Tag Archives: Hillcrest

gelato bravado

Chocolat Cremerie, situated in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood, was the prime place for me to sample my first West Coast gelato. I had been asking around for recommendations of San Diego’s best, and Chocolat came with the most emphatic recommendation. A Sicilian waiter told me that it was the best gelato he had ever had in his life, including the twenty years he spent in Italy. Translation: I needed to have it.

After trying Lemon Poppy Seed, Cinnamon Chocolate, and Sweet Basil, I settled on Grand Marnier Chocolate combined with Cioccolato di Peperoncino, or chili chocolate. Orange and chili are two of my favorite chocolate accompaniments, and since I have been in San Diego, I realized the merits of pairing chili powder with fruit, so this combination was perfect for me.

This gelato was the creamiest, densest I have ever had. It was the consistency of cold batter for really chewy brownies, necessary to hold up the rich chocolate flavor and its complements. It was so filling and fulfilling that I could barely finish it, especially since I had just eaten dinner at La Pizzeria Arrivederci. The pizzeria had high marks on the UrbanSpoon iPhone app, and boy, did it deliver! My aunt, cousin, mom and I split a small Pizza Margarita, the standard marinara-mozzarella-basil trifecta of perfection, and a small La Bianca, a white pizza baked only with mozzarella and parmesean, then topped with cold prosciutto and arugula. The crust was superb — light, with appropriate amounts of crunch and give — and the toppings were fresh. I couldn’t ask for much more.

There are times when I am proud to be Italian. Most of those times come from experiencing really good Italian food. That night, with three members of my family in San Diego, our bellies full of Italian wine, fantastic and authentic oven-charred pizza, and unreal gelato, I was the most proud I’ve been in a long time that my last name is Cherichello.

a hillcrest saturday

Thanks to Groupon, my cousin and I got to enjoy a three-course meal complete with spirits for $28. We went to Kous Kous, a Moroccan restaurant in Hillcrest that gets all the love on Yelp!. I had wanted to go for Yelp! Eats Week, but we decided to go with Croce’s Restaurant and Jazz Club instead. The week after our Croce’s excursion, Groupon comes out with its offer, money was spent, and we were making our reservation at Kous Kous.

We ordered imported Moroccan beer called Casa which was a light, European style lager with a citrus-y bite. It was okay on its own but paired very well with the meal, which prominently featured lemon, garlic, and cumin.

To start, we had the B’stila roll. It came highly recommended, and while I enjoyed it, it was one of the more odd flavor combinations ever to cross my tongue. Chicken marinated in herbs and saffron is combined with orange blossom water, almonds, and honey then wrapped in phyllo dough and dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Yea, we were cynical about it too. It tasted like a savory-sweet baklava with chicken, and it was really, really good. Describing it has made me get a little uneasy about enjoying it last night, because it sounds pretty narsty to say the least, but don’t knock it til you try it.

For the main course, I ordered the Marrakesh Lamb Tanjia and my cousin ordered the Chicken Brochettes. While we were waiting for our meal to arrive, we were given a complimentary plate of cumin-soaked kalamata olives and cumin/cilantro-soaked carrots. Mega-yum. I had never thought to pair either of these ingredients with that amount of cumin, but the spice paired well with the brininess of the olives and the sweetness of the carrots. I am definitely going to make some sort of carrot dish inspired by that salad some point soon. The marinade was actually sharmoula, which is a spice blend/marinade of garlic, black pepper, coriander, cumin, saffron, salt, oil, and lemon juice.

Anyway, my lamb was phenomenal. It was so tender that it took me a while to figure out how to fork it. A knife was not required. It went through a 10-hour slow braise in liquid with saffron, cumin, garlic, and lemon preserves. Damien said that before the braising started, it marinated for 12 hours in the same flavors. I ordered Moroccan bread and sharmoula aioli to go with my meat, and I’m thankful I did because I was able to soak up the braising liquid. Mmmmmm. My cousins brochettes were flavored with ginger, garlic, and fresh herbs then char grilled and served over a bed of sharmoula string beans and peas. She ordered cous cous on the side which Kous Kous garnishes with honey caramelized raisins and garbanzo beans.

Sera and I intentionally left room for dessert after hearing this vanilla bean-orange blossom custard described to patrons at a neighboring table. Served with toasted, slivered almonds and chopped dates, this custard was the perfect texture but more importantly, the perfect temperature. Many a custard in my life have been cold in a way that took from the flavor. This custard had clearly been sitting out of the fridge for at least fifteen minutes to allow it to come down to an ideal temperature for the flavors to shine through.

After Kous Kous, we shopped around at a bookstore and then met up with one of my coworkers. We all went to a hookah bar (Honey/pomegranate shisha with Reisling instead of water? Yea.) where surprise belly dancing entertainment turned into surprise belly dancing for yours truly and her cuz. Didn’t think that was going to happen when I walked out the door for dinner. We ended our night at Wit’s End, a bar nearby, with an Arrogant Bastard Ale and an impromptu harp performance. (My coworker, Jason, actually knows something about cameras so he was able to take that picture of my ale in the darkness of the bar. Credit where credit is due.)

Thanks, Hillcrest, for a lovely evening.