Well, like I mentioned a couple of weeks back it's finally starting to feel like soup weather.....San Diego soup weather that is. And if any day this year felt perfect for a bowl of noodle soup it was today.
From the angry clouds early this morning.
To the rain, which was falling pretty heavily this evening. Now why did I feel a bit uncomfortable seeing a car from the "Governor's Office of Emergency Services" in the next lane? I dunno.....
In need of some noodle soup I headed off to....
777 Noodle House:
Instead of going for my usual Hu Tieu Nam Vang Kho, I went with Pork Intestine Egg Noodle Soup, a relative bargain at $5.77.
This looked good, but the broth was a bit weak this time around. Lots of nice, funky, pork intestine though and the noodles had a nice chew to them. I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line over the last 9 years, pork intestine has become comfort food for me. Go figure......
777 Noodle House 4686 University Avenue San Diego, CA 92105
It had been over a year since I last visited. I'm not a big fan of the parking situation, nor the crowds when the place is busy, but I had to have my Beef Sate Noodle with soup on the side.
The portion size just seemed to be much larger than I remembered. No surprises here except the bowl of soup, which is usually fairly salty, seemed even more so today. In fact, one of the guys on the table to my right ordered the same thing and poured half his glass of water into the broth to water it down....which I think would really make it kind of yucky. I just ended up dipping my noodles into the broth tsukemen style at first, then puring off small amounts over the oodles and meat at the end. The sate could have bit more "umph", but it was adequately tender, more onion-shallot-nuttiness in flavor, but pretty much just what I wanted on this day.
Minh Ky Restaurant 4644 El Cajon Boulevard San Diego, CA 92115
Geez Louise, it wasn't even 11 and the place was packed...mostly older folks....a category I probably qualify for now.
I went with the Bun Tam Hoai Hue ($8.45), their special version of Bun Bo Hue, that's even more special than their Dac Biet ("special") which is also on the menu. I guess it's their special, that's more special than their special....or something like that.
As with previous visits; this has been quite consistent; not very spicy, not enough lemongrass, lack of any kind of dark savory tones. On the other hand, the proteins are done better than Mien Trung and the crab cake, a staple of Bun Rieu is a nice addition. This was a decent bowl of soup; though as Bun Bo Hue.....well, I'm not so certain, it's much too tame.
Hoai Hue Vietnamese Restaurant 4660 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92115
The Missus had to work and I wanted something a bit richer than pho, so I headed up to Pho Lucky for my favorite version of Banh Mi Bo Kho.
I'd had a bowl recently that was too salty, but this one hit the spot. Rich, beefy-anise tones, not watered down like most places. Tons of tendon.....it just hit the spot. The baguette looked kind of weird, but was nice and warm if a bit too crumbly....almost like something from K Sandwich.
I just noticed something....over the years, I've never mentioned the nice supporting role the pungency of the onions, the cilantro, and how a tiny squeeze of lime just lifts the flavor of the beef stew.
As an added bonus, a refugee from Tan Ky Mi Gia now works here. Folks who used to go there know who I'm referring to. It was nice seeing him.......all was right in the world at that moment!
Pho Lucky 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd. San Diego, CA 92126
Pho Cow Cali:
Well, the guy who has been cutting my hair for 12 years sure does get around; from Mission Valley to Serra Mesa to El Cajon to College to his uncles house (during a bad spell he was pretty much homeless) to Rolando, to Oceanside, and now (though I'm sure I've missed as couple of locations) to Mira Mesa. He is the one person with whom I can trust cutting my hair.....not a big deal I guess, but I have a very loyal streak in me. He is also a great guy....... A nice bonus is that he's now located in Mira Mesa, which gives me another reason to head up there.
Since I'd already had something from Pho Lucky earlier in the week, I decided to drop by Pho Cow Cali since it had been a while.
In terms of pho I think this way; Lucky for the broth, "Da Cow" for the beef......
And I wasn't disappointed. I'm not a big fan of "Tai" (rare steak) in San Diego. It's usually (well always) really low quality top round with no fat which ends up being quite tough even with the slightest sunk into the hot broth. The proteins on this day; though tripe and tendon seemed to be at premium, was fine as always. Now Ralph Waldo Emerson might have said "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" but he was referring to a "foolish consistency", of which PCC usually does not participate....at least in terms of meat.
The broth, on the other hand can sometimes be MSG overload....though that was not the case on this day. I will say, that it was a bit more defatted than I would have preferred. Maybe I should be like my fellow blogger Dennis and just automatically do the Nuoc Beo thing (BTW, we miss your posts Dennis - hope you are doing well).
The noodles were also a bit softer than I prefer, but overall, not a bad bowl....better than almost everything else in San Diego.
One thing I never noticed before....the, umm, well, is it the logo, which for some reason I found kind of strange since it looked more like a goat than a cow......and for some reason found strangely familiar....like "do I know you? Have we met before?" I can't put my finger on it right now......
Pho Cow Cali 9170 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92126
This used to be Quiznos, which I don't has fared quite well over the last couple of years. I believe we need some good independently owned west of the 805, so this was, at least for me, a welcomed sight. The interior has been redone, in what I call "modern pho".....that is, it is clean (should be because it's new, right?), simply done, sort of like Pho 46 or The Pho Shop. Of course, the standard issue televisions were present and accounted for as well.
I believe the owner also owns Pho Nam Cali in National City.
You know what I ordered, right? Looking at the location and then the menu I knew that this shop catered to more western sensibilities with regards to pho....in other words you won't find every combination of protein for pho on the menu. It's basically 8 variations, including Pho Filet. i just went with the Dac Biet. A small will set you back $7.50.
I didn't anticipate much in the way of garnishes and my expectations were met.
The broth looked disappointing, fairly cloudy, a bit too defatted. Almost no nose to speak of, very faint beef, no anise, savory-onionyness. The flavor was quite salty, but very flat after that. The portion looked quite small, which is fine since the broth was too salty to finish, even after touching it up with lime to cut the sodium.
The clumped noodles were quite good with a nice stretch.
As for the proteins....tripe MIA, the rare steak really tough and overcooked by the time the bowl hit the table....need to order this on the side. The tendon was good, soft and close to that buttery texture I like. The brisket was tasty and well prepared. Not much meat in the bowl though.
Not really a good value in my book. The guy running the front was very nice though. Quite friendly and efficient.
Since the place is close to home and work, it was easy enough to make multiple visits. Wasn't sure what to order on my second go around. I saw the Goi Cuon on my previous visit and it really didn't seem like something I'd enjoy here.
So I started with the Bò nướng hành ($6.50) - basically Grilled Beef Rolled around onions.
The fragrance was nice, the beef a bit on the tough side, but well flavored - sweet-salty, very straight forward teriyaki/bulgogi like. The onions were mild and overall this was a pretty good choice. The nuoc mam cham was on the mild side and the portion is gringo sized.
I also ordered the Bun with Pork, Shrimp, and Cha Gio ($9.95). Again, this seemed a bit on the pricey side.
Too much filler in the standard issue egg rolls, but the grilld pork was nicely flavored and not too tough. The shrimp seemed a bit overcooked. This looked like a pretty large bowl and I thought it was going to be a total carb bomb. However, half of the bottom was filled with lettuce. So in terms of being a salad.....well, this was pretty good. The bun was prepared perfectly as well. I did have to ask for more nuoc mam cham for this. A fairly expensive lunch, but not bad.
As I mentioned earlier, the guy working here was very nice and service was fine. So.......third time's the charm, right?
Plus, I did want to try the Fried Chicken Wings ($6.95), actually butter wings.
Not quite top notch, the fry job wasn't perfect and the skin wasn't as crisp as I would like. The seasoning left a bit to be desired, more pungent flavors, even, gasp, more salt! It was super hot, though there seemed to be a bit of "seepage", that is a lot of the meat had dark pigment, which made me wonder about how this was handled when freezing.
I finally took a good look at pages other than the first two on the menu and noticed Phnom Penh Noodle Soup ($7.95) under "Specialty Noodle Soups"....wow, one of my favorites. So I ordered it.
In retrospect, I sould have known better. I mean, how many Pho shops do you know that serve a good Hu Tieu Nam Vang? From the unblanched bean sprouts.....a good indication of the portion size is the bean sprouts in relation to the soup spoon.
The noodles were Banh Pho, not Hu Tieu. The meat, what what there was; was dry and flavorless chicken breast, standard issue meat balls, and shrimp, which actually wasn't bad. I actually had to bust out the chili paste to dip the pieces of chicken in.
The broth was terrible, bland and insipid. Bad move on my part. Lesson learned.
So there you go. New place, nice and clean.....really nice folks, but "pho not to offend". Honestly, there are worse places for pho in the area, but that's not really a reason to laud yet another mediocre bowl, right?
Pho Hut & Grill 5252 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92117 Hours: Open Daily 10am - 9pm
A few months back, I took a day off to meet some relatives who were visiting LA. I left quite early in the morning and hit Westminster at about 830 am. I decided to grab a bite to eat and it had been a while since I'd had pho in Little Saigon, so I decided to stop and get some. I checked out a couple of places and they were surprisingly busy, so I settled on Pho Quang Trang 2 which is in Asian Village Center right on Bolsa.
I hadn't been to this location of PQT, but I had been to the original location way back in the mid-2000's. From what I recall, they made a decent bowl of Pho Ga. I really wanted a obwl of Pho Filet Mignon, which is what I ordered. (small bowl - $6.45)
One of the main reasons being that I think I've gotten kind of used to the typical bowl of pho in San Diego, low in beef flavor, low in clove-scorched onion--anise tones, and high in salt/msg. I just wanted to get some bearings with regards to pho. First off, there was a bit less herbs than I was used too, but what there was sparkling fresh. The noodles were in the typical clump, but nicely done, still having a good amount of stretch to them. The broth looked darker than I expected, but was quite mild in the sodium department, at least compared to what I'd been having the last couple of months. Overall, a light beefiness, a bit too light in the fat department, but better than just about every place in San Diego. Not sure where it ranks within Little Saigon, wince I haven't had too many bowls over the last few years.
The only thing that I didn't enjoy was that the filet was still a bit too frozen, still stiff and solid, taking too long to get to the correct doneness and cooling off the broth too quickly.
The Missus has a style all Her own. She keeps me on my toes; I never know what Her latest obsession will be. Recently, She's become a bit of a coffee nerd, pour over coffee to be precise. One morning She sent me a text telling me She's ordered V60 "stuff".....my response was "what do you need a missile launcher for?". I came to find out that She wasn't planning on taking out any tanks, but rather, was ordering the gear she needed to make pour over coffee at home. Of course, what's coffee without beans, right? Which is how we started visiting places like Dark Horse and Portola, with me having stuff like Kyoto Drip Coffee. Anyway, Her favorite current source of beans and a nice cup of coffee is Bird Rock and on this morning She was thrilled.....they had something called Panama Geisha, supposedly the best Panama has to offer. It was ten bucks for V50 pour-over, yikes! Still, I believe it was important for Her to try it....once....since She's really enjoying Her coffee. The guy working here was really nice and told the Missus, "it's perfect......I want to make sure you enjoy every last drop!" Which She did....It's really smooth and fruity....a bit too smooth for me...it is quite lovely, but I like a bit of acid and bite in coffee. I am glad She got a chance to try it. She also bought some Kenyan to grind (by hand) at home....She's started to keep the labels of the various beans She buys to remember what She enjoys. My goodness, I'm married to a coffee nerd in training.
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters 5627 La Jolla Blvd San Diego, CA 92037
Then it's off to Pho Lucky:
So it's like in the 80's at 8 in the morning. What does the Missus want to have? Well, pho of course.... wha???
We actually ordered the same items as on this visit. Today the broth wasn't too salty and loaded with MSG, there was a nice clove-5 spice backbone to the broth. Lot's of tendon which the Missus gave to me.....along with all those perfectly cooked noodles....She stayed with the broth and meat. I'm still not a fan of the Missus dumping all those jalapenos into Her broth, but hey, it's Her soup, right?
I ordered the combination broken rice; most of which (except for the Bi, which the Missus inhaled) came home for a light lunch. I was too full after eating all those noodles.
Things were divided up as follows, pork chop and rice for me, shrimp stuffs for Her. She also had the "cha" which seemed like it had been sitting around for a while, it was too dry for my tastes, but the Missus enjoyed it. Such is how couples who have been together forever eat I guess.....
Pho Lucky 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd. San Diego, CA 92126
Gyokai Natto Don from Izakaya Sakura:
I was on my own for dinner. All this hot and sticky weather has me craving certain "comfort" food.....specifically natto. I hadn't been here in a while, and not for dinner in ages.
In fact, I hadn't been here since they cleaned up their menu....it's much more easy to read now...it made it so easy to find the Nankotsu Karaage - fried chicken cartilage. I love the crunch of well prepared chicken cartilage and this was fried perfectly.
The coating was nice, light, and crisp, though I think I'll need some togarashi next time as it needed a bit of umph.....
The combination of raw fish and ika (squid) combined with the sticky stringy natto was just what the doctor ordered. Soy sauce and wasabi just brought everything together for me. The agedashi tofu that comes with this wasn't cooked properly, the coating was gummy and didn't hold up.... otherwise, this was the perfect meal for today.
Izakaya Sakura 3904 Convoy St #121 San Diego, CA 92111
So. You see what we've been eating during this hot and sticky weather....what have you been eating?
As the weather cooled for a couple of days last week, I looked forward to having some noodles.....the hardest decision was, "what to get?" It was still a bit too warm for Bun Bo Hue from Mien Trung, on my last visit to Pho King I was accosted by some dude asking me for money twice, once before I went into the place and once leaving.....I also spotted him looking into the windows of my vehicle....man, what's going on here? And while Hu Tieu Nam Vang Kho from 777 sounded good, I wanted some soup. So I decided on heading back to Tu Thanh. I'd only visited once, back in December, and really enjoyed the Bun Mang Vit - Duck and Bamboo Shoot Soup. So it was time for another visit.
The place really looks like a proper restaurant now; there were several tables filled when I arrived, a very nice sign. The young gentleman working here will surprise you; he looks caucasian, but speaks Vietnamese....he's also efficient as heck. I also found a couple of parking stalls right past the restaurant, which was nice....I hadn't even noticed those before!
The broth was scalding hot, clean tasting, and fragrant, the bun perfectly prepared, and the bamboo shoots (you need to use dried bamboo shoots for a proper bowl) nicely stepped and rehydrated, adding a nice earthy scent to the broth, but still nice and crunchy.
The "goi vit", basically the duck and "salad", a combination of greens, herbs, and shredded banana blossom proves a nice counter-point. The duck, sliced, nicely flavored with a bit of chew.
And then of course there's the dipping sauce; savory nouc mam cham; sweet, the heady flavors of ginger, I'd say it's almost drinkable.
I did hit the spot!
One of the more interesting things, at least for me, is that I like ot eat this a number of ways...dip the duck in the broth, add a touch for the dipping sauce. dip the salad into the broth, then the dipping sauce, just go for the duck in the dipping sauce, just the veggies in the broth, just the dipping sauce like a true salad, add a touch of the sauce to the broth about halfway thru......heck, just drink that sauce....
As I walked to my car, I wondered how Chinese Kitchen was doing without Chi Tu Thanh making the bun mang vit? I guess I'll need to check them out....someday.
Tu Thanh 4804 University Ave. #A San Diego, CA 92105 Hours: Thurs - Tues 9am - 9pm Wednesday 9am - 5pm
I've often mentioned what a great bunch of friends I have. We all get along and always have great time. These guys are up for anything; like the "Amazing Graze" and our Porcine Party. Sadly, I haven't been to help plan or attend many of the recent events, work has kept me busy over the last year or so. So when one of our gang said she wanted to do karaoke for her birthday, it was naturally a "yes, of course." But there was a catch, she also wanted a whole roast pig as well! Not a big deal, right? I mean, I see folks dragging swine into karaoke rooms all the time....yeah, right? Anyway, it was easy enough to get the assignments done; YummyYummy with her connections and persuasive manner would talk the place into letting us bring an entire hog into one of their rooms, I swing the swine, and the rest would be gravy, or is that sauce.
Anyway, after polling some of my acquaintances, and my "Filipino Mom's" in the office next door to us, one porker rendered its way to the top, Porky's Lechon. Now, I gotta say, based on my visits and meals at the place this was a major leap of faith. But I gotta say, this was a very moist fifty pounder.
In case you don't believe that we actually brought a whole pig into a karaoke room, here's "Xiang Jiao" doing the honors as the disco lights dance around it's roasted body...... To paraphrase the lyrics on the screen...."This pork has taken its toll on me......"
Thanks to JohnL for sacrificing his van to transport said swine.....I hope it doesn't still smell like pork heaven. Big thanks also to TFD and MrC for getting the Hen Xuc Banh Trang and baking the cake, and of course "YY" and Quanito for coordinating the room.
Thanksgiving in August:
Recently "XJ", "YY", and their family moved into new digs. they've been wanting to do sort of a house-warming type of thing. "XJ" had also gotten a Weber Smokey Mountain...she's really BBQ Grrrrl I guess, and wanted to put it into service. So I brought my WSM over and we did a little BBQ kinda thing for the gang.
Of course BBQ takes a while and needed our strength, so their mom was nice enough to make us a delicious breakfast.
We timed things pretty well and everything was ready by 2pm as we had planned.....tri-tip, salmon, ribs....
And a whole lot more.....charcuterie and cheese board, TFD's mom made a delicious pork and jackfruit salad, roasted vegetables, salad, and of course dessert.
Around the time we were setting up, someone said "this is like Thanksgiving, but better!" And so it came to pass, Thanksgiving in August. I think we'll make this a tradition. A pretty good idea, don't you think?
Nothing like the power of pork to bring people together!
Last weekend, the Missus really wanted to drop by Portola Coffee Labs.....She has become a real coffee nerd. She's got all the gear to make pour-over coffee.....
Anyway, on the way down to the OC we started getting hungry. This gave us the perfect chance to check out a place I'd been wanting to try for a while; Ha Noi Avenue.
We really don't get to this end of Westminster Boulevard very often and I was hankering for some Bun Cha.
As with many businesses, this was obviously some kind of fast food joint....you could still see the drive thru lane and speaker board outside. The restaurant isn't very large, but is quite clean. Most of the customers were in rather large groups...families. And all were eating just about the same thing; Bun Cha, Cha Ca Thang Long, and Banh Tom, all the trappings of Northern Vietnamese Food.
I read of some instances where service was lacking, but we didn't experience any of that....in fact, the guy serving us was kind of, well jovial in a way. When we placed our order, he smiled gave us the "thumbs up" and said, "good....good!" Apparently he approved.
Fairly soon our table was loaded up; three plates of bun, two large baskets of herbs and greens, the pickled papaya and carrots in fish sauce, mam tom, nuoc mam cham, Banh Trang Me.....
Just the fragrance of the bun cha took us back to Bun Cha Dak Kim in Hanoi. While it was not nearly as good.....it was good enough. All the base flavors were there; the ground pork patty was a bit on the large size and not quite as tender, but the flavors, salty-sweet-savory-porky were just what the doctor ordered.
On another note, the bun here was perfectly prepared....just the right texture for me; not overly sticky or mushy.
When I saw Nem Cua Bể (crab spring rolls) on the menu, I had ot have it.
While not nearly as flavorful as #1 Hang Manh, lacking in the amount of savory flavors (crab) and not as light as I prefer, this was still not bad. Crisp, molten, and lovely with lettuce and a dunk in the nuoc mam cham.
The only real clunker was the Cha Ca Thang Long.
The fish, while moist was very bland. We've gotten used to all the flavors from Song Long's version of Cha Ca, amking this seem puny and missing some parts we enjoy like the fried shallots and peanuts. The mam nem was really watered down and weak. We'll pass on this next time and go for the Banh Tom instead.
And yes; there will be a next time. Funny thing, even though the signs say "pho" not one single customer (all Vietnamese) was having it.
Ha Noi Avenue 8432 Westminster Blvd Westminster, CA 92683 Hours: Wed - Mon 830am - 830pm
It's kind of nice to have all these options if we want a breakfast/lunch, we can go with the Cha Ca Thang Long at Song Long which opens at 9, or some Hue favorites at Ngu Binh which also opens at 9, or if we're in the mood for Banh Cuon we can go to Pho Tau Bay which opens at 8......
In the end, the missus got Her coffee beans at Portola, I got a cup of Kyoto Drip cold brew. And we got a nice little trip down memory lane. To a place crowded wall to wall with people, steep and skinny stairs leading up to an almost communal dining area, at #1 Hang Manh.......
It was wonderful taking that trip in my mind, down the dusty streets, dodging motorbikes, and eating like crazy in edgy Hanoi.....
I think it might almost be time for another trip.....
As the clouds and humidity swirled on into San Diego....with the weather turning slightly monsoon-like, with rain falling in August, my thoughts suddenly turned to Bun Mam. I'm not sure why, but that funky, fermented-fish based umami bomb broth called to me. So I decided to check out Com Tam Nhu Y, which, if you're keeping score, used to be Nhu Y, then, having been sold, became Com Tam Thuan Kieu, not to be confused with Com Tam Thuan Kieu for a blink of the eye....only to become Com Tam Nhu Y, not to be mistaken for Pho Nhu Y in Clairemont, opened by the former owner of Nhu Y. Really....can you say soap opera in the making? Who needs "Real Housewives of xxxxx", when you can have "Noodleshop Stories of San Diego"?
Well, whatever.....I was here for the soup......
The last itme I visited, I thought the broth had taken a turn to a lighter and an almost sweeter soup. Well.....it was back to the good 'ol Nhu Y broth on this visit. Dark and funky, it was raised by the squeeze of lime and the melange of herbs to cut the thickness of the broth. It was also a bit more spicy.......like a broth that had been steeping for a while. This is one of the few soups that can overcome the rather muddy flavor of low grade catfish......you take in the smooth and buttery texture of the fish.
The stuffed jalapeno really didn't do much for me and the shrimp were slightly over-cooked, but I knew what makes this dish tick....that really rich and funky broth. This was actually pretty close to what I had recently at Nhu Y Clairemont and I didn't have to wait until after 3pm to order it. Though that Hispanic couple who came in and sat behind me, then moved after my soup arrived may want that 3pm rule implemented here....hey, this ain't your neighborhood or restaurant, sometimes you might want to experience real life..... and real food....
Com Tam Nhu Y 4712 El Cajon Blvd Ste A San Diego, CA 92115
It's been a while since I've been here. One of my favorite non-menu items which I enjoy for lunch is the Hwe Dup Bop. Think of it as a sashimi salad rice bowl if you've never had it before.
Topped with spicy-sweet cho-jang and sesame oil, this is a filling, refreshing, and rather healthy meal.
It's always nice to see Sam as well.
Sushi Yaro 7905 Engineer Road San Diego, CA 92111
Lobster Roll from SuperNatural Sandwiches:
One of my first stop when I got back to work. I decided to go with the lobster roll, which ain't cheap at $15 and isn't quite your traditional Lobster Roll. This one is aggressively seasoned, but there were two whole claws in my roll.