The life of a food blogger is so rough sometimes. For the last few weeks, I’ve been invited to a number of amazing food events in my lovely city of San Diego. I literally didn’t have time to blog about them all separately, so I thought I would write about them all at once.
Disclaimer: although I was lucky enough to enjoy these samples for free, no one paid me for my reviews or opinions, and the opinions expressed herein are my own.
The first was a dinner at Saja, where the chef, Jason, would show us all his amazing creations … Korean food with a Japanese inspiration.
The menu alone was making me drool when I read it online before the dinner. I started with the Tae Kwon Do, a “libation” made with cucumber, mint, honey, lime, and soju.
The “Brussel Chips” dish was really delicious, very reminiscent of the Brussels sprouts dish at BO-Beau, one of my favorite appetizers of all time (I even made my own versions of Chef Katherine’s masterpiece at BB when my friend begged me for a vegetarian adaptation.) These were amazingly crispy and spicy and earthy – perfectly cooked.
As with all Korean food, a huge part of the spread is the pickles side dishes like kimchi, fresh vegetables, and other goodies. The offering at Saja included pickled cucumbers, spicy spinach, house kimchi, bean sprouts, pickled daikon radish and bean sprouts.
Here are some close-ups of the banchan.
Next, we were treated to two kinds of Korean pancakes, with seafood and with tons of vegetables. They were fabulous with kimchi.
Next were the Korean tacos … the exquisitely scented ones with the spicy pork and soft buns were situated so, so far away from me. I had to sit there staring at them longingly for like 100 hours until the plate got passed around. Excruciating. I probably would have just leapt for it, but those nice glass things were in the way.
Finally I got my close-up and got to stuff these into my face.
I can’t even.
These haunt my dreams.
I need to go get a few more orders to-go and just eat them all myself.
Saja also offers a vegetarian option, delicious tofu squares, and you can also get lettuce wraps instead of the soft buns. I cannot stress enough how much I love both versions of these tacos.
Another one of my favorites at Saja was the Spicy Tuna Tar Tar … which is similar to a spicy tuna nigiri, but the base is a crispy rice cake, and the top is a tiny jalapeno. It’s definitely spicy but I really loved the texture of the sushi-grade tuna with the crispy rice.
Four types of soondubu are offered at Saja, and we got to taste the seafood and the vegetarian options. They’re served in traditional communal stone pots, and a raw egg is dropped into the soup (and instantly cooked) at the table side.
Whew. By this point we had eaten enough for an army, and barely made it through the chef’s selection of small plates and soups. We had already sampled the tofu and spicy pork, so Chef Jason picked entrees with short beef ribs and spicy pork bellies, both perfectly marinated with in-house formulas.
The short ribs were delicious (as was all of the food), but the pork bellies (below) really stole the show.
Over the last course of bimimbap at Saja, I was invited to the Taste of Downtown event, an annual event in San Diego, where a ticket holder gets to sample a certain taste of 39 participating restaurants.
Needless to say, I couldn’t eat at 39 different places, but I did have some truly excellent samples, and revisit some old friends.
The donuts at the Donut Bar are always amazing. They use whole-food, organic ingredients, and everything is made from scratch. This is the maple bacon (real maple, real bacon) donut. I could go on for days about how amazing the Donut Bar is, but it’s all been said before, by like every food reviewer on the planet. Donuts = Impeccable.
The Whiskey Girl bar is one of my favorite places to go downtown for Happy Hour ($3 draft beers from 11-7, heeeey), but they also have really yummy food. For the ToD offering, we got tasty little cheesy sliders.
I continued through the Gaslamp District, eating small munchies as I went along …
Delicious BBQ nachos from Henry’s Pub …
Hearty Guinness beef stew and soda bread (the bread was delish!) from The Field Irish Pub …
Chicken Korma and Vegetable Korma from Royal India …
And TJ dogs and cochinita pibil street tacos from La Puerta. I’m not going to lie, this was probably the best part. I am A HUGE fan of cochinita pibil (my good friend even shared her family’s recipe with me, here), and I have been to La Puerta before, and the food is really delicious. It’s another good Happy Hour spot downtown.
I finished off my evening of food (and a lot of walking) with a bit of dessert … The My Yogurt shop is a self-serve yogurt shop on 5th Avenue, and instead of offering a pre-set taste, they just handed the ToD tasters a cup and a spoon and let them go at it. I treated myself to a nutty divination: nutella and peanut butter yogurts swirled together, topped with a big hunk of pecan pie. Whaaat.
Although by this point I was pretty full, I felt I had to stop by the lovely little Heavenly Cupcakes shop to see what they had to offer. Then … I had to choose!
Lastly, I was invited to a craft beer dinner at Torrey Pints, the adorably named full-service craft beer bar located in the Whole Foods store in La Jolla. The whole setup is just as great as you’d imagine a La Jolla-area Whole Foods to be, and the beer bar is no exception. The Torrey Pints chef, Vanessa, did some amazing things with a few bottles of good beer.
First, the table got to split a couple of family style appetizers: Bison meatballs with Rough Draft Blonde Ale sauce, and pizza knots with Acoustic Ale White Snake beer cheese.
The beer cheese was amazing. Literally two of my favorite things rolled into one, and served with a handy bread vehicle for noshing. Perfect. We were also served an IPA from Acoustic Ales that was mixed with mango puree for a delightful and refreshing beer cocktail. Normally I don’t like my beers too fruity, but this was awesome.
The dinner itself was a choice between a gorgeous Alesmith Speedway Stout-soaked steak with potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts, and shrimp skewers with butternut squash, arugula and a glaze made from Rough Draft Saison.
The steak was perfectly cooked and very flavorful with the Speedway Stout infusion, but I really, really loved the pairing of the briney-flavored shrimp with the earthy, bright flavor of the roasted butternut squash.
They’re two great flavors that you hardly ever see paired together. That needs to change. I need to remember this for the next time I make shrimp!