Wednesday, August 26, 2015

JRDN Restaurant at Tower23 Hotel Makes Waves!

I've lived in San Diego for over 30 years, yet I tend to stay in the South Bay area. The beaches I frequent are usually Imperial Beach and Coronado Beach. Occasionally Mission Beach.  Recently, I ventured out to Pacific Beach for a chance to meet Executive Chef Danilo "DJ" Tangalin at JRDN Restaurant at the Tower23 Hotel.  Boy, was I glad I went! (Update, as of 2018, Chef DJ is now at Bivouac Ciderworks.)

As part of the San Diego Filipino Blogger Network, our mission is to promote Filipino organizations and in this case celebrate the accomplishments of this Filipino culinary talent!  Chef Tangalin has been at the helm of JRDN for only four months and has since changed the menu twice from steakhouse fare to cuisine that is focused on local ingredients.  His goal is to create an "innovative, even daring" experience where the menu is "flavorful, vibrant and satisfying."  If dining at JRDN was an Olympic event, I would give Chef Tangalin's effort a solid 10 on technicality and artistry combined!

Our group of six was seated outside on the patio which gave us a great view of the pier and water. The gentle sea breeze embraced us as the evening turned to night.

Brennan Price was the Manager on Duty that night and he promptly greeted us with a bright smile and a bottle of this!

This made my fellow blogger and diner, Michael, really happy!

The novelty of our blogger group is you never know who you're going to meet so not only do we get to dine on great food, but make new friends as well! We all took turns introducing ourselves and sharing a little bit about our lives! This is Karen and Ferchil!

After we had a couple of sips of champagne, the show started!  

First Course: Coconut Shrimp. Chef Tangalin came out just like you see on Top Chef and explained the dish he was serving.  I felt like Padma for a second.

The plump poached shrimp sat atop a mound of chilled honeydew, red chilies, flavored shaved ice and the flesh of the young coconut. A lime dressing and micro greens topped off the dish.  The colors alone whet my appetite and with every bite I was transported to a tropical island somewhere in the world!

Second Course: Lobster Spring Roll. Next, Chef Tangalin brought out his version of Filipino Fresh Lumpia which I called a Lobster Spring Roll as it reminded me of a Vietnamese favorite.

This was chunks of lobster meat with bean sprouts and watercress wrapped in turmeric rice paper with chipotle crema. I was trying to locate this item on the menu and then realized it wasn't listed.  Chef was doing his own menu for us that night! At JRDN, there is an option to order the Chef's Whim Tasting Menu which is a six course experience that pretty much leaves it all up to the master! I love the idea of extemporaneous dining!

Third Course - Siopao Surprise! When Chef brought out the next course, those of us who recognized the siopao shape oohed and aahed!  This is Chef's Red Wine Braised Short Rib Bao Bun with a Blueberry Jam Gastrique and Micro Basil.  I had to break out my stylus and jot quick notes on my phone when he described this one. 

The purple sauce smothering the bun and puddling around the plate made me want to take my finger and at first poke the bun like it was Pillsbury Doughboy's tummy, then secondly, swipe up some of that sauce and lick it right then and there. But, I restrained myself. You see, I have this....THING for dumplings and this was just a BIG FAT DUMPLING sitting in front me!!! It was like the size of my hand!  

Then, I cut it open. It was like a blueberry, meaty, calzoney, siopaoy, meat piey, ohmygawdy!  I was so into getting the right picture of it that my table mates reminded me that I needed to eat it before the next course came out! It was too pretty though!   I wanted to put it back together and take it home in a box with a ribbon tied around it. I wanted to ask "Chef, do you sell these by the dozen?!"  

Jennifer's, a fellow blogger, son came to the table probably mesmerized by the luminescent purple bun and asked her what she was eating. He tasted it and came back for another bite!  I love seeing kids try new foods and knew Chef Tangalin had a new fan!

Chef's story: We took the opportunity to also interview Chef Tangalin when he brought out the siopao. When else do you get this amount of face to face time with Chefs? We had to take advantage of it! Chef DJ shared that he started in the business as a kid in the Philippines. He and his mom had a cantina along the side streets of Baguio, serving jeepney drivers and bus drivers.  Chef manned the grill, grilling skewers of chicken heads, chicken necks,  and blood sausage to name a few. They also ran a fish stall in the street market and would go around selling rice and fish to office workers. He migrated to Hawaii for three years with his family and then relocated to New Jersey.where he went to culinary school.  He worked for the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia, two restaurants in New York,  traveled to San Francisco, and Napa Valley before landing in San Diego.  

Then it was time for more food!

Fourth course: Octopus Adobo with Squid Ink Polenta, garbanzo beans and baby corn.

I would never order octopus as a main entree or squid ink anything. That is what is again great about a tasting menu.  On a whim, I tasted it! This ended up being my favorite dish of the night!!

The octopus was so tender, it was expertly cooked!  This was the perfect bite! The mixture of the protein with the color of the squid ink polenta kind of resembled dinuguan which is a dish I adore, if it is done right that is. I thought our meal was completed for the night, but Chef brought out more!

Fifth Course: Breakfast for Dinner! Filipino comfort food, like Tapsilog! This dish featured a rosemary skewer of sirloin prime steak with a dijon tamarind glaze served with bacon fried rice finished with foie gras. FOIE GRAS FRIED RICE! Wow!

This photo is courtesy of Joyce, my new found kdrama/kpop lovin' friend and fellow blogger!  At this point, I could barely move. I didn't feel like Padma anymore, more like Kermit's friend. You know who I'm talking about, right?  I seriously had to ask to have this boxed up to bring home to the hubs.

Jennifer generously bought the table another round of champagne and Johnny, our amazing server, brought out some drinks for us to try! We sampled the chili mango margarita,  the gin basil lemonade, and the whiskey cooler. Any more and I was afraid I couldn't drive myself home! 

Chef also brought out his sous chefs with him who helped assist with the night's meal preparations! Shout out to John Dolan and Eugene Guerrero!  The food and service were just fantastic!

Last but not least, dessert!

Sixth course - Ube cupcakes and coconut panna cotta

Chef brought out this piece of edible art! Again, all I could do was appreciate the vibrant colors, I was so full of shrimp, bao, and polenta!  I did eat some of the panna cotta and it was a melt in your mouth experience. What a great way to finish off the night!

Chef chatted with us some more and we learned more fun facts!
  • He truly loves being in San Diego and calls it home! 
  • He lived in National City for a time and frequents Tita's, Manila Sunset, Chow King, and Goldilocks for his Filipino Food Fix! (Hey, me too!)
  • On the weekends he and his family enjoy shopping at the local farmer's markets and swimming. 
  • He is a true supporter of local vendors, fresh produce and has his own personal fisherman that he buys from.
  • Although not on the menu (yet anyway!), he like to make his own sausage!
  • He was recently nominated for the 2015 San Diego City Beat's Best New Chef Award.
After tasting his food and meeting him, this humble, hard-working and extremely likable chef has my vote!

Follow Chef on instagram @dj_tangalin to get the latest on his culinary creations and get to JRDN soon!

Disclaimer: I  received a complimentary meal for this blog post. All opinions are my own.

Special Thanks to Stacy Warner, PR for Tower23 Hotel for arranging this event, to Manager Brennan Price for your warm hospitality, and especially to Chef Danilo "DJ" Tangalin for hosting the San Diego Filipino Blogger Network and providing an incredible dining experience!


  1. We tend to stay close to home when we dine out, and I can see we're missing out on some very cool spots. My son lives in PB, so we'll drag him out to this posh place soon!

    1. Suzette, really cool place just to hang out, grab a bite and people watch!

  2. I went to JRDN some time back. The view is great. The drinks were good. Not sure if they still have the Lobster Bacon Tomato sandwich, but it was so yummy! Looks like a great night. Gotta go back one of these days.

    1. Maggie, I see pictures of that Lobster Bacon Tomato sandwich! I think they may still have it! I want to go back and try it!

  3. Great writeup Lora! Everything looked great, specially the octopus adobo with squid ink sauce! I haven't been to JRDN in years. Having a Pinoy chef gives me a good reason to return!

    1. Chef Tangalin is super nice and the food was outrageously good! I mean, he got me to like octopus!!

  4. Lora, your post is making me hungry!


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