A very average dinner at Osteria Romantica

Ahhh, Osteria Romantica conjures up images of a small, intimate, very romantic eatery in my mind, but alas, there isn’t anything THAT romantic about this place at all. It is a casual, cozy restaurant. Comfortable — yes! Romantic — ummm NO!

Not being familiar with San Diego, I naturally went to my trusty Yelp app on my phone to find a place to dine. After calling around and finding either restaurants not open, or requiring a wait, we settled on this place. Obviously, we didn’t have a reservation but it wasn’t at all busy so when we were shown to a table in the center of the front room, I asked if we could sit in the back instead.

The hostess told us that the tables were reserved and with that in mind, we opted for patio seating instead. It was a little cold so they moved the space heater closer — which was a nice gesture.

Hot crusty bread arrived in a basket with some tomato sauce — and I say tomato sauce because it had the consistency of salsa and was served cold! It would’ve been nice had the dipping sauce been warm or hot as well.

I had noticed that the portions at neighboring tables were huge and it was just as well we decided to share.

Fried calamari and zucchini was a whopping plate of calamari rings, tentacles but only 3 small sticks of soggy zucchini.

The marinara sauce served alongside was a great accompaniment and I was glad that this was served piping hot!

Our main course of Fettucine Ubriache was very tasty with chunks of chicken and mushrooms but there wasn’t enough sauce so the pasta stuck together.

It got drier and drier with each bite and I didn’t care for the frozen peas in it after being spoiled with the lovely English peas I’ve had of late.

Luckily, we ended with some delicious tiramisu — and I not being a tiramisu fan thought it fabulous!

If not for this ending our meal, I think I would’ve been even a little more ticked off, especially since I noticed that those “reserved” tables were still empty throughout our meal and even when we had paid and were ready to leave.

Osteria Romantica
2151 Avenida De La Playa
La Jolla, CA 92037
Tel: 858-551-1221

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A favorite Sichuan place in San Diego

I love Sichuan food and I have not found a good restaurant in Orange County which suits my palate. So whenever I get the chance to visit San Diego and there are friends who want to eat Sichuan food, I always want to visit Ba Ren.

They have a display of cold appetizers and I like to choose the 3-item of bamboo shoots, seaweed and the spicy beef. The flavors are all perfectly seasoned — not overly salted — so you can even eat it without rice.

One of the things I love here are the dan dan noodles. It is  very authentic and very numbingly spicy! This is the most authentic I’ve tasted outside of Asia.

We also ordered kou shui ji — or saliva chicken. The chicken was tender and the sauce was again, very spicy. I’d have to say, this place does not skimp on the Sichuan peppercorns. Most places tone it down, but not here. This is the real deal. Without the Sichuan peppercorns, it wouldn’t be real Sichuan food.

Word of warning…. authentic Sichuan cuisine will basically have the ma la flavor in every dish which is noted as spicy. Ma la is the numbing spiciness which is the result of the Sichuan peppercorns. If you don’t like this numbing effect, then stay away from Sichuan cuisine.

Mi xien is a non-spicy chicken broth noodle dish with strips of chicken and picked mustard greens. It’s not a dish I ordinarily order, but it is one of the most ubiquitous Sichuanese dishes around. The reason why I don’t order it is because most places screw it up.

This is one of the best mi xien I’ve ever tasted. It was a wonderfully refreshing finish to the spicy dishes. The mi xien (special noodles) were cooked perfectly al dente and the chicken-based broth was rich and hearty.

Another word of warning: Sichuan peppercorns sometimes give people the after effects of MSG in that you get this ‘high’ which sends you into a frenzy often associated with MSG. However, the difference is the sensation you get on your tongue.

The Sichuan peppercorn ‘high’ sends me into this frenzied weirdness. I usually feel like I need a really long nap after eating Sichuan food.

If you’re looking for authenticity, this is definitely the place to get it. Comatose or not, this is THE place to get your peppercorn high from.

Ba Ren Szechuan
4957 Diane Avenue
San Diego, CA 92117
Tel: 858-279-2520

Ba Ren Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Yakitori Yakyudori & Ramen — San Diego

I came here with the Kearny Mesa Lunch Bunch (KMLB) a while ago and realized I hadn’t written about it, so here goes.

The ramen menu consists of about 6 different styles of ramen. Each comes with a few toppings with additional toppings ranging from 50 cents to $2 extra, with the usual bamboo, chashu, beansprouts, green onions to choose from.

The menu is rather confusing in that they offer small bowls of ramen but does not give the pricing for it. In reality, it is $1.50 less than whatever regular bowl of ramen you order — simple as that.

I ordered chicken karaage to start and shared with the others. It was actually quite good.

I tasted the takoyaki (octopus balls) which they called fried octopus fritters on the menu….. were meh. I’ve definitely had much better and these were kinda mass-produced tasting. They also have gyozas (dumplings) which I didn’t try, but those who did said it was really good.

My small bowl of Nagoya style ramen doesn’t come with the soft boiled egg — the large bowl does. It doesn’t make any sense really because the egg costs $1.50 so essentially, it is cheaper to just get the regular bowl of ramen and not eat your extra ramen for the same price if you wanted a smaller bowl.

I got additional chashu, beansprouts, egg (since mine didn’t come with any) and bamboo. The ramen had a small spoonful of ground pork and some chives. The small bowl also comes with a minuscule amount of broth so the ramen was on the dry side. The regular sized ramen had a decent amount of broth.

Flavor-wise the chashu was really good, not too fatty and very tasty. The ramen was just so-so and the broth was on the weak side. I asked for the creamed garlic to add to my broth for additional flavor and it helped some.

In the end, when you add this topping and that topping, the price of your ramen can get quite expensive. My bowl of ramen ended up costing about $11 when Santouka ramen’s most expensive bowl of ramen costs the same with more pork and more toppings already included. Santouka’s broth is also far superior to the one here.

For a quick ramen fix this place suffices but it is definitely not THE best ramen ever.

Yakitori Yakyudori & Ramen
4898 Convoy Street
San Diego, CA 92111
Tel: 858-268-2888

Yakitori Yakyudori on Urbanspoon

City of Angels Wine Fest — Memorial Day 2011

What will you be doing this Memorial Day? The Rotary Club of Los Angeles Foundation will be hosting its 2nd annual City of Angels Wine Fest at Music Center Plaza and I will be there with Holly Wong of The Endless Supper to check it out.

This year’s benefit includes a line-up of food, beverage and entertainment — FOOD especially from one of my favorites, The Patina Restaurant Group. Featured restaurants include Nick + Stef’s Steakhouse, Café Pinot, Kendall’s Brasserie, Zucca Ristorante and Tina Tacos.

Money raised from the event supports the $500,000 pledge from LA5 to fight homelessness on behalf of VOALA. Funding benefits the renovation and development of VOALA’s Rotary House–a transitional facility in downtown Los Angeles providing shelter, vocational opportunities and hope for more than 1,800 homeless annually.

The City of Angels Wine Fest will be held at the downtown Music Center Plaza this Monday, May 30, 2011 from 1pm-6pm.

My readers can use this code: LAWT to receive a 30% discount on your tickets


Kareem’s is where I go for babaghanoush

Whenever I am seriously craving Mediterranean food, the first place that comes to mind is Kareem’s. Don’t let the sparse decor fool you. What they lack in ambiance, they make up in the quality of the food they serve.

Whenever I come here, there are three things I must order. One of them is the babaghanoush. They roast their eggplants to perfection with the smokiness coming through in every bite. Whatever additional spices they add to it just enhances this dip making it the best I’ve ever had. It’s so addictive and when they don’t have it, it’s very frustrating knowing what I’m missing out on.

I usually order the falafel plate with hummus and babaghanoush. The falafels are also some of the best I’ve had. The outside is crispy which the inside is a beautiful pistachio green. The nutty taste is so flavorful that this non-vegetarian can’t get enough of.

The other dish I must have is the kofta. These are ground meat seasoned with a house blend of spices and made into sausage-like shapes and grilled. I’ve had kofta in many restaurants and this is positively the best both in texture and flavor. The kofta comes with rice, a grilled tomato, some grilled onions and a side.

A plate of condiments come with your entrees and included are pickles, raw onions, tomato and fresh jalapenos.

I like to add a little of each to the kofta which I then make a wrap out of with the pita bread they give you. It is absolutely delicious. You can do the same with the falafel if you like but I find those are best eaten on their own with a little bit of tahini sauce.

The owners are both the cook and the server and they are very personable. After only one visit, they remembered us on subsequent visits, and welcomed us back into their restaurant. These days, whenever I’m craving falafel, babaghanoush and kofta, there is only one place I will go to!

Kareem’s
1208 S Brookhurst Street
Anaheim, CA 92804
Tel: 714-778-6829

Kareem's on Urbanspoon

Akaoni — Carmel by the Sea

If not for Yelp, I would never have found this little gem of a Japanese place in Carmel. But then again, who would’ve thought that in the middle of touristy Carmel, one would find something so authentic and so wonderful like Akaoni.

The restaurant is very small, a few tables and a sushi bar, probably seats about 25 people tops. The decor is really cute and not overladen with too much eye-popping knick-knacks.

My only gripe was that the sushi chef refused to serve us omakase stating that he doesn’t do that with first time guests. I was perplexed because Carmel certainly gets its share of tourists and visitors and to not offer omakase seemed a little odd when there are so many would be first-timers. Nevertheless, we asked what fish he had and made a meal of it ourselves.

The fish selection was limited but he did have very fresh seafood including scallops, uni, snapper, albacore and tuna. Everything was delicately prepared and each mouthful was a delightful morsel.

But what I was most highly impressed with was their home made tofu and the little offerings on their white board. The home made tofu was so silky smooth with a house made soy sauce dressing and each spoonful just melted in my mouth. Another item I loved was the braised kelp and tofu which goes very well with sake or beer. A salad of mirugai and julienned cucumber and zucchini was so simple yet so sublime. Unfortunately, after those incredible items, tempura just seemed to pale in comparison.

Service is very Japanese — attentive and polite. This is a rare gem which I am determined to return to whenever I re-visit Carmel again.

Akaoni
Mission & 6th Ave
Carmel By The Sea, CA 93921
Tel: 831-620-1516

Akaoni on Urbanspoon