Archive for the 'San Diego' Category

Minh Ky

Oodles of Noodles – clockwise from top left – du du chua, mi xui cao, mi bo satay, mi vit quay

For my last meal in America, my grandpa and I planned to hit up In-N-Out Burger because after 30+ years of living in San Diego, he had never tasted a Double Double! At the last minute, we nixed our burger binge because grandma and cousin Michael wanted to tag along and they weren’t in the mood for las hamburguesas.

I’ve reviewed Minh Ky once before, and not much has changed since then. It’s still a fantastic place for noodle soups, especially the mi bo satay, which Michael and I both ordered on this visit. Grandma had the mi xui cao (thin egg noodles in a pork-based broth with wonton-like dumplings), while grandpa ordered the mi vit quay (thin egg noodles in a pork-based broth with a side of barbecued duck). We shared the du du chua (pickled green papaya).

I didn’t get to taste any of grandpa’s duck, but it looked damn good from afar. Grandma passed some xui cao my way and they were great; packed with lots of meat and sesame-flavor. The mi bo satay was a bit dry because the ratio of meat to noodles was off.

Although I’m not positive, I think the portions at Minh Ky have grown since I visited last summer. In fact, only cousin Michael was able to finish his noodles. Grandma, grandpa and I had to request doggie bags. This portion distortion business has got to stop.

Minh Ky
4644 El Cajon Blvd #101
San Diego, CA 92115
Phone: 619-283-4180


Vegetation Profile: Custard Apple

The cherimoya (Annona cherimola) is a species of Annona native to the Andean-highland valleys of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.

It is cultivated in many places throughout the Americas, including California, where it was introduced in 1871, and Hawaii.

The fruit is oval, often slightly oblique, 10-20 cm long and 7-10 cm diameter, with a smooth or slightly tuberculated skin. The fruit flesh is white, and has numerous seeds embedded in it.

The fruit is fleshy and soft, sweet, white in color, with a custard-like texture, which gives it its secondary name, custard apple. Some characterize the flavor as a blend of pineapple, mango and strawberry. Others describe it as tasting like commercial bubblegum. Similar in size to a grapefruit, it has large, glossy, dark seeds that are easily removed. The seeds are poisonous if crushed open; one should also avoid eating the skin.

A close relative of sugar apples, the custard apple above was grown by my grandpa in his backyard in Lemon Grove, California. Admittedly not as tasty as the mang cau in Vietnam are, these are the next best thing, and much more conducive to the desert conditions in SoCal. My grandpa has been harvesting custard apples for years now, but I had no idea what they were until I lived in Saigon.

The fruit’s outer skin is fuzzy and soft like a peach, while its insides are very similar to sugar apples’, but with fewer seeds. It’s good to know that when I move back to the States I won’t have to look far for a mang cau fix.


January 3, 2007
Cuisine: Japanese, Sushi

7660 Fay Avenue, Ste. 1
La Jolla, CA 92037

Phone: 858-454-4540

Tuna Nigiri (left), Yellowtail Nigiri (middle), Cucumber and Seaweed Salad (right)

Toro with Octopus and Caviar

Hamachi, Crab, Avocado, Unagi

Volcano – baked lobster and avocado

Cucumber, Tuna, Crab, Poblano

Fried Plantains and Coconut Gelato with Bittersweet Chocolate

For my final dinner in San Diego, my mom took me to Zenbu in La Jolla. As I perused the extensive menu not knowing what to order, I was reminded of an article I read in the New York Times last summer. In a piece by Trevor Corson entitled “Sushi For Two,” he recommended a new approach to eating sushi in America:

I suggest that customers refuse to sit at a table or look at a menu. We should sit at the bar and ask the chef questions about everything — what he wants to make us and how we should eat it. We should agree to turn our backs on our American addictions to tuna (for starters, try mackerel), globs of fake wasabi (let the chef add the appropriate amount), gallons of soy sauce (let the chef season the sushi if it needs seasoning) and chopsticks (use your fingers so the chef can pack the sushi loosely, as he would in Japan). Diners will be amazed at how following these simple rules can make a sushi chef your friend, and take you on new adventures in taste.

It was a little weird having a conversation with the chef right off the bat about how much we wanted to spend ($70 total) and our favorite fruits of the sea (toro, eel, lobster), but in the end, it was absolutely worth it. My mom and I conversed with our chef Lee throughout the meal about himself and the food, and in return, he took excellent care of us.

Lee started us off with two delicate cuts of tuna and yellowtail paired with a seaweed salad—my mother received sashimi (her request), while I received nigiri (my request). Eating sushi without chopsticks was really something different; the rice and fish felt so delicate between my fingers. The seaweed salad was light and refreshing.

The next course was my mom’s favorite. The toro was luxuriously buttery and melted in our mouths, while the octopus and caviar contrasted texturally to the fish. Just a smidge of soy sauce was all this piece needed to really come together.

After a brief intermission, Lee brought out the first warm course of the evening. A roll comprised of panko-crusted, deep fried hamachi, crab, avocado and unagi served with a sweet sauce. The warm, crisp hamachi was a great substitute for traditional sushi rice, but dominated the unagi’s subtle flavor. The sweet sauce (the name escapes me!) was an essential part of the roll’s deliciousness.

The Volcano arrived next (see picture below for full “volcano” effect). Filled with huge chunks of fresh local lobster, a spicy sauce and a sliver of avocado, the entire roll was baked in the oven and served warm. The lobster’s flavor really shined through, and I especially liked how the rice dried out a bit in the oven.

Our last roll contained cucumber, tuna, crab and a Poblano chili pepper sauce. I loved everything about the roll minus the cucumber exterior, which was little slippery and too summer-y for this time of year.

We concluded our sushi feast with a very un-Japanese dessert that Lee recommended. A house specialty, the plantains were covered in caramelized sugar and served hot with coconut gelato and chocolate sauce. The difference in temperature between the two chief components really made the dessert special. The plantains were sweet, but not tooth achingly so like bananas tend to be. The gelato was icy, but served its purpose well enough.

Corson’s advice really made my sushi experience at Zenbu spectacular and I recommend that all sushi-lovers try this approach at some point.

Omakase forever.

Continue reading ‘Zenbu’

Antica Trattoria


December 28, 2007
Cuisine: Italian

5654 Lake Murray Blvd.
La Mesa, CA 91942

Phone: 619-463-9919


White bread with oil and vinegar (complimentary)


Peperoni In Bella Vista – Roasted yellow and red bell peppers served with capers, anchovies, shaved parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil ($7.95)


Fettuccine Al Gorgonzola E Noci – Fettuccine with diced pears, walnuts and mascarpone cheese in a gorgonzola sauce ($14.95)


Creme Brulee ($6)

My mom and I have a really sweet tradition that we’ve been doing since forever. We shop like mad men at Fashion Valley and then go out to dinner at either the Cheesecake Factory or California Pizza Kitchen. Even though I usually shun chain restaurants, these two have a special place in my heart.

Last Friday night, my mom and I relived our glory days and swung by CPK for a bite. Unfortunately, the powers that be at CPK headquarters have decided to remove the single best pizza from their menu – Pear and Gorgonzola:

Caramelized pears, Gorgonzola, Fontina and Mozzarella cheeses, sweet caramelized onions, topped with chopped hazelnuts and served field greens tossed in our garden-herb ranch dressing

Rather than settle for a lesser pizza, my mom suggested that we head back to La Mesa for some Italian fare at Antica Trattoria. I think I ate here maybe five years ago with my friend’s family, but am not totally certain. It’s a good thing I keep track of everything I eat on gas•tron•o•my these days!

The cozy restaurant was packed when we arrived, so we waited 15 minutes for a table to open up. We were served some warm bread with oil and vinegar after we placed our order. I couldn’t taste much of the vinegar because it was super-thick and sunk to the bottom of the dish. It had been months since I had American-style bread; I loved how toasty the crust was and how fluffy the insides were.

Our meal officially kicked off with the Peperoni In Bella Vista – roasted yellow and red bell peppers served with capers, anchovies, shaved Parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil. Both my mom and I were pleased with this dish. The yellow peppers did not make an appearance, but the red ones were beautifully roasted and flavorful. The intense saltiness from the anchovies and Parmesan cheese was my favorite element.

Still yearning for pears and Gorgonzola, my mom and I shared the Fettuccine Al Gorgonzola E Noci for our pasta course. By the way, we were charged a $2 split fee. WTF?* The pasta was very creamy and the Gorgonzola dominated the other flavors. The pears were a little scarce and slightly mushy. I’m thinking green apples would be a better choice texture and flavor-wise. I did not embrace the walnuts, but my mom really dug ’em.

We finished off our meal with a decent creme brulee. I thought that the powdered sugar dusted on top was a bit much and the “brulee” was overly charred in some spots, but it was good enough for La Mesa standards.

*What’s up with restaurants making portions too large for one person and charging a split fee? Wickity whack, I say.

Scenes: Costco

On the one hand, I adore Costco. And on the other, it grosses me out.

There’s a store called Metro in Saigon that’s supposed to be the Costco of Vietnam. I wonder if they have as many free samples. Maybe one of these days I’ll borrow someone’s membership card and check the place out.