Tag Archives: shrimp

taco tuesdays

Before I came to San Diego, hearing “El Camino” triggered visions of my dream car, the Chevrolet model of the same name. Since being in this city,  I have become aware of a trendy, tasty Mexican restaurant in Little Italy called El Camino, and it has beckoned me back for seconds and thirds, due in part to the quality of the food and in part to the great special they have on Tuesdays. Taco Tuesdays involves half price on all taco options. Happy hour specials are half price quesadillas and nachos, along with $3 Coronas, sangria, and house made margaritas. Tuesday happy hour is clearly a recipe for fun.

Look what their menu promises! I don’t know how they can claim to be allergy free because people are allergic to all kinds of things, but their commitment to organic, locally grown food is a nice plus. They also have a location in North Park, but I have stuck to the Little Italy location because it is in the design district, and I can antique/fantasize about my future dwellings as an appetizer.

My first time at El Camino was with my friend Justin. We went on his first night in San Diego. After a margarita at the bar, we were seated and quickly met with fresh tortilla chips and a trio of dips: chipotle Mexican cream, salsa verde, and roasted pepper salsa. They also provided a couple roasted hot peppers in a bowl and a small bucket with marinated cucumber and jicama. YUM.

We both ordered the Camaron Asado tacos, or pan seared garlic cilantro shrimp finished with lime juice. They were served with some really good sauce, as well, and taco plates come with four tacos in corn tortillas, a pot of rice, and a pot of house black beans. Such a delicious way to satiate!

(This picture blows because I used a flash and edited it in iPhoto afterwards. Apologies.)

My cousin and I took our moms to El Camino twice: once to when they got off the plane (this place is a really great intro to SD) and once before we dropped them back off at the airport. These days were conveniently Tuesdays, and on both nights, we had our fill of food and drunk for under $30. We ordered three plates of tacos to split.

Carne Asada Tacos

Intensely seasoned, tender, and topped with onions, cilantro, and some chopped tomato.

Mahi-Mahi Tacos

Succulent grilled fish topped with cabbage. Simple, and always tasty.

Rajas Tacos

The surprising standout, packed with grilled poblanos, mushrooms, corn, onions, and bell peppers doused in Mexican cream (basically a more watery sour cream).

When you get the bill, they leave you with a bunch of these really cute pieces of gum. Before she left, my mom grabbed approx. 3 giant handfuls to “give my brother” because she thought they were so cute. Guaranteed they’re still in her wallet.

Above all, I need to thank El Camino and San Diego for turning my mother into a lover of Mexican food. It was never something she enjoyed, always a contentious topic in my household. Her SD vaca inspired her to make quesadillas for dinner, paired with radishes and salsa, a duo I introduced her to one night during her stay. Now I just need to work on her distaste for Indian.

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my birthday, belated

I have spent the past two summers away from home, and my June 9 birthdays have thus been celebrated without my family. In light of this, and in honor of her visit, my mom and I decided to have a meal at George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, a three-floor restaurant on the water. We sat on the top floor, George’s Ocean Terrace, and got to look at this while eating and drinking and being merry.

Not bad. To start, Mom ordered a blood orange margarita and I ordered a Ballast Point IPA, though I’m not sure whether it was the Big Eye or the Sculpin. I don’t think the menu even indicated which it was, and the beer list isn’t online. Ho-hum. All I know is that I had my mom try it and she was blown away with its strength. I have a funny little feeling that Mom’s palate is not as used to hops as mine is, especially considering my fairly recent affinity for the stuff. Also, sipping a hoppy beer after sipping a sweet margarita doesn’t sound that pleasant.

We followed up our drink order with an appetizer salad: watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, mint, and feta. For the price of this salad, I probably could have made enough of it to serve six people for dinner, but, as I kept reminding my mom and myself, we were paying for the view. The service was also excellent: relaxed but attentive.

My entree was the Garlic Roasted Shrimp, served with chorizo and piquillo pepper risotto, roasted fennel, lemon, almonds, and fried cilantro. I could have done without the risotto; the flavors were excellent, but it was not made properly. It was either made too fast or not stirred enough or something else that left the final product grainy, a word that should never come to mind when enjoying risotto. The shrimp, fennel, and fried cilantro worked together to make up for this error.

The shrimp tasted like it had marinated in garlic for three days before roasting – just how I like it. Even still, the garlic did not overwhelm the shrimp but instead created a nice garlicky crust.

Fennel is always welcome in my life. I once hated the stuff, when Mom used to serve it on Christmas in a tricolore salad and I’d gag at the idea of eating it. It tasted like black licorice! I hated black licorice! Now, I love the stuff (black licorice & fennel), especially when the fennel is grilled or sautéed or, in this case, roasted. My knife went through the veggie like it would room temperature butter, and it completely dissolved in my mouth. The fennel worked very well when eaten with some toasted almonds.

The fried cilantro was an Iron Chef-type jawn. It wasn’t battered, but you could tell that it had been dipped in boiling oil for just enough time to release some of the cilantro essence and add that deep-fried flavor.

Mom ordered Roasted Organic Chicken Breast which was served with fingerling potatoes, rapini, salsa verde, and a grilled lemon. It was the juiciest chicken either of us had ever had.

Dessert was Lemon Verbena Soup with blueberries, blueberry sorbet and pound cake croutons. Pound cake croutons are as good as they sound: a little crunchy on the outside with a soft, rich center. The blueberries were fresh as hell and the sorbet was essentially food-processed frozen blueberries. To quote Ina Garten, “How bad can that be?” A spoonful of the lemon custard “soup” with a bit of crouton, a blueberry, some sorbet, and a spearmint leaf was an ideal dessert creation, and one helluva birthday cake!

Oh yea, one more of this, just because:

SHRIMP!

lemon butter (and other, less spectacular things)

The process of bringing ingredients from their raw form to a complete meal with just a sharp object, some heat, and perhaps some cold will never cease to amaze me. My default example is onions: they phase-shift from spicy crispness to unmatched savory sweetness in about thirty minutes over heat. Put yeast in wort (the sweet, nutritious, warm soup of barley and hops), let it do its thang, and after a few days (in a brewery) or a few and then you have beer. Magic!

It is essentially a form of art therapy, which I think contributes to why I like it so much. You have the power to create something beautiful and delicious from start to finish, choosing the ingredients and how you will treat them. It is an excellent way to unwind. Even better, though, is sharing this experience with someone. I find few things more fun and relaxing than cooking with a friend. They’re there to tell you that your dressing needs a little more salt or that the meat should be taken off the grill a few minutes earlier than you were planning to remove it. It also shaves the intimidation off trying a new recipe or working with a new ingredient.

This past weekend, I visited my friend Adam in Los Angeles. I brought a bag of vegetables with me (two giant artichokes, summer squash, asparagus) which contributed to the makings of an excellent meal. We were both craving summer fare, so we agreed on gazpacho. A trip to Figueroa Produce rounded out the menu: grilled shrimp, grilled vegetables, grilled bread, steamed artichoke, tabouleh.

As long as you have the proper tools, making gazpacho is a cinch. A high-power blender or food processor is necessary to massacre your ingredients into a creamy, tasty soup. We threw in four heirloom tomatoes, half a red onion, one green bell pepper, half a peeled cucumber, three large cloves of garlic, four slices of baguette bread, a glug of extra virgin olive oil, cumin, salt, pepper, and some water. This amounted to monstrous amounts of yumminess, especially when served with ice cubes, homemade croutons, chopped cucumber, and diced red onion. After the first spoonful, Adam and I high-fived; it was that kind of meal.

The grilled veggies were standard but very good; the asparagus and summer squash had come from a farm merely days before, and I thought it was pretty clear when you bit into them. Grilled bread is good on its own, but this was drizzled in olive oil and rubbed with a tomato. It was everything I love about the bread of a tomato sandwich but more elegant. The bread was also a very good edible spoon for the gazpacho. Also, the tabouleh was excellent, refreshing and gorgeous.

The star of the dinner, though, was most definitely the lemon butter. Lemon juice + melted butter = religious culinary experience. The artichoke was pressure-cooked in water with some cloves (um, neverwouldathought, but sofreakingood), and Adam instructed us to dip it into the lemon butter. This caused the artichoke, which was certainly delicious, to become a mere vehicle for lemon butter transfer.

Even though this meal consisted of light, summer fare, it took about two hours to rest off the food coma it induced. This was probably worsened by the amount of beer I had been consuming, but either way, it was a very welcome coma. Very, very welcome.