Saturday, September 29, 2007

Portland Saturday Market - Portland OR

The market is open on Saturdays an definitely a must visit if you ever find yourself in the"Rose City" on a weekend with some time to spare. I love Portland, Great restaurants that get almost no publicity, I guess because of it's proximity to Vancouver. And Portland is quickly becoming the beer capital of the west. Tons of micro breweries that crank out fantastic beers. Here are a few photos from this event. Live music playing, arts and crafts and of course food galore. Although there was quite a variety of food to be found. We didn't come across one that really stood out as being something great. Having said that though, The food, plus the music, beer and people, more than made up for anything. Here is a classic example of the attitude of the people of Portland. I was of course wondering around snapping pictures of food and people like the David Hemmings character from that classic Michelangelo Antonioni film Blow-Up when I ran across a booth serving Thai food. I snapped a picture of man working feverishly over a flaming wok and the guy said, "Hey, you have to take one now with me and my wife" so I did, and the he says "Hey, now you have to take one with me and my wife and my mother" and so I did. Everyone has just a great attitude here.

The Street fair is located in what was once a very run down section of the city and is still populated by the unfortunate homeless masses that hold the most creative signs up for the tourists vieing for that loose change in your pocket. Some of the classic ones had phrases like " I need money for weed" and others with that old chestnut, " I can't lie I just need a beer". Highly entertaining on one hand and very thought provoking on the other. I looked at the street fair as if we were animals with a proper food chain. Some were on the top of the food chain while others roamed the streets like crustaceans feeding off of scraps of the other life forms. Wow, I really have to stop watching old French and Italian films. So let's get back to the food. Here is a pictorial of food stuffs that can be found here.
Lot's of baked goods. Fresh sourdough breads filled with clam chowder.
Indian food vendors

Here is Sue's Greek marinated beef kabob. This one was very good. Nice and tender with a Mediterranean feel to it.

I had the Philly steak sandwich. The people at this booth were once again just so very friendly and I had them make it to my specifications. and they obliged, I had them add tons of freshly crushed garlic to the saute.
Although the sandwich was huge on proportion it really lacked any flavor at all. I mean really very bland. But on a nice blustery day in Portland it did it's job of making me feel warm and cozy, oh and the local microbrew beer helped too.

This is people watch Mecca. You can get lost here, not physically but mindlessly and every once in awhile that's OK.



Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Di Leone's Italian Restaurant - El Cajon CA

After seeing the ads for Di Leone's for sometime now and reading all of the glowing review quote snippets in parenthesis on it's ads. We just had to try it out. I mean when a place constantly has reviews like, " Best food in San Diego" and "Best Italian Food anywhere" in there ads. You just have to go, mainly because like most film reviews with an over abundance of good review quotes on the ad, You know the film is gonna stink. When you look closer at the reviewers, there usually from the Fresno Review Journal or the Pacoima Sentinel. Papers that nobody reads anyway. So we went on a mission and I must admit bent on finding things that aren't good. You know the if you stick your neck out and tell people how good you are, then you put yourself under a microscope for inspection. We arrived around 5:30 on a Saturday Night. The place was packed with a line at the door. We were told about a 20 minute wait to be seated. No problem. We conversed with the folks in line and all of them had been coming here for years. All had absolutely glowing reviews and all said it was worth the wait and the weight. Did we discover restaurant "pod people"from Invasion of the body snatchers? or was this place actually this ferociously addictive.

The Owner, Vito Seragusa used to be the chef at Mama Leone's restaurant in Manhattan. That place is an institution and has been open for almost 100 years. The first thing you notice in the place are the family photos of the Seragusa family, kids, grand kids. Italians are kings at putting that family first mantra into action. Located in an East County strip mall this place is beautiful inside. nice contrasting earth tones abound. We were seated by I believe a niece of Vito's, very nice woman with a genuine smile and warmth. You could tell she liked working here, and who wouldn't, this is definitely a family run business, with nieces, sons and grand kids working here and all very professional. The Patriarch, Vito sat in a booth with some friends and he continually worked the room as the evening progressed, he knew and spoke with everyone there.
That's him in wearing the white apron. Seemingly a lovely guy. We were sat in a booth towards the front of the restaurant and where immediately served some warm focaccia bread. The bread was more of a pizza dough, more dense than a normal focaccia and seasoned with dried herbs consisting of rosemary, oregano and basil. The nice touch was that they had bottles of Extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar already on the table. Sue and I grabbed the menus, but first we gave each other that snickering look of, "let's see what we have here". And we found a beautifully laid out menu that hit on everything it should have. Various pasta dishes and chicken, veal, real classic stuff and a few exceptions.

If clams are on the menu, I will always order up a batch. I love clams and the ones on this menu are definitely the best clams I have ever had anywhere. Clams Bordelaise ($12.95) and worth every penny. Wonderful and flavorful large clams in a garlic, butter and wine broth. Just give me some crusty bread and a straw to slurp it up. This is one of those signature dishes that I would drive across town to get no problem.
You can just see all of the chunks of garlic and shallots in this broth. I could have easily acted like Homer Simpson and tipped the bowl to my lips to finish it off.
The Chicken Tortellini soup had the most intense chicken flavor I have ever had at any restaurant or anywhere for that matter. I ordered the Chicken Pizzaiola with Eggplant ($16.95) chicken breast sauteed in a light red wine marinara sauce and topped with capers, olives, and layered with lightly breaded egg plant with hints of oregano. OK, So we were beginning to get the picture here and Sue and I started to get on the bandwagon along with the other patrons of this place. As our eyes glazed over in a culinary haze, we felt we where becoming assimilated into one of the "pod people" fans that this place has. The chicken was pounded flat and sauteed along with mushrooms and eggplant, in a really nice piquant sauce. nice blends of textures and tastes.It came with a great side dish of spaghetti with marinara sauce. Sue had the Lasagna($10.95)
Lasagna is such a generic name. It only refers to the noodle style and not really what else comes with it. But here in the states Lasagna is mostly that classic red sauce and ricotta mixture. The Lasagna here was superb and compiled together fresh onto the plate and not premade which I just detest. The sauce was a very tasty Bolognaise style with Italian sausage mixed in throughout. This place is really a nice little eatery and the way the family works the room definitely reminds me of a neighborhood restaurant in New York.
My only gripe would be the wine list. $25.00 for a $5.00 bottle of Bella Serra is way overly steep. So skip the bottled stuff and go for the house wine.

Is it the best and most authentic Italian restaurant in San Diego? Well, have you ever seen Italians argue over a game of Bocce? If you have then you know that no one can answer this question. Is this place good? It is an outstanding little place with excellent service and flavorful well thought out dishes. Not a gourmet joint to be sure but it takes the family style restaurant to a new level.
Definitely worth a visit. We will be back.

Di Leone's Italian Restaurant
1480 Jamacha RdEl Cajon, CA 92019



Monday, September 10, 2007

All'Italiana - La Mesa Ca

We must have driven past All'Italiana restaurant well over a thousand times in all the years that it has been in La Mesa and every time we did, we would say to ourselves, "We really need to go to this place". None of our friends had ever been and virtually no one we spoke to about it had been either. How can that be? in our own backyard an Italian restaurant that we had never been to? So it happened that on a Friday night we decided it was time to check it out. As we parked and walked to the eatery there seemed to be a large group of people eating and drinking and having a great time outside. So we opted for a more intimate table inside. This is a quaint little place and has the ambiance of eating in a home in the hills of Italy. it felt like we had indeed strolled into a small trattoria. Although really dark inside when the sun goes down. Very small only 6 or 7 tables and the room lined with shelves containing photos and knick knacks from Italy and it's surroundings. The shelves also served as the wine cellar as the very limited wine lists inventory was stored there on the shelves in the dining area as well. I believe there was only four offerings of wine on the list and all priced at $18.00 per bottle. we opted for a bottle of the Vestini, a Sangiovese from the Campania region of Italy. Very nice and light wine. Typical of the region and European wines on the whole. More about slight earth tones and regional mineral qualities and how they mix ever so subtly with the grape than about a bold fruit taste like and Aussie wine. I love both styles of wine making.

As we picked over the menu it became very clear that this place was a pasta house. No pizza and none of the classic red table clothed varieties of what you would expect. Chicken Parmigiana and Eggplant Parmigiana being the exception. All the rest are pasta dishes. OK. No problem I thought. But being Italian you know that it better be done right because chances are your family dog has had better left overs after a Sunday family get together than most places can make.

Very interesting dishes on the menu. I ordered the special of the evening, Which I thought very amusing to call it the special of the evening. And maybe after I tell you the origin you will get the humor as well. So I ordered up a batch of the Pasta Alla Puttanesca ($12.00) and for Sue, She had the most interesting dish on the menu. Pasta Alla Caruso ($15.45). First came out the salad and an order of the house specialty, A bowl of the Tomato Basil Bisque. The salad was journeyman in nature and was nice and fresh. The Bisque on the other hand came in a nice little bowl with dried basil around the rim like an Italian Margarita. I didn't care for it. It had a rather uninteresting tomato sauce taste. although pinkish in color letting you know this was a cream sauce the soup just had no distinct or robust tomato taste. Should have been bursting with concentrated tomato taste. The Garlic bread on the other hand was some of the finest we have ever had. The bread light and flaky with fresh garlic rubbed into every nook and cranny. and then butter slathered on. Awesome stuff.
The pasta dishes arrived. I dived into the Pasta Alla Puttanesca first. This is a dish that is normally served without cheese. But first let me tell you the back story on this dish. Pasta Alla Puttanesca literally means "Pasta the way a whore would make it". It seems that after WWII the brothels were state run in Italy and these lady civil servants were only allowed to go to the market once a week so they had to stock up on a lot of non perishables. And apparently back then you got a home cooked meal as well with your paid admission. Only the Italians. The recipe consists of the following items: Anchovies, capers, tomatoes, black olives, garlic, red peper flakes and maybe some basil or parsley chopped and thrown on top and of course your pasta of choice. This is one of those classic little seemingly easy to prepare dishes, that cause a lot of trouble for most cooks as the simple yet very powerful ingredients all try to vie for your taste buds attentions. So you have to learn to balance them out and to coach only the ones you want to be predominate to the forefront. This version was served with a perfectly cooked Linguine, nice and firm to the tooth. The Puttanesca sauce was very tasty but seemed to lack any anchovies or red pepper flakes. otherwise it was an excellent rendition of a dish you rarely see anymore on menus. Worth asking if they make it at your favorite Italian eatery.And speaking of dishes you rarely see on a menu comes next, Pasta Alla Caruso. A favorite of that classic voiced opera singer and named for him as well, Enrico Caruso. I cannot remember the last time I saw this dish on a menu. Done well it can be sublime and like a good tenor, it's culinary voice can either be on or off. It's made with mushrooms and chicken livers all blended together in a red wine reduction sauce and tomatoes and when done has this rich and velvety brown creamy sauce that just wraps itself around the pasta and your tongue like a kid holding onto a carousel pony for the first time. This version at All'Italian was spectacular and one of my favorite pasta dishes anywhere and can possibly be the best pasta dish in San Diego! It was that good. the chicken livers just melt into the sauce and they're taste mellows. The mushrooms are usually crimini and have that nice and slight woodsy flavor. This dish was pure heaven.
The owners of this quaint little eatery open and close when they feel like it. Very European feel and just very nice people here. If you are in the mood for some very tasty non run of the mill pasta. You really should try this place out.


8356 Allison Avenue
La Mesa, CA 91941



Thursday, September 6, 2007

Happy Teriyaki Sushi - Seattle WA

Getting bored with the menu items at my hotel and having returned the rental car. I found myself wandering hotel row next to the airport in Seattle. Around this area you do have a few fine choices such as the much touted 13 coins restaurant. But tonight I craved Asian cuisine. I missed the spices and textures of really good Asian cooking. Didn't really matter to me if it was Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean or Japanese. I was jonesing and needed a fix. As I strolled down hotel row I spotted a sign that advertised the Happy Hut Teriyaki Sushi. Japanese restaurant. It was in a rather odd place called the Jet Motel. a rather run down looking establishment that had a lot of American made trucks of various sizes and colors in the parking lot and most of them had Nascar number 8 stickers on them. I had already walked at least 3/4 of a mile or more from my hotel and it was going to be dark soon, So I decided to fake like I was chewing tobacco and stroll on in. Happy Teryiaki Sushi was the actual name of the restaurant, I guess they never thought anyone would notice the different names, or maybe just surmised that the clientele at the Jet Motel just wouldn't be able to put two and two together here. I would have bet on the later myself. Just outside of the place is the proverbial wall of photo's of the plates served here. Really nice looking stuff I might add.

The place is located in the middle of the Motel and is definitely an island unto itself. Like walking into another world. I love to stroll off the beaten path and try places that no one would go into on a bet. This place was different that is for sure. As I scanned over the mugshots of food outside the door I just couldn't help but think that I believe I saw just about every character from the film Deliverance walk by and think that classic line from the film while looking at me, I won't repeat it here. but you know the one. Poor Ned Beatty.
Opening the door to the restaurant was like Dorothy opening the door of her just fallen from the sky house and opening it into startling Technicolor. The place was spotless and beautiful. Decorated like a place that shouldn't be here in this establishment. There was just one other couple eating and they were Asian. Good sign. I was greeted by a very lovely young Japanese woman with eyes that seemed to say. "Please, when you go. Take me with you". Like being in a void with zombies all around you or some odd place from the Twilight Zone. I half expected to see Rod Serling sitting at the Sushi counter smoking a cigarette and telling me that I had just crossed over into the Twilight Zone. I wondered if I could ever leave.

I sat Italian style with my back to a wall and the front door in full view. She handed me a menu and asked if I wanted a drink. "Sapporo, long, cold and tall please" was my response. I read through the menu. Mostly familiar stuff and some really nice choices. She returned with my cold Sapporo and I started to order from the Happy Sushi side of the menu, where they had quite an extensive menu. But it didn't take me long to find out that the clientele had quickly gringoized it.

" I will have the Toro" No have, she said. Ok, Ikura, Nope, Hamachi? Nope, Ika? Masago? Uni? No, No and No. The only things that they had available were the dreaded Big Macs of the Sushi world. California rolls and the like. Now I felt her pain and understood the look in her eyes. She knew that I understood that if she stayed here any longer she would be forced to either get a Dale Earnhardt tattoo or forced to start wearing khaki Bermuda shorts, black socks and Jesus sandals with a World Wrestling T-shirt. But wait! Unagi!, They had Unagi. Ok, I love Eel and quickly ordered a batch up. But first out came the obligatory bowl of Miso soup. The Japanese equivalent to a good Kosher Matzo or chicken soup. It looked wonderful and had a heady and yeasty aroma to it. A bit more pizazz in this soup than I am used to. It worked very nice. I was served a lovely little ice cold shrimp on a bed of cabbage with a spritz of rice wine vinegar on it as well.
A great starter. Next came the Unagi ($3.95) and an order of Maguro ($3.50) It looked wonderful and artsy. One of the reasons why I love Japanese cuisine, just beautiful edible pieces of art. I nodded approvingly to the Sushi chef. An older gentleman of at least 70 years old.
The Eel was nicely smoked and had just enough Teriyaki on it as not to overpower and the Maguro was surprisingly very fresh and creamy.
Then came out a side salad containing what I was told to be a Japanese Ranch Dressing? And indeed it did taste like Ranch Dressing but with maybe some Miso mixed in it? I asked the girl and all she could tell me was that some guy comes in and makes it. What guy? she didn't know. Oh well. it was very good. a sort of creamy miso ranch mayonnaise concoction. it worked for me.
Next up is an all time favorite of mine. A Japanese curry. The Japanese are the masters of taking that spicing curry mixture and tempering it out to make a light and dreamy curry all their own. I ordered the Chicken Curry ($6.59) This dish satiated my hunger for Asian food it was a great balance of hot and mild. The veggies were not overcooked and had a nice firm bite to them and as with the chicken had been simmered in the curry for just the right amount of time. Solid gold this dish was.
With my meal finished and the sun slowly going down outside. I paid my bill and left. Leaving behind the doe eyed waitress and lowly sushi chef to continue on plying their trade to an audience that would rather watch cars turn left for 8 hours straight than appreciate the valiant culinary fight that this place brings to the table everyday. Looking back now I wondered if this place was there at all or did I really trespass over into to Twilight Zone? After all I had just been to Portland and had a few brownies at the street fair?
Happy Teriyaki Sushi
Open 10:30 to 9:00pm
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