Sunday, April 27, 2008

Eclipse Chocolat Blogger Mixer

Before I begin, I'd like to thank Will for hosting this event. The complimentary dessert platters and truffle samples were very enjoyable. I'm sure everyone had a smashin' good time!

Also...since I'm primarily a wildlife and landscape photographer, my technique for portraits aren't exactly great. So uh...sorry if you think your picture doesn't look nice. I really combed through my CF card to find the better ones! B+ for effort.

A lot of people were already settled in and chatting up a storm by the time I arrived:

Here we have Darleen, Koko, Kim, Marie, 75% of Paul, and Josh is hiding somewhere off on the right side. Sorry if you're not mentioned...I didn't have a chance to meet everyone.

Guests were waiting at the counter to place their dessert orders. It was a great place for getting to know each other, as we see Nicole and Amanda doing here. Looks like an interesting conversation doesn't it? Probably was. Amanda's quite a fun character!

Yes, I know social events are about People, but c'mon. This is a gathering of food bloggers posted on a food blog! Let's take another peak at what Eclipse Chocolat offers:

Intriguing flavors combined with high quality chocolate yields one helluva bar. There are often free samples at the counter so you can see for yourself what you've been missing out on.

Guests also had a chance to sample some truffles. Namely the Lavender Sea Salt (a signature item) and Cacao Azteca (lightly spiced). I'm scared to buy a box of EC truffles since I know I wouldn't be able to control myself. The box would be finished by the time I walk to my car!

Though a different Cheese Platter and Fondue Platter were available (not to mention new paninis), I opted for the Seasonal Dessert Platter, which seemed to be a popular choice today.

Looks like I have to come back for a re-shoot, as it is quite hard to shoot on a coffee table while itchin' to make rounds and meet all the guests. Sorry Will, I know you were expecting a better shot :P I could never pull off a fast picture setup. As for detailed descriptions of each item, I'll get back to that as soon as I get the names of everything on the plate. In the meantime, readers will have to settle with either "It was GREAT!" or "It was mmm-yoso(tm)!"*

Next to me on the couch was Elena from Sea Rocket Bistro. Stay tuned for the seafood bistro she's going to open! She's also an interior designer, so give her a buzz if you need some professional help. Oh and if you don't know him already, the guy on the left is our host Will.

I learned a lot from the conversation about chocolate.

After Will's chocolate lecture, I pulled up a chair to introduce myself to Tyler/Amanda, Nicole, and Alice.

Hi Alice! Hi back of Tyler & Amanda's heads. Nicole's hiding out on the far right.

These ladies and Tyler were a great bunch and it was fun getting to know each of them. I wish we could of spent more time together, as I am quite shy and take a gazillion years to warm up to new acquaintances. Damn this shyness of mine...
Regardless, I'm glad I finally had the chance to talk to all of you! Sure beats leaving comments on each other's blogs doesn't it?

Alright, here's Tyler and Amanda, so they don't feel left out:

You two are tight, yo!

Here's a shot as guests say their g'byes and prepare to leave:

Of the folks I met or know from their name tag, there's Liz, as well as Darleen, Marie, and Kim again. It was kind of nice to have another young'un present at the event. Hey Liz! Call me. ;D No I kid I kid. Asking a gal to call you is totally weaksauce. You'll never catch me pulling such a sissy move! Anyway, hopefully I'll have a chance to have a good chat with this crowd someday.

I also was able to meet Caron, Marcie?, and Angie. Didn't get a chance to really talk to the first two since they left about 15 minutes after I arrived, but Angie's really cool. Got a question about sustainable food? She's your go-to gal. I reckon she knows a good thing or two about poetry too!

Well, that was totally worth ditching Sunday Service! If I was actually religious, that is. Again, thank you Will & your staff for accommodating our large crowd. Heh, I guess we should thank Ben too since he helped out in the kitchen. You shoulda brought one of your cakes, Ben!

I don't know if blogger socials happen a lot since I am still relatively new to the scene, but I'd love to have another get-together again. Every person I've met today had so many stories and experiences to share. I'd love to get to know y'all better.

*Other guests have also covered this event and have included their impressions of the desserts:
Liz of Fooding411
Nicole. (kick-ass pictures)

Other Eclipse Chocolat posts:
First Visit

Eclipse Chocolat
2121 El Cajon
San Diego, CA 92104

Monday, April 21, 2008

Jer-ne: The Ritz Carlton, Marina Del Rey

It was my mother's birthday on Sunday so I took the family out for Jer-ne's Sunday Champagne Brunch. We got to the hotel/restaurant early so I started snapping photos of family as well as the decor of The Ritz and Jer-ne. I snapped two test-shots (checking exposure settings) of Jer-ne before the manager came over to introduce herself. Apparently she needed to get me permission from PR to take photos of Jer-ne. She even asked me if I was here with anybody. I'm like...dude. It's my mother's birthday. She then assured me that pictures of people are fine.

Brunch started promptly at 11am and every station was ready to go. My legs gave out when I walked past the dessert station, but I pressed on and moved towards the seafood. Selections at Jer-ne are pretty impressive.
Featured seafood included:
1) a really good smoked salmon, shrimp, crab claws
2) this delectable flaky pastry of salmon/spinach/?/dried apricots
3) awesome seared ahi-tuna (w/ a seaweed salad tossed with sesame seeds n oil) that would make any restaurant proud
4) shrimp ceviche comparable to what I had at Bluefin.
5) well seasoned trout
6) slices of (poached?) salmon topped with two different types of caviar. Looks pretty, but I've never liked caviar.
I forgot to mention a few, but you get the idea. Every item was well prepared. My mother and I both especially enjoyed the light pastry, where flavors were very well balanced. My brother, who always makes it a point to order seared ahi tuna if a restaurant offers it, went a little loco with the ahi tuna. He gave it a thumbs-up. I was pleasantly surprised by the crab claws, which were flavorful and didn't have that mushy texture like the ones found in Vegas buffets.

If you're wondering why this post has no pictures, it's because the manager never did go talk to PR and politely asked me to stop taking pictures two times. A grandpa with a D200 near my table was in a similar bind as well. Surprisingly, the manager didn't even react to the Asian touristy looking man with a point and shoot snapping shots left and right. Seriously, what gives? This feels like Disneyland all over again where I made a real scene with security guards concerning photography. Yeah you Facebook friends remember that story. ;) Anyway, prepare yourself for a long picture-less post if you decide to press on...*

I skipped the omelet and eggs benedict stations in favor of more interesting fare. My brother did get the omelet, however, and said it was "alright". It looked good, but we make some pretty crazy omelets at home. What? Like its hard? My only complaint would be the lack of ingredients available at the omelet station, though the basic items are all covered. Las Brisas in Laguna Beach (family favorite before it sold out) tops Jer-ne in this regard.

Sushi is available next to the omelet station, but it was really nothing to write home about. Featured rolls were the usual California, spicy tuna, and some shrimp rolls. I was able to see the "itamae's" stores of ingredients and I was pretty impressed. Nothing but fresh sushi-grade fish and shrimp. I didn't expect them to serve sketchy fish like at Todai and other seafood buffets, but it's always nice to check.

Pastries, hot breakfast items, omelet/waffle/sushi stations.

Every item was great until now, but biggest disappointment was the waffles. I don't understand how Jer-ne could screw this up. The batter was just too thick and the resulting waffle ends up like a gridded pancake. I saw several plates of unfinished waffles as I made my rounds. They tasted perfectly fine, but it was just the texture that was off. A pat of butter, mixed berries, whipped cream, and The Ritz's packaged maple syrup totally redeemed it though. I just pretended I was eating a stack of crispy pancakes. By the way, the maple syrup is top notch, so don't be shy to bring home a few bottles. I took three. It's that good!

Other hot breakfast foods included hearty thick-sliced maple bacon, sausage, and another kind of sausage(apple/pork?) tossed with 'taters and bell peppers. All three were amazing. It always brings a smile of wonder to my face when people are able to elevate simple/basic dishes to this caliber. I also had a big serving of biscuits and country sausage gravy. Holy crap that was good. The biscuits could have given Red Lobster a run for their money and the gravy was so thick and rich with bits of sausage floating around. I swear I could of eaten it like a chowder.

The coolest thing ever at this brunch was the caviar station, Jer-ne opens up three different cans of caviar: black sturgeon, salmon (yawn), and a golden caviar (whitefish?). Toasted bread and garnishes are available, of course. My mother's a big fan of fish roe, so naturally she was drawn to this station. I think I counted three visits. I only made one, and decided for the 100th time that caviar just isn't my thing.

Complementary champagne flowed freely throughout the course of brunch, but I also asked for coffee. Lemme tell ya, Jer-ne serves quite a good brew. I haven't had such good coffee in a long time. You can also order smoothies if ya want.

The dessert station offered passion fruit creme brulee, hot blue berry cobbler, chocolate and fruit tarts, various cakes, chocolates, mini eclairs, chocolate (dark and white) coated strawberries, god..the list goes on and on! I was already stuffed at this point and was unable to fully enjoy the desserts. Regardless, I powered through and was able to try most of them. My family gave me weird looks when I said that the creme brulee was too sweet. See, I'm the sugar lover in the family and usually what's fine for me is too sweet for the rest of them. Weird. So anyway, the tiramisu could use some improvement, while other items were very enjoyable even in my bloated, palate-fatigued state. Damn it! I still have yet to try out the cheeses...

Here's a picture of some of the smaller items I got:
Yeah. I really stuck it to The Man by taking this shot.

All in all, brunch at Jer-ne was pretty successful. There were still plenty of items I didn't get to try, including the hunk of juicy meat sitting at the carving station, potato gnocchi, bouillabaisse, a ton of dessert items, the various cheeses and breads, some seafood, etc. Though there were some shortcomings, the well prepared dishes totally made up for them. My favorite station at Jer-ne? Seafood. Hands down. Though maybe if I wasn't so stuffed by the end of the meal, I'd say Dessert. All the staff members were very professional and efficient. Finished plates were taken away and clean silverware placed without my noticing it. Champagne and coffee pot refills were also done without interrupting conversation. At one point, my mother stopped with her fork halfway to her mouth and asked me: "When did they refill my glass?" Beats me.

I only have two complaints for Jer-ne. First, the pastries (croissants, muffins, danishes, etc) were sub-par. Croissants weren't flaky enough, muffins were under-done, danishes were only so-so. Very disappointing. Second, what is up with that manager? I can understand policies against professional photography, but to shut down recreational photographers like me just doesn't make sense. Furthermore, that manager has one shitty attitude. She never did talk to PR, and when I confronted her (politely), she just brushed me off saying that she's really busy. Throughout the meal, she kept patrolling down the aisle next to my family's table without even giving me a nod or definitive answer about taking photos. The second time she politely told me to stop taking pictures was at my table. Whatever. My family had a good time, the food was great, champagne was plentiful, and the marina view was unbeatable. A run-in with management hardly puts a dent in such a perfect day.

*Sarah of The Delicious Life was able to snap some quick shots during her visit in '06. Check it out!

4375 Admiralty Way
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 823-1700

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Cheesecake Factory

Went out to dinner at The Cheesecake Factory for a pal's birthday dinner at the suggestion of his girlfriend. Place was PACKED. Must mean the food's good right? Right?

Tonight I was reminded yet again how bad TCF is. Our party was quite large (15), and our server (bless her heart) managed the best she could. But, service was slow. TCF at Fashion Valley (as well as the Brea Mall & Irvine Spectrum for that matter) operates far beyond their optimum serving capacity. Every table around us waited a ridiculous amount of time for our food to be served and drinks to be refilled. Don't even get me started on the horrible food...

I can usually forgive slow service if the food ends up being good. After all, when with good company, time just flies. But, I cannot forgive TCF's joke of a menu. Aside from the fact that ad placement in the menus hinders my browsing more-so than web pop-ups, how can so many dishes be listed as specialties? Doesn't make sense to me. If you specialize in something, you usually lock down your craft to just a handful of well made, well presented, quality products. TCF's little marketing scheme pretty much encourages diners to order any of the overpriced crap that's on their menu. Wonder why their website's menu doesn't list prices? It's because if you checked it beforehand, you'd realize that this joint is such a ripoff. I ain't a cheapass. I don't mind paying a premium for good food, but you from TCF isn't good. Friends sitting adjacent to me were very dissatisfied with their bland orders as well. These guys aren't exactly picky eaters either.

Really now...I can't believe TCF has the gall to list the Jambalaya both as a "diners' favorite dish" AND a TCF "specialty". I guess diners love the small pathetic $17 mess of greasy noodles and dry flavorless meat. I guess they also especially love the burnt tomatoes and shrimp. Give me the same ingredients and I can make a far better pasta. You could too. So could my dog.

Dessert was kind of amusing. For seven to eight dollars you can buy a small sliver of cheesecake as well as the pint of whipped cream lopped onto the plate in order to give the illusion of volume and value. Please. Consumers aren't that stupid.

Or are they? Why the hell would people wait in a long ass line to get a table at this atrocious restaurant? Guess they never came across Kirk's mmm-yoso, Cpt. Jack's reviews, Charlie's blog, Alice's blog, etc. etc.* to find an actual good place to eat. A real shame.

Overpriced. Over-rated. Poorly managed. Poor cooking. How is this chain still in business?

I realize this post is scathing and maybe not tasteful to some. But I'm not sorry. I never bag on a restaurant unless there are consistent screw-ups. Believe me, The Cheesecake Factory has screwed up plenty of times during my previous coerced visits. I hope none of my other friends choose this as a birthday dinner location...

Okay, I'm going to put on my flame retardant suit for the ensuing flame war to occur in this post's comments. Unless y'all agree with me.

*Don't feel left out if I didn't list you! The list of SD food bloggers is quite long.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Eclipse Chocolat. Again!

When Will notified me of his new cupcake creations, I just HAD to go and try 'em! Awesome guy that he is, Will actually treated me out to sample these delectable desserts. Thanks again, pal!

You can actually read about his cupcakes here and here. A total of four available flavors as of this date. Tune in to his blog for updates on upcoming cupcake flavors as well as desserts.

New cupcakes:

Balsamic Pink Peppercorn:

Dark chocolate-crème fraîche cake+raspberry balsamic filling+dark chocolate ganache glaze+pink peppercorn topping.

Cut in half to reveal balsamic-raspberry filling.

At first I thought there would be some of the peppercorns in the dough, but Will says there aren't. They are only used as a decorative topping, though they do provide a delightful crunch along with their characteristic tongue-numbing sensation. How fun! Rest assured, the peppercorns are used sparingly and if you happen to not like 'em, just brush them off. It goes without saying that the chocolate cake was moist n rich with chocolately flavor. The chocolate ganache is great as usual, without being overly sweet. As for the filling, can you go wrong with raspberries and chocolate? It's a great chocolate cupcake, though I suppose the filling could be slightly more tart for some contrast with the chocolate. All depends on personal preference, I guess.

Peanut Butter and Jelly:

Butter-crème fraîche cake+peanut butter filling+raspberry balsamic filling+dark chocolate ganache glaze+ blackberry topping.

We all have fond childhood memories of PB n J sandwiches. If ya don't, then what kind of childhood did you have, you poor soul?! Anyway, the cake is A+ as usual, and the jelly is paired with the same superb peanut butter Will sells at EC (though for the cupcake, some water/sugar is added). Will's blog entry detailing this new flavor describes him using a dessicated blackberry topping, but he has actually decided to use fresh blackberries instead. The cupcake I had was with the dessicated blackberry, which has less volume, that funny space-food texture, but packs a good whollop of flavor. Fresh blackberries definitely is an improvement both in texture and aesthetics. I really enjoyed this flavor and I can see it becoming a hit once EC gets more exposure.

Just so I wouldn't get thirsty eating these cupcakes, I got one of EC's three drinking chocolates.

Rosemary Mint (70% dark):

Extra dark chocolate(70%)+mint+hint of rosemary.

Since I love dark chocolate, this was a natural choice. The other two available flavors are Chile Burnt Caramel (55% dark) and Orange Peel Vanilla Bean (33% white). While I haven't tried these (yet), I'd bet my paycheck that they taste fantastic as well. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical at first about having rosemary in my hot chocolate, but EC's description is perfectly in line with the taste--there was only a mere hint of rosemary. You'd have to really concentrate to be able to taste it. Regardless, this was probably the most interesting hot chocolate I've had. Who knew hot chocolate could be refreshing? Okay maybe some of you knew, but I didn't until today. Rosemary Mint was thick, rich, and creamy. Top it off with the two hunks of vanilla-bean marshmallows and you have yourself a nice drink to sip on while you curl up on the couch--yes EC has a couch--with a book (or with significant other?). Yeah I don't care if it's hot outside. After all, EC's got AC!

These cupcakes made their debut only a few days ago, and folks are already buying them by the box-full. One customer reportedly even made a repeat trip! Whatcha waitin' for? Go try 'em!

Will also gave me a small stack of coupons, so UCSD students, contact me for one so you have an excuse to try out Eclipse Chocolat!

Coupon1 - FREE Espresso, Tea, or Pastry with any dessert purchase.
Coupon2 - FREE Box of (4) Exotic Truffles ($10 value) with any chocolate purchase of $10+.

Hurry! coupons expire on 5/9/08.

Previous visits to Eclipse Chocolate:
The first time.
The second time.
The Blogger Mixer.

Eclipse Chocolat
2121 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego, California 92104

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cafe Sevilla

I've had my eye on Cafe Sevilla for quite awhile now and today was the perfect excuse to go: a buddy's birthday. And as many of you readers are well aware, birthday bashes in college ain't nothin' without plentiful alcohol. While the usual go-to plan is to eat out before coming back to the house for some good drunken fun, I took charge this time and suggested we do something different: tapas + drinks followed by wine and cheese after an interlude.

Happy Hour (weeknights only) at Cafe Sevilla ends at 6:30pm. Drinks are half off, though it depends on the day's special. Tonight was mojitos night. In addition, tapas are also half off. Please note that these prices are only valid in the tapas bar section of the restaurant. You'll be standing right in it when you walk into Cafe Sevilla.

And as many of you already know, tapas are small dishes of Spanish appetizers. Folks usually eat 'em along with drinks.

My party of six ordered so many tapas and drinks that I had no room to set up my photography equipment, much less aesthetic shots. Forgive the use of flash...

One of three available mojito variants: pomegranate

Freshly Baked Bread and Alioli:

Homemade Alioli & Andalusian tomato sauce w/ Kalamata olive loaf or traditional French loaf (serves 2)

This picture features the ever-boring French loaf. We also got the olive loaf (so much better.), but the entire serving was pretty much all gone before I could snap a good photo. Hungry people don't wait for anything. Hell, I couldn't wait to dig in either. Both sauces were very good.

Tortilla Espanola:

Savory egg, onion and potato tart.

I remember reading a post by Charlie about how much his girlfriend enjoyed the tortilla espanola here. Apparently, Cafe Sevilla's rendition is comparable to what you'd find in Spain! I really enjoyed this appetizer. The tart was nice and fluffy with thin layers of potato inside. The accompanying mushrooms were cooked in a tangyand really fragrant broth? sauce? Who cares? They were great. I usually try something new when I revisit a restaurant, but I'll make an exception for this tart. It's that good.

Empanada Barcelona:

Salmon mousse, shrimp, sautéed spinach, rice, raisins and pine nuts baked in a puff pastry, topped with cranberry port sauce.

To be honest, I've never had an empanada before. Shocking, I know. I've just never got around to trying it! Really! Due to my lack of exposure, I'm not sure if the empanada is supposed to be flaky or doughy... Just from looking at the surface, I assumed it would be flaky like those BBQ pork pastries you find from dim sum, but actually it was kinda doughy. Maybe my empanada sat on the plate for too long? After all, its filling is hot, which might contribute to condensation and result in a damp empanada. I don't know. Anyway, though the empanada boasts of many ingredients in the filling, I found the dominant flavor to be the salmon mousse and a hint of shrimp. The cranberry port sauce can be overwhelming if you get overzealous like I did. Use it sparingly in each bite or else you'll taste nothing but berries. All in all, a pretty fun dish.

Grilled Spanish Sausages:

-Chorizo Bilbao, Morcilla & Chistorra with red onion-

Yes I have a picture. And no, I won't post it. I didn't realize how unappetizing it looked until I started processing the RAWs from tonight. I blame the sauteed red onions for ruining the picture. In any case, the sausages were pretty salty. No surprise there I guess, so it was a good thing we had ordered bread. Honestly, I found them to be much more enjoyable when eaten with bread. I'm not really a sausage kinda guy, so I didn't find these to be particularly interesting. There's really nothing remarkable about them. Go ahead and try them if you'd like. It's only $4!

Seafood Paellla:

This isn't formally on the tapas bar menu. Our server told us about it and I assume it's just a scaled down version of the paella they usually serve. For $12.95 I sure got a lot of seafood. This shot is only of half the portion. Pretty good deal I guess. The rice was nice and toothy, very well flavored from the juices of the seafood. This was SO much better than the paella I had at The Prado two years ago, which was extremely salty. Cafe Sevilla's seafood paella relies more on the shellfish, shrimp, and calamari to flavor this dish. Shame on you, Prado. As good as the paella was, I wouldn't recommend getting it unless you'll be sharing it with at least three other people. Having just a few drinks, three tapas, some bread, and a few bites here and there from friends' orders was already more than enough to fill me up. I practically took the entire paella home.

My party also ordered:

Fried calamari, which was top notch. Crispy, light batter fried to a golden brown, calamari here is the best I've ever had. The best part about the calamari was that you could actually TASTE the calamari. Too many times have I had fried calamari that tasted of nothing but batter and oil. Also, though the calamari is fried, I was very surprised to see that each piece wasn't greasy at all! Kickass.

Cheese Fundito (with sausages): "Spain meets Mexico again! Baked Manchego & goat cheese With Chorizo sausage". This plate actually came with toasted bread to scoop up the melted cheese. If you like grilled cheese sandwiches, this is a must-get. Adding sausages is an option ($1), but really though, they didn't make much of a difference.

Manchego Cheese Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic: This was a really creamy and rich mashed potato. The flavor of roasted garlic was more than I'd like, however. Good, nonetheless.

There were also other items I did not get to taste, such as the meat paella (also $12.95) which was very well received. Sevilla was extremely generous with the meats, which consisted of sausages, a small grilled chop, grilled beef, and pork. Meat was so tender that a fork was enough to cut 'em. I gotta make room and order this next time.

The chicken ajillo was recommended by our server, and four people ordered it. Only two came (we didn't get charged for the other two), but those who did get a taste said it was really good.

There you have it folks. Happy Hour at Cafe Sevilla. Sure beats the hell out of PB Bar and Grill. But how dare I compare the two? Sevilla is way out of PBB&G's league.

***NOTE: I think it would be nice to mention in each of my posts how vegetarian-friendly a restaurant is. After all, though most people are carnivores, I'm sure we all have friends who are vegetarians and they'd like to hang out too! Vegetarians have many options at Cafe Sevilla. Check out the tapas menu (first page).***

Cafe Sevilla
555 4th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bronx Pizza

Well my to-eat list is a jumble after eliminating lots of destinations upon further research. Seems like my list had tons of over-hyped restaurants that don't live up to their hype. So, I'll have to reorganize and recompile the meantime, I'll be posting some revisits. Places that I used to go to a lot before I started this blog.

Bronx Pizza claims to make some authentic NY style pizza. I've never really had a real NY pizza, so I can't make comparisons, but I will say this: it's pretty damn good. I love thin crust pizzas. My favorite so far has been from Bucca di Beppo, but Bronx is great too!

Only had one other person with me, so couldn't order a whole lot. We got the pepperoni pie.

Look at that oily cheesy goodness! Nicely crisped crust, good pepperoni, great sauce. I kind of wish there was more sauce and cheese, but that's just my personal preference. Oh yes, and a dash of dried basil, parmesan , and onion(or was it garlic?) powder totally made this pizza taste phenomenal.

Don't know if there will be a next time, since Bronx Pizza is quite a drive for me, but if I do end up back here again I gotta try some other toppings. They have so many options! I suppose I could make friends drive instead....

Pesto would be would the pepperoni/ would the combo...or the white pizzas.... Jeez it seems like wherever I go I want to eat everything on the menu. By the way, whole pizzas are made to order. The pizzas you see above are made to serve customers wanting only single slices.

*NOTE: Bronx Pizza takes cash only. If you don't have any on you, they do have an ATM machine out back. $1.50 service charge, though.

Bronx Pizza
111 Washington St
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 291-3341

Friday, April 11, 2008

Pacific Beach Bar and Grill

I finally caved and joined my friends on their bi-weekly visit to PB Bar and Grill where there are weekly specials and discounts for food-n-drink. On Thursdays, drinks are half off (most expensive beer runs up to only $2.50!), pizzas are $5, and appetizers are either $3 off or half off. I suppose that's a good enough reason to scope out the place?

There are some pretty damn negative reviews and comments concerning PB Bar and Grill online voiced by a majority of the nice folks who bothered to post their opinion. Most of these complaints revolve around the unsanitary environment, sh*tty crowd, mediocre food, and bad service. Reading all these complaints were what initially discouraged me from going...but curiosity still got the better of me. I had to see for myself just how bad it really was.

As expected, most of the "dining" area is dark. But not dark enough to hide the wet, sticky floor, sticky tables, and greasy chairs. Okay...I can live with that. After all, I grew up eating from street vendors in Taiwan. Now our what a piece of work she was. Vulgar, sarcastic, and even had the gall to call me a "son of a bitch". Whatever, hoe. Maybe that's how service is like in establishments where nearly all the patrons are various forms of 'bags. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm sure most are nice people (some were, I admit). So we have our uneducated douchebags, old 'bags, sleezebags, and hoebags.

Okay fine. I shouldn't judge people like that...but this really will be your fist impression of the crowd if you go at night. What did bother me, however, were these creepy old dudes trying to score some drunk college-cutie ass. It was gross. These old 'bags weren't even from the same party. They were just individual PoS slithering around trying to find a crunk girl wasted enough to lose 150% of her judgment.

Not my kind of crowd. Don't get me wrong, I'm not badmouthing or looking down at the patrons...I'm just sure ain't the type of people I associate with.

Funny how some guys brought what seemed like their dates here last night...of all places. The ladies looked just miserable eating Thursday night's Pasta Special.

Enough of that. Let's check out the food here.

Garbage Pizza:

Pepperoni, sausage, peppers, mushrooms, onions, olives, and tomatoes.

Looks okay, right? Not too shabby for $5. Sure the cheese was somehow inconsistently burnt, and the dough was extremely bland and plain, but the ingredients are fresh, sauce is decent, and you really can't complain when it costs a meager $5 for a small/medium pizza. Best item of the night.

Spinach Dip:

The dip was served with a basket of unremarkable and slightly stale tortilla chips. It's kind of neat how a sourdough bowl is used to contain the spinach dip. This appetizer actually tasted better using bread instead of chips. But, the dip is nothing noteworthy and was a bit sour for my taste. Could be that I just miss the great dip from ESPN Zone (my high school hangout!).

Irish Nachos:

The original price for these "nachos" (and all the items mentioned above, for that matter) is quite unreasonable. $8? Puh-leez. It's just potato chips with melted cheese and a scant 1.5 tablespoons of bacon bits. The discounted price seems a bit more appropriate. How's it taste?'s potato chips with melted cheddar. Nothing to write home about. It's just something to snack on absentmindedly as you drink with pals.

The myriad of bad reviews/comments directed at PB Bar and Grill all have valid points, and were very accurate. If you are in your early 20s, bored, craving greasy mediocre food, willing to put up with annoying waitresses, able to stand unsanitary dining conditions, and open minded enough to accept the various types of 'bags that make up the crowd, well...this is your place.

Surprisingly, this place is actually decent for brunch. (According to some fellow SD Bloggers)

Pacific Beach Bar and Grill
860 Garnet Ave.
San Diego, CA 92109

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Eclipse Chocolat, revisited.

Well I said in my last post that I was going to practice with my new lens at Eclipse Chocolat, so there I was at 2:30pm! I still have a lot to learn when it comes to using this lens. My previous general-purpose one couldn't open up past f/4.5 for the shots I take, so having one that's as fast as f/1.8 is quite a change. But of course, I only stick around f/3-4.5 for food shots. So...please bear with me as I get used to the additional depth of field options I have available...I'll be screwing up a lot of shots until I gain more experience.
Okay okay. Enough of photography mumbojumbo. On to the food!

Artisan Caramel and Cheese Plate:

Four beautiful cheeses, candied apricots, sugared torta, and burt chile caramel sauce.

(Note the failed depth of field.)

The four cheeses, listed from farthest to nearest, are as follows:
1. Black Diamond - White Cheddar -
2. Etorki
3. Gjetost - Goat Cheese -
4. Amsterdam Reserve - Gouda -

Black Diamond- Pretty sharp, full flavor. The result of aging? Smoother than Trader Joe's Australian cheddar. LOVED IT.

Etorki- This one was kind of funky. I haven't had a lot of interesting cheeses, and this one caught my interest. I've never tasted anything like it before. I suppose it faintly tastes of mushrooms. I dig it.

Gjetost- Has a light caramel flavor, which is very intriguing. I've never had anything like it before. It's consistency, like the cheeses above, is pretty smooth. This paired very nicely with the burnt chile caramel. My favorite cheese out of the four.

Amsterdam Reserve- This cheese is harder than the ones above, and tasted pretty sharp initially. Maybe I just needed to cleanse my palate or something. Gouda never really interested me, and I don't know enough about cheese to say anything just get out there and try it?

The cheeses are fine eaten as-is, but dipping them into the burt chile caramel introduces a whole new set of flavors and can actually complement the cheese, as in the case of the Gjetost. I really liked dipping the cheddar in the caramel too. I think I liked having the Etorki by itself, as to better taste that "mushroomy" flavor.

Sugared torta and candied apricots on the side were also great solo or dipped into the caramel. I could eat the torta all day. It's really light and would be great to nibble on with a cup of coffee.

I'm not sure why, but I was salivating like crazy as I was eating this plate...I supposed it's because everything tasted damned good? Go try it and compare notes with me!

After a bit of studying, I also bought a Salted Peanut Butter Cupcake:
I thought it was a chocolate cupcake at first, but it's actually yellow (eggy and rich). Doesn't matter. I like both types. The icing on top is a smooth dark chocolate with chopped and candied peanuts. A great combo! But wait, it gets better: The inside has a filling of Will's mix of superb peanut butter (available for sale at the counter) and sugar water. The result is a sweet/savory filling with a lighter consistency than regular PB.

Here's the cupcake cut in half:
Not a lot of filling, I know. But oddly enough, this is just the right amount. Any more would detract from the rich flavor of the dough. Flavors (dark chocolate, PB, nuts, dough) are very well balanced here. Doesn't this seem like such a nice change from the icing-dominant cupcakes from Sprinkles? Well...I guess it's all personal preference. There's no right or wrong when it comes to food, in my opinion.

There was a plate on the counter featuring one of Will's many chocolate bar creations. Free samples of Kyoto Green Tea:

This is, according to Will, one of the more "unpopular" bars because it targets a narrower audience: People who like white chocolate AND green tea. It's actually not that strange a combination, though. Green tea, as many of you already know, can give many desserts a refreshing flavor. Examples: Japanese style cheesecake (green tea flavored), ice cream, cakes, etc. The toasted rice inside give the nuggets a delightful crunch. There's just the right amount too. Not like Nestle's Crunch bars.

Oh I nearly forgot. I also bought a double chocolate brownie to enjoy at home. No pictures will be posted because I ended up eating it in the car...gosh I do this every time I bring desserts home. Brownie was good. Super rich chocolately flavor packed into a nice thick dough. The plan was to enjoy it with some strawberries I have in the fridge, but oh well. I'll snap some photos of the brownies from Eclipse Chocolat next week. Hopefully the pecan one is available! There's a constant rotation of brownie flavors. I'll have to try them all...AT ONCE! muahhahaaa.

Will gave me a small stack of coupons, so UCSD students, contact me for one so you have an excuse to try out Eclipse Chocolat!

Coupon1 - FREE Espresso, Tea, or Pastry with any dessert purchase.
Coupon2 - FREE Box of (4) Exotic Truffles ($10 value) with any chocolate purchase of $10+.

Hurry! coupons expire on 5/9/08.

Other visits to Eclipse Chocolate:
First visit to Eclipse Chocolat.
Third visit.
Blogger Mixer.

Eclipse Chocolat
2121 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego, California 92104

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Abs Diet (tm)

I don't process carbs very well, so my diet revolves primarily around lean meats, fruits, non-starchy vegetables, small portions of whole-grains, and of course dairy. Some folks don't deal with meat that well, so they go for a more carb-oriented diet. Seriously. I feel bloated, sluggish, and just plain out of it if my carb-to-protein ratio is over 3:1.

Today's post features two examples of simple (and I really do mean simple), healthy fare I make when pressed for time. No added oils, no starches, minimal salt, small portions... gawd how can one live like this?! Yeah okay it doesn't look that bad, but trust gets old. That's why I mix it up a bit from time to time! Hence the pig-outs featured on this blog :D Seriously though, if you want good ab definition, this is how you have to eat if not blessed with good genetics. Yes, I am vain. I admit it! But hey...I gotta look good on the beach...

Broiled Pork Tenderloin:
Two servings of vegetables, and 1.5 servings of meat (I was extra hungry that night). Funny how the picture turned out...the pork looks kinda undercooked. I assure you it definitely is not! Oh, and it was broiled with garlic and rosemary.

Broiled Salmon:
Hey! The salmon is upside down. I always get careless when my blood sugar is low... Anywho, that red sauce is a glaze of honey and peppers. Based it off Applebee's recipe. I made it spicier than the recipe, and it was actually pretty good! A nice change from the typical fresh dill or rosemary. Fish for dinner is always a great idea, even if you (I mean "me/I") do a pretty boring preparation. Omega-3s can actually up your metabolism and help you burn more calories. In one study, a guy actually burned 300+ extra calories that day! He's obviously a freak, but you get the idea. Furthermore, protein from fish takes longer to digest than other meats. Translation: You will feel full longer, and thus eat less over the next couple hours.

And in other news, my lens finally came in! It's a great 50mm prime. I wish I could afford the L, but this one will do its job beautifully. Can't wait to take it out...maybe I'll make another stop at Eclipse Chocolat..hehe.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Mama's Bakery and Lebanese Deli

This place has been blogged about a whole lot, and it ain't hard to see why. Even at 2pm people were still lining up to get food! I can't believe I took this long to finally make the commute down to this joint.

Parking is a bit of a problem. There's only street-side parking, and most spaces are taken by local residents. I had to park two blocks away, but that's no big deal. All the more time to let my mouth water and stomach growl in anticipation of a great meal! Hopefully you guys get luckier with the parking situation. The menu here is partly covered by that white drape?tarp?blinds? (my vocab sux) so be sure to poke your head in first to see the wide variety of items that they offer. It took me quite awhile to decide what to order...everything sounds so good! I ended up getting the Meat Combo Plate to sample a little of everything.

Service is fast and efficient. My food was ready in three minutes. Super! I was freakin' starving. I told the cashier I wanted my plate To-go, as I anticipated some generous portions. Generous might have been an understatement.... Look at that huge mound of meat!! Plus, the small pile of complementary pitas aren't even pictured. Wow what a bargain.

Oh and here's the dining area, if ya care:
It's quite a diverse crowd. I saw an old retired couple, some college students, office workers, and a young real estate agent who asked me if I was Kirk from mmm-yoso as I took pictures. Sorry lady, my blog ain't that great n famous. :D

Meat Combo Plate:

Beef & chicken shawarma, Beef kefta, hummus, rice, and fresh salad.

I thought I had good Lebanese back in L.A. (Sunin Lebanese Cafe), but I think Mama's is actually just a little bit better when it comes to the grilled meats. Every meat item was lean but still really juicy and flavorful. There's no way for me to pick a favorite since I like 'em all...but if I had to, I'd go with beef. Damn that meat was good.... On the other hand, though, the hummus was pretty uneventful, but nothing a drizzle of my precious Apollo Olive Oil and a squeeze of lemon couldn't fix. I suppose the only "downer" of this meal was the hummus, which was pretty bland. Everything else was awesome.

Ya'll should seriously give Mama's a try if you haven't already. Great food, great prices, nice crowd....what more could you ask for from a hole-in-the-wall? Plus, the location is superb...after all, Will's Eclipse Chocolat is just around the corner! Be sure to visit him for dessert!

Mama's Bakery & Lebanese Deli
4237 Alabama St.
San Diego, CA 92104

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Las Vegas - Ellis Island BBQ & Nora's Cuisine + ew a buffet

Wow I totally forgot to make this post last year. Long story short: Vegas trip(#1 of 2) with high school pals at the end of summer and I was responsible for choosing where to eat! There was no way in hell I'd fall into some of the tourist traps on the we didn't exactly have that much cash to blow at places like ::drool:: Bouchon, so I had to do some research. So much pressure...but I think I did a pretty good job.

On a second trip to Vegas that same week with another group of friends, I didn't have the power to sway the group to eat at good restaurants. I don't mean to bad-mouth, but this particular group can't tell good food from crap. I'm not going to go into details, because it doesn't really matter + who the hell cares anyway? Alright so we ate at the Planet Hollywood Casino's buffet, which somehow won "Best Buffet in Las Vegas" last year. The place blew chunks. That award should have gone to someone else.

Now on to food that actually tastes good:

Dinner #1: Nora's Cuisine

I forgot where I read about or saw Nora's Cuisine. Supposedly, it's one of the many well kept secrets of Las Vegas. (To tourists anyway.) Nora's serves up some damned good authentic Italian food. Of a party of four, I was the only one who didn't order a pasta dish. Why the hell was I counting carbs on a trip... Anyway, my pals ordered a seafood linguine (Frutti di Mare), Baked Zitti, and _________. Damnit, I forgot what Flynn ordered. I went with one of Nora's Dinner Favorites--Pork Tenderloin alla Siciliana. I also split a pizza (Rustica)

I made a reservation for an early dinner (to beat the crowds!) but my blood glucose levels were dangerously low when it was time to head out the I forgot to bring my camera.

Pork Tenderloin alla Siciliana
Breaded and roasted, accompanied by roasted baby red potatoes, breaded and roasted tomatoes served with arugula in a lemon vinaigrette.

My pork tenderloin was only so-so. I really wanted to like it, but just couldn't. How could I? The meat was overcooked, something I predicted the moment I cut my first bite. The giveaway was the hard, chunky breading on the bottom of the tenderloin. Someone must have forgotten that my order was cooking on the pan...son of a b*tch.... I suppose the generous serving of pork is enough to redeem a few points,though. On the other hand, the rest of the items on my plate were top-notch. I especially enjoyed the beautifully roasted potatoes. The last time I've had such great 'taters was at Pascal Epicerie.

Baked Ziti (Pasta a Forno)
Meat sauce, ziti, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses.

As the name suggests, this is pretty much a casserole. ("A Forno" means "from the oven"). Out of all items we ordered, this was my favorite. It's not hard to see why. The pasta was a perfect al dente with a nice crust of cheese on top. Each bite was filled with gooey cheesy goodness complemented by the slightly acidic meat sauce. Nora's did not skimp on the cheeses at all. I swear it was like eating Mac'n'Cheese. Lactose intolerant folks probably should avoid this pasta dish. Cheese lovers like me, on the other hand, will definitely enjoy this.

Pizza Rustica (12")
Pizza sauce, fresh fried tomato, garlic, basil, olive oil, and romano.

The Rustica was okay. Nothing special. I think for this particular type of pizza, the sauce makes or breaks it. In this case, the sauce was just average. There's nothing really note-worthy to talk about. In retrospect, I should have gone with my original choice: Pizza al Prosciutto. The prosciutto would have made it a more interesting pizza.

Frutti di Mare
A perfect blend of clams, Shrimp, Mussels, and Calamari in an exquisite red sauce over linguine.

The red sauce in this case, was damned good. Much richer than the one found on the pizza. I only took a bite from Kyle's plate and almost wished I had ordered this pasta instead of my tenderloin. If red seafood pasta is your thing, give this a shot. You won't be disappointed.

The Nora
Baby mixed greens with roasted bell peppers in a balsamic vinaigrette.

Kyle ordered this as his appetizer and couldn't finish (I think?) It's a pretty large salad, but Kyle only had a few bites before passing it over to me. I liked this salad very much. The vinaigrette wasn't too acidic for my tastes and the roasted bell peppers were great! Maybe Kyle enjoyed his salad so much that he felt a need to share with me? Probably! Keegan and I finished off the plate in a matter of minutes. Such a simple salad, but the bell peppers and vinaigrette really stand out.

All in all, a good restaurant off the strip. There's also another kick-ass Italian restaurant just south of Vegas where Kyle's family treated me out way back in high school. I'll have to get details on the place and make a comparison.

Dinner #2: Ellis Island's BBQ and brewery

Ellis Island is a small casino about a 14 minute walk off the strip. Pal's complained about the walk, but I guess that's what happens when you go to UCI and don't have to make those 13 minute cross-campus trips just to get to class like we do at UCSD (Go TRITONS!). There are two dining locations on the ground floor, so it's really easy to get confused and wait in the wrong line. And believe me, there WILL be a line. If you turn right immediately upon entering the casino, you'll find yourself at the Brewery (and BBQ) Patio. Prices are hella cheap, as you can see from their website menu. The patio is open only from 4pm-10pm, by the way.

Full rack of ribs:

Let me just say that these are better than Burrell's (on my visit, anyway), Claim Jumper, and Lucielle's but at half the price! WHAT A BARGAIN. Ellis Island's dark lager is also steal at $2. You can see how much beer you get by looking at the corner of the picture above. I didn't care for the sides even though the baked beans were pretty decent. The ribs totally stole the show. Meat fell of the bone with only some gentle encouragement, and the sweet, smoky BBQ sauce was just great! This is enough to last two meals, unless your name is Cpt. Jack.

Nora's Cuisine
6020 W. Flamingo Rd. #10
Las Vegas, NV 89103

Ellis Island Casino and Brewery
4178 Koval Lane
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Friday, April 4, 2008

Asameshi Maeda Honten Ramen

Another belated post! This is from back when the Ramen tours were going on in Mitsuwas across California. Unfortunately, I came across news of the tour a bit late and was only able to catch the last shop--Asameshi Maeda Honten Ramen--as they finished their tour in San Diego.

Mitsuwa, San Diego

This was a tonkotsu-shoyu ramen, which is my favorite type by far! I love the meaty broth of a good shoyu ramen. Dadami Ramen from 688 Baker St, Costa Mesa is the best shoyu ramen I've had in the States, so I'll be using their noodles as comparison.

Here's what Asameshi Maeda Honten served up:
Okay, so it ain't the prettiest picture of ramen. Sorry! It was 2pm and I was famished, so I dug in before realizing HEY! I BROUGHT MY SLR.

As you can see this bowl is topped with the usual boiled egg, bamboo, green onions, and slices of pork. Okay I paid a little over $7 for this bowl of ramen, and all I get for toppings are a meager paper thin serving of meat and a QUARTER of a boiled (AND unseasoned) egg? Come on now... Dadami charged the same price and was quite generous with the pork and also served a great seasoned egg(whole).... Regardless, I enjoyed what little meat there was. For such thin and lean slices, I was pretty impressed at how tender they were. Probably goes without saying that the slices of pork were pretty damn flavorful.

Noodles here weren't quite al dente (they were on the soft side), but that's partly my fault...I guess? Maybe I should have specified how I wanted my noodles done when I ordered--much like how you order at Shin Sen Gumi. Despite these shortcomings, the broth totally blew me away. This was by far the richest broth/soup base I have ever tasted...such intense pork flavor! Overall, a good bowl of would have been a great bowl if more meat was given and that quarter of an ordinary boiled egg was replaced with Dadami's.

What a damn shame I missed the other ramen shops' tours... You guys can read about them here.

Asameshi Maeda Honten Ramen @ Mitsuwa Marketplace
4240 Kearny Mesa Rd. #119,
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 569-6699

Thursday, April 3, 2008

International Market & Grill

This little joint is right across the street from school (UCSD) so it's just natural to give it a try! Despite negative reviews from some friends, I still decided to go. I did mention in the past that they ALWAYS disappoint me when I let them choose a place to eat? Yes I sure did. Check the Eclipse Chocolat post. Okay. So if they think something is good and it's clearly not....would something they think is crappy actually be great? I put it to the test. Twice.

International Market & Grill isn't exactly "International". The store primarily sells Middle Eastern fare and makes some mean Persian grilled meats. On two separate visits I've tried the House Kabab Plate, Chicken Kabab (a la carte), and a grilled fish wrap. On both occasions I walked away very satisfied.

House Kabab Plate:

As you can see, the Plate comes with generous servings of salad and rice. Some folks like having half their plate filled with carbs, but I'd much rather see more meat. The (really long) kebab consists of seasoned ground beef and was absolutely mmm-yoso! It was very well seasoned and I could still taste the natural sweetness of the beef. Great stuff. Now if only I could get more meat, please?

The chicken kebab and grilled fish wrap aren't pictured. I always forget to take pictures when I'm ravenous... But, I'll tell ya this: the chicken was also well seasoned and grilled. It was SO juicy. I don't know how the grill-guy (owner) does it, but he really knows how to seal in the juices of grilled meats. I've never had grilled chicken this juicy before. Seriously.

I bought the fish wrap to-go as lunch for the drive back to L.A. and really enjoyed it. I think toasted lavash bread is used as the wrap. It's been awhile, so I don't recall what kind of fish is used, but I do remember it was a white fish. Tilapia? I don't know. Probably. Like the beef and chicken kebabs, the grilled fish was really juicy as well. Veggies inside the wrap include the basics: lettuce, tomato, and onions (red). Yogurt+cucumber spread comes in a separate container...this made driving and eating at the same time a bit more difficult as I applied the yogurt before each bite. Overall, a really tasty nutritionally balanced lunch.

Despite negative reviews, though from unreliable/inaccurate sources, I still gave this place a shot and ended up with a completely different conclusion than my sources. See guys, don't believe every word you hear from normal folks. Heck, I'm sure y'all are familiar with inaccurate posts from Yelp. Unless the general consensus (from folks who know what the hell they're talkin' about) of a dining establishment is negative, why not go try out food from somewhere you've never been?

International Market & Grill
3211 Holiday Ct # 100
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 535-9700

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Beverly's Best Bakery

Beverly's Best Bakery is run by Carmela and Carmen Cella and specializes in gorgeous wedding cakes. They also make "Specialty Cakes" which I guess are decorative cakes for just about any occasion. But, the purpose of my visit wasn't for their cakes. There really was no reason for me to buy a huge cake anyway. I just wanted to pig out on their delicious pastries--eclairs, scones, cookies, brownies, cannoli, cheesecakes, etc etc.

It's been awhile, but I do remember buying two large double-chocolate cookies, an eclair, a New-York Cheesecake, and a brownie. The cookies were still warm when I bought them, so I just HAD to eat 'em right then and there. The others I brought home for a photo-shoot on my mom's good china. (DON'T TELL HER.)


Brownies from Beverly's are richer and more chocolaty than the ones from Extraordinary Desserts. They also get big points from the addition of thinly sliced almonds (stuck on by a thin layer of ganache). As with all good brownies, these were of the perfect thickness and consistency. It's pretty amazing how so much chocolate flavor is packed in here while still retaining some fluffiness. I know I said in my previous post that I don't like overly sweet desserts, but I make an exception when it comes to brownies and chocolate cake...usually. (Ew. choco lava cake from Roy's.) Brownies here aren't sugar-bombs, anyway.


Oh my eating this eclair was just orgasmic. The dough was light and delicate like that of a good donut but was still sturdy enough to hold up the cream filling and thick layer of dark chocolate on top. Each bite contains a near-perfect ratio of dough, chocolate, and cream filling. I had to scoop out some cream with my finger since I'm not all that into sweet cream. Plus, doing so helped to create a better balance of flavor by letting the chocolate come through. Did I mention I <3 chocolate?

The cheesecake I bought is not pictured. I think I might have eaten it while driving back home... I might have also eaten another item on the way back, but I don't remember. Oh and the cookie I ate while buying the rest of these goodies was fantastic--warm, soft, with slightly melted chocolate chunks buried in the dough. Awesome.

Beverly's Best Bakery
3020 Brea Boulevard
Fullerton, CA 92835

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Eclipse Chocolat

I've been hankering for some good desserts for awhile now, since eating four donuts--as good as they are--in one sitting from the nearby Golden Donut (on Governor) just doesn't get me off anymore. I originally intended to drop by Extrarindary Desserts for the 20th time, but a post from Alice Q. Foodie caught my eye. She mentioned a relatively new dessert cafe just around the corner from Mama's Lebanese Deli & Bakery. Y'all know me. I'm always game for trying someplace new...unless its a "recommendation" from my UCSD pals. (Sorry guys. I've been let down every goddamn time.)

The owner and chef of Eclipse Chocolat is a really cool/hip guy. He even posts updates on his creations or upcoming special events on the cafe blog. Some info straight off his profile:

Will Gustwiller is the owner and head chocolatier of the San Diego-based Eclipse Chocolat. Established in 2004, Eclipse specializes in creating exotic chocolate infusions in truffles, solid bars, and other exciting confections. Eclipse strives to expand the boundaries of chocolate flavors while operating in an eco-friendly manner and donating 10% of its annual net profit to the the development of local and regional non-profits and charities.

Seriously. What an awesome guy. He's really interactive with his customers and even asked me for my opinion concerning each dessert on the Spring Tasting Platter. I was flabbergasted, and being the shy guy that I am, I only managed to stammer out a fraction of my thoughts. Well, here's the rest, Will!

There's Will coming out with my plate! To be honest, I didn't even realize he was in the frame until I started writing this blog entry. Darn. I could have snapped a much better photo.

Customers have the option of dining in (and enjoy FREE WiFi!), or buying some of his signature truffles and chocolates to savor at home. As you can see, there's quite a selection of treats. Details of each item can be found on the website:

And a close-up of the fresh pastries:

Boring pictures, I know. This is just to give a general feel of the place. I'm doing a real photoshoot next time since I didn't bring some essential gear during this visit (notice the awful glare?)

Eclipse offers seasonal tasting plates, so I ordered the Spring Dessert Tasting Platter:

White Chocolate-Macadamia Pudding with Butterscotch Rum Sauce
airy white chocolate pudding+toasted macadamia+burnt caramel & muscavado butterscotch rum sauce

Curried-Peanutbutter, Marshmallow, & Milk Chocolate Panini
masala curry infused peanutbutter+vanilla bean marshmallow+36% milk chocolate panini, grilled to order

Frozen Chile-Burnt Caramel Semifreddo
frozen chile-burnt caramel semifreddo mousse+dark chocolate brownie crumb crust+burnt caramel topping

Dark Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding with Creme Anglaise
dense dark chocolate-chocolate chip brioche bread pudding, warmed+vanilla bean creme aglaise

If heaven could be served on a plate, this is one of the many forms you can find it in. The white chocolate pudding was phenomenal. As its description suggests, it was very light and airy but still packed a good whallop of flavor. I didn't find the pudding to taste like typical store-bought white chocolate though, it was kind of a mix (white/dark). I like it better this way. Paired with Butterscotch Rum Sauce and you have yourself a fantastic mix of flavors that complement each other extremely well. Macadamia nuts found on the bottom of the cup lend their subtle flavor to further enhance the dessert's taste and also provide a delightful crunch as a contrast to the smooth pudding--how fun!. You haven't had good pudding 'til you have this pudding. It's so wickedly delicious I think it should be offered as an individual item on the regular menu. I'd order two per visit.

One of my favorite items on the plate was the panini. It's such a simple concept: brush peanut butter on whole-grain bread. Add chocolate and marshmallows. Grill it. But Will took this to a whole new level by blending the peanut butter with a touch of curry to give it somewhat of a more exotic taste. The combination may sound weird, but I assure you, it was the best damn peanut butter I've ever tasted. This is coming from a guy who loves PB so much that he's tried every brand from the supermarket (+ Trader Joe's!) and always keeps three different types in his pantry. I must try to replicate this dessert at home. It can't be that hard...can it...?

Best. Panini. Ever.

The semifreddo was an item I wasn't overly excited about. Don't get me wrong, it tastes great and is skillfully made. But, I personally do not like having spiciness in my desserts. I have to say though, the slight spiciness of this dessert does pair nicely with the curried peanut butter panini. In any case, it was an interesting and complex mix of flavors and though I tried to imagine the dessert without its spiciness, I realized that it would just lose its flair and character. Try it! You may very well like it.

I've haven't had many opportunities to eat bread pudding so my experience is very limited and I won't be able to offer any comparisons or analysis for this item. But I will tell you this: It's pretty damn good. It was like a really soft and moist warm brownie, though not as sweet and with the texture of bread pudding. This would make great comfort food on cold days if you eat eight of them. The vanilla-bean creme anglaise was very light and delicate, giving each bite a hint of vanilla without overwhelming your taste buds. I enjoyed this very much!

BRAVO! Eclipse Chocolat is edging out Extraordinary Desserts as my #1 dessert cafe in San Diego now. I'm a big fan of Western-style desserts, but many establishments just make them way too sweet for my tastes. This is partly why I love Japanese renditions of Western desserts so much. They make them lighter and more delicate. (Remember Cafe Blanc?) Extraordinary Desserts makes fantastic desserts and I do enjoy their creations, but the desserts there are just a tad too sweet. I'm sure many people will disagree with my previous statement, but hey. That's my opinion, so shut up. Also, I personally like to experience as many tastes as possible instead of ordering one slab of cake or a bowl of pudding/creme brulee/etc. This makes Eclipse Chocolat's seasonal dessert platters very appealing to me--I get to tease my palate with a wide range of flavors and textures. Isn't that what enjoying food is all about?

Will gave me a small stack of coupons, so UCSD students, contact me for one so you have an excuse to try out Eclipse Chocolat!

Coupon1 - FREE Espresso, Tea, or Pastry with any dessert purchase.
Coupon2 - FREE Box of (4) Exotic Truffles ($10 value) with any chocolate purchase of $10+.

Hurry! coupons expire on 5/9/08.

Additional visits to Eclipse Chocolat:
The second time.
The third time.
The Blogger Mixer.

Eclipse Chocolat
2121 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego, California 92104