Ladies Who Dine :: Taco Asylum

Ladies Who Dine :: Taco Asylum

If the name didn’t clue you in, the choices at Taco Asylum are quite demented. It’s a place my fellow LWDer Sandy has been chatting up since it opened back in 2011, though her fear of the menu kept her from trying, with options back then for tacos stuffed with grilled octopus, lamb, beef heart, curried paneer, and duck. While perhaps gourmet, I wasn’t interested – those unusual fillings did not get me hankering.

IMG_3859

Enter Summer 2014, an adventurous and tasty summer for a more courageous me. It was William’s pick for our August outing, one that he did not seize, instead over-analyzing, debating, second-guessing. As Sandy and I mused aloud as an assist to him, Sandy again threw out the idea of Taco Asylum. Remembering their menu, I didn’t immediately co-sign her suggestion, giving instead a non-committed maybe, determined to come up with a better pick for William when I had some Googling time. But at some point, I thought it might be fun to look up Asylum’s menu to see what had had me so scared of this place years before.

IMG_3870

To my surprise, I found that TA had had a change. The duck taco was still there, and too was the paneer, but there’d been additions. Playful, less intimidating tacos, like the Bacon PB & J with carrot ginger jam; or the Fried Chicken with a watermelon-feta salad and a Fresno chile hot sauce. Although my palate has come a long way in the last couple of years, their new menu was just my speed. So it was only then that I seconded Sandy’s idea for William’s choice (basically, he let us wrestle his choice away from him), and the rest was history.

With five us us there, we were able to order plenty of tacos and several mixings of flavors, textures, and heat. The Banh Mi was tangy and citrusy, the Wasabi Shrimp surprisingly (at least to me – I didn’t read the description first) luscious and sweet to temper the heat of the wasabi, I suppose. But it was the chile sauce from the Fried Chicken taco that, while perfectly unctuous and flavorful, got me sweaty, caused me to chug down my ice water faster than I did my chilled cider.

IMG_3863IMG_3864IMG_3865IMG_3867IMG_3866

Speaking of hot, William ordered the Firepig, a Ghost chile-braised pork taco that comes with a warning to its consumers. He told us his reddening skin was due to his beer, blaming his ethnicity; but I think it was the taco, which he said was pretty darn spicy. Torrid.

IMG_3869

My favorite taco of the night was the BBQ Chicken, with peach salsa and scallions. It was initially forgotten by the kitchen so I had to wait for it, but that turned out to be a good thing as it was served fresh and steamy. There was a slight crispiness to the chicken that I really appreciated and the sweetly acrid sauce made me dance in my seat. Full as I was, that taco went down in a couple-few minutes. Next time I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll surely pick up another one. Or seven if my husband’s treating.

IMG_3868

So our last LWD outing of the summer ended with a fiery bang wrapped inside a toasty flour tortilla. And a little bit of shopping, thanks to all the boutiques at The Camp, where Taco Asylum lives. Hope your summer’s been as tasty as ours.

IMG_3862IMG_3860IMG_3872IMG_3871

Taco Asylum
at The Camp, 3947 S. Bristol St. in Costa Mesa

What we tried:
Bacon PB&J
Banh Mi
Meat & Potatoes
The Shortrib
Fried Chicken
Firepig
Shrimp Pad Thai
BBQ Chicken
Paneer (Indian Style Cheese)
Mushrooms and Brie

Corn Off the Cob
Brave Potatoes

Burger Quest :: Bobby’s Burger Palace

Burger Quest :: Bobby’s Burger Palace

This wasn’t a planned outing. It was on my way to another Burger Quest trip (Holstein’s) while in Vegas for my daughter’s dance competition that I spotted Bobby’s Burger Palace, (yes, that Bobby) along the way, all glass and shiny and Vegas glitzy. Perhaps it called out my name as I swam along the drunken crowed. All I knew was that I had to try it. I had to work it in to my already impossible schedule.

There was a small window. I had two hours on one of the days of competition between my daughter’s last dance and the awards ceremony for that category. If I ventured out alone, if I hot-stepped it through the casino and down the Strip, I could do it.

DSC_0083

And so I did it, getting all bubbly with sweat while doing so. With all the effort, I was a little perturbed when I sauntered up to the To-Go counter at BBP only to be ignored completely by the woman who hustled behind it. I didn’t even get as smile or the “just one second” finger. While being ignored, I had a couple minutes to glance at the menu, where I spotted a brilliant grouping of words: Cactus Pear Margarita. And that’s when I decided – I still had plenty of time; and the staff behind the sit-down counter across the way seemed happy, even eager for customers; and hey, if you’ve seen one dance competition awards show, you’ve seen too many of them – I needed to hang out at BBP and enjoy the whole burger (and Cactus Pear Margarita) experience.

DSC_0087 DSC_0091

My choice was a hard one with so many burgers that sounded special and promising. The Crunchburger with American cheese and potato chips piqued my interest, yet I ordered one called The Dallas as I’m a sucker for BBQ sauce and Jack cheese. And I figured the coleslaw served just under bun would be a cool and tangy companion to the meaty cheesy robust flavors of the burger.

Unfortunately, I was sorely underwhelmed with my choice. Initially, I blamed my selected protein, the ground turkey patty. Turkey burgers are a pretty easy find these days as restaurants attempt to cater to a variety of palates, including those who like healthier options. I don’t do turkey for health reasons. I just have a long and storied history with cows (as noted in other Dianderthal posts) and don’t like to eat them. If I wasn’t such a picky eater, I’d probably be a vegetarian (I’ve tried!). But I do poultry.

DSC_0105

In keeping things healthy, some places, such as BBP, use white meat for their turkey patties. This was the mistake I initially identified here, as the patty was dry and lacked anything but that wimpy birdy flavor reminiscent of a sad Thanksgiving. I might forgive them this since turkey burgers are typically the beef burger’s awkward little sister; an afterthought. But this is a burger place. If you’re going to do a burger place right, you gotta make sure that all your offerings – chicken, angus beef, veggie – are on point. After dwelling on it some, I realized that my disappointment with the burger didn’t alone lie with the meat. I didn’t get a spark from anywhere – the cheese, the slaw, the sauce were all very gray and dull. A better assembling would have perked up a bland turkey patty, but that didn’t happen here. And like Forrest Gump says, that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

DSC_0096 DSC_0103

What I can get excited about are my drink and the sweet potato fries. The drink especially made my sweaty walk-run to BBP worth it. It was a smooth and slushy cup of fun, despite the brain freeze it gave me.

DSC_0110

But this here quest is about burgers, not margaritas (although I wouldn’t mind partaking in a margarita quest). Here’s how Bobby’s Burger Palace stacked up.

Bobby’s Burger Palace
3750 S. Las Vegas Blvd. in Vegas and other lcoations

Official Dianderthal Burger Quest Burger List:
1. Hawkins House of Burgers turkey burger with everything (mayo, mustard, pickles, tomato, red onion, lettuce), cheese added
2. PCB (Plan Check Burger) at Plan Check with americanized dashi cheese, ketchup leather, schmaltz onions, mixed pickles, crunch bun
3. 25 Degrees Number One Burger (turkey subbed for beef) with caramelized onions, crescenza, prelibato gorgonzola, bacon, arugula, thousand island
4. Father’s Office Burger with arugula, caramelized onions, Gruyere, applewood bacon, and maytag blue cheese
5. Island’s California Flyer turkey burger (BBQ sauce, “Island Reds” – fried onion straws, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato & mayo)
6.Golden State turkey burger with provolone, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli, and ketchup, (added grilled onions)
7. Holstein’s California Turkey Burger with sprouts, tomato, avocado, cucumber claw, pepperjack cheese, and Russian dressing
8. Yeah! Burger (Make It Your Own – turkey patty, whole wheat bun, pepper jack cheese, sriracha mayo, ketchup, grilled onions, honey mustard)
9. The Habit (Veggie burger made like a Charburger, with mayo, pickle, tomato, lettuce, caramelized onions, cucumber, and sprouts)
10. The Counter (Build Your Own – turkey patty, grilled onions, cheddar cheese, chipotle aioli, ketchup)
11. Burger City Grill (The BCG, turkey patty, pickles, grilled onions)
12. The Dallas at Bobby’s Burger Palace – spice crusted ground turkey patty with coleslaw, jack cheese, BBQ sauce, and pickles

Fry Factor
1. Island’s fries with ranch dressing
2. Golden State fried sweet potato wedges with garlic aioli (and a few with curry ketchup)
3. Holstein’s sweet potato fries
4. 25 Degrees Half & Half (sweet potato and regular fries)
5. Father’s Office sweet potato fries with blue cheese aioli
6. The Counter 50-50 fries (half regular, half sweet Ps)
7. The Habit french fries
8. Plan Check sweet potato waffle fries and regular fries
9. Bobby’s Burger Palace sweet potato fries
10. Burger City Grill fries
11. Yeah! Burger sweet potato fries
12. Hawkins House of Burgers fries

Sweet Spots :: Extraordinary Desserts

Sweet Spots :: Extraordinary Desserts

The last time I went to this place, I was on a diet. It was almost three years ago – I’d given up carbs in want of a quick slim down that didn’t require physical activity (during what I call my sedentary years). As proud as I was to resist letting anything at San Diego’s Extraordinary Desserts touch my lips (with the exception of a few sips of cold water), the concoctions lining their display have shown up in my daydreams and fantasies ever since.

Last weekend when I was in San Diego once again to celebrate my 2nd oldest’s 21st birthday – remind me to bring up the nose ring later if I forget; actually, I won’t forget – I was once again in the middle of a no/low-carb thing in preparation for my Vegas trip. However, the birthday girl earlier wanted Italian and I was so close to vacation that I figured I might as well eat like I was on vacation; and even if I managed to lose another pound or so before getting to MGM’s lazy river, my bikini wouldn’t know the difference. So I said what the heck, and got the fam to head a few blocks away from our lunch spot in Little Italy to Extraordinary Desserts.

DSC_0882DSC_0885DSC_0891DSC_0888

It’s a good thing there’s no place like this near the LBC – otherwise, I might get the hankering to quit my civil service job and fill out an application to wait tables or work behind the bar; that way I’d have daily access to incredible (extraordinary) sweets with a discount. And booze too!

It was hard to make a selection once we were seated. I’m not a chocolate person. But I am a chocolate CAKE person. Because of this fact, I finally opted for a slice of their Viking cake based on looks alone. All I noticed were stacked layers of dark brown cake. Little did I realize the chocolate creme brulee and milk chocolate cream padding these layers, nor the crushed chocolate almond praline crust pushed into the frosting. It was ridiculously decadent and effervescent and palatable and crunchy-smooth if there’s such a thing. It was truly a sensual experience. We probably could have used a room, my cake and I.

DSC_0896DSC_0908DSC_0933DSC_0917

Also tasty were my husband’s Dulce de Leche cheesecake – with caramelized pecan edges, a hint of sea salt, and whipped cream – and the birthday girl’s berries and ice cream (not the raciest choice for a 21st birthday, but it fit her; she did enjoy her first official, card-wielding drink at ED, a sangria made at the bar; as a non-wine person, she was a little disappointed at the taste so I had to explain the complexities of true sangria; how the fruit sits and ferments a bit with the alcohol from a liqueur, which isn’t commixed with the wine until later, along with a clear fizzy soda and a sweetener; she was likely only half-listening).

DSC_0900DSC_0930

Now about the nose ring. Those two words coupled  together usually don’t cause any bother for me – people should feel free to pierce any ol’ hunk of cartilage they’d like. But when my husband and I picked up our new 21-year old to find her with not a teeny sparkingly nugget pierced delicately through one nostril, but rather a thick and rounded rod of metal reminiscent of something you might find on a bull drilled through her nasal septum, we got a little itchy. We were honest about our initial dislike (in particular, our 11-year old). We did our best to look away, to avert our eyes. But it’s her nose and she’s been an adult now for three years. And, as she told us several times, she could always tuck it in (ewwww!).

I’ll get used to it, I’m sure (though I don’t think my hub will anytime soon).

At least there were desserts.

DSC_0898

Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego’s Little Italy
and one other location
1430 Union Street

Ladies Who Dine :: Bestia

Ladies Who Dine :: Bestia

Once upon a time, the LWD crew thought we would drive up to the big city of Los Angeles and amble our way right up to a seat at one of the hottest tables in the Southland – Bestia. We’d been warned of the wait, up to a couple hours long for the steadfast, the single-minded. We were rookies then, not savvy enough to have made reservations weeks in advance. Needless to say, we did not make it into Bestia that evening, although our bad planning helped us discover the gem that is Colori Kitchen (and even there, we had to promise to eat speedily as they’d need to turn our table for a 7:00 reservation).

Several months later, we’d try it again, agreeing to a Monday 5:30 slot, those of us able to make it promising to get to work extra early so we could head out an hour before our time. There was a frisson in the air all eight hours we worked, our appetites already in Bestia mode.

DSC_0479 DSC_0444

Though our original party of six had shrunken to three by the time we made it there, the staff still accommodated us at a smaller table (don’t worry – I called first; I’m not a complete reservation novice, though originally over the phone they’d said our smaller party would have to be cool with sitting at the pizza bar) since the place was still relatively quiet at the time we arrived (though that would change considerably within the hour).

Bestia is that rare place that finesses the balancing act of splendid fare, standout service, and that ineffable cool factor. They pull it off well, which I suppose is what the fuss is all about. For my wallet and me, it’s definitely an occasion/celebration kind of place – certainly not cheap. But you wouldn’t want to go to Bestia and skimp. A cocktail, a couple of courses followed by dessert will keep you on a food and drink high for days.

One of the best things about LWD is the sharing. We strive for diversity among our individual orders so that we can sample several disparate items during an outing. This sometimes leads to plate envy, comparing your final selection to the person’s choice next to you, wishing you could take home her leftovers instead of yours. At Bestia, it was a win-win situation for us all as everything we tried was so soulful and satisfying.

Like my cocktail. As lovely as all the drinks on their menu sounded, I couldn’t pass up the Granita Applebum (does Tribe know about this place?), a scintillating concoction with tequila, vermouth, thyme, and nuggets of apple granita. The drink came to life at the table when our waitress added apple soda, which didn’t compromise the iciness of the granita bits. Amazing. Also yummy were Sandy’s choice, the Bellevue Swizzle, and William’s aptly named Refreshing.

DSC_0449 DSC_0452 DSC_0453 DSC_0454

For eats, we went everywhere – from a creamy potato-spiked polenta to a calamari-octopus salad to spaghetti with a seafood-based sauce and a pasta dish with braised oxtail as its star. I have to say, the oxtail thing scared me, not just because I’m rarely a non-poultry meat eater, but really – the oxtail? The only thing I can recall about oxes is that Paul Bunyan had a blue one named Babe. But after Bestia, I now know not to fear the ox.

DSC_0456 DSC_0457 DSC_0468 DSC_0465 DSC_0463 DSC_0461

We finished the evening as scrumptiously as we started with two desserts. The coffee ice cream & doughnuts and a strawberry pastry would have been my favorite part of any other meal. But at Bestia, these fine desserts simply extended a phenomenal experience for us.

DSC_0472 DSC_0469

Perhaps one day, LWD will find a fairy godfather (or just a sugar daddy) to sponsor our outings and get us into keen spots like Bestia on the regular. But maybe not, as keeping these types of dinners infrequent makes them more special, more memorable. The experience from our Bestia outing will happily remain ever after in our memories. The End.

Bestia
2121 7th Place in Los Angeles

Our Eats

Granita Applebum
Refreshing
Bellevue Swizzle

Creamy polenta
Veal tartare crostino
Grilled octopus & calamari

Casarecce al pomodoro
Spaghetti rustichella
Agnolotti alla vaccinara

“Coffee & donuts”
Seascape strawberry crostata

Eating Portland :: Day One

Eating Portland :: Day One

The title of this post is literal.

I am in Portland with the sole purpose of eating. It’s not the only reason I’ve flown a couple hours north from Southern California: while I’ve visited/driven through many of the states, I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest; Portland is the home of Powell’s, the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world; I’m thrilled for an opportunity to rack up Jet Blue points, especially when I can fly out of Long Beach; and I’m a sometimes wannabe hipster. But, goal number one for my quick trip is to please my belly.

20140228-213908.jpg
Getting the party started at LGB

My co-eaters and I arrived late after a long day of work and mommy duties (I still had to shuttle my youngest to dance class before heading to the airport – I should probably check to see if someone picked her up).

20140228-214425.jpg
Just say yes to public transportation

After a smooth landing at PDX and a cheap ($2.50) ride downtown to our hotel, the pickings were slim for a late night feast. We opted for Huber’s Cafe, which bills itself as Portland’s oldest restaurant. From their late night happy hour menu, we ordered calamari, bay shrimp, nachos, seared ahi, and spinach-artichoke dip.

20140228-214523.jpg
I like a restaurant with rules
20140228-214544.jpg
Calamari
20140228-214604.jpg
Black bean nachos
20140228-214634.jpg
Seared ahi
20140228-214705.jpg
Bay shrimp

But visitors and locals alike know of Huber’s Iced Spanish Coffee, a $10 concoction of Kahlua, Bacardi 151, triple sec, and coffee that is set ablaze right at your table.

20140228-215027.jpg
Play with fire, you get tipsy

It was just the kind of show I was looking for to launch my PDX adventure. So far, I’m Drinking Portland more than eating it.

20140228-215058.jpg
Coffee done right

But that’s quite alright – I’ve got two more days, a few pairs of stretchy pants, and a suitcase full of aluminum foil and Tupperware.

Look out, Portland. Dianderthal is here.

Huber’s Cafe
411 SW 3rd
Portland, OR

Cocktail Tuesday :: Cuban Sidecar

Cocktail Tuesday :: Cuban Sidecar

I have to say this right now – the Cuban Sidecar is my favoritist (I made it up) Tuesday Cocktail I’ve made so far!

Yes, there haven’t been too many of these posts to date and yes, there have been failures. But this drink… THIS drink is restaurant-worthy. It’s bomb-diggity [Def: adj. used by older women to express extreme satisfaction with something]. It’s wonderful. It’s sublime.

And it’s gone.

But let me show you what I did.

Not too many ingredients
Not too many ingredients

In a shaker, I mixed up equal parts rum, Cointreau, and lime juice. Next, I added ice.

After shaking (like a Polaroid picture [Ref.: original: Polaroid manufactured instant cameras and self-developing film; in the ’80s, I very much loved my Polaroid camera || Later: saying made popular in the early 2000s by the musical duo Outkast in their hit Hey Ya!]), I strained into a chilled glass, and…

Wah-lah! Cuban Sidecar
Wah-lah! Cuban Sidecar

Enjoyed!

As simple as it was, I didn’t think I would like it. But it proved refreshing and exhilarating. I will be making many a Cuban Sidecar in my near future (though for March, I’m embarking on an “ab” challenge, which means I really need to cut back on the spirits).

Delightful
Delightful

Salud!

Ladies Who Dine :: Fig & Olive

Ladies Who Dine :: Fig & Olive

In our usual end-of-the-year fashion, the Ladies ended the year grandly with an outing at the inaugural public dinner service for a venue. While we typically hold December for our holiday gift exchange and year-end awards, this year we attended the grand opening of Fig & Olive in Newport Beach.

Newport Beach's Fig & Olive on Opening Night
Newport Beach’s Fig & Olive on Opening Night

Known for its contemporary Mediterranean fare, Fig & Olive fits right in with the hipster vibe transition occurring at Fashion Island these days. As expected, the crowd was hip and happy – young, tipsy, high off the holidays. And therefore, the Ladies fit right in (at least in my humble opinion). Not sure if it was because it was opening night, but the service was exquisite – from our fabulous server Tiffany to the hostess to the manager, who welcomed us, thanked us for coming, and gave us her card. We even got to check out the chef, having been seated next to the owner and his French-speaking guests. From our seats, we were fully able to take in the surroundings of this beautifully and red-hot styled locale, bustling with good energy.

Sushi Bar
Sushi Bar
Our view
Our view

The Ladies, however, aren’t just about ambiance. The food and the drink remain integral components of a successful LWD experience. For me, three things made this holiday LWD outing a true delight.

One: Crostini.

Crostini - 6 for 21
Crostini – 6 for 21
The caramelized onion and goat cheese was my fav
The caramelized onion and goat cheese was my fav

Crostini is at the core of the Fig & Olive menu. We took the costini plunge, taking advantage of their six for twenty-one bucker offer. I was able to sample two of these: the goat cheese, caramelized onion, & chive and the shrimp, avocado, cilantro, & tomato. I will say this right now – I could eat a whole plate of the goat cheese/onion crostini. Not that the shrimp one was bad (it was actually quite dandy!); it’s just that I so, so loved the sweetness of the onions with the goat cheese. Those three little bites really turned me on. Just as passionate about one of her selections was Lady ThickLeg, who couldn’t stop raving about her mushroom, artichoke, scallion, & parmesan crostini, and Lady Wilkutabith, who loved her salmon, ricotta, almond, & pimento toast.

Two: Cocktail.

Plum Pisco
Plum Pisco

I won’t say a lot about it because it was simply sublime. I love a Pisco Sour. Fig & Olive offered a Plum Pisco. If the crostini turned me on, then the Plum Pisco made me pre-orgasmic.

Three: Dessert.

IMG_0419
Warm Chocolate Souffle
IMG_0421
Creme Brulee Cheesecake

Our lovely and informative waitress said that the Crème Brulée Cheesecake would blow our minds. I was a skeptic right away, and even more of one when she presented a miniscule round of cheesecake that my husband could easily remove from the plate in one bite. But I soon became a Bru-liever (you like that one?)! As ThickLeg put it, a sliver of their cheesecake was like eating a little cloud of happiness. Oh, it blew mind alright. And for me, the cheesecake paled in comparison to the Warm Chocolate Soufflé, served with a candied orange and vanilla ice cream. Yes, but this point, I was ready for a cigarette and shower. I will gladly return for the 1, 2, 3 described in this blog.

My entrée of Fettuccine Shrimp Marscapone wasn’t bad. It just didn’t thrill me in any particular way. There was nothing spectacular about it.

Fettuccine Shrimp Marscapone
Fettuccine Shrimp Marscapone
Pumpkin Sage Ravioli
Pumpkin Sage Ravioli
Penne Funghi Tartufo
Penne Funghi Tartufo

Still, I was thrilled enough with all of my other offerings that I can easily forgive an underwhelming entree. Besides, this just gives me a reason for returning to find a main dish that really satisfies. Then again, as I mentioned, I’d take a whole plate of crostini if given the choice. Hats (or berets?) off to Fig & Olive for a wonderful and enjoyable Holiday LWD Outing!

Fig & Olive, Newport Beach & Other Locations
151 Newport Center Drive, Fashion Island
Newport Beach, CA 92660