a trip south of the border (part 2)

A continuation of my recent trip down to Rosarito, Mexico and we are on our farm-to-table experience. Our first farm visit is to Rancho Las Ilusiones, a farm with a restaurant attached, which opens only on Sundays for breakfast and lunch. I’ve come to realize that it is virtually impossible to remember the path we are taken on, and I will definitely have trouble finding these places if I’m wanting to come again on my own. Rancho Las Ilusiones has a Facebook page which may help guide you to it.

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We began with breakfast in a very crowded room. It was also the day Mexico was playing The Netherlands at World Cup so the buzz in the room was electrifying. Our group sat towards the back and soaked everything in. The menu is simple, with lamb and rabbit the stand-out features which they raise on the farm.

La Consentida (70 pesos/$5.40) is shredded braised rabbit, served with chilaquiles rojos (in red sauce) and frijoles (refried beans). The rabbit is good, not gamey but flavorful enough to call it rabbit — not chicken.

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Another respectable dish was Barbacoa de Borrego (99 pesos/$7.65) a hefty plate of braised lamb with beans and rice.

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I should have selected one of those but I wasn’t terribly hungry so opted for Huevos Rancheros (60 pesos/$4.65) which was on the bland side. Prices are very reasonable, and after your brunch, feel free to roam around the farm. All guests are welcome to tour the farm when they visit the restaurant.

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Moving on, we are taken on a tour of Rancho Guacatay, a farm which houses a variety of animals raised for meat, including deer. There is a chapel on the property which reminds me of something out of a Lord of the Rings’ set. It was mind-blowing and awe-inspiring. We took a few moments walking around and taking in the intricacies of this rustic building. There is no website for Rancho Guacatay, but if you’re interested, or for more information, you can go to Facebook and message them.

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After the tour, we visit El Nido restaurant, owned by the same people of Rancho Guacatay. I’m guessing you’ve already figured out by now that we are about to eat a menu comprised of everything raised on the farm, plus more. I was immediately won over when I entered the restaurant. It was like an enchanted forest.

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Then, I saw the lady in the corner making tortillas by hand. Oh yes, I could not wait to sink my teeth into these!

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We order a selection of lamb, rib-eye, quail, and of course, venison. When the platter arrived, one of the bloggers jokingly said “you know we’re eating a relative of the deer we saw earlier right?” to which I replied, “and..?” and speared another slice of meat with my fork.

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The tortillas here are exquisite! They are chewy and have a wonderful texture unlike any other tortilla I’ve ever eaten.

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For those who aren’t red meat eaters, there are many seafood selections including these shrimp in garlic sauce.

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Farm-to-table in Rosarito is exactly that in every sense of the word. The carbon footprint is non-existent, and you can be sure everything arrives super fresh to the restaurant ready for preparation.

Stay tuned for my next post where we will visit the only winery in Rosarito and the surprisingly delicious street foods we encountered.

 

 

a trip south of the border (part 1)

Several weeks ago, I was invited to join a group of travel writers in Rosarito, Baja for a weekend of adventure. Because our schedule was a jam-packed one, I won’t be able to fit everything into one post, but instead, I will space everything out into several stories.

Seeing how Rosarito is a seaside town and we all had an ocean view at the Rosarito Beach Hotel — I thought it apropos to begin with our sea-to-table experience .

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We were brought to the village of Popotla, easily missed if you’re driving from Rosarito to Ensenada even though it is only about 10 minutes away from the hotel we were staying at. The restaurant we stopped at was Popotla Restaurant Bar, hidden within the Popotla Mobile Home Park (click here for directions). Our table afforded us a glorious view of the ocean as we sat down to some drinks, including this refreshing cucumber lime concoction I chose instead of an alcoholic libation.

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A platter of ceviche arrives and we are in awe of its presentation and just the abundance of it all. Seafood is in abundance here and it is not unusual to feast on a myriad of them in one sitting. There is octopus, shrimp, a white fish of some sort, and my absolute favorite, chocolate clam!

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Our second course comes in the form of a bisque. There are bits of chocolate clam dotted in the flavorful bisque. I enjoy this very much.

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We end this meal with plate of grilled seafood. Included are lobster, shrimp, white fish, octopus, and chocolate clam baked in its shell.

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Hours later, we are in Puerto Nuevo, a community located in Rosarito Beach municipality and is known as the “Lobster Village” of Baja California. This of course meant more lobster was in order. We descended upon La Casa del Pescador after dark, which is unfortunate because I was told the view is stunning. The restaurant’s name means “the fisherman’s house”, and as we are serenaded by a trio of mariachis, some guacamole and crab ceviche comes to the table for us to dip our crispy tortilla chips with.

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Soon, a massive of fried lobster halves arrive. I inquired about the lobsters and am told that they range between $22 and $35 depending on size. The crustacean possessed a nice flavor, but our small lobsters were a tad overcooked. I suggest ordering larger lobsters if you want them prepared this way.

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I’m not sure how the other lobster on the table was cooked, however, it was succulent and tender. It’s so good on its own, or, there is drawn butter provided if you want to take a dip.

We were so stuffed at the end of the meal there was no room for more. However, here’s a secret…. pop next door (it’s the store to the right as you exit) and ask for the almond tequila the guy has. He will share a few shots with you and you can continue drinking it back at the hotel. It not only acts as a digestif, but is so smooth going down.

Wait for my next installment, where we will be experience a farm-to-table adventure unlike the ones you’ve probably experienced here.

 

 

 

 

 

Dami Sushi & Izakaya + giveaway

I’ll have to admit, Buena Park isn’t one of my usual eating destinations, but I am always game to try something new. Several weeks ago, I was invited, along with two other writers, to visit this restaurant serving both Japanese and Korean fare. The plaza it is situated in is busy! Extremely busy! I won’t lie, parking is a struggle and I am lucky to find one after circling around several times. Once inside, the restaurant is modern, chic and comfortable with beautiful wooden tables finishing off the decor.

Whole Grain Salad ($9) screams modern Korean fusion marrying black rice, Indian millet, lentil, kidney beans and Job’s tears (Chinese pearl barley) together. This is also the basis of multi-grained Korean rice you can purchase at the market. I love the nutty texture and its nutritional value, but most of all, when tossed together with the mesclun leaves, fresh mozzarella bits in a soy vinaigrette, it is a delicious vegetarian dish to share or enjoy on your own.

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I absolutely adored Siraegi ($7), a rice bowl topped with dried radish greens, baby anchovies, masago and radish sprouts. Soy dashi (stock made from dried bonito shavings) seasons the radish greens, making this not only light, but refreshing. I love anchovies and radish greens so for me, even though this isn’t typically Chinese, I find it extremely comforting and satiating!

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Jawanmushi ($4/$16) is a Japanese steamed egg custard which I often make at home. I usually make it plain, but at Dami, they make it the traditional way with shrimp, gingko nut and shiitake mushroom. The custard was just a tad too firm for me but the flavor of the dashi used was spot on.

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A side dish we tried was Buta-Ka-Kuni ($6.50), braised pork belly, with bok choy and green onion. I didn’t care for the under-seasoned pork which also needed more color as well. It was beautifully presented, but was underwhelming.

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One of my favorite items was Yoshi’s Owari Chicken Wings ($10) Perfectly deep fried chicken wings with Yoshi’s secret seasoning are so crispy on the outside, and so moist on the inside. I couldn’t stop eating these. There is nothing more pleasing than well-cooked chicken wings.

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Because the restaurant had “izakaya” in its name, I insisted we try some yakitori. Asparagus Maki ($3), Enoki Mushroom Maki ($3), Quail Egg Maki ($4) and Chicken Gizzard ($2.75) were all stellar, especially the enoki wrapped inside slices of pork belly.

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Chicken Wing ($3.75) skewers are also delicious, but then again, I love chicken wings and these possessed a nice smoky flavor. However, between this and the Yoshi’s Owari chicken wings, definitely choose the latter.

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Cast Iron Rainbow Rice ($11) consists of assorted fish topped with tempura crunch and masago (flying fish roe) is grilled in an iron skillet and drizzled with a sweet unagi sauce. This isn’t a dish for me, but if you don’t care for raw fish, it is definitely for you.

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I really enjoyed the low-carb Dami Special Roll ($13) which doesn’t involve any rice whatsoever. This crab roll sees tuna, salmon, albacore, crab meat and avocado wrapped with cucumber instead of rice and nori. So light and those on a low carb diet can enjoy as well.

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For me, the piece de resistance of the meal was the Live Uni with Sushi Rice ($12), presented in the uni shell, layered with rice around the delectable uni (sea urchin), and topped with sesame oil, pickled radish and masago (capelin roe). Beautiful to look at, and like butter in my mouth.

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If you’re indecisive, then Dami Seafood Box ($40 recommended for two) with eight dishes including assorted seafood and sushi is just the thing for you. If you are sharing, you will definitely need to order more food because I can easily polish this off all by myself. The chef will prepare your box with the freshest fish available so the variety of fish will change from day to day.

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On the day of our visit, there was lobster available and this is the icing on the cake. Definitely order this if it is offered. Lobster Two Ways ($30) is presented as lobster sashimi, and then, the carcass is used to make a lobster stew that you can enjoy after you’ve eaten all your sushi and sashimi dishes. The raw lobster is sweet and filled with umami. I wish I didn’t have to share.

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The lobster stew arrives in a pot that continues to simmer at the table and is so umami-filled I wish I had enough room to enjoy it over a bowl of rice. But I brought the rest home and loved eating every minute of it the following day. I loved the chrysanthemum leaves used to fragrance the broth already perfumed with the intoxication scent of lobster.

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Dami is one of those places I can go with my son, and we’ll both be very happy. The food is good and the surroundings extremely pleasant.

This week I have two $50 gift certificates to Dami Sushi for two of you to WIN. Leave me a comment with why you would battle the parking situation to dine here. Entries close Sunday. Best of luck!

Dami Sushi & Izakaya
5151 Beach Blvd
Buena Park, CA 90621
Tel: 714-739-2537

Dami Sushi & Izakaya on Urbanspoon

the rebirth of Cafe 21 San Diego

Those of you who have been following my blog know my immense love for Cafe 21. It is a love affair which begins several years ago, almost immediately in fact, after my first bite. As the years fly by, that location soon becomes a vital part of my life, providing so many fulfilling memories for my friends and I. We always leave with a stomach full of delicious food, perhaps, a tad intoxicated by the creative cocktails and sangria, but always extremely happy and satisfied.

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That is many years ago, and through time, as time often does, takes on a new meaning, a new journey if you will, towards bigger and better things. This is certainly the case with Cafe 21, who now resides in its new spot just a block or so away from its previous Gaslamp location.

Cafe 21 is one of those restaurants which I feel has been with me through my life’s journey the last four to five years. I doubt this love affair will ever end. I’ve been waiting to visit the new place and am excited to see what it looks like. As I eagerly wait across the street, I see it is busy with people, and a warm fuzzy feeling comes over me.

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The decor is stunning, and my photos definitely do not aptly capture the essence of its entirety, or the soul of owners Alex and Leyla Javadov. You will have to take my word for it until you have the opportunity to step inside and experience it for yourself.

There are traces of the Javadovs’ Azerbaijani roots, mostly visible in the upstairs “loft” area, but overall, the chic and modern decor is exactly what 2014 calls for. Besides the loft, there is a patio, bar and dining room area — a different experience can be had depending on where you sit, but it will always be one that is etched in your memory long after your belly is full, days and months down the road.

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It is morning, but that does not stop some people from enjoying a cocktail or two. Cafe 21 is famous for its house-made sangrias — six are available on any given day — take a peek when you walk in the door. If you are not able to make up your mind, you partake in a flight for a taste of them all.

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Another popular cocktail is the signature Bloody Mary — there are four to choose from — here’s a glimpse of the Prawn Star ($15) and the California Greenin ($15) which uses a tomatillo mix created in-house.

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However, it is too early to drink alcohol, so we start with some Loose Leaf Tea ($4) — you choose either hot or cold. Of course we choose the latter. A variety of Scottish Caramel Pu-Erh, Raspberry Lavender and Green Sencha arrives. I love the vessels they come in.

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Once the tea has enough time to steep, position it over a large glass and release the tea over the ice and voila, your ice tea is ready! The server is happy to provide this service, but I am like a child in a candy store.

The caramel pu-erh is intoxicating. The deep amber liquid is sweet to the nose, and rich on the palate. I buy some to take home for another day.

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I am mesmerized by the teapot, so when our next round arrives, I want to photograph the procedure once again!

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The first of our meal comes to the table, Blueberry Pancakes ($11 choice of 3 short stack or 5 full stack) is on the ubiquitous stainless steel platter Cafe 21 is known for. These are fluffy and delicious. The house-made blueberry compote is not overly sweet, retaining the natural flavors I so love. They are generous with the butter, but you don’t have to use it all.

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The Shrimp Cast Iron Omelet ($13) is an ideal brunch item comprising eggs and a protein of your choice. We choose pesto marinated shrimp which nestles atop, and in between the light fluffy eggs, along with tomato, spinach, pesto sauce, feta and mozzarella.

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There are specials every single day and on this particular one, the Stuffed Flatbreads ($15 choose two out of three options) is a recommendation I, at first, am hesitant to order. However, a little bit of convincing later and I am enamored by both the vegetarian selections. Cheesy organic spinach with pesto, goat cheese, feta and mozzarella cheeses is vibrant, however, it is the creamy potato and onion with locally grown cauliflower that wins hands down all around. The lilac hues of the cauliflower peek through when you cut into the flatbread, but it is robust aromas of this cruciferous vegetable that blows our minds.

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We are quite full by now, but there are two more items to hit the table. Lagman Pulled Pasta ($14) with hand-pulled pasta, bell peppers, tomato, onion, butter sauce with lamb meatballs (not listed, but you are able to choose this protein) — more like a dinner item than a brunch due to its sheer volume. I am only able to take a bite. I wish my stomach is bigger, but the lamb meatballs are seasoned perfectly and the vegetable accoutrements colorful and inviting.

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Seared Grouper Sandwich ($14), another special of the day sees a generous piece of fish sandwiched between a brioche bun along with lettuce, tomato, onion, chipotle aioli and a side of your choice. Again, I only manage a bite.

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I am always so happy when I leave here, and especially so when I am able to introduce new people to this extraordinary eatery. Whenever any of my friends ask for a San Diego recommendation, I always say Cafe 21. In fact, last week, while dining at Tavern on 2 in Long Beach, a couple sitting next to us overhears me talking about Cafe 21 and interjects. They tell me about their visit back in March and how amazing it is. This is exactly the thing I like to hear. If you haven’t yet experienced Cafe 21, do it soon. It is so worth it.

Cafe 21
802 5th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
Tel: 619-795-0721

Cafe 21 on Urbanspoon

Tavern on 2 tantalizes my tastebuds

If the name Frank De Loach has never crossed your ears before, you’re definitely missing out. This is an unconventional chef who thinks outside of the box, one who is not afraid to play with flavors and bring together ingredients some may not be familiar with. In short, not everyone get his food.  But for those who do, the experience is a sensational one. Chef Frank’s flavor profiles are pretty much on par with mine about 99% of the time. I know he will use enough salt and acid for my palate and that is always something to be happy about.

When you meet Chef Frank, you won’t be surprised that his gastropub-style cuisine is deliciously comforting, however, it is his Asian-inspired dishes that blows my mind. My first experience with Chef Frank’s Asian-style food creations was at Early Bird in Fullerton. His love for Asian flavors, plus the myriad of tastes he picked up during his travels to southeast Asia invigorated him to design — and they are often works of art — incredible pairings of flavors he was moved by.

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Chef Frank is now at Tavern on 2 in Long Beach, where most of the customers order the burgers. We had one as well – Tavern Burger ($14). The pattie is a perfect medium rare. Each bite provided me with a hint of sweetness from the caramelized onions, richness from the St Andre brie and freshness from the arugula. The savory ketchup did a great job by adding some salty tart finish. The burger is good. Damn good. It is not surprising that about 70% of the restaurant had one on the table — there are four beef burgers, one ahi and one veggie on the menu.

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Another favorite is Chef Frank’s version of Short Rib Poutine ($14). Yes, there are those who are sticklers for authentic poutine, and then, there are those who haven’t a clue what real poutine is. I kind of fall in between. I’ll love it if it tastes good. The version here has braised short rib which would probably amass a complete furor from some. Ask for it with only gravy and Wisconsin cheese curds if you feel your purist side emerging — I eat it without much short rib and prefer only gravy and curds with my fries. It is definitely very tasty.

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Don’t grimace at this next dish, Sticky Pigtails ($9), if you like ribs, you’ll most probably like this. The minute I bite into it, a wave of nostalgia comes over me. The sauce tastes exactly like my mother’s sweet and sour ribs except she uses Chinese dark vinegar. Here, it is a blend of hoisin and oyster sauces with lime and a few other things thrown in. Sticky they definitely are, and mouthpuckering as well, but it’s all good.

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However, what I am here for are for the dishes the rest of the clientele may not be ordering at a “tavern”. The blackboard features seasonal dishes such as Summer Peaches ($11), where lusciously sweet peaches are tossed with cubes of smoked mozzarella, radicchio, baby kale, Thai basil, white balsamic, and sprinkled with cocoa crumbs. At first, I’m like “what the hell is this….” but once you eat it with each of the ingredients on the plate — I highly suggest dipping your mozzarella into it — you will get a burst of the cocoa on your palate and go “oh! wow!”

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Hamachi Crudo ($12) is another blackboard special and is so simple and refreshing. Interspersed between slices of strawberries, jicama sticks, cilantro and shards of lime zest, the fish possesses hints of the jalapeno vin it is marinated in. Subtle and not overpowering, the hamachi is left to shine. Naturally, I wanted just a little more citrus, but that’s just me.

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If I am dining alone, the Seared Ahi Tuna ($16) salad would make for a perfect dish for one. If you’re there with others, you can share it — unless you’re with me, then I would hog the entire bowl. Chunks of seared ahi tuna is tossed in a Vietnamese dressing along with soba noodles, Thai basil, cilantro, radish, cucumber, red onions, cabbage and scallions. This is one of those items I am not able to stop eating. The perfect pairings of salty and tart is simply outstanding.

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I suggest you eat this meal from light to heavy, although, the salads and fish dishes make for the perfect palate cleanser in between the heavier options. I just prefer to not cloud my mouth with the richer foods before I eat salad and fish. I hope you will visit Tavern on 2 and check out what Chef Frank is doing. I always know I’m going to be highly satisfied whenever I leave a meal that he has prepared.

Tavern on 2
5110 E 2nd Street
Long Beach, CA 90803
Tel: 562-856-4000

Tavern On 2 on Urbanspoon

a lovely lunch at Prepkitchen — La Jolla

Lately, there have been many trips to San Diego, even to Mexico believe it or not — I’m not complaining – and they always have to do with food in one way or another. I visited Prepkitchen Little Italy last year, but this is my first visit to Prepkitchen La Jolla and I am surprised at how small this location is. My parking karma is in full force as I find parking right in front of the restaurant.

I am here with a group and we enjoy the relaxed nature of the outside patio. I am glad I snag a seat facing the street because it is entertaining and eye-opening watching some eccentric people walk by every so often.

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A Daily Soup ($5/$9) is offered and on this day, it is mulligatawny. The blend of lentils yellow curry, coconut cream, jalapeno and ginger creates a mulligatawny I find extremely mild in flavor. I would have liked more spices, but understand this appeals to a wider variety of palates. It is pleasant and satisfies.

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Who can say no to charcuterie? Not us! Cutting Board ($18) is a combination of house cured meats, cheese and various accompaniments such as roasted vegetables, olives and grain mustard. The toasted crusty bread is a welcoming addition to this item.

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Another dish no one can deny is Bacon Wrapped Dates ($9.75). I love bacon and I love dates. The marriage between the two is one of salty sweet and it is difficult to stop once you’ve taken a bite.

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Even though I’m not a big fan of salad, I enjoy the Asparagus & Little Gem Salad ($11.25). I think it is the tender little gem leaves and the blanched asparagus which win me over. The roasted shallot vinaigrette and BACON add so much flavor to the dish. A nine-minute egg is just the icing on the cake.

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Tempura Fried Green Beans ($10.50) is a huge hit with everyone at the table. The accompanying sauce ravigot is nice and acidic and provides a great contrast to the fried green beans. Absolutely delicious and deserves a repeat order.

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Sandwiches are definitely in order for lunch. Cubano Torta ($11.75) is definitely respectable, with Heritage smoked ham, pork belly, a chopped pickle relish, gruyere and house mustard. The bread is perfectly toasted and if sandwiches are your thing, then this is your sammie!

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Vegetarians may opt for Poblano Torta ($11.75) with chipotle aioli, plantains, avocado, pico de gallo and queso fresco. The potato chips are soooooo good.

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My favorite dish of the entire meal is Tagliatelle Bolognese ($19.50), a house-made pasta with a beef and pork blend, simmered with tomatoes and rosemary. The bowl is deceiving and looks on the small side, but once you dig into it, you’ll realize there is a lot there.

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This is a quaint and cozy spot for a meal with friends. The staff is delightful and if you get prime parking, it makes the experience even more sweet.

Prepkitchen La Jolla
7556 Fay Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037
Tel: 858-875-7737

Prepkitchen - la Jolla on Urbanspoon