Monday, March 20, 2017

Brunch at Encontro

With spring rapidly approaching (have you taken a walk through any of the parks lately? Flowerpolluza!), brunch season is also upon us. I took in the lovely brunch at Barleymash downtown, and this week, I checked out the amazing brunch at Encontro, North Park's spot for the best food and a variety of craft beer. 

I've enjoyed a meal there in the past, and looked forward to what they had to offer for brunch. The brunch menu is loaded with delicious-sounding items -- it was pretty hard to select only a few things to try. Chef Jason Hotchkiss has designed a menu of classics with new twists and a few San Diego favorites with a distinct leaning towards famous San Diego-style Mexican food. Think homemade chorizo, black beans, and salsa on eggs. Hungry yet?

They also have a doggie menu. Yes, like many San Diego businesses, Encontro is puppy-friendly, even serving up free (!) puppacinos to our four-legged friends. 

We started out with some French press coffee, a huge plus from the traditional brewed coffee served by most establishments, and orange juice. After debating over the menu some more, we decided to keep things mostly breakfast-based, and ordered the French toast with a scoop of ice cream, the Cali breakfast burrito, the chilaquiles, biscuits and chorizo gravy, and the celebrated portobello mushroom fries. 

We have to talk about the amazing French toast. Covered with powdered sugar, cinnamon, and blueberry syrup, it had loads of fresh berries. If you go and consider passing on the ice cream, I urge you to do different. Get the ice cream! It's Hammond's vanilla bean, and is just stupendous with the sweet, spicy, warm French toast. It was all quite sweet, but just what is needed sometimes for an indulgence. With the hot, slightly bitter flavor of French press coffee, all was right with the world when I ate this meal.

The Cali burrito is one of Steve's favorite things, and having it for breakfast is even better! This San Diego staple was made with three scrambled eggs, tater - tots, house carne asada, avocado, pico, and cheese, it's a real complete meal. The spicy Sriracha aioli sauce really made this sandwich incredible. So spicy and tied together all of the flavors. And like most San Diego burritos, it was huge.

The chilaquiles were very good, and made in an interesting way, with eggs over easy rather than scrambled, a smoky chipotle sauce,  avocado, and shredded chicken. The combination of eggs and meat really made this a meal that was satisfying and a good cross between breakfast and lunch. Another San Diego staple, the chilaquiles were on point. 

I love sweet things, but being from Appalachia, I just can't resist biscuits and gravy when they're on the menu. I knew that the chorizo sausage would add a different flavor than the sage-y sausage usually used. Wow, such a good use of modification of ingredients! The gravy was so spicy, yet still retained the creamy loveliness that makes biscuits and gravy such a classic, hearty breakfast. The biscuits were light, yet crisp enough to stand up to the gravy without becoming mushy. 

The portobello mushroom fries are always a hit: slightly crispy, with a surprisingly deep flavor, they are a unique side for a taste of something different. Served with basil aioli for dipping, and topped with shaved parmesan, they are a great item for munching and sharing. 

With a final sip of some of the house-made kombucha and cold-brew coffee, we were rolling out the door. So much good food -- and in such a pretty place! I want to borrow a friend's dog just to go there and hang out! 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Voltaire Beach House Opens in Ocean Beach

Last Monday, newly opened Voltaire Beach House held their media event to introduce the Ocean Beach restaurant to San Diego at large.  Ocean Beach is a community that is definitely wealthy in its share of good places for food and drink. However, the Voltaire Beach House, located on where else, Voltaire Street, has a vibe all its own.

 The atmosphere is an open-air floor plan, with two distinct patios, and an indoor barroom. It's a good cross between a sports bar and a beach club, with views of the bar (and television sets) from the decks, but the open breezes of a beach bar.

 The drink of the night was the Lavender Collins, a drink so good that it has converted me to a gin lover.  It's a mixture of the traditional things that make a Tom Collins great, but with a sweet, homemade lavender syrup to make things interesting. So refreshing, and sure to be the big drink of the summer.
 Keeping with the beach/sports bar theme, the menu is composed of dishes that are perfect for sharing and munching. Pictured here are the chicken flatbread, the buffalo, satay, and garlic parmesan wings, and the shortrib flatbreads from the appetizer menu.
 The chicken flatbread was quite good, and perfect for sharing with a large group.

The wings were all amazingly flavored and had wonderful texture. My favorite was the satay (I love satay sauce), but the garlic parmesan are perfect for those that do not like spicy foods.
 The shortrib flatbread was a huge hit, with shortribs, fried onions, and a maple glaze. It hits every ping on the taste register.

 For something more filling, the bowls are highly recommended. A real winner in flavor, these bowls pair perfectly with the drinks and are satisfying with loads of good ingredients. The TJ Bound & Out, with chicken, spinach, corn, salsa, guacamole, lime crema, radishes, and tortilla strips evokes the classic Tijuana street tacos in a new package. It's not nearly as messy and just as delicious!
 Paradise Chicken + Rice is an Asian take on the bowl, with teriyaki chicken, ginger-coconut rice, and stir-fry vegetables. I'm a huge fan of anything teriyaki, so this was my favorite of the bowls.
 The Stacked bowl was one for the books! Bulgogi steak, ginger-coconut rice, kimchi, and a runny, sunny side up egg! I love anything topped with a runny egg, and I have a feeling that many others will enjoy this bowl as well!
Save room for dessert, because you will want these desserts! The cast-iron skillet s'mores were so good! Ooey gooey, just so sweet and decadent. I seriously wanted to lick the pans!

The other choice for dessert is the cinnamon roll bread pudding. Is there  a way to make a cinnamon roll better? I thought not, but apparently, Voltaire Beach House has accepted that challenge, and created a sweet, yummy bread pudding with homemade cinnamon rolls! So evil in the best way.

Check out this awesome new place in Ocean Beach! 

Monday, March 13, 2017

We're All Irish on St. Paddy's!

I'm approximately half Irish, according to my mother (the other parts are Welsh and Swedish, I think?), and I've still never been to Ireland, but I always like to do something festive for St. Patrick's Day. It's on a Friday this year, so you can bet that San Diego will be in full swing for this traditional food and drink holiday! If you are looking for celebrations filled with traditional dishes and music of the old country… then you’re in luck! Check out these St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on March 17th that will have you wearing lots of green, not spending it.

Going downtown for the holiday celebrations? You’ll want to head to The “Mc” Waterfront  where San Diego’s oldest bar will be bringing back some of the oldest Irish traditions! They’ll be serving Corned Beef & Cabbage dishes all day long, getting into the festive spirit. Not to mention, all natural red heads will get 50% off their bill at all of The Waterfront family of brands locations (including The Hills, Eastbound, Werewolf, Harbortown, Club Marina and Banzai) to celebrate the heritage behind the holiday!

Heading towards East county on March 17thThe Hills  and Eastbound Bar & Grill  will be having St. Paddy’s parties with a pot full of drink and food specials at golden prices. Starting at 11 a.m., both locations will be serving Corned Beef & Cabbage specials for $12.95, until they run out. Drink specials and music are at the end of this rainbow with both locations serving $3 green Budweiser and Guinness specials. To get into the Irish dancing spirit, Eastbound will also have a live acoustic set from 3 - 6 p.m. and both locations will have DJs playing your favorite hits (with a touch of the Irish) from 9 p.m.- close. 

It's time to get SHAM-ROCKED on March 17thHard Rock Cafe will be hosting their St. Patrick’s Day rock celebration with live acoustic music from 4:30- 6:30 p.m. with Lucky Brent. Then join them for their St. Paddy's backstage after party with DJ John Joseph, from 8:30 - 11 p.m, that includes a mid-performance toast to the holiday. Party-goers can also enjoy discounts that will save them some green with Happy Hour prices going from 3 - 6 p.m. and 9 - 11 p.m. (including green beers!).

No St. Patrick’s Day is complete without a little bit of whiskey! Thankfully, Whiskey Girl has a huge selection of Irish sips to keep the festivities going all night long. Try their Bushmills that has been aged for 9 and 10 years. Or their Middleton Rare, Feeling Small Batch, Tullamore Dew and Jameson that have an Irish kick as well. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Paddleboarding with Cloud 9 Living

It's Spring Break season here in San Diego! The weather has warmed up considerably, and the bright blue skies are here to stay for awhile. What does this mean? Time to start planning vacations and all of those fun experiences that you always want to have for a memorable time. 

Cloud 9 Living is an experience company that matches people with the vacation of their dreams. What's on the menu? Excellent adventures such as city tours, dinner cruises, race car driving, and my favorite, paddleboarding. 

 The service is seamless; simply go to the Cloud 9 Living website  and choose your city and experience. Purchase your desired adventure, and Cloud 9 Living handles all of the details. It simply can't be easier! 

What's a better gift than a happy memory? I personally think that the best gifts are experiences rather than just stuff that collects dust. For the next birthday or holiday, consider a flying lesson for that person who has always wanted to be a pilot. Or book some time in a Lamborghini with a driving experience.  

We opted for the paddleboarding option for our experience, and I highly recommend it. For a flat price, you get a paddleboarding lesson with a certified instructor, use of the equipment, and the experience of a lifetime. Cloud 9 Living booked it for us through local company Menehune Surf, which is a great way to support local small businesses. They do all of the legwork and make sure that they use a reputable company with a safety first attitude. 

Our teacher was extremely capable and patient, showing us all of the necessary pieces to paddleboarding before we were in the Pacific! 

We were provided with all of the necessary equipment -- wetsuits, boards, paddles, and a pep talk! 

Paddling into the ocean, I felt very nervous, but I also felt confident that I was in good hands.  Again, the vetting of the service by Cloud 9 Living made me feel confident that the teacher was certified and comfortable with inexperienced 'boarders. 
In fact, we felt confident enough to joke once we got past the waves and into the relative calm to laugh!

I'm sure that the surfers (who were further inland than we were!) rolled their eyes at our hang ten!

Before long, we were standing and paddling (and immediately falling off of the boards!).
I would recommend paddleboarding. I wasn't sure how much I would like it, as I'm not exactly athletic, but it's really once of the most peaceful experiences to be alone in the ocean and see all of the amazing views and feel the calm. 

Honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life. It was tiring and a bit terrifying,  but something that I would absolutely do again. 

Check out Cloud 9 Living for great fun on your vacation, or just a fun outing on a weekend if you're local! 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Brunch at barleymash

Spring is in the air, which means brunch season is here! There's truly nothing better than an ease into a weekend day with a heaping plate of comforting breakfast/lunch fare served with hot coffee and (optional) cocktails. Sitting on a deck in beautiful sunny weather with great food is darn near perfection in my book, and the Gaslamp District of San Diego is one of the best spots to be in our fair hamlet. 

I checked out barleymash when they opened a few years ago, and was invariably impressed with the food and vibe. The energy of the place at peak hours is undeniable, with pumping loud music, TVs on full blast, bartenders spinning drinks, and raucous, happy laughter and conversation from the patrons. It's simply the place to be. 

Brunch is served on weekends 10-2, getting down to business with all of those East Coast games that start early, but late enough to roll in after a late night before. I mean, what better way to catch up on the previous night's events than over a plate of comfort food -- and as always, barleymash delivers big on flavor, presentation, and portion size. 

The centerpiece to their brunch menu is the Barleyhash plates. The hash is a sort of breakfast version of the popular Iron Fries served at dinner. Mounds of chopped potatoes lightly fried until tender, then topped with various ingredients (think short ribs, bacon, cheese) and finished off with two fried eggs. The All-In is the most decadent, with three meats -- pork belly confit, stout-braised short ribs,  and honey-porter pulled pork -- then doused in pepper jack beer-cheese sauce, with two proud eggs on top, just to keep your blood pumping. This hearty dish is great for reviving the spirits after a late night, and after merely sharing this dish, I was full until dinnertime! 

I like a bit of sweet with brunch, even though I tend to prefer a savory breakfast. But this is brunch, so a little treat is expected! Hard Cider Bread Pudding French Toast? Now that's a mouthful of a title that's a delicious mouthful, literally! There are so many tempting things on the brunch menu, which I plan to try out next time, but a new twist on such a classic as French toast is always a contender! The toast itself is treat enough -- delicious sweet bread with cinnamon and fresh cooked apple pieces. However, add in the sweet agave cream cheese, and it was staggering. 

I said that cocktails were an optional brunch item, right? At barleymash, the optional is just out of politeness. With a build-your-own Bloody Mary and mimosa bars, the cocktail options are impossible to resist. Piles of bacon and other cured meats, vegetables, hot sauce, lemons, anything that you want is available to make the Bloody Mary of your dreams! Mimosas are a brunch tradition, and although not as intense as a Bloody Mary, the mimosa bar offers fruits and various juices to customize your sparkler. If you're not into building your own drink, the Java the Hutt is a great choice for those who like a little boozy coffee. It's cold brew coffee, Ballast Point Fugu Horchata Vodka, white chocolate, cream, and sugar. Kind of a little hair of the dog, eh? Some coffee and vodka will always set your straight, and who doesn't think that horchata vodka is the best idea ever? 

 Warmer weather is coming on here, and what better time to kick back and relax with a heaping plate of goodness and a glass of something delicious than downtown San Diego? Check out the brunch at Barleymash, weekends, 10-2.

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