Sunday, April 22, 2012

Carlsbad, Campus Cafe

I've written about this place on Yelp before.  I gave it five stars, and with good reason.  For me, this is the place to get a sandwich in Carlsbad.  You'll never find it.  It's a secluded little hole in the wall that without guidance, you may drive by over and over again.  It's nestled in the corner pocket of "The Campus", located on Priestly Drive.  If you drive to end of Priestly, you'll find it's in fact a cul-de-sac.  Once you reach the end, if you venture on to the parking left on the left, you'll take that all the way up to the roundabout, which has a few guest parking spaces.  You'll stop here.  From this point, you'll be on foot and walk on to the campus itself until you reach the end of the road.  It's here you'll find the entrance to Campus Cafe!

Upon entering, you're greeted by one of the family members.  Now, sadly, I only know the father - the owner of the shop.  Everyone knows him as Yuni.  He's a really cool guy.  My favorite thing about him?  He'll remember your name - forever.  He'll greet you by your name any time you walk in.  He'll know your order if you frequent the joint enough.  He's one of the reasons I love this place so much.  It's one thing to have good food, it's another to provide excellent customer service.  He's very genuine, as is his whole family.  His daughter, Sandra, was the one who first served me, and sadly, she's moved on to bigger and better things; she studies at CSUSM!  Now, I'm sure you're eager to learn more about this place, but, I suspect you're more wanting to dive in to the food!  Let's get right to it, then.

Campus Cafe offers up a wide variety of food.  They're open for breakfast and lunch, and typically close around 3 PM most days.  From the time they open to the last minute they're open, everything is fresh and made to order.  From their sandwiches to the Spicy Pork plate, nothing disappoints.  They offer up hot and cold sandwiches, salads and plates of daily meats, like Teriyaki Beef, chicken, pork and more.  You can customize a sandwich from the bread, meat, cheese and toppings.  Check out some of the selections -

This is their Asian Sesame Chicken Salad.  It's a feast for two, made for one!

 Here we have the Black Forest Delight.  Creamy avocado, smoked gouda, lettuce, mayo, sun dried romas on a toasted torta roll.
The Italian Flavor.  Smokey provolone, Beefeater tomatoes, prosciutto, smoked turkey, mayo, mustard, romaine on a fluffy muffaletta.  So, so good!

As you can see, they have a selection.  What I won't get in to, is the fact that their specials are daily.  Each day they offer up three to four unique plates or sandwiches, all of which are reasonably priced.  Friday's are special because they serve something locals swear by - they call it the Happy Friday Burger.

I have had it once, and if I can recall - it was a toasted torta with hash brown, angus beef, tomatoes, lettuce, and melted cheddar cheese.  It's crazy - which makes it delicious!  No, really, it's good.  You've got to try it!

I love this place.  Any time I'm in the area for work, I go out of my way to eat here.  It really is a special treat.  Stop in and pay Yuni and family a visit, you won't be sorry.

Campus Cafe

5966 La Place Court, Suite 150
Carlsbad, CA 92008

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

So fresh and so clean clean

ac·cou·ter·ment   [uh-koo-ter-muhnt, -truh-]  Show IPA
1. personal clothing, accessories, etc.
2. the equipment, excluding weapons and clothing, of a soldier.
3. any accompanying side to an entree

The accoutrement, better known as the side dish.  French fries, the "side" salad, mashed potatoes, hearts of palm risotto, or sprouts in a sherry bacon cream sauce - all fine examples of a side dish; hehe.  So, what are we going to discuss today?  Not much, this will be a short post.  The side can tie together all the main components of a dish.  It forms the metaphorical bridges between all the flavors on the plate.  If your dish can stand tall and proud on its own, cool, great - more power to it!  However, if your dish is lacking some oomph, or, if you feel that the dish cannot be without a certain accompaniment, such as a delicious reduction or roasted pecans with a caramel glaze and peppercorn, well, you can make that call.  However you slice it, the accouterment can play a vital role in your dish's overall performance.  

One of my favorite sides, is salsa.  One type of salsa, the salsa fresca, pico de gallo, or fresh sauce, is popular in the US and originates from Mexico.  A base salsa made with nothing more than tomatoes, cilantro, onions, it adds a refreshing liveliness to anything.  It can be used as a side, eaten alone, or sat atop any hot or cold entree.  There are hundreds of variations.  It's not just limited to tomatoes, either.  Use pineapples, apples, pears, beets, radishes, pickles (I would consider relish a salsa), anything you can think of!  Mix in some other ingredients, spices, herbs, liquids, and you've got some good eats!  You'll soon find out you have a plethora of salsas!  

I'll leave you with a recipe, no measurements.  Just adjust it as you see fit!

Roma tomatoes, diced
Red onions, diced
Cilantro, roughly chopped
Lime juice
Lime zest
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar, I would say to go easy on this
Red pepper flake

Salsa on!

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Beer Hunter

Let the games begin!  I've got Menifee's own Beer Hunter onboard to have a sit with Hmmburger and discuss the owner himself, the staff, the food and how it all came together!  I'm very excited to have the opportunity to dive deep in to what makes The Beer Hunter tick. This will be my first extensive, no holds barred restaurant review; I couldn't be happier doing it with these guys!

Stay tuned!  It's going to rock!

Visit them at The Beer Hunter website!

Be sure to like them on Facebook!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The jolly green giant of produce

The human body is a fine piece of work.  Everyone of is built the same, in a way.  We have two arms, two legs, hands, feet, hair, and a head filled with a brain, amongst other things.  Each and every body needs the same nutrition.  Last time I mentioned a few of those essential vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate).  These are the fuels that power our bodies.  As I discussed, cucumbers contained many of the aforementioned supplements.  Today, I discuss another miracle food that provides you with nearly all of these and then some.

Presenting, the avocado!

One of the most interesting and plentiful fruits in the world, the avocado is part of almost all the world's cuisine.  I'm sure you or someone you know has had an avocado at one point in your life.  Living in Southern California, it is almost impossible to not come across this bizarre specimen.  It has many uses, can be eaten as is, or added to almost an endless array of dishes.  The fleshy interior can be mashed, sliced, diced, scooped and served up hot or cold.  Typically, the skin and seed are discarded, as they are not good eats.

There are many cultivars of avocado, the most common and likely the one you've come across most, is the Hass avocado.  Available year round, this type of avocado, developed by Rudolph Hass, a Cali native, has a deliciously nutty and oily texture.  Most of the markets in my area carry these and I absolutely love to cook with them.  A neat little fact about these avocados, my hometown of Fallbrook, informally known as the Avocado Capital of the World, accounts for most of the crop production in California.  Another neat little fact, Fallbrook holds their annual Avocado Festival every year, drawing nearly 70,000 attendees from around the country!

One of the most famous dishes that avocados are used in is, wait for it... guacamole!  Guacamole is used as a spread, dip, or snack eaten straight.  It can be prepared in an endless amount of ways, and each region has its own unique twist.  You can add bacon, fish, fruit, vegetable, flavored oils, seasonings, and much, much more.  There isn't one definitive way of making guacamole.  Traditionally, guacamole is prepared with a molcajete.  This tool is used to prepare whole spices and other mashable ingredients, like berries, nuts, fruits or veggies.  Of course, not all of us have a molcajete readily available, so, a bowl and a spoon work just fine for making guacamole.  I have a base guacamole that I prepare regularly and would like to share it with you.  I have been told time and time again that this is some of the best guacamole.  Now, I can't say that's true.  It isn't award winning, but maybe I should try my luck sometime.  As always, this is a recipe meant to assist, not follow.  I never ask that you follow my recipes to the T, for the fact that everyone has their own tastes.  Also, as I mentioned, there is no definite way of preparing guacamole.

Guacamole -  Serves 2-4 people, or one hungry Jesse

2 Hass Avocados (ripe, soft and pokeable, not firm)
1 medium Jalepeno (about the size of your avg. index finger), finely minced
1/2 medium red onion(about the size of your avg. fist, diced
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Prepare you avocados, cutting them in half, from tip to base, twisting the two halves to separate.  Using your knife, remove the pit by striking down on to it, giving a slight twist to dislodge, and pop it out.  Discard.  Scoop the flesh in to a bowl.  Add lime juice to stymy oxidation.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  Mix together, mixing more for smooth guacamole, or less for a more chunky texture.  Taste, and season to preference.  Store it in the fridge.  There are tricks out there to keep guacamole from browning.  Most don't work.  This does.  It's science.  What causes oxidation?  Oxygen!  Remove air from the equation and you'll have colorful guacamole for a few days longer.  Take saran wrap and place directly on top of the guacamole, leaving no air in between the wrap and the avocado.  This prevents air from oxidizing the avocado, leaving it a vibrant green for many days so long as it is kept refrigerated.

Enjoy with chips, spread it on your favorite sandwich (delicious on burgers!), eat from the bowl, and share it with your friends and family!

The Fallbrook Avocado Festival is Sunday, April 15, 2012!  That's today!  Go out and enjoy some sun, camaraderie and avocados!  It's fun for the whole family!  See you there.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cool as a cucumber

We all love summer.  BBQs, pool parties, late nights that feel like they could go on forever.  It's great.  What's not so great? If you answered the unrelenting heat, you're right. 

Want something that you can enjoy year round to combat the heat of summer?  Well, I have something that is cool, refreshing, and a great source vitamins A, C, K, B6, B9 and thiamine.  Not only that, it's full of vital minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium.  What is this magical food?

The cucumber.  This is one of my favorite ingredients.  It's extremely versatile, very easy to manage, and available year round.  You can put it on a salad, in a vinaigrette, and even substitute them for chips for your favorite dips!  You can pickle, broil, bake and boil them!  The one thing that I never do, however, is peel them.  The skin is where all the nutrition is.  While the flesh itself is a good source of nutrition, the skin is loaded with the goods.  Peeling anything is quite silly to me.  Unless the peel is inedible, I'll leave it on.  With that - I'd like to share with you a little dish that was inspired by a few good friends of mine.  It is sure to delight you and anyone you serve it to.

The ingredients are as follows, and I'd say this is 1-2 serving(s):

1 large garden cucumber, sliced into chips
1 ginger root, about 4 shaved strips, 2 tbsp
Mint leaves, roughly chopped, about 1 1/2 tbsp
Red Pepper Flake, 1 tsp (more if you like it spicy)
Soy sauce, about 2 cups, depending on the size of cucumber and how much you like soy sauce
Half a lime, 1/2 zested and wholly juiced
White wine vinegar, 1 tbsp
Pepper to taste

This is a simple dish to execute.  Prepare your ingredients.  Slice your ginger root with a knife, or if you have one readily available, a peeler, and get four strips out of it.  This will be used as an enhancer and won't actually be eaten.  It is edible, and it's entirely up to you if you want to eat it.  Roughly chop a few mint leaves, gathering about 1 1/2 tablespoons.  Slice the cucumber, leaving the skin on (peeling optional), into chips about 1/2 an inch thick.  You can cut to any thickness, of course.  Zest half a lime, and juice the whole thing.

Once your ingredients are prepared - combine all in a sealable Tupperware.  Pour your soy sauce in to the container until all the ingredients are submerged.  This is optional, as some people do not like too much soy sauce; it also contains sodium, so if you're watching your sodium intake, go easy or substitute with a low sodium alternative.  Add a splash of the white wine vinegar at the end.

Seal the cucumbers and place in the fridge.  Allow the cucumbers to marinate for a good 8 hours before serving. 

When ready to serve, take cucumbers out with a spoon and serve up on a plate and enjoy!  If you're alone, eat them straight out of the bowl!

As always, a recipe is not meant to be followed - it is meant to assist.  Add, take away, completely reinvent it your way!  Everyone's tastes are different.  The beauty of the recipe is you can make it your way.  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pechanga Food Truck Festival - A review

What a day!

Yesterday was the first time any food truck festival had made an appearance at Pechanga Resort and Casino.  It was quite a sight to behold.  There were over forty trucks to choose from.  Picky eaters were definitely not disappointed.  Traditional American dominated the grounds - with burgers, dogs and fried eats filling in everything in between everyone else.  From what we observed, prices averaged around $10 per person.

Execution of the event was well received, though, as the day went on, crowds became unbearable due to the 90 plus degree heat and increasing attendance.  Staff was virtually nonexistent throughout the festival but were heavily manning the entryway.   I had expected a larger presence to keep everyone moving along to prevent major congestion.  All in all, it was an enjoyable experience and we hope to see it again next year.  Bravo!

Now - on to the food!

9:30 AM

We arrived fairly early.  My partners in crime, Josh, Bobby, and Melissa, were all eager to join the mass of people that we were certain would be flocking to the event.  However - there were some technical difficulties for two of my three amigos.  Josh and I were on site over half an hour before the gates were opened to VIP ticket holders.  We were the first in line, and all we got were these crumby wrist bands!
All joking aside, we paid good money for early entry and a more than pleasant seating arrangement.  Seeing that it was going to be a scorching hot day, paying a little extra for comfort was well worth it.  The staff provided us with two voting vouchers that everyone would use to pick their favorite truck.  The winning favorite would receive a nice little trophy.  Neat!

10 AM

The gates are now open and we're ready to go in!  We were very fortunate to be at the front of the line, because it grew to a very ludicrous size.  It only got worse as the day went on.

By this time, Melissa had managed to make her way down to the event, after having left Bobby who was fiddling with some things at home.  No worries, he made it about an hour later!  Whilst we waited for him, we walked the lot and scoped out the trucks and the VIP only area.  The extra money we paid not only gave us early entry and a shaded sitting area - we were treated to free water, soda, candy and tangerines!  Nice.

10:15 AM

After checking out all the sights, we visited our first truck.  It was a bit disconcerting that the majority of the trucks that had arrived early were still closed after VIPs were let in, likely due to heavy preparation for the long 9 hour day in store for them.  Only a select few were open - and Pearson's Farm was one of them.

I had a chance to meet the owner and operator of this "trailer", Clinton Pearson.  A very nice gentlemen.  He and his Louisiana born wife have been in the business for the last four years, touring the country and visiting jazz festivals as well as other mass food truck festivals like this one.  They had just opened their trailer and we were onsite to be the first customers of the day.  We happily ordered an order of "gator and taters" and another order of crawfish tails.
At first glance, these appear like a normal basket of chicken strips and french fries, correct?  Well, I can tell you - it certainly wasn't.  I excitedly took my first bite of Gator Bites and was instantly transported to the deep south.  It was fantastic!  The batter was very light, full of flavor and piping hot.  These were literally handed over the second they came out of the fryer. Josh put it best as the gator tasting like a cross between calamari and chicken.  The texture was bouncy, not tough, but toothsome.  The flavor itself was very lean, not gamey whatsoever and full bodied.  It was great.  I don't think salt or pepper hit the bites after the fry - I'm sure the batter had some because it did have a little kick.  The fries that were served up on side were Cajun fries.  Very spicy.  They had a great bite - equally fresh and very delicious.  Along with our Gator Bites and fries, I ordered an additional entree, some Crawfish Tails!
As expected, they tasted like crawfish!  Perfectly seasoned, cooked to perfection.  These offered a very pleasant taste.  Doused in Louisiana Hot Sauce, they tasted like little briny fireballs.  Not too salty.  Very, very good.  Again, served up with Cajun fries.

10:45 AM

Melissa had gone off on her own and returned with a Veggie Wrap from San Diego's Finest Food Truck.  I thought the name was a bit ostentatious, but, whatever.
It wasn't bad.  The tortilla wasn't homemade, tasted prepackaged, which isn't a bad thing, however, when you're name is San Diego's Finest and San Diego having some world class Torterillas... you can at least get a hookup from one of them, no?  Anyway, the filling tasted like an Orzo Pasta Salad, with kalamata olives, onion, cucumbers, peas, bells and what I think was some kind of squash.  It wasn't too bad, but, definitely not the finest in San Diego.

11:00 AM

This is becoming quite a read, so I'll try and wrap this up as quickly as possible.  I'll ditch the time format as well.

We checked out the Lobsta Truck.  At this time, the park was filled with VIPs only - but the gates were now letting non VIPs through.  The festival quickly began to fill.

This was one of the longest lines throughout the day.  We waited in line and the food for a collective twenty minutes; that's not bad.  Melissa ordered the Lobster Roll.  I am a bit saddened by the fact that I thought my phone snapped a shot of the roll, only later to realize it had in fact, not done so.  Ugh.  I only have a shot of the final bite, but it should sum it up nicely.
An incredibly flavorful roll, baked to perfection, held almost six to eight lumps of lobster of this size.  Slathered in butter, it was very creamy, rich and loaded with lobster bliss.  Hat's off to LA Lobsta Truck!

After finishing up the Lobster, we hit two more spots.  Bacon Mania and MeSoHungry!

Josh picked up a Jack Back Sammie - a devilishly good and thick sandwich using egg bread crusted with Cheddar cheese, filled with fluffy scrambled eggs, hickory smoked bacon and more Cheddar, all melted to savory gooeyness.

I made my way over to MeSoHungry - something I've been waiting to try since they were announced as participants.  I waited in a line of about five minutes, to my surprise; and greeted by Chef Cory Ewing.  With fifteen years of experience, he is classically trained from Le Cordon Bleu and has served in some of the finest kitchens like McCormicks and The Four Seasons Hotel.  He is all about keeping it simple, with a strong belief in "less is more."  I wholeheartedly agree.
This is The Duke.  Served on Cheese Bread, my Angus Beef with string onions, sweet BBQ sauce, coleslaw, Apple-wood smoked bacon was $9 and very good.  Everything melded together very nicely, and all the flavors stood well on their own.  Now, I didn't ask, and I should have, but I imagine all their burgers were being cooked med. well to well done due to the crowds and the challenge it would have been to prepare each burger to order.  I am a firm believer that hamburgers should not exceed medium.  Anything more, and it's game over for that little patty.  Aside from the beef being overcooked, it was still very enjoyable.

Bobby finally showed up, nearly an hour and a half after the gates had opened to VIPs, and joined in on the feast of burger and sammy.  We all agreed that both of these places were fantastic in the customer service experience and the food.

After taking a small break - we headed to our final destination - Mad Maui BBQ, hailing from our very own Oceanside.  This place was packed by noon.  Collectively, we waited almost thirty minutes for the food.  We ordered a brisket sandwich, and the wait was well worth it.

Sadly, there is no picture of the sandwich.  It smelled way too good to stop and snap a few.  We hurried back to our table and began eating it immediately.  The sauce soaked the bun and permeated the meat so quickly.  "Absolute heaven" is the only way to describe the first bite.  Moist, tender and downright sloppy.  The brisket was forked string thing and piled high on a soft potato bun.  The sauce was super sweet and rich.  A very good mop sauce.  It wasn't thick or thin, but finely balanced between the two - my kind of party.  It was all gone in seconds.  

After consuming our tasty meal, we decided to call it quits.  By this time, the festival had become a mad house.  It was 91 degrees, crowded, and lines were now reaching upwards of one hour, not including the wait after ordering.
The VIP only section was filled up (the empty chairs were reserved by the guests sitting at the table - and just beyond the tent was the droves of people standing shoulder to shoulder.  We slowly exited and bid farewell to the festival.  We were all in a lethargic state and stumbled our way to the cars.

In closing, the whole day was great.  The chefs were wonderful, the food was fantastic and well executed, even with massive crowds.  Though, an interesting point raised by Josh - and I guess this applies to any restaurant, really - there is a direct correlation between quantity of guests and quality of food.  As guest attendance rises, food quality lessens.  The obvious reason - demand goes through the roof, time to fulfill order decreases, mistakes are made and food is rushed out.  However, this theory wasn't evident at all of the trucks.  The food we received was spot on and very well done.  That's not to say it wasn't happening elsewhere.

It was a fun day had by all - and we'd like to thank Pechanga for managing the show and keeping the peace throughout the day!  Thank you!

If you'd like to know more about the Food Truck Festival, its participants and how you can find out where the next stop is for some of your favorite mobile eateries - visit some of the sites below!

Btw!  We would have voted for Mad Maui had we not left in such a hurry!  You guys rock!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bring on the food coma!

Today's the day!  A few friends and I will soon be departing Menifee and head for the wondrous spectacle that will be the inaugural Pechanga Food Truck Festival.  I have a set amount of money that I am willing to spend today, and I only have a select few places that I'm genuinely interested in trying out - but that doesn't mean I won't be scoping out other's delectable eats.

I will be taking pictures and getting as much information as possible that I can; particularly what the chefs are like and what it takes to run a high caliber mobile eatery.

Stay tuned!

Pechanga Food Truck Festival