San Diego’s DaoFu takes home-made to another level

I am always excited when I find a little mom and pop spot regardless of where I am. On a recent trip to San Diego, a friend, who had been to DaoFu previously, brought me here because he thought I would love the food.  He wasn’t wrong. The sign alone intrigued and piqued my curiosity: “Home-made tofu and soy milk.”

The restaurant is small and the cozy nature of it really appealed, not to mention the smiling face of the lady who seated us. I found out later that Maggie is the owner/chef’s wife.

Naturally, on a first visit, I always order way too much food because I want to try everything, but before we even ordered, a complimentary salad arrives with some home made tofu alongside. The beet and raspberry salad dressing — also made in-house — was delightfully tart with a hint of sweetness. The tofu was absolutely incredible. Not only was it texturally pleasing, but it possessed the robust flavors of soy beans that I know and love.

salad

This is why we wanted to encompass more tofu into our meal. The Lily Flower with Asparagus and Oyster Mushrooms ($12.98) was selected because I love lily flower. It was just a bonus that a wedge of fried tofu was present on the plate. All plates arrive with your choice of white, brown or half/half rice. We opted for brown throughout.

veg plate

When asked what spice level you want, don’t go crazy like I did. I told Maggie 10. She put me in my place when she told me 5 was sufficient. We negotiated a 5 for the first dish and later, I went up one level to 6. Seeing I am able to eat habanero-level heat, and a 6 was hot enough, I would like to warn others before they try to order on the Orange County heat level I am accustomed to. Trust Maggie when she tells you it’s hot enough!

We started with some Chicken Salad Rolls ($8.28), a take on the Vietnamese rice paper rolls stuffed with lettuce, mints, cilantro, bean sprouts and rice noodles. They are cut in half and sits on a plate of house sauce similar to the dressing on the salad, but just a hint sweeter.

chicken rolls

Both my friend and I love chicken wings so an order of Garlic Chicken Wings ($8.36) was on the agenda, but first, I had Maggie confirm it wasn’t a sweet sauce the wings were doused in. She assured me it wasn’t. These fried chicken wings are coated with a savory garlic sauce which are perfect on their own, or accompanied with a bowl of steamed rice. So good!

chicken wings

Maggie recommended the next dish, Stuffed Tofu, Eggplant and Peppers ($12.11), what we refer to as ‘yong dao fu’. The tofu, eggplant and peppers are stuffed with fish paste and lightly pan fried before they are topped with a piquant spicy sauce. Typically, fish paste tends to be hard and with a fish ball-like texture. Here, it is soft and complements the vegetables perfectly, especially the tofu.
stuffed vegs
Wild Steamed Red Snapper Rice Pot ($13.88) was positively our favorite. Brown rice is topped with steamed snapper fillets with a sauce seasoned with ginger, garlic, wine, scallion and cilantro. The delicate fish is not inundated with sauce so you’re able to taste it on its own, or, with the sauce-seasoned rice. The shiitake mushroom slices enhanced the flavors providing us with various tastes with each mouthful. We couldn’t stop eating this!
fish rice pot
When we were done, Maggie brought complimentary ice cream (all guests receive this) to us and continued chatting to me in Cantonese. This is when I found out that her husband Eric started making tofu with no experience whatsoever, perfecting it through the years. She is delighted that her customers love their food and especially, the tofu. She explained that the tofu is organic and Eric insists on creating everything from scratch right down to making the noodles they serve. I was bummed I didn’t know about this sooner, but will definitely return and order noodles on my next visit.
There are a ton of vegetarian dishes available which appeal to non-vegetarians as well so there is something for everyone. I wish we had something similar in Orange County, but the closest thing we have is Dao Son, a shop selling home-made tofu in Westminster. There is no Chinese chef in OC making his own tofu and noodles that I know of. Do you?

DaoFu
3332 Adams Avenue
San Diego, CA 92116
Tel: 619-281-6888

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AnQi’s “GourMondays” kicks off smashingly

AnQi by Crustacean at South Coast Plaza launched a new concept series yesterday entitled “GourMondays”. On the first Monday of every month, the restaurant will present a pop-up dinner offering a lavish menu with wine pairings. A different theme will be featured each month.

AnQi’s CEO, Elizabeth An, is not only fashion and style savvy, but philanthropy is near and dear to her heart as well. She says OC has over 4000 non-profits, most are grass-roots organizations and those need exposure and support. She sees GourMondays as a “cause and cuisine” campaign and at the same time, drawing in the intense, no-holds barred foodie who is open to a unique dining experience.
To kick off the GourMonday series, Elizabeth will donate 100% of the gross sales from the first GourMonday, last night, to benefit SPIN (Serving People in Need). That means, ALL of it! Thereafter, every GourMonday will support a different OC non-profit with 20% donated to the organization.
The inaugural dinner, held in AnQi’s private room (photo courtesy of AnQi) is aptly named “Pure Indulgence”, and the 9-course menu was exactly that — a culinary journey of decadence and extravagance.
AnQi Chefs Table

The Egg
Tatinger Brut Reserve Champagne NV

I was immediately transported back about 20 years ago the minute I took the first bite of this delicate concoction of soft boiled egg topped with citrus cream and Osetra caviar. My first memory of a similar dish was presented to me by Chef Alain Verzeroli, a student of Joel Robuchon’s, who now heads Joel Robuchon Tokyo. When Alain served Robuchon’s version to me at Petrus restaurant in Hong Kong, he told me it was a Robuchon classic, and it is something I have never forgotten. Melisse in Santa Monica does one, and AnQi’s is stellar in comparison. Silky, smooth and sublime on the tongue.

caviar egg

Kobe Vietnamese Tartare
Gunderlock Jean Baptiste, Riesling Kabinett, Rheinhessen, Germany 2001

The second course is a true reflection of what AnQi stands for, bringing forth a perfect fusion dish. The tartare is seasoned with miso egg sauce and chimichurri, but what makes it unique is the hint of fish sauce in the tartare. It enhances the flavor without the pungency normally associated with the condiment. Traditionally, bánh tráng (Vietnamese sesame cracker) is used as a vehicle to scoop up salads while adding a textural component to dishes. Here, the more familiar prawn cracker sits in its place.

tartare

Toast with Love
Hugel et Fils, Gewürztraminer, Alsace, France 2009

This course was something I was definitely looking forward to. Comprising soy bean-cured foie gras torchon (don’t ask, don’t tell), a round of truffle brioche, a quenelle of 5-spice squash and micro vegetables, it was undoubtedly a favorite. The only sounds I heard were the muffled ooos and ahhs escaping from many mouths around me. There are no words needed.

foie gras torchon

Matsutake Garlic Soup
Kenzo Estate “Yui” Rose, Napa Valley 2013

Not simply a soup, this dish was beautiful, but to me, one of the most perfect creations of the evening. Bringing together various flavors and textures in one bite, it was one of the most tantalizing sensations in my mouth. The prawn is wrapped in noodles and deep fried — resembling a bird’s nest. Served with garlic soup infused with one of the most sought-after mushrooms in the world, we enjoyed the crispy prawn on its own, then dipped it into the luscious soup for a different experience.

shrimp

Hand Rolled Noodles
Four Graces Pinot Noir, Dundee Hill, Oregon, 2011

There is no better example of fusion cuisine than this dish. One of my favorite Cantonese sauces — XO sauce — envelops tender morsels of lobster. XO sauce is a luxurious condiment, one I will often eat with a bowl of steaming hot rice. Here, a small bundle of hand-made fettucine in a rich, silky buttery sauce accompanies. Eat them separately, then together. You wouldn’t think the Cantonese dish would work with the Italian flavors, but the two meld together in perfect harmony.

lobster

Hokkaido Scallop
La Doucette, “Baron de L” Sauvignon Blanc, Pouilly Fumé, France 2009

Unfortunately, my photo does not do this dish justice. The scallop is accompanied with sunchoke puree and curry cauliflower. I was afraid the curry might overpower the delicate scallop, but it did not. The curry was mild and flavored the cauliflower without overwhelming the mollusk.

scallops

Lemongrass Wagyu Ribeye
Delas Châteauneuf du Pape, Southern Rhone, France 2010

Our final savory dish is perfectly executed at medium rare. Bone marrow adds another level of unctuousness to the meat, should you choose to enjoy them together. I was afraid that the black bean demi glace would overwhelm the steak, but it did not. An elegant plate with very refined balance of Asian and Western ingredients.

wagyu

Viet-jito

A Vietnamese snow cone, if you will, is our first dessert course. Essentially a granita with refreshing fruit and hints of mint, it is so refreshing and a perfect palate cleanser after all that we’ve eaten.

vietjito

Fire and Ice
Chateau Rumieu-Lacoste, Sauternes, France 2010

Our final dessert of the evening is one we all enjoyed. Traditional banana Foster and cà phê sữa đá ice cream are prepared tableside for the finale.

chefs

The Vietnamese coffee ice cream is luscious and I devoured it quickly, wishing I had more.

banana foster

This Pure Indulgence experience featured 9-courses with wine pairings at $198++ per person. Tax and tip not included. Each GourMonday will be priced differently depending on the number of courses, ingredients and wines selected.

The next GourMonday will be “China Poblano”, to be held November 3rd, and will feature a menu of Asian and Latin flavors. For more information, or to secure a seat at the table, please call AnQi by Crustacean directly at 714-557-5670.

AnQi by Crustacean
3333 S Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-557-5670

La Terasse & AIXimia winery — Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

Another trip down to Mexico, this time to Valle de Guadalupe where a unique winery sits in the middle of nowhere like a flying saucer which has landed from space. I am here to visit AIXimia Winery with a group of food and travel writers and the newly opened La Terrasse San Roman restaurant, right on the vineyard’s premises.

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As our van stops in front of this architectural beauty, we notice some beautiful horses in the pastures greeting our arrival.

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The brainchild of Manuel Alvarez and his brother, vintner Alvaro Alvarez, a mathematician-turned-winemaker, AIXimia is a three-story circular building, an architectural anomaly of sorts. Its incredible beauty is awe-inspiring with its cathedral-like ceilings and soothing color-schemes. My photos do not do it justice, but I hope you will get an idea of how captivating it is.

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We start from the top, where the selection and de-stemming process of the grapes begin. Then, they travel to the second floor, for the fermentation process, then, to the bottom floor where they are aged in French oak barrels before finally, being bottled. The entire space can be experienced from up top, and it is a sight like no other.DSC04084

AIXimia stems from the alchemy of the combination of various elements in our universe. To reflect this, each bottle of wine — there are 10 — are all named for an element of nature. The labels display Gaia (mother Earth), Magma (molten rock beneath the Earth’s surface), Helios (sun) and Aqua (water), each significant when you put it all into perspective.

VALLE DE GUADALUPE MEXICO

After our tour, we sit down to a meal at the newly opened La Terrasse San Roman restaurant, by Chef Martin San Roman. It is al fresco dining at its best. A view of the sprawling vineyard serves as a backdrop for our lunch as we sipped on some selections from the winery.

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Chef Martin’s cuisine is French Mexican, and when our duo of appetizers arrive, it was quite evident. Tartin de Ratatouille y Parmesano (60 pesos/appr $4.60 a la carte) is a “tart” topped with a ratatouille of roasted French vegetables, fresh herbs and Parmesan cheese.

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Another, not on the menu, is a tartare of some sort, but we were not sure what sort of fish is used. Nevertheless, it is lovely.

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There is green salsa, smoky and spicy. We eat it up so quickly I had to ask for more.

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Carpaccio de Betabel Local (50 pesos/appr $3.90 a la carte) is a salad of fresh roasted beets, sliced paper thin and topped with capers, onions and basil. Resembling a beef carpaccio, it is a delightful dish vegetarians can enjoy. In fact, there are quite a few dishes suited for vegetarians at La Terrasse.

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I think if there is one dish we are all in agreement with is Ensalada de Nopales al Carbón (120 pesos/appr $9.25 a la carte). Everyone relished this flavor-packed skillet of Spanish sausage, fresh grilled cactus, tomatoes, onions and cilantro marinated in olive oil. The cactus is prepared well, not too soft, but gives way when you bite into it. The sausage is absolutely delicious, adding a beautiful saltiness to the mix.

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A beautifully plated Pierna de Cerdo al Horno (190 pesos/$14.65 a la carte) arrives next. The pork has been marinated in natural hibiscus and red wine and braised confit style before it is grilled on wood. The result is a richly flavored dish comprising traces of wine and a hint of tartness from the hibiscus.

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My favorite item of the meal is a simple dish called Lomo de Atun (500 pesos/$38.50). A one pound slab of tuna is grilled, brought to the table on a hibachi.

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The lightly seared tuna is perfectly rare on the inside and dipped in the lemon aioli sauce, is one of the best things I’ve eaten. Simple, fresh, and absolutely stunning. The menu says this item is meant for two people to share, but honestly, I could probably eat it all myself.

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Our meal ends with a sweet pastry filled with fruit. I apologize I do not have a description for it.

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If you are a wine aficionado, AIXimia Winery is a must stop. If you a foodie as well, then this is the perfect place for you. Take some time with the wines tasting the wines, then, sit down and enjoy a meal by Chef Martin. It is definitely worth it.

AIXimia Winery/La Terrasse San Roman
Km.3 the tiger country road (next ranch El Parral)
Valle de Guadalupe
Baja California, Mexico. CP 22766
Tel: Outside of Mexico 521 (646) 947-5256

OB Noodle House San Diego

I’ve been wanting those chicken wings after watching an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (Triple D), where Guy Fieri visits OB Noodle House in Ocean Beach, a seaside neighborhood of San Diego! On a recent visit, we make it a point to stop by the original location off Cable Street for lunch (there is a second location off Niagara on the cusp of Ocean Beach and Point Loma). As we drive past it, our hearts sink when we see the hordes of people outside.

Circling around the neighborhood several times, we find a spot less than a block away and check in with the hostess who informs us of the 20 minute wait, but lucky for us, it only turns out to be 10.

OB NOODLE HOUSE SD

There is inside and sidewalk seating — we are led to what I would call the best seat in the house, a corner table affording us a view of the entire restaurant. It is busy, very loud with music blaring, the upbeat vibe reminds me of eateries I’ve come across many times while living in Hawaii.

We settle on some sour beers (on the day of our visit beers were half off — score!) which is absolutely refreshing on a warm day and perfect with the appetizers we select.

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Grilled Lemongrass Chicken Satay ($6.95) is surprisingly tasty. I am not sure when it arrives as the reddish hue is “radioactive”-like reminiscent of Chinese cha siu. The chicken is bursting with lemongrass aromas and well-seasoned. A ramekin of hoisin sauce accompanies but I enjoyed them without it.

satay

But what I am here for are the Spicy Garlic Wings ($11.95) and they do not disappoint. Ironically, the twelve succulent wings (and these are the real wings, not drummettes) are also strangely red in color, but crispy on the outside and oh so moist on the inside. Be careful when you eat them because they are scorching hot on the inside — retaining its heat even to the last wing. I can probably devour the entire plate but it is rude not to share.

chicken wings

Sizzling Fish ($11.95) is tasty and comes with a bowl of steamed white rice. The basa fillet is topped with caramelized ginger and garlic, with chopped fresh cilantro and green onions. I often cook basa at home but have never thought to use caramelized ginger before! I will be doing that from now on. The crispy bits of garlic and ginger definitely elevates the flavor to another level.

sizzling fish

We see a guy eating a plate of House Special Fried Rice ($12.95) at the next table which entices us to order it. It is a hefty portion,with a generous amount of gai lan (Chinese broccoli), shrimp, beef, eggs, Chinese sausage and sate sauce, but I can’t figure out why the fried rice is so sweet. The Chinese sausage usually possesses some sweetness, but I can’t imagine sate sauce to be. I bring it home and doctor it up with other ingredients and condiments — much better!

house fried rice

Unfortunately, Stir Fried Crispy Egg Noodles With Chicken Assorted Vegetables ($8.95) is highly disappointing. The crispy noodles remind me of the bits of crispy noodles you get in the Midwest when you order chow mein, except these are long and resemble regular noodles. They taste a little stale and the overall dish is bland and flavorless. I pick out the cabbage and broccoli and we leave the rest.

noodles

My final conclusion? There is definitely some hype surrounding this place, not all of it warranted. I see a lot of people eating pho, but I’m not sure this is what I want when lil Saigon is so close by. The chicken wings are definitely worth returning for — if there is no wait for a table — but then again, if I am craving them, I can just order to go and pick them up, right?

OB Noodle House
2218 Cable Street
San Diego, CA 92107
Tel: 619-450-6868

OB Noodle House on Urbanspoon

AnQi redeems itself plus a giveaway

I’ve had a love hate relationship with AnQi ever since it opened. Love the decor, don’t quite love the food. Through the years I’ve been back several times and each time, my thoughts and feelings have stayed pretty much the same …… that is, until now. I recently came for lunch with a bunch of friends and was surprised that I actually enjoyed my meal this time. We all took turns ordering something and the following was the meal we experienced. Surf & Turf Roll ($13) were sushi rolls with wagyu beef, spicy tuna, delta asparagus and chili aioli. On the menu it sounds messy, neither here nor there, but it definitely tasted rather good. surf & turf roll (640x425) Chicken Potsticker ($8) were good with scallion and a balsamic fig sauce. The wrapper wasn’t too thick and the filling was nicely seasoned. potstickers (640x425) I wasn’t too keen on ordering pho here, but I didn’t say no. I’m partial to pho-ing in lil Saigon and anywhere else just doesn’t seem right. However, Traditional Vietnamese Pho ($9) — we ordered both chicken and beef — wasn’t half bad. The broth could have been deeper and richer, but it sufficed. The rice noodles were a tad overcooked resulting in them being soft, but the bean sprouts helped add some crunch to the bowl. pho (640x425) Vietnamese Crepe Salad ($13) was one of my favorites. Banh Xeo as it is known in Vietnamese, this crepe is stuffed with chicken and pork ragout, bean sprouts and beech mushrooms and topped with quinzoi herb, sweet chili gastric, charred frisee, sliced okra, red and yellow peppers and beech mushrooms. The complexity of all the flavors combined together is quite impressive. I like how this dish includes other vegetables you wouldn’t find in traditional banh xeo such as frisee. banh xeo (640x425) The Misoyaki Butterfish ($23) was also absolutely delicious. The pairing of Bhutanese red cargo rice was genius. I love butterfish (black cod) and this was very well executed. misoyaki butterfish (640x425) Unfortunately, An’s Famous Garlic Noodles ($10) is still not one of my favorites, but everyone else seemed to like it. garlic noodles (640x425) The bo luc lac, or Flamed Tossed Cubes of Filet ($19) was very flavorful, although not 100% authentic. Served with jasmine rice, the beef is tossed with broccoli, as well as white button mushrooms. bo luc lac (640x425) I’m not ordinarily a dessert eater, but Vietnamese Banana Fritter ($9) was ordered for the table to share. Even with the blood orange caramel, it wasn’t overly sweet. Of course, I loved the home made vanilla bean ice cream served alongside. banana fritter (640x425)

This is my last giveaway of the year. Christopher Gialanella, Publisher of Riviera Magazine is offering one of my readers (plus a guest) the opportunity to lunch at AnQi with him (along with me), in 2014. The rules of this giveaway is: you must be following ChristopherRiviera and me on Twitter, leave a comment on this post with your Twitter handle, and you will be entered into the competition. Entries must be submitted no later than midnight on Dec 25th. Good Luck!!

AnQi by Crustacean
3333 Bristol
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: 714-557-5679

AnQi on Urbanspoon

fusion fare at Little Sister Manhattan Beach

The start of my birthday celebrations brought us to Manhattan Beach. My friends and I are huge fans of the restaurant scene in the area but this time, we wanted to check out something we hadn’t tried before. Just across the street from two of our favorite Manhattan Beach restaurants — Chef David Lefevre’s two incredible offerings, MB Post and Fishing With Dynamite — is Little Sister.

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I actually had no idea the restaurant belonged to Tin Vuong, formerly of Sapphire in Laguna Beach. I had met Chef Vuong at the Kitchen Takeover event at Abigail’s early this year and knew he had opened WildCraft Sourdough Pizza, but I didn’t know he was affiliated with Little Sister as well.

We arrived early for our 5.30pm reservation and immediately ordered a large bottle of Shimizo-No-Mai Pure Snow ($24) chilled sake. It arrives in an earthen serving vessel which continued to keep the sake cold throughout our meal. The milky rice wine was very palatable and had a slight hint of sweetness to it.

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Ma La Beef Tartare ($12) was our first dish of the night. I love “ma la”, the flavor and sensation attributed to the Szechuan peppercorn. The numbing effects of the peppercorn is exhilarating, perhaps a little intoxicating even. The tartare had only a hint of the “ma la” and although I wasn’t able to taste the pear, I detected the pine nuts here and there. The bone marrow vin and quail egg helped elevate the flavors, however, the beef was a bit too chewy and could have been diced smaller.

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XO Pea Tendrils ($8) was absolutely perfect. Crazy how I’ve never thought to use conpoy (dried scallops) shards when I make my pea tendrils. I didn’t care for the crushed almonds because its flavor overpowered the delicate tendrils, but the addition of lime juice was a very nice touch.

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I was excited to try Confit Duck “Goi Vit” ($14), a Vietnamese style salad with red cabbage, sweet onions, carrots, green papaya and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander). The salted apricot vin it was tossed in needed more heat and more acid. I asked for lime wedges and more chilis and added them to the salad. At this point, Chef Vuong stopped by the table and asked us how everything was tasting — I didn’t think he remembered me. I told him that the salad lacked the heat and tartness I was accustomed to. We had a quick discussion and I guess the clientele dictates the flavors. So when you visit Little Sister, tell them you want it hardcore if you want it authentic.

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If you like spices make sure you ask for some sambal. Our server Jessica brought out four for us to try.

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Vietnamese Crepe “Banh Xeo” ($14) is a favorite of mine and this did not disappoint. Stuffed with pork belly, prawns, bean sprouts, various herbs and greens, it was a refined version of the banh xeo I eat regularly in Lil Saigon. The nuoc cham house dressing, made with nuoc mam (fish sauce), was garlicky, tart with a hint of sweetness and absolutely perfect in every way.

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We didn’t know which direction to take next. There were two items on the menu with curry, but I didn’t like the idea of curry overpowering scallops so we went with Vietnamese Coconut Chicken Curry ($18). I enjoyed the tartness of the broth as it lent a freshness to the entire dish. Confit potatoes tasted like regular potatoes, while the pineapple and kabocha squash added a touch of sweetness. The chicken tasted like it had been roasted or flash fried as the skin was crispy, but the curry flavor did not penetrate the meat itself, but rather, coating the exterior.

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I really liked the Master Stock Jasmine Rice ($2) which we paired with the curry — although Chef Vuong gave us a sesame baguette to go with the curry an option you can have with curry in Lil Saigon. The rice had wonderful flavors and was elevated by the fried shallots and green onion toppings. Whether you go for rice or bread, both are good ways to sop up the remaining curry sauce.

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Salt & Pepper Lobster ($38) was the piece de resistance of the entire meal. A whole lobster is topped with butter fried shallots, fried chilis and garlic. I relished in the flavors enveloping the shell and chose the pieces requiring the most work. I wanted to suck all the flavor off as many crevices as possible. The accompanying salt and pepper lime dipping sauce was not necessary but tasted great if you wish to use it.

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We had no room left for dessert but they offer an array of sweets served trio style. A list of items ranging from macarons, panna cotta and profiterole as well as souffle allows you to mix and match three of your favorites to complete your meal. My meal ended the minute I ate the last piece of lobster on the plate.

Little Sister
1131 Manhattan Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Tel: 310-545-2096

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