Monday, November 23, 2015

Modern Bar Fare at West Coast Tavern in North Park

I wondered why the name of this place was lit up on a theatre sign. Little did I know it was because the restaurant used to be the box office of the Observatory North Park theater that it is attached to! I was told that the West Coast Tavern is hopping during happy hour. A mix of DJs come in and spin too during the week, so this place gets packed! In North Park, street parking can be challenging but luckily there is a parking structure just around the corner for $5 bucks for the night.

The front entrance automatically leads you past the busy bar area, with the dining spaces further back.  We sat at an elevated table on bar stool-height seats. These tables surrounded the perimeter of the room. There was this cool leather booth that can seat a party of six right in the middle. It was noisy because music was playing in the background and crowds were chatting, but that was what I expected of a "tavern". Reservations are welcome!

It was pretty dim in the room, but our eyes quickly adjusted.  This pretty chandelier was a focal point of the room. This building has been here since 1921 and the architectural beauty was kept intact for some parts of the tavern.

Since we were in a tavern and all, we started with drinks. I had the "The Dude" - Ketel One with kahlua and creme!  I love white russians and this one was really good!

My hot date (hahaha, my husband will laugh out loud when he knows I called him that!) had "The Jackalope" - white rum, pineapple juice, apricot juice, lemon, orange bitters, and simple syrup. These warmed us up for the feast we were about to taste!

We ordered the following appetizers. I love anything that's wrapped in bacon, so we tried the bacon-wrapped nut-stuffed dates.  The walnuts mixed with the creamy goat cheese dipping sauce paired with the sweet date and salty bacon was a flavor and texture home run!  My daughter gobbled up the rest of this when we brought leftovers home.  I made a note that this dish was simple enough to make for our next potluck dinner.

Then it was bone marrow time.  My husband likes this and orders it whenever we see it on a menu. This was bone marrow with avocado aioli and tuna tartare mixed in.  So yummy, I think its the best we've had in SD so far!

We also tasted the prosciutto and burrata, arugula topped flat bread.  This was what you expected it to taste like, good but unremarkable.  

Then the mussels arrived. Crispy slices of baguette topped this dish, ready to sop up that broth at the bottom of the bowl.  I was warned that this was spicy, but I was not prepared! The heat crept in after one or two mussels. I rate this a 4 out of 5 on the spice level. I needed the bread to halt the sensation happening on my tongue!

Next, our entrees came. I had one of the new items on the menu, the Stuffed Pork Loin, filled with tender pork belly, pistachio and cherries, served atop garlic mash with a cherry reduction. A crisp apple arugula salad complemented the entree. This was a sophisticated dish. This pattern of nut-fruit-meat sweet/savory mixture (see previous date dish) impressed me again!
Photo courtesy of West Coast Tavern
Pork would normally not be my top choice of entrees, but this ended up being my favorite dish of the night.  All the goodness of home comfort food was in every bite.  

On the suggestion of our waitress, my husband enjoyed a portobello mushroom burger. A nice hearty portobello slice on top of the beef patty with garlic aioli, goat cheese and arugula (sure must love arugula here) inside the was very good as well. 

To finish off, we couldn't leave without tasting the flourless chocolate cake, made with peanut butter frosting, chocolate sauce and, butterfinger crumbs, yes...BUTTERFINGER crumbs on top. This my daughter Allison would love because she's a fan of you guessed it, BUTTERFINGERs! The texture of the cake was like a huge chocolate truffle, smooth and creamy. 

What's cool about West Coast Tavern is that each day there are different specials, drinks paired with special dishes.  On Thursdays though, this is the special! Right on!

Paris, the manager that night, was sweet enough to let us check out the adjoining theater when we finished our meal. It was beautiful!

The show that night was the "Down the SocioPath Tour 2015 with Youth Code and Skinny Puppy". Interesting mix of people that would seem like BFs with Marilyn Manson. I saw a lot of black leather, metal spikes, black makeup, ripped black clothes, and hair that was teased like it was the 80s all over again. Paris did mention they try to get a good mix of artists. Although we didn't stay for the music, the line of people going through security was long! These groups sure had a solid fan base! Check out upcoming events at the Observatory theater here

For sure it was an unforgettable night, and mainly because of the gourmet food! Kudos to Chef Abe! Knowing he grew up in Imperial Beach, I felt the South San Diego ties in his food, like an old friend serving up his best dishes for visitors.  Try West Coast Tavern soon for the special ambiance, drinks, food and shows!

Disclosure: I was invited for a complimentary tasting in exchange for this blog post.  All opinions are my own.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Southern California's BEST Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung!

DIN TAI FUNG!  DTF for short! (and get your mind out of the gutter please!)  The mention of these three words gets my mouth salivating for those soft pillows of shrimp and pork goodness all wrapped up in a delicate wrapper and steamed to perfection.  With locations in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Orange County, I happily hop in my car and make that drive to Costa Mesa for the one located in South Coast Plaza. I have been to DTF twice now and my visits have always ended up with me in nirvana, a xiao long bao induced kind.

DTF opens at 11 am on weekdays and 10 am on weekends.  People start lining up as early as half an hour before they open.  The line moves pretty quickly. When you get to the front, they'll ask for your name and number of people in your party and input them into a tablet. You'll also give your phone number and you will receive a text when it is time to report to the check-in desk.  On my first visit we arrived fifteen minutes before they opened and there was already a line.  We got seated right away though.  On our second visit, we arrived an hour and fifteen minutes after they opened and waited almost an hour until we got seated.

The Orange County location is pretty big, with inside and outside dining areas. There is even a room for private events.

The wait may have you starving by the time you get seated. And to whet your appetite even more, you pass by an open exhibition kitchen where skilled workers are making the noodles, wrappers and filling dumplings right there for all to see. Its amazing how fast they work assembly line style!
When you're seated, you are given an order slip to fill out.  We actually looked at the menu during our wait time and pre-decided what to order so we were ready to submit the form when our server came to ask us what we wanted to drink. This helped expedite our food.

These were our drinks. In front is sea salt cream green tea, and peach and mango slushies in the back, all available to order with or without boba (tapioca pearls).

I ordered a honey lemonade and it was sweet with a slight tartness. I loved it!

Our party cheered when the food started coming out! We didn't wait long for the appetizers.

These marinated cucumbers were crisp and had the right balance of sweet and sour! Very refreshing! I would definitely order this again.

Next were green beans with garlic and spinach with garlic.

The green beans were a popular dish as I noticed many other diners ordered it.  Both were what you would expect it to taste like, pretty good and they added greens to our meal!

Rounding out our appetizers was the hot and sour soup.  I haven't seen one with so many ingredients. The wood ear mushrooms added a great texture to the soup. You can literally see the drops of chili oil in the soup, but it wasn't spicy enough to make me pant like a puppy.  My daughter really liked this dish.

The next dish that arrived was minced pork on top of noodles.  I think of this as the Taiwanese version of spaghetti. It was a challenge to grab the slippery noodles with my ceramic chopsticks. At the end, I gave up. It wasn't that tasty enough for me to request a fork.

Here are the two dishes I come to DTF for!  First up, Spicy Pork and Shrimp Wontons! 
I like some heat, but not where I end up perspiring and having to wipe my forehead.  I don't think any lady would want to be in that predicament. This wasn't at that level, I would rate this dish as medium heat, so just the right amount for me!  The bite of the sauce with the smoothness of the wonton wrapper is a diner's delight!  The sauce itself is yummy over some steamed rice.  This is a must-have dish if you go.

And of course, the #1 item at DTF is the XIAO LONG BAO (XLB), the Soup Dumplings! Let me take a second to share with you that my family is made up of #soupdumplingaddicts! When we find out there's a restaurant that serves XLB, wherever we're at we'll go try it out! From San Francisco to San Diego and anywhere in between.  On our first visit to DTF, we ordered the weekend special of the mini ones, 20 pieces per order. But after tasting them, they just weren't juicy enough. Too small. 

We ended up ordering the regular sized ones too.
See the difference? I need a regular size whole dumpling to crack open and slurp up the soup lurking inside. Then I dip it in the vinegar sauce and pop the whole thing in my mouth to devour.  Next to the XLB that we had in the Bay Area at Shanghai Dumpling King, the ones at Din Tai Fung are my next favorite!

I don't like dumplings that have too thick of a wrapper, it overpowers the filling when you taste them. The dumplings here are sturdy enough so that they don't tear when you pick them up with chopsticks and they are generously filled with the gelatinous soup!  Feel free to slurp away! Believe me, order two of these and two of the spicy wonton dish.  You'll finish them! We had a party of five and probably could have eaten one more order! 

Part of the tangy taste of XLB is the soy sauce-vinegar-shredded ginger dipping sauce component. Here our server mixed the typical ratio of 3 parts soy sauce to 1 part vinegar, but of course you can make it to your liking. Hot chili paste is available to mix in too.

To end our feast, we ordered the 8 treasure rice! Notice the round shapes of all the "treasures". Plus the "8" figure itself is made of infinite loops.  My loose translation,  round shapes for coins = money = good fortune.

This dessert reminded me of  the Thai mango sticky rice dessert and also Filipino biko. Unfortunately you'll have to visit Din Tai Fung yourself to get exactly what the 8 treasures are from the staff as I didn't write them down! Here's a link to an article that tells you more about it!

This place is also kid-friendly. I mean just look at the cute dumpling mascot in the front of the restaurant welcoming you in.  

They had adorable dinnerware too for the kids. Honestly, I would buy this if they sold it and use it at home for myself!  

Days later, my friends and I were still talking about the delicious food! That's how much of an impression DTF makes. In my opinion, these are Southern California's BEST soup dumplings! Gather your friends and get DTF - Get Down To Feast at Din Tai Fung! We're already planning our next visit! 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Six Ways to Keep Your Woman Happy!

     Affirm her daily.  Tell her she looks great when she leaves for work.  Send her out the door with a hug, a kiss, a love note.  Do it all again when you see her later at home. Let others know that you're proud she's your girl. Brag about how much you love it when she cooks your favorite food.  Hold her hand in public. Escort her like a gentleman.  Get her a drink at the party.  Most of all, tell her you love her and show her you do.

·    Be silly with her. One of the best parts of a relationship is having those moments together when you're both just enjoying each other's company.  Re-tell the awkward moments when you were dating.  Or the first time you got embarrassed in front of the other. Who says play time ends when you're no longer a child?  Laugh and connect.  These are precious memories that will reinforce your bond.
      Ask her what she would like to do on those special occasion days throughout the year. But don't ask an open-ended question.  Ask her to choose between Choice A, Choice B, or Choice C.  For example, "Hey honey, your birthday is coming up.  I was thinking we could either try that new restaurant you've been wanting to go to, or I could pack a picnic and we could hike that trail we've been talking about, or I could set up a spa day and we can get massages since I know you enjoy them."  The point is you plan the date. This shows that you've taken the time to 1) notice her interests and 2) make an effort to plan something that will make her feel extra special.
     Give her your full attention.  Women are social creatures. We like to talk!  We just want to tell you something funny happened at work or something new that we've learned or that something is on our minds. Even if it means you saying, "Would it be ok if we talk in a little bit?  I really want to finish watching this game and then I am all ears."  Most women would accept that. And if the information/situation is really urgent,  we would say so.  
      Acknowledge when you mess up.  Recognize that you hurt her by your words or actions.   A simple statement either verbally or written will do. It has to be genuine.  It should also be done privately so that there is no distraction and a opportunity for conversation can take place. Include suggestions on how both of you can avoid having the situation happen again.  This will show that you have spent some time reflecting. Perhaps both of you can mutually agree that she does this and you do that so that anger and frustration are minimized in the future.  
     Offer her help when you see her struggling.  No one knows her better than you.  You notice she's not her usual self, she seems stressed, quick to snap back.  Women tend to be overwhelmed with the "to do" list in their heads. Instead of saying, "What's wrong with you?" Ask her, "How can I help you?"  And when she spouts off a list of things to do, instead of absorbing the stress, calmly reassure her that you're there to help and ask her to prioritize her top two items that you can do.  When you're done folding that basket of laundry and packing the kids' lunches, go back and tell her that you're ready for the next task.  She'll appreciate that she can count on you.

By engaging in these six activities, you will show your love and appreciation for your girl and she will reciprocate.  That's what a partnership is all about.  Your woman will indeed, be happy, and so will you. Have something to add? Please leave a comment!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Try New Fall Menu Items at Boudin SF Today!

Boudin has quickly become one of my favorite fast-casual restaurants.  As a busy mom, I know that I can be in and out of Boudin and eat fresh, healthy food and bring home some bread to boot! I love it when they introduce new items because it just gives me a reason to come back again and again!

This fall, Boudin SF brings you three new menu items:

  • Roasted Butternut Squash & Kale Salad.  Romaine lettuce, Tuscan kale, roasted butternut squash, and quinoa, dried cranberries, feta cheese, with honey mustard dressing.  This salad, packed with superfoods like quinoa and kale will keep you going during your holiday shopping marathons! 

I can't get enough of sweet and hearty butternut!  I like to add a cup of soup to my meal for a mere $2.99.

  • The second item on the Autumn menu is Ham 'N Brie on Rosemary Focaccia.  Applewood smoked ham, brie, arugula, cranberry dijon inside of Rosemary Focaccia. You have to come hungry for this sandwich! The mix of creamy brie with sweet cranberry and the bite of arugula, this is delicious even as a vegetarian option without the ham!
  • The third item being offered for a limited time is the Sourdough Philly sandwich.  Roast beef, Provolone cheese, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, served inside a garlic buttered sourdough baguette.  This is a perfect entree on a chilly fall day!  The portion is enough to enjoy between two people or save a half for later!
As the holidays approach, don't forget that Boudin also caters.  Want to wow your guests?  Pick up one of their specially shaped breads and fill it with hummus, bruschetta, really any dip of your choice. Toast up some garlic baguettes bites and you'll make a great impression!

If you haven't joined their frequent buyer rewards program, it is a must do! Get points for your purchases, earn discounts and get a free loaf of bread every month! You can't beat that!

Thanks to Executive Chef Alan Skversky for inviting San Diego Mom Bloggers and their families to taste his new menu items. Boudin keeps me craving for more! 
Follow our local San Diego Boudin SF locations on social media:  (Balboa Mesa location)  (Fashion Valley location)  #boudinSF #boudinbakery #celebratenewcravings

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