Food & Drink

Restaurant Review: Eden

Eden takes its moniker to heart: the trendy Hillcrest nightclub-eatery imbues everything from the restaurant’s lush décor to the names on the menu with a sense of sinful, decadent indulgence. ...

Restaurant Review: Bluefin Fusion

It’s hard to imagine a restaurant more aware of the fine line between paying homage to the culture of its food and trying too hard. At Bluefin Fusion, Victorian-style chandeliers illuminate the dark interior, while the walls — featuring Japanese cherry blossom paintings which light up and change color — reflect a mastery of the fusion to which the name of the restaurant refers. It’s not just the interior design. Bluefin Fusion, conveniently located in University Towne Center where the restaurant opened last year, has paired the traditional sushi-making experience of the two head chefs with the casual atmosphere of a karaoke lounge. Equipped with a drink and sushi bar, the noise level of the restaurant may be more appropriate for an easy-going Friday night out than an intimate date. No matter whom you decide to share the experience with (and whether or not sake will be a part of it), the perky, snazzily dressed wait staff will be sure to enhance your experience. Peel your eyes away from the mesmerizing walls long enough to notice a quirky menu, which features dishes like the “Sexy Roll,” an “Ex-Girlfriend Roll” and even a “UCSD Roll” (TapEx crispy chicken not included). Both Chef Yoshida and Chef Akira have over 20 years of experience preparing sushi in Japan and the United States, and insist on using fresh fish for a large portion of the dishes they offer. It pays to show some Triton pride — the UCSD Roll ($12.95) contains raw spicy tuna, fresh avocado, calamari and crunchy cucumber on the inside, topped with fried tilapia filet and shrimp and served with an abundance of thick spicy mayo and eel reduction sauce. Almost all of the fish in this roll is delivered fresh daily and the sushi is made to order. The soft textures inside the roll mesh well with the crunch of the fried tilapia and tempura shrimp, and the spicy mayo makes an excellent pairing. After a few rolls, though, the heat of both the spicy mayo and the tuna (infused with chili oil or Sriracha sauce) subdue the cooler flavors of the roll. A subtler mayo might allow better appreciation of the flavors. The California Beach Roll ($12.95), the classic beginner roll filled with crab, cucumber and avocado with scallops on top, comes baked and doused with the spicy mayo as well. The addition of the tender, bite-sized seared scallops (a twist on the classic California Roll) and the chilled tastes of the well-portioned roll make it a soft, easy sushi to bite into and enjoy. With less of the mayo, the taste of the fresh crab was more easily registered by the taste buds. The late arrival of the fried calamari rings ($5.95), a hot appetizer that would have otherwise provided a good lead-in, made them a losing case. The rings were leathery, even with the sweet tartar sauce that accompanied them. As sushi runs go, a trip to Bluefin Fusion may not be easy on the wallet (to enjoy the full range of the fresh flavors, be prepared to fork out $20 or more), but it’s money that goes a long way. If the fresh fish, expertise of the chefs and amiable service aren’t convincing enough, take a seat and enjoy the trippy scenery — the hypnotic walls will have you forgetting any buyer’s remorse in no time. 4305 La Jolla Village Drive San Diego, CA  92122 (858) 677-0558 Hours: Mon-Thurs 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m. Sun 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. Price Range: $8-$35 Recommended: California Beach Roll ...

Restuarant Review: Lorna’s Italian Kitchen

Located in a concrete strip mall at University Town Square, a 20-minute bus ride from campus, Lorna’s Italian Kitchen offers a charming view of the VONS parking lot — not exactly reminiscent of a romantic summer in Tuscany. The décor doesn’t scream “La Dolce Vita” whimsy, but the food is something to write home about, offering reasonably priced Italian comfort food with a 15-minute wait. Lorna’s is family-owned by restaurateur Steven Stern, a self-taught cook who moved back to San Diego from Los Angeles after opening several restaurants there. Stern has been keeping a hands-on approach in maintaining the restaurant since its inception in the 1980s, and sharing grandma’s prized recipes for just as long. It’s a fact the owner is proud of: Lorna’s menu reminds us that it was “established in 1988”— and the restaurant looks it, too. The chessboard-like black-and-white floor is an odd match for the red-checkered tablecloths and wicker metal-trimmed chairs. Candlelight bounces off wooden beams, giving the restaurant a rustic quality, barely illuminating walls laden with archetypal scenes of Italia (girls on Vespas and plump, mustachioed chefs). A basket of warm, freshly baked sourdough bread arrives, and all clichés are forgiven. It’s easy to polish off the fluffy white loaf (not that the chipper, casually-dressed wait staff will let your basket stay empty for long), but save room for Lorna’s generous portions, which can easily be split for an extra $2. The gnocchi ($12.25) — a soft, doughy Italian potato dumpling, boiled in hot water — is topped with a choice of garlic cream sauce, pesto or Gorgonzola tomato. Opt for the garlic cream — the milky-white, creamy sauce lightly drips over each carefully-crafted ivory oval pillow, making for a remarkably filling combination. The manicotti ($12.25) — ricotta cheese, Parmesan, parsley and nutmeg all stuffed inside a soft homemade pasta crepe — is a satisfyingly punchy mixture of sharp, crumbly cheese and pungent herbs, doused in a light tomato marinara sauce. The linguini carbonara ($12.75) was muted by comparison — a thick, flat and reheated pasta, originally frozen, diced with a heavy hand of salty pancetta, peas and mushrooms (with more steamed veggies than pork) in a parmesan sauce that sat in lumpy defiance on each oily strand. A saltshaker was an imperative sidekick to the dull dish. Despite the limp pasta, Lorna’s reasonable pricing, giant portions, proximity to campus (and the waiters’ voracious distaste for bare plates) is a welcome reminder of our home kitchen — and an excellent reason to dig out those forgotten pants with the elastic waistband. Rating: 3/5 ours: Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Friday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday & Sunday 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. Price Range: $5-$21 Recommended: Gnocchi with garlic cream sauce ...

The Silver Lining

Yours might be a sad home of leftovers and Easy Mac, but chefs across the country are using the microwave to take their culinary exploits to new heights. (Yes, really.) But this ubiquitous appliance wasn’t born a chef’s favorite. According to Wired magazine, the microwave first came into existence in the 1940s. In 1945, engineer Percy Spencer discovered the heating effect of microwaves. and in 1947 Radarange built the first microwave, which stood at a staggering six feet and weighed a hefty 750 pounds. After two decades of redesign, households finally began to pick up the new invention when the price finally dropped from $2,000-$3,000 to $500 per unit. The inner workings of a microwave are even more complex than its expansive history. Here’s the mechanism in brief: The machine passes (you guessed it) microwaves over food, creating an alternating magnetic field. This causes the water molecules in food to realign — sort of like a magnet — and the movement causes the food to heat up. Though a staple in most households today, articles on the microwave’s negative effects (don’t stand too close!) flood news feeds regularly, and it continues to play second fiddle to bigger, flashier kitchen appliances, making it one of the most under-appreciated household fixtures of our time. But some of our favorite chefs and foodies not only understand the merits of a microwave, but make liberal use of the device in their own cooking. Here’s a list of their favorites, and ours: Artichoke lemon risotto — from Barbara Kafka, author of Microwave Gourmet, and James Beard award winner In a 2008 interview with The New York Times, Barbara Kafka told reporter Mark Bittman that the best item to microwave was “Vegetables. Their color is better, their flavor is better, you have no water dripping and there are studies that show they retain more vitamins.” So, in keeping with the microwave-pioneer’s words of wisdom, here’s her savory artichoke lemon risotto. Grab six tablespoons of olive oil, one cup of minced onion, two cups of Arborio rice, six cups of vegetable broth, one can of artichoke hearts, the zest and juice of two lemons and one tablespoon of kosher salt. Mix the onions and olive oil in a microwave-safe dish and put them in the microwave, uncovered, for three minutes. Add the broth, and cook the mixture for 12 minutes. Then add the artichokes, and cook for six minutes. Finally, add the lemon, cook the concoction for another two minutes, and salt as needed. The whole mixture serves six to eight people. Salmon with crème fraiche — from Beth Hensperger, author of Not Your Mother’s Microwave Cookbook California-raised Hensperger learned her culinary art in the Bay Area’s Palo Alto, eventually moving on to Los Angeles’ Epicurious and then back to San Francisco to start her own catering company. For Hensperger’s salmon, you’ll need four sheets of parchment paper, two tablespoons of unsalted butter (room temperature), four (six- to eight-) ounce salmon fillets with the skin, eight tablespoons of crème fraiche, salt and freshly ground pepper, one cup of zucchini julienned, one cup of sliced white mushrooms and eight teaspoons of diced fresh dill. Fold each piece of paper in half, and spread the butter below the parchment’s crease and then put the salmon (seasoned with salt and pepper) on top. On each filet, add two tablespoons of crème fraiche and two teaspoons dill. Then divide the greens amongst the packets (the zucchini and the mushrooms) and season like the salmon, folding over the parchment when you’re done. Place the packets in the microwave, and cook on high for three minutes. ...

Restaurant Review: R-Gang Eatery

If R-Gang Eatery owner Richard Sweeney looks familiar, that’s because he is: The chef was unceremoniously booted from the fifth season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” in the show’s third episode. Sweeney, whose catchphrase on the show was “Keep it simple, stupid!” opened R-Gang with the aim of adding international flavor to retro-American dishes like burgers and macaroni and cheese. Sweeney hasn’t had the smoothest sailing — after his bumpy road to chefdom (he was a waiter and gym manager before getting into the culinary arts), and an even bumpier exit from “Top Chef,” the New York native opened R-Gang in June 2010 after serving as an executive chef for Confidential Restaurant + Loft, in downtown San Diego. R-Gang Eatery, located about 20 minutes from campus in Hillcrest, has a metallic exterior that doesn’t shy away from décor-kitsch with a massive neon sign. The cramped, aggressively under-lit interior doesn’t square with the exterior — the menu’s scrawled on the wall in hasty freehand; the old tablecloths evoke mom’s kitchen. The printed menu expounds on the exterior’s gimmick, with a prominent “As Seen on TV!” label. The food seems confused, too: dry, ground lamb Salisbury steak ($16) drenched in a heavy pool of cabernet and wild mushroom pan gravy shares the same “Supper” section on the menu as a mushy vegetable-infused duck potpie ($14) with an inconsistent crust. The heavy sauce of the former drenched the tender steak; it would have fared better with a lighter sauce. The potpie was equally difficult to eat, as the crust detached from the bottom half of dish as a single unit, rather than breaking off with a forkful of the homogenous and almost gelatinous interior. On the other hand, a menu frontrunner is the duck fat tater tots ($8). Stuffed with sautéed mushroom, roasted garlic and fontina and fried in duck fat, the potatoes bear little resemblance to their lumpy, undercooked schoolyard cousins. And they finally got the texture right — soft white filling contrasts nicely with a golden-brown and crispy breading, which came accompanied by a thick rosemary Dijon dipping sauce. R-Gang’s extra fixings fare no better than the entrees. The seasonal gingerbread vodka martini ($8) was an unsettling mixture of vanilla vodka, Frangelico, Bailey’s and ginger beer, which separated from the vodka a few minutes into the meal. The sweets selection follows the bacon-for-dessert trend of the moment: a chocolate-covered bacon sundae with vanilla gelato ice cream ($6), consisted of undercooked, leathery bacon coated with chunky semi-sweet chocolate that curdled with the ice-cold vanilla of the gelato. Occasionally over-attentive and zealous, rattling off entrees and desserts with practiced memorization, the wait staff would later disappear for 20-minute chunks of time. For the $20 that a regular sized meal would cost, the average penny-pinched college student would hope for better service. Sweeney’s restaurant doesn’t provide the comfort it professes to offer, but constitutes a confused, fussy and unsettling dining experience. While it’s a restaurant that’s quick to boast, we’re not sure what the fuss is all about. 3683 5th Avenue San Diego, CA  92103 (619) 677-2845 Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 5p.m. – 11 p.m. Price Range: $5-$19 Recommended: Duck Fat Tater Tots ...