Urban Solace – comfort food for the stomach

Recently, I had to take a work trip down to my old stomping grounds of San Diego.  While I was there, I decided that a stop at one of my favorite restaurants was necessary; it had been too long since I had been to Urban Solace.  I called up my friend, “Chef” Eddie, and off we went for dinner.  Located in the North Park area, Urban Solace opened its doors a few years ago.  Since then, it has earned much acclaim for Chef Matt Gordon’s wonderful upscale twist on comfort food.  Even though it was a weeknight, the restaurant was packed and there was about a 20 minute wait.  For those who are faced with some extra time before being seated, a large bar area located near the door is a great place to hang out and have a pre-meal cocktail or have some wine or beer (bottled and tap) from the extensive list.

Cheddar biscuits with orange honey butter

One thing that I always tell people they MUST order when eating at Urban Solace is the warm cheese biscuits with orange honey butter.  Naturally, Eddie and I ordered some as an appetizer.  Soft, fluffy, cheesy, these are the epitome of what cheddar biscuits should be.   Paired with sweet citrus butteriness, it’s an interesting flavor contrast.

Spinach salad

I was craving veggies so I decided to get the spinach salad: baby spinach, goat cheese, warm sherry vinegrette, bacon, dates, hazelnuts.  An excellent large salad, this was just what I wanted.  Healthy greens, meaty bacon for protein, hazelnuts for crunch, dates for a little sweetness…very well balanced.  Maybe not the healthiest salad, but I did get my veggies!

Duckaroni

I also was craving mac n’ cheese and heard nothing but great things about the version Urban Solace serves.  The duckaroni is a mac n’ cheese made with blue cheese, duck confit, roasted garlic, arugula, and scallions.  You can order it as a side or as a main dish; I opted for the side since I had the salad.  This was fantastic.  There was a lot of cheese sauce which is a big thing for me as my main complaint for a mac n’ cheese is that it’s not cheesy enough.  I loved the crumb topping.  The blue cheese flavor was surprisingly mild.  The duck was a great addition and the flavor just meshed well.  I’m used to either some sort of shellfish, chicken or bacon/ham being in a mac n’ cheese but duck was a new one for me and I have to say, it was good.

Chicken and Dumplings

Eddie went with the chicken and dumplings and let me steal a couple of bites.  This was excellent and very rich in chicken flavor.  The dumplings weren’t overly dense and soaked in the sauce making for yummy bite after bite.  He polished off his plate for the most part.

We didn’t have room for dessert because all this food stuffed us silly; we even had biscuits leftover!

All the times I have been here, the food has been spot on, both in flavor and execution.  Consistency in deliciousness is just one of the reasons why Urban Solace finds itself on the list of San Diego’s best restaurants.

The service is always friendly and excellent.  As for the prices, I think they are not very expensive for the quality of dining experience you get.

The Catty Critic gives Urban Solace 5 NOMs.  Now if only they would open up here in LA next door to my house…

Urban Solace
3823 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 295-6464
http://urbansolace.net/
Urban Solace on Urbanspoon

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333 Pacific – A Restaurant Week Sneak Peek

Tuesday night, “Chef” Eddie and I were treated to a sneak peek of 333 Pacific’s Restaurant Week menu.

Entrance

333 Pacific is one of the newest members of the Cohn Restaurant Group.  If you aren’t familiar with the Cohn name, you should be.  The Prado, Corvette Diner and Gaslamp Strip Club are just some of the restaurants they own.  Their commitment to providing delicious fare and excellent service has made this family of restaurants quite successful and 333 Pacific is no exception.

Vodka List

When I arrived, I noticed that the venue was already filled with quite a few customers.  Upon entering, I could see why.  The large bar area, decorated with dark wood and light blue counters, is an inviting and hip place to enjoy happy hour.  The restaurant boasts a rather long list of vodkas and several vodka-based specialty cocktails to match its casual sophistication.  Also, with the Oceanside Pier and beach literally across the street, 333 Pacific is a prime spot for a meal with a view.

We were greeted warmly by the hostesses and quickly seated on the enclosed and heated patio.  Unfortunately, it was already dark so no sunset ocean view for us; not a big disappointment since I was there for the food.   Our waiter, Thomas, showed up a few moments later and was the epitome of a fabulous waiter – friendly, helpful with recommendations and attentive without being intrusive.

Detoxitini

Based on Thomas’s comments, I opted for the Detoxitini, a mixture of Pearl blueberry vodka and “good for you” juices such as acai and pomegranate.  Upon tasting this concoction, I discovered a new favorite cocktail.  The vodka is the first to hit your palette but then the surprising sweetness balanced with a little tartness of the juices quickly follows.  I could drink this all night long…

Since we were sampling the Restaurant Week menu, our choices were limited to 3 options each for appetizer, main course and dessert.  I almost wished we weren’t constrained since the regular menu offered some delicious sounding items such as Seared Maine Diver Scallops, Saffron Seafood Stew (calamari, shrimp, halibut, lobster clams, mussels, saffron-fennel broth) and Surf and Turf Ravioli (Wagyu beef and Maine lobster).  I can’t forget to mention the various cuts of steak offered on the menu with the option of adding Alaskan Crab Legs or a lobster tail.

Cararmelized Onion roll with Maple Syrup butter

While we were waiting for our appetizers to arrive, we enjoyed warm caramelized onion rolls with maple syrup butter.  As Eddie, who has dined here before, said when receiving his roll, “These are evil.”  The onions are baked into the roll but I never noticed them texture-wise.  Flavor-wise, they really turned plain bread into something delicious.  Coupled with the amazing maple syrup butter, which was strong in flavor but not syrupy sweet, it was a tasty morsel to tide us over.  It was so good, we opted for seconds despite worrying that we would fill ourselves up too early.  I found myself wishing that 333 Pacific would package the maple syrup butter and sell it.  It would be a wonderful thing to have at home to put on french toast or pancakes and use for cooking…

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

Beef Tenderloin Sashimi

For our first course, Eddie opted for the Creamy Butternut Squash Soup while I went for the Beef Tenderloin Sashimi.  I had a spoonful of the soup which I found to be mild in flavor and smooth in texture.  While it was a really well-made dish from a technical standpoint, I wished there was a little more seasoning.  The portion was generous.  The Tenderloin Sashimi was delicious. Don’t let the term “sashimi” fool you as the beef is seared rare than served raw. And tender indeed…it was melt-in-your-mouth perfect. The mixture of cabbage and peppers gave it a nice crunch.  The ponzu was a nice light dressing.  Overall, it was a refreshing dish and a great appetizer.

Herb Roasted Whole Game Hen

Grilled Prime Top Sirloin

As the main course, Eddie chose the Grilled Prime Top Sirloin. I selected the Herb Roasted Whole Game Hen. The cooked perfectly to medium-rare sirloin was a very thick cut but still came out moist and juicy. The wasabi mashed potatoes were creamy with a strong horseradish flavor that I enjoyed. Apparently, some bites were a little too strong as Eddie experienced a few moments of nasal assault. My dish consisted of a nicely cooked piece of poultry – crispy skin but moist meat. The winter squash hash was a treat for me as I love squash and the sautéed greens were wonderful. The only thing about this dish that threw me off was the blue cheese vinaigrette. While I didn’t hate it, I don’t think I loved it. In fact, I’m still a bit puzzled…  The blue cheese flavor was not so strong as to overpower the dish but it gave a “cooling” factor to each bite that I couldn’t get over.  I feel as if I have to eat this dish again to figure out how I truly feel about the blue cheese.

Chocolate Silk Tort

333 Signature Caramel Corn Sundae

Finally, dessert… This was perhaps my favorite part of the meal and it had to do with Eddie’s selection. He went for the chocolate silk tort which was heaven on earth for anyone who loves chocolate. Usually, I avoid chocolate desserts as I find them too sweet; I opt for fruit-based tarts or sorbet. However, the tort at 333 Pacific, I would order in a heartbeat. Rich, chocolate-y, smooth, fluffy, this was not cloyingly sweet but decadent. Served on a shortbread crust with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I could not stop stealing bites off his plate. My dessert, the 333 Caramel Corn Sundae, was a fun presentation that made me feel a little childish in a good way. Vanilla and chocolate ice cream on brittle, covered with a drizzle of caramel and garnished with a handful of caramel corn, it was an adult version of fair dessert food.

Overall, this was a fantastic dining experience…what I expected from a Cohn restaurant.  The food on a technical and taste level is superb; the service, excellent.  If you are looking for a place to try for Restaurant Week, or for any occasion, you won’t go wrong with 333 Pacific.  This place offers North County the hip atmosphere and fine food found in the Gaslamp Quarter without the drive and struggle for parking.

5 NOMs from The Catty Critic for 333 Pacific.

333 Pacific
333 N. Pacific St.
Oceanside, CA 92054
(760) 433-3333
http://www.cohnrestaurants.com/restaurants/333pacific/
333 Pacific - Steak + Sea on Urbanspoon

Back from Hiatus – Tsuruhashi!

For those of you who have been wondering where I’ve been, I was flattened by a nasty little bug and then ran over by a final project for my class. But we’re much better (except for a lingering cough) and my project has been turned in.

So where did we leave off? *flips thru photos* Let’s review…Tsuruhashi!

Tsuruhashi is a Yakiniku place on Convoy Street in San Diego. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, think of Yakiniku as the Japanese version of Korean BBQ.  The restaurant is tucked away in a small shopping center filled with plenty of restaurants and very easy to miss.  I recommend you don’t as it was good eats.

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Tsuruhashi - interior

The interior is very small.  It’s filled with about 8 booths like in the picture and 3 tables.  Because of the size, or lack thereof, and the fact that they are only open for dinner, stick to small groups or go early.  Large groups should definitely go early so they can grab the 3 tables which are movable; otherwise, the group will end up being split between booths.  Tsuruhashi does not accept reservations and can get quite busy, especially on the weekends.

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Tsuruhashi - table grill

On each table is a grill.  In case you don’t know, Yakiniku involves you cooking your own food.  You order cuts of meat or seafood and grill them.  At Korean BBQ restaurants, side dishes (panchan) and rice is included.  At Tsuruhashi, you have to purchase these things separately.  My friend and I opted to skip the panchan and just order rice.  The panchan menu consisted of a variety of kimchis, seaweed, marinated garlic, and green leaf lettuce with a miso sauce.

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Tsuruhashi - Meat Special

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Tsuruhashi - Seafood Mix

Tsuruhashi’s menu boasts some wonderful cuts of meat.  There are a couple of US Kobe offerings, several types of USDA Prime beef, pork, chicken and some more exotic choices like organ meats, tripe and tongue.  There’s also a seafood mix and a couple of vegetable-only dishes.  They also offer some soup, noodle and rice dishes.

We noticed a special on the menu that’s offered only Monday thru Thursday before 8pm.  For $23, you get ribeye, skirt steak, boneless short rib and chicken.  My friend and I opted for that and an order of the seafood mix ($9.50).  The ribeye and skirt steak were not marinated. However, we were provided with two standard “sauces” to dip in.  I believe one was sesame-based.

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Tsuruhashi - Chicken and Boneless Short Rib

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Tsuruhashi - Ribeye and Skirt Steak

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Tsuruhashi - Shrimp

The beef had nice marbling and color.  Because the pieces weren’t big (two bites), they cooked quickly.  I recommend keeping an eye on the meat.  Otherwise, you may end up with overcooked beef and that would just be sad.  The ribeye and skirt steak were pretty tender; there definitely is a difference between grades and USDA Prime is gooood.  The short rib was a little tough and chewy, though, so that was a little disappointing.  The chicken was marinated and had good flavor.  This was a decent dish for people who want to sample a few different things or aren’t adventurous in trying the more exotic cuts like tongue.

The seafood was wonderfully fresh.  We grilled the salmon and calamari first.  The salmon was okay and really could have benefited from a marinade or even salt and pepper.  I love mussels and these were great.  The shrimp were huge.  Because they are whole, you do have to peel them.  The scallops seared quite nicely and were plump.  For the price, this was quite a good deal.

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Tsuruhashi - Black Sesame Ice Cream

The amount of food we ordered was decent for a comfortable meal.  However, I was enticed by the offering of black sesame ice cream ($1.50).  Having never encountered it before, I couldn’t pass this up.  I’m so glad I ordered a scoop as this was the highlight of the meal.  It reminded me of coffee ice cream without the acidity.  Not too sweet, creamy…a perfect way to end the meal.

The Catty Critic gives Tsuruhashi 4 NOMs.

Tsuruhashi Japanese BBQ
3904 Convoy St
(between Kearny Mesa Rd & Ostrow St)
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-8929
http://www.tsuruhashibbq.com
Tsuruhashi Japanese BBQ on Urbanspoon

Nozomi Sushi and Teriyaki

Nozomi

Nozomi

When Nozomi first opened, I used to come here a lot because their sushi rolls were cheap, tasty and HUUUUGE. As my taste buds migrated to preferring nigiri, I stopped coming here.  Last week, I wandered back for dinner last night with a friend. I noticed that while they still had their mile-long list of specialty rolls and non-sushi menu, they had added an “all you can eat” sushi option for $25-ish. Starving, my friend and I chose to try it out. BIG MISTAKE. I’ve been to different sushi restaurants in San Diego that had all you can eat options and was never disappointed…till now.

Nozomi - nigiri (scallops, salmon, albacore, hamachi, tuna, unagi)

Nozomi - nigiri (scallops, salmon, albacore, hamachi, tuna, unagi)

Nozomi - Rolls (Dragon and ???)

Nozomi - Rolls (Dragon and ???)

The nigiri and some of the rolls are half-portions, meaning instead of the usual two pieces of nigiri, you only get one. Not really a problem…just got to remember to mark twice as much as you wanted. The huge issue was the quality. It was like they wanted to get rid of whatever old fish they had lying around. The nigiri didn’t taste fresh at all and frankly, some of it was disgusting. The rolls were better because there were other things like sauce to mask some of that fishy flavor.

I ordered an amaebi nigiri and this was probably the most foul thing of the night. There was still a piece of shell. The flavor seemed…off and I almost spit it out. The shrimp head wasn’t fried enough either.

The quality of Nozomi seems to have gone down and yet this place was packed. Frankly, even though the rolls were still okay, after that horrible nigiri experience, I’m not sure I’m keen on coming back here.

The location in the La Jolla/UTC area (Nozomi 2) seems to still retain some sense of fish quality as only a couple of weeks before, I shared a sashimi platter with a coworker and was quite happy with it. I think I’ll stick with that location instead of the Convoy St. one. Also, there seems to be some differences in the menus between the two Nozomis.

I would have given Nozomi a higher rating before but after this visit, they only get 2 NOMs from the Catty Critic.

Nozomi
4637 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 569-7773
Nozomi Noodle & Teriyaki on Urbanspoon

OKAN revisited

After my first visit, I knew I had to come back to OKAN. And bring friends. More people must know about OKAN and eat there!

On my 2nd visit, the same coworker came along and I dragged two friends with us.  Since one of them was a pescatarian, we stuck mostly with vegetarian or fish dishes.  This time around, we ordered:
– 2 Kabocha pumpkin salads
– eggplant
– Braised pork – Nagasaki style ($8.50)
– Pan-fried pork homemade dumplings ($5.50)
– Grilled Hamachi cheek ($12.50)
– Green tea tiramisu
– Pudding with black honey
We also ended up with some grilled hamachi ($8.50) because the waitress didn’t realize we wanted the cheek.

So we ended up ordering pretty much all the same stuff as last time, but it’s because it was all amazingly delicious!!

OKAN - Kabocha salad

OKAN - Kabocha salad

The Kabocha pumpkin salad was as good as I remembered.  I pretty much ate almost an entire bowl on my own.  This is one of the “must order” dishes if you ever visit this restaurant.  There’s just something about the perfectly cooked kabocha paired with the crunchy cucumber and whatever seasoning they use that makes this dish magical.

OKAN - Egglplant

OKAN - Eggplant

The next dish was the eggplant.  We attacked the bowl before I got around to taking the picture.  While it does not look appetizing, it was pretty good.  The eggplant was nicely cooked and seasoned and had a lot of flavor though the texture was mushy.  I think this may be a “special” menu item rather than a regular one as I don’t recall seeing it last time I was dining here.

OKAN - Braised pork Nagasaki style

OKAN - Braised pork Nagasaki style

Here’s a much better picture than in the previous post of the Braised Pork Nagasaki style.  I would consider this another “must order” dish for OKAN diners.  This really showcases how well the chef(s) at this restaurant handle red meat.  The pork is perfectly cooked; it’s got lots of flavor and is never dry.  I like how they leave a thin layer of fat as that just adds to succulence of this dish.

OKAN - salt and green tea salt

OKAN - Salt and green tea salt

At this point, the waitress brought us grilled yellowtail.  We had ordered the cheek but that seemed to have gotten lost.  We told her we would eat it anyways since it was already at our table but we still wanted the cheek.  The grilled yellowtail (which I apologize for failing to nab a photo of…it was a beautiful piece of fish!) came with a side of salt and green tea salt.  I didn’t think the fish needed it as it was already seasoned well and had a bit of a soy sauce-based glaze on it.  I had to try the green tea salt.  Sadly, green tea being such a mild flavor, you didn’t really taste it.

OKAN - pan fried pork dumplings

OKAN - Pan-fried pork dumplings

OKAN - pan-fried pork dumpling

OKAN - Pan-fried pork dumpling filling

The homemade pan-fried pork dumplings arrived shortly after we devoured the grilled yellow tail.  These were nicely fried with a crispy bottom.  The wrapper was not sticky or chewy and the filling was moist.  As you can see, there’s quite a bit of green stuff in there.  I think that overpowered the pork a little.  Not the best dumplings I’ve had but better than some I’ve had at other places.  If these were home-made, I couldn’t tell, because they were assembled as neatly as the store bought ones.  The only thing that would convince me that this was home-made is the filling as I’ve never tasted anything quite like it.  I’m not sure what the green vegetable in it was but it had a slightly peculiar taste I was not familiar with.  I would have asked but the waitresses barely spoke English. Most of the patrons are Japanese, which, in my book, is a sure sign that OKAN serves good and authentic cuisine.

OkAN - Grilled Hamachi Cheek

OkAN - Grilled hamachi cheek

Our hamachi cheek arrived and it was just as good as last time.  Consistency!!  The top skin was cooked to a crisp; the meat inside was moist.  And as before, this was a huge serving.  The four of us did a number on this dish but we were already getting full from the previous entrees.  One thing about OKAN is that even though you think you’re not getting a lot because the servings seem small and you’re sharing, you’re actually getting quite a lot of good food for a great price.

OKAN - green tea tiramisu

OKAN - Green tea tiramisu

OKAN - pudding with black honey

OKAN - Pudding with black honey

This time, they had the green tea tiramisu available.  We ordered that as well as the pudding with black honey.

The green tea tiramisu suffered an assault from 4 spoons before I remembered to take a picture so the perfect square was ruined.  However, you can see the nice green tea layers and the fluffiness of the lady fingers.  This was a tasty and light dessert.  You could actually taste the green tea which was nice.  However, I think the pudding is better.  The black honey…mmmmmm. For dessert, the pudding is imperative.

Overall, this was a better meal than my first visit because we didn’t have that horrible tuna and avocado roll.  The service was spectacular as always minus the order mix-up which actually turned out to be beneficial for us because we got to eat another great dish!

OKAN gets upgraded to 5 NOMs!!!

Wa Dining OKAN
3860 Convoy St., #110
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-0941
http://okanus.com
Wa Dining Okan on Urbanspoon

Pronto’s

Work is filling up my time and school starts tomorrow for me (going back for my Master’s!).  But I didn’t want to neglect this blog…

For those in the San Diego area, specifically near Carlsbad, there is a great little family-owned deli called Pronto’s.  They sell fresh home-made pastas that are delish!  My husband and I tried the beef cannelloni last night for dinner.  Pasta sheets rolled around ground sirloin seasoned with herbs and cheese.  This was very flavorful and cooked up quite nicely.  Because I was tired and lacked ingredients, I didn’t make a sauce from scratch; I just used classic Ragu and threw in some extra garlic and Italian seasoning.  Besides, the husband likes Ragu (*sigh*).  Despite that, the cannelloni really stood out and we both enjoyed our dinner immensely.

Pronto’s stocks a variety of pastas.  I picked up a package of seafood ravioli, pumpkin ravioli, herbed gnocchi and a blue cheese ravioli that also has orange glazed pears in it.  I plan on making a sage pesto for the pumpkin ravioli.  I’ll be sure to blog about that…

Pronto’s also makes sandwiches, pretzel rolls, salads, etc.  It’s a popular place for nearby workers to go to for lunch.  I can vouch for their egg salad sandwich.  Yum yum.

They also have imported bottled wine for sale, including a blood orange mimosa that was pretty good.  Oh, and they are a bakery as well if you want something sweet.

Pronto’s
2812 Roosevelt Street
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 434-2644
http://www.prontosmarket.com/
Pronto's on Urbanspoon

Decent inexpensive sushi in San Diego – Convoy Sushi & Fish Market

If you want decent inexpensive sushi, you can’t go wrong with Convoy Sushi & Fish Market.  I went here for lunch with some coworkers. One of them and I split
– a Rainbow box
– 3 orders of nigiri
– Kalbi appetizer
– two handrolls
and were comfortably full.

Convoy Sushi & Fish Market - Rainbow Box

Convoy Sushi & Fish Market - Rainbow Box

The Rainbow box contains a rainbow roll, half a spicy tuna roll, some edamame and seaweed salad…all for $5. You can’t get a rainbow roll for $5 at most sushi restaurants! I won’t lie, this wasn’t the best RR I’ve had; the crab was a little overpowering. But the fish was fresh, the roll nicely packed, and the rice seasoned and cooked just right.  This would make for an okay sushi lunch for a tight budget.

Salmon, Yellowtail, Tuna nigiri

Salmon, Yellowtail, Tuna nigiri

For the nigiri, we ordered salmon, hamachi (yellowtail) and tuna. These were also pretty good and tasted fresh. The fish to rice ratio was good although I’m used to more fish and less rice thanks to Sushi n’ Joy.  I had a spicy tuna hand roll and wished it had a little bit more of a kick to it but it was still good and rather plump. For $2.50-3.50 an order, this was a pretty good deal.

Kalbi "appetizer"

Kalbi "appetizer"

The Kalbi appetizer was a surprise. I was expecting a small plate with a few pieces of kalbi but instead, we got what could easily be a lunch entree for a single person. Rice, a good amount of marinated short ribs and kimchi filled the plate. The ribs were tender and well-marinated. The kimchi was good and slightly on the spicy side. And this was only $5-6.

The service was great. I never had to ask for a water refill. Our food arrived rather quickly (though I think it helped that it wasn’t super busy) as well.

I expect to come here more often as this is a quick, cheap place to get both good sushi for the price and delicious hot entrees.  It isn’t the best sushi and won’t compare to places like Sushi Ota but the price vs. quality makes this a bargain and worth coming to when you want sushi but have a thin wallet.

4 NOMs for Convoy Sushi & Fish Market because the bargain hunter in me was happy.

Convoy Sushi & Fish Market
7905 Engineer Rd
(between Brinell St & Mercury St)
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 634-3233
www.fishnsushi.com
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