San Diego’s DaoFu takes home-made to another level

I am always excited when I find a little mom and pop spot regardless of where I am. On a recent trip to San Diego, a friend, who had been to DaoFu previously, brought me here because he thought I would love the food.  He wasn’t wrong. The sign alone intrigued and piqued my curiosity: “Home-made tofu and soy milk.”

The restaurant is small and the cozy nature of it really appealed, not to mention the smiling face of the lady who seated us. I found out later that Maggie is the owner/chef’s wife.

Naturally, on a first visit, I always order way too much food because I want to try everything, but before we even ordered, a complimentary salad arrives with some home made tofu alongside. The beet and raspberry salad dressing — also made in-house — was delightfully tart with a hint of sweetness. The tofu was absolutely incredible. Not only was it texturally pleasing, but it possessed the robust flavors of soy beans that I know and love.

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This is why we wanted to encompass more tofu into our meal. The Lily Flower with Asparagus and Oyster Mushrooms ($12.98) was selected because I love lily flower. It was just a bonus that a wedge of fried tofu was present on the plate. All plates arrive with your choice of white, brown or half/half rice. We opted for brown throughout.

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When asked what spice level you want, don’t go crazy like I did. I told Maggie 10. She put me in my place when she told me 5 was sufficient. We negotiated a 5 for the first dish and later, I went up one level to 6. Seeing I am able to eat habanero-level heat, and a 6 was hot enough, I would like to warn others before they try to order on the Orange County heat level I am accustomed to. Trust Maggie when she tells you it’s hot enough!

We started with some Chicken Salad Rolls ($8.28), a take on the Vietnamese rice paper rolls stuffed with lettuce, mints, cilantro, bean sprouts and rice noodles. They are cut in half and sits on a plate of house sauce similar to the dressing on the salad, but just a hint sweeter.

chicken rolls

Both my friend and I love chicken wings so an order of Garlic Chicken Wings ($8.36) was on the agenda, but first, I had Maggie confirm it wasn’t a sweet sauce the wings were doused in. She assured me it wasn’t. These fried chicken wings are coated with a savory garlic sauce which are perfect on their own, or accompanied with a bowl of steamed rice. So good!

chicken wings

Maggie recommended the next dish, Stuffed Tofu, Eggplant and Peppers ($12.11), what we refer to as ‘yong dao fu’. The tofu, eggplant and peppers are stuffed with fish paste and lightly pan fried before they are topped with a piquant spicy sauce. Typically, fish paste tends to be hard and with a fish ball-like texture. Here, it is soft and complements the vegetables perfectly, especially the tofu.
stuffed vegs
Wild Steamed Red Snapper Rice Pot ($13.88) was positively our favorite. Brown rice is topped with steamed snapper fillets with a sauce seasoned with ginger, garlic, wine, scallion and cilantro. The delicate fish is not inundated with sauce so you’re able to taste it on its own, or, with the sauce-seasoned rice. The shiitake mushroom slices enhanced the flavors providing us with various tastes with each mouthful. We couldn’t stop eating this!
fish rice pot
When we were done, Maggie brought complimentary ice cream (all guests receive this) to us and continued chatting to me in Cantonese. This is when I found out that her husband Eric started making tofu with no experience whatsoever, perfecting it through the years. She is delighted that her customers love their food and especially, the tofu. She explained that the tofu is organic and Eric insists on creating everything from scratch right down to making the noodles they serve. I was bummed I didn’t know about this sooner, but will definitely return and order noodles on my next visit.
There are a ton of vegetarian dishes available which appeal to non-vegetarians as well so there is something for everyone. I wish we had something similar in Orange County, but the closest thing we have is Dao Son, a shop selling home-made tofu in Westminster. There is no Chinese chef in OC making his own tofu and noodles that I know of. Do you?

DaoFu
3332 Adams Avenue
San Diego, CA 92116
Tel: 619-281-6888

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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

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OB Noodle House San Diego

I’ve been wanting those chicken wings after watching an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (Triple D), where Guy Fieri visits OB Noodle House in Ocean Beach, a seaside neighborhood of San Diego! On a recent visit, we make it a point to stop by the original location off Cable Street for lunch (there is a second location off Niagara on the cusp of Ocean Beach and Point Loma). As we drive past it, our hearts sink when we see the hordes of people outside.

Circling around the neighborhood several times, we find a spot less than a block away and check in with the hostess who informs us of the 20 minute wait, but lucky for us, it only turns out to be 10.

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There is inside and sidewalk seating — we are led to what I would call the best seat in the house, a corner table affording us a view of the entire restaurant. It is busy, very loud with music blaring, the upbeat vibe reminds me of eateries I’ve come across many times while living in Hawaii.

We settle on some sour beers (on the day of our visit beers were half off — score!) which is absolutely refreshing on a warm day and perfect with the appetizers we select.

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Grilled Lemongrass Chicken Satay ($6.95) is surprisingly tasty. I am not sure when it arrives as the reddish hue is “radioactive”-like reminiscent of Chinese cha siu. The chicken is bursting with lemongrass aromas and well-seasoned. A ramekin of hoisin sauce accompanies but I enjoyed them without it.

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But what I am here for are the Spicy Garlic Wings ($11.95) and they do not disappoint. Ironically, the twelve succulent wings (and these are the real wings, not drummettes) are also strangely red in color, but crispy on the outside and oh so moist on the inside. Be careful when you eat them because they are scorching hot on the inside — retaining its heat even to the last wing. I can probably devour the entire plate but it is rude not to share.

chicken wings

Sizzling Fish ($11.95) is tasty and comes with a bowl of steamed white rice. The basa fillet is topped with caramelized ginger and garlic, with chopped fresh cilantro and green onions. I often cook basa at home but have never thought to use caramelized ginger before! I will be doing that from now on. The crispy bits of garlic and ginger definitely elevates the flavor to another level.

sizzling fish

We see a guy eating a plate of House Special Fried Rice ($12.95) at the next table which entices us to order it. It is a hefty portion,with a generous amount of gai lan (Chinese broccoli), shrimp, beef, eggs, Chinese sausage and sate sauce, but I can’t figure out why the fried rice is so sweet. The Chinese sausage usually possesses some sweetness, but I can’t imagine sate sauce to be. I bring it home and doctor it up with other ingredients and condiments — much better!

house fried rice

Unfortunately, Stir Fried Crispy Egg Noodles With Chicken Assorted Vegetables ($8.95) is highly disappointing. The crispy noodles remind me of the bits of crispy noodles you get in the Midwest when you order chow mein, except these are long and resemble regular noodles. They taste a little stale and the overall dish is bland and flavorless. I pick out the cabbage and broccoli and we leave the rest.

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My final conclusion? There is definitely some hype surrounding this place, not all of it warranted. I see a lot of people eating pho, but I’m not sure this is what I want when lil Saigon is so close by. The chicken wings are definitely worth returning for — if there is no wait for a table — but then again, if I am craving them, I can just order to go and pick them up, right?

OB Noodle House
2218 Cable Street
San Diego, CA 92107
Tel: 619-450-6868

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feeling let down by Burlap

I’ve had Burlap on my radar for quite some time now and finally was able to make a trip down to Del Mar with Austin and some friends a few weeks ago. When we got there, I was quite underwhelmed by the lackluster exterior of the place, but when we entered, it was a whole ‘nother story.

There is definitely an Asian theme throughout the restaurant with ornate lion’s heads dangling from the ceiling above the bar and a koi pond on the back patio. There are nooks and crannies all over with a private dining room hidden behind the lounge area and a separate outside lounge on the far end of the restaurant.

It was a beautiful day, albeit a windy one, and it seemed everyone was seated outside on the patio. I soon found out that not only was the decor very Asian-centric, but so was the menu.

We started with a cocktail — The Dragon ($12) — of tequila, prosecco and a Szechuan gastrique. I was intrigued by the ingredients, but unfortunately, even the chili pepper garnish wasn’t enough to add any bit of kick to the drink. The prosecco tasted a little flat and just didn’t give it the fiery punch I had expected from its flamboyant moniker.

Cobb Salad Spring Rolls ($12) was interesting, essentially a salad rolled inside Vietnamese rice paper with bacon, nori, chicken, noodle strips served with a red curry ranch. It wasn’t presented with finesse as the messy plate was quite unpleasant, but thy definitely tasted a lot better than they looked.

I really enjoyed the Squid ($10), strips of squid fried and tossed with a sweet chili sauce. It was served with a cilantro creme fraiche dipping sauce, but it was great on its own, no sauce needed.

The Brie ($13) was fried tempura style but was reminiscent of a baked brie appetizer. Nothing special, but tasty nonetheless.

I was really intrigued by Korean Fried Chicken ($13) because I love fried chicken, and especially the Korean-style fried chicken. Unfortunately, this wasn’t Korean style, nor was it good fried chicken for that matter. The coating was weak and fell off the chicken upon touch. The chicken itself was flavorless. The potato salad side dish was tossed in kewpie (Japanese mayo) yogurt but the potatoes didn’t taste like it had been boiled in salted water because the potatoes were bland. Very disappointing.

Fish N Chips ($17) was not any better. The fish was devoid of taste and was very wet on the inside which led me to believe it was previously frozen. The ginger tartare sauce had barely any ginger, but luckily, the triple cooked kennebec french fries were really good! This certainly was not worth $17.

We were so disappointed right now with our meal but decided to get a dessert to share because we had left most of the food untouched and frankly, we weren’t full. Thank god, Coconut Lemongrass Tapioca ($8) was THE BEST thing of our meal. Topped with mango and served with kiwi granita and passionfruit coconut sorbet, this dessert was absolutely DELICIOUS and yes, coming from me, that’s saying a lot!

It is always very tricky when it comes to fusion cuisine. When executed correctly, it can produce the sublime nuances of the best of both worlds. When poorly thought out, it can be pretty disastrous. I’m not saying this was a disaster by any means, but, it didn’t reflect a good understand of utilizing the fusion definition to its full potential. By labeling fried chicken as “Korean”, I expect some aspect of Korean fried chicken on my plate. Sadly, it was neither here nor there. I felt deceived by what was presented on the menu, to what arrived on my plate.

All in all a very underwhelming meal. We had expected a lot more from Burlap and were hugely disappointed by our experience. Definitely not feeling like giving them a return visit any time soon.

Burlap
12995 El Camino Real
Del Mar, CA 92130
Tel: 858-369-5700

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enamored with dinners at Anepalco’s Cafe

I’m always shocked when people tell me they’ve never heard of Anepalco’s Cafe, or that they’ve never been there. SERIOUSLY? The BEST chilaquiles in Orange County and beyond and you’ve never been? Sacrilege!!!

I’ve been a fan ever since my first visit to the original Anepalco’s, tucked away in a teenie strip mall next to CHOC Hospital in Orange, years ago and have been going back ever since.

A second location opened this May at a bigger space and the best news of all, with a completely new dinner menu. Chef and owner Danny Godinez has brought his Mexican heritage, together with his French training (his resume includes Montage, Ritz-Carlton and more) to create one of the most eclectic menus around.

Chef Danny’s dinner menu is ever evolving, but customer favorites always remain. Since May, the dinner menu has already been adapted a few times to include stellar dishes which will never come off the menu, or at least, I hope they won’t, and new inspirations his creative mind is constantly flooded with.

One of those is Shrimp Cassoulet ($8.50), large plump shrimp immersed in a mind-blowingly dreamy, rich, creamy chipotle sauce you won’t be able to stop eating. Served with toasted sliced bread, I suggest you ask for more even before they bring it to the table because you will need it. My son can eat this all on his own and he won’t want to share. I wish they will serve it with a side of rice so I can just douse it with the remaining sauce.

Ranchera Flatbread ($8.50) with top sirloin beef cap, roasted tomatillo sauce, Oaxaca cheese and spring onion is the perfect item to share while you sip on one of the many beers on tap. Or, a glass of wine personally sourced by Chef Danny from Mexico.

Continue with Ahi Tuna Tartare ($9) consisting of ahi tuna, avocado, red onion, chiles Mexicanos, lime juice, pepitas oil and egg yolk, which your server will mix together once they bring it to the table. Pumpkin seeds and tortilla chips are added for a textural crunch and it is one of those things my son can’t stop eating. It is just delicious.

The menu offers many entrees to choose from so I’ll focus on my favorites. Cielo, Mer Y Terre ($19) is a combination of scallops, shrimp, Spanish chorizo and Jidori chicken in a dry chile veloute sauce served over risotto style rice with ham. It is addicting and I always wish I had remembered to tell them I want extra sauce when I order.

Chef Danny grew up in Acapulco where his mother owned a restaurant. Acapulco is known for its seafood so it is no surprise that the seafood dishes shine here. Serrano Beurre BlancTilapia ($16.50) is another outstanding item. Sauteed tilapia, potato puree, corn, pico de gallo, serrano beurre blanc topped with micro cilantro is one of those dishes every fish lover will adore. Tilapia is tender and the decadent sauce — Danny is famous for his French-style sauces with a Mexican flair — is always the star of the plate.

I absolutely love Callo De Hacha ($18), scallops and grilled chorizo on a bed of ancho polenta in a chipotle sauce. Large, succulent scallops are perfectly executed and paired with salty chorizo for an insanely delicious mouthful. It is so hard to choose between this, the tilapia and the Cielo, Mer Y Terre when I am here, but this is also one of those rare places where my son will eat seafood so I am able to order all of them if I choose.

Meat lovers should check out Costillas Al Vino Rojo ($18.50), short rib slow-cooked for 8 hours and served with potato puree. A little mirepoix is added for crunch and a rich and hearty red wine chile de arbol reduction for severe wow-factor. It is comfort food at its best.

For those wanting something casual, Ratatouille Burger ($12) is quite delicious. You can choose from an all natural beef pattie or an all natural chicken breast. The burger is served on a brioche bun with zucchini, Mexican squash, red pepper, eggplant, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, serrano aioli and Swiss cheese.

The eclectic menu also includes a Huitlacoche Burger ($13) topped with Oaxaca cheese, white cabbage, iceberg, roasted tomatoes and huitlacoche aioli. If you don’t know what huitlacoche is, it is corn smut, and is used predominantly in Mexican cuisine. It probably sounds scarier than it is because chances are, you won’t even be able to tell the difference.

If you want to try a Mexican offering, the Mexican Enchilada Trio ($12) is fantastic. You can choose chicken or pork — I suggest the pork because the cochinita pibil is very flavorful — and is topped with the incredible red sauce, the restaurant’s signature sauce served on their famous chilaquiles.

No matter what you choose, you will find there is nothing average about this place. The food is first class and you won’t be paying an arm and a leg for it!

For the giveaway this week, one of my readers will have the opportunity to win a 5-course tasting menu for two especially prepared by Chef Danny. Include your FULL name and why you deserve to win this fabulous offer. Entries will close on Sunday.

Anepalco’s Cafe
at Ayres Inn
3737 W. Chapman Avenue
Orange, CA 92868
Tel: 714-456-9642

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a marriage of Chinese & Indian at Tangy Tomato

About 13 years ago, I was visiting some friends in Toronto and they took me to this Chinese-Indian restaurant and I fell in love with the cuisine, but since then, I’ve not had this food, so when my friend informed me that there was a Chindian restaurant in Artesia, I was psyched to visit.

While Tangy Tomato is not predominantly Chindian cuisine — in fact, there are more Indian offerings than “Chinese Indian” on the menu, but both are offered via a buffet at lunch time as well as a la carte.  — start with a Lassi ($2.50-$4), and there are three, or Mango Tango ($4) to sip on while perusing the menu.my friends and I opted to go a la carte instead of buffet.

We started with some appetizers. Punjabi Somosa ($4.50) are stuffed with potato and peas and should be shared. They are filling, but pretty good with the mint sauce in the condiment container they will bring to the table. The mint sauce here is different to the others. It is not bright green and doesn’t have yogurt mixed in. It is refreshing and light and so easy to eat.

I am new to Bombay Frankie ($7) and found them rather interesting. Traditionally, they are more like wraps, but here, they look like egg rolls and are filled with paneer (cheese) and vegetables. This is a vegetarian item and surprisingly good — I’m not usually a fan of paneer. A dipping sauce of chilis infused in vinegar is served alongside and adds a zing by cutting the heaviness of the fried item. In fact, the sauce is also good with the samosas.

One of my favorite items was the Murg Malai Kebab ($13), chunks of white meat, grilled and topped with this delicious sauce. I can’t tell you what’s in the sauce, but my son ate the leftovers and demanded more so I know it’s REALLY good.

I’m a huge fan of okra and so Bhindi Aloo Mirch Masala ($10) was right up my alley. I would’ve liked no potatoes (not a fan of them) and all okra, but the name of the dish is bhindi (okra) aloo (potatoes) and not just bhindi — *sigh* — I can eat this all day. The okra was slightly shriveled so all the flavors were sucked into them, simply divine.

If you’re a fan of chili fries, try the Szechuan Fries served on a sizzling platter. I can’t remember what they are called on the menu, Chili Garlic Potatoes ($11), I think, but these are tossed in a slightly spicy Sichuan sauce. I brought the leftovers home and my son devoured them.

Next came Spicy Gobi Manchurian ($11) which is a Chindian dish of fried cauliflower tossed in a sweet sauce — I didn’t detect much heat. I don’t like sweetness in my savory food so this obviously wasn’t my favorite, but everyone else liked it a lot.

Besides okra, eggplant is another item I can eat all day long. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that I ordered Hot Garlic Eggplant ($11), which is pretty much similar to the ones you get at Chinese restaurants. I liked this a lot.

Chicken Tikka Masala ($14), or butter chicken is good here — not one of my favorite items — chicken is tender and flavor spot on. It seems like this is a dish loved by all, but me. There are tons of other dishes I’d much rather eat, such as the next one.

Housboat Fish Curry ($14) is essentially Goan Fish Curry and I absolutely adore this dish when done right. I had it at Tamarind not long ago and frankly, it was tasteless. When I put the first spoonful of this curry into my mouth, I knew I had found the right one.

The aromas of curry leaves permeated throughout the sauce and the fish was moist and tender. This is not a spicy curry, in fact, there isn’t any heat to it at all, but the layers of flavors creates a complexity which is essential to a good Goan Fish Curry. Just writing this up right now is making me salivate and wanting some over piping hot basmati rice.

Besides rice, you can opt for Laccha Parantha ($2.50), a flaky bread or, the quintessential Garlic Naan ($2.50) to accompany your meal with.

Those of you who have never tried Chindian food, Tangy Tomato has generously donated a $25 gift certificate for you to go try it. Leave me a comment as to why you would like to try Chindian food with your FULL name by Sunday May 6th for a chance to win. Winner will be announced on Monday, May 7th.

Tangy Tomato
18728 Pioneer Blvd
Artesia, CA 90701
Tel: 562-924-2719

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