Friday, April 30, 2010

Brunch at The Pearl

I love brunch, or lukfast as my son calls it.  The notion of brunch seems to signify a leisurely meal, enjoyed with good friends and family, often times to talk about the weekend or just catch up.  I would venture to say that brunch and relaxation are synonyms.  And that is just what the Sunday Brunch at The Pearl delivers.  Friendly staff, a beautiful setting, and a variety of dishes with distinct flavor profiles to allow the freshness of each ingredient to shine through.  The Pearl is one of our all around favorite places, and now their Sunday Brunches have started up again for the season.

This past Sunday, Mark and I enjoyed our brunch in two different fashions.  I was up for the $20 brunch special - choice of entree + bottomless mimosas, while Mark opted for choosing his own liquid refreshment paired with his entree.  As you can see, they don't skimp on pouring the mimosas!  There is no lack of variety when it comes to the menu.  One thing to point out is the paper menu.  I know I'm in for something special when the menus aren't laminated.  Laminated menus = same old food, regardless of the season.  Paper menu = fresh, often times local ingredients picked in the height of their season.  Choices range from savory to sweet, and from breakfast to lunch. 
I was hoping Mark would choose a sweet option, since I don't typically do sweet for breakfast.  He didn't, but what he did pick, Corn Bread Benedict, was outstanding.  Pasilla chili cornbread, topped with their house bacon, poached eggs, cheddar cream, and brown sugar butter.  This had Mark's name written all over it and is honestly his favorite breakfast dish to date.
I was keyed in on the fresh feeling of spring, so I chose the Pearl Caprese Scramble - tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and spinach, drizzled with basil-pesto.  This dish was visually bright and tasted extremely fresh.  The only thing that could have topped this off, would have possibly been a crusty slice of Con Pane bread to give a texture difference to the plate.

New this brunch season are also their $5 libations!  Mark ordered a Kentucky Alarm Clock made of bourbon, pineapple juice, honey, and smashed coffee.  It may sound strange, but it is wonderful and not too sweet.  We had one the day before at The Pearl's Ping Pong Social, and also tried their Black Bubbles (Champagne and blackberry puree) and the Beer-Aid (Trumer Pilsner and house made lemonade).  I highly recommend the Beer-Aid; it was extremely refreshing!

The emphasis on quality and not on quantity is reflected in all of their meals and I appreciate a restaurant that isn't trying to pile a load of food on your plate, but instead deliver quality.  I never leave hungry, but always leave comfortably full and extremely impressed.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention our festive afternoon at The Pearl the day prior, during the Third Annual Social and Ping Pong Tournament, benefiting the School of Business at San Diego High School to help fund their senior trip to New York City.  Complete with a silent auction, a delicious lunch, and meeting new friends, we had a blast.  The winners, Jeff Brown (left) and Josh Kopelman of Dining Out San Diego (right), were quite happy too, but just you wait...Mark and I will be back next year to take the title! 
So whatever you may choose to call it, lukfast or brunch, The Pearl delivers, and on all fronts.  They uphold their motto well - it's not just enough for the customer to be satisfied, but better yet, to have them enjoy the whole experience.  We certainly did.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Karl Strauss - Cask Nights every Thursday

Every Thursday night, Karl Strauss Brewery has a Cask Night.  Yes, every Thursday night at each of their six brewery restaurants.  They used to have them monthly, but with such a huge following, they've upped it to weekly.  Good for them!  And good for us. 

We visited the La Jolla Karl Strauss on April Fool's Day where cask night featured the Big Barrel Double IPA (pictured in the pint glass) - "An intense West Coast IPA for hop lovers. Abundant imported New Zealand hops give this medium-bodied ale fruity citrus and white grape-like flavors over a firm maltiness. It finishes dry with a lingering bitterness."  Mark loved it and ordered two.  In addition, I ordered the Conquistador Doppelbock, "a robust German-style lager with rich caramel and toasted malt flavors, underscored by a plum-like fruit character and warm finish."  Any beer that highlights malt, especially toasted malt, count me in. 

So what is cask beer?  Typically, cask beer is brewed from traditional ingredients and is matured in the cask from which it is served.  That leads to a fresh and unfiltered beer with a unique flavor, since it is void of any additional carbon dioxide or other chemical treatments.  Pure unadulterated beer. 
Of course I wanted some food to go along with this liquid delight and for April, the chefs at Karl Strauss are pairing their Big Barrel Double IPA with Thai Street Tacos - spicy green curry chicken, fresh Thai basil, cilantro, peanuts, iceberg lettuce cups, and cucumber relish.  These refreshing bites were the perfect compliment to the bitter hoppiness of the Double IPA.  We didn't stop there.  It was happy hour, so several of their appetizers are nearly half off.  Next, we ordered the Beer Braised Sausage Sampler that comes with Hungarian kielbasa, Bratwurst, beer soaked raisins, and house made beer mustard. 
The sausages are nestled on a wonderful apple slaw that adds a crunchy texture when eaten with the moist sausages.  Hard to tell the raisins were soaked in beer, but when I ate one individually, the beer flavor did come through.  Next time, we may ask for some additional mustard on the side (it was yummy), since this is probably our current favorite appetizer. 

To partake in one of Karl Strauss's Cask Nights, my recommendation would be to come early, see the cask get tapped, and take advantage of the happy hour prices.  At the La Jolla location, happy hour is 4-6:30pm, with $3.50 beers (cask beer is $3.50 also, until it runs out) and appetizer specials.  In addition, I believe they let a fellow beer-loving customer tap the cask if they want to. On our short drive home, we drove by the beach only to experience another gorgeous San Diego sunset over the ocean.  If you are local, I urge you to try the Cask Night at Karl Strauss - you won't be disappointed!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spring Vegetables with Shallot Butter

Fresh peas and asparagus are a definite sign that spring is here.  These vibrant vegetables are perfectly sweet and when blanched to a crisp tenderness, make a refreshing side dish to any meal.  This recipe for Spring Vegetables with Shallot Butter complimented the slightly sweet and crunchy peas, with a light and tangy shallot butter.  The notes say that you can make the shallot butter 2 days ahead, but it is so simple, there was really no need.  However, I did cook the vegetables ahead, since I was taking the dish to my parent's house and wanted this step out of the way.

First you bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  I believe it is extremely important to salt the water (as with cooking pasta) since the vegetables will absorb some of that much needed flavor.  I've also seen chefs add sugar to the water, in addition to the salt.  Since these vegetables are in their peak and naturally sweet, I didn't feel the need to add sugar.  The asparagus and sugar snap peas are cooked in the boiling water for just a few minutes, so they stay crisp.  After draining the water, I put them immediately into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.  An easy tip for an ice bath is to fill a large bowl with ice, then put a colander in the bowl on top of the ice.  You can scoop the vegetables out of their cooking liquid, into the colander, and then pour cold water over them.  When cooled, you simply remove the colander so you aren't left fishing out your vegetables from the ice cubes. 

For the simple butter sauce, shallots are added to melted butter and cooked until tender.  After adding lemon zest, salt, and pepper, I tossed the vegetables together with the shallot butter, just until warmed through.  The dish was bright, crisp, slightly sweet, and refreshing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mushroom Quesadillas

I didn't always love mushrooms.  In fact, there was a time when I couldn't stand them.  Now the smell of mushrooms browning in butter on the stove makes me salivate!  I don't care for them raw, but there's still time for that to change.  I wanted to do something different for lunch, rather than our normal salami, tomato, and pepperoncini pita sandwiches that I feel like we've been having every week, but mind you they are GOOD... I dug up this recipe for Mushroom Quesadillas.  I remember bookmarking this awhile ago since it struck my interest with the simple addition of chili powder. 
You start by browning the mushrooms in butter by not moving them at all for the first 5 minutes, so they develop that golden brown hue.  After tossing them around so as to brown all sides, they are seasoned with chili powder and salt.  Add some chopped cilantro (I added more than the recipe called for, but I love cilantro), and the filling is done - extremely simple.
The next step was new for me.  I've never cooked quesadillas in the oven before, but I decided to give it a try.  First you warm the tortillias a bit over your gas burner, just until it blisters to give the tortilla that slight crispness that complements the gooey inside of a quesadilla.  Next, place shredded jack cheese on one half, top with the mushroom/cilantro mixture, and then finish it off with a sprinkling of feta cheese.  Fold them over, put a piece of foil on top of the quesadillas and let the oven do the work of melting the cheese.  They came out wonderfully, but not really sure I need to do them in the oven next time.  Stove top quesadillas work fine for me.  It was a great lunch on a beautiful spring day.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Dying Eggs...Brown Eggs!

I tried something new this year!  My mom read about a tip - use brown eggs for a richer, deeper color.  First of all, I love brown eggs.  It isn't the taste; white eggs taste the same as brown eggs.  It isn't the nutritional component; brown eggs have the same nutritional value as white eggs.  It's simply the color.  Whenever I use brown eggs, it makes me happy.  I'm extremely bummed that they are more costly than white eggs, or else they would be my everyday egg.  So this was an exciting day for me - I bought a dozen brown eggs.
Some are lighter, some are darker, but whatever shade of tan they are, they definitely hold a special place in my heart.  Would they really result in richer colored Easter eggs, though?  I would soon find out.  I bought your basic kit, although it was Star Wars and came with stickers, and filled my mugs with 1/2 cup warm water and 3 tablespoons of vinegar - not in the pink, however!  Why is that?  The box has elaborate instructions to add vinegar to the mix for all colors except for pink.  If anyone knows the answer, please do share!  
So, is it better to use brown eggs for dying?  I tend to think yes!  Unlike white eggs, when the brown eggs dried, they actually looked like painted wooden eggs.  Stunningly rich, yet sub-dued colors, both at the same time.  I hate to clutter them up with Star Wars stickers, but when I see Ryan on Sunday, he may want to do just that...and I will totally let him.  
Yes, my sad attempt at an Easter bunny.  Thought you might all get a kick out of it.  I might be able to cook, but I'm definitely not an artist ;)  Have a great holiday.