Semester over and relaxation required, I headed over to America's Finest City for some food and R & R. Luckily, I had found a friend (an ESL prof at the college who has lived and traveled darn near everywhere--actually having eaten Ethiopian food in Ethiopia) who wanted to share some chowhounding and fun with me. On Sunday we'd agreed to meet at Celadon at 11:30, but found the place doesn't open till 5 on Sundays. So we ended up at Amarin Thai and had an adequate meal, a nice seafood soup, a decent basil eggplant stirfry, and the Amarin special fish, which was a firm whitefish poached in a decent poaching sauce with basil and spicy flavors. It was the sort of meal that I would have been proud to cook at home, but no more than workmanlike Thai food by restaurant standards, imho. That night for dinner, after having walked 6 miles around Mission Bay, we wanted to stay close to the motel and went to Cafe India, which I have always liked, and had the vegetarian buffet. This time it was OK, but not exciting. All the dishes (except the raita) seemed vegan, so I missed some of the richness that I have savored in the past.
After this inauspicious start, the meals improved. On Monday, we went to Seoul BBQ on Convoy for lunch. Chris had the bul gogi lunch special, which comes with soup, tempura, side dishes, and salad--all but the salad being very good. I had the Hwoe dup bop, sortof a sashimi, rice, vegetable, and lettuce spicy salad. It was great, and this time it included sesame leaves which add a good flavor element. Chris thought it was pretty tasty too.
Dinner was, if possible, even better as we followed the advice of so many folks here at Chowhound and ate at Parallel 33. I was delighted. The interesting decor and great music set a great mood. Our waitperson was superb--helpful, friendly, knowledgeable, professional, unobtrusive, etc etc. As an appetizer, we had the wonderful Ahi Poke, beautiful to look at and a feast for the taste buds as well. The combination of fish, fruit, wasabe, and seaweed was enchanting. For a main courses, Chris had the marsala dusted scallops that were accompanied by a tasty fruit filled couscous and a double coriander coulis, a densely flavorful green cilantro sauce that played off perfectly with the scallops and couscous. I had the justifiably famous lamb tajine, tender chunks of lamb sirloin with dates, pine nuts, edamame, and sauce on a bed of couscous. A completely wonderful meal. Also of note was the interesting wine list--we started out with a bottle of Treana, a voignier/marsanne blend from Monterey County which was exceptional.
The next day we finally made it to Celadon, starting with the papaya salad, which was fine, though I think Chris was a bit disappointed since her mouth was set for sweet, not green papaya (my bad). But her vegetarian Penang yellow curry was probably the best curry of that type I've ever eaten, intensely flavored and perfectly cooked. My scallop fried rice was also excellent, subtle and perfectly balanced in flavors.
That day we went up and hiked in the area of Lake Cuyamaca and saw the most incredible wildflowers I've ever seen in my life. Absolutely beautiful. Everybody in San Diego needs to get up there and take a look. Magnificent! Afterwards, I led Chris to Sakura on Convoy. While she had traveled a little in Japan, she had never eaten real sushi before, so I was concerned that she might not like what we were going to be eating, but I was in serious need of a real sushi fix. We got there at about 6:30 before the crowd, so I talked to Kazu and selected some raw fish to start our meal. It began with ika (squid) and crimson red cod roe--a nice contrast of colors and textures with a slightly salty finish. Then the Spanish mackerel sashimi arrived, the filets attractively lying beside the rest of the little fish which was propped up with toothpicks. Kazu had included a special worcestershire based dipping sauce and I watched, with some trepidation, as Chris popped the first slice of the filet in her mouth, looked at me, and said, "this tastes good." It did. Then the sushi arrived, yellowtail, some fish I had never eated before whose name I've forgotten, tai (red snapper), and uni. While the yellowtail was just ordinary and not as rich as much yellowtail I've eaten, the tai was the best I've ever had, and, as always at Sakura, the uni was magnificent and very fresh. At this point, we had turned ourselves over to the kitchen and were delighted to get salmon in miso sauce--perhaps as good a piece of cooked fish as I've had in ages, matched perfectly with the teriyaki like sauce. Then we got back the head, tail, and bones of the Spanish mackerel, which had been deep-fried, adding a nice crunch to the dinner. The most unusual dish we were served was two tender little baby squids covered in chopped tomatoes, garlic, and oil. The flavors were not what I expect at a sushi bar and the dish looked like something from Iron Chef, but it was perfect. For desert (sortof) we ordered an unagi don, because I needed some starch in my system and Chris had never had barbecued eel before. It was very good but did seem a bit pedestrian after all the gastronomic delights that had preceded it. With dinner we had drunk two different sake samplers (for a total of six little glasses) and had fun selecting our favorite type a glass of which we drank at the end. Overall, the meal may have been even better than the one the night before.
The next day, we had a fine lunch with oysters and seafood salad salads at The Fishery, a place I would like to return to again. The service was fine and the menu interesting. Chris headed back then, but I had more shopping, so I was able to have a really excellent char grilled pork and shrimp bun (a vermicelli noodle dish) at The Saigon on El Cajon. And then I drove back to the desert happy and well fed. Thanks to all the hounds out there whose recommendations led to such good eating.
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