Wa Dining Okan

Wa Dining OkanThis is an awesome place.  A hole in the wall and fairly unassuming.  We went there for my birthday and were prepared to spend a whole lot more than we did.  I had heard that it was fairly expensive.  That is far from the truth, we only spent around $60 and I was ordering as much as I could, though Maureen was eating lightly.  She still tried most everything that I ordered. We ordered Gobo Salad, braised Nagasaki Pork, Roasted Duck with Green Onions, Asparagus Wrapped with Pork, Chicken Gizzards, Agedashi Dofu, Hamachi Cheeks, Pudding with Black Honey. The ONLY thing in this list that was not absolutely terrific was the gizzards.  They were nice but not particularly special.  The pork and duck dishes were to die for, as was the Hamachi Cheeks. They were having a special on two different Saki's, one was bone dry and the other had a hint of sweetness, I opted for the bone dry one.  Didn't get a name but it was a nice Saki. We sat next to a very nice fellow who had eaten at the restaurant a large number of times.  He bought a bottle of wine for the lady who works there, perhaps a shift manager, not sure? But he went over and whispered into her ear and she sent us a glass of Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon that was quite lovely, full of cigar box complexities that went very nicely with the foods we had. Overall, this is a great place and high on our list of Japanese restaurants.  We are looking forward to returning.

Rack of Pork with Mustard Rub and Mushroom Sauce

Rack of Pork with Mushroom RaguMaureen and I cooked a rack of pork for dinner that turned out spectacular. We picked up an 8 ribbed rack from Costco, which carries them during the winter holidays. They come fairly well trimmed, have an eighth of an inch wrap of fat that we were tempted to trim before cooking but opted to leave in order to use it to help baste the meat during cooking and keep it moist.     We made a rub from:Rack of Pork with Mushroom Ragu and Kale Chips Dijon mustard lemon juice splash of white wine fresh Thyme garlic ancho paste green and red peppercorns. We cooked at 350º F, until the internal temp was 138º, pulled it out and let it sit for about 15 minutes or so, or until the internal temp reached 148º and then sliced off the first two ribs. The middle of the roast was perfectly cooked, white but very moist. There was a little pink on the darker part of the meat, but this was more the exterior sections of the meat so it did not worry me in the slightest. We made a saute of mushrooms, using: small shitakes king trumpets, (also called Eryngii) oysters chanterelles criminis I started out sauteing some pancetta. When that was browned up I added a bit more olive oil and then added the garlic along with shitakes and the trumpets because they are firmer in texture and need a bit more time to saute than the others. After a bit of time passed I added all the rest of the mushrooms, cooked them down a bit and then added a little chicken broth. When I got this all cooked down a fair amount, I added some fresh thyme and cooked that in.  I added some brandy until I had a solid flavor base of it in my mushrooms, then I started adding heavy cream. 2 thirds of a cup in all. Reduced that until it was thick, salt and peppered to taste. I made some kale chips prior to cooking the rack. That was dinner, we served it with a bottle of the 1998 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon, which was awesome. Pretty nice meal. I would highly recommend the rack of pork from Costco. The huge 8 rib rack which are just over $20. The chops are huge when you cut the ribs, much thicker than a rack of lamb chop.

Surati Farsan Mart

Surati FarsanHow delicious is this place?! 100% vegetarian cuisine, not that I really know their ingredient list or anything, being an avowed carnivore myself. That is just what everyone claims about the place. Doesn't matter to me one bit, all that matters is that everything I put in my mouth tasted great. We had a small meal that was, none the less, very filling. It consisted of 3 orders and drinks. Chole Samosa, consisting of 2 vegetable filled puff styled pasties in a mix of spiced chick peas. There was a little sweet and little heat in this. One black roasted Thai like chili and what I suspect was a tamarind sauce that lay waiting in the bottom of the bowl. Surati Farsan Chole Samosa and Dahi Sev PuriMasala Dosa, consisting of a large bread like crepe that was rolled and stuffed with lightly curried potatoes. This was served with a vegetable based spiced soup and some mint and coconut chutney. Dahi Sev Puri, was purchased at the suggestion of the wait staff. This is a small deep fried whole wheat puff pasty shell stuffed with chick peas, potatoes and a green piquant sauce that I suspected was cilantro based. They were topped off with yogurt. Incredible!! To drink, Maureen had a Mango Lassi and I had a Falooda. The Falooda consisted of rose infused milk with vanilla ice cream and some passion fruit. Surati Farsan Masala Dosa and Dahi Sev Puri Highly recommended!!

Assenti’s Pasta

Assenti’s Pasta is one of our favorite spots.  It is a straight forward pasta shop. There is typically a selection of 10-20 different types of pasta that are laid out on trays for you to look over.  This is the freshest pasta we have found in the San Diego area.  They are consistently good and there are some fairly unusual pastas like the squid ink black pasta, along with others.  They also have a little deli counter with a small selection of salami and cheese along with a few shelves with various Euro/Italian style of condiments such as EVOO, capers, arborio rice, etc., etc.  They carry a great Tuscano Salami that I like to pick up when I am there. There is not a lot to say, just that if you want the best pasta in San Diego, this is your spot.  Oh, one last thing to point out; CASH ONLY!  They do have an ATM but it charges you a small fee.  I’ve learned but messed up a couple times in the early days. They are located in the north end of Little Italy, across the street from Mona Lisa, 1731 India Street, San Diego, CA 92101

Mona Lisa Italian Foods

Mona Lisa Italian FoodsMona Lisa’s is located right across the street from Assenti’s Pasta.  What a great duo!  They have a number of things that we love to buy.  First off, they have some great home made sausage.  They are wrapped continuously so you can buy a sausage that is a couple of feet long.  For a nice presentation, we like to coil them into long coils and pan sear them until done.  The plain mild Italian sausage is the bomb, we love it.  They also have some awesome Provolone balls, rich and authentic stuff, like you won’t find almost anywhere else in town.  Pick up a can of the tuna belly if you like canned tuna.  It will ruin all other canned tuna for you.  Amazingly great.  Salted capers and salted anchovies are always on hand.  I had an espresso soda that was actually delicious.  There sandwiches are quite good and they have a solid selection of Italian wines that are not your typical brands.  Looks like someone there knows a thing or two about Italian wine.

O’Brien’s Pub

O'Brien's PubO’Brien’s Pub is kind of a classic, old school, pub.  Seems like it is usually full of thirsty guys.  My wife always comments that there are over 90% men there.  There are places that have a fancier decor, no doubt but NOBODY pours better brew on a regular basis than these guys do.  Their tasting events are legendary.  You can sign up for their email list at their website.  I read every one! A couple of my favorite events this past year have been the Russian River “Tion” tasting and the Alesmith Stout tasting. For the Russian River "Tion" tasting, they feature all 17 of the RR brews whose name end with “tion”.  For example, Damnation, Supplication, etc.  Most of these are sours.  I’ve attended this even for about 3 years now and it took two times before I became addicted to this style.  Now I am seeking them out everywhere I go. One other thing they had at one of these events was a cask version of their Porter.  That was totally awesome.  Imperial styled, this was the best Porter I have ever tasted.  Wish I could get it more often! O'Brien's "tion" TastingThe other event that was awesome was the Alesmith Kopi Luwak Speedway Stout release tasting.  This is a coffee bean Stout made from some of the most expensive coffee beans on the planet.  Wild stuff, look up Kopi Luwak in Google, if you don’t know about it.  Anyhow, along with this, they had some older cask versions of the Speedway Stout there too.  As a special treat, I pulled out a bottle of some aged Speedway that had about 3 years on it.  I think it was the beer of the night, which is saying something! Anyhow, O’Brien’s rocks for having the best beer.  Oh, and they have some decent food.  Gastropub style.  They make a darned good hamburger with stilton blue and bacon.  They do specials all the time and keep a board menu out front, as you walk in.  If you are hungry, don’t forget to check it out. They are located in kind of a strange place.  Right in the middle of the Oriental section of Kearny Mesa on Convoy Street.

Northgate Market: Favorite Grocery Store for Mexican Food

Northgate MarketFirst off, let me say that I shop at the store located off of 43rd Street in National City.  It’s hard to do this place justice without just going there.  This is an awesome store!  I found it when I was on a search for fresh Chilauca Chili’s.  They ALWAYS have them in stock.  I love to add these in strips to my homemade chili, especially when they are ripe.  They are hard to find ripened, even here, but I get them here and am happy to find any at all. The butcher shop and deli areas are massive and they wrap around the whole shop.  This is a big store, as big as a Super Ralphs, if that helps you scale it.  They have so many good things here.  Their prepared meats, especially the carnitas, are incredible and relatively cheap compared to many places.  Fresh salsas, soups and tons of prepared dishes are available to eat there or take home. They have a tortilla station and are more than happy to let you have a bag of freshly cooked ones if you ask.  They have some unusual versions as well.  Pretty cool. If you like to cook Mexican styled cuisine, you owe yourself a visit.  It’s one of our favorite places to shop in all San Diego.

Best Ramen in America: Santouka Ramen

Santouka RamenI’’ve been on a hunt for great Pho’s and heard about this Ramen spot.  I know it is not Pho but I figured it would be worth a try.  Amazing soup!!  They have the richest broth base of any soup place I have been to.  I would like to know more about how they prepare it.  It seems to be pork based and must be cooked over a fairly long period of time. ??
There are other Japanese soup and noodle houses around town, some of them are quite good, but Santouka is in a class all it’s own.  If you haven’t been there, GO! Santouka Shio RamenI am hooked on their salt ramen.  Which is just sliced pork in their fairly plain, unspiced, soup base.  Recently I learned about the shio ramen.  That is a special cut of the pork from the cheeks.  Super tender, melt in your mouth, pork that approaches butter in richness.  It is also considered a salt ramen. I’ve heard others rave about their spicy ramen but I just can’t bring myself to try it because their broth is just so beautifully balanced and the pork is so tender that it seems to me that spiciness could only detract.  I love spicy but am thinking perhaps, not in this case. Also, everything comes in three sizes.  The medium is really big and I could hardly imagine ever ordering the large, unless you were going to share. This is located within Mitsuwa Market, a really great shop on it’s own.  Just southwest of the Balboa and Highway 163.