The chashu while well flavored and moist, was just too much of a good thing and I left quite full. Still, the noodles were again perfect, just the right amount of pull with a bit of pull, nice and slippery, and a good vehicle for the collagen in the broth, which was, like my previous visit, a solid tonkotsu.
About two weeks later, I found out my haircut guy was working relatively close by and having read about the crowds in the comments on my post....I was curious. I got there at 1045...and no kidding; there were over 30 people waiting in line.
I'm usually not one to wait in line; but I was curious if this new popularity would change anything about the ramen at Ultra. So I put my name on the list....and waited about 30 minutes to get in.
I went with the Ajitama Ramen with an extra egg.
While the noodles were still perfect for my taste and the boiled egg was much better.....lukewarm instead of cold and not as "cooked". There were several things I noticed. The broth had less of a fragrance and indeed, while being fairly mild and nuanced before, was much less rich....more fatty, but lacking in the real noodle coating capacity. It was still good....just not quite as good as my previous two visits.
I'll wait a few months before going back. It'll be interesting to see how things progress. I think it's still the best straight up tonkotsu in San Diego.
Menya Ultra Ramen 8199 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92111
Pho T Cali is basically within walking distance from my office.....but of course my previous experiences kind of keep me away....but I just had to see......had it really hit the "ten dollar pho" category?
Upon arriving and having the menu handed to me....I saw...yes indeed, the dac biet was now $9.95.
So for ten bucks I got this.
The broth had almost no color and had a strong onion taste. It looked like dishwater. While the texture of the tripe was good, it had a strange aftertaste; the tendon was decent though. The portion of noodles was quite large and adequately prepared.
The serving of sprouts and such was paltry to say the least.
I think this is why I saw folks (I was the only Asian in the place) dumping in loads of Hoisin and Sriracha into their pho.
On a rather amusing note; a few days later I received an email from "AlanH" regarding Pho T Cali....I'm hoping you won't mind me using a few excerpts Alan? Some of the, ahem, "highlites" of his email were....
"A -small- Pho "Chin" is now $8.95 (I almost walked out at that point, but was too hungry for Pho)"
"They have totally dumbed and stripped down the menu, which should have been my first warning sign...They have gone to the all photo model with a bit of basic text with prices. "
"The "herbal accessory plate" was its usual mediocre affair, but the basil was even more paltry and under-developed than usual (if the basil was human it would have needed a wheelchair)."
"As they do not serve / have Ngo Gai, I asked for a small portion / bowl of cilantro...THEY WERE OUT OF F'ING CILANTRO!!!!!" " Is there a cilantro shortage I was not aware of?"
"I just paid $11.00 (with tip) for a mediocre -at best- bowl of Pho. Is this Manhattan? No, this is not Manhattan......Manhattan would have had cilantro....."
All I can say Alan is...."I feel (or ate...or something like that) your pain".
Pho T Cali 7351 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92111
This has me wondering....in a very twisted way; if I were to think the Pho at Pho Mignon is still worse than this.
Usually the hang out of those Vietnamese "Coffee Guys"......you know, Vietnamese coffee culture, just like they do in the Old Country. There were just a few guys on this day and guess what? No one was smoking....and gasp...all those machines, you know, the ones for "entertainment purposes only" were gone!
I was quite surprised.
I ordered the combination noodle soup that I enjoy, Hu Tieu Mi Nguoi Hoa ($7.25).
Stretchy Hu Tieu and slightly crunchy Mi, I enjoy the contrasts of textures. The soup was passable; a lot of black pepper, not too salty, pretty straight forward...simple. The BBQ Pork was tough and lacked that sweet-savory-salty flavor I enjoy, the shrimp was passable, not the best quality, but not over-cooked and rubbery. My favorite item was the chicken which had a wonderful, deepness to the flavor, sort of like Hainan Chicken. I'd actually come here to try the Hu Tieu Ga, which I was told was good, but couldn't find it on the menu.
Along with the usual sprouts and lettuce, Tong Ho (Garland Chrysanthemum - Shingiku) was provided. But for some reason, the usual "green"-dill taste wasn't very strong. All were crisp and fresh.
Not bad overall.
I'm wondering if this is the "newer and gentler" version of Café Dore. Or did I just happen to drop by on that odd day.
I need to start revisiting some of these places around here.....though my schedule will need to get a bit less hectic to do that.
Here's a couple a of places I passed on my way to and from work and one that I had intended to check out, but had already closed.
Okan Diner Replacing Izakaya Kanpai:
Driving home down Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, I noticed that the signage for Izakaya Kanpai had changed. I took a closer look and to my surprise; it said....Okan Diner!
I guess Okan's Empire is expanding yet again. So now it'll be a threesome, with the original Okan (Mom), Oton (Dad), wouldn't it be funny if they named this shop "Bozu"?
Be interesting to see what the menu's going to be like.
With Havana Grill and Private Kitchens opening in the last two years; the complexion of this strip sure has changed. I'm sure that the parking situation will probably become a bit tenuous as well.
5430 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92117
Gourmet City Changes Ownership:
The sun is rising a bit earlier these days. And on my typical 6am drive to work, I noticed a new Grand Opening sign on Gourmet City.
My sources tell me they now serve Cantonese fare in addition to the previous menu.
5541 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92117
Pho 87 Opening Soon:
A few weeks back, the Missus wanted me to pick something up from Northgate Market. I ended up having breakfast at Café Dore (post upcoming). On my way back home I noticed that the signage for Pho & Banh Cuon Ha Long Restaurant had changed to Pho Huong Viet. And while my sources told me it was still under the same ownership, I made a mental note to check them out. Having to make a return trip to Northgate Market, I turned into the parking lot at the corner of 54th and University.
And found that the place was being renovated. The sign on the door said "Pho 87 Noodle House. Coming soon in 2 weeks."
Nicer weather has gotten the Banh Mi Bug out of hibernation. Here are a few revisits.
Baguette Bros created some buzz when they first opened back in December of 2015. I hadn't heard much about them recently, so I decided to head back for a revisit.
Arriving a few minutes after opening; things were pretty quiet.
I really hadn't been overly impressed by the sandwiches in the past and really didn't know what to order....so I went with the interesting sounding Pho Banh Mi, which came with a hefty $9 price tag. Even during a slow time like this, I waiting almost 20 minutes for my sandwich.
I thought the bread was standard issue....a bit too much bread for a banh mi in my opinion. It also didn't hold up well and turned quickly into mush. The brisket had a great texture; not too tough, not too soft, but was really salty. For some reason, I really enjoyed the bean sprouts....the crunch and flavor added a nice "freshness" to the dish. That hoisin based sauce wasn't a favorite of mine......too much going on.
Overall, I still don't quite get this place. It seems more like concept over execution/taste. But for a lot of folks, that's enough.
Baguette Bros 4698 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111
Banh Mi Bakery & Café:
I'd wanted to go back to Banh Mi Bakery & Café a couple of times for lunch...but man; that parking lot can rival anything on Convoy during lunch hours! With Kaiser coming up, it's going to be really busy around these parts. Early one weekend morning, I needed to go into the office. I remembered that Banh Mi Bakery opens at 7am and also that "Calvin" had enjoyed the Meatball (xiu mai) Banh Mi. So that's what I got. Back at the office, I opened it up.
I'm kind of leary when it comes to Banh Mi Xiu Mai. I've had some terrible versions, but this was pretty good. The bread was nice and warm; I'd have enjoyed a bit more flakey/crustiness, but that's getting a bit too nit-picky. I still think the pickled vegetables here are a bit weak; just not sour enough. And in the case of a soft, rich tasting xiu mai, it just didn't hold up. Still, this was a nice sandwich.
A few weeks later, Calvin and I were finishing up a meeting. It was raining, but both of us were starved. We both thought about the Banh Mi Op La (easy over egg)......which would be nice for a rainy day breakfast. So we headed over to the strip mall and ran into the shop. We left with two sandwiches; being careful not to break the yolks until we ate them.
They hadn't cut these sandwiches in half; so when we started eating it became an oozy mess. After taking a bite we looked at each other....there was something different about the bread. It seemed kind of doughy and definitely not crusty, nor yeasty enough. Perhaps the weather had messed up the process on this day? But you need some quality controls in place to take care of that. Or maybe they changed their bread recipe? Bummer, because this was a nice sandwich in spite of the short comings of the pickled vegetables. The eggs were a bit over done, though we both enjoyed the crisp edges. The yolks were very soft, but not super runny; like I'd had previously. Man, the jalapeno on this day was spicy.
Not sure what to think. Was the bread just a case of an "off day". Or is this how it's going to be from now on? I'm hoping it was just a bad day.
Banh Mi Bakery & Cafe 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Suite H1 San Diego, CA 92123
I've been trying to revisit places in my 'hood recently. I thought I'd start with Bay Park Fish, hard to believe that it's been almost five years since I last ate here. On this evening, every place was packed, and while BPF was busy, there was still room for one at the bar. So I had a seat, watched the game, had a brew, and decided to order an old favorite of ours; the smoked fish; which is now called the Smoked Fish "Stack" ($12).
They now "supplement" the smaller portion of smoked fish with romaine lettuce and avocado. It's still not bad. Decent smoked flavor, fairly balanced seasoning; a bit more mayo, celery, and stuffs than I recall.
Rather routine tortilla chips.
I'm not sure that this place has aged well. I know they've had to add, ahem, "sushi rolls" to the menu and they gave up on the fish counter years ago (you can find it at Catalina Offshore). The preparation of the fish here has never been my fave, but it's nice to see they are still going rather strong. After all, when we moved into the neighborhood, there wasn't much, and when Bay Park Fish opened in 2005, it was a big thing.
Bay Park Fish Company 4121 Ashton St San Diego, CA 92110
Man, does this place like to top off their soup with a ton of greens. Like way more than the last time I had this here. I guess it's there to distract you from the thin, small slices, of pork, which, unlike the previous time I had this, was now a couple of slices dropped on the side of the bowl....which, while flavored nicely, was quite dry and tough. The ration of sprouts were attaining a nice brownish color, so those were left out.......... the "Mi", egg noodles, which were prepared in sight was nice, just enough "pull" and a slight crunch. The noodle portion size was also decent. The broth was really bad though.....basically salt water with very little flavor at all.
I'm sorry to say that, based on my previous visits, this was what I expected......though I had hoped for more.
Someone did mention that the Banh Xeo here is fantastic; but I didn't see it on the menu. I'm wondering if any of our intrepid readers have had it?
Spotted Cow Viet Kitchen (in the Zion Market Food Court) 7655 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, California 92111
And was not too impressed with the broth. Which while not bland as it had some hints of anise; it was way too salty and barely had any beef flavor. I couldn't bring myself to finish the bowl.
The proteins were decent though and the noodles, while the usual clump at the bottom of the bowl wasn't over done.
This was ok and I wasn't planning on having pho here anytime soon. But that Beef Rib Bones sign stuck in my head.
Curious I returned and ordered a regular sized pho ($7) and them bones ($3). Which turned out to be three good sized ribs bones which I believe is used for making the broth.
This was pretty good; not boiled into a mess; there was still some nice connective tissue; tendon and stuff, with a decent amount of meat. In spite of the pho broth still being way too salty, I scraped the meat off the bone and dipped it into the broth. I had added a touch of lime to temper the saltiness a bit and this ended up being quite good.
In fact, I enjoyed the rib meat had a lot more than any of the cuts in the bowl.
And while I wish the broth here was a bit less salty, richer, with more beef flavor, it was a nice foil for that rib meat. I cleaned "dem bones" up pretty good.
I was rather satisfied with this. Not cheapo at ten bucks, but someone just told me that a bowl at Pho T Cali, which is mediocre at best, set them back twelve bucks! Framed in that manner, this was a bargain.
Pho Duyen Mai 5375 Kearny Villa Rd San Diego, CA 92123
All this rainy weather meant.....well lots of noodle soup. Here's a short round-up of revisits.
Green China Grill:
Heavy drops were coming down and I was dodging pot holes on Convoy. I just decided to give up and turned into ever evolving Plaza del Sol (BTW Tasty Pot is now open). It had been over a year since my last visit to Green China Grill, so I decided to drop in. Looking at the dining area; this place should be called blinding green China grill. I was the first to arrive but withi minutes, the dining area started filling up. That woman sitting with a group seems really familiar too.
They now have a rather large menu with grilled items; various noodles, liang cai (cold dishes), and even yang rou pao mo? Go figure.... I went with the Beef Noodle Soup with Sour Cabbage ($9.99).
Man, that broth was blasting hot, which was good thing on a cold and rainy day. It was also deceivingly spicy and was quiet numbing (ma) as well. The amount of MSG has been toned down a bit since my previous visits; though I think it could still use a bit more beefiness. The preserved vegetable was your basic standard issue xue cai; like what you get at T&L. The noodles were nice a slippery; but is still missing that little bit of pull I enjoy in good "Lamian" (牛大碗). It has gotten better though.
The soup warmed me up and the spice had gotten the endorphin thing going and a nice sheen on my forehead. From that point of view, the noodle soup did its job. I need return more often.
Green China Grill 4688 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111 Open Wed - Mon 1130am - 3pm, 5pm - 9pm
Last week it was raining cats and dogs....and I almost stepped into poodle! Ok, not funny....though that one is so bad the guys at work cracked up. I really didn't want to head out too far, so I decided to check into Pho Kitchen to see how they were doing.
The kids who work here are really nice. Looking over the menu I noticed they had Bun Bo Hue....hmmm....what the heck; it was pouring outside. I went with the "regular" ($8) bowl of Bun Bo Hue.
Pho shop BBH is a crapshoot and I let out a sigh when the typical pho sprouts and basil arrived.....
And just as quickly, they were removed from the table and replaced with this....ooh psych!
Purple cabbage? Not quite legit, but better than what it replaced.
So what to say? There was lots of shredded lemongrass, though not too much of that flavor in the broth. You could make out the slight, funky taste of mam nem, which added a bit of savories to things. The spice was pretty basic, all front of mouth heat. At least it was steaming hot. The noodles were done adequately, though for once there didn't seem to be enough of it in this bowl. The meat was quite good. The thick cut beef shank had excellent flavor and there was a good amount of it, the tendon was decent as well. Nice thing about the pork hock; they'd removed the bones for easy eating. Though sometimes sucking on that bone is one of the best things about a bowl of BBH.
While not terrible, in terms of spicy, sour, salty, savory, and sweet flavors this was kind of lacking. I'll stick with the Pho next time.
Pho Kitchen 5375 Napa St San Diego, CA 92110 Open Daily 11am - 9pm
T.P. Banh Bao 3 quietly opened on Christmas Eve. I decided to drop by right after the Christmas Weekend to bring some of the Banh Bao to work. So I grabbed Calvin and we headed off.
This is the third shop of the T.P Banh Bao family, the first opened in Houston, which is where I first heard of the place from "FOY" Xiāngjiāo. The second location opened in Garden Grove. And now we have this shop in the rather odd location on Camino Ruiz in Mira Mesa. Go figure. And no, that's not my Ferrari parked in front of the place!
There are 17 varieties of Banh Bao available. For an extra $2.50 (minimum 3 Banh Bao) you get the Banh Bao of your choice fried up. Now I've had Banh Bao, Charsiu bao, Manapua ( both the classic version and baked), Siópao, Hmong Galapao, Thai Salapao and even Samoan Keke Pua'a. Even different versions of Chinese Baozi; in the North, the dough is not sweet, the Missus's preference. I grew up eating manapua and siopao; heck, I remember the "manapua man"! But I'd never had fried banh bao.
Anyway, we got the #1, pork, sausage, and egg fried and wanted to get the Pork and salted Egg, but they were out. So we decided to just get the Regular Pork, egg, and sausage version steamed as well. Just so you know; they'll steam your banh bao to order, so it means a short - 10 minute wait, so be prepared. So steaming banh bao in tow we headed back to the office and busted it out on the back table.
This was pretty good; the exterior crunchy, the dough a bit less fluffy than I prefer, but fine. Not too sweet, the filling very moist and soft. Nice porkiness, really couldn't make out any sausage, and the banh bao signature egg yolk was rather dry. As with most Banh Bao, the filling to bread ratio sided on the meat. Frying makes this rather rich and one is enough for me. This was much better than the steamed version and folks in the office really enjoyed this.
This was on the gummy-soggy side, though the filling, like the fried version was very moist. The texture of the dough made this less pleasant to eat than the fried stuff and there were 3-4 of these still left at the end of the day.
Hoping for a better selection and going into the office on New Years eve, I stopped by to pick something up for breakfast.
I was determined to get the pork and salted egg banh bao. The young lady working was very sweet and even marked the box to let me know where each banh bao was situated in my container.
Nice touch, yeah?
Unfortunately, the pork and salted egg banh bao had suffered from some leakage. The bottom was just mush and when I removed the paper at the bottom it just all came off. The filling was a bit on the dry side; probably from all the "good stuff", the juices leaking away. This is a very "egg forward" in terms of taste and might have been quite good if not for the poor handling of the dough.
I'd take a pass on the BBQ Pork.
While the dough was nice and fluffy on this version and the meat to bread ratio quite good, you can easily see how dry this was. Also, this really lacked the nice sweet-salty-savory tones that make for a good BBQ pork filling. The texture was mealy and dry.
For some reason, I decided to try the vegetarian Banh Bao. Now this one had a greater bread to filling ratio. The textures of the filling; mushroom and so forth was fairly pleasant, but like most vegetarian baos, the overall flavor was on the bland side, to the point that the sweetness of the bread over shadowed the filling. The dough on this was nice and fluffy.
At this point I thought this enough, time to do a post. But my good friend "YummyYummy" sent me a copy of the press release on the right. Wow, talk about a mea culpa! After reading, I forwarded this to CC, who had recently also tried out TP Banh Bao. I then read Kirbie's post and decided to give them another try.
After all, I really like the woman who runs the place, she's very friendly, and the folks working for her, who seem to be a bit lost at times are also very nice.
I ended up getting three pork, salted egg yolk, and sausage Banh Bao, fried. You can tell the difference with these.
Notice how the filling is nicely centered, that golden orb had a nice concentrated "yolky" flavor....now I'm not a big fan of moon cakes; but here, combined with pork, surrounded with slightly sweet dough, with a nice crust around it....now this was good, if a bit rich for me. One was all I could handle.
I also ordered the BBQ Chicken and Taro and Pork Banh Bao as well.
I have never been a big fan of chicken in Bao and that still stands.
This was like an even blander and drier version of the BBQ Pork Banh Bao.
The Pork and Taro Banh Bao was not bad. You can tell how much better made and steamed these were compared to my previous visits.
This might be a bit too "mystery meat" in texture for some. But the taro adds heft and balances out the porkiness of the filling.
As things stand, I've had more banh bao in the last three weeks then maybe in the five or six years! I think it's time for a break from banh bao for now. My recommendation is to go with the fried versions (call ahead). I think they'll be great for groups of folks or parties....so long you eat them fairly quickly. I'm also glad that I usually try a new place a couple of times before posting. In this case it paid off. I hope they keep on improving.
T.P. Banh Bao 3 11271 Camino Ruiz San Diego, CA 92126
Funny thing, this post had me reminiscing about the neighborhood manapua man, who used to carry two old shoyu tin cans on a bamboo pole over his shoulder, full of manapua, pepeiao, and pork hash, yelling out "peh-peh-yao...man-a-pua" walking down the street. Eventually these folks graduated to trucks.......and these days, the Manapua Man (or woman) drives a Manapua Van! Here's a really nice video....a real slice of life from "back home".
I hadn't been back to Lavang in nearly two years and I had been wondering how the place was doing. I had also gotten a couple of emails mentioning the Bun Cha here, so I dropped by to check things out.
Man, the place was empty when I arrived, with no other customers during my entire visit. The folks here are very nice though.
I had "some reservations" (no pun intended) when I saw a sheet of paper with a photo of Anthony Bourdain and President Obama having Bun Cha in one of those episodes of Parts Unknown. Another sheet explained what Bun Cha was.......hmmm.....not sure about this one, but I went ahead and ordered the Bun Cha.
As always, the presentation here is always quite nice.
Now, to be perfectly honest; I didn't expect anything close to what we had in Hanoi or even Westminster. But this was pretty bland; especially the sauce which was really watered down and really bland. The meatballs were hard and dry as well. The grilled pork was fine, on the chewy side which is fine for this dish.
The bun was really done well, exceptionally good stretch to them, but were chopped into short pieces. The herbs were fine; the pickled papaya was given a nice little flower presentation.
Overall, I was underwhelmed with this dish. I'll stick with the version from Nhu Y.
Lavang Restaurant 6755 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92121
R & B Filipino Cuisine:
It had been over two years since I'd been to R&B, so I decided to drop by and get my entire days worth of fat and calories in one meal. I actually had this at 10am and didn't eat again until dinner which was a salad.
I'm rarely able to resist sisig, so I got that. On previous visits, the sisig here had been decent. It still is, except for a few things; it's kept on the side and when served is ice cold. The sour flavors were quite good, but for some reason this time around it was missing spice. There were some really hard bits of lechon kawale in this as well.
I also saw something different this time around; the Paksiw na Pata, basically braised pork leg...it looks deceivingly like adobo. The flavor was interesting, I liked the vinegar tones and unlike adobo this doesn't have much soy sauce and wasn't very salty. I saw a lot of garlic, but strangely the flavor didn't come through. I also enjoy the gelatinous pieces, but not much of that and man, there was this huge slice of pork and fat. Some of the pieces of pork were on the dry side and the overall mouthfeel was a bit on the greasy side. Just a few strands of banana blossom.
The sinigang was pretty good, nice and bracingly sour.
The rice was on the mushy side, but in total, this wasn't bad at all.
R & B Filipino Cuisine 11257 Camino Ruiz San Diego, CA 92126
Deciding on turning a new leaf and all, I went with something totally different. The Hu Tieu My Tho, which besides the BBQ Pork is a bowl of offal.
This really didn't look very inspiring when it arrived....but how often does a bowl of guts and porcine organs really want you to break into song?
Loved the hu tieu which were robustly elastic. The broth started fairly flat, but as it soaked up the flavor from the offal, started tasting quite good. The best of the lot was the intestines, clean and chewy...the thin slices of offal were nice, just enough earthy, bitter tones, but the pig liver tasted a bit off, and not being a big fan of pig liver, unless it's really fresh, it was not my cup of tea. There were two small, rubbery shrimp in the soup.
Not bad. I was surprised at the large groups of customers, most of which weren't Asian! Folks gotta eat on Xmas Day I guess.
Tim Ky Noodle 9330 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92126
There sure have been quite a few openings during the usually slow holiday season this year. Back in October, "FOY" (friend of yoso) Jan Frederick sent me an email regarding a Banh Bao shop opening in Mira Mesa. I found out through my sources that they opened on Christmas Eve.
Apparently the other two T.P. Banh Bao shops are in Houston and Garden Grove. I'll get a post done after I sample a few more items from the place.
Thanks for the heads-up Jan Frederick!
11271 Camino Ruiz San Diego, CA 92126
Xi'an Kitchen Closes. Noodle Hut Taking Its Place:
Back in early November I noticed that Xian Kitchen had shuttered quite suddenly. I walked up and read the gory details to the right. 'Nuff said.
Apparently something named "Noodle Hut" is taking its place.
4690 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111
The Missus Gets Her Kenya Guama Peaberry Fix:
Once in a while the really nice guys at Birdrock on Morena will tell me when something special is going to be available. This year they mentioned that the Kenya Guama Peaberry had scored a 97 on Coffee Review and told me it might be in the top 5 coffees of the year. So when it became available I reserved a bag. Turns out the coffee took #1 of the top 30 coffees of the year.
While the Missus prefers the light acid a fruitiness of Natural Processed beans; these washed processed Peaberry beans were quite distinctive....super smooth, rich, with a long finish. The Missus was a happy coffee nerd.
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters 1270 Morena Blvd. San Diego, CA 92110