tasty homemade cuisine at Solare — San Diego

I’m usually disappointed by so many Italian restaurants serving mediocre cuisine, however after my meal at Solare, I can safely say, this place has won me over, with a stellar menu and a very passionate Italian chef to boot.

I arrive for a late lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in quite some time. He tells me he is friends with the head bartender here and is excited to try the food after hearing a lot about it. I find out that the restaurant has been around for quite some time, however, the current owner took over about a year and a half ago and hired Chef Accursio Lota, formerly at The Marine Room in La Jolla to head up the kitchen.

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Chef Accursio stops by our table and I have many questions for him, including the “guitar” spaghetti. He proudly steps away and brings back the chitarra pasta maker to show me. He tells me he makes everything in-house, including all the pastas on the menu from scratch. I am well aware that this is a huge selling point for any Italian restaurant, and one that piques my interest. I am excited to try some of these.

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A basket of house-made foccacia is brought to the table for us to munch on while we peruse the menu.

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I order the Carpaccio di Wagyu ($14) mainly because I was intrigued by the balsamico pearls on the menu description. Paper thin slices of Wagyu beef sirloin is topped with arugula and dotted with beautifully colored edible borrage flowers. 20-month parmagiano reggiano shavings sit atop the tender beef sprinkled with rosemary salt. A handful of intensely flavored balsamico pearls are strewn around the plate. I have eaten a good many carpaccios in my life time, and I can honestly say, this is one of the best. The flavor profiles are all there giving a uniform mouthful of salty, tart, and a hint of sweetness.

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Polpette al Forno ($5 happy hour 3pcs/$11 6pcs) is one of those things I generally gauge Italian restaurants by. Every chef has his or her own recipe and it is usually passed down from generations ago. These home-made Sicilian beef and veal meatballs did not disappoint. They are tender, well-seasoned and paired exquisitely with the stunning marinara sauce. Bravo!

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Speck & Creme Fraiche Pizza ($15) is next and it is a Napoli style pizza — thin crust — though not cooked in a 900 degree wood fired oven. The smoked speck, creme fraiche, provolone, poached onion and wild thyme blend well together and fresh parmigiana reggiano is grated at the table.

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Because the pasta is made in house, I wanted to try two styles, the first being Agnolotti all’Ortica e Piselli ($19). Agnolotti is a stuffed pasta, and here, these hand-made goodies are filled with nettles. The sauce is light and the stracciatella of burrata adds richness to the dish. I love the English peas adding a slightly sweet freshness to the plate. My only complaint would be that the menu description of crispy prosciutto crudo were not crispy.

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Whether you’re vegetarian or not, Timballo di Melanzane ($17) is sure to please. I love eggplant, and I mean LOVE it. My mother used to be amazed at my ability, as a child, to eat plain steamed eggplants with no seasonings on it. Of course this beautifully presented eggplant timbale is seasoned perfectly and topped with a slice of tomato and fresh mozzarella. A sprinkling of parmagiano reggiano completes this dish.

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But of course, what I have been waiting for is next — Spaghetti all’Aragosta ($21), the “guitar” spaghetti made in-house on the chitarra pasta maker Chef Accursio brought out earlier. The spaghetti is incredible. Its texture is so toothsome and nothing I have ever had before in southern California. The sauteed Maine lobster are tossed with date tomatoes, spring onion and lemon zest. This spaghetti can be prepared with any sauce and the dish would be outstanding.

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We were so pleased with our meal at Solare. This is definitely noteworthy Italian cuisine and Chef Accursio Lota definitely has some major skills. The freshness and simplicity in everything we tasted is exactly what I look for when I’m eating Italian.

Solare
2820 Roosevelt Rd
San Diego, CA 92106
Tel: 619-270-9670

Solare on Urbanspoon

The most coveted invitation of the year

For the last three years, Orange County media, and a select few from other industries, wait with bated breath to see if they make it on to the guest list of one of the most coveted events of the year. The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon‘s Sunday Supper is held at owner Andrew Edwards’ farm — Edwards Ranch Estates — and I equate this annual event to finding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. I am so honored to have been invited all three years.

Besides the incredible menu, the chance to break bread with Andrew Edwards and his beautiful wife, Morgan is in itself an experience I look forward to. Mr Edwards is one of the most charming yet, down-to-earth gentleman you’ll ever meet, and everyone who has ever had an encounter with him, no matter big or small, will remember it — just ask my son and he’ll tell you!

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The experience begins right as we make our way from the parking area. Executive Chef Michael Rossi is grilling flatbread at the entrance and seems very excited to see us.

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Familiar faces from the restaurant greet us as we make our way under the tents to enjoy a cocktail before the festivities begin. I stick with refreshing cucumber water throughout the day in order to stay cool.

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Our first tray passed appetizer, Grilled Flatbread is topped with sweet peaches from the farm, goat cheese and speck. The combination of sweet and salty, crispy and soft is delightful on the palate.

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Of course, we cannot forget the famous Zucchini Squash Blossoms which have been on the menu since the beginning. These tempura-fried beauties are stuffed with Boursin cheese and sits on brightly hued basil pesto adding a hint of freshness to the crispy blossoms.

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After the hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, we embark on a tour of the grounds with Executive Chef Michael Rossi leading the way. I am always impressed by everything The Ranch Restaurant does, especially the little touches they always bring to each and every experience — the parasols offered to help shield us from the blaze of the scorching sun while we stroll around the property.

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The farm looks fantastic this year, everything is flourishing and appears so lush and abundant. We walk through the herb garden as well as the beds of squash before heading over to the “orchard”, where another surprise awaits us.

We are met with a bowl carrying little shots of tomato water, offered as a respite to the sweltering heat. The refreshing liquid is indeed a thirst quencher, and invigorates us for the second part of the tour.

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As we make our way into the other side of the farm, we see plump, luscious fruits hang off the vines. There are too many varietals of tomatoes to name, but we are mesmerized by the plentiful harvest at eye-level. Chef Rossi and Mr Edwards invite us to taste the tomatoes as we walk through the rows. I pick some orange and red cherry tomatoes to pop into my mouth. The incredible flavors are indescribable, nothing I have ever tasted from even those bought at a farmer’s market. They are so sweet one might think they have been pumped with sugar.

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After the tour, we take our seats at the table. Wines are poured and our first course of house-made Charcuterie arrive amidst ooos and ahhhs from the group. It is a sight for sore eyes.

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Chicken Liver Mousse, Chicken Galantine, Pastrami, Country Pate, Head Cheese, Vegetable Terrine, Sausages (Kielbasa, Louisiana Hot Links, Jalapeno-Cheddar) with pickled farm vegetables and grain mustard are all served with a bread selection from OC Baking Company. I regret later that I overindulged so quickly.

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The next dish to hit the table is Farm Beets & Kanpachi Crudo featuring the beautiful bounty from the farm. Valencia oranges, radishes, Fresno chiles and smoked avocado are artfully arranged with syrupy sweet red, golden and Chioggia beets which refresh and tickle the palate.

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The next dish is one which I hope will always be featured because it is so perfect for summer. Chilled Cucumber Soup, prepared with buttermilk, is light and welcoming on a sweltering day. Hot smoked Skuna Bay salmon is delicate, making for one of those “eyes-roll-to-the-back-of-the-head” moments with each spoonful I savor.

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No Sunday Supper is complete without a showcase of the gorgeous Heirloom Tomatoes from the farm. I encourage my table-mates to try each variety to fully grasp how diverse and distinct each one is. A handful of chopped basil, a sprinkling of sea salt, and a drizzle of Napa Valley olive oil is all it requires, nothing more.

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By now, I am already feeling the effects of the charcuterie. I am only able to take one bite of the Crab Stuffed Poblano Chile Relleno with the deliciously savory zucchini succotash and golden tomato. The almond romesco sauce is piquant and pairs nicely with the chile. It is phenomenal but I am unable to take another bite. Perhaps next year, might I suggest taking the walk around the farm right about now?

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Homemade Maine Lobster Campanelle is perfectly al dente hand-made pasta dotted with bits of lobster and English peas in a baby carrot sauce. It is a a little sweet for my salty palate, but my neighbors relish it with delight.

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Every year, quail is featured on the menu and this year, Chef Rossi serves Roasted Quail stuffed with black fig and fennel sausage. I hear murmurs of quail “turducken” as we chuckle at the indulgence, but we all agree, it is a definite skill stuffing a bird as small as a quail, roast it, and keep it as moist as this one is.

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Before our next dish is presented, a cart rolls out with a mammoth rack of the Cowboy Ribeye — the piece de resistance of our feast. Everyone jumps up and rushes to snap photos of this incredible showcase of the best of what The Ranch has to offer.

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As we watch the cowboy ribeye roll away, plates of Rosemary Roasted Colorado Lamb Shoulder appear before us. Stuffed with homemade merguez (North African-style sausage) and Swiss chard, it is at a perfect medium rare temperature, tender and flavorful. The accompanying corn succotash is delicious and I wish I had saved some room for another taste.

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A delicious bowl of Kale hits our table next and we all forget how stuffed we are. Tossed with Calabrian chile, preserved lemon, parmeggiano reggiano and pine nuts, these crispy leaves are alluring and hard to resist.

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Of course, the star of the show is the cowboy ribeye. I am only able to muster half a slice but manage to take small bites accompanied by the assortment of sauces including bearnaise, horseradish, chimichurri and Bordelaise. It is truly a treat!

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As our meal comes to a close, we are presented with Executive Pastry Chef David Rossi’s creations, including an array of Farm Inspired Macarons: strawberry basil, fig, chocolate mint, creamsicle; and other delicious offerings.

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From top left clockwise: Shoo-Fly Panna Cotta is my absolute favorite possessing a crunchiness from the streusel, rich dark chocolate balls and hints of molasses; Strawberry Shortcake is too pretty to eat and I sit there staring at it for a long time debating how best to dig in without destroying it visually. Compressed Melon sees finely diced watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe floating in a Valencia orange soup infused with lemongrass, mint and star anise. This soup was a palate cleanser at last year’s event, but works so well as a refreshingly end to our meal. Lemon Blueberry Verrine, is a cheesecake-like dessert with hints of citrus and garden thyme.

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We are all stuffed to the brim and possibly, have slipped into a coma somewhere between course eight or nine, when Mr Edwards had Aaron pour the gorgeous Napa Valley Reserve from his own private collection. As always, it is the ultimate treat to sip on an exclusive wine and listen to Mr Edwards tell us about this full-bodied red he is so passionate about.

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I don’t usually write about an experience my readers are not able to enjoy themselves, but I can assure you, when you visit The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon, you can be sure your experience will be one to remember. Although you won’t be getting a parasol, or a sip of the tomato water, or a seat at the farm table, the same attention-to-detail service is applied to every guest. One word of advice though, make a reservation please! You don’t want the disappointment of being turned away when there are no tables available to accommodate you.

The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon
1025 E Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92805
Tel: 714-817-4200

a trip south of the border (part 3)

The last installation of my trip to Rosarito includes a wrap-up of everything else we experienced on this whirlwind weekend. One of our stops was at Claudius Winery, in an obscure location you will never find if you don’t know where it is (click on the link and there are google map directions). There are no signs either, so I suggest you hire a local guide or a local to tag along.

The winery may be small but sufficient. The array of wines are rather impressive, once you see for yourself how compact of a space it is. Our hosts Julio Benito Martin and Ernesto Diaz, led us on a tour of the processing area, as well as the barrel room and walked us through the entire procedure. When the tour was over, we moved into the tasting room, where we were treated to all five wines (chardonnay, tempranillo, grenache, rosado de grenache and merlot). I enjoyed the grenache and merlot best.

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While sipping on the wines, we had the opportunity to sample some of the best Rosarito has to offer in terms of organic and local products. Fernanda Sanchez, owner of Baja Produce, was on hand to answer any questions we may have regarding all the delicious fare she had spread out for us. Included were cheeses, olives, fruit spreads, as well as the freshest and most flavorful tomatoes we’ve ever tasted.

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Baja Produce is definitely a breath of fresh air. We paid them a visit later and found a really cute shop connected to a small cafe. I picked up a bunch of goodies including some nut brittle, local olive oil and natural hand creams. It is a gem in the middle of a neighborhood which, I’m told, is going through gentrification.

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One of my favorites on this trip was stopping at Tacos el Yaqui for beef tacos. The sign says “best tacos in Baja” and they’re not far from the truth. Although it was the only taco I ate while on this trip, I’ll have to admit, it was ridiculously good. The tacos are simple filled with carne asada cooked on a small grill right outside the stand. The line is long but it moves quickly.

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On top of the grilled beef are beans, crema, guacamole and cilantro, so simple yet so packed with flavor.

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Grilled jalapenos and the sweetest radishes are provided as accompaniments. I wish I had more room to eat another. These are definitely worth stopping for.

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Our final food stop is at Picuditas just before heading to the border to return home. This is a mobile stand located at Food Garden in Tijuana owned by Raul Cardenas and it completely won us over. In fact, this past weekend, while on another Mexico trip, everyone wanted to stop at Picuditas but we ran out of time.

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The story behind Picuditas is that Raul wanted to create something to provide nutrients that were lacking in the contemporary Mexican diet. He came up with a bread which contained grains such as amaranth seed, corn, epazote, almond and a bunch of other organic ingredients. The result? A delicious “bread” was born.

However, Raul takes everything to a whole new level by stuffing these breads with the most delicious fillings including carne (meat), pollo (chicken), pulpo (octopus) and even a vegetarian option.

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But that’s not it. There are five sauces which Raul has created and you can add any of them to the mix. My favorites are the super spicy ones.

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The bread alone is delicious, but add to that the incredibly flavorful fillings and this becomes one of the best sandwiches you’ll ever eat. Definitely worth a stop when you get through the border, and again before you leave!

If you are looking for a guide, we have had Fernando with us on two trips while in Mexico. He is very knowledgeable about the history and the terrain of Mexico. Check out his Facebook page or his website (website is only in Spanish).

This concludes my trip to Rosarito. In a few weeks, you’ll read about wine tasting in Valle de Guadalupe!

 

 

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