Tuesday, July 29, 2008

San Diego bar- Hamilton Tavern

Tap--- tap--tap___ Telegraph white__ served on tap- tap____
Like Ahab in search of his white whale,
I was Rehab in search of my white ale.

I had heard of this rarity, this Telegraph white, but was not prepared for a smoky glass of liquid barbeque. This hickory switch (up) stung my senses and branded beer its own food group, which seemed to be the norm at Hamilton’s Tavern*.

*Makings of a modern day beer hall:
1) Beer tap studded ceilings
2) Belgian craft beers, local and microbrews
3) Over 130 bottles, along with unlikely tap features like, Port Party Pants
4) Pool tables, fuse ball tables, darts and shuffleboard
5) Greasy bar treats

Food orders were placed through a window manned by the surly, female chow-slinger who reminded me of a speakeasy bouncer that had just received the wrong password.

It was worth her glowering:

Beer soup- Learn it, live it, love it. You might leave ten pounds heavier if you actually treated it like a bowl of Campbell’s with its heavy cheddar and beer base, but it’s a fry’s best friend and random spoonfuls washed down my burger like an oyster shooter’s beefy cousin. The bowl was bigger then my head, bigger than Frankenstein’s head, bigger than Great Grape Ape’s head….Four of us shared a bowl and still didn’t come close to finishing.

Burgers- I debated between the Hamilton (avocado, bacon, manchengo, onion jam and house bbq sauce- yum!) and l’america burger (cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle), so I went with the choice that would make Uncle Sam proud (and I felt obligated since it looked like his long lost brother was sipping an Anchorsteam in the corner.)

L’ America was a two handed burger, but didn’t have an insurmountable wall of meat (1/2 lb.) All bites were balanced with precise burger to bun ratios and its distinct char easily made it one of the best in town.

Wings- I was thrilled with the wings, but my standards are different than most. I like them petite and crunchy (no disgusting, wobble skin), so they might be too small for some, but for my needs they were first rate (battered in Wahoo wheat beer and homemade wing sauce.)

6) Jukebox- Wow, when was the last time I heard, “Stairway to Heaven?” Probably when it turned 100,000 on the odometer of my eardrums, just as, “Shook me all night long” had left the party sometime during high school. But their comfortable lyrics were like sliding into a favorite T-shirt that had been pushed to the back of the drawer and by the end we were howling a rousing rendition of, “Stand by your man.”

Come early if you want a table (only four in total, along with two booths by the pool tables) and dogs seem to be welcome patrons.

Call me Ishmael…For I will regale this tale to the masses.
Call me a cab… I might be at Port Party Pants for a while.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Super Cocina

Holy Mole- Rediscovering a Mexican mainstay
It might have been my 5’9, WASP-y, blonde friend that made us stand out at Super Cocina (3627 University Ave), or the way I pronounced my emphatic, “Hola!” with the “H.” Either way, the woman behind the counter dismissed our language barrier and just started ladeling samples from her sauna of steaming pans.

We had just entered…

The Taqueria Zone: Imagine you have stumbled upon a speck of an eatery, a rundown concrete box, whose cafeteria-like nature pushes plastic trays with pre-sectioned plates amongst the click of red and yellow tile.

The twist: Instead of non-decipherable, mystery meats from some hair-netted, kitchen Frau, traditional Mexican dishes are heaped with familial generosity into tangible tastings of patience. Chaffing dishes simmer meats to “fall off the bone” status and waft the sense/scents of Sunday dinner, where passed-down recipes run the kitchen:

Chicken mole- (dark brown) I had whole-heartedly dismissed mole from my repertoire, disliking its bitter, chocolate aftertaste, but this stood out with a distinct, peanut finish that had me questioning my prior prejudice.

Spicy pork- (red) fiery and tender in a roasted chili sauce, I labeled this “shredded heat” for its texture and spice.

Pork Verde- (green) this mild sauce didn’t lack forward flavors. Garlic and cilantro were punched up for a refreshing depth to this sometimes blander option.

From these favorites (and other options like carnitas, tacos and burritos), I chose two items for under $5 (including beans and rice), so I had to go with the spicy pork... and chicken mole. That’s how life-altering the mole was- they had converted me in minutes.

Not only had Super Cocina revolutionized the way I thought about mole, but about food in general. How many dishes had I written off that had another side to show me?

The mole wouldn't have even gotten a second glance if I hadn’t been offered a taste. The willingness of the staff to educate us with multiple samplings ensured pleasure from whatever was ordered and erased any chance of miscommunication, even if we spoke different languages.

I also threw in an empanada for good measure (fried dough is always a winner) and the horchata is one of those rare delights that’s just gross enough to work (who knew milk’s sweet, lumpy cousin could be so tasty?)

I recommend going before 7pm since the fresh pans usually stop flowing around then (they close at 8:30.) Take-out also makes sense if you want to sip a cerveza when downing a bowl of “shredded heat” because sadly enough, they don’t serve alcohol here. What they do serve: epiphanies by the plateful.

Friday, July 11, 2008

San Diego bakery- Heavensent

(Hell) Bent at Heavensent - Saying Hell no to the halo

In a rush, I went against my better judgment and decided to pick up dessert at Heaven sent. I had remained distant (emotionally, geographically it was just blocks away), after several unsettled spats between their treats and my taste-buds. This recent trip of desperation only solidified why I Hades this place so much.

My cake-loving companion and I set off to choose a couple delights for a birthday celebration, but this wasn’t an easy task by any means. Mainly because the entire staff had the attitude of an annoyed teenager whose mother kept badgering them to clean their room (apparently, I was mom.)

We received a blank stare with our order (free of charge), as the girl (later referred to as Teen Trauma) searched our faces, to see if the new season of Candid Camera had picked her as the butt of a joke where “crazy customers” ordered more than one item. With body language bordering on tantrum status (stomping feet, audible sighs) she began collecting our outrageous order of THREE desserts.

“This is to go,” we mentioned, trying to cut her annoyance by clueing her in that it wasn’t all for us, but that just meant she had to get a box. Now she was pissed.

I was almost scared to ask for a chocolate malted at this point, but since it was 90 degrees outside, I took my chances. I lost. When I asked for the drink “to go”, Teen Trauma said, “I can’t do that.” Of course this made absolutely no sense, but neither had any of her other behavior, so I figured once they handed it to me in a glass, I would ask for a to-go cup and do it myself.

We waited at a nearby table when Teen Trauma 2 (the male version) sidled up with a parfait topped with bananas and malt balls. What the...? Again, I had to wait in a line as long as Purgatory and again Teen Trauma seemed exasperated by my presence. I told her that I ordered the drink, a chocolate malted, “You know, like a milkshake?”

“I’ll refund your money back.”

Um, how about offering me what I originally ordered? It would be nice to make a profit and give the customer want they wanted, wouldn’t it? It didn’t matter. Call me bat girl because I was gone faster than one out of Hell.

As for the desserts, their passage through my pearly (white) gates didn’t leave without judgment:

Guinness stout chocolate cake- the dark chocolate cake with cream cheese icing was tasty, but I’d rather spend my money on the actual beer- the name made it a novelty, but didn’t warrant a $7 price tag.

Cheesecake- cut them into triangles if you want, but three sides of “blah’ are congruent to “blah.”

Angel food cake- finally this lived up to its namesake and made for some summertime sinning with fresh strawberries and REAL whip cream-everything was balanced, airy- dare I say, heavenly.

Too bad that was my only glimpse into the light because it wasn’t enough to make me a believer. Their penance would be paid in profit losses and diminishing clientele, but that would be their cross to bear (claw.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

San Diego bakery- Golden Donut

The Midas Touch
A faded, plastic ring meant to signify crispy batter, sagged above the ordinary, almost invisible font, “Golden Donut,” and reminded me more of buying tires than eating sweets, but this covert treasure squeezed four fundamentals of baking into their shoebox-sized shop (quality, freshness, variety and price) like jelly into a...

We walked into a smell of confections so strong that I rushed to shut the door, its precious scent escaping like heat from a house in winter. Pepto- Bismal colored counters stretched along glass cases with apartment levels of diverse pleasure (all with appetite-accessible floor plans) and the penthouse boasted the best.
Two of my favorite words - “butter” and “milk”- together formed the title of my top contender in the pastry arena. Mini-loaves, the size of individual cornbreads, were the most indulgent and most addictive piece of dough around.
Buttermilk serving suggestions:
glazed- everyday.
chocolate: celebration!
plain: could I get away with using these as rolls at my next dinner party?

…and only $3.85 for a box of six, it was clear that my accomplice and I would be sticky sick with sugar highs before the day was through.

With a knowledgeable air of a tenured professor, the woman behind the counter pointed out and named each delight we questioned, using her tongs with practiced agility. “Move down if you want to talk,” she ordered other customers blocking the register, but it held a familial softness more like, “Shoo!,” from a mother whose children were underfoot while cooking.

Lenient with their selection (i.e. buttermilks count as a donut in the six-pack), the box filled up fast with powdered raspberry jam, chocolate icing and cinnamon sugar. Mini chocolate and vanilla donuts flaunted high-end accessories like nuts and rainbow sprinkles for the same effect of a string bikini - attention whores (better throw them in the box too*.)

*Warning- Do not try Golden Donut if you have any plans of dieting soon. It will ruin you for swimsuit season.