Friday, December 2, 2016

The 21st Amendment

December 5th, Repeal Day, honors the rich traditions of imbibing and the legitimacy of our beloved bartenders. There is no better way to celebrate than at San Diego’s oldest taverns or with era-themed parties and classic drinks that give a nod to the last 83 years of drinking legally. So gather some friends and observe our constitutional rights at these local San Diego watering holes!

San Diego’s oldest tavern, The Waterfront Bar & Grill, will be celebrating its 83rd birthday with an anniversary party commemorating the year that it not only opened, but the 21st amendment was passed.  They’re all about having some fun while giving back! This classic bar will be accepting $10 donations at the door for the Marine Christmas Fund, set up to help military families. They’ll also serving historical prices with $1 sliders and Coors Light all day. Last year they even raised over $25,000 for the cause.  Looking for another establishment that’s rich with history to visit on December 5th? Club Marina is Point Loma's oldest and most famous dive bar!

The Hills Pub will be throwing a 1930s themed Prohibition party that benefits nonprofit, Shelter to Soldier on December 3rd. Patrons will want to get those flapping shoes ready because The Hills will be transformed into a speakeasy with classic cocktails, a private bartender, casino games and live music from Jason Whitmore on the saxophone mixing it up with DJ Skwiz! Tickets will include chips towards the casino games (that can be used towards raffle prizes like a 50 inch TV), one craft cocktail and a SWAG bag to take home. Each ticket is $30 and can be purchased by emailing peter@thehillspub.com.

 West Coast Tavern is a laid back urban tavern celebrating old-world luxuries in one of North Park’s most historic buildings. The building itself takes North Park back to a time of bootleggers and bejeweled dresses, with its leather booths, chandeliers and iconic West Coast lighted sign. On December 5th, patrons can even sip down a cocktail named after the Prohibition Era itself, 1928!, made with Nolet’s gin, lime, simple syrup and basil.

 Downtown’s Florent Restaurant & Lounge is known for its historical ambiance as the space itself reflects a playful interior that lends itself to the rich history of the Old City Hall building. With unexpected touches of organic and demure glamor, this split-level venue creates a sultry atmosphere to enjoy their twists on classic cocktails on Prohibition Day. For example, their Tequila Old Fashioned made with Casamigos Reposado Tequila, agave, cherry and orange bitters.

Located in the historic Gaslamp district, Whiskey Girl treats its valued whiskey with the same importance as those in the days of the 18th amendment. That’s why they have established a whiskey locker to keep those bottles of liquid gold safe for their connoisseurs. In honor of Repeal Day, patrons will want to check out this locker or buy a bottle to keep in this wooden safe haven to enjoy the next time they are at Whiskey Girl. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Halcyon

A couple of months ago, I reviewed a great restaurant downtown, Stella Public House. Stella shares a space with a more relaxed, hip place, Halcyon. Halcyon is a much more relaxed setting than Stella, with couches and high top tables in place of the more family-friendly four-seaters of their neighbor. The atmosphere is hip and sexy, with low lights and a full, curving bar serving up hot drinks and cocktails. 






There's a deck with firepit, which will be delicious in the chilly upcoming weather in San Diego, but also wonderful on those breezy summer nights for which we are famous. I can think of nothing that I'd rather do on an evening than sit on this lovely deck with a mug of hot comfort.

Besides wonderful coffee drinks and cocktails, Halcyon has a full menu of tasty food items for munching or bigger items for a full meal. We were hungry when we visited on a cold, rainy evening, so we took full advantage of both menus! Since we didn't want to be up all night, we ordered two of their gourmet hot chocolates to warm our bones. 










French hot chocolate was heavenly, rich, creamy, and not too sweet bliss. The peanut butter cup was just decadent, like a liquid Reese's peanut butter cup, but with high-quality ingredients. The hot chocolates are served in huge cups, so it's a great item to share after a romantic date or to console yourself after a bad date. 













The special of the night was a margarita pizza, and I love a good wood-fired pizza. We also ordered the East Village signature sandwich -- a grilled chicken sandwich served on a ciabatta roll with bacon, avocado, and tomatoes with roasted chipotle aioli and pepper jack cheese. The sandwich comes with a salad or chips, but I think a salad with homemade dressing is always in order when the choice is presented. 





The pizza was magnificent. Thin crust with the perfect char from the wood oven, and topped with fresh mozzarella, simple red sauce, and fresh basil. I think that margarita pizza is perfection in its simplicity. 

The chicken sandwich was one of the best that I've ever eaten. Thick slices of applewood bacon and fresh avocado really made the sandwich sing. I'm not normally a fan of aioli, but it was perfect and spicy on this sandwich. The bread was soft with a nice hard crust to give it bite. 





Of course we had dessert. You pretty much expect that from me at this point, right? This dessert was something that I don't have often enough, Italian chocolate mousse. The signature dessert, The Great Budino, is much thicker and fudgier than its French counterpart, with a dense texture and feel. Served in a tall latte glass topped with whipped cream, caramel, and a sliced strawberry, I was completely charmed by this dessert. 


Both Stella Public House and Halcyon are great places, with distinctive personalities. You can order off of either menu if desired, but they are definitely separate establishments with distinct atmospheres and philosophies. I love both places, and will definitely return! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

La Piñata

Old Town San Diego is a destination for many tourists hungry for some famous San Diego Mexicali grub. It's literally an entire strand of restaurants offering Northern Mexican favorites, with freshly made tortillas and margaritas. I love visiting on a nice day and wandering through the park, taking in the music and sights, and enjoying the seasonal decorations that often color the scenery. 




There are so many great places to eat here, but I've never tried La Piñata until last week. It's located a bit off the path in Old Town, but is worth a bit of looking to try out their classic menu of Mexicali favorites.



 The restaurant is decorated in bright colors, and, of course, piñatas. The atmosphere is fun and friendly, very cute. It's a huge space, with lots of different seating areas, including a (heated) outdoor patio.









It's tradition to start out with some chips and salsa when dining in Old Town, and so we did! Homemade tortillas and very spicy chipotle salsa. I always overdo it on the chips and salsa, and this time was no exception. I just can't resist a good, spicy salsa and freshly made chips!












Nothing is better with great chips and salsa than a margarita. La Piñata makes a classic, and comes in small and large options!















For dinner, after much deliberation, we chose the Carne Asada dinner and the Jack Enchiladas. The carne asada dinner was served in an "assemble your own" manner, with hot tortillas, grilled beef, guacamole, and green peppers. The beef was very well seasoned, and was great stuffed into a tortilla with the guacamole and peppers.









The jack enchiladas were cheesy goodness! Chicken enchiladas simply covered with Monterey jack cheese and sour cream! They were large, and tasty. Both dinners were served with their signature sides of beans and rice.









A visit to Old Town is a must for anyone looking to experience the origins of San Diego. The food scene alone is worth it, as well as the beautiful decor and history. Check out La Piñata next time you visit! 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wood Ranch BBQ


I've been on a quest to compile a list of great kid-friendly restaurants in San Diego. There are plenty of places that are welcoming to children, but many of them aren't exactly interesting for parents. Luckily, San Diego's dining scene is evolving to create a marriage of restaurants appealing to patrons of all ages, without sacrificing cuisine and ambiance.
Wood Ranch joins the list of great places with delicious food that everyone in the family will enjoy. In the former location of the All-American Grill, Wood Ranch has made extensive renovations to the location to create a beautiful atmosphere that combines family restaurant and sports bar.

Besides the bar area, there are a host of booths that are perfect for a nice date or a family outing.

The specialty of the house is house-made barbecue dishes, slathered in homemade sauces. However, if you're not a barbecue person, there are plenty of salads and sandwiches to choose from, as well as steaks and fish. The children's menu contains a bit of everything, appealing to all appetites, with smaller versions of the adult menu -- not just "kiddie favorites."

The most impressive part for me as a parent, was the "amuse bouche" for kids that was brought out at the beginning of the evening. A small plate of Cheerios, banana slices, and orange slices kept P delighted and busy (and not starving!) throughout the meal.










We started with some of their garlic parmesan soft rolls. I usually don't go for the complimentary bread offerings (low carb, ya'll!), but these were so soft and delicious, they were worth the calories! I couldn't stop eating them!








Keeping with the kid-friendly theme, P's meal was brought out before ours so that she had plenty of time to eat it (littles tend to be slow eaters). She got her favorite -- a grilled cheese sandwich and fries, although there are lots of choices on the kids' menu.









For my dinner, I chose one of their signature dishes, the Wood Ranch tri-tip, a California classic cut. Cooked to a perfect medium temperature, this huge swath of meat was slathered in their homemade sauce and served with two sides -- I chose the mashed sweet potatoes and the steamed broccoli (to keep it healthy!). The beef was tender and the sauce was an unexpected but enchanting accompaniment. The mashed sweet potatoes were swoon-worthy. So sweet and creamy, almost a dessert!

Steve was more of the "go big or go home" philosophy, so he had to have Wood Ranch Combo with beef brisket, ribs, and Carolina pulled pork! The plate also comes with two sides, and is enormous! The two sides, a loaded baked potato and grilled asparagus -- were just as good as the mains. This plate was epic, and certainly a good way to gain a couple of pounds, but so, so worth it! The brisket was cooked to perfect temperature and seasoned with a flavorful rub. The Carolina barbecue, was the closest that I've ever tasted to the vinegar-infused spirit of North Carolina spit, tender and slightly spicy. The ribs were very messy, which is exactly how ribs should be -- dripping with sweet, spicy sauce and tender to touch. The sides were delicious as well, and a perfect match to the rich meat.



After all of that food, of course we had dessert! And of course, we took home leftovers. Wood Ranch offers a few dessert options, but upon recommendation from our server, we chose the Oreo Cookie Crunch. It's a very simple dessert, but so much more than the sum of its parts. It's vanilla ice cream rolled in crushed Oreo cookies, then dressed with chocolate syrup and caramel. It was ambrosial, food of the gods good. 

I highly recommend Wood Ranch for families and singles alike! It's a great casual place for dinner, or just to catch the game and munch on some great food. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Little Italy Tree Lighting and Christmas Village!



December Nights is happening the first weekend of December as well, but take the time to see two holiday events!!! This holiday season, sidewalks in Little Italy will be filled with holiday cheer for the 18th Annual Little Italy Tree Lighting and Christmas Village on Saturday, Dec. 3 from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Families, friends and visitors will be able to experience two Tree Lightings for the first time this year, a Christmas Village with seasonal vendors, festive décor, live music and entertainment, holiday treats, Santa Claus and more.

Santa Claus will be in attendance for meet and greets and photos with all the neighborhood kids and kids at heart starting at 4:00 p.m. Attendees can catch Santa at “Santa’s Living Room” on India Street, taking pictures until 6:30 p.m. Next to “Santa’s Living Room,” will be fun arts and crafts for the kids to take part in with Washington Elementary STEAM Magnet School and ArtReach. Seasonal vendors selling perfect stocking stuffers and select Little Italy Mercato vendors with holiday goodies will be lining India Street between W. Cedar and Grape Streets. 

The Tree Lighting ceremonies will begin at 5:30 p.m on Fir and India Streets.

For more information about The Tree Lighting and Christmas Village, visitwww.littleitalysd.com.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Art San Diego Wrap Up

One of my favorite events of the year, Art San Diego, took place last weekend in Balboa Park. I'm already counting down to next year! The event was, as always, such a breath of fresh air with loads of creative activity. I took a few pictures of my favorites, but it's something that should be experienced firsthand!




Not art, of course, but wine is always nice! 












Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Banzai Bar


Every once in a while, my partner and I enjoy going on a romantic, grown-up date, with a fancy setting; exquisite, elaborate food; and service that rivals the court of a maharajah. This was not one of those times. Now, don't get me wrong, I love a fancy outing in a fancy place with fancy food and fancy bathrooms and fancy napkins and fancy fancy fancy, but I'm generally pretty low key. And sometimes, you just want to venture out to a place where the food is great, the company is decidedly adult, and you can just relax and have some you time. Enter Banzai Bar in Point Loma. 

Banzai is billed as a "dive bar," and from the outside, I'd believe it. Neon sign, unassuming, hidden entrance -- but as soon as you walk inside, it's quite nice.
 Outdoor seating is a must in this glorious San Diego weather.
 It's definitely an adults-only place, but seriously, sometimes it's great to just go to a place that is strictly grown-up fun. Just like a kid can be a kid at Chuck E. Cheese, an adult can act like an adult in a bar without worry of little ears.
The keyhole doorway was a nice, Alice in Wonderland piece of decor. 









The service is "order at the bar, then we'll call you when your food and drink is ready," so English pub-style service, which is kind of rare these days. I actually like the casualness of it, rather than so much ceremony, just good food served simply.








We started out with some drinks, because cocktails are always a good idea. I had an old-fashioned, my favorite, and S had the No. 20, with bourbon, blackberry, lemon, and bitters. The presentation was gorgeous, and the flavors were perfect. It's intensely satisfying to sip on the perfect cocktail in great weather while you chat happily with your dining partners. 




The menu has bar fare with a few gourmet bites to satisfy any craving. After some recommendations, we decided to try half orders of the poke tacos and the ginger wings. The poke tacos were one of my favorite bites. Small "tacos" served in a fried wonton wrapper shell, stuffed with tuna poke and topped with pickled carrot and wasabi cream. The combination of fresh fish, crunchy shell, and seasoning flavor is irresistible. 



No bar menu is complete without some wings, but these wings were special in that they were glazed with a ginger-soy sauce, and cooked to perfection. Lean and not greasy, they were a nice bite that didn't feel too messy for polite company (although I'm not sure that wings would ever be black tie fare). 







If a burger is on the menu, it's a pretty good bet that S will order it. We had a pretty good feeling that the burgers wouldn't disappoint at Banzai, so he tried the jalapeno bacon burger with some of the garlic parmesan fries. The burger was very tasty, juicy, and the jalapeno-bacon combination was perfect. Thick bacon, and charred jalapeno peppers mixed into spicy jack cheese. You have to try it! 



Another featured menu item is the bowls, heavily Hawaiian influenced with Ahi tuna, chicken, and, of course, poke. I've vowed to eat as much poke as possible in 2016, so my choice was the big, beautiful poke bowl. Look at that beautiful pile of yellowtail seasoned with soy and wasabi. The poke bowl is offset with edamame, pickled carrots, cucumber, and freshly grilled pineapple. Underneath the fish is white rice, so it's quite a filling dish. Delish and served with chopsticks to give the real poke feel. 

Banzai Bar is 21+, so it's definitely a date night place for mom and dad or you young things without kids! I loved the experience, and this visit won't be my last. 

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