Don Chido for San Diego Restaurant Week

I’ve mentioned a number of times how lucky I am to live in San Diego, which has some of the best food and restaurants in the world. Locals get to take advantage of this bounty several times a year during San Diego Restaurant Week, where some of the best restaurants give a sample of their most groundbreaking dishes for a great value.

I was already planning to visit more than one of the restaurants this week, when McFarlane Promotions hooked up this awesome pre-SDRW deal for local food bloggers. I won a visit to Don Chido, a really authentic and trendy Mexican restaurant in the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego.

I had already visited Don Chido once a few weeks ago for another event called the Toast of Downtown, where we got to sample small plates of food as well as each restaurant’s signature cocktails, and I really loved their lovely little street tacos.

This is one of those places where “handcrafted” is not just a slogan. You can taste it.

toast of downtown

One of the best things about SDRW for me is to see what dishes the chefs choose to highlight. It’s even great to go to places where you’re already a regular, just to see what foods the staff thinks will make newbies want to come back again.

Don Chido actually had a whole new menu for SDRW. For just $20 per person (a steal for dinner in the Gaslamp District!) you get three amazing courses:

sdrw menu

Being a good food blogger, I checked out the SDRW restaurant list online (each restaurant has their full SDRW menu posted). I was pretty sure I wanted to try the pozole and the stewed lamb.

Pozole (or posole) is one of my favorite soups ever —  I make a slow-cooked version of it at home with smoked chicken — so I was really excited to taste this one.

pozole de verdura

It definitely did not disappoint. Pozole, although traditionally pretty thin, was stuffed full of lots of hearty hominy and black beans, and the broth was obviously slow-simmered and well-spiced. You can also get it with chicken, but I kept mine vegetarian.

more pozole
My boyfriend got the empanadas, which were stuffed with pollo adobado and cheese. The masa dough was also obviously fresh and homemade (as are the tortillas, and pretty much everything else at Don Chido), and the pollo adobado was hearty and saucy but not too heavy for the dough. That might seem like an easy balance to achieve, but anyone who as ever tried to make their own empanadas knows better.

empanadas
For the main course, I got the Borrego en Mole Amarilla de Oaxaca, or stewed Colorado lamb shoulder with mole, rice and root vegetables.

stewed lamb shoulder

It was so amazing! The mole was really flavorful, yet it still allowed for the lighter flavor of the stewed lamb shoulder to come through. The meat was piled on top of spicy rice and root vegetables and covered in a delicious sauce. If you order this, tell the waiter he can keep the knife — you won’t need it.  In fact, if it wasn’t accompanied by crunchy fresh green beans, I don’t think you’d even need a fork.

Borrego en Mole Amarilla de Oaxaca

The lamb is extremely tender and juicy, and you can practically eat it with a spoon.

So, I have this thing called Entrée Envy. It’s a completely untreatable foodie disease, and it manifests itself at great dinners and lunches like this.

I see a menu.

I narrow my choices down to two or three.

I settle on one.

Someone else orders another one of the two or three.

We get our food.

No matter how delicious my dish is, I also want the one I didn’t choose.

Note I did not say “instead.”

I said “also.”

I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of my stewed lamb. But my handsome boyfriend got one of the other dishes I was considering, the seafood enchiladas, and I had to have a taste or two. (Note about the photo: they come with beans and rice, but he’s allergic to beans so had to get rice only.)

seafood enchiladas

These enchiladas were killer! Stuffed with scallops, shrimp, bites of fish and lots of cheese — and topped with a poblano cream sauce that made all of the rest of the ingredients come together beautifully.

I really can’t say enough about the poblano cream sauce. It’s not on any of Don Chido’s regular menu items, and when I spoke to the chef, she said it was a new sauce they came up with for this particular menu item — one that they will only have for SDRW.

The lovely chef was also kind enough to share: it’s just roasted garlic, roasted poblano peppers, cream, cheese, and salt and pepper. I will definitely be attempting to make this sauce for my next batch of homemade enchiladas, so I will let you know how it works out. In the meantime, I suggest you use your SDRW time to try it yourself at Don Chido. You won’t be disappointed: the way it combines with the seafood and the (obviously fresh and homemade) tortillas, it’s insane.

I say the tortillas were obviously fresh and homemade, as was the masa dough for the empanadas, because when you taste a freshly made tortilla, you just know.  In this case, you will know for sure when you taste them.

There were only two options for dessert, so my honey and I got them both: the dulce de leche cheesecake had dulce de leche IN the cheesecake and then a spiced caramel sauce on top.

dulce de leche cheesecake

The almonds on top are also a nice crunch that blends really well with the cinnamon and salt in the caramel sauce.

mexican fried ice cream

The Mexican fried ice cream was a fabulous twist on the traditional: it has toasted coconut and corn flakes forming the crunchy shell, and it comes with a slightly sweet strawberry compote. They’re both pretty small in size, but after the other two courses, good luck finishing your dessert anyway.

The whole meal overall was amazing, yet understated. This is one of the best options I have seen on the SDRW menus in a really long time.

 

* Disclaimer: This was a sponsored review, but the thoughts and opinions are all my own.

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My $5 Slow-Food Challenge: Homemade Chicken Posole

I know I am a little late in taking up the trend of a slow food challenge, but once I found this awesome and delicious recipe, I couldn’t resist. They say you can’t eat a nutritious and homemade meal for less than you would pay for a junk meal at a fast-food joint, and a number of other bloggers have set out to take back the “value meal” and prove that sentiment wrong.

I didn’t just prove it wrong. I kicked that theory’s butt.

Luckily for me, surviving on less than $5 per meal it isn’t a daily challenge anymore, but regardless, there’s nothing that makes me happier than a great meal for just a little money. I was raised by my mother and grandmother, and we weren’t rich — but even if we had been millionaires, my grandmother wasn’t the type to be frivolous with the ingredients. She still would have gotten the cheapest cuts and made them delicious, instead of the best cuts and the easiest recipes. She took great pride in making a huge meal and feeding her entire family for a small sum. Grandma would have absolutely loved this one.

As it is today, I am a single girl with lots of single friends, and they will all love to come over and eat this. For less than $4 per person, 4 of my friends (plus me) can have a huge bowl and take some home for later.

The cost breakdown:

  • $4.80 … Chicken thighs (2 packages of about 4 thighs each)
  • $3.10 … 2 cans of salsa verde ($1.55 each)
  • $1.57 … 1 big can of hominy
  • $1.49 … corn tortillas
  • $1.31 … chicken bouillon (this is a pack of 8 and you only need 2 for this recipe — you’ve probably got some in your cupboard right now)
  • $0.91 … bottle of Tapatio hot sauce (you probably also have some hot sauce lying around but this is the cheapest)
  • $0.90 … head of cabbage (shred it)
  • $0.40 … bunch of radishes (slice them)
  • $0.50 … bunch of cilantro
  • $0.75 … two onions (dice them)
  • $0.45 … two limes

Total of $16.18, which works out to about $3.24 per quart. Not serving. Quart. Everyone can have a big bowl and take some home for later.

A couple of other notes about this extremely adaptable recipe:

  • You can make it even cheaper than this. Omit the chicken and make it totally vegetarian, or use a cheap cut of pork. It would also be slightly cheaper and just as flavorful to use a whole chicken (bones and all). You can also save money by making and using your own stock (chicken, pork, or vegetarian) or your own homemade salsa, or your own homegrown herbs, like cilantro, or vegetables.
  • You can stretch it out! There’s an old Mexican saying for when people unexpectedly show up at your house, that loosely translates to “put more water in the beans,” and that’s what comes to my mind with this great meal. You can make it for 5 people or for 25 people. Stretch out the recipe by making it in a huge stock pot and adding more chicken, water and bouillon, and pad the sides with extra vegetables to stretch it out and feed even more people.
  • You can also make this more expensively. Use a good cut of pork instead of chicken thighs (although a more expensive cut of chicken, like a boneless breast, might get a little dry, so I would stick with a thigh since it’s got the flavor from the bone and the fattiness of the skin), use a tomato-based (red) salsa instead of canned tomatillo salsa. You can also use store-bought stock instead of bouillon, or top it with gourmet cotija cheese and sliced avocado.
  • There are lots of ways to add extra flavor. I smoked my chicken, but that’s just because I used smoked chicken for my last chicken stock, and it was so maddeningly good that I swore I would never again make a chicken soup without smoking the chicken first. It adds a wonderful flavor to any soup or chili. 
  • Fancy tools aren’t necessary. Of course I realize that most families for whom eating for less than $5 a day is a true challenge probably don’t own their own smoker. Or their own crock pot, for that matter. You can add as much extra flavor by making the soup in a large pot on the stove and seasoning the chicken, then searing it at high heat for a few minutes, then adding the salsa, onions, hominy, etc.
  • Just because this is a cheap meal doesn’t mean it needs to be a flavorless meal. Add the flavors you and your family love to eat.

Posole (also spelled “pozole”) is an incredibly adaptable dish, and indeed some versions are particular to certain regions of Mexico and Central and South America.

Based on my preliminary research talking to abuelitas and tias I know, my understanding is that “traditional” depends on the location. It can be made with pork or chicken, with red or green salsa, with a clear or a vegetable-filled broth. Some regions near the ocean in Central and South America specialize in a fish stew, and some inland areas that are thousands of miles from any coast will have a chicken leg in a huge communal pot of vegetables of every type. It’s mind-boggling how many variations there are for one dish.

I also have heard that posole has the same restorative properties as menudo after a long night of drinking. I can’t get behind menudo no matter how many versions of it I try, but I have to say that I have enjoyed a bowl of this soup after a long day of watching a football game or three, and I can personally vouch for its ability to make you feel human again. But how could it not? Slow-cooked chicken and broth, and fresh, nutritious vegetables. This is an incredibly healthy and delicious meal.

The version that is my personal favorite is with chicken and green tomatillo salsa, then served with chopped cabbage, onion, cilantro, radish, a dash of hot sauce and a squeeze of lime. One day I plan to make this with pork, only I will smoke the pork beforehand. Imagine this delicious and spicy soup with chunks of deliciously smoked pork, with a lovely smoke ring, seasoned and smoked to a perfect crispiness. Mmmmm.

This is what it looks like after slow-cooking on high for a few hours. Take out the bones and skin, add the chilled toppings.

Hillary’s Smoked Chicken Posole

  • (see ingredient list above)
  • 3 quarts water

Step 1 (optional): Smoke the chicken for 2-3 hours at 200 degrees over hickory and mesquite chips.

Step 2: Place the chicken (with skin and bones still intact) into a 5-quart crock pot. Add onion, cans of salsa and hominy (drain the hominy first), then add two cubes of bouillon and water. Set slow cooker on high and let cook for at least 4 hours. You can let it cook longer than 4 hours — the longer the better, but if you cook it for more than 6 hours keep it on the low setting. (Note: I used one white onion and one red onion, and chopped them both. I added half of the chopped onions to the broth, and saved the other half for garnish. Again, this recipe is so adaptable, you can do as you prefer.)

Step 3: Before serving, I like to remove the skin and bones and shred the meat a little, but you can also serve a chicken thigh intact and surrounded by broth. Since it will be extremely tender by this point, the bones will come out very easily and shredding will be as easily as taking a fork in each hand and whisking them around for a minute. Then add the chopped cabbage, radish, cilantro and fresh onion, a squeeze of lime, and serve with a hot tortilla or two.