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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Beer and Tacos and More at the San Diego Wine and Food Festival, 2013

There's more to the San Diego Wine and Food Festival than the big November 23rd event down by Seaport Village.  Sure, that's the big grand tasting event where you get to sample lots of bites from the top restaurants while drinking some of the best wines and spirits from all around, and YES, Local Wally has discount tickets just by using the promo code WALLY - but the week before has plenty of other events around town that you should check out.  Here are a few that got my attention because they focus on one of my favorite beverages, BEER!

Fish Tacos IPA at the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival

Date: Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Time: 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Location: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
Attire: Casual

Beer lovers, taco lovers, get yourself to Stone Brewery on Nov. 19th for an all out battle for the best fish tacos.  If you're like me you love fish tacos and you're probably pretty opinionated on who makes the best.  This battle will pit 9 local restaurants against each other in what surely is the fish taco battle of the year!  Who will win?  Which fish taco will rein supreme?  You won't know unless you get yourself a ticket and go to the event where you'll not only see the battle take place but get to sample the food and various craft beers as well.  

 Fish Tacos IPA at the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival

Date: Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Time: 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm
Location: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
Attire: Casual

You've heard of wine and cheese pairing but did you know that BEER actually pairs better with cheese?  Don't believe me?  Then see for yourself at the Beer and Cheese pairing event held at Stone on Nov. 19th.   "Dr.” Bill Sysak (tip:  He's not a real doctor but just humor him) hosts an afternoon of unexpected and delicious flavour combinations as he pairs some of the finest artisanal cheeses with beers from around the world. It's reasonably priced - you'd spend this much at a happy hour - but is destined to be a great event with plenty of cheese to sample and even more beer to taste.  And imagine how impressed your friends will be at the next tailgate party when you can say with authority "Brillat-Savarin pairs best with Westmalle Triple Trappist Ale, don't you agree?"

Belgium Beer Luncheon at the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival

 Date: Friday, November 22, 2013
Time: 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm
Location: Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant
Attire: Casual

Here's the plan - tell the boss you need to take a very important client out to lunch on Friday, Nov 22nd, and then head over to Banker's Hill Bar + Restaurant for a beer and food event that features Stella beer paired with gourmet food.

Chef Carl Schroeder isn't one of those fake FoodTV "chefs", he's a two-time James Beard Foundation Semi-Finalist for Best Chef.  He's know for creating simple recipes that not only please sophisticated diners but also include sustainable and local ingredients.  He might not have his own TV show or catchphrase but this guy can cook and you'll be there to taste it all.  

Belgian Master Beer Sommelier (I didn't even know there was a person like that)  Marc Stoobandt, who is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers (what??!), will provide the beer commentary.  

You don't need to be a serious foodie or beer lover to love this event.  Get your tickets early as this one sells out!

REMEMBER:  Get your tickets in advance and buy them early as these events sell out!  The San Diego Wine and Food Festival is the tasting event of the year and a holiday tradition in San Diego.  If you've read this far you need to stop thinking about it and surprise your spouse or significant other with some tickets to at least one of these evens and the Grand Tasting on the weekend.  Happy Holidays and see you all there!  

Local Wally
San Diego's Original Local Guy....since 1996

Monday, October 7, 2013

San Diego Wine and Food Festival 2013 Discount Tickets from Local Wally

San Diego Wine and Food Festival Discount Tickets from your pal,  Local Wally.  

10% OFF 
Grand Tasting Event and Early Admission!


I've been raving about this event for years as the BEST foodie event of the year in San Diego and this year you have no excuse since I have discount tickets.  Stop thinking and start drooling!

San Diego Wine and Food Festival

Date: Saturday, November 23, 2013
Time: 11:00 am to 3:00 pm; 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Location: Embarcadero Marina Park North
Attire: Casual

For those of you who still don't know, the San Diego Wine and Food Fest is an outdoor event held on that park area behind Seaport Village.  Nearly every great restaurant in town has a booth and will be handing out samples of their best stuff.  And look, there are free glasses of wine and OMG yes I do want a sip of vodka or bourbon or tequila and OK let me have another one of those scallops.

Did someone say scallops?  See what I mean about the food?  This isn't your normal food tasting event where every sample is some crummy pasta with marina sauce on it.  Nope, at the San Diego Wine and Food Festival you get the good stuff.  Expect bites of perfectly cooked steak, sushi grade ahi, gourmet everything!  You basically run around like a chicken with your head cut off sampling enough food to fill you up until Thanksgiving.

DON'T FORGET!  Get your discount tickets by using WALLY as your promo code!

There's live music and a great crowd and it makes you feel so good about living in San Diego and not in some snow-bound or rainy city.  It's my new holiday tradition and you need to follow my lead.  Come on, has Local Wally ever let you down?   So grab those tickets before they're all sold out and book yourself an afternoon at the Grand Tasting Event on Nov. 23rd.  Get there early to rush the gates and come hungry!

1.  Bring a bag or backpack - you'll see.
2.  Don't miss the Stella beer booth where every year they pour a full beer in a cool Stella glass that you get to keep.  Repeat 4 times.  Now do you see why you need the backpack?
3.  If you see Sadie Rose bread, grab it!  Best bread in San Diego.  
4.  When you enter resist the urge to stop at the very first booth.  That's always the longest line.  Instead, head deeper in and than start sampling.  Do a selective loop first and stop at all the places you really want to try, then do it again and hit all the ones you missed.  
5.  Give yourself time to just sit on the lawn in the sunshine and people watch.  This gets very interesting as the day goes on.  Hey, stop looking at me!
6.  Buy your tickets early - this event sells out!  

You want one more food shot for the road?  Do I need to twist your arm?  Get yourself to this event!

Local Wally
The original San Diego local guy.... since 1996
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Sunday, September 8, 2013

How To Roast Oysters the Easy Way

I love oysters.  No, not as pets but as edible creatures.  I was just reading something about how we are killing our oceans by overfishing.  Mark my words, soon sushi will be a crime, available only to the elite and politicians.  But I also read that eating shellfish is still OK.  Clams, mussels, and oysters are all smack in the middle of my hit list. With that in mind I went to my local fish market and picked up a dozen.

Raw oysters are a buck apiece - not bad when you figure a restaurant will charge you anywhere from $2 to $3 per oyster.  Cook them and they charge $3 to $4.   I used to eat a lot of raw oysters but always felt like I was playing a little ocean roulette with food poisoning.  I'm an expert in food poisoning and oysters cause the worst!  So let's cook them and take out all the worry. When you buy them it's a good idea to tell the fish guy you're going to cook them so he will give you the larger ones.  Little ones are good raw, bigger ones better for cooking.

I got this handy oyster shucker thing that takes about 50% of the risk out of slicing open your hand.  Seriously, be careful!  If you don't know how to shuck an oyster it's not that hard but it helps to be patient and to not be drinking.  Put that beer down. No, don't drink it first.  I know from experience.

You pry into the hinge area and once you have it sunk in you move the knife around the edges of the oyster.  See how I have a towel just in case?

Scrape the top of the shell to loosen the creature and then do the same on the bottom.  Try not to spill the juice inside.  And for all of you raw only oyster people, seriously, that does not look all the good to eat.  But I will fix that.

This might take a while so I stop and put on some vinyl - how about a little Wings at the Speed of Sound?  I remember buying this album in 1976 and thinking this was the worst McCartney album of all time, but history has shown that he could actually make worse albums.  By today's standards it's damn near a classic.  OK, Linda is singing Cook of the House so let's get back to the oysters.

Since I'm going to roast them I put them all into a cupcake tin to balance them.  Pretty goddamn clever!  And I thought of it!  Now that you have them all shucked you need to add some stuff.

Thankfully the ingredient list is short.  Mince some shallots, get some butter, grate some parmesan cheese, and chop finely some parsley.  Wait a second, that butter looks like something.

What is it?  A bunny?  A doggy? 

OK, enough goofing around.  Take some butter, just a little, and some shallots and put it in each oyster.  Top it with some cheese.

That's probably too much cheese but this isn't rocket science.  Use more, use less, it really doesn't matter.  Now pop it into your oven on broil (500 degrees) on one of the upper racks.  I don't use the very top one because it will burn too fast, but that depends on your oven.

Set the chicken timer to 5 minutes.  Flip the record.  OMG, Paul is singing some horrible song right now! But there's no skip button on a record so just go with it, it won't kill you.

Check in 5 and if the cheese isn't all brown and melted then put the oysters on the very top rack and cook for a couple more minutes - but watch it!

Pulled straight from the oven, here they are with that fresh parsley on top.  But be careful, shells are hot.  No, I'm serious.  The shells are scorching hot so unless you want your guests spitting these across the room as they melt their lips, wait a few minutes.  Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  OK, want a closer look? 

Oh my, these are delicious!  A little lemon and you're good to go - don't ruin them with hot sauce.  Mmmm, I swear, even if you think you won't like them you will. The buttery shallots and the rich cheese mix so well with the oyster, which has transformed from a weird slimy thingy into a plump, tasty sea bite.  Think you only like your oysters raw?  Try these and I bet you will change your mind.  And the nice thing is that there is no way you can get food poisoning and you are eating a creature that isn't in danger of becoming extinct.  Nice!  Tasty!  Easy!

He's been so patient.

See, even Andy likes it!  No, not the shell!  Drop it, Andy!!!!

What's that noise?  Ahhh, time to take off that lousy McCartney album.  I love that album.  And I really love these roasted oysters.  You have to trust me - try making these and you'll be thanking me. 

Happy Cooking (and Eating),

Local Wally

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Solterra Winery & Kitchen Opens in Leucadia

I'm all for keeping Leucadia funky.  I like the eucalyptus trees, the train blowing its horn as it speeds through town and the flip flop traffic up and down Highway 101.  But Leucadia is growing and when I heard that a winery was opening in Leucadia I was skeptical.  And when I heard that the winery would be serving food, my thoughts went to Temecula where the wine and food scene are both mediocre at best.

Well,  I'm happy to say that Solterra Winery & Kitchen is not only a great addition to Leucadia but is also making some of the best wines south of Paso Robles.  Open from noon to 10pm Sun-Thurs and until midnight on Fri and Sat, it's already becoming one of North County's brightest hotspots.

The winery is the brainchild of Christopher Van Alea, a friendly guy who got his wine chops from his time in Sonoma.  He's been making wines for over 11 years and sources his grapes from San Diego and Mexico to Paso Robles and Sonoma.  The wines have a depth and flavor that has more in common with Napa than Temecula, and that's a very good thing.  And I like that Chris uses some local grapes for some of his wine, proof that not every local wine has to taste like sweet almond champagne.  Come on Temecula, seriously?!!

The viognier is an often overlooked white that has a nice, clean finish and the reds are deep and flavorful.  Chardonnays, zins, cabs and blends, there are plenty to choose from.  You can do a wine tasting for $10, highly recommended for your first visit. Whether you're a newbie to wine or an experience oenophile, you're going to love the wines.  Come in on an afternoon when it's slower and sit back and enjoy each sip as the staff explains and describes each one as if they have been doing this for years. 

In fact, that's why I love this place so much.  The vibe is ultra friendly and neighborhood-y, it feels like home.  I love the way the front of the winery opens to the street so you can say hello to passerby's and when the train blows past you know the people on it are wishing they could trade places with you.  Chris did a good job with the building, keeping the original funky room on one side and building a more modern barrel facility on the other.  It fits into Leucadia as if its been here for years.

And since this is a beach town it's nice to know you can also sit on the open patio.  Super casual, come straight from surfing or shopping and you'll fit in just fine.  You'll be surrounded by barrels and if you're lucky some live jazz.  What's also nice about this place is the diversity of age group of the crowd.  The Third Corner's crowd can get a little old, and Union Tap and Kitchen a little young, but Solterra Winery is a good balance of all age groups.

So the wines are good - I mean, the wines are great! - but what about the food?

The cheese and charcuterie plate ($24) is huge, a wonderful sampler to keep 4 people sipping wines happy.  I hate it when a wine bar serves up "happy sized" cheese plates where you have to share little mouse sized nibbles.  There are cheeses, meats, sausages, nuts, figs, marcona almonds, olives, grapes and bread and all of it is top quality - happy happy happy!  The perfect choice for that late afternoon stop-by with a glass of wine.

If you want something hot there are plenty of tapa sized plates.  The fried calimari with safrito aioli was outstanding ($10) and the scallops ($13), well, just look at them!  You can also get entrees that are big enough to share - the lamb shank is fantastic and there's even a vegetarian paella option.  Hey, vegetarians are people too and this is Leucadia, afterall.

The menu is surprisingly robust with the usual suspects (flatbreads) as well as some great surprises (skewers, empanadas).  Lunch is served noon to 3 and dinner starts at 5:30 and even if you just stop in for a glass of wine I defy you not to order something when you see some of the great food coming out of the kitchen. 

So get yourself into Solterra Winery. Stop by for a tasting.  Stop by for a glass or a bottle to go.  Sample some food, or stay for dinner.  Just get in here and find out for yourself why Solterra Winery and Kitchen is the best thing to happen to Leucadia since tie-dyed t-shirts. The times are a-changing and Solterra Winery & kitchen is a welcome addition to funky Leucadia.

934 North Coast Hwy 101
Leucadia, CA 92024

Phone: 760.230.2970

DIRECTIONS:  On Old Highway 101 just north of where it intersects with Leucadia Blvd.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

VW Bus Night in Encinitas (and damn good tacos later!)

There are a lot of locals who don't know about the special charms of Encinitas, a beach town north of San Diego.  It's like an old photo from the '60's, a flashback that somehow has been updated just a bit to straddle the lines between nostalgia and current.  Woodies driving along old Highway 101, bands playing surf music at the beach, nothing too unusual about that in this town.  During the summer the hot rods come out on the monthly classic car nights and there are the usual suspects - 50's Chevy's, classic muscle cars, deuce coup roadsters, it's a shot right out of American Graffiti.  But last week featured VW buses, some refurbished beyond their original glory.  Let's take a look.

Pretty dang simple inside.  How did we move from this to the dashboards of today which look like they came from the space shuttle? 
Wow, not sure any VW bus had an engine this clean back in the 60's! 
Perfect!  Love the pop out front windows.  Lexus, you need to do this!
It's hard to tell if this is a hobby or a lifestyle.
All we need now is some Grateful Dead music. 
And when it's time to go camping, how about doing it in style with this teardrop trailer?  Yes, that's a TV in the back.  There's one inside, too!

But now I'm hungry and while there are plenty of cool places to eat in downtown Encinitas I decided to go to my favorite hole in the wall Mexican restaurant called Don Chuys in Solana Beach.
Let me first warn you.  This is not Casa de Bandini, the blandest of the gringo-ized Mex restaurants favored by those who miss El Torito.  No watered down margaritas, either.  In fact, when they say this is a perfect margarita it really is perfect.  No sweety flavor, this sucker punches back with the tequila and Grand Marnier.

As for the food, they have plenty of Mexican dishes you won't find in a corporate Mex restaurant but I love the basic beef taco plate.  It's a lot harder than it seems to make the perfect beef taco but Don Chuys kills it.  The shell is crunchy but not Corn Nut hard, and the beef is simmered to a spicy tenderness and packed so full that it's hard to bite into without losing half the filling.  And the rice and beans are totally unlike a lot of Mexican restaurants where they're more filler or decoration than edible (Casa de Bandini, I'm talking to you!)  These sides are so delicious that I guarantee you will eat every last bite, even if it means instant regret as you roll yourself to your car.

So if you find yourself landlocked in San Diego, do yourself a favor and take a trip to Encinitas to check out the coolest North County beach town.  And then stop in at Don Chuys for some tacos.  And let me know what you think!

Adios Amigos,

Local Wally

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The BEST and WORST Things to Eat at the San Diego Fair 2013

Some people spend their Spring dieting and working out so they look good at the beach.  Not me.  I work out so I can blow it all in one day eating everything I want at the San Diego Fair.  Cholesterol?  Calories?  Deep Fried?  Forgetaboutit!  For one day the foodie demons take a vacation and I'm eating like John Candy on vacation.  Some of it was good, some of it excellent, so let me guide you to the best and worst things to eat at the San Diego Fair 2013.

MONEY SAVING TIP:  On Tuesdays from 11am to 5pm you can get tasting portions for only $2.  Now you can try it all and pig out without breaking the piggy bank!

But before we dive into the food (and I mean really dive in), check out all the ticket and event promotions before you go.  And don't forget to check out the concerts and shows, most of them free with admission.  With acts as varied as The Beach Boys to Train, David Cassidy to Colbie Caillat to The Steve Miller Band, there's plenty of entertainment to please everyone in the family.  But you came here for the food so let's eat.

Who can resist stopping at one of the first food booths to pick up an ear of BBQ'd corn?  Cooking corn on a grill is harder than it looks so you have to give props to these guys who nail it year after year.  Add some hot sauce and seasoning salt and you have one of the best "no-guilt" eats, a winner year after year and a good way to start your San Diego Fair culinary adventure.

This year bacon is huge at the fair - there's even a Bacon Festival for those of you who can't get enough belly in your belly.  That's good news for the popular Bacon A-fair folks who know a thing or two about bacon.  This year there's BBQ'd boar wrapped in bacon kebobs with fresh pineapple and veggies.  Though the idea of boar might sound scarey to some, the flavor isn't much different from beef and the kebob as good as if you did it yourself in your backyard.  A winner!

From the same folks who brought you the killer bacon wrapped boar comes this strange but true creation - Bacon Root Beer!  People were standing in line for this but after one sip I'm not sure why.  Some claimed that their root beer had real bacon flavoring to it but mine was like, well, a root beer where the school bully tossed in some crumbled bacon in it when I wasn't looking.  This proves that bacon does not make everything better.  Try it at your own risk!

Since we're on the topic of weird bacon edibles, The Candy Factory in the infield has - wait for it - Bacon Cotton Candy!  It's such an insane idea that you might think it could work but the jury is still out.  I actually liked it but my wife pretty much made noises like she was being choked by Homer Simpson so I suggest you buy it for the kids ("it's all they had, sorry son") and taste it for yourself.  Mmmmm, bacon??  You decide.

Let's get back to the land of deliciousness with some Australian Battered Potatoes.  I avoided these for years as the idea of a battered deep fried potato seemed redundant but man was I wrong.  With its crispy exterior and cooked to perfection potato-y goodness, it's one of the best things to get at the San Diego Fair.  Top it with some ranch dressing and bacon (why not?) and it's deep fat heaven.  Incredible, don't miss! 

If you need more fried foods then head over to Totally Fried (aka Chicken Charlies).  The bacon wrapped pickle gets mixed reviews (it's good, just not as good as you think it should be) but the deep fried pineapple was the bomb.  These guys pretty much deep fry anything (check to make sure the chef has all fingers when ordering) and if your blood pressure needs a little lift, this is the place.  I make it an essential stop every time and so should you.

Every year someone goes over the top creating something so odd that you have to at least try it and Totally Fried has a Krispy  Kreme donut filled with sloppy joe filling.  You do this on Chopped and you get chopped but let's be honest, it wasn't bad!  OK, it got a bit sweet (it could have used some bacon - seriously!) but I liked it and it goes beyond the freak out factor and actually becomes a pretty good snack.  Wife hated it, of course, but I think it's worth considering. 

If you like your veggies deep fried then go no further than Reno's fish and chips. Nice crisp exterior and a perfectly cooked interior, the fried zucchini is a good way to check the veggie box while not feeling like you missed out on the fat.  On the other hand their fish taco is just OK, sort of like what passes as Rubio's at Petco Park - meaning a bit soggy and overdressed. Skip that but get the veggies or fish and chips.

Amazingly, Country Fair has been making cinnamon rolls for something like 30 years and they never once thought it would be better deep fried or wrapped in bacon, which is a good thing!  This is about as close as you're going to get to grandma's cooking (unless your grandma is from Totally Fried) and every year a stop to the County Fair Cinnamon Rolls is a blast to the past - and it's oh so delicious!  Split one if you dare, or just go for it and I guarantee you won't regret it.

As much as I love the cinnamon rolls, there's just something about a deep fried dessert that gets me every time which is why Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cake wins the Best Dessert award.  Don't mess it up with the fruit toppings and God forbid that you put chocolate on it.  No, go with the basics and stick with a dusting of cinnamon sugar and life in the fat lane doesn't get much better.

There are a lot of corn dog options but my favorite are the ones from this stand - and it's not Hot Dog on a Stick.  Nothing wrong with HDOS but you can get those at any mall so I go with the real deal, the independent hot dogger who came up with the Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog on a Stick!  Brilliant!  

Dang, I had high hopes for the Gingerbread House this year.  Last year they won my favorite bite, the cookie dough on a stick.  It was deliciously simple and addictive.  This year they did a Pina Colada Parfait which is basically pineapple with coconut in a cup.  Too simple, though I would imagine with a super fresh pineapple it might fly.  They make plenty of other good stuff so don't avoid the gingerbread man, but skip the parfait.

The guy next to me said "this is the best enchilada I have ever had" so my expectations were high.  But one bite told me that Rose's Mexican Food is no Fidel's.  It's not even Taco Bell!  It's good enough if you're at the fair and have a hankering for a burrito but there's better food at the Fish Taco Palapa down the way.

I'm starting to feel a bit like Gordon Ramsey kicking people out of Hell's Kitchen but I have to call out The Ranch for their wimpy pulled pork sandwich.  Last year I loved it, a huge helping of pork with a great flavor but this year I got the recession version with the skimpiest of meat, so skimpy that I can't even remember if I liked the flavor or not.  These guys normally make great stuff and the Santa Maria tri-tip looked great so go that route if you want BBQ and you won't be disappointed.

I was expecting run of the mill sausage at Austriano's but instead got a great sausage with wonderful grilled onions.  Man oh man, this place gets my vote.  You serve this up in a hip urban setting and you'll have all the hipster foodies Yelping about how these are the best sausages in town.  Great stuff and a super nice staff.

Can you really go to the fair and not get an order of Tasti-Chips, the super fresh homemade potato chips?  I don't want to get all foodie on you but some of these things were puffed up like a pommes soufflees - I mean, really, a French restaurant would serve these up as part of a $40 entree.  Light, crisp, don't mess with them by putting Nacho sauce on them and go basic with a touch of salt.  Essential.

I know what you're thinking  - can the people responsible for frying everything from Kool-Aid to SPAM actually make a credible non-fried entree that could win Best of the Fair?  Chicken Charlies' Pineapple Express did just that with their Teriyaki Chicken and pineapple served in a pineapple.  The teriyaki chicken was as good as Surf Bros Teriyaki and that's saying a lot - moist, nicely charred, tastes like something you'd get in Hawaii.  The sauce was served on the side (Whaaa - restraint??  At the fair???) and the sticky rice was perfectly cooked.  Add chunks of grilled fresh pineapple and you have a meal and presentation worthy of your next Rancho Santa Fe luau party.  Wife gave it two thumbs up and nearly ate the entire thing and even the most clogged artery fried food lover will have to admit that this is the entree that doesn't need the fair atmosphere to be a winner.  They also have shrimp and beef versions for non-chicken eaters.  Sure it's a bit pricey but for the money you get an entree that would not be out of place at the Hula Grill on Maui - it's that good.

So that's the Best and Worst of the things to eat at the San Diego Fair, 2013.  Now it's your turn to get yourself to Del Mar and pig out.  And if you happen to see this mascot, let me know.  He was last seen running down Highway 101 after being chased by a group of men wanting to wrap him in bacon and stuff him in a smoker.  Need.  More.  Bacon.  Now!

Bon Appetit!

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