Every girl deserves a trip to France

Every girl deserves a trip to France….especially my daughter. She got to ride her momma’s ride and now she understands why I love and need to go back as often as possible. It’s about finding out what’s happening in food, drink, design, and pastry, of course.

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Merci, indeed.

Merci, indeed.

Cake waiting in our room at Hotel Thoumeiux.

Cake waiting in our room at Hotel Thoumeiux.

We started in Paris where no trip is complete without checking in on the masters of pastry.

Line out the door at Pierre Herme

Line out the door at Pierre Herme

Pierre Herme window display

Pierre Herme window display

Keep the day light- start with lemon.

Move into pistachio.

Move into pistachio.

Pastry Crawl from master to master.

Sebastian Gaudard serves incredible pastry and tea near the Lourve.

Sebastian Gaudard is a must.

I said it was incredible.

Start with a little cream.

Finish off with chocolate.

Finish off with chocolate.

Fauchon makes everything - from creative pastry to twists on traditional baked goods.

Still cutting-edge, Fauchon is delicious and prestigious.

Croissants with additional flavors - pistachio, strawberry and chocolate.

Flavored croissants – pistachio, strawberry and chocolate.

Creative Fauchon pastry - Sahara's favorite.

Sahara’s favorite.

Little gems at Patisserie des Reves.

OMG!

One of the best Saint Honore’s in Paris.

One day, you’re eating an eclaire…..

....the next day, you're sitting on one to rest your weary feet.

….the next day, you’re sitting on one.

Thomieux baked goods are worth sharing.

Thoumieux baked goods are worth sharing.

You have to save room for his cakes.

You have to save room for his cakes.

Because there is plenty of trouble to get into. Choose your mousse.

At Chapon, grab a scoop of mousse.

A girl cannot live on pastry alone…she needs love.

Love is everywhere.

Love is everywhere.

Ours is locked on a bridge with countless others.

Ours is sealed on a bridge.

She needs food and drink at cafes.

Cafe La Flore

Cafe de Flore

And a girl needs yoga.

Finding peace and calm...

Finding peace and calm.

Joan of Arc was a warrior.

Joan of Arc was a warrior.

She needs to escape the city and head South.

Always on the go.

Always on the go.

In search of a new bag.

Hitting the marche in search of a new bag…

To put delicious, fresh food into.

…to fit goat cheese stuffed peppers into.

Keeping an eye out for Saint Christians.

Pastry creme with caramelized almonds.

Oh so good!

Oh so good!

Gorgeous little roads of Provence.

Gorgeous little roads of Provence

Lead to gorgeous discoveries like these almond trees.

lead to discoveries like these almond trees

Pastry inspired jewelry.

and pastry inspired jewelry that

You will be seeing these soon in our stores.

you will be seeing soon in our restaurants.

A girl needs nice places to stay.

A girl needs nice places to stay

and amazing wines to drink.

and amazing wines to drink

To get back on the road.

to get back on the road

in search of another regional pastry

in search of another regional pastry

to enjoy.

to enjoy.

Truly blessed to live a life doing what I love.

Thank you
xo
Karen

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Desserting Down Under

During Spring Break, my family took a trip to Australia in search of beaches, gastro pubs, and great wine. My hidden agenda was to eat as much of my favorite dessert, Pavlova, in any way shape or form. Pavlova is named after a famous Russian ballerina from the 1920’s. It combines the crunch of a meringue base with creaminess in the center topped with fresh fruits or sorbets. While there is much debate between Aussies and Kiwis over who created it, many pastry chefs create their own delicious spin on it worldwide.

While hunting for Pavlovas, I was inspired by some of the best desserts Down Under. If you are going to Oz, then take note, as these are the places that made a 30 day cleanse necessary after arriving back home to San Diego.

1) Chiswick

We had an unforgettable garden to table lunch at Chiswick in Woollahra where all of the vegetable dishes prepared are from their property.  Although we were full, I saw Pavlova on their menu, and it was possibly the best one I have ever had.

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2) Gelatissimo

We took the ferry to visit friends in Manly and stumbled across a place with OMG “Berry Pavlova Gelato”.  Lucky for you, they have locations throughout the Sydney area.

ImageI planned three stops that would be guilt free since our afternoon would be spent doing the coastal walk from Bondi to Bronte.

3) Lorraine’s Patisserie

Lorraine Godsmark was the head pastry chef for uber Aussie chef, Neil Perry, at his landmark restaurant, Rockpool, for 10 years before going on her own. This small and open kitchen creates truly beautiful cakes, tarts, and pastries.

While I couldn’t part with the Raspberry Pecan Cake, which was like a buttery, French Financier, my husband and daughter wrestled over the Chocolate Macadamia Salted Caramel Tart and the Strawberry Mascarpone Cake.

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4) Black Star Pastry

Though their website has a gorgeous Pavlova that drove me there, a whole one must be ordered 24 hours in advance.  Too many other choices to be disappointed by that, it was easy to try other desserts.

Black Star is the brain child of pastry chef, Christopher Thé, and the baked goods are contemporary, creative, and styled to perfection.

The Strawberry Watermelon Cake with rose scented cream was a standout, but the three of us agreed that the Vanilla Panna Cotta with Salted Caramel Jelly was lick the plate WOW! The Sticky Toffee Bread Pudding with Warm Vanilla Sauce was equally as good the next day cold as a to-go leftover.

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5) Flour and Stone

Nadine Ingram learned at some of Sydney’s best restaurants and bakeries including MG Garage, Bourke Street Bakery, and La Gavroche. Her quaint bakery is a wonderful place to stop in for a few treats and a cup of cappuccino if you are in Woolloomooloo.  The desserts are simple, perfectly moist and fresh out of the oven.

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6) Kakawa Chocolates

This chocolate store in Darlinghurst is on par with any Parisian Chocolatier. Hot chocolates, ice cream sandwiches, caramels, chocolate bars, and best of all, bags of raspberry swirled meringues. Ooh la la.

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7) Just Fine Food

Mornington Peninsula proved to be over-the-top for wine and food but no Pavlovas. We did find the Famous Vanilla Slice at Just Fine Food in Sorrento. It can be described as an ultra-thick, vanilla custard Napoleon and I will admit that it elevated our picnic spread.

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8) Saffire Freycinet

Our last stop was in Tasmania. There were no notches left on our belts, and this Pavlova did not disappoint.

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I’m working on accruing enough miles to head back down and explore Lamington’s and Violet Crumble desserts.

Hopefully, I’ve excited you about Pavlova’s and you can come in to try ours.

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Thank you.

K-

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Giving Thanks and Celebrating

Thanksgiving is spending days off with friends, family and football, but let’s face it, it’s really all about snacks and food. For me, it’s all about the dessert.

Whether you make and bake things yourself or if you just want something easy, here are some ideas to make your Thanksgiving Day and weekend more extraordinary.

DESSERTS

My family counts on me for desserts every year. Our tradition is a dessert buffet that I am in charge of putting together.

If you want to make desserts yourself, here are some options:

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             Caramel Apple Trifles from Bakersroyale.com

 

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No Bake Sweet Potato Cheesecakes from HowSweetEats.com

 

Extraordinary Cake Kit

Our Gourmet Cake Kit makes it easy to create a moist, rich chocolate cake at home. The Dark Chocolate Truffle Banana Cake kit includes imported chocolate, dry ingredients, baking mold, round, pastry bag, pastry tip and ribbon to help you bake and decorate your own extraordinary cake. You provide the butter, eggs, bananas and sour cream. Cake Kits are available in both of our locations and online. A gluten free option is also available. Best of all, you get the credit.

However, if you need to have us do the baking for you, from our Thanksgiving Menu, I recommend:

cheesecake  pumpkin pie                        Pumpkin Cheesecake                                              Aloha Pumpkin Pie

pumpkin apple pecan torte 1  blood orange                  Pumpkin Apple Pecan Torte                              Blood Orange Ricotta Torte

SETTING THE TABLE WITH A SPECIAL TOUCH

I like to keep the table top simple, but with a special style that does not take much effort. While I was pinning on Pinterest recently, I found these unique DIY ideas:

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Rosemary wreath place cards from SpoonForkBacon.com

 

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A simple twist of ribbon can add unique color accents.  Ladolfinalifestyle.com

 

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A votive candle in leaves to celebrate fall from San Diego based, Joyful Weddings & Events.

 

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I loved these hand-crafted cake servers so much that I now sell them in my restaurants.

 

My second favorite part of Thanksgiving is opening a bottle of wine or bubbly and catching up with friends and family. Having easy to prepare foods are vital for gatherings throughout the weekend.

EXTRAORDINARY SNACKS

Here are some easy ideas for serving your loved ones while everyone is hanging out, catching up, and enjoying the time together.

truffle salt     chutney 2

Popcorn popped with black truffle salt          Our Maui Mango Chutney on cream cheese

snacks                             Small batch, hand-made, Gluten Free crackers by Marilyn’s

 

cheese platter

Whether you put your own together or have us do it for you, cheese platters can be refreshed and nibbled on throughout the day and weekend.

pizza

Here’s another creative way to enjoy leftover turkey, make your own pizza.

BREAKFAST

For the weekend, I need some easy breakfast ideas, so that I’m not back in the kitchen again. Our pancake mixes and syrups from Hawaii get my family out of bed.

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Go with a Hawaiian Breakfast: Coffee / Pancakes / Granola with Passion Fruit syrup

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You can also pick up our delicious Pumpkin Maple Pecan Scones

Whether you are traveling far or staying close to home, we all have something to be grateful and thankful for at this time of year. Thank you for letting us be a part of your holiday celebrations.

Karen

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My Cake Walk in Paris

On my trip to Paris last month, I created a plan to bike throughout the city in search of the most delicious chocolate cakes, outstanding fruit tarts, contemporary takes on classic pastries, and other assorted sumptuous sweets.

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I made 24 stops over 7 days and wrangled my Parisian friend, Denise for 3 days of the journey. She was the one who recommended that we stop riding bikes, because finding parking for bikes was as hard as finding rental bikes that actually worked. Therefore, we walked in the 90 degree heat and took cabs instead. My pain is your gain, as I’m now happy to share with you my top picks of what Paris has to offer. Call it a Parisian Chef’s Feed for Dessert Foodies and Chocoholics.

1) I couldn’t wait to get started, so without Denise on day one, my first stop was around the corner from my hotel at Bread and Roses for some of the best cheesecake and carrot cake that I have ever tasted.

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2) My second stop was at Ciel, which is the most adorable, little spot in St. Michel. Here, I enjoyed heavenly angel food cakes with a Franco-Japanese spin.

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3) As I circled my way back to my neighborhood, I stopped in to the renowned salon de thé Angelina. The famous Mont Blanc has been re-invented with a chocolate spin and was remarkable alongside their hot white chocolate.

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4) Denise joined me on day 2 at the Mandarin Oriental, where the desserts were jewels, but we were awe-struck by the stunning flower displays.

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5) We headed out to Fauchon where they were celebrating Le Semaine des Éclairs. Showcase after showcase of sweet and savory spectacular éclairs. There were double decker chocolate, blueberry vanilla, salted butter, grape fruit, blood orange and Moroccan date among dozens more.

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6) We quickly ran through Ladurée salon de thé where we ogled and grabbed a black currant macaron for the road.

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7) Our next stop was Jean-Paul Hévin where I had the best macaron of my life. I was too busy enjoying my chocolate and crème brulee macaron that I forgot to take a photo!

8) Last stop of the day was to the Holy Grail of all chocolate shops:  Le Chocolat – Alain Ducasse. We indulged ourselves as any girl would amongst chocolate ganaches, pralines, truffles, and chocolate bars in 44 different flavors.

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9) La Pâtisserie by Cyril Lignac is where I was stunned by the largest Kouing Aman (round crunchy caramelized cake made with bread dough and layers of butter and sugar folded in) that I have ever seen. This is my favorite of all-time.

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10) On my way to the Jardin de Luxembourg, I ducked into Sadaharu Aoki boutique where bright colors and Japanese flavors won my heart, especially this raspberry, strawberry and hibiscus cake.

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11) Pierre Hermé is the benchmark of excellence in pastry. The boutique is like a jewelry store and I did not hold back here. Infiniment Vanille, Ispahan Croissant, and Carrément Chocolat were among the few that came back to my hotel room.

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12) Mulot is an institution in the 6th arrondisment not to be missed. I had the most delicious cherry and coconut tart that I would go back for next time I’m in town.

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13) Un Dimanche á Paris is a beautiful pastry shop and restaurant near Odeon with gorgeous tarts, mousses, and goodies for gourmets in a sleek and contemporary setting.

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14) La Maison du Chocolat is a palace for chocoholics and during the heat of the summer, I was so excited to discover their ice cream verrine to go case. A verrine is a composition of alternating flavors, colors, and textures all showcased in small glass containers. I chose Verrine Tout Chocolat with layers of crunchy chocolate pralines, chocolate mousse, and chocolate ice cream. I skipped off towards the Champs Elysees with a spoon and a smile.

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There is truly a dessert for everyone in the City of Love.

Bisou Bisou,

K –

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Summertime, When the Sweet Treats Are Easy

IMG_7804_txtHello summer!  Where could you possibly enjoy the warm months better than right here in San Diego, where the living always is easy, but never more so than during beach season?  The long days and late, slow-fading sunsets are perfect for sharing laid-back times with family and friends, on the patio, on the sand, at a picnic in the park – just about anywhere you can think to go in San Diego.  And while I always insist on entertaining in style, I take a relaxed approach this time of year.  I may put out a spread of fresh salads, cheeses and artisan breads, accompanied by my favorite wines and bubbly.  A sweet course always follows, to be sure, and while I might very well choose an 2013-06-20 11.51.54txt2elegant cake or dessert for a dinner on the patio, a beautiful selection of Extraordinary Desserts cupcakes, cookies, brownies and other deluxe small pastries are also sure to dazzle adult guests and equally delight the youngsters.

I kicked off my Summer 2013 in a particularly enjoyable way.  I had the opportunity to take my baking art to The New Children’s Museum (NCM) in downtown San Diego and collaborate with the museum’s creative minds to develop a camp that would inspire a group of 6 through 8 year-olds to become artist/bakers for a week.

I’ve had plenty of experience putting kids in touch with IMG_5740_txttheir inner cakes, but probably never enjoyed it as much as when I traveled the few blocks from my Extraordinary Desserts Little Italy location to the museum.  For five days in mid-June, the very first of the summer’s “Creativity Rules” camps brought together happy youngsters for “Sweet-Makes and Cupcakes,” a hands-on program that I nicknamed Camp Cupcake.

IMG_5708smalltxt2Camp Cupcake focused on fun, but with a purpose – which is not unlike what I do when creating a new cake for Extraordinary Desserts.  A week of creativity led up to Friday’s  “Let’s Picnic!” party, at which parents enjoyed the artworks the kids created, and ate the clever cupcakes the kids baked, decorated and shared with the unreserved delight that youngsters bring to a project.

The camp constantly challenged the kids to turn art into play. “Pin the Cherry on the Cupcake” put a sweet spin on the classic party game when the children created a huge drawing of a cupcake and attached it to the wall. Each child created an art piece inspired by a 2013-06-20 11.52.48txt2cupcake.  The camp then got into baking and decorating using cupcake recipes from my book “Extraordinary Cakes,” and the children were encouraged to use their own artistic expressions and a variety of decorative materials to come up with enjoyably eccentric creations.  The kids also used fresh flowers to create designs inspired by the decor we use at Extraordinary Desserts.

I wouldn’t even try to count how many sticky fingers got licked during the camp.  It was fun for the kids and a sweet treat for me.  Happy Summer!

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A Baker’s Dozen of Ways to Say “I Love You” to Mom

As a mother, I think the most precious gifts children can offer on Mother’s Day, which this year is May 12, is to say “I love you, Mom” and “Thanks for all you do, and for loving me.” There are acres of roses in both phrases, and no mother can hear them too often.

Having said this, I think it’s very important to treat mothers to special gifts that also say “I love you,” but sweetly, and with the emphasis on style and sophistication that I like in every aspect of life. Extraordinary Desserts offers a range of memorable ways to gift mom tastefully and affordably with presents she’ll truly enjoy but here’s a baker’s dozen of my top picks.

finds_fionas captionSimply Sweet – Fiona’s Sweetshoppe candies are adorably packaged, and flavored to offer mom a nostalgic taste of her childhood. The selection includes licorices and sour hard candies that are reminiscent of sweets from the 1970s, but are presented in contemporary flavors and with a modern edge. A super-sweet and thoughtful gift for any mom with a sweet tooth, Fiona’s candies are irresistible when tucked into a lovely porcelain box, like those in our home collection that I truly treasure. Arrange some fragrant rose petals in the box to make it all the prettier, and show mom you appreciate all the details she fussed over when you were growing up. Buy these special candies at both Extraordinary Desserts locations.

Room Service CaptionRoom Service with Extraordinary Gourmet products and North Shore Goodies from Hawaii: I can’t think of any better way to treat Mom to an Extraordinary breakfast in bed than by putting together an artfully arranged tray of a cup of our gourmet tea or coffee, along with our rare and wonderful jams and jellies, and delicious products from North Shore (offered at both Extraordinary Desserts locations), like Coconut Peanut Butter spread on toast or a bagel, unique pancake syrups and, of course, a scrumptious pancake mix that cooks up into delicate, fluffy flapjacks – just like Mom always made. Now it’s your turn to get in the kitchen, flip some pancakes and show you love her as much as she loves you.

brunch captionThe Very Best Sunday Brunch, Just for Mom – This relaxed mid-day meal is always a favorite with mothers. On May 12, Extraordinary Desserts Little Italy will offer a “special edition” of the regular weekly brunch, which always is a lavish, lively and lovely affair. Highlights of the special Mother’s Day brunch range from mom-inspired desserts (and moms inspire nothing but the best), glamorized by beautiful floral decors that will delight every mom. Reservations can be made, and are recommended, by calling 619.294.7001 ext. 103.

cookie doughs captionFreshly Baked Love – Remember how when you came home from school, Mom would be pulling a tray of cookies out of the oven just as you walked through the door? Even if this was just a fantasy and never a reality, now it’s your chance to show such love by baking batches of our trio of rich and satisfying Extraordinary Desserts Cookie Doughs. That the house will smell delicious is the wrapping on the gift when you treat her to these decadent cookies hot from the oven. Flavors such as Triple Chocolate, Simply Chocolate Chip, Vegan Cherry Chocolate Chip, and White Chocolate Granola are composed as only Extraordinary Desserts can do.

Made with Love and Extraordinary Expertise – Our new Gourmet Cake Kit and gorgeous cake stands and slicers let you bake for Mom like the professional SHE is. Paired with some fine baker’s tools, the cake kit allows you to bake a delicious Dark Chocolate Truffle Banana Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Frosting like a pro. When you pair this amazing cake with some fine baker’s tools, you’ll gift Mom in Extraordinary fashion.

luxe captionLuxe Packages – We’ve had fun designing elegant and one-of-a-kind gift packs that are perfect for the mom who thinks she has everything. These tasteful new packages are the ultimate in luxury and include freshly baked cookies, a gorgeous cake and loads (and loads!) of Extraordinary Gourmet items. Prices range from $150 to $400.

The Caffeinated Mom –  Perfect for moms who appreciate a truly good cup of coffee, package up an Extraordinary French-press pot, coffee cups from our home collection and a bag of our signature gourmet blend to create a luxurious, thoughtful and “buzz” worthy gift just for her. If she’s a fan of the flavor but not the caffeine, create a decaf version that is sure to be equally treasured.

Napoleon captionA Sweet Celebration for Mom – We’ve put together a decadent and convenient Mom’s Day Dessert pack that includes four Napoleons, ribbon and rose petals for $42.95. An enticing way to celebrate Mom in the comfort of home, it’s as pretty as a picture and twice as good to eat.

For the Globetrotting Mom – A thoughtful gift to please every mom who loves exploring new places, how about creating a lovely gift with one of our exotic picture frames, a piece of stunning jewelry and one of our many travel-oriented books, all beautifully illustrated and all inviting Mom to make a journey of her own.

catering caption3Celebrate Mom – Pickup Extraordinary catering platters and celebrate mom among friends and family with an exquisite feast at home. The choices are varied, tempting and gorgeous, including artisanal cheese trays with fine jams and chutneys, nuts and dried fruits and breads. Petit paninis offer delicately satisfying combinations of fillings (I love the goat cheese with pesto genovese, Portobello mushroom, avocado and tomato), colorful and creative salads and gracious platters of assorted dips and spreads, with fine breads to accompany them.

The Chocoholic Mom – If Mom loves chocolate, she’ll be pleased for weeks by our pack of five signature chocolate bars, each designed to capture the memorable flavors of our most popular cakes. Great for sending a bit of Extraordinary love (and tastes!) to out of town moms.mom's day cake special caption2

Treat Mom to the Best – She’ll treasure the special Mother’s Day edition of one of our most popular cakes – Shangri-La. White chocolate mousse, guava mousse, fresh strawberries and whipped cream are layered between vanilla cakes moistened with kirsch. Complete with dazzlingly eye catching decoration created especially to delight mom, the beautiful 6” cake will include a tag filled in with a special Mom’s day sentiment. $50 each with limited availability at both locations. Pre-order recommended.desserts cropped

Inspired by Mom, Too –  New “Mom-inspired” desserts will be unveiled at both of our Extraordinary Desserts locations in honor of all moms.

There you have it: A Baker’s Dozen of Extraordinary sweet ways to say “Happy Mother’s Day!”

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Karen’s Picks for Must-Try San Diego Dishes

With the holiday season and Valentine’s safely behind me, I can dig into the best fare offered by local restaurants without any weighty worries.  Let me tell you, there’s so much must-try food around the city and county that my following list of 10 “Must-Try Dishes” doesn’t do full justice to all that’s available.  It’s a good starting point, though, and you’ll want to move these plates from the “Must-Try” column to the “Wow, that was good!” list as fast as you can.

“Little Gems” Caesar Salad at Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria

“Little Gems” Caesar Salad at Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria

  1. At Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria in the cute and cozy Lumberyard center in downtown Encinitas, the “Little Gems” Caesar Salad is good enough to die for – although I’d rather stick around and eat it again and again and again.  Composed entirely of top-grade ingredients, including an especially delicate and flavorful type of Romaine lettuce, this salad soars thanks to its imaginative toppings. Instead of the big, sometimes tooth-threatening-hard croutons many restaurants serve, Chef/owner Wade Hageman came up with the idea of sprinkling garlicky bread crumbs generously over the salad. The crumbs, joined by grated real, genuine, nutty-flavored Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (there is no better Parmesan), make the greens so delicious that when I hit the bottom of the bowl, I always wish there was a little more.

  2. One of the reasons I choose a primarily vegetarian lifestyle is because vegetarian cuisine can be so amazing.  Sometimes I think that nobody does meat-free cooking better than the Italians, and in this part of the world, few restaurants surpass some of the options offered by Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy and Del Mar.  One dish I just love is the Focaccia di Recco (on the menu it’s listed under the heading “Per la Tavola,” which means “for the table”), a freshly-baked, Ligurian-style bread that has wonderful “bite,” a chewiness that a baker like me really appreciates.  What makes it such a flavor-packed starter – and perfect with a good glass of wine – is the garnish of soft, fresh cow’s milk cheese and honeycomb, a wonderful combination of creaminess and sweetness that makes my tongue want to dance.

    Edamame Dumplings at True Food Kitchen. Photo by Mar Yvette for MarPop.

    Edamame Dumplings at True Food Kitchen. Photo by Mar Yvette for MarPop.

  3. Does it seem like I have a weakness for starters?  I do.  They’re not called “appetizers” for nothing, since they get the ball rolling, the show on the road and the whole world humming in harmony, especially when there’s some really good wine on the table.  The new True Food Kitchen in Fashion Valley is oriented to vegetarian and light fare and does both well.  The starter I love best is the plate of Edamame Dumplings.  Dressed with tangy daikon sprouts and drizzled with intoxicatingly pungent truffle oil, these dumplings derive a unique flavor from the special Japanese beans, and I really love the creamy texture.

    “R U Kidding Me?” Roll at Azuki Sushi

    “R U Kidding Me?” Roll at Azuki Sushi

  4. I find a party in each bite of the amazing “R U Kidding Me?” rolls at Azuki Sushi, the cute little place in Bankers Hill that out-sushis a lot of bigger, fancier and better-known places.  Listed as a specialty, the r u kidding me’s are expensive, but when you divide the price by the pleasure quotient found in every bite, they’re an affordable taste of heaven.  A rich and deluxe assortment of ingredients goes into these treats, including snow crab, diver scallops, tempura-fried asparagus and aioli.  Once the basic roll is built, it’s topped with seared tuna and white truffle oil, and finished with mixed greens, garlic ponzu sauce and flash-fried leeks.  It’s unforgettable.  Would I kid you?

  5. When I decide to go all-out vegan, which I do to get my system totally re-booted, one place where I like to eat is Hillcrest’s Evolution Fast Food, which is 100% vegan and offers 100% delicious meals.  My favorite here is the Raw Tacos, a “must-try” dish that is a great, healthy play on regular tacos and makes you feel both full and refreshed.  It’s such a simple idea, but so good – Evolution piles Napa cabbage shells with a raw, hearty filling that just couldn’t taste better or be more satisfying.

    Anson Farms Farro Salad at George's Califonia Modern Ocean Terrace

    Anson Farms Farro Salad at George’s Califonia Modern Ocean Terrace

  6. One of the privileges of living in San Diego is getting to dine with an ocean view once in a while, and if you can ask me to name a spot with a more beautiful view than at the rooftop Ocean Terrace at George’s Califonia Modern (I still call it George’s at the Cove), well, I probably can’t.  What I really, really love is the Anson Farms Farro Salad, which is just so fresh and light, and fits perfectly with the ocean setting.  The farro grain makes a wonderful base for a colorful jumble of good things like grilled zucchini, roasted cauliflower, radishes, creamy California avocado and cherry tomatoes.  Do the rich, pungent Kalamata olives and sharp, marinated Feta cheese shoot the other flavors right up to the sky?  They do.

  7. If I have to say it twice, fine: Nobody does vegetables better than the Italians.  I love Monello in Little Italy, which is right next door to the long-running and really popular Bencotto.  This place is devoted to Milan-style street food, and while I don’t know that I buy the idea that the Bietole All’Aglio, which is a deliciously pungent saute of Swiss chard and garlic streaming with ribbons of melted Parmesan, is really something you’d find on the street, I’d be glad to eat it anywhere.

  8. If you’ve never had Japanese Robata cooking, get yourself downtown right now to Katsuya.  There is a large selection of vegetables cooked in the robata and I like all of them.  Each is so artistically presented, and the flavors are so bold and unique.

  9. When I go to Monello, I’m always reminded that I need to get back to Bencotto, too, and here’s why:  the Pasta Fresca alle Noci, Other local restaurants serve this dish, but not as well.  Their homemade pasta is tossed with a delicious walnut and Gorgonzola cheese sauce that is a creamy, lick-the-plate-clean dream.

  10. Of course my list of “must-try” San Diego eateries has to include a Mexican restaurant, and Little Italy’s El Camino offers Sweet Potato Flautas, which put a great Mexican spin on my all-time favorite veggie.  When I want sweet potatoes South-of-the-border-style, I just zip over to El Camino and have a memorably good time.

I’ve kept something secret ’til now.  Call it a nod to my profession but my “Top 10 Must-Try List” is actually a Top 13, or baker’s dozen, list, since there are three other dishes that definitely are must-tries for everybody who craves fine cooking.  No surprise that one of the three is served at Davanti Enoteca, which not only offers great fare but the kind of plush, sophisticated mood I really enjoy when dining out.  For an appetizer that is an especially tasty building block of a vegetarian meal, I really love Davanti’s Roasted Cauliflower.  It’s not a particularly complicated dish, but it includes as much flavor as seems possible.  Roasting makes the cauliflower taste especially sweet, kind of sensuous and ready to be  remarkably accented by the garnishes of Sicilian green olive tapenade spiked with piquillo peppers (piquant, but not too), preserved lemon vinaigrette and crispy ceci beans.  It’s a winning way with vegetables.

Shrimp Flatbread at Bo-beau Kitchen and Bar

Shrimp Flatbread at Bo-beau Kitchen and Bar

And there’s no surprise that my 12th must-try is at Monello.  This time, it’s not a vegetarian dish that delights me, but a very special seafood presentation of octopus called Polipo Alla Griglia.  A full-sized entree that shares very well, the dish finishes grilled, tender octopus with vegetables that both challenge it with tartness – arugula and fennel play these roles – and provide sweet notes, as do celery and tomatoes.  Taken any way you like, it’s a definite must-try!

Flatbread is easier than pizza, cleaner on the palate than pizza, and just plain more pleasing to me (most of the time), especially if it’s one of the creative flatbreads at Bo-beau Kitchen and Bar in Ocean Beach.  My 13th, last but certainly not least pick is Bo-beau’s Shrimp Flatbread with avocado, garlic-lime aioli, almonds and ancho chilies.  It’s divine, and a great light entree after one of their tasty salads, too.

Now that I’ve shared some of my favorite dishes with you, I hope you’ll share some of yours at our restaurants with me.  Every March on our Extraordinary Desserts Facebook page, we play Dessert Madness.  Just like March Madness, Dessert Madness starts with two brackets of Extraordinary Desserts’ cakes and desserts.  We ask our Facebook fans to vote daily on which desserts should move up throughout the month by pairing two desserts from each bracket with the winner moving on to the next round.  Eventually, we narrow it down to one, the ultimate winner.

So, now that I’ve given you my “Must-Try” picks for dining exceptionally in San Diego, I’d like you to give me your dessert picks for Dessert Madness.  It’s a sweet deal, don’t you think?

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