Archive | Restaurants

Today’s Scones at Rebecca’s Coffeehouse

Posted on 21 September 2010 by April

THURSDAY, JULY 26  : Blueberry Cream Cheese are the scones for today at the coffeehouse located at the corner of 30th & Juniper in Golden Hill.  619. 284-3663.

Now taking pie orders: Pecan and Coconut Dark Chocolate pies!  razespresso@yahoo.com for email order form www.rebeccascoffeehouse.com

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Aqui es Texcoco Offers Mexican Fare Unlike Any Other

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

I have to confess a lifelong love affair with Mexican cuisine. Generally speaking, Mexican food not only excites my taste buds, but it has a primitive yet noble character that just makes me feel good. This comes from the relatively simple ingredients that form its dishes, slow cooking and imaginitive seasoning that yield wonderful and sophisticated taste sensations; for example, what can be more elemental than masa—the corn flour used for tortillas? Even the way tortillas are prepared is primitive; mixed with water, lime and salt and beaten on a stone, then patted by hand and used to hold no end of fiery, savory morsels, the corn tortilla was ancient in America long before the Spanish came. It is a yin to the often rich, peppery, combination of textures and spice yang inside the carrier torilla, yet no matter how magnificent the meal, it can’t be complete without the humble masa tortilla alongside it.
Living in California, we all know a good deal about Mexican food—or we like to think we do, since we’ve eaten so many staple dishes over the years from a variety of places. Everyone has a favorite little hole in the wall taqueria; people rhapsodize about the mole or al pastor at this place or that, but when you stop to think about it, there must be much, much more to Mexican cooking than the common dishes we know. Some people seek out other restaurants where Mexican forms of preparing fish and other seafoods make up the menu, while a few brave ones visit the ethnic markets to learn about chiles, queso and the about the mysteries of how to cook properly on open fires to get the peppers to roast just the right way. That kind of effort can be richly rewarded in San Diego; there are many people here who can prepare all the regional forms of Mexican cooking and many of the ingredients common to much of Mexico are here or can be imported. We can eat of their cuisine as well as anyone can. Fortunately, there is another fine place in which to sample some excellent forms of the cuisine.

It was a great pleasure to luck into Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista. I happened to meet the owner, Francisco Perez, one day at a local trade seminar and he told me about his restaurant; the specialty of lamb and rabbit meat used in the dishes, the show for the patrons where the cook chops the lamb shanks on a block for all to see—and the vegetable dishes, including a kind of cross between a quesadilla and fritatta that is filled with fried zucchini flowers, mushrooms and what translates into English as “corn blossoms”. I had to try that, and the dorados de sesos that are a regular feature on the menu and a big hit with the Mexican folk that crowd the place daily. Next day, I showed up for lunch.

This was fun! There’s nothing better than trying new places and new menus and Aqui es Texcoco was a small gem of its kind. Bright and spare, neat as a pin and filled with people devouring plates heaped with food, it had all the proper visuals going for it. There was a crush of kids with their parents ahead of me at the door and I asked one of the kids what she was going to eat. “Cabeza,” she said, smiling. Her sister piped up to say she couldn’t wait for a platter of “Flautas de Barbacoa y salsa verde.” It’s a foolproof method to quiz intelligent-looking children in order to find something interesting to eat in an unfamiliar place. I have rarely been disappointed with this method so, I followed the kids’ example and started with an order of rolled tacos filled with barbecued lamb.

These flautas (flutes) of lamb, as the rolled tacos are called, were excellent. The lamb was done to perfection and was as juicy and tender as necessary. The rolled tacos were quite long and the order of three were liberally covered in shredded lettuce and a slightly tart crema fresca and finely grated queso fresco—a sort of Mexican take on parmesan cheese. Two sauces are available with the lamb; a piquant red that relies on brightness for flavor instead of mere heat from the peppers, and a milder salsa verde. I went for the red and deeply enjoyed the combination of the base note of the rich lamb contrasted with the crunch of the tortilla, and denseness of the crema set off against the red salsa’s top note to the dish. These flautas disappeared in no time; the small order of hot lamb broth on the side, filled with garbanzos, onion and rice (this is a wonderful cold weather soup and perfect for this summer’s lingering June gloom) settled the rolled lamb tacos very nicely and I would have been just fine with a good espresso and maybe some flan at this point—but much work remained to be done. I was on the job and would have to eat more.

After a decent interval, I ordered the cabeza de borrego. This is lamb’s head. In case you’re wondering why anyone would want to eat the head, let me tell you that the head of the lamb has a finer, lighter and more delicate taste than the body does. This is true of other animals, too, whether cows, pig or even goat. When I was a kid, my grandmother would give the kids a plate of the head meat from the goats my grandfather would roast over a charcoal fire in the yard. In Aqui es Texcoco’s offering, the rendered meat is extremely tender, rich and light in taste. It is presented on a large platter with plenty of tortillas, salsas, lemon wedges and diced onion and cilantro. One can vary the condiment seasonings until finding the right mix of tastes. I pretty much left off the lemon and salsa verde; the cilantro added much to the lighter head meat—and I was really beginning to like this place.

Aqui es Texcoco offers lamb ribs and mixtures of lamb and rabbit in a combination plate that you can assemble yourself from the variety of ingredients presented. Sides are also unusual; in addition to the usual beans, rice and potato tacos, a wonderful rendition of nopales salad (cactus fronds) are available as well as honeyed yams. Honeyed yams go with lamb and rabbit the way mashed potatoes goes with fried chicken and gravy and this combination will leave you filled, but happy.

Last thing on the list for the brave souls among you—or at least those not raised in ethnic households that enjoyed foods missed out on by many Americans—are the dorados sesos. These are brains of lamb, grilled to a crispy golden texture. Brains are pure protein, smooth and mild in taste. They’re a cross between a fairly firm tofu and baked potato in texture and taste much like hashed browns, only better because they’re richer. One secret about brains that you likely don’t know is that in many cultures, they are used to give body and richness to sauces. This lasts only until the American customers find out and soon thereafter many cooks substitute cream, butter or mere flour for thickening. If you’ve ever had a particularly rich sauce on meat, duck or even ravioli, you may have had sauces enriched with brains. At Aqui es Texcoco, lamb brain is grilled and served in tacos or in sopes, which are a kind of round masa pocket. These are tasty—and addictive.
To complete the experience, you can enjoy Sangria with your meal or have any of several iced, fresh fruit flavored waters. They serve a café olla—a Mexican bean coffee brewed in clay pots, flavored with cinnamon which is a good way to end the meal along with flan and if you’re in the mood, you can top it all off with rice pudding, too.

Meats are available to go in large quantities by prior arrangement.

Aqui es Texcoco is a carnivore’s delight and gives excellent value for the money. You can be fully stuffed for under ten dollars per person and can easily and happily spend much more. The place is one of those offbeat gems that most Yankees won’t find so if you want to impress friends from out of town with a new form of Mexican cuisine this is the place to go. See you there soon.

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La Fachada: Our Kind of Mexican Food

Posted on 08 June 2010 by John Rippo

Next time you need Mexican, do yourself a favor and hop the trolley to el Varrio to the 25th St. stop at Imperial, walk up half a block and find La Fachada. There are two; one is a sit-in restaurant, the other is a covered patio served by a “taco truck” that takes care of the overload. This place always has an overload of customers because the food is excellent and the outdoor site is the quick service part of the operation. This stays open later than the restaurant does.
Watch the women make the corn tortillas in the window and blend the five different kinds of salsas. Order the pastor, carnitas, lengua, or chicken street tacos for $1.70 each; two will fill you up. They make their own horchata and the peppers and onions roasting over the coals are gratis, as are the boiled beans, cucumbers, radishes and chopped peppers. Beer is available inside.
The service is quick and presentation simple; the indoor restaurant is where to go if you want to sit awhile.  La Fachada al fresco opens early and offers crepes along with its full menu. It’s a great place to have the large Mexican breakfast you always dreamed of at an absurdly early hour. You can eat at the outside patio til one a.m.
The only shortfall is the coffee. If you go early, bring your own thermos. Other than that, the place is a jewel and if you’re up for something authentic, basic, hearty and different, this is the place for you. It certainly is for us and we’ll see you there. —ESPRESSO staff

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2540 Bistro: Real Northern Italian Cuisine from Liguria

Posted on 08 June 2010 by John Rippo

I have to confess a bias here; this is the kind of cooking that comes from my mother’s region of Italy and the stuff I grew up on. My mom’s ancestry came from a place near the top of the Italian boot on the Mediterreanean side not too far from where France and Italy meet. This is Liguria and the people there have spent centuries cultivating basil—pesto—into an art form along with the mysteries of pine nuts, olive oils, zucchini and nearly everything that comes from the sea.
It’s a little different from the average spaghetti red, sugar in the marinara sauce and canned artichokes that are too common in what passes for Italian cooking for American tastes. Those who are used to the stuff you can find in a cheap pizzeria or chain eatery are going to be surprised and maybe dismayed if they somehow find a real McCoy of Italian eating anywhere. I’m very glad to say that at 2540 Bistro & Bakehouse, the real McCoy of Ligurian cuisine is alive and well and living in San Diego. I was so taken with this place that I called my relatives in town to tell them about it.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about 2540 concerns the focaccia. Focaccia is a kind of pizza that is much different from the thin crust, cheese laden, etcetera that we all Jones for from time to time. Focaccia relies on a thick crust for starters that uses a semolina flour that takes forever to knead into readiness for the oven. The flour is paired with a dusting of a finely ground corn meal on the bottom of the cooking sheets that gives it a counterpoint taste not found in other forms of the dish and usually a light olive oil is added. Like any pizza, focaccia can be topped with whatever is handy; we often ate it topped with bacalao, crab, lobster or even clams. These were offset by a blend of light, spiced olive oils, herbs and peppers. But the pure form of Ligurian focaccia is a simple tomato sauce and blended olive offering. This is the kind found at 2540 and it is excellent.
That’s because their focaccia plays tomatoes, olive oils and temperature together in exactly the right combination that melds their flavors, adds some zing and melts in your mouth. It was like eating my mother’s pizza again and it’s as good as the focaccia form gets.
2540 is not limited to focaccia, however. There are delicate pastas, of which gnocchi are a potato flour dumpling to which a pesto sauce is added. First rate comfort food it is; and the roasted eggplant with oil is a completely pure form of the dish, too.
The bistro offers outdoor seating, a varied menu of authentic dishes, and even an exemplary coffee service. It is one of the two places in Old Town in which to have an excellent espresso and their house coffee is offered in french press pots only.
The place has class. Better than that, it has chops and will no doubt go far. The only limitation at present is that it is still waiting for San Diego’s bureaucrats to give it a beer and wine license; until that happens, there will be no alcohol served—you can’t even bring your own.
Lastly: I apologize for not getting the complete menu of pastries that are made daily at 2540. There are many and as the Ligurian culture dictates, they’re incredibly addictive. It’s best to call and ask owner Marco for the latest updates. I hope to see you there soon.

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Strega Liqeur Marks 150th Anniversary

Posted on 08 June 2010 by John Rippo

It started with a phone call. A relative in New York called out of the blue to share a bit of good news about someone and somewhere in the conversation, she mentioned a party and that some new people enjoyed the Strega. Strega with coffee, and with chocolates, to be exact. That brought back a lot of memories; it’s been years  since anyone I know had Strega, though when  the old ones—gli Vecchione, in Italian—were still alive, Strega was a part of the daily table in many of our relatives’ homes. It was always drunk following meals and its blend of saffron, mint and fennel combined with a warm 80-proof kick never failed to ease the effect of the food overdose which is common to all Italian meals.
Sadly enough, the taste for the liqeur died out when the last of the old ones passed away. I’d forgotten about it and along with grappa, dry-cured cigars, certain kinds of seafoods and sausages and hams that Americans don’t eat; Strega disappeared from my radar. My relative brought it back.
Strega means “witch” in Italian and the name supposedly comes from the town it was invented in, which was said to be plagued with witches. One story goes that once some witches were troubled by a storm and an ancestor of one of the company’s founders saved her from the branch of a falling tree. As a gift, the witch gave the man the recipe for a potent brew—but on the condition that no one else would be allowed to have the complete recipe. The witches’ brew contained some seventy herbs and spices and is distilled. The man who got the recipe was as good as his word, and to this day, only a single direct descendant in each generation is entrusted with the recipe for Strega. Others can know parts of it or of the fermentation process, and are responsible for obtaining the herbs for their part of the recipe, but  only one person knows enough to put it all together.
As one might expect in Catholic Italy, a witches’ brew had an uphill fight against the Church, which could and did look down harshly on all things that dealt with the un-holy. This might have been a problem for Strega, at least until the clerics tried it and were won over. Officially baptized and sanctified, the digestivo has been okay for church goers ever since. This echoes the experience of coffee, which was once the exclusive property of the Ottoman Turks that tried to invade Europe for centuries. When beans were captured in 1683 and brought to Rome, some in the Curia wanted to anathematize coffee and forever ban it from Christian tables. The pope tried it, liked it and the rest is history.
The brew was first marketed in a stall at a railroad station and was given away in little promotional bottles. Eventually, the demand for it grew and so did the network of sales along Italian railway networks. The founders, who made a varietal wine in their southern Italian region, soon realized that Strega was a cash crop widely known throughout the newly unified Italian republic and in some sense, the brew has become synonymous with united Italy ever since 1860.
I recall my grandmother’s contemporaries who sometimes used Strega to sauté shrimps that went into a pasta dish served with a cream sauce. When little kids were sick, sometimes sly old women would add a few drops of the stuff to hot chocolate or drizzle a little on chocolate ice cream that went to convalescent kids. In what passes for winter here, kids would roast the castañas—chestnuts in English—and the adults would eat these with a small glass of Strega while the kids got hot milk or coffee with sugar. Some women used to bake pies and cookies with it, though their recipes have been forgotten for decades. As a teenager at my grandparent’s house, Strega always followed roasted veal. It was a perfect combination even if it was politically incorrect.
The company makes various chocolate candies filled with the liqeur and even a non-alcohol syrup that is used either to flavor coffee or is served alongside it. Though it was once fairly cheap, the chic-factor of high priced Italian delis and other wine shops have dramatically inflated the price of the stuff to the absurd levels that many grappas sell for. Still, it’s worth springing for a bottle  if only to find a new taste signature and to experiment with what it can do for the rest of your menu. And it’s good to know that there is something elegant and pleasant to follow a large Italain meal that will ease the digestion in ways that Yankee fizz-waters just can’t match. —Santé.

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