mmm-yoso guest blogger mizducky hasn't been heard from for a little while, but here she resurfaces to contribute once again to mmm-yoso-hood.
I've been so busy with other projects these past few months that my foodie-oriented activity had dropped to zero--a sad state of affairs indeed. So it was with especial enthusiasm that I welcomed a visit from my new New York-based foodie-friend Andrea as a perfect excuse to engage in the kind of Extreme Food Adventure one can only do with other food maniacs. For example: how about a whole barbecued lamb head, chopped while-u-wait? This is exactly what Candice suggested to our merry crew, and we all went wild at the idea.
The venue for this extreme lamb head action is a little strip-mall mom-n-pop in Chula Vista called Aqui Es Texcoco, and it's the newest outpost of an enterprise that's been going strong in Tijuana for close to 20 years. As the name implies, Aqui Es Texcoco specializes in barbacoa de borrego en el estilo de Texcoco, lamb barbecue in the style of Texcoco, a community a little to the east of Mexico City. I'd already had a taste of this style of cooking at El Borrego in City Heights (itself the subject of this post by Mr. mmm-yoso himself). But the raves about this Chula Vista joint from the Chowhound crew really got my juices flowing, so a recent Sunday afternoon saw a crew including Candice, Doug, Dale, Andrea, and myself descending on the place.
The place is really easy to find--except when the driver is having too damn much fun yakking with her passenger! So after getting turned around and backtracking a bit, Andrea and I arrived about ten minutes after the others--but I spaced getting a photo of the exterior. Sorry! It really is a tiny little place, but their corner space in the strip mall makes it seem a little roomier than it is--plus it's brand-spanking new and spic-and-span. Families with small kids--including that of one of the managers--were enjoying hanging out.
While some of us pored over the menu, others lined up a nice shot of the table condiments on offer: From right to left, to the best of my memory: chopped onions, quartered limes, red and green hot sauces, a sweeter brown sauce (?), some funky red peppercorns way too big to pass through the holes of their little salt-shaker container, and an actual salt shaker.
Of course we had to get the whole lamb head. I was only slightly bummed that they do not serve the head intact--a skillful guy behind the counter chops all the meat off for you: It arrives thusly, with all the meat (head, cheek, tongue, brain, etc.) all mixed together, and a big wad of tortillas on the side: This was some serious lamb action--unapologetically rich and fatty, and thank goodness, it actually tasted like lamb! As a true lamb lover, I have been driven to distraction by lamb that has had all the gamy lamb character either bred or cooked out of it--I mean, what's the point then? This stuff, however, was real through and through. (Admittedly, its realness included the occasional stray piece of bone or tooth. I considered that a small price to pay for authenticity.)
In some ways I was even more excited about some of the other menu items, so we had to get some squash blossom quesadillas:
And some huitlacoche quesadillas: Now huitlacoche is some really wild stuff. It helps to remember that it's really in the same family of living things as mushrooms, truffles and other such fungi ... only in this case, the fungus grows on developing ears of corn. Okay, let's be honest: huitlacoche is not a very attractive looking substance. So don't look at it--just eat it, it's yummy. Especially to the shroom lovers among us. The squash blossoms, to my taste, were so mild that eating them was more of a textural thing--hey, they're blossoms of a summer squash similar to zucchini so you know they're not going to have a huge flavor profile. But eating both them and the shrooms in gobs of melty mild Mexican cheese was exceedingly pleasant.
Oh, we also got some excellent lamb flautas (rolled tacos)--they came out first, and so we inhaled them so fast that this was the only picture I got of 'em:
Not pictured: the delicious consome (lamb broth) and flan the manager comped us to thank us for our enthusiastic enjoyment of their food. These guys were super-friendly and accommodating--even when one of our party accidentally knocked his big cup of horchata over and it spilled seemingly everywhere.
It may be awhile before I order another whole lamb head from these folks--that's enough food for three or four people, and frankly I can't get away with eating that way very often. But I am working on some dandy excuses, erm, reasons to head down to Chula Vista again real soon, for some more extreme taco and quesadilla action. And we completely forgot to get the ensalada de nopales! An oversight which must be corrected forthwith! Okay, that's my excuse--and I'm sticking to it.
Aqui Es Texcoco 1043 Broadway, Ste 108, Chula Vista 619-427-4045
Every now and then we give Kirk a breather from recounting his food adventures at home and abroad, and bring you a post from one of the other mmm-yoso bloggers. This time it's mizducky's turn. Enjoy!
Howdy folks--mizducky here, feeling a little sheepish reviewing a local San Diego Vietnamese restaurant after Kirk has been documenting cobra hearts, snake wine, and all sorts of more bodacious foods back in the motherland. But hey, just consider it cultural compare-and-contrast
Anyway, I had noticed the tell-tale banners announcing yet another new restaurant opening--this time on one of the storefront spaces in the big pink building in the middle of Little Saigon on El Cajon Blvd., just a couple doors down from Pho King. And as if in homage to that joint's "punny" name, this new place also seemed to be going for the name humor: Oh yeah? Okay. I'll bite.
I found the inside, again like its cutely-monikered neighbor, to be nicely furnished, with freshly painted walls in an assertive shade of pink plus several large flat-screen TVs. Each was tuned to a different station--CNN, sports--but the only one with the sound on was the one behind the front counter, playing Vietnamese variety programming.
This place has a mid-length menu as Vietnamese places go, with some interesting omissions and inclusions. No beef pho at all, just three varieties of chicken pho. A whole bunch of other soup and noodle specialties, though, including those hu tieu mi (bean thread plus egg noodle) combos also featured at Pho King, as well as Ban Canh, Bun, Banh Hoi, and more. They have various rice plate variations too (com tam, com chien, etc.).
But the thing I really made a note of right off was the banh kot. I had been introduced to these wonderful little pancake/omelette/dumpling thingies at this year's San Diego Tet Festival, and I was looking forward to having a ready source of them near at hand.
THe first time I visited O'Yea, though, I was hungry and wanted something more filling than a snack of banh kot, so I decided to check out their Bun Bo Hue: This arrived looking like a million bucks. Alas, the broth was a plain mild chickeny broth, not what I'd come to love in bun bo hue broths. Meanwhile, the meats were just okay--a reasonable amount of brisket that could have been a tad more tender, a meatier-than usual slice of pork hock, cubes of pork blood on deck but no tendon or tripe to be seen ... but all that said, the price was only five bucks. For a decent bowl of soup, that's nothing to sneeze at. Plus they had shrimp paste among the table condiments, so using that plus some sriracha I seasoned my soup to be a little closer to what my mouth had been anticipating.
Next time I visited, I decided to check out one of the hu tieu mi dishes. This is Hu Tieu Mi Thap Cam, a combo including thin slices of beef liver, brisket, and fishcake; halved fish balls; a couple chunks of "krab" surimi; shrimp (nice and not overcooked); and squid (a bit rubbery); the greens included plain lettuce (greenleaf, I think). The broth was again light and unremarkable; the noodles were acceptable. This one cost a whole $5.50. Again, while not fabulous, an honest bowl of soup for a good price.
Third time's the charm--I hit them mid-afternoon and was just hungry enough for a snack. So here are the banh kot. Aren't they dear? And look at the lovely browned edges. They were admittedly a bit greasy--if I remember correctly, the little cups in which these are cooked are generously greased with melted butter--but very good, each creamy-centered eggy little cake containing a nice chunk of shrimp, plus a sprinkling of scallions. Not pictured is a little bowl of very good nuoc cham with a nice little chile kick. And again, five bucks for the lot.
So ... I'm not so sure I'll make the two soups I've tried so far regulars--though I may give them each one more try in case it was just a matter of new-kitchen adjustment. But the banh kot are definitely worth a repeat performance, and encourage me to check out more of the menu to see if there are other hidden gems. I should add that the staff and management of this place are very friendly and welcoming, so I definitely want them to succeed, and wish them the best in their new venture.
O'Yea! Vietnamese Cuisine 4660 El Cajon Blvd #102 San Diego CA 92115 619-280-4999 Open 7 days, 8:00am - 10:00pm
It's time for mizducky to take another turn at blogging for mmm-yoso. Enjoy!
A couple of weekends ago I was up in Los Angeles to hear one of my favorite musicians play a gig, and decided to add a little Thai food-tourism to the mix--especially since Los Angeles apparently boasts the largest Thai community outside of Thailand (and also especially since most Thai food I've tried here in San Diego has left me pretty underwhelmed!) Alas, the wondrous weekend food court at the Wat Thai in North Hollywood is no more, having fallen victim to neighborhood pressure. But Thai Town had been on my radar screen for some months now, so that's where I headed.
I had meant to seek out Yai Restaurant, but alas I forgot the bit of Kirk's post that mentioned it was hidden behind a 7-Eleven--d'oh! But while driving along Hollywood Blvd. wondering what place I should visit instead, this flashy sign caught my eye: With a sign like that, I figured, this joint could either be very good or very bad--but it wouldn't be dull.
Turns out this place is a whole shopping center--downstairs is a Thai grocery with a couple of smaller shops tucked in, while the Thailand Plaza Restaurant takes up the whole second floor. Kind of a bit glitzier than my usual! The large rambling space is apparently some kind of semi-campy club scene at night, with waiters getting onstage and doing karaoke and such. At 3:30pm on a Saturday, it's almost deserted. But even though I was arriving at an off-hour, I get an unflaggingly cheerful greeting from the server when I asked to look at the menu. Looseleaf notebook with big pictures--and lots of them. I saw all the salads listed under "Issarn Specialties," and the surprisingly reasonable prices, and decided what the hell, let's stay and check this out.
I wanted to keep it light because of the long night ahead of me, so I got yer basic green papaya salad with salted crab (oops, fuzzy picture):
This was a darn decent salad--not a huge portion, but fresh and the dressing well-balanced. And the crab was extremely fresh (and my server handled the "you know there's raw seafood in this dish, right?" inquiry very sweetly). While I ate, three or so more parties were seated--not that I was trying to eavesdrop, mind you, but several of them sounded like they were regulars, of Thai background. So maybe I'll give this place another try sometime, to check out what-all they were ordering.
I wrapped up my meal, and headed downstairs to check out Silom Market. This space was as sizeable as the restaurant upstairs--but it was hard to tell because the place was so jam-packed to the rafters with stuff:
Alas for me, there was also a surprising-to-me number of shoppers and staff about, so this was the only photo I could snap (I'm really shy about taking photos with people peering over my shoulder!). But this should give you an idea of the vibe.
I couldn't resist making a few purchases, including some snacks (see? I knew there was a reason I ate lightly in the restaurant):
Here, on the front passenger seat of my car, we have two winners and two also-rans. Underneath all the cilantro in the upper-right package is saku sai, little meat dumplings whose skin is made of translucent tapioca pearls. These were delicious, if a little gloppy. The upper left package contained some extremely forgettable rice and four wonderfully cilantro-laced sausages--extremely yum!
The other two things I bought to bring home, only to discover once there they were yecch. The cardboard cup contains nam prik pow, a different brand than the one I'd last enjoyed--I should have stuck with that brand because this stuff was wretched, like machine oil. And the long sausage-looking thing said "preserved durian"--according to the label, just durian mixed with sugar. I thought I could sneak up on the durian experience this way. Uh-uh, this stuff was vile--and I'm not sure if it was the fault of the durian or the recipe. Guess I need to toughen up and try the real thing one of these days.
Obviously I've only just randomly scratched the surface of Thai Town's food riches. But no doubt I'll be back in LA pretty soon for another gig -- and further food explorations.
Thailand Plaza/Silom Market 5321 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90027 Google Maps link
Assistant blogger mizducky is taking another turn blogging for mmm-yoso today. Enjoy!
Alert readers of the comments on my maiden post will have noticed that long time FOY (Friend of Yoso) Candice had called me out regarding our long-postponed run down to National City for some Filipino food. Well, we finally made it down there this past Saturday, and had a wonderful time (even though it took me a day or two to recover from the food-overload).
Candice had hit up our fearless leader Kirk for suggestions, and he had recommended Villa Manila for the crispy pata. I live right by the 805, and traffic was pretty light, so I got there in no time flat--early even, which was fine by me because I enjoy scoping out strip malls to see what-all else is hidden away in them. I noted another restaurant and a market in this one, and was about to stroll over and start checking them out, only to be pleasantly surprised to run into Kirk himself. He had a busy day but was happily able to make time to share in our upcoming pata attack.
That pata creation turned out to be one impressive chunk of extreme pork fat art, but it got some stiff competition in the richness department from some of the other stuff we ordered, like the niligang baka (big chunks of fatty beef in broth) and Bicol express (chunks of pork in a sauce of coconut milk tinted pink with bagoong (fermented shrimp paste) and spiked with a little chile hit).
We couldn't decide whether to get garlic rice or bagoong rice, so of course we wound up getting both. I requested an order of pinakbet to get at least a token vegetable presence into this meat-and-carb extravaganza, and so that the bitter melon might help cut all that richness--Villa Manila's pinakbet is pretty mild, but that turned out to be just right.
This was a lot of food! And Candice and Kirk generously let me take home all the leftovers--heh, I think it was more a matter of them not wanting to overdose any further on all the richness. Hey, I never turn down free food! Plus I got to play Henry the Eighth with the remains of the pata. :-D
After lunch, Kirk continued on his errands, but Candice and I hadn't had enough, so we went over to check out the nearby Seafood City. There we saw all sorts of cool stuff--but somehow my camera didn't make it out of my purse. I think I must have been experiencing my own lowgrade version of Kirk's pata-inspired food comas--only instead of feeling like going off into a dead faint, I just got a little more spacy than usual.
But I do have photos of the item I bought at Seafood City, and the other item I bought at Bread Deluxe, the little bakery just next door, both of which feature--ta-DAH!--food of a different color!
The vivid blue color of these shrimp just bowled me over. Alas, when cooked the shrimp and shells turned the more conventional shrimpy pink-and-white colors--though they were still quite delicious. If anyone knows how to preserve that blue color after cooking, please let me know!
I'm normally immune to bakeshop temptations, but again I was hooked by an outrageous color, this time the purple of these sweets. They're called kalamay, and as you'll see when you click the photo for the enlarged view, they're nothing but glutinous rice, sugar, jackfruit juice ... and a bucketful of food coloring. The fruit flavor wasn't all that intense, but they had that chewy-slippery rice-flour dough mouthfeel that I'm really getting addicted to.
So that's it for this food adventure ... now to wait for my cholesterol level to recover before I do it any more damage (but yum, it hurt so good...)
Hi, folks--mizducky here, a longtime FOY (Friend of Yoso) and regular commenter on this blog. Some time back, I asked Kirk, our fearless leader, if I might become a contributing blogger. He graciously said yes ... and then my life got hectic for awhile!
But here I am finally, doing my inaugural post as a contributor to mmm-yoso. And by way of introduction I'll list a few of my favorite place and things, foodwise. (You'll notice that at least a few of my favorites are also mmm-yoso favorites--there's a reason I like this blog!)
Saigon has been my go-to Vietnamese joint for some time now. They have a huge menu and do lots of things pretty darn well, and they're a nice easy cruise from my place. Most of the time I go on my own, and have one of their soups, like this bun rieu oc. But once in a blue moon I go with a bunch of people to share a bunch of dishes--last time I did that, I discovered and fell in love with this deep-fried boneless duck. Not something I could get away with eating every day, but my was it yummy. (Yep, mizducky likes to eat her namesake critter.)
Saigon does a respectable bun bo Hue, too, with a nice rich (if not very spicy) broth, but I agree with Cathy and Kirk that the place with the best bun bo Hue in town is Mien Trumg. Though they have recently developed this frustrating habit of being closed for vacation or something whenever I go out of my way to visit. At least there are plenty of other choices right nearby to console myself with.
I have a confession to make here: even though I'm supposedly way into healthy eating and weight management and all that, one of my guilty pleasures are big ol' Asian buffets. The one I'm currently fascinated with is Crazy Seafood Buffet up on Miramar Road. I haven't yet figured out what makes them think they're so crazy, but they do have an interesting variety of seafood, and while the quality sometimes varies, I can usually put together a fun meal here. (Okay, one crazy thing about them--their website says they serve pizza, and I've yet to see that there.)
In some ways I enjoy markets even more than restaurants--lots more stuff to look at and play with! The newest addition to my market rotation is Northgate Market down in Southcrest. I kind of think of it as the Disneyland of Mexican markets--it's huge, beautiful, and bursting with bazillions of food finds. Other markets I hit on a regular basis include North Park Produce, 99 Ranch Market, and various of the Vien Dong Markets.
And of course I enjoy cooking with the stuff I drag home from these markets. Here's a shot from a big dinner I did a couple of months ago featuring dishes from a variety of Asian cuisines--pictured are Vietnamese-style steamed whole tilapia and Chinese-style red-cooked pork belly. (I could have plated the fish a whole lot more elegantly than that, but it tasted great if I do say so myself.)
Anyway, there's a little sampling of the kind of food stuff that turns me on. Looking forward to sharing more of my food turn-ons in future posts. Thanks for reading! And thanks again, Kirk, for letting me play in your house.