Category Archives: Reviews

Namaste’

 

IMG_4921Himalayan Cuisine

Nepalese, Indian & Tibetan Restaurant

 “Namaste.” A greeting given to you as you walk through the front door of the restaurant Himalayan Cuisine in La Mesa, meaning, “I bow to the divine in you.” Since opening in 2007 by husband and wife team Khem and Hema Kharel it has become one of the most popular ethnic restaurants in La Mesa, and even San Diego.

My introduction to the Himalayan Cuisine restaurant was a couple of weeks ago at the “Taste of La Mesa.” This event is one of the many neighborhood events around San Diego that bring together restaurants to showcase their food and allow the people of the community to experience what is available to them in their own neighborhood.

The Himalayan restaurant table at the event was impressive. Although he was placed in the very back corner of the room, he had the longest line. People were raving. After waiting about 15 minutes myself I understood why. The flavors were amazing. As I reached the front of the line Khem was explaining the differences between Nepalese, Indian, Tibetan cuisines, and how the main difference between them all was that Nepalese cuisine was healthier and lighter, using less fat, cream, and butter, incorporating more herbs and spices that not only flavored the dishes but also promoted good health. It was at that point I felt I needed to, and wanted to encourage as many people as I could to go to Himalayan Cuisine and experience what I had briefly.

I thought this was a good opportunity to take my wife, as always, and two young kids to experience a different culture through food. Especially my children, as I always want them to be adventurous and open to new and different things.

A familiar face greeted us at our table, it was Khem. He smiled from ear to ear and welcomed us to his restaurant. His enthusiasm was palpable, gracious, knowledgeable and helpful with recommendations from the extensive menu.

Complimentary Himalayan Daal Soup, presented to each guest as a precursor to the meal is a traditional lentil based soup seasoned with garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, coriander, Nepalese black salt and parsley. Well rounded subtle flavors combine to create this wonderful beginning to what was to come.

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No. 14 on the menu: Kukhura Ko Momo. Made to order, these steamed dumplings are filled with minced chicken, onions, cilantro and spices. Moist and flavorful, the chicken is encased in a thin, chewy casing that bursts as you take the first bite, the juice and spices sealed inside the dumpling coat your tongue leaving you wanting more. Served with Momo Sauce; an earthy roasted tomato sauce seasoned with garlic, ginger, coriander, and turmeric. These dumplings, although taking about 20 minutes to prepare, are worth the wait.

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No. 26 on the menu: Tama Ra Bodi. This is a typical Nepalese curry (Tarkari), lighter than the Indian version, so do not expect any coconut milk in this dish. The vegetables were cooked in and coated with a generous amount traditional Nepalese curry spices and served with fragrant, floral Basmati rice. The curry spices in this dish were so pronounced that the lack of coconut milk was not missed.

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No. 60 on the menu: Mixed Tandoori. Chicken, lamb, and shrimp marinated according to ancient tradition in garam masala, garlic, ginger, cumin, cayenne pepper, and turmeric cooked in a Tandoor oven; a cylindrical live-fire clay oven that can reach temperatures of up to 900 degrees Ferinheight. This dish has a bit of everything. Colorful and flavorful. You will enjoy this or any of the other seven choices of Tandoori items on the menu.

The most impressive item on our table, Mixed Pickle. Spicy, pungent, salty, fragrant, and grainy. A combination of mango, carrot, bell peppers, vinegar and spices. I’ve never been sucker punched but this is what I imagine it would be like. It is so strong that you only need a little at a time. I liked it best spooned onto a piece naan, a traditional flatbread. The naan mellowed some of the stronger flavors of the pickle but did not take anything away from the delicious flavor. I asked for seconds.

It is my duty as a writer to get people out of their comfort zone and try new and exciting food and restaurants that they may not have thought of before. I know you will be amazed and stunned at what you have been missing and gain the confidence within yourself to venture out and experience new things. I encourage you to expand your exposure to ethnic restaurants to learn about other cultures and the unique flavors and contributions they make to the culinary world.

Located at 7918 El Cajon Blvd. in La Mesa. The prices range from $4.75-$19.95. Open for lunch and dinner. If you want to visit them online: www.himilayancuisineone.com.

Taco’s Baja Jr.

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When I created The Fork Lifter, blinders on, I was only thinking about Sothern California. How could I even think about overlooking one of the greatest influences of our region since before the white man even arrived in California? Baja California. Yeah, Mexico. The media has done a really good job of creating a sort of paranoia we should all associate with danger, drug cartels, corrupt police and possibly being locked up in a dirty Tijuana jail with a dirt floor and a bucket in the corner to relieve yourself in, of course with the hopes of never, ever getting out. Come on, man. Really? If you’ve ever traveled anywhere in the world or even anywhere in the United States, apply the same common sense when you travel to Mexico. Don’t be the dumb, obnoxious American and you’ll be just fine. Put some adventure in your life, cross the border and discover a culture that has greatly influenced more than just the food we eat.

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Friends of ours told us about a place between Rosarito and Popotla, that by far had the best fish tacos around. The place, Tacos Baja Jr.; a few minutes south of downtown Rosarito. We have enjoyed eating there ever since our first trip 11 years ago.

Last weekend my wife and I decided to take the boys down there for lunch. We pulled up to the colorful, small restaurant located just off of the main road, across from several tile, ceramic, and wooden furniture shops.

Husband and wife, Andres Christoval and Rosa Martinez are the owners of Tacos Baja Jr., started out of a humble food truck in 1995.   After several years of building a loyal customer base, Andres realized that the food truck was no longer able to handle the amount of business they were doing and decided to set up shop in their current location. A bigger space, lots of room for people to sit, inside and out with a traditional Mexican style patio and cocktail area with lush plants and a beautiful fountain, along with the proverbial larger than life, wall mounted shark, swordfish and dorado watching the diners from above. A true success story considering Andres did not have any restaurant experience prior to starting his food truck in 1995.

We make the 1 hour trip from San Diego to Tacos Baja Jr. several times a year just to have lunch. To say the food is good is an understatement.

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We have our favorites, and this time our boys; Jonas and Jude got to make their own fish tacos. Quite an experience for them, one I hope they will remember.

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Caldo De Mariscos, loaded with swordfish, squid, shrimp, and octopus, swimming in a hearty seafood consommé. When I asked Andres how he makes the base for this soup he politely stated, “There’s a lot of different stuff in there.” I think if he told me then it would be like giving away one of his secrets. As a fellow cook I understood.

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The Taco California with shrimp, octopus and grilled onions, a new item just added to the menu did not disappoint. The crisp sweetness of the shrimp, the chew of the tender octopus, and the char of the grilled onions are a great, an unexpected combination of flavors. Delicious and a great addition to the menu.

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Of course we always have to have a few of our favorite Tacos De Pescado. Fried to a crispy golden color the fish is fresh and light, dressed with shredded cabbage and tomatoes, served in freshly made corn or flour tortillas.

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We love Tacos Baja Jr. and always look forward to making the trip south of the border, Andres and Rosa make us feel right at home.  Located at Blvd. Popotla No. 639 km. 28.8 pasando el 7/11 Nxt: 125*1032*973  Cel: (661)112-8346.

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Heading back to San Diego we always make a stop at my son’s favorite piñata shop, located in the heart of Rosarito. An open shop situated on a corner, it is loaded with hundreds of colorful piñatas hanging from the ceiling as well as selling many dried fruits, nuts, spices, candies, fresh cheeses and dried meats. Spend a little money and get a piñata, buy some Mexican candy, dried chilies, machaca (dried, shredded beef), cotija cheese or whatever you think looks interesting. My motto is, “You always have to try something at least once.” So be adventurous.

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One last indulgence before crossing back into San Diego…”Diabolitos.” Mango Sorbet with Chile and Chamoy; sweet, spicy, salty, fruity, and creamy. It will literally blow your mind when you take the first bite. It’s almost confusing on how and why it is so good. Only one of the many things sold by street vendors to those waiting in their cars heading back through customs.

Expand your horizons, have an adventure, indulge your senses and take a trip south of the border. You will be amazed at what you will find and experience.

A Diamond in the Rough; Rialto’s Last Citrus Grove

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In my journey to find Southern California’s gems I stumbled across Adams Acres, the last orange grove in Rialto, California. It’s about two hours north of San Diego between Fontana and San Bernadino. It’s an unassuming place, back from the street, surrounded by small and large fruit trees, with a painted wooden sign advertising “Adams Acres”.

John Adams, a botanist who has a PhD in soil science, is the 3rd generation to care for these century old trees. His grandparents bought the property in 1899 and planted the first orange trees in 1907, many of which are still producing an abundance of fruit today.

I called John to learn more about his orange grove and possibly arrange a tour. We spoke for almost an hour, him telling me about the rich history of the grove and what he has been up to for the past few years, planting exotic trees and farming vegetables, different processes he was using to maximize his crops, and experimenting with new fruit trees and planting vegetables at different times during the season to maximize variety. At the end of our wonderful and informative conversation he invited me up for a tour.

Adams Acres is located in the middle of a residential area so keep your eyes peeled; I missed it twice. I was met at the top of the driveway by John with a warm smile and handshake, him stating, “You finally found it.” I think he knew I had gotten lost. We exchanged a little laugh and then began the tour of the orange grove and vegetable farm.

We started on the front side of the grove by the street. We walked slowly through the trees, John telling me about all of the different exotic fruit trees he had planted in the last few years as well as the original orange trees in the grove. One of the most exotic trees on the property is the tecojote tree. The fruit from the tecojote tree is used in a punch mixed with tequila for a warm drink during the winter months in Mexico.

As we made our way to the back side of the grove, we’d stop, him giving a brief description about the types of trees and characteristics of the fruit he was growing. At one point he said, “I bet you can’t guess what kind of tree that is.” A tree with small, round, yellow fruit in bunches and not many leaves. I hadn’t a clue. He encouraged me to go over and try a couple. Firm flesh, a bit creamy and loaded with flat seeds. He said, “Thai Eggplant.” I have to say they were pretty good, and a new one for me.

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We continued to walk and talk, sampling different types of oranges from several different trees, his favorite being the Cara Cara. I peeled the deep orange rind away from the ruby red flesh, the sugary sweet juice dripping down my hands as I pulled the segments apart, sweet and full of flavor. I understood why it was his favorite.

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We walked to the far side of the grove where he has rows and rows of kale, rainbow chard, onions, lettuce, cilantro and kohlrabi growing. He said, “We are trying different growing techniques with the vegetables, which ones grow better with more or less shade, as well as keeping a large variety growing at all times so there is never a lull in production.” He wants to make sure that in his fruit stand he always has something new and exciting for customers to try, and his growing techniques assure him that he is getting maximum flavor from his fruits and vegetables.

Another new one for me was the Kohlrabi. He asked me if I knew what it was, I told him I’d heard of it but never had tried it. An opportunity for me to try something straight out of the ground, he said, “pull it out of the ground, break off the little tip and eat it like an apple.” Crunchy, earthy, delicious.

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While I continued to finish my lunch we wondered back to the front of the property where his fruit stand is located, a small freshly painted building with signs advertising his offerings and windows facing the street. I had had my fill of fresh fruits, vegetables and education. I snapped a few pictures and thanked John for his hospitality.

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Driving back to San Diego I thought to myself how great of an afternoon it had been, spending time with someone who has a deep respect for the things that provide us sustenance and pleasure.

Now, I could list all of the different types of fruit trees from oranges to apples, peaches, pears and cherries to all of the vegetables that John has growing in his orange grove but it would be better if you would go and pay him a visit, he would love to meet you and give you a tour.

John Adams, Adams Acres

652 S. Cactus Ave., Rialto, California 92376

909-875-3776

The Grove Steakhouse at Viejas

Having been a chef for the last 15 years and living in Alpine for the past three, it has been a struggle finding places to eat without having to drive 20 or more miles into La Mesa, San Diego or any of the beach communities.  That being said I have begun searching and scouring the East County to satisfy my needs as a chef as well as really discover what East County has to offer.  It’s time to do some homework.

Having been to the recently (early 2013) renovated Viejas Resort and Casino, which is far better than the previous version, I wondered if the restaurants had also undergone such changes.  I had heard mixed reviews about The Grove Steakhouse at Viejas but wanted to venture out into my own backyard and like I said before, “Do some homework.”  I made a reservation for two.

grove_frontTaking a short drive to Viejas we valeted the car and walked to The Grove Steakhouse through the beautifully decorated hotel lobby, chic and modern.  Hand blown glass feathers adorned the walls, chandeliers hung from the ceilings, and earth toned colors throughout with rich wood accents.  We proceeded on through the casino to the entrance of The Grove Steakhouse.

We were promptly greeted by the evening’s hostess and escorted to our cozy booth.  The interior of the restaurant was incredible, iridescent blue, green and white glass tiles on some walls, deep blue embossed paisley wallpaper on the others.  Rich fabric covered the cushions and chairs, and the final touch were the large, white, floor to ceiling trees that ran down the center of the restaurant.

After getting settled our server welcomed us, introduced himself and presented us with the wine list and dinner menus.  He thoroughly explained the wine list and dinner menu as well as informed us of the evening’s special, which was Cioppino, an Italian-American fish stew that originated in San Francisco. After taking a few minutes to peruse the menu we ordered.  (The server was very knowledgeable about the menu.  Along with our drinks was delivered an Amuse-bouche (a small bite sized Hors d’oeuvre).  Puff pastry filled with herbed goat cheese and a thinly sliced cucumber. Always a pleasant surprise, and gives a touch of class.

grove_scallopFirst course; Fennel and Coriander Crusted Day Boat Scallop.  Beautifully seared and nestled on a bed of sautéed, shaved brussel sprouts, beurre blanc and cilantro oil.  The scallop was huge, buttery, flavorful and light.  You wouldn’t think that brussel sprouts would be served with scallops however when sautéed it provides just the right amount of piquant to cut through the richness of the dish and allowing the scallop to remain the star.

grove_porkbellySecond course; Maple Glazed Pork Belly served with a salad of fennel, radish, frisee, duck confit and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette.  The Pork Belly melted in your mouth as soon as you bit into it, the crispy sweet, salty flavors hit on just about every taste bud, and then came the Meyer lemon vinaigrette, which finished off the last taste bud.

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Second Course; Roasted Duck Breast with pea shoots, potato, apples sautéed in truffle honey, and blackberries.  The duck breast was cooked as you would expect, with a perfectly executed crispy golden brown skin.  The pea shoots gave the dish a touch of Spring, bright green in color and full of flavor, the potatoes provided substance but fell short in flavor, however the apples made up for what the potatoes lacked.  They were coated in a thin sweet coating that mimicked a thin candy shell, blackberries were sliced and strategically placed around the duck to complete the plate.

Steak! Oh yeah, the main reason why we are here.  Viejas uses Sterling Silver Premium Beef which consists of only Prime and top tier Choice grain-fed beef cattle, rich in marbling and aged for a minimum of 21 days to maximize the steaks flavor and tenderness.

I am a sucker for a good Rib eye so it was a no brainer.  I ordered the Bone-In Rib eye.  My wife ordered the Special, Cioppino.

grove_ciopinoThe Cioppino was amazing, name a seafood; it was in there.  Mussels, clams, shrimp, sea bass, salmon, scallops served in a rich herb scented tomato broth.  The seafood was fresh, delicious, and abundant.  The broth coated your tongue like velvet and then was gone just as fast, so much flavor.  If you’re a seafood lover this is a must.

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My Rib eye was served as requested, medium rare.  Lightly dressed greens, half a tomato, and fried onions garnished the plate.  Traditional, simple and not over complicated.  Grill marks formed perfectly charred diamonds on the steak, the meat was well seasoned, tender and juicy with just the right amount of marbling and fat.  It was full of flavor, cut like butter, and melted in my mouth.

grove_dessert'Our plates were cleared and our server recommended the Flourless Chocolate Cake for dessert.  The cake was served with Crème Anglaise, Chantilly Cream, and fresh raspberries.  It was decadent, the raspberries were sweet and tart, enough to cut through the richness of the cake and get you ready for the next bite. Well done!

It had been a wonderful evening of great food and conversation.  The restaurant was beautiful, service was impeccable, the Chef’s attention to detail in the dishes being served was apparent.  If you have not been to The Grove Steakhouse I recommend it.

Oh yeah, as we were getting up to leave the Lobster Mac and Cheese was being delivered to the table next to us, the one dish we missed out on.  It won’t be long before we’re back.

Alpine Beer Company

alpine_frontIf you don’t know of, or have never been to the Alpine Beer Company, then you’re missing out on true craftsmanship. Owner Pat McIlhenney, a retired Fire Fighter Captain and local to Alpine began making home brew in the early 1980’s, keeping in mind his ultimate goal of one day opening his own brewery.

After many years of experimenting, attending beer science classes, and apprenticing, Pat opened the Alpine Beer Company in 2002.  Originally wanting to be a neighborhood place and make beer for the Alpine locals he soon realized that his skill, know-how, and expertise had made Alpine beers some of the most sought after in the world.  Yes, I said, “world!”

alpine_barPat has met several travelers who have made the long journey, driving straight from the San Diego International Airport right to the Alpine Beer Company. He said he has been amazed by the response.  People from France, Germany, and South America as well as countless others from all over the United States and Canada are coming to taste his award winning beer.

Due to the overwhelming response he realized that in order to satisfy the demand of his customers he needed to expand, so he did. The expansion was completed in 2009 which greatly increased his capacity and enabled him to give the customers more of what they wanted, or even needed.

Adjacent to the brewery is the Pub where you can indulge in a pint or two as well as sample the menu inspired by Pat.  And guess what?  Yes, there is beer in some of the recipes.  That’s a given.

I had the Beef Brisket Sandwich, a toasted sweet roll topped with copious amounts of sliced brisket smothered in house made barbeque sauce. Smoky, hearty, and flavorful.  Served with coleslaw it is a definite must have when dining.

alpine_beersOn occasion the Alpine Beer Company brews a special release.  If you have ever driven by and seen a line pouring out the door down the sidewalk and wondered what is going on, it may be due to cultish anticipation and limited supply of another one of Pat’s creations.

Alpine Beer Company is truly a diamond in the rough.

In closing Pat wanted to ask all those who read this article for some feedback.  There is talk about the old Bread Basket location in the Alpine Creek Shopping Center being up for lease.  With that, the Alpine Beer Company Pub may entertain a move to a larger location due to the overwhelming response and its popularity if it gathers enough support.  To offer your feedback email Pat McIlhenney:  info@alpinebrewey.com

If you’re in the neighborhood or not, stop by the Alpine Beer Company located at: 2351 Alpine Blvd. Alpine, CA 91901 phone # (619) 445-2337.

The Hills Pub

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The team behind Eastbound Bar & Grill in Lakeside and Werewolf American Pub in downtown San Diego have done it again.  The Hills Local Pub in La Mesa had its Grand Opening in early April and has hit the ground running.

I spoke with Catherine Cannock, one of the Hills’ Managers, who stated, “The Hills Local Pub is different. Our customers aren’t just customers, they’re family and that’s how we treat them.”  And she’s right.  The atmosphere is casual and welcoming, kid friendly, and you’re greeted by several attentive members of the staff as you walk in.

One of the many things that sets them apart from their competition is that on Wednesdays they donate a percentage of their sales to charity. Anyone who has a cause they champion can contact Peter Malloy, the General Manager at peter@thehillspub.com to make arrangements. Also, be sure to check out their happy hour and other nightly specials including themed parties on Friday and Saturday nights.

Another thing that sets them apart is their well thought out and creative menu, not what you would think of from a traditional pub.  They have 24 beers on tap, which is made up of a majority of local breweries, wine, and get this, beer to go.

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So, here’s what we ordered. Sweet Potato Waffle Fries dusted with powdered sugar and served with maple dipping sauce – Imagine candied yams with a delicious pecan crumble topping at Thanksgiving. Ok, do you have it? Well forget everything you know or think you know about how good these fries would taste, because they’re better. Crispy, savory and sweet all in the same bite, not to mention the delicious caramel and maple finish.  It was hard not to eat the entire plate by myself. You have never tasted sweet potato fries like this before.

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Next, was the Superfood Salad – shredded brussel sprouts and kale, parmesan cheese, dried cranberries, and toasted almonds with a citrus avocado dressing. Hearty, chewy, crunchy, and tangy.  The citrus avocado dressing is perfect for this robust salad as it cools the heat from the raw brussel sprouts and kale. The sweet cranberries, toasted almonds and parmesan cheese beautifully harmonize with each other and compliment the salad. A lot of thought went into this creation and as their top selling salad, I would say the customers agree.

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Finally, the Bouffant Burger. A hand crafted beef patty, bacon, avocado, fried egg, American cheese, with chipotle sauce on a croissant bun. Many burger joints tout to have the best burger in town. Well I have to say that the Bouffant Burger destroys all other perceptions you may have about who owns that title. As you take that first bite you must firmly grasp the croissant and apply a little pressure to encourage the golden runny egg yolk to burst through its case and cascade over the meat, cheese, bacon and avocado. It provides a supreme richness that will take your breath away. This is a monster burger whose taste will floor you like no other.  You will not be disappointed.

I definitely recommend this place.  Great atmosphere.  Great beer. Great food. Reasonable prices. A fun place to go with friends or family.

Be sure to check them out at thehillspub.com, on Facebook and Instagram. Better yet go in and experience The Hills Local Pub, located at 8758 La Mesa Blvd. La Mesa, CA 91941.