San Diego, California

In addition to photography and food, I absolutely love to travel.  Whether it’s a short road trips into the mountains to month long adventures to South East Asia, each trip offers a different experience; whether it be soaking in the local culture, experiencing breathtaking scenery or indulging in unique food cultures. Now that I’ve embraced my love for all things food and blogging, I have decided to share some of the memorable meals that I enjoyed during my travels.

My first trip took me to the fine city of San Diego, home to countless beaches, hundreds of local breweries and a about million taco joints.  It’s also where my older brother has lived for the last 15 years and  a place that I’ve grown to love over my many visits. From visiting Torrey Pines Gliderport and soaking in the ocean views to taking in a Padres game from the rooftop bar at the Altitude Sky Lounge, every trip can be distinctly unique.  My most recent trip was a quick 3-day visit where I decided to focus on the newly thriving food scene in San Diego.

Since I am fully obsessed with Top Chef, specifically my all-time favorite competitor on the show – Richard Blais, I had to make a special trip to his first restaurant in San Diego, Juniper & Ivy. Tucked away in San Diego’s Little Italy, the menu at this joint changes EVERY DAY and has a self-proclaimed focus on “refined American food with a left coast edge”.  We got a seat right at the bar in front of the appetizer and desert station.  The menu was fairly extensive and featured a wide selection of ingredients from uni (aka sea urchin) to beef cheeks and everything in between.

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My brother and I ordered six dishes total and the entire meal from start to finish was phenomenal.  Every dish was perfectly seasoned and executed flawlessly.  From the Raw selections, we ordered the Baja Yellowtail which sat on a crispy tostada and had nice kick of cilantro with bright notes of acidity and a bit of spice from the marinade.  By the waitresses suggestion, we ordered the Wild Boar Ragu which featured a delicious fresh parpadelle, with some cocoa in the noodles. The sauce was rich and coated the noodles perfectly, while the topping of macadamia nuts added a nice crunch.  The one downside was the amount of meat, which seemed to be lacking in the dish.

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We then ordered a few Small Plates, starting with the beets which were tender and very sweet, counteracted nicely by the bitterness from the endive and radicchio.  The unique aspect to this dish was the addition of trail mix, which to my surprise worked very well with the beets by adding a crispy texture. The Brussell Sprouts came to the table and were easily one of the high points of the meal.  The sweetness from the dressing, the tanginess and spicy notes from the kimchi and texture from the sprouts being deep fried were all just fantastic.  The addition of Soprasetta on the top really didn’t add much for me personally but it didn’t stop me from enjoying this dish so much that I wanted to lick the bowl clean. The final dish of the meal was a perfectly seared hangar steak, cooked to a perfect mid-rare and very aggressively seasoned.  The cheddar froth on top was dynamite while the broccoli puree added some sweetness to this rich dish.  I fell head over heels for this dish, while my brother wasn’t as enamored with it.

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Now I’m not a big sweets person but I was almost forced to order dessert on this night as we were sitting in front of the dessert station and had seen every dessert being made throughout our meal.  After some input from the dessert cook we decided to go with the S’mores Pie. This dish reminded me of sitting in front of the campfire, the gooeyness of the marshmallow to the perfect flavor of graham cracker in the ice cream. A perfect end to an amazing meal!  If you ever make your way to San Diego, I highly recommend Juniper & Ivy for their outstanding service, delicious food and fantastic atmosphere.

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The next day we went for Ramen at Rakiraki, which was voted as one of San Diego’s hottest restaurants in 2014 along with Juniper & Ivy.  As this was my first foray into Ramen, I was not sure what to expect.  I am an expert on all things Pho but had never tried its Japanese counterpart.

I went with the Spicy Premium Mild Ramen with chicken, while my brother went with the Hot version of the same dish. The chicken broth was so complex with it’s salty, sweet, tart, spicy and acidic notes. The charred cabbage added a smoky element, while the egg which threw me off at first, it added a bit of richness and the green onions add that herbaceous note.  The noodles had a nice bite to them while the chili garlic vinegar was the perfect added condiment.  There were subtle difference between my brother’s spicier version and mine, but I was happy in trying this Ramen in it’s unadulterated form. I think it’s time to try all the Ramen that Calgary has to offer!

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That evening we joined a group of my brother’s friends for dinner a Cucina Urbana, which is a popular restaurant very close to the west side of Balboa Park.  The menu was very extensive and distinctly Italian.  Once we were seated, the first words out of my mouth were “This lighting is going to kill my pictures!” – food blogger problems!

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As a group we shared some appetizers including the whipped goat cheese and burrata Vasi, which are small mason jars filled with cheese spreads served with a side of bread – very similar to Scodellina from Cibo in Calgary!  These were delicious spreads, as the burrata had an intense garlic punch and the whipped goat cheese was light and surprisingly not as pungent as I anticipated.  We also got the grilled octopus, which was very tender and highly acidic, and the truffle fries with fresh shaved Parmesan on top.

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For my main course, I went with the waitresses suggestion of Rigatoni Bolognese, and boy did that not disappoint.  Freshly made pasta cooked el-dent, coated in a sauce with deep rich tomato flavour with an abundance of meat.  A simple dish that was executed well, I couldn’t have ask for anything better.  After seeing the food delivered to the table, I just had to take a picture of the beer braised lamb shank that someone else at the table ordered, I was told it tasted as good as it looked!

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After dinner, the group decided that since there was a food blogger in town, they had to take me to a killer desert place.  As we walked a few blocks from Cucina Urbana, everyone in the group was giddy with anticipation of what was to come.  We finally arrived at our destination, Extraordinary Desserts, where the long lineup was confirmation of what was yet to come. After standing in line for what seemed like forever and passing a few display cases filled with deliciously decadent treats, it was finally my chance to order and I went with the Passion Fruit Pavolova. After breaking through the baked meringue, the pavlova was filled with a midly sweetened custard. The dish was not cloyingly sweet, which was great for me.  The pavlova was topped with tons of fresh fruit and sat on multiple fruit purees, a few of which were very tangy!  Another great end to a fun night where I met a ton of great new people, with whom I hope to dine with again!

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Now I can’t visit San Diego without succumbing to my gluttonous fast food craving, which of course is In-N-Out!  If you have never been, I highly suggest you change that the next time you are visiting the southwestern states!  This place is a family favorite and has it’s own secret menu filled with all sorts of quirky additions to your burger and fries experience! I tend to go a bit crazy on the secret menu, so I enjoyed a double-double with a mustard grilled patty, grilled whole onions and chopped chilies with animal style fries, well done.  The fresh, never frozen concept of this burger chain makes it stand out from your typical fast food joint. If I lived out here, I fear that I would be a regular customer with an ever-expanding waistline!

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And that concludes my first food-focused trip to San Diego and I think I hit the jackpot with all of my choices, with huge thanks to my older brother!  My one regret is that I did not get a chance to indulge in any Mexican food while visiting my brother this time, as this has been a long-standing tradition of ours! This just gives me another excuse to visit San Diego again! I can’t wait to go back and try all the other up and coming restaurants in the San Diego area.

Until then, in the words of Ron Burgundy, Stay Classy San Diego!!

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