While having our drinks at Albie's, it became quite clear that there was no way we'd be getting a table. But we did need to get something to eat. I recalled that the High Dive, always a favorite for beer, never for food, had a new chef, and had elevated their menu a bit. I say a bit because this is my 'hood, be it ever so humble, Bay Park, and tastes around here run rather pedestrian. Still, why not give the High Dive another try?
The menu did indeed have some different things and Candice and I tried a few. Starting with the Chicken Chiccharon ($7).
This was crisp and light, though some pieces were over-seasoned and salty, overall a nice starter.
The item I enjoyed the most were the Chorizo Croquettes; called "Chorizo Potato Ballz" on the menu ($8) - I wonder why they just don't call them croquettes? Are they afraid folks won't know what they are?
Light and crisp breading, creamy and light filling, this was pretty good. The chorizo had a nice smokiness and almost came across with a nice almost beefy flavor. It wasn't too rich, nor was it over-seasoned. Now, if only they'd "86" the runny ranch dressing and replace it with maybe a garlic aioli?
The Naked Spicy Garlic Wings ($10) looked the part, but didn't deliver.
Other than the flavor of bitter garlic; this was very, very bland....as in we had to ask for a bottle of hot sauce to actually eat these. Also, the skin was slightly more gummy than I'd like and it didn't have any spice at all.
The Smoked Pork Tacos ($9) also fell short.
The tortillas, while generic were prepped well, the toppings, the pickled onions, cilantro, cotija cheese were spot on. The pork however, was too dry and had a texture of cardboard, to the point that I really couldn't tell the difference in texture between the pork and tortilla. It was also a bit low in the flavor department; much too mild (I even tasted just the meat), overshadowed by all the other flavors.
So it was pretty much a 50-50 thing. And yet, I felt quite happy with what I had. The High Dive seems to be making strides and with some additional menu upgrades I heard about, may one day really be a place for more than just having a beer and hitting the road for us.
And heck, deciding that I needed to do something different as well, I asked the bartender, who happened to be Mixologist Ryan Andrews to make me a cocktail. He brought me something called the "Mariner's Revenge".....man, it was great! Great guy....great drink!
Hope springs eternal.....
High Dive Bar and Grill 1801 Morena Blvd San Diego, CA 92110
Baguette Bros soft opened to a bit of hype a couple of weeks ago. Since it was fairly close to work, I managed to visit a couple of times.
Located in the same strip mall as China Max, Xi'an Kitchen, et al, the menu features twists on Banh Mi, chickens wings, versions VN coffee and drinks, and some Craft Beer (too IPA heavy - not my favorite match for Banh Mi). For some reason this seems to be a Food Truck menu in a brick and mortar shop......after all the NRA (no, not that NRA - the National Restaurant Association) says that the latest trend is from Food Truck to Brick and Mortar.
I like the nice, wide open set-up, very much the norm in places that want to attract the demographic that would want "Fusion Vietnamese Sandwiches"
I decided to go straight for the coronary artery and went with the Belly Flop ($8). The sandwich took a while, which didn't bother me. First this is the soft opening period and systems are still being put in place. Second, it means that my sandwich is being prepped fresh.
As the name indicates, this is a pork belly based Banh Mi. First off, the bread is standard issue. Probably from Le Chef. Because of how "stuffed" the sandwich is, it didn't hold up too on the short 10 minute trip back to the office, the bread had gotten gummy and for some reason, even though it was toasted, wasn't crusty enough.
The amount of pork belly was quite generous and along with the "sweet chili sauce", which seemed like a hoisin based sauce seemed the biggest deviation on what you'd consider something other than a super-stuffed banh mi. The classic cucumber, pickled veggies, and cilantro were nicely done. I loved the jalapenos which helped to cut the sweetness of the sauce.
One complaint would be the belly skin, which, if not fried properly is like eating plastic.....a rather unpleasant surprise.
Things come bundled with Shrimp Chips.
I thought my sandwich was pretty good so a couple of days later I returned with Calvin. I just can't put away food like I used to so having Calvin along would mean we could try a variety of items. Plus, MrC, who is originally from the SGV, his wife from Little Saigon, has had his share of Banh Mi.
My favorite sandwich of the three I had was the "Broguette" ($6). Loved the pate in this, wish they had put jalapenos on it and gone a bit easier on the Maggi, or whatever sauce they used as it was on the salty side. The head cheese was really mild but added texture, as did the Cha Lua, and the bread did well minus the travel time to my desk. As a whole, this was pretty much all about the pate.
We also ordered the "Grasshogger" ($6) - basically a Lemongrass Pork Banh Mi.
Calvin and I had the same reaction upon taking a bite of this; "whoa....too much salt...too much lemongrass". It needed something to balance out the flavors. The pork was actually fairly moist.
There was one other item I wanted to try. The Fish Sauce Chicken Wings.
Calvin liked the rather large sized wings, whereas I'm more about skin to meat ratio. We both agreed that the wings were fried perfectly, but that there was too much fish sauce in this...again, making it a bit too salty. The garlic was good, not too bitter, but this had me missing Que Huong.
I was rather pleased with what BB offered and am looking forward to visiting again after the Grand Opening period. Nice folks, service a bit slow, but that's to be expected as they get their systems down.
After having the hottest October on record, we've kind of settled into milder weather. Which means pho and ramen can be shoe horned back into lunch.
When Pho Paradise first opened, I thought it had some potential, even thinking that we'd finally get some decent Pho on Convoy. Even though my follow-up visit wasn't quite as good, I still believed they might have been the best pho in the area. So now, over six months later, I was wondering how things would be.
I started with the chicken wings, which looked very pale.
This wasn't too bad, the wings were fairly light and crisp, though sogginess set in rather quickly. A bit too much MSG for my taste, with that strange very salty edging on sweet taste and tongue sensation.
The pho was a disappointing.
This reminded me of the stuff Pho T Cali puts out. Barely any flavors other than being very salty with a very mild hint in the background. It was much too low in fat, the noodles, of which there was a healthy amount of, were over cooked, the proteins had no flavor and the tendon was too hard.
Well, at least the basil and bean sprouts were fresh, right?
In case you have doubts. Here's a bowl from Pho Paradise back in February.
Pho Paradise 3904 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111
Yakyudori Ramen and Yakitori:
I needed a break from the office one Friday and ran over to Yakyudori for an early lunch before the place got too crowded and the Servers too surly. It had been a while since I'd had lunch here and I went with the Friday combo. Chashu Gohan with a Shoyu Ramen.
The pork and rice came in a medium sized miso soup bowl....lots of rice in this though the chashu was good in comparison to what I'd had recently at Okan during lunch. It was tender, had some flavor, and was lukewarm rather than cold. The corn and bean sprouts added texture....but this was mostly a whole lot of rice.
I hadn't had lunch here in a while so I was surprised at the size of the "mini-ramen"....it was more mini that I recalled.
Not that I needed more carbs, but there were maybe three bites of noodles and I really wanted more soup. Overall, this was a decent bowl, just edging on too salty, but quite satisfying and the noodles were prepped well. I should have just gotten the ramen instead of the lunch special.
Since I did it with Pho Paradise, it's only right I do this here too. Here's what the mini ramen used to look like.
No wonder they give you so much rice now. They need to fill you up somehow.
At least they were a bit nicer here than on my previous visits.
Yakyudori Ramen and Yakitori 4898 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111
The funniest little discussion I had about this place was with a Midwesterner, who thought Quality Taste Pot, was well, something totally different. No, not quite, though good hot pot can be addictive.
It took a while for me to talk the Missus into coming here. She's been down on the Chinese food in San Diego for a while. Plus, the weather has to cooperate. We're not "hot pot is a way of life" kinda folks and have to be in the mood for it.
But since the place has the blessing of both Kirbie who has made multiple visits and Faye we had to get here eventually, right?
This shop was home to several iterations of China Chef, which, in spite of having a menu that was all over the place did have some decent dishes. I guess Hot Pot is the way to go these days.
The interior has been redone; understated, clean, and bright. I recognized the woman here as a former long time employee at Little Sheep. She was one of the really nice women who worked there.
Of course we came for the hot pot......but Kirbie raved about the Salt and Pepper Chickens Wings. And you know me and chicken wings, so......
The texture of these were outstanding, light, crisp, and very moist. A little short in the flavor the two times I had these, but quite good. One key point; eat them right away, don't get them to go. These get soggy and take on a greasy texture fairly quickly. Very nice.
DO NOT get the Yang Rou Chuan. In fact, I'm not sure why I ordered it.
Tough, dry, and short on flavor. 'Nuff said. We were really here for the hot pot, right?
We got the Special Tasty Pot - $14.95 for dinner. The Missus got into "Chinese" mode and quickly complained about the portion size....which ended up being enough for the two of us with the Chicken Wings.
I quickly mentioned that one of biggest complaints about the state of Chinese food in San Diego is the emphasis of huge quantities over quality, so we needed to give this place a chance. As you can see, this is not yuan yang guo, but a straightforward broth; decently flavored, quite low on scum. The proteins were passable, though only three slices of pretty good intestine and three slices of beef which for some reason dries out quite quickly. The dipping sauces were also passable, but not outstanding, the sa cha sauce was my favorite. The Missus hates fishballs, which were fishballs. She quickly got the half boiled egg, which She said was Her favorite. Too much udon noodle overall.
Overall not bad. The broth was probably the best thing about the hot pot.
So, I decided to return with YZ and Lily for lunch where the hot pot is $4 cheaper. YZ just loved the chicken wings and we thought the Special Tasty Pot was....well, they had the same opinion as I did.
We also tried the Lamb with Pickled Vegetable.
This was quite good; except for the shellfish which were past their prime. The lamb was nice and gamey, which I love. The suan cai was kind of weak, though perhaps I'm kind of picky since we make this at home; about 7 batches a year. This suan cai didn't quite have the nice, deep fermented flavor of good suan cai. Still, this was decent, and we'd probably return when the weather gets a bit chilly....though I do prefer mala yang yuan guo.
Service was decent, not overly friendly, not terrible. Perhaps worth a try.....
QT (Quality Taste) Pot 9225 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92126
Then other news came trickling in....the kitchen was going to be run by the original chef of Common Theory. 'Nuff said. So I held off on coming for a bit, but finally decided to give it a go a couple of weeks back.
It was a Sunday and the bar was full and the really nice patio area was half full....and there was one poor guy running the bar and the dining area, a really nice guy named Danny.....I felt for him.
The beer selection was a bit limited, but had 2-3 items I was ok with. I went with a Port Brewing Shark Attack Red Ale, then turned it down when my food arrived.
The menu seemed a bit pricey, but it's hard to make that determination when you haven't tried anything, so I went full steam ahead. And of course, being from Hawaii, I love my poke, so I thought it would be a good place to start ($9.50). I think for most, this would be ok. Me, well, I'm not a big fan of saku fish....that boned, skinned, pre-cut, vacuum packed, and frozen stuff has a texture I don't enjoy.
I would have appreciated a bit more shoyu and less sesame oil. And I thought the "wasabi pesto" needed more wasabi.
I went with the Garlic Parmesan Wings, which was basically simply fried wings with a dollop of a garlic-cheese paste on them.
Man, that was a not so great first visit. Still, I decided to visit again. This time I saw the sign for $1 off draft beer during "Happy Hour" - 4-6pm. It's nothing like, say, Iron Pig's half price happy hour. It was also kind of a bummer when I was told that Sculpin and the Shark Attack Red were excluded from happy hour pricing.....it's only a dollar, but really......
This time around I asked for a recommendation with regards to one of my dishes. Queried about my tolerance for "heat", the Habanero Calamari ($8.50) was recommended.
And this was probably the best item I had at Coastal Crave; tender, nice spice, cooled by a decent aioli. It was on the greasy side....but this is pub grub, right?
I also decided to try the Bone Marrow ($15).
This seemed a bit over-priced and the marrow looked really black. It wasn't too bad, but in spite of the color, there were quite a bit of red, under done parts. This actually made the Wagyu Bone Marrow at Copper Onion seem amazing.
Pretty uneven, almost like the place is over-reaching a bit. I'm glad that it seems the neighborhood folks are coming out and supporting the place, but I wish the food was a bit better and the beer selection more interesting....though I saw most people drinking Bud Light, Corona, and Shock Top......
As you can tell. I was ready to call it quits....but for some reason, I decided on one more try. I saw a nice looking sandwich go out on my previous visit, so I thought I'd order it; the Duck Melt ($13).
I really enjoyed the melted Havarti cheese, slightly milky, creamy, it really added to the sandwich. I thought the duck confit needed a bit more flavor, and the whole thing was super rich. I wish the pickles were a bit more assertive; it would have been just enough acid to cut the richness. The habanero aioli actually detracted from the overall flavor and seemed out of place. Also, the bread had been griddled a bit too long and some of the areas were bitter. The fries were nice and for some reason....maybe the acid component, the ketchup tasted really good.
The folks here seem very nice, though the service can be a bit slow.
I'm glad that places like this are opening in the neighborhood. Like I said about Luce's, I'm not the kind of guy who is just "happy to have xxxx in the neighborhood". And while the menu seems "interesting" (extra " " on this) with stuff like "Gator Cakes" on it. I'm just going to have a burger next time. I'll probably be better off. I hope.....
Coastal Crave 3065 Clairemont Dr San Diego, CA 92117
If you're going to have one item here, it should be the fish sauce wings. Since I first tried them in 2008, it's been a beloved item. In my article in the Reader, I noted how Jay told me he was going through as much as a thousand pounds of wings in a month.
It's still a wonderful, sweet, salty, and sticky.......
The Jackfruit Salad is another standby.
Over the years, I've noticed that they've somewhat refined their dishes a bit. In this salad, I noticed that the whole, hard peppercorns were gone and on this visit the nuoc mam cham was more savory, heavier on the fish sauce than sweet and watered done, which was a welcomed change. Nice amount of veggies, the somewhat citrusy-pungent-cilantro tones of rau ram, shrimp, and pork.
This made for a very satisfying meal.
It's good to know that the food here was just as good when Jay wasn't on the premises. It's also good to see Que Huong last when so many haven't.
Que Huong Restaurant 4134 University Ave San Diego, CA 92105
Here's a couple of places I haven't been to in a while.
Pho Ban Mai:
A couple of weeks ago, when it was super hot, Lily and "YZ" wanted to grab some lunch. Everything just seemed a bit "too much" for the heat and this being a Monday, places like Sab E Lee were closed. We ended up going to Pho Ban Mai, which I seem to visit about once a year. I ended up doing the ordering and we started with the Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings:
While the seasoning wasn't bad; I thought these were greasy, the bones in several were broken and the meat tasted a bit off like it had been thawed and then refrozen. Not good eats.
I also went with what I call the "Brodard South" dishes; the Nem Nuong Cuon and the Chao Tom Cuon. Like I mentioned before, these were right out of the Brodard playbook.
As before the Nem Nuong, the pork "sausage", was much better, more flavor, nicely grilled, and the addition of a touch of herbs along with the scallion complements the flavor of the meat. The Chao Tom, is a bit too rubbery and "squeaky" for me and is quite bland....which comes to the sauce....I keep on meaning to just get nuoc mam cham, the sauce here is not very good, very bland, lacking in flavor.
I've always enjoyed the banh xeo here; I think it is crisp and light, and I appreciate the ratio of fillings to the crisp "crepe". It's all about proportion to me when it comes to banh xeo.
Lily and "YZ" had never had banh xeo before, so I thought this would be a nice introduction. Man, Lily went after this like there was no tomorrow.....apparently, she loves bean sprouts, and the combination of the light crunch of the crepe with the crisp lettuce and herbs, dipped into nuoc mam cham was just what the doctor ordered for a hot day. This was a nice specimen, perhaps as good as what I had here in 2011.
Overall a decent meal; though there's one area that seemed lacking. When Pho Ban Mai first opened, the folks seemed friendly and attentive, during my last visit, the guys seemed more interested in socializing. This time around, they seem to want nothing to do with customers. In other words, it's getting almost borderline rude here. Not a good trend. I hope the next time I get my banh xeo fix, the pattern will be reversed.
Pho Ban Mai 8991 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92126
As far the wings go, they've never been quite the same, but were still good, and usually held up well. The Missus had always enjoyed the salt and pepper shrimp without shell here as well. Which is what I ordered.
Man, what is going on here? The chicken, while crisp, had basically no flavor.....I had to roll it in the garlic-scallion mixture to get any flavor at all.
It had also been fried to death......dry as a mouthful of sand. Kind of sad. Looks like I'll have to start making the rounds searching for some good S&P wings.
To make things worse, the shrimp were even more pathetic.
Very bland, under fried and gummy batter....this was pretty bad.
It's quite sad when an "old standby" doesn't deliver....
New Mandarin Canton Chinese Restaurant 543 Telegraph Canyon Road Chula Vista, CA 91910
Hmmmm Bruno and Pho King, there's surely a joke in there somewhere. Can't think of one right now, so onward with the post.
It had been almost a year since I'd been here and I was really wanting a pizza....the Missus is still not doing the bread thing, so I was on my own. I held out for a couple of weeks before giving in.
They must be doing well, as there were at least 5 people working on a Sunday, at 4pm.
My memory must be going as I don't recall seeing Belgians on the drink list before. I was quite happy to order a La Chouffe, mild spice, yeasty, just boozy and sweet enough for me. My server was a very chipper young lady...quite enthusiastic and all.....
Being a creature of habit, I ordered the Diavolo, subbing soppressata for pepperoni. It arrived in all it's yeasty charred glory soon after.
I must really be getting old because this just seemed larger than I remembered...ah, this cursed old age thing.
Man, loved the smoky charred crust, the slightly spicy and vinegary goat peppers....I did notice that the soppressata tasted a bit different, not as rich and full of lovely oiliness as before....but it could be that old age thing, right?
I could only finish half the pie and took the rest home. The Missus got home from work and said "that smells so good...." Knowing that She doesn't do the bread thing I told Her, "help yourself....he-he-he...."
I got out of the shower and She had a smug smile on Her face....so I headed straight to the pizza box and opened it....yikes!!! She had cockroached all the toppings! Teach me to tempt Her, right?
Pizzeria Bruno 4207 Park Blvd San Diego, CA 92103
Aaah, I know why I put these two together mentally. While at Bruno, these two huge Italian guys walked in, pinky rings and all. Man, they had it down, talking to each other in Italian....until I was walking out and they were having a little "PDA".....
So maybe they should have gotten a room or at least gone to....
Yeah, yeah....ok, enough with the jokes. I don't think I've posted on the place in over a year, so I'm due right? Man, they were pretty busy.....
I decided to order my usual and get some wings as well......
In retrospect, not the best move....these tasted of rancid oil, were fried "naked", but were on the mushy side, and really lacked flavor. Very large, meaty, and moist though. Ah yes...Pho King Wings....
My usual Hu Tieu Mi Kho did much better.
I love the sweet-porky soy and the combination of noodles on this. Which I've done posts on several times.
And on the good side, no one asked me for money. Like I noted in my Tu Thanh post, on my last visit in August, some dude asked me for money twice, once when entering and once when leaving the place...then I saw him looking into my car windows...sheeesh. Happy not have to deal with that, which kind of kept me away from the place. Guess I'll head back again soon.
Pho King Restaurant 4658 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92115
Funny, I always almost say "lavage" when I read the sign....not the most appetizing word. A couple of weeks ago FOY "Janfrederick" mentioned that Pho Viet Cali was no more in the comments of this post. I had always thought Viet Cali really made a mediocre and over priced bowl of pho. One day I had meetings fairly close by so I decided to drop by.
I forgot how large the restaurant was.
I liked the menu; which seemed to have quite a few dishes that I enjoy. On this visit, though, I decided just to go with the pho. As I usually do, I just went with the dac biet since it gives me a nice picture into how the various proteins are prepped. At $6.95 for a small bowl, it ain't cheap. It was even smaller than Viet Cali's seven dollar pho. The herbs were really skimpy and the lime had brown spots as did the basil. Also take a look at the size of the bowl of pho in comparison to the little plate of garnishes.
All comparisons to Viet Cali stopped at the price. This was a pretty good bowl. The broth was fairly dark, yet clear. It had decent fat/oil and a very light anise flavor, with a more pronounced onion thing going on. Not quite as good as Pho Lucky on a good day, but ok.
The meats were fine, one piece of the rare steak had a metallic taste to it. Most of it was unremarkable and there wasn't much of it either.
The one thing that was a pleasant surprise were how the noodles were prepped. This wasn't your usual clump of mushy, over cooked noodles. No, the noodles had been separated and were just perfect in texture.
Also, the folks who run this place; I'm thinking it's a family of four are really, very, very, nice. It made me want to return in spite of the rather low value level. So I dropped by the next chance I had and tried a couple of the appetizers I'd seen.
The Lavang Fried Chicken Wings ($8.95). It was a pretty little plate.
The sautéed peppers and onions brought very little to the dish in terms of flavor. The wings were he small type; which I actually kind of like since it makes for the perfect bite; a combination of crisp batter/skin/meat. This was adequately fried, but the sauce was way too sweet for me, without a nice savory punch that I would expect.
Wrapped too tight and hard, too much filler, the nem nuong was very bland and lost in everything. Could have used more herbs....oh and that sauce was watery and bland as well.
One evening a week or so later, I decided to drop by. The special that evening was one of my favorite dishes; Banh Mi Bo Kho ($7.95).
In some ways this was a pretty good version; lots of meat, the baguette nice and warm, the carrots perfect, not overcooked and mushy. I would have enjoyed a bit more anise tones and tanginess, but I know folks who don't. A good amount of black pepper in this and the broth was on the thin side....again, personal preferences at work. Like I said, tons of meat, cooked well, but not enough tendon for my taste. It is perhaps a bit more refined than the thick, rustic version I prefer.
But heck, this isn't bad by any means.
The owner told me to come back and try the Bo Luc Lac, so of course one evening, when the Missus was working, I dropped by to try it ($11.95).
Like some of the other dishes; the ingredients are done fairly well, the beef was adequately tender, but this fell short in the flavor category. I prefer mine with a more assertive sweet-savory flavor and this was really mild. Strangely, the rice was terrible...very hard.
The best part of the whole meal was the broth, which had such nice depth of flavor.
Just enough salt...this had that aaaah appeal. I guess I better return for other soups in the future.
I did return one more time for the Grilled Beef spicy Mango Salad ($9.95).
Again, nice try, but no cigar. The beef was tender, but on the mild side......the flavor of sesame oil was a bit too strong. The salad portion was nice, but again too much sesame flavor. I'd have enjoyed something with a stronger fish sauce flavor.
Like I said, the folks here are very, very, nice. I can see that they are trying for a more refined product, and while it shows in some of the prep, things just seem to miss the mark. I did notice that the two customers on the table in back of me were whining about how "greasy" the pho looked (meanwhile the Vietnamese on the table next to them just laughed - gringos wanting gringo pho)....I guess folks are really getting used to the MSG loaded, totally defatted, mediocre pho like they serve on Convoy. And while I admire the effort, the place just kind of falls short......
Lavang Restaurant 6755 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92121 Hours: Mon - Fri 10am - 9pm Saturday 10am - 10pm Closed Sunday