36hrs (or so) of eating / Food Travel America

36 hours of eating and drinking in San Diego

I travel to LA at least once a year, so it’s somewhat unbelievable that I haven’t been to San Diego in 30 years. I needed an escape from cold and rainy Vancouver but didn’t have a week to invest in a trip to lie on a beach so I started exploring my options. San Diego became the easy choice seeing as it’s less than 3 hours away by plane, has sun, sand and a vibrant food/drink scene.

Arriving at San Diego airport, I immediately relaxed into my vacation.The small size of the airport and proximity to downtown meant that 30 minutes after touchdown, we were settled into the Airbnb and ready to start exploring.

It was unseasonably cold in SoCal, but it didn’t matter to me as it was over 10 degrees warmer there than home. There’s nothing like a little warm sunshine on the face to make you feel happier.

The sun was setting so a walk along San Diego’s embarcadero seemed like the perfect way to start. Along the way, I spotted a patio overlooking the sunset. I was peckish and it was happy hour so we grabbed a seat.

 

San Diego Fish Market oysters

Happy hour oysters and calamari washed down with a cold brew.

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The sun setting behind Coronado.

I chose the Little Italy neighbourhood to stay in as it was out of the way from the touristy area and there were plenty of options for eating/drinking within walking distance. It’s hard to narrow down a whole city’s dining scene to 2 dinners, so I thought for this trip, I’d just focus my choices to Little Italy.

For this trip, I was concentrated on 2 things, seafood and tacos. It may sound weird that I’d be focussed on seafood when I live with the Pacific Ocean at my feet, but from my experience, California restaurants do seafood much more creatively, (and at a better price point) than they do in Vancouver.

I originally booked Ironside Fish & Oyster, a stylish seafood joint for dinner but the call of Richard Blais’ Juniper and Ivy, just down the street was too strong.

I will admit, that I was hesitant to book at Juniper and Ivy originally as some of my Top Chef alumni experiences have been disappointing. But Chef Blais was one of my favourite “cheftestants” on the show and I’d read so many glowing reviews of the restaurant that I convinced myself to give it a try. Billed as “refined American food with a left coast edge”,

Walking into Juniper and Ivy, I was surprised how big the restaurant was. My hesitations started creeping back as it’s hard to have a unique experience when you’re feeling like one of the masses. But there was nothing to worry about, from the first bite of amuse to the last sweet bite I was enthralled with the experience.

Juniper Ivy amuse bouche

Amuse bouche – “Devilled eggs”

Juniper Ivy foie macaron tuna tostada

Foie gras cookie with miso and vanilla quince jam + Spicy tuna handroll in shiso + Baja yellowtail tostada

Juniper Ivy uni toast

Sea urchin toast with caramelized onion topped with lardo

Juniper Ivy Blais chicken

Sous vide chicken with a truffle chestnut crust with morels and asparagus topped with onion rings. I wouldn’t normally choose chicken, but the server sold us and I’m glad he did. This dish was soulfully delicious.

Juniper Ivy pasta Blaise

Pork and prawn sugo pasta

Juniper Ivy Blais sticky toffee

Sticky toffee pudding cake, cocoa nib pudding, walnut crunch and banana ice cream

With only one full day to explore San Diego, the next day started bright and early. Coronado consistently gets ranked as one of America’s best beaches and I wanted to see why.

One of the benefits of travelling off-season is getting to see things at their best, which is what my visit to Coronado was. The beach was long and deep and not a rock to be found. It was the perfect place to sit and enjoy the breakfast sandwiches that we’d picked up at Leroy’s Kitchen and Lounge before we hit the beach.

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Riding the ferry back from Coronado is a great way to check out the view of downtown San Diego.

After the impressive meal at Juniper and Ivy, I was curious to try the Crack Shack, Richard Blais’ casual chicken & egg concept.

Crack Shack San Diego

Coup de Ville sandwich, fries, and a whole lot of dipping sauces. The kimchi bbq sauce and “cracksup” were both so delicious I wish they’d bottled them to take home.

Crack Shack San Diego sandwich

The fried chicken was tender and juicy and the crunchy zingy slaw and pickles gave great contrast.

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Salt & Straw ice cream just down the street from the Crack Shack was a great post-lunch, pre-nap indulgence.

Post nap, it was back down the Embarcadero to catch the sunset. We ended up on a long walk into the Gaslamp district to stop for a few cocktails before dinner.

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San Diego’s cocktail scene doesn’t as deep as in other cities, but Noble Experiment is doing serious work. Reservations (a week in advance) are a must and entrance is through a restaurant and past a faux wall made of kegs. As I entered into dimly lit speakeasy, complete with a wall of golden skulls, I became excited because I knew I was going to enjoy the experience.

Noble Experiment San Diego Foreplay

The Foreplay, a riff off a French 75.

After an hour of being slammed mixing cocktails, our bartender Tony was able to pick his head up for some conversation. I was happy he did because he ended up passing on a great list of San Diego eating and drinking which I’m excited to tackle the next time I’m in town.

In our discussion about San Diego dining, I was convinced that Ironside Fish and Oyster was a must. Considering we were leaving the next day, it meant having to change dinner plans. But Tony was adamant that the octopus and lobster roll were worth it and luck would have it that we were able to score a last minute reservation in the bar.

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Octopus a la plancha with chorizo, olives and sherry

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Lobster roll with brown butter mayo, crispy onions and chives

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Roasted cauliflower with mint-pistachio pesto

Totally satisfied with dinner at Ironside, I left feeling enthusiastic about the food scene in San Diego. I know I only touched the surface of it, but this dinner reinforced my feelings that I wanted to return in the near future.

The second half of the trip would be a mini road trip up the coast, and I was motivated to find some good tacos along the way.

 

 

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