Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Toast Enoteca & Cucina

Recently I was invited to visit Toast Enoteca and Cucina to sample the restaurant's gluten free menu.  After a bit of back-and-forth planning with the PR representative we settled on a date which worked for the restaurant.  I had originally chosen a night when the Padres were playing and was warned that Padres games could create a major parking dilemma so I decided to steer for a Padres-free night.  Fortunately my friend Katie and I achieved that, so much so that we were the only two people in the restaurant for our entire meal!  Katie has lived in San Diego for the majority of her life (but I won't say born and raised since I know she has some east coast time in her record) and she filled me in on San Diego's relatively new downtown renaissance.  Having come most recently from New York I compared San Diego's downtown similar to New York's Financial District or Los Angeles' downtown; busy during the day, but pretty desolate at night.

Regardless of the restaurant's neighborhood the restaurant itself was friendly and welcoming.  I was a bit late so I joined Katie at our table and noticed she had an iPad.  I joked that she brought her own in case she got bored when it was the restaurant's method of displaying its wine menu.  I was very perplexed; I hadn't seen a menu presented on an iPad, particularly in a restaurant with the upscale feel of Toast Enoteca and Cucina.  After we placed our wine order (Cabernet Sauvignon for me) I asked the waitress about the rationale behind  the iPad and she explained that the restaurant introduces new bottles of wine so frequently it made more sense to have them displayed on an iPad rather than having to often reprint paper menus.  The restaurant also has a unique way of serving its wine; while you can order the normal full glass of wine, you can also purchase a card and place a certain amount of money on it to have smaller tastes of various wines.  Each wine has a different price per taste.  I've seen bars like this before (Ugo in Culver City, for example) but never indulged myself in the experience.  Katie and I sat it out this time, but perhaps next time I go to a similar restaurant or bar I'll go wild and taste a bunch of wines.

Moving on to the real reason you're here: the gluten free options.  The waitress was helpful in explaining the gluten free options and the menu in some cases speaks for itself, with markings alongside options that can be made gluten free (and/or vegetarian).  I ordered gluten free spaghetti with diavola sauce, Katie ordered a gluten free Verde Bianco e Rosso pizza and we decided to split an order of roasted cauliflower with cheese in a tomato sauce (which doesn't appear on the restaurant's online menu here).  All of the restaurant's gluten free options like the pizza crust and spaghetti are made in house; later on in our meal the manager came over and told us that the restaurant often changes up its gluten free pasta offering, including ravioli, fettuccine, and ravioli.

While we sipped our wine and caught up the cauliflower was delivered to our table.  It was dripping in a thin tomato broth and delicately covered with melted cheese.  In a word: delicious.  It wasn't too heavy nor too light as the beginning of our meal.

Our entrées were similarly excellent.  The diavola sauce had a great kick to it and the pasta had a texture that closely paralleled the taste of real pasta, not a simple task.  The pizza was similarly great and definitely a great item to share.  All in all, Toast was a definite success: the service was great, the food was delicious, and the wine flows freely from the various wine taps.  While it may not be in the most bumpin' area of town I would definitely recommend it to anybody looking for gluten free Italian options.

Do you love it or do you love it?
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Toast Enoteca and Cucina
927 J Street
San Diego, CA 92101 (Map)
(619) 269-4207

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Mission Restaurant

This morning I visited The Mission, a brunch hot spot in Mission Beach which normally comes with an hour plus wait.  Fortunately Alessandro and I were a party of two so we only had a 30 minute wait.  During our wait we walked over to Better Buzz Coffee to pick him up some coffee.  He's still astounded by the fact that I've never had coffee... is that strange that I haven't had coffee?  I was going to experiment with it today but he didn't want to be liable for the possible after effects.

Anyway, the place was buzzing with activity.  Alessandro mentioned that it is normally full of hungover USD students but that wasn't this morning's crowd; instead it was full of pregnant women.  Lots of pregnant women.  There was so much estrogen in the air I felt like I was in a sorority house.  It was a bit odd, since I had been expecting a younger scene but hey, pregnant women have to eat too, right?

After picking up some coffee (and summer fruit passion tea for me) we had .  The restaurant has a pretty big gluten free menu and the waitress was helpful with choosing my breakfast dish.  Ultimately I went with the Plata Verde con Huevos as it most closely approximated my normal brunch order of huevos rancheros.  They were delicious, definitely different than huevos rancheros with the flavor of the sweet corn tamales and roasted tomatillo sauce.  I enjoyed the food but was a little thrown off by the ambiance.

All in all, I'd visit again, particularly because of its awesome location steps away from the beach.  The restaurant also has locations in North Park and the East Village which may bring in a different clientele.

Do you love it or do you love it?
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The Mission Restaurant
3795 Mission Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92109 (Map)
(858) 488-9060

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Olive Oil Organic Cafe

Drop what you're doing and run, do not walk, to Olive Oil Organic Cafe on SDSU's campus right now.  Well, I should amend that to read "drive within the speed limit" since we are in San Diego... but I think you understand my point.

Nearly six months after I moved into Hillcrest I finally went to the neighborhood's weekly farmer's market.  The market is every Sunday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and I've had very little excuse for not going before.  After going to the La Jolla Farmer's Market with my parental units during their visit I decided I had to make it a biweekly visit... or at least go more often than I have been.  Having grown up in the frigid tundra of upstate New York I'm not used to having such great produce and weather year round but I'm finally committed to making it a habit.

While meandering through the Hillcrest Farmer's Market I happened upon Olive Oil Organic Cafe.  The display prominently advertised gluten free cookies, cupcakes, etc.  I figured there would be one or two gluten free options so you can imagine my shock when every single option was gluten free.

And they were giving out plentiful samples so I had a great time checking out lots of different treats.  The treats were all delicious and they had a huge variety on display at the farmer's market.  I know the Cafe is located on SDSU's campus but I'm not quite sure where; check the cafe's website for more details.

This is definitely my new go to place when I'm in need of a gluten free dessert in San Diego.  The woman working at the booth also told me that all of their sandwiches can also be made gluten free.  I'll check out the cafe's location on SDSU's campus and report back.

The Café visits a few different farmer's markets in the San Diego area:

OB Market on Wednesday
SDSU market on Thursday
Little Italy on Saturday
Leucadia on Sunday
Hillcrest on Sunday

Do you love it or do you love it?
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Olive Oil Organic Cafe

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Petco Park does Gluten Free

Last year I went to a great baseball game at New York's Citifield Stadium and really enjoyed it.  I didn't grow up being a sports fan but there is something about a summer evening at the ball park.  Of course it never hurts when the park has great gluten free options, even if the home team didn't win.  Check out my post on eating gluten free at Citifield here.

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from Travelzoo informing me of cheap tickets to upcoming baseball games between the San Diego Padres and the Milwaukee Brewers.  Since my roommate Joe is from Milwaukee, I knew we had to make a night of it.  It didn't take much to persuade him to go, and ultimately we amassed a group that included his girlfriend Allie, his brother (who is not quite as diehard of a Brewers fan as Joe is), his brother's wife, and my friend Valerie.  We had a drink at the Blind Burro before heading into the park.  It was a little strange to be back in a city where the park is right in the center of the city; in New York that certainly isn't the case and I was very infrequently near Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.  It hasn't been since I left Boston in 2008 that it has been so easy to get to a baseball stadium... perhaps I'll become a baseball aficionado while living here in SD.  San Diego even has a leg up on Boston, as the tickets were inexpensive and we had great seats right behind third base about ten rows in from the field.  With a Redbridge beer in hand I took my seat and sat down for an enjoyable night of baseball.

Anyway, Around halftime we got hungry so we decided to head to the dining options in the park.  Joe had an app on his iPhone which pointed him in the direction of the gluten free cart so we all headed over there as a group.  Valerie and I split off when the stand was proving difficult to find and asked for some help from a Park employee who pointed us in the right direction.  The gluten free stand is by the Mercado, which you walk through to get to the stand.

The above picture is a bit misleading, as the gluten free options weren't available in that refrigerator but instead at the grill that you can barely see in the right of the picture.  I'd hate to see anybody confused and take something from inside that refrigerator thinking it was gluten free as they were offering up sandwiches, paninis, and wraps which I can almost certainly say were not gluten free.  Petco Park should definitely make it clear that the items in the fridge are not safe for gluten free eaters.  

The grill offered up typical baseball food: hot dogs and hamburgers, obviously served on gluten free buns.  While Joe had mentioned gluten free pretzels being available, none were in sight.

It was great to have gluten free options at Petco Park, particularly the Redbridge beer.  I spotted a Woodchuck Hard Cider in a refrigerator too and I believe those are all gluten free... best to check before imbibing, of course.  Hopefully Petco Park will clear up its signage so no gluten free eater makes the mistake of pulling something from the fridge.

And yes, I know there is no such thing as halftime in baseball.  That line above was a joke.

Do you love it or do you love it?
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Petco Park

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cucina Urbana

I haven't been yet so this isn't a full review, but did you know Cucina Urbana offers gluten free pasta?  My roommate Joe has been recommending this place since I moved in with him in November but I still haven't made it the 10 blocks down the street to eat there.  My parents also recently visited the restaurant and gave it a positive review and let me know about the restaurant's myriad gluten free options.  With all of this buzz, I have to check it out soon and report back.  You can check out the menu here.


What about you readers - have any of you been?  How are the gluten free offerings?

Do you love it or do you love it?
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Cucina Urbana
505 Laurel Street
San Diego, CA 92101 (Map)
(619) 239-2222


Whisknladle

For my parents' final dinner in San Diego we visited Whisk n Ladle.  My friend Lauren recommended the restaurant to me before I even moved to the city and now, almost six months into living here, I finally got around to visiting.

It had been a long week at the office and I was definitely in need of a drink so I ordered a great tequila-based signature cocktail.  The name is unfortunately eluding me right now, but suffice it to say it was definitely a nice cap on the end of a busy and hectic week.

I dove right into the menu after ordering my drink, knowing that I'd likely be ordering a full meal since it was my last name to take advantage of my parents' hospitality (and credit card).  I asked the waitress to guide me through some of the gluten free options and she said that most everything could be altered to be gluten free, with some dishes requiring more alterations than others.  I had looked at the menu during work so I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to order and was glad to hear my hunger wouldn't be stifled by gluten issues.

I began with the Whisknladle Caesar without croutons and it was awesome.  It was a pretty plain salad, with long shears of romaine lettuce sprinkled with parmesan cheese.  While I know it wasn't the most exciting appetizer on the menu it was executed perfectly; I've had enough experiences to know that while a Caesar salad is a common menu item it isn't always prepared as well as Whisknladle's.

For my entrée I went with the scallops prepared "a la plancha."  I'm not normally a huge fan of scallops which isn't to say I don't like them, they just aren't normally high on my list of entrées to order.  That being said, I loved the scallops at Whisknladle.  Needless to say I cut out the fried bread from the order; I also cut out the olives since I'm not a fan.  Regardless the order was still delicious, with the scallops coming buried beneath a pile of crows pass spinach.  I wasn't familiar with that type of spinach but it was very similar to an arugula in its size and texture.  The pine nuts added a nice touch to the dish, but the focus was on the five scallops, all of which were grilled to perfection.

I ended the meal with the chocolate mousse, because who am I to say no to a full meal when I'm with the parentals?  It was delicious, a little thicker than I imagined it based on my waitress' description but great nonetheless.

I'll definitely visit Whisknladle again.  Our waitress was super helpful, the food was delicious, the ambiance was great, and the location near the La Jolla Cove makes for some nice walking before and after dinner.

Do you love it or do you love it?
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Whisknladle
1044 Wall Street
La Jolla, CA 92037 (Map)
(858) 551-7575

Monday, April 8, 2013

Banker's Hill Bar and Restaurant

After months of living in Banker's Hill and receiving recommendations from my roommates Joe and Adam I finally went to Banker's Hill Bar and Restaurant.  My friend Travis was in San Diego visiting from L.A. visiting for work and we wanted to go somewhere that I hadn't yet been.  Since Banker's Hill Bar and Restaurant is practically around the corner from my apartment (in New York-speak, at least) we decided to eat there.

I was very surprised upon walking in by the decor.  "Banker's Hill" as a neighborhood sounds stuffy and pretentious to me and for that reason I expected the restaurant to have a similar stodgy feeling.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It was around 6:45pm when we arrived and the restaurant was buzzing with activity; we were lucky to get a seat at the community table!

We ordered a few dishes to share, beginning with the Chili Marinated Shrimp Skewers and Local Strawberry Salad. The shrimp skewers were well spiced and served alongside corn tortilla chips and guacamole. The strawberry salad was divine; sitting on a corner of the plate was a delicious cylinder of goat cheese which we wasted no time in dipping our forks into. For our entrées we ordered the Snapper. We both agreed that the corn tamale was perfectly prepared and that the braised tomatillo added great flavor to the dish.

The service was great, the ambiance was perfect, and, most importantly, the food was delicious. Just as importantly, of course, was the server's knowledge about which dishes were and were not gluten free (or possibly made to be gluten free). I'll definitely be back.

Do you love it or do you love it?
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Banker's Hill Bar and Restaurant
2202 4th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101 (Map)
(619) 231-0222