Cucina Urbana

CucinaUrbana1I live really far away from my parents.  Like over 2,000 miles (that’s 3,218 km).  But they visit pretty often, and that makes it all a lot easier.

They were in town last week and, per usual, it was the perfect excuse to try a new restaurant.

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Everyone’s been buzzing about Cucina Urbana, an up-scale casual little dining spot nestled between Little Italy and Hillcrest.  We popped in for an early dinner and got the lay of the land.  The setting is comfortable and unpretentious with mixed materials and a cozy urban vibe.  They’re a little different than your average restaurant; they’ve got a little wine shop tucked unassumingly in the corner.  They’ll help you pick the perfect bottle, charge you retail price, and then uncork it for you for just $8.  Compared to the standard mark-up on wines, this can be quite the money-saver.  Dad picked out the perfect red while Mom and I analyzed apps.

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Obviously, the meat & cheese board was a must.  We also went for some enormous squash blossoms, perfectly fried and oozing with cheese, and some scrumptious suckling pig.  Each dish was gone within seconds of hitting the table.  In some cases, I could barely squeeze in a snapshot.

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With our appetites sufficiently whetted, we ordered our pasta entrees.  Mom went for a delicious carbonara, Dad choose a traditional tomato sauce, and I had short rib parpadelle.  It was heavy and wintery, but even in the heat of July I devoured every bit.

CucinaUrbana8 For dessert, we wandered a few blocks up to Extraordinary Desserts.  The line is always out the door, as it’s a notorious San Diego favorite.  Mom and I split the flourless chocolate cake, which only tasted half as good as it looked.  The first time Extraordinary fell short of its name, but at least it satiated my sweet tooth!

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I was sad to say good bye at the end of the meal, but my folks had a flight to catch.  Hopefully it won’t be too long until I see them again!

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Aloha Oahu

Oahu3I spent most of the time I was in Hawaii eating and drinking.  That’s what vacation is for, right?!

My first evening there we had dinner at Duke’s.  I didn’t take any photos, and I’m regretting it now because it turned out to be one of the best meals we had!  I got their daily catch baked with tomatoes and basil.  It had a buttery texture that melted in my mouth and was the best fish I had all week.

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Thursday night we went to a place called House Without a Key.  I’d found it online and the reviews looked pretty good.

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We were seated right away and the view was gorgeous.  It’s right on the water, there’s live Hawaiian music and the ambiance is just lovely.  We settled down, ordered some cocktails, and watched the Hawaiian lady swivel her hips in front of us til our food arrived.

Oahu6It was… disappointing.  Not bad, but definitely not worth the price tag.  Oh well- it was still a lovely time.

We spent the next day driving around and exploring the island.  Even Oahu, the most developed island, can rival anywhere in the world in terms of beauty.

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This beach, Kailua, is one of the island’s most popular.  It was packed that day! So we headed up to the North Shore.

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The best dinner we had was our last night.  I’d arranged a special “date night” for the two of us at a swanky steakhouse called Hy’s.

Oahu8We shared the filet mignon tartar and a bottle of wine and cozied up in a booth to reminisce about the fun week we’d had until our entree’s showed up and stole our attention away.  I ordered my usual- a petite filet, medium rare with bleu cheese.  Jordan got the beef wellington and we both fell in love at first bite.  It’s been almost a week now and he’s still salivating with the memory.  The chocolate lover’s dessert made table side completed the perfect evening.

And that’s pretty much it.  Five days in two blog posts.  Now I’m home and planning my next big trip!  Lucky for me, it’s not too far off…

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oh HI [Pearl Harbor]

Sorry, I couldn’t resist a little state abbreviation joke.

Oahu1I landed in Honolulu last Tuesday night and spent the next five days there doing, well, not very much.  It.  Was.  Glorious.  I had lazy mornings and leisurely meals, punctuated by the occasional excursion.

My second night there, we went to a Hail and Farewell.  It’s something the Navy does to welcome sailors joining their command, and say goodbye to those who are leaving.  This one happened to be held on the USS Missouri, a decommissioned WWII battleship.  It was SO COOL.

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It’s parked right next to the Arizona Memorial, which I remember visiting with my family a decade ago.

IMG_3379We sipped, nibbled, mingled, and sipped some more until the Captain took the mic.  After a brief introduction, various sailors took the floor like they were passing through a slow revolving door.  There were “hellos” and “goodbyes” and lots and lots of “thank yous”.

IMG_3370Then it was time to go, so we said our goodbyes and headed back to dry land.

A couple of days later, we headed back to Pearl Harbor for an Open House where we could tour foreign ships.  Over 40 nations are represented in Hawaii right now, all participating in an exercise called RIMPAC.

We only toured two, and they were both Chinese.  The first was an Anti-Piracy ship called the Haiku (171).  They really rolled out the red carpet for us.

IMG_3470 “Toured” is actually a fairly generous term.  The “guides” barely spoke a word of English.  But we did get to see one of their helicopters, and walk through a deck of their ship.  We even got a few photo ops… before being briskly escorted out.

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Then we toured their medical ship.  We got to roam a little freer there (although most of it was still roped off).  I was impressed by how impeccably clean they both were.

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And while I didn’t know what I was looking at most of the time, it was still pretty darn cool.  Besides, how many people can say they’ve done that!?

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Juniper & Ivy

Juniper1It seems like everywhere I go lately, someone’s talking about Juniper & Ivy.  And after checking it out for myself, I can see why.  Helmed by Richard Blais (of Top Chef All Stars fame), it’s about as close to perfection as I can imagine.

We went about a week ago, before my gent headed out of town for a while.  They seated us in a cozy corner booth where we nibbled and giggled and even cuddled a bit.  The whole evening was divine… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Despite our reservations, the table wasn’t quite ready upon our arrival so we headed to the bar for some libations (and a selfie).  I chose something off their signature menu and was thrilled when it showed up garnished with an orchid.  I was even more ecstatic that it tasted as good as it looked!  Even the Mr. couldn’t resist a taste.

Juniper2Within minutes of being seated, our amuse bouche arrived.  They were bite-sized cheddar biscuits and I could’ve eaten a whole handful.  They were light and cheesy and one barely seemed like enough, but they definitely served to whet our appetites for the meal ahead.

Our friendly server encouraged us to share several courses, instead of going for the classic appetizer and main.  So we started off with some crab fritters.

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Crab fritters are one of my favorite apps, so I’ve had enough to know a good one when I taste it.  These blew me away.  While they certainly weren’t the healthiest (heavily battered and fried), they were some of the most delicious I’ve ever had.  They were light, fluffy, and packed with flavor.

Our next course was lamb pappardelle.  I’m a sucker for handmade pasta, and this was delicious but actually my least favorite course.  That just goes to show how good everything else was!

Juniper4Finally, our main arrived.  I think my date’s jaw hit the floor when this landed on our table.  Big beefy onion rings and perfectly roasted root veggies stacked on a big piece of steak (cooked to perfection, of course).

Juniper5It was the perfect amount of food, and we savored every bite.  Perfectly satiated, we passed on dessert.  Yet a couple of bite-sized cookies arrived with the check.  Somebody gobbled them down like he hadn’t seen food in months [he'll kill me if he ever reads this] so our server kindly brought more.  See what I’m saying? Stellar service.

From start to finish, I give Juniper & Ivy top marks.  I can’t wait to bring my parents when they visit next month!

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Grub[ing in LA]

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You’ll rarely hear my compliment Los Angeles.  It’s dirty, the traffic always crawls, and everything is grossly over-priced and over-rated.  It would be more aptly named “City of the Damned.”  But there’s one exception: A little breakfast place called Grub.

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image_2We stumbled upon Grub accidentally one morning after visiting LA for a Clipper’s Game.  The Mr. found it on Yelp or something.  Now we return every time we’re in town.

Nestled away on an industrial block between Santa Monica and Melrose, Grub is a beacon of delight in a God-forsaken town.

We’re always warmly welcomed and immediately seated upon arrival.  Then we’re quickly served a little breakfast appetizer, consisting of mixed breakfast cereals.  While I’m not a fan of Fruit Loops and Captain Crunch, I think it’s a fun and nostalgic touch.

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Their home-made menu items are a far superior caliber.  The can’t-miss menu item is their Crack Bacon.  It’s coated in brown sugar and a complex array of seasonings.  I can’t be sure exactly what they use (I think I detect cayenne and fennel) but one thing is for sure: the name fits.  The stuff will get you hooked, and you will come back for more.

I’m a devotee of their omelets.  They roast the fillings, so that all the vegetables are sweet and savory.  The egg is light and fluffy, always cooked to perfection, and surrounded by the best home-style potatoes I’ve ever tasted.  And of course, they include toast too.  It’s a massive feast and a glutton’s delight.

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For those who really want to indulge (ahem, my boyfriend), spring for the French toast.  It’s three fresh croissants, dipped in a sweet cinnamon vanilla batter and grilled to perfection.  Their homemade raspberry preserves are the perfect complement, if you’re not into maple syrup.  It’s rich, heavy, and utterly decadent.

image_3While we’re still making our way through the menu, I’m confident that nothing would disappoint.  I consider it a testament to their cuisine that I’m not the only blogger enamored with the place.  My first visit there we were seated next to Emily from Cupcakes and Cashmere (an idol of mine).  She’s an LA local and a renowned foodie, so if you don’t trust my authority, I’ll defer to her.

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OAK at 14th

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Every time I go to Boulder, I fall a little more in love.  This trip, my affection was concentrated around OAK at 14th.

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My family gathered there last Friday night to celebrate my brother’s college graduation.  I walked in with high expectations, and lofty as they were, OAK blew them away.  The six of us were seated the moment we walked in, and promptly greeted by our friendly server.  After ordering a round of cocktails, we all started to pore over the menu.

image_3image_6The fun thing about eating out with family (aside from having fantastic company) is that you can sneak bites from everyone else’s plates.  We ordered some small plates to share and a variety of entrees.

The first small plate out was my favorite of them all.  These tomato braised meatballs were simply divine.  Unfortunately, my photo doesn’t do them justice.

The himachi collar was also phenomenal.  It basically melted in my mouth.  My brother practically licked the bones clean.

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Then came the eggplant, served with a lovely tapenade and savory goat cheese.  This is one I might try to replicate at home.

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Each small plate was empty within minutes of hitting the table.  It’s a good thing we all get along so well, or somebody could have lost a finger!

When my entree arrived, I was blown away again.  It’s was simultaneously one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever eaten, and one of the most delicious.  The halibut was flaky and perfectly cooked.  The mustard seeds on top nicely contrasted against the buttery fish and earthy vegetables.  I could eat it every day!

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Can I get a close-up of that?

Of course.

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Mom and Dad shared a lobster gnocchi, and my brother ordered a large porterhouse to share with his wife.  We all passed around tastes, overjoyed with our own choices.

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But it’s not a complete meal without a little something sweet.  We ordered salted caramel budino and a wild root beer float to share.

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The root beer dish didn’t float my boat, but the budino was to die for.  It’s not something I would normally order it, but I’m glad mom did because I enjoyed every bite.  That mom.  She always knows best.

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With the fantastic food, great service, and amazing company, it was the best meal I’ve had in ages.  I wish my brothers graduated more often!

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Banana Nut Muffins

Who wouldn’t like to wake up Easter morning to a big basket of muffins!?

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If you have some time today, I highly recommend throwing these together.  You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

I found the recipe here, but I substituted walnuts for pecans.  I’m not sure that it’s a 5-star recipe, but it’s easy and a solid 4.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1  1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 overripe bananas
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup melted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

I set the oven to 375°F and prepared 2 muffin tins.  I used silicone baking cups, courtesy of The New York Baking Company.

First I mixed together 2 bananas, the melted butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  The other two bananas, I only mashed gently in a separate bowl.  Then I added the flour, baking soda, and salt into the butter and egg mixture.

Then, I gently folded in the mashed banana and nuts, then scooped the batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup about 3/4 of the way.

Last, I baked them for 18 minutes.  You might need to leave them in for 20, depending on your oven.  They can be served warm or room-temperature with a nice slab of butter.

I tore into mine straight of the oven, and I really liked how they popped right out of the silicon cups.  I didn’t have to grease them, so no added oil.  And they’ll stay a fun vibrant color, unlike how paper cups turn brown with chocolate cake.  I’d never used them before, but I’m a convert.  Plus they’re environment and dishwasher friendly :)

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Hope you enjoy, and have a very happy Easter!

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