Monday, June 30, 2014

Heat brunch - San Diego (Hillcrest)

The Heat Is On
One of the things I miss most about Jersey - the diners. A place to grab a simple plate of bacon and eggs. I’d struggled in San Diego for the last decade to find a regular breakfast haunt, but I finally felt like I was getting warmer when I discovered Heat, where brunch meant bottomless mimosas with a personal bottle of bubbly on the table, and a menu that offered the standard staples like pancakes and eggs, while upping the ante with homemade sauces, gravies, and baked goods.

They should have named this Air instead of Heat because a natural breezeway formed within the flow of a dining room fitted with wide, open windows and a basic beige background. Fabric umbrellas covered the outside patio and spread their orange wings over table tops tiled with shimmery, mosaic squares.

$10 bottomless mimosa (with an entrée) = the entire bottle* and a mini carafe of OJ

*It’s Wycliff brut champagne (9.5% alcohol content vs 12% in Korbel brut), so it’s a little lower in alcohol content, but still ended up being a good deal.


Leek and truffle quiche $13
The resounding trumpet of truffles filled my mouth without being overwhelming - simply decadent. The eggs: fluffed and creamy. Leeks: mild and tender. The crust: buttery and flaky. The only change I would have made was to choose the fresh fruit instead of the side salad that featured beets, a cauliflower crown and minimal vinaigrette.

Country sausage gravy with an over easy egg on a jalapeno cheddar biscuit $12
Heat knew how to put the “sausage” in sausage gravy…literally!! There have been so many times I’ve been served white, flour-filled paste with little gray lumps of meat trying to pass itself off as sausage gravy. But at Heat, this came mounded with hunks of sausage in rich, flavorful gravy, whose thickness had no identifiable traces of any floury origins. The biscuit was laid open like an oyster shell, speckled with jalapeno and melted cheddar, and in the center lay a glistening over easy egg shining like a beautiful, yolk-filled pearl.

Country chicken fried steak with sausage gravy, a jalapeno cheddar biscuit and breakfast potatoes $14
This was the next step up when it came to the sausage gravy options. Instead of an egg, this came like an open-faced sandwich with a narrow plank of deep fried, battered meat that had been pounded out thinly and laid like a crisp sheet atop the flaky pillow of a biscuit beneath. To top it off, the home fries had clearly spend a little time in the deep fryer and were crispy on the outside and squishy on the inside.

Heat Repeat
I could get used to this place. They always offered a couple specials, which in the past included options like homemade corned beef hash with béarnaise sauce and pork chilaquiles (chicken chilaquiles is a regular menu item). The waitresses were super friendly in a genuine way that gave Heat a happy air and made me long for Jersey breakfasts a little less.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Booze Battle: Strawberry Margarita Match-up (D Bar vs. Puesto)

Summer weather sets off an internal buzzer in my liver that immediately forces me to set down my usual glass of red wine and pick up some type of fruity, fizzy, iced concoction to whet my whistle. Lately, it’s been in the form of fresh fruit margaritas, and in this week’s “booze battle”, I’ve pitted D Bar vs. Puesto in a strawberry margarita match-up (though, of course I couldn’t help but mention the food too!)

D Bar (3930 5th Ave) - Strawberry Margarita #1
This was like walking into a life-size diorama of Disney’s Tomorrow Land. D Bar laid out a sterile, futuristic setting, where all was white; blank; clean and concise. The reflection of metal reared its head here and there, and the open kitchen breathed a rhythmic flow of precision from chefs, who themselves seemed like well-run machines. The “D” in D Bar stood for Dessert, and in direct contrast to the starkness of this atmosphere came a menu filled with comfort food and homemade sweets meant to warm the cockles.

Strawberry margarita #1 - Fresca picante: strawberry jalapeno infused tequila • agave • lime $10
Ok, so they were calling this fresca picante, but this walked and talked and (sipped) like a strawberry margarita, so that’s where it was filed in my mind’s index. It was also listed under “worthy a second round” and “cocktail hybrids”, since its texture reminded me of a mix between a strawberry daiquiri and the limey flow of a margarita on the rocks. Jalapeno slices worked like spicy lip gloss, rimming my mouth with a pleasant pulse of heat.


Southern Fried Belgian: butter milk fried chicken • cheesy waffle • honey mustard • sweet potato fries $13
I hadn’t realized this came in sandwich form, but I loved D Bar's compact, portable version of chicken and waffles, where the waffles became the bun and their batter offered a touch of sweetness against a crunchy-coated chicken breast. And naturally, a waffle sandwich came with waffle fries. I think they should strongly consider listing this as, "Stoner's Delight".

Kobe Sliders: house made brioche • drunken onions • aged white cheddar • aioli • garlic parmesan fries $12
Little bites of beefy bliss - I couldn’t have been happier with these mini-burgs and the skinny, salty matchstick fries that accompanied them.

Ch Ch Ch Churros!: cinnamon sugar churros made to order • chocolate dipping sauce • homemade vanilla ice cream $9
I watched the open kitchen from my table as the chef piped short bursts of churro batter into a deep fryer. They arrived hot and fluffed, covered in cinnamon sugar that slightly melted on their heated, brown edges. I'd never seen churro dough so airy and the chocolate dipping sauce on the side only distracted from these heavenly wisps, though it did come in handy to drizzle over my homemade vanilla ice cream with unidentified chocolate crunchies hidden within its creamy tunnels.

*lack of photo = lack of self-control...these were scarfed down before I remembered to click the camera*

Puesto (789 West Harbor Dr) - Strawberry Margarita #2
Both levels of Puesto's interior were packed - patrons sought shelter inside while taking advantage of the open-air, wall-sized windows for a moment of relief on this sweltering Tuesday - so we agreed to sit outside under one of their immense, orange umbrellas and were actually surprised at the refreshing breeze that blew through The Headquarters’ corridor.

Strawberry margarita #2 - Puesto Perfect Margarita: Maestro Dobel Tequila, lime, agave $10 (fresh strawberry or mango +$2)
We arrived parched and even though a beer sounded swell (which my companion ordered), I needed something over ice, so why not a margarita? But when I got my $12 strawberry margarita ($10 for a house margarita + $2 to add fresh strawberry or mango), I was surprised to see such a squatty glass come my way. I think it’d be easier for me to digest if it was $8 + $2 for the fruit, but $12 for that size? No bueno.

Order as few or as many tacos as you’d like, but Puesto’s menu suggested ordering three for $11, which was a welcome notion since they offered choices spanning from seafood to filet mignon, so it was perfect for sampling. Many had an up-sale price (ie +$1.50 for shrimp, $2 for filet mignon), but I didn’t mind paying a little extra for higher priced ingredients…especially when everything was made in-house, including their corn tortillas.

1) Cochinita Pibil: slow roasted, ancho chile marinated pork, pickled red onions, tomatillo roja (pictured on right)
This was like the Mexican version of pulled pork. A marinade of pungent spices brought some serious complexity, though its brooding depth was lightened up with the sour crunch of pickled onions - by far, my favorite.

2) Grilled Shrimp + $1.50 each: Epazote jasmine rice, tinga (hibiscus, chipotle), avocado, mango habanero (pictured on left)
Another winner – shrimp were plump, flavorful and perfectly cooked with plenty of complimentary accessories.

3)Rajas Veg: crispy melted cheese, rajas mix (chile poblano, sweet corn, oyster mushrooms), avocado, tomatillo verde
My friend ordered this veggie option and even though he was a full-blown carnivore, this was his favorite. Maybe because a babushka of melted cheese encircled sweet corn and earthy mushrooms in a flat sheet of browned creaminess - now, that's how I like my veggies!

4) Baja Fish: crispy wild cod, shredded cabbage, avocado, tomato, chile crema, tomatillo roja (pictured in center)
Not the best fish taco in San Diego, not even close, but they never claimed to be. It was lackluster and dull, but that was the only dud out of the three and on the bright side, that meant I had another opening in my taco line-up.

Puesto’s Pros
Puesto did offer a happy hour Mon and Fri 3-6pm with $6 margaritas, but I wouldn’t go back for that. A few tacos and a beer? Any day…well, except weekends...and when the cruise ships come in - The Headquarters was a tourist haven. But a weekday lunch worked for me.

And with that being said, let's get down to the meat and potatoes of this challenge:

The WINNER of the “Strawberry Margarita Match-up” IS...***D BAR***

Margarita and a Movie
D Bar earned the win and gave me an idea for my next visit. My suggestion: Go catch a movie across the street at Hillcrest Cinema and end up at D Bar afterwards for post-film discussions over drinks, hot churros, and a little "Stoner's Delight".

*Uptown magazine has a coupon for D Bar with buy 1/get 1 dinners and 20 percent off