September, when all of the lobster fests are happening around the beach cities, Quality Seafood also offers freshly steamed lobster meals for under $20!

Street parking can be a little hard to score, so park at one of the adjacent parking structures to be safe.  Dining at Quality Seafood is very casual… and you might be sharing your meal with a few sea gulls so dress accordingly.  During the weekends, if it’s crowded, it takes at least 30 minutes to have your food to be ready.  I saw on Yelp that sometimes people even bring their own condiments, which is a great idea — Quality Seafood just has the basics (salt, pepper, lemon, etc).  So come prepared… and get ready for a seafood feast!

 

The dining area – it’s mostly al fresco!  There are stacks of old newspapers by the bar (yes, there’s even a bar!), so get some and lay them out picnic style!  🙂

 

Different clam varieties

 

Looks like it’s crab season!  Quality Seafood is so thoughtful that they separate the male and female crabs into separate tanks – it makes it easier to pick them out, either for the crab meat, or for the roe.

 

I think it’s blue crab season too?

 

And for the sea urchin lovers, Quality Seafood is currently running a special on uni until Valentine’s Day at $7.50/lb!!!

 

The live uni – the spine was still moving just a little bit.  This was my first time having uni from the shell… it was a bit salty from the sea water, and covered with the veins.  Otherwise, it was good.  I was a little creeped out by the moving spines though, so I’ll stick with the restaurant versions from now on. :p   $17.50

 

We got half a pound each of the manila and the littlenecks neck clams, steamed with veggies for an extra $1.50.  The clams were soo good!  The veggies soaked up the clam juices, and the white wine sauce so they were delicious as well.  Steamed clams only took 6 minutes to cook.  $11.50 (including the veggies)

 

The wild Alaskan snapper was on sale for $4.98/lb so we got one too.  The one we picked was a huge one, at over 4 pounds.  I think that’s why it took longer to cook — about 20+ minutes.  We had it broiled, and it was so juicy and delicious!  Add your own seasoning (salt, pepper, lemons, etc) to taste.  🙂

Have fun at your own seafood picnic!