Bengal Lounge – Empress Hotel, Victoria, B.C. (Canada)

While in Victoria, we stayed in a very popular and touristy section right along the harbor next to the British Columbia Parliament building. Our hotel was called The Embassy Inn. A seemingly very old hotel and the only hotel I’ve ever stayed at, that I can remember, that had serious water pressure. You know, it seems like almost all hotels have a lack of water pressure in the shower . . . not this one. shower head pressureNo matter how long I wanted to stay and enjoy a free-water shower; it seemed like I was almost forced to take it swiftly, because it only took a moment to get through the wet, soap and rinse cycles. I was done in just moments. Not only was the shower head the old-school high-volume type >>2.5 gpm (>> = far greater), all of the fixtures seemed a bit antiquated. Don’t get me wrong, the room was decent and the location perfect, just was a bit dated. The morning we left I noticed a note placed in the elevator asking  for customer’s patience while the door locks were being changed out the day of our departure (Monday morning). Now I mentioned the antiquated fixtures, but the old-school door locks with heavy-duty keys were being replaced to allow for the new-school credit-card-cyphered entrance locks. As we checked out, I placed the heavy key, stamped with the room number, on the counter and said to the counter person, “I guess you won’t be needing these any more”. He looked at the key for just a moment then replied, “yeah, I guess you’re right”. So I asked him for one of the keys as a souvenir. He laughingly obliged, since there was really no use for them after our stay. keyAnother plus for The Embassy Inn was the free-included morning breakfast buffet that included two eggs any style or premade scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, potatoes (country style), juice and coffee. It was a nice change from the ordinary “continental” offerings offered by most hotels.

We walked around town for a bit as it was now late afternoon on a Sunday, seemingly there was really nothing to do. We stopped in a couple of pubs (British pubs were everywhere) and had a couple of beers and cocktails. Their alcohol pours were very modest and seemingly never over poured (a speed pour or spilling the over-poured shot glass) or free poured. It was later explained to my wife and I, that the Canadian regulation was very restrictive on the amount of alcohol poured at bars and pubs. “Nothing like the way they make drinks in the States”, one bartender said. As our early evening walk continued (about 9pm and it was still light out), we decided to walk into the premier and historic hotel of Victoria. I was told that they will let you go into the lobby area and it was a must see. Similar to the Hotel Del Coronado, in San Diego, CA (City of Coronado), built in 1888; the Empress Hotel offers similar luxury accommodations, unparalleled  craftsmanship and beauty in every detail of this 1908-built super-structure.empress

Once inside The Empress, we were greeted and told the best walk to see the restaurants menus and lounge area is along the 2nd floor promenade. One of the restaurants even had Foie Gras. I was dying to order some, but we were not looking to engage in that affair, since it was starting to get late. We later settled for a take-out specialty pizza from another hotel, to take to our room. Along the promenade were multiple boutiques and restaurant offerings from which to chose. We ended up in the Bengal Lounge and had a very engaging discussion with the bar’s service conversationalists and mixologists, David and Alison. They told us stories, gave us touring suggestions and kept our drinks full, (the best martini’s in town), although still observing the BC careful pour restrictions. I had to try an Empress 1908 martini. It was made with Empress Blend 1908 Tea infused vodka, lemon juice and frothed egg whites. It even came with an afternoon tea biscuit. David and Alison were very nice and kept us amused and entertained.

Overall, our trip to Victoria ended nicely. Now I can cross that off from the “bucket list”.

Foodie

Guido and the Black Ball, Next Door

The need to protect personal information and the grasp that Victoria has taken to curb credit card fraud in service businesses, we quickly realized the power of advanced electronics, wireless technology and the internet.

Leaving Victoria we arrive at the Black Ball. The Black Ball is the name of the ferry service from Victoria, BC to Port Angeles in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I think it just sounds good, “I’m takin’ da Black Ball”. Waiting in line for the ferry, one of the ferry staff approaches our car and asks for our reservation paperwork. I surrender the documents and he quickly returns them. Moments later a second attendant approaches my window and asks, “You got da package?” Our reply was, “What package you talkin’ ’bout?” The attendant walks away and goes to the check-in booth and quickly returns and say’s, “They say you got da package”. Ok . . . , “just what is the ‘package’?”, we ask. The attendant explains that our ferry tickets were purchased on-line as a package deal. “O o o o o o hh!, that package”! We say in return. “We thought we were being informed of some kind of ‘package’ that we didn’t know about . . . you know . . . , ‘da package’,” My wife winks obviously. The attendant replies, “hey, I ain’t from Jersey, you know”. My wife continues while winking obviously, “we thought maybe we were supposed to have a package, like a couple of body’s or something in da trunk”. Once we figured out what was going on, we realized that the “guido” was referring to the tickets that were supposed to be given to us included in the package deal along with the ferry tickets.

blackballAs we’re waiting in line for the ferry to load, our travels from Canada into the United States require customs and immigration documentation, such as forms used for bringing items into the States and our personal passports. We were asked by one of the federal Homeland Security agents that had approached our car in the waiting area to have our passports scanned at the shack in the corner, as she pointed off to her left. Victoria, BC now recently enacted a requirement for all service establishments to scan all credit cards in front of the guests. They have this new portable credit card scanner that print the receipt right from the unit. I was told by one of the bar managers that we had visited, that this is intended to reduce or eliminate the possibility of credit card fraud in service establishments. It is being used widely in Europe and will soon make its way into the United States. Now that the Homeland Security agent asked me to “go to the shack” made me think about the missed opportunities the government has by not providing immediate scanning of passports from each car as the agency passes by. I fully understand the whole security threat issue and the ability of some crooked individuals  to capture information being transmitted over networks, but I also realize the ability of electronics and wireless systems to encrypt that information for personal security. What ever . . . just noticed this.

Once we cross into Port Angeles, WA, and with great anticipation, we finally arrive at our lunch destination. Today we had an opportunity to visit Next Door.  I found Next Door when I “Googled” the words “gastro pub Seattle”, luckily to my surprise, Next Door popped as the top spot on that search. I did a bit more research into the establishment to find that it appears to have been around for just a short time, and they were just a quick 2 to 3 blocks along our travel from the Port Angeles, WA ferry port where we had just arrived after takin’ “da goods” from Canada to the US.

Next Door hails itself on it’s signage hanging in front of the street entrance and as part of their name. When entering the very “open to the street” establishment, especially on a cool rainy Pacific Northwest day is that we had no inclination of taking advantage of the wonderful street/curbside seating under the awning that mostly hides their street sign. Yes, we went around the block a few times. But when we entered, and made our way past the entry partition we were greeted by a warm blast of air inviting us into the main dining and bar area.

next doorWe were promptly greeted and asked for any drink orders. I had one of the craft beers they featured on their abundant chalkboard menus displayed behind the bar. The first beer came out quickly but was a bit on the warm side. Later the server confirmed that my intuition about the keg being just tapped as correct. The very chilled glass it was served in helped offset the warmer temperature of the beer. The lunch menu didn’t really seem to intrigue us as there were plenty of burgers and a variety of sandwiches, but little on the way of entrée plates. I’m always game for trying an appetizer if it seems like a worthwhile opportunity to checkout a kitchen’s skill. At first opportunity I asked the server about their Chicken Brochettes. She wasn’t immediately sure about that menu item claiming she had been away for a few months and would gladly find out for me. Unfortunately, she returned without any real information except that they didn’t have all of the component needed to execute that appetizer, so I ordered the wings that were over deep-fried and basically flavorless if it wasn’t for the shaved parmesan and minimal garlic.

I was kinda in the mood for pasta and their mac ‘n’ cheese boasted a three-cheese béchamel. Added to that, for a 4 dollar increase, was a feeble attempt at buffalo chicken that was a waist of my money. I did also add the 1 dollar jalapenos that were pleasurably grilled before adding to the dish. The three-cheese béchamel pasta was very delicious and was quickly consumed, but we left much of the buffalo chicken behind. My wife ordered the beer battered fish tacos, containing cilantro slaw, avocado, tomato, chipotle sour cream and pineapple salsa. We may have missed the pineapple salsa, but the overall combination of flavors was still good; and that may have been because she ordered a side of house made ranch dressing, . . . “uh sorry, we’re out of that, but they are making more, . . . it’ll be a while, . . . can I get you some ketchup?”, she came back to claim. My immediate internal reaction was, “WOW, a second failed kitchen flounder”. The server returned only moments later to recant her statement about the dressing and placed a fresh cup of ranch on the table stating, “they just finished it”.

Another service blunder happened when I was ready for another round from the pub. I tried to get the attention of our server, whom seemed a bit flustered with her ability to keep up with the pace. I tried to get her attention as she passed by a couple of times since my glass was empty. The second attempt was overheard by another server that quickly responded to my desire. That’s a plus in my book. They covered for each other with the overall execution. I later saw our server thank the other for the back-up. My second craft beer came in very cold and was served in another very chilled glass. I wasn’t driving the next leg of our journey, so I used the opportunity to give their pub another go ’round, and prepare myself for a quick car nap.

Next door seemed appropriately decorated for its intended market, but I really wasn’t impressed with the overall “gastro pub” marketing strategy since the menu really didn’t boast much in the way of entrée’s but more specialty sandwiches and burgers. I had eaten a sandwich the day before so I wasn’t in the mood. next door2Next door also boasted a couple of chalkboard chef specials but that was limited to (I think I remember) a fish plate (duh, your in the Puget Sound) and a quinoa or risotto dish. Sorry, I had my photo image quality on low resolution.

Although the food didn’t really capture our attention with gusto, the atmosphere was good for the soul. Once inside the warm dining/pub area, I quickly noticed the stage situated above the kitchen area that is used for Sunday evening live performances. I also noticed the very good whole-area sound system playing mellow renditions of popular favorites similar to Coffee House on Sirius/XM satellite radio. I may be wrong, but the exceptional sound was being assisted with the existing stage sound equipment from above the pub floor area.

I can understand why this place seems popularly rated on Yelp and other social media site, but I still remain hesitant if I would ever return. It’s not that it was bad, it just didn’t seem worth the wait for us.

I say, “check ’em out”. Give your own thoughts on meeting your expectations and overall experience.

Since we’re in the Puget Sound, I’ll give them a pier piling full of starfish. Maybe they can figure out how to make a starfish sang-wich!starfish

Foodie

Butchart Gardens and The Clay Pigeon – Victoria, BC (Canada)

Traveling from Seattle, WA to Victoria, BC was lengthy and adventuresome. My wife and I had been to Vancouver several times but never made our way to Victoria. We started this leg of the trip by taking the Washington State Ferry (WSF) from Anacortes, WA. to Sydney, BC with a brief stop into Friday Harbor20130623_093839 to embark several more passengers. That was a lengthy cruise but gave us a moment to catch up on a few Zzzz’s.

20130623_130609    As we made our way from the ferry terminal in Sydney, we stopped for a moment to gather our thoughts and prepare our route and plan to get to Butchart Gardens. Butchart Gardens is an extremely popular tourist destination that boasts about 55 acres of beautifully sculpted and manicured gardens of many varieties of plants and cultural landscapes. Although we were told by everyone that had been there before that this is a must see, we seemed a bit let down as we anticipated an opportunity to look at gardens for several hours. If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon and seen the movie “Vacation” with Chevy Chase, you know what I mean. There is so much to look at, but once you’ve seen one section or area, it’s like it’s the same no matter where you’re at.grand canyon “Ok kids . . . let’s go!” Although the Gardens had a couple of nice options for restaurants, nothing seemed to catch our eye. Somewhat expensive, but not very creative. We headed for Victoria.

My wife was looking for some Thai restaurant in Victoria that was in a tourist handout. We went by and it looked empty and not in a very nice area of the town. She said, “Ok, now you pick a place”. We traveled only a couple more blocks and, while sitting at a stop light, noticed The Clay Pigeon, with a full(patronage) dining area and several others waiting at the door. I quickly pulled over and we walked in.clay pigeon1

Probably the best “slaw” I have ever had. The Kale Slaw had Savoy Cabbage, Kale, Red Onion and Fennel, with a Miso-Lime-Ginger Dressing. I had the Porchetta Sandwich with Slow Roasted Porchetta (belly of the pig), Apple and Pickled Fennel. Although the food I had was pretty tasty, the wife was less than impressed with her selection of her Chicken Salad that was laden with cranberries and walnuts. And since we’re in an area that is heavily influenced by the seafood and shellfish availability, I also had some fried oysters. I much prefer them raw, as they were just . . . meh.

I would claim their service to not be not very good, as I asked for a to-go menu and they fumbled around and said they would get some more out and bring me a copy, but they never did. The staff was very friendly, but they were just a little off, I guess that’s what happens when you hire college students that are not really into the service business.

20130623_144213  The place seemed to have a pretty good rap amongst the social media bloggers as they mostly praised the establishment. It must be pretty good food since I watched this 60ish older lady standing in the corner of the restaurant, with her table and food in front of her, devouring a plate of chicken wings. She must have stood there for a good 45 minutes while she ensured the nubs were completely clean. It was just weird that she was standing the entire time as she gnawed . . . peering over her glasses at the rest of the crowd. Creeper!

All seemed to be going good until the wife and I had almost completed our meal then the wife gasped, . . . “Uh!” Now, I didn’t see the entire event; but she was watching two members of  the cooking staff come out of the kitchen carrying the trash right through the middle of the dining area, but with completely filthy black aprons and black shirts. Clay Pigeon2I guess she and another, just seated, patron had both witnessed the same scene. The other patron and my wife noticed each other’s expression at the same moment; and the other patron that had just ordered their food, quickly got up and left. I guess it was a pretty disgusting scene. What I did see as we were leaving was both kitchen workers returning from taking the trash out and only one of them now carrying his apron (it looked like he was now off shift), and the other kitchen member had a t-shirt and apron that looked as thought they were on the loosing side of a very fierce kitchen food fight. Yes, they were very dirty and disgusting. I tried to explain to my wife that the carrying of the trash through the dining area during service (they may not have a back door) and the dirty aprons and shirts, but once I saw the one guy . . . I had no alibi.

Victoria was kind of neat . . . old, but neat. There are a lot of very old buildings and there is a lot of history behind this city; and mostly because of the time of day in which we arrived; and the cloudy, rainy weather, we weren’t able to fully enjoy the Victoria charm.

Ravens sifting through garbage cansSo today, I’m going to give this leg of the trip only two pigeons (actually they are ravens) picking at trash.

Foodie

Jet Box Market & Rebar No. 9, San Diego Airport

Today I’m taking my first commercial flight since my Tebow/Denver excursion, and watching a historical life-changing transformation of the NFL’s most popular football player. That trip was to a city in which there was much to see, do and learn about. This trip today is to a previous home of mine, Seattle, WA. Ok, I never really lived in Seattle, but rather in a surrounding community within the Puget Sound. We previously spent approximately 5 years on Whidbey Island in a town called Oak Harbor. One thing I’ve learned while living in the Seattle area is that it is the absolute most beautiful area to live in the world.20130621_181513 with all of the robust greenery, the clean air and friendly people. But I have often said, even though the Seattle area is the most beautiful in the world, the other 50 weeks of the year sucks! I think we’re in for another good one this trip. Of course our first day was filled with non-stop rain. Our second was much better.

We leave our home about 7:30 in the morning to give us enough time to get to the airport, regrettably anticipating a miserable experience using the commercial air transportation method. Yes, we’re gonna fly. It’s not the flight that so much bothers us, it’;s the overall experience of commercial air travel; the lines, the waits, the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) . . . the asshole in the seat next to me. He’s probably reading this as I write. Yup, getting my 35K ft fingers on right now. Anyway, the first leg of this trip has not been all that bad. First up, was our check-in with the Alaska Airlines street-side check-in terminal in which there were several self check-in kiosks and one very helpful attendant to weigh and tag our bags. I asked the attendant if there were any upgrades (e.g. business class) available for us on our flight. He said he would check if the kiosk didn’t prompt for it. After just a very easy kiosk check-in, he looked in his computer terminal and was able to move us to the emergency exit isle for both legs (get it . . . legs of legroom) of the non-stop round-trip flight. TSA 1The second stop of our day takes us through the security area where we are now stripped of our belongings, belts, shoes and computers; then rectally scanned with some new founded probing scanner that detected the anomalactic activity in my right shoulder. I’m not quite sure what that was all about; but I was then fondled and squeezed by some very well trained masseuse in the art of probing manipulation. He allowed me to pass. I was then flagged by the next screening agent when an internal alarm detected some potential misconduct in my backpack. I was thinking to myself, what could be in there; too many pens, a series of rainbow colored dry erase markers or perhaps the PowerPoint presenter I always carry with me as part of my educational contingency plan. Nope, today the TSA secondary “supervisor” pulled from my backpack, the back-up corkscrew I probably bought during one of my previous travels somewhere locally. Bastards got my corkscrew. Ooops, I guess we’re probably not supposed to have one of those cardboard nail files either. I don’t fly much so I always get flagged for something.nail file Now inside the security “clear” area of the terminal, our next stop required a kick-off cocktail and grabbing a sandwich or something to take on the flight. We perused the feeble offerings of concessionaires available to flyers in that terminal. We found a bar . . . perfect. Whatever the name is, it’s gotta be good if it can make a double-Kettle One Bloody Mary. bloodyExcellent, found two seats at the counter in the very cramped bar of Rebar No. 9 (I think that’s what it was called). It also had an ordering menu at the bar from the attached sandwich/salad shop on the other side of the wall, Jet Box Market. As my wife and I began our ascent on our first round of our vacationer’s breakfast (the Bloody Mary), we looked at the available selections on the menu from the other side of the wall eatery place. We walked around the corner and looked through the deli selections of pre-made selections and made a quick stop at the ATM to get some traveling cash (ya gotta be ready to make a quick cash deal, pay a cabbie or pay off a cop). We looked at the sandwich wraps and thought them to be our best opportunity for a quick grab and go for our in-flight sustenance. The wife got a salad and I, the the Chicken Pesto Wrap. What we experienced was unexpected. This chicken salad  had flavors, textures, colors and moisture. Luckily, we had also stocked up on some regular Fritos Brand Corn Chips and some various other snacks for our week long journey in the Pacific North West, just in case we got stuck in a ferry holding pattern or something. I bring up the corn chips because they absolutely made the Chicken Pesto Wrap a complete palette sensation with the crunchiness and saltiness from the corn chips, added to the flavorful sandwich chicken-pesto filling and fresh leaf spinach.20130620_112412 What then transpired was us gutting the tortilla wrap and scooping the chicken salad onto each chip as both the sandwich and the bag of chips disappeared before our very eyes. We were not expecting such a terrific sandwich from an airport, nor was I expecting to watch the asshole in the seat next to me devour the . . .  now, “Attention in the cabin . . . the in-flight fruit and cheese tray is sold out”. Wow, what is going on here? Have we, as consumers, demanded better airport and in-flight food, or are the vendors and concessionaires upping the ante? I think perhaps both. Our flight went off without a hitch. I got a little writing done and caught two very distinct neck-snapping nap moments in our non-reclinable, but ample leg-roomed seats. Once we arrived, we made our way to the bus that took us to the remote rent-a-car area of the airport. Remote rent-a-car and baggage claim facilities are now quite common in the airport industry. It reduces the quantities of passengers and services crammed into a single facility. It also reduces the potential for misconduct by those travelers the TSA is actually supposed to be character profiling because they looked suspicious, had an accent or were otherwise carrying their cork screw with a 1 inch blade. I think it’s even funny now that if I want to make reference to a B. O. M. B. at an airport I literally spell it out, “B. O. M. B.”. I know that it’s a felony to say the word, but not the letters. Whatever; just remember you might still get smacked with a flashlight because you said the letters, . . . but it’s not a felony.

I was hoping to get e rental car upgrade. Unfortunately, the rental agency was very busy, so there were no deals to be made. I somehow think the agent that assisted me in getting into my “full size” sedan must have completely mis-read my personality. I asked him what kind of car he was putting me in today. He said, “looks like a Chevy Malibu”. I felt that was ok because the Impala had had on one of my last trips was fine and somewhat comfortable. I asked, “what other full size models do you have in your inventory today?” This jackass proceeded an attempt to convince me that the Chevy Camaro convertible was going to make my wife happy. I said, “Listen, I’m from San Diego, I own several cars with sunroofs and an old classic convertible”. I continued, “I lived in Seattle for five years in the past. Today is the first leg of my trip, and it’s raining. Do you really think I need a convertible?” The guy looks at me and say’s, “How about a Prius?” Anyway, my full-sized sedan landed us in a Nissan Sentra. Now I know why I have never yet owned a Nissan. Some of my readers might have one of these Nissan (POS) Sentras, so I better not say anything. The car is fine, just not as comfortable as I was hoping for.

Maybe I should have taken the Prius.

Foodie

Portino’s – Valley Center, CA

If you haven’t yet traveled up to Valley Center in San Diego County, California, you haven’t been missing much. Valley Center is quite distant in the back hills behind Escondido. In fact, it really is not a valley at all. It seems to sit atop a plateau, or mesa (that would be Spanish), and situated amongst surrounding valleys enroot to other hills and mountainous areas in San Diego County. So yes, to get there, you need to go up. Valley Center is somewhat unique in that its population is quite small despite its large area. This is mostly due to its 2.5 acre parcel minimum for single dwelling property ownership. It has allowed many of the residents to have small farms and ranches in a somewhat remote, yet accessible area out of the city limits.

There are not many restaurants and stores in Valley Center. I have written about one on a lake. I wasn’t necessarily impressed with their food. There are a few more eateries I will check out in the future, and I think we’ll see several more sprout up, as the community seems to be obtaining permitting to allow for more residents and businesses.

portino's 2One such establishment has been there for several years. In fact, it was operated under another restaurant name. I think it used to be called “Pepperoni’s”. I remember ordering a pizza from them back several years ago. I said “a” pizza. We’ll just leave it at that. Perhaps back then their business model was a mockery of delivery places like Dominos and Pizza Hut, since it is in the center of the valley where these delivery places did not touch. I don’t remember anything special about them from back then.

Since then, the name has been changed and the look of the restaurant has taken another face. We have passed there almost daily and never stopped in to really try a pizza. I don’t know why, maybe because there remained a vision of a desperate pizza place out in the middle of nowhere serving shitty food. I think we bought a pizza or two, but it was really nothing to stop and say “WOW”! Well one day, out of perhaps the same desperation, I needed a quick resolution to the Friday night dinner pizza. It happened to be convenient, so I stopped in and read the menu.

While reading the menu, I noticed Portino’s had won a pizza competition (I can only imagine) in 2009. I guess by looking at the award, it may actually be quite a significant award for “Western Region, Best Traditional Pizza” given by the International Pizza Expo. On Portino’s menu exists the winning “Sausage and Roasted Garlic pie. We bought one once and brought it home. Once home, we really didn’t pay too much attention to the quality and flavors involved with this pizza, (it’s about a 15 minute drive), and maybe we were in a hurry to shove food in the kids’ face to shut them up. Then one day, again out of desperation, we stopped in for a sit down. I again ordered the same pizza. I also ordered my favorite beer (any place that serves this is a winner in my book), Stone IPA on tap. We also ordered the Mac ‘n’ Cheese.

Well, now we have just entered a whole new world of understanding with Portino’s. While the Mac ‘n’ Cheese was good, it is baked and served in its own oven-baking dish and had formed a nice crust on the melted cheese along the top. What really kicked it up to a much higher level, was the addition of the parmesan shaken cheese that was resident of the table accoutrements. And it did not take very much of a shake at that. Perhaps it was just the extra touch of saltiness the cheese provided. I began to take a different look at Portino’s. The Mac ‘n’ Cheese was a dinner, so I guess it came with a house salad. Whatever, just bring your “house salad”. The house salad was a generous portion of lettuce, onions, cucumbers, fresh croutons and fresh tomatoes. Did I say tomatoes? These were locally grown and really delicious tomatoes. We quickly began to tear the salad apart to analyze the remaining components to see if anything else was farm fresh. Although we couldn’t readily tell, those delicious tomatoes made us think the remainder of the salad must have also been from just down the road as well.portino's 1

While the salad and Mac ‘n’ Cheese were certainly hitting us in the taste buds, there was time to reflect on the very casual atmosphere and back-country Italian décor . . . and the annoying hum from the ventilation system that kept a metronomic beat as we chewed to each monotonous swell of the fan noise. That of an orchestra conductors baton . . . keeping . . . on . . . the . . . beat . . . with . . . every . . . bite . . . hum . . . hum . . . hum . . . Thank god the pizza just showed up. The wife and I wanted to hurt each other. The sound was so monotonous and audibly apparent.

Let’s talk a moment about their “Award Winning” Sausage and Roasted Garlic pizza. I don’t know about you, but I eat a lot of different pizza’s, and for a lot of different reasons. I eat Little Ceasar’s (yeah, by absolute protest), because my kids wanted it, it was five bucks and it shuts them up. I eat Domino’s, Pizza Hut or Papa John’s, because someone at work ordered it, or again I bought one just to shut the kids up. We order various pizzas from various locations and eateries because we have different likes about the pizzas’ attributes. Like one such pizza from Round Table. Round Table must be the single most expensive pizza on the planet. Unfortunately, one of their most expensive pizzas (X-Large, 16” = $26.99), the Gourmet Veggie is what we like. It’s one of those pizza flavor combinations that, if we’re eating at, or ordering from Round Table, that’s the one we order.

Another such pizza has now entered the realm of truly fantastic pizzas. The Portino’s “Award Winning” Sausage and Roasted Garlic pizza is quite remarkable. Portino’s makes their own sausage on site and add to that pizza, an absolutely terrific homemade red sauce (I’m Italian, and I don’t just throw that around), fresh roasted garlic, mozzarella and they use a beer pizza dough trade marked by another vender. I looked them up on the internet, and I’m sure they’re legit, but they appeared to be mid-Western wack-jobs that are selling some kind of “snake oil” pizza dough remedy. Anyway, this pizza is some kind of delicious retreat from the ordinary, belt-drive pizza system, that most people can’t tell apart from Digiorno or delivery. Although I hadn’t witnessed it, I believe it’s cooked on a stone type of oven that adds as much flavor as it does character to the pizzas they make.

This trip to dine at Portino’s has shed new light on the potential and possibilities Portinos’ menu may have hiding, and the new idea that there may be good food “back in ‘dem hills”. The wife and I vowed to travel back and explore more of Portinos’ menu, with hopes the enjoyment continues. They had several other offerings from Italian heritage items, to American classics. Anything with that red marinara sauce is going to get tried, to see if they can rock other classic Italian classics.

Start with the tomatoes
Start with the tomatoes

I think I’ll give Portino’s a bunch of my fresh tomatoes. YUM!

Foodie

Lobster, what to do with the leftovers? (part 1)

Ok, here we go. My wife had an awesome suggestion to serve lobster and Filet Mignon for Father’s day to our family and my wonderful 91 year old Father. I knew my dad was into steak, but wasn’t sure about the lobster. We figured everyone larry-the-lobsterwould want their own lobster (1 1/2 lbs/approx. each). When planning the meal for eight we included one lobster each, and we would effectively share the fillets. What turned out to be a party of 10, still proved too much lobster, as several people did not even eat 1/2. The fillets ran correct, with minimal left over; however, now I’m stuck trying to figure out what to do with the remaining 4 lobsters. They were pre-steamed from whom we bought them on sale for $6.99/lb at Major Market in Escondido. Then, I drizzled them with olive oil and salt and pepper, then quick grilled them on a super hot BBQ to get them up to temp and provide the BBQ smoke flavor. Everything about the meal turned out fabulous including the Quinoa Salad my wife concocted. Now what to do with the leftovers?

Hmmm, I’ll make some Lobster Raviolis, so I can freeze them and eat them during a meal at a later time. Here’s the steps I took.

mr billThe little buggers were already dead, so need to pull the Mr. Bill thing about the screaming when they get dropped into the water. That’s a bunch of crap anyway. They don’t really scream, “Bayer’s Lobster Institute holds that the invertebrates have such primitive nervous systems (they have no brain and 100,000 neurons versus a human’s 100 billion) that they don’t feel pain.They don’t have vocal chords or any other means of vocalization. Dr. Robert Bayer, a professor of animal and veterinary sciences at the University of Maine and director of the research organization the Lobster Institute, says if there’s any noise at all when the lobster hits the pot, it might be air coming out of its stomach through its mouth parts. But it’s nothing that even resembles a scream,” says Bayer. (Chow.com, 2013). I don’t know about any of that crap, ’cause when I was throwing the already cooked creatures on that super hot grill, they were still making creaking noises until I told them “SHUT UP, quit yur bitching!”, and smacked ’em with the tongs. These things only remained on the grill for about 4 minutes total other wise they would have fried and become over cooked.

So the first step was to separate all of the usable meat, tail, body and claws and rough cut them to facilitate easier food processing.

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I had made a dough a bit earlier so here’s my ingredients. Does that say “popper cheese filling”? Yes, I had some left over Jalapeno popper cheese filling to help me out. A quick defrost and we can get started.

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The machine is ready

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Pulse the meat until coarsely chopped

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Combine the cheese filling with the lobster and check for seasoning and flavor. Mine happened to be pretty tasty so I left it alone.

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Roll out your dough into sheets, I used about 1/2 Tablespoon of filling in each ravioli. Covered them with another sheet of dough, after moistening the dough’s contact area with the other dough. Then pressed the crap outta the contact area around the filling and it made these cute little, perfectly shaped fresh raviolis.

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Since I am going to freeze them, I didn’t want to just throw ’em in a Ziplock or they would probably stick together. Instead I layed them out on a sheet pan atop parchment paper, covered them with plastic wrap and stuck the covered pan in the freezer. Once frozen, then I’ll put them in the bag and quickly back in the freezer.

Just a quick synopsis of how to make ’em. All the other steps and in between processes you can find out if YOU go to culinary school. Get real, you think all I do is take pictures and write? I cook too!

The samples were awesome. If you need a cheese filling, just follow the recipe on a lasagna box or Ricotta tub . . . or look it up in some foodie’s blog!

Off to a good Summer break!

Foodie

Car – smashed. Burger – Smashed. Martini – smashed.

Ok, back in the game after completing one seriously grueling quarter in school. I once blogged on Facebook “Death – by homework”. It got several “likes”. And it never helps when life continues to roll boulders in your direction.

smash2Today can actually be looked upon as a good thing; I now have one less Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) registration notice that will arrive in my mailbox each year. I have so many vehicle registrations due every year (yet, not nearly as many as some people I know), that I have the California DMV as one of my “Favorites” on my web browser. Today one of my vehicles was retired from service. Unfortunately, it was still a dependable form of transportation, but it wasn’t worth the money necessary to bring it back into California emission standards (smog test). After a somewhat lengthy process of playing “mail tag” with the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) , I finally met all requirements necessary to have the vehicle smashed at an authorized dismantler and get $1000 bucks that we will put toward the purchase of something else. Once approved the first thing the dismantler does is quickly tag your vehicle.

On the way back, a quick trip to buy groceries traveled us past some quick-stop eateries for lunch. A mention of Rubios for a quick fish taco steered us in the direction of Smashburger. My son and I have never eaten there and stopped to look at the menu. A few items caught my eye so I went in to investigate. I however, have heard that they are not that good, and a bunch of hype. Well, at least in Southern California, the “gourmet” burger food joint is quickly growing into a popular trend, with another burger place (any burger place) sprouting up seemingly on every corner (Crazee, Burger Lounge, Woody’s, 5-Guys to name a few); and everyone’s opinion is just like another person’s unmentionable body part, “everyone’s got one, and they all stink”.smashburger

Today I met Brie, the shift lead (or something like that . . ., manager) at the Smashburger in Vista, CA. I asked her, “why Smashburger?”; hoping to get a thorough explanation of why I should eat at Smashburger instead of getting my fish taco on. She explained their concept, philosophy and method of “smashing” the hand-rolled burger portion (5oz or 7oz) under a press on the grill. Smash Burger offered these statements from their website, “Our handcrafted burgers are smashed, seared and seasoned to order, using our fresh, never frozen 100% Certified Angus Beef® . . . Every great burger needs a companion, and our selection of signature sides — like our Smashfries hand-tossed with garlic, rosemary and olive oil, hand-breaded Haystack onions and fried pickles — are the perfect complement to any meal . . . Every Smashburger menu is specially crafted to reflect the tastes and flavors of your city or state”. I felt comfortable that their menu was worth a go-’round and ordered the “San Diego, w/Fresh avocado, cilantro, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream and chipotle mayo on a torta roll served with a wedge of lime”. Brie, delivered our plates outside to us and explained that the lime additionally squeezed on the toppings helps create the ultimate effect of the regional flavor. I squeezed and I agree.smash1 A delicious burger with a tender and flavorful, medium-well (as described by Brie) beef patty that allowed all of the ingredients to play into the regional flavor. It was good! I tried the Haystack onions . . . meh. I couldn’t seem to get a decent mouthful without getting my fingers coated in the horseradish dipping sauce that was not prepared on site; but made, so I was told by Brie, exclusively for Smashburger. I did not really care for them. My son ordered another burger and the Smashfries. Those were some of the best fries I have ever had. A unique flavor that was just a bit lighter than the very common gourmet trendy burger joint’s Truffle, Parmesan or just garlic style of flavoring for fries. Smashburger also had a nice, yet different selection of various iced teas for beverages. It was a unique touch. It was early that day and Brie made several stops out to our table to ensure we were happy and asking us if we needed anything. Brie was very friendly and quite knowledgeable about the Smashburger enterprise. Brie gave us great customer service and added to our overall enjoyable experience. Smashburger was good and unique. I have a feeling they’ll be around for a while.

Chillin'After a full day of running around and getting much needed small things (work) done around the house, it was time to relax and put our feet up. Needles to say, that martini resulted in the same destruction as the car first mentioned in this story. That’s why I’m writing this the next morning.

I’ll give Smashburger a full truckload of smashed cars.

smashed carsHey, is that mine in there???

Foodie

The cleanest bathrooms south of LA.

Taps Fish House and Brewery, M15 Concert Bar & Grill, Marquee 15 – Review. Watched a show tonight. Eddie Money and some of his very special guests. My ubiquitous deranged state progressed rapidly into the evening as more things kept drawing me further from my final destination, realizing tonight was going to be a long one.eddie1

My previous post I announced that  I had 2 service failures at two restaurants in a month. Well that was the month of May 2013. If I use a 30 day period, make that THREE specific service failures in a month, because the first in this series occurred on Cinco de Mayo (5 May). Yes, and I had just had my third this evening (1 June) at Taps Fish House and Brewery in Corona, CA.

taps 1Taps is a beautifully decorated and busy restaurant. Taps has all the amenities including a beautiful outdoor setting on a lake in the Dos Lagos shopping promenade in Corona, CA. Some might consider Taps as being “the best” . . . Uh, I don’t really think so. We had previously attended a “prix fixe” diner event and thought the event was well done and the food and drinks delicious. It was the evening I was introduced to an awesome roasted pig done in a La Caja China roasting box. I want one! Anyway, we returned to Taps this evening enroute  to a concert at Marquee 15 (M15)to see Eddie Money. Once at Taps, we had drinks in the bar area and decided to order a couple of appetizers because we feared the menu at M15 would send us to the hospital.

Taps has a very nice oyster bar area and features a selection of the bi-valves as one of their cuisine specialties. I even had to ask about the differences of the oysters when the server asked, “what kind do you prefer?” Well shit, if they have more than one choice, they must know what they’re doing. Well, the Washingtonian strain I selected were quite delicious, cold, clean and  WHAT’S THIS ??? . . . not fully prepared by separating them from the shell??? I even asked the server if I was correct in assuming these were to be served that way. She reassured me that my thoughts were correct and they should have been released from their attachment to the shell. Well, the shell shucker failed to properly shuck the shell on three of the half-dozen wonderfully delicious morsels. I told the server to please let the manager know. I’m thinking, she never said anything.Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

I was also kind of surprised the bar had a seemingly limited amount of specialty martinis. I did double-up on one of their Kiwi-Basil martinis. They were really good; but the two I ordered came out different, one with a lime slice and the other without. Speaking of the manager . . . I ran into him just outside of the very messy bathroom (overflowing trash, water splattered and used paper towels scattered everywhere) that had not been inspected and cleaned (according to the cleaning sign-off sheet near the door) for the last two hours. I told the manager that he may want to get someone in there. I mean, Taps is supposed to be a nice place where you take someone to have an grand experience. Not tonight Dick! The overall food was meh at Fish House, brewery and taps. Other than my oysters, we also ordered the tostada trio (sucked) and the Filet Mignon Sliders (they were decent, but not over the top). I would’ve expected a lot more, but I guess it’s just not a stand out kind of service place I once thought it to be. I can’t even seem to get their name correct. Now . . . , hmmm, I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back.

What I do remember is the night of music at M15. But, what the hell did I just sign up for? What began as a drive along the dark edge of an industrial warehouse area in South Corona (Yikes . . . “SouthSide”), we were dumped off in front of a sketchy looking venue in anticipation of seeing Eddie Money and a couple of kick-off bands. After passing the “stink-eye” inspection by the outer security guards just to get to the “inner” security guards who just about raped me with their frisk. LOL, Just kidding, I could’ve had a shank and they never even gave me a quick reach. Oh well, I guess the “SouthSide” is confident in their criminal record . . . it’s that kind of a place.

We were actually given pretty good seats facing the stage, on the first tier just behind the standing-room-only general admission area. M15 had me getting all weirded inside cause I’ve never been into a warehouse venue like this. It is probably common place in all big cities. What didn’t make it any better was the raunchy garage band sounds coming off the stage from the less-than-perfect sound setup screeching from the horn tweeters pointed directly at my left ear. I had to deflect some of the sound with my hand to get through the last two acts before the big show. A look around and seemingly every seat was taken in this 8000 sqft rock warehouse. The bars were packed with various tattooed inner-city hopeful musicians and their groupie followers. The seating was somewhat comfortably arranged with adequate walking room, table area and leg space. Another look around and we were now scattered amongst the multiple senior citizens in attendance hoping to witness Eddie and his entourage. Yes, I guess I would fall into that senior crowd. Well, we quickly gathered a bucket-full of beers and a couple shots and made our way to our seats to listen to the JetSet Rejects; a band that seemed to have pretty good following and an absolute showman of a lead singer. m15 2The JetSet Rejects http://www.jetsetrejects.com/index were good, actually very good. Unfortunately I think they might maintain status just off the main stream spectrum. All of their songs were original and they friggin’ rocked . . . loud and hard! It was fun!M15 1

About half way through the first kick-off band, then again at intermission . . . , then again several more times during the shows, I made my way to the men’s restroom. In a venue as seemingly raunchy as I was expecting, the willies never really got to me, as I thought they were going to consume me . . . even in the bathroom. What was to be expected was the common-place nasty back-alley clubs’ toilet area in which drunken rockin’ men destroy while attempting to relieve themselves and leave all their destruction behind. Yes I’m talking about the men’s room. I was expecting “f”in . . . nasty!!! But to my surprise, every time I walked in, the bathroom was absolutely clean, well stocked and freshly prepared. Almost like a Las Vegas casino, just here I never saw the dude cleaning. It was amazing. Here I was having just eaten oysters on the half shell at a somewhat finer dining restaurant with shit all over the walls (Dumb and Dumber), to a now alley-in-the-back dark-street warehouse that actually seems to care about their customers. What the Fu*@??? I think I have been transformed from alien to human again.

11:30 pm and Eddie finally came on. So the show went off and on. I was happy the sound check for Eddie was set much better, actually perfect for this old guy (old . . . not dead . . . so turn it up!). We left before the end of the show so I know we missed a bunch of songs. But I think we can say we had a good time; listened to some good music and enjoyed the company around us while peeing in some of the cleanest toilets south of Los Angeles. I’m just trying to figure out what gives here in Corona. Why Corona of all places. That’s like God’s country . . . not even God would live there!!!

So I think I’ll give Taps Fish House a Sponge Bob for flopping like a fish; and M15 . . . nothin’! . . . they’re good!!!

Spongebob-spongebob-squarepants-33210742-2254-2451

Foodie

Is it still a Woody . . . when you get the wood?

Woody’s Burgers, San Diego – Review. Bare with me . . . this is a doozey!

woodys service When I sit back and think about the service and/or hospitality industry and the guests that patronize (also known as “patrons”) these establishments, I can’t help think about what a Dick I really am. Maybe it’s not that I ‘m such a Dick, but more so a CritDick. If I look back on the recent past, say just this last month of May 2013, there are two independent personal encounters I can pinpoint as distinct service failures. Not just, “could be” service issues, but full-blown failures. I have previously written about one that happened on Cinco-de Mayo and the other was today. Now think for a moment, I am one person out of how many throughout civilization that has had two distinct service-related failures in one month. On Cinco de Mayo, the server failed to deliver my entrée with the rest of the table’s service. I didn’t get served until the entire table was 50% done with their dinner. Today, I order takeout hamburgers from a new, yet notable, burger joint entering the San Diego restaurant scene. I come up getting stiffed for an order of fries. It doesn’t seem odd to you that the guy who writes about the service failure is the one who gets two in one month? I think that’s why I enjoy my anonymity ’cause, do you think I would be getting failures if people knew I was going to write about it? I’m sure there exists a possible way that I could actually give a failure percentage based on population; but that seems like way too much work for this Friday evening . . . oh snap, “Get me a beer!” . . . ahhhh, much better!Woodys 2

Again, I am just one of 7 billion humans on Earth. Now if I multiply whatever that percentage of failures is, times the population, and somehow figure out the quantity of transactions per day, I would probably be able to justify the fact that, “THERE  ARE  WAY  TOO  MANY  SERVICE  FAILURES ! ! !” But the bigger concern is why we as customers, are so accepting of this high failure rate. Not to say that we don’t complain and the establishment compensates us somehow . . . it’s not that! It’s about the establishments’ failing to begin with. Where is there quality control (QC)? Do we need to implement some kind of legal quality assurance (QA) program upheld under Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)? 21 CFR (that’s how us in the biz say that) is the federal law written that controls the Food and Drug Administration and their regulations. Don’t get me wrong, failures in the FB&H industry are not necessarily taken lightly. In fact, they are often times dealt with swiftly and measurably.  I just don’t always like being the “Dick”. But it is kinda’ fun sometimes. I mean, “can’t I just get what I ordered? . . . just what I want?” Why is that so hard? In aviation, a failure can, and often times, does result in a catastrophic event. In aviation, there are checks and balances that are designed to preclude the frequency of these catastrophic events. But how many times do events happen that don’t result in a catastrophe? Think about that the next time you don’t get the fries you ordered . . . I mean, what if I was to take a hot fry to the eye???

Erica was her name, and quality service was her game! Let’s just get that right out in the open and up front. Unfortunately, she missed an order of the very delicious Woody’s fries on my take out order. I think I was the second order upon their Friday morning opening today and I had several two-for-one coupons that I was redeeming from our office group. Erica made quick sense out of my sloppy office orders on various colors of note stickies. Erica was very careful with ensuring my order was correct. I even verified it with her before she placed the order with the BOH (that’s “back of the house” for you non-culinary jackwagons). And since I’m the CritDick, it was decided that I should fly, since I came up with the brilliant idea this morning to take Woody’s up on their offer that we receieved when they visited our station a couple weeks ago. We promised we would try them as a group and today was that day. Well, their promotion worked by getting us to come into their store and spend our money. Yes it was a two-for-one deal, so six people got to try Woody’s instead of just the three that got the coupons. The promo worked!!! Trust me, Woody still made plenty of money today from just our group.

woodys 1Woody’s get’s it’s name from one of the owners of the original Palm Springs location. I initially met Wayne Woodliff (nic’, Woody) at the MCAS Miramar summer safety event. I wrote about that event a couple articles ago. Today’s food critic results came  from various staff members I questioned while their faces were being stuffed with Woody’s very excellent burgers. Yes I said it . . . “very excellent”! Everyone that had a burger said they were very good and will be going back. To know that we can get a delicious burger right outside the gate is a good thing. All we really have on base is McDonalds and the base clubs. There will probably be another burger joint joining us when they decide to finish the food court, but they are usually just average. One thing I did notice is that the burger menu at Woody’s, compared to other burger menus, presents itself as being an average burger menu. Nothing really just jumps out at you as being special or different. Please allow me to explain. Comparing their burger menu to say Burger Lounge or Crazee Burger, Woody’s menu has a good selection, but nothing seemingly like Burger Lounge’s grass-fed free-range mumbo jumbo and Crazee’s Ostrich/Elk or Bison/Wallabe burger. On Woody’s, there’s a Western Burger with bacon and BBQ sauce, there’ a Blue cheese burger, there’s a Hawaiian burger, there’s a Mushroom burger, Jalapeño burger and a portabella burger; but those are some pretty standard offerings that can be found at most “regular” burger joints. These guys just seem to be kickin’ them up a notch with some great sauces and awesome buns. Wow, can’t believe I just had my Woody in between some awesome buns.

Ok now, the fries that I did get were pretty good, just not the best, but they were really good. Everyone that got ’em, liked ’em a lot. We also ordered a couple of the cole slaws. Although the flavor seemed fine the large cut of the mixed cabbages was a bit overwhelming. I didn’t eat enough of it to really get a much of the flavors. I got full and toward the end of the meal, tried to figure out what the flavors were, but I stopped after just a few bites because of the size of the cuts were too much to palate. It seemed cumbersome to eat.

One of the big letdowns were the onion rings. Everyone that tried them noticed the same things. 1) The significant (I literally poured out a tablespoon) pool of deep fat fryer oil residing in the “echo-friendly” to-go container beneath the rings. Now if I poured a tablespoon after the remainder got absorbed in the echo-friendly paper/cardboard container, how much was actually run-off from the rings? I was reading reviews about Woody’s and there were several disheartening comments regarding the onion rings. Time to look at the process. I personally thought the extra oil was from an insufficiently heated deep-fat fryer (it’s supposed to be 350-375, me personally 365 degrees should be the lowest) to properly lock and set the batter. Again the lower temperature could have been because we were the first customers and the fryer temperature wasn’t yet ready for service. Perhaps they should have started the burner earlier in the start-up sequence for todays service. The fries were good though! The other thing with the rings is that the onion portion seemed almost non-existent with the large amount of beer batter covering the vegetable . . . the slices of onion were too thin. The batter was nice looking but I could not really taste it because of the Exxon Valdez and BP gulf spill near by. Yikes!

A visit to the restaurant just outside the West Gate of MCAS Miramar presented itself easily for the base customers and provided enough parking; but, I think that it can get packed quite quickly because the restaurant shares the strip-mall lot with other vendors and businesses. I did notice that the interior of the restaurant reminded me of the enlisted clubs I frequented when overseas. It was plain with simple furnishings and bright colors. The signs on the walls were rear-illuminated making them trendy and fashionably current. The pool table on the left next is fronted by a 12 or so person beer bar that didn’t seem to have any of the 12-15 tap handles identified as local beers. I may be completely wrong about that; but my very quick glance, recognized only 1 or two, and reading other reviews revealed these may not be the handles associated with the actual beers on tap. On the other side (right of the entrance) revealed a stage that is supposed to be host to live jazz shows on the weekends but I still cannot identify them through Woody’s website. Maybe I’m blind or just stupid, but I cant find anything positively identifying an upcoming show or the band headlining. Look for yourself http://woodysburgerssd.com/. Maybe Woody could use the services of http://cattlecallevents.com/. Sorry, just throwing another plug for someone I trust and am helping make a difference. Give Jimmie a call for your entertainment needs.

Now, poor Erica picked up the phone when I called to tell her that she missed an order of fries. Erica grabbed the order and confirmed my ordering 4 fries but her only charging me for three. I’m thinking her order/input in the Point of Sale (POS) system generated only three orders to the BOH (again that would be “back of house”) resulting in only three orders paid for and three orders delivered. Oh well, stuff happens . . . but what was that? A SERVICE FAILURE!. I don’t blame Erica, I blame management on not instituting a quality assurance process for boxed and bagged orders leaving the store. Well I think I may have identified the weak link. Erica hand wrote my order on a pad then transcribed (entered) it into a POS. She missed one of the orders. Let’s just enter it directly into the POS, just like Jack-In-The-Box. I don’t blame my self because at the time of delivery to me (handed), Woody’s was fully engaged with their lunch service and I pretty much needed to take their word and get outta there. It was getting crazy. I didn’t check my order but I did upon immediately getting back to the office, because I had a feeling . . .Woodys-top-logo1

Woody’s is not a bad place . . . worth a stop in. Try one of their burgers, I don’t think you’ll be dissatisfied. Say hello to Erica and tell her this CritDick recommended her. She tried desperately to make me happy at the end of the phone call. I just wasn’t going to worry about the elusive fries.

Foodie

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