The Hoppy Okapi

Occasional posts about hiking and other stuff

A little bubbly… April 29, 2008

Filed under: day trips,wine — Amanda @ 21:39
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Chuck’s brother was visiting this weekend, and we had a full slate of San Diego fun planned out. First among them, wine-tasting in Temecula. After a quick stop at Influx for a perfectly flaky croissant (with tomato and basil and brie, yum!), we headed up the 15 to Wine Country.

Our first stop of the trip was Thornton Winery, unique among Temecula wineries for their variety of champagnes. The tasting setup at Thornton is a little bit different from most Temecula wineries- they have table service in the “Champagne Lounge”, where you can order pre-selected flights of wines or choose your own set of tastes at individual prices. We sat on the outdoor patio, which was well-shaded and had little white wisps of fuzz floating around from some of the plants – it was all very elegant and relaxing. Chuck ordered the Champagne Tasting, I tried the Reserve, and Chuck’s brother had the Red. I don’t think I disliked any of the wines that we tried there, but it was the champagnes that really stood out. I often like the idea of champagne better than the actual experience of it, but Thorton’s Brut Reserve pulls off the concept of a dry, drinkable champagne incredibly well. It has none of the harsh yeasty notes that can make champagne taste bitter to me – this was probably my favorite wine of the day. We bought bottles of three of the champagnes from Thornton – the Brut Reserve, Cuvee Rouge (the strikingly colored red champagne in the picture), and Cuvee de Frontignan, a lightly sweet champagne.

The other wineries we visited were Callaway, where we have a wine club membership, and they make consistently good wines in many varieties. I used to be quite fond of their un-oaked chardonnay and am hoping for another release of it, but will happily sample their other selections until then. We also stopped at Stuart Cellars, where we started to run into the afternoon crowds (and an out-of-control bachelorette party!). The wines that we sampled at Stuart were a little more uneven (i can’t remember the ones I wasn’t as fond of), but their Zinfandel was really good, with full fruit flavor and a smooth finish, and we picked up a bottle of White Merlot as well.

All in all, a successful trip. Our wine rack at home is full again, so we need to start cooking some wine- friendly dinners!


Sunday is World Tapir Day! April 25, 2008

Filed under: conservation — Amanda @ 22:55
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Sunday, April 27 is the first ever “World Tapir Day”, and I am ready for it:

Tapirs might be the biggest mammals you’ve never heard of. Once upon a time, I like to think, tapirs practically ruled the world – large, peaceful animals, roaming broad expanses of forest covering the Americas, Europes, and Asia, feasting on luscious fruits and greens, cleverly evading the predators of the time…this is how it happens in my own personal Land Before Time…

Tapirs are related to rhinos and horses, and there are four species alive in the world today – Malayan Tapirs, with striking Black-and-White coloring, found in southeast Asia; Mountain Tapirs, found in small ranges in the Andes; Brazilian Tapirs, found in the rain forests of South America; and Baird’s Tapirs, found throughout Central America.

Tapirs have been one of Chuck’s favorite animals for years, and we became more involved in tapir conservation in February 2007, when we visited Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica. There we had the amazing experience of seeing a Baird’s tapir in the wild while out on pre-dawn hike. While in Corcovado, we met Kendra Bauer, a doctoral candidate at UT-Austin who does research on the tapirs in the park. Shortly after our return from Costa Rica, Chuck helped Kendra setup, a website devoted to the research and conservation of the Tapirs of Costa Rica.

This year, World Tapir Day has been established to raise awareness about tapirs, to educate people about these incredible but oft-overlooked animals and inspire support for conservation. If you want to learn more about tapirs or contribute to tapir research and conservation, visit one of these great sites:

  1. The site
  2. The official World Tapir Day site
  3. The Tapir Preservation Fund

What else can you do to celebrate World Tapir Day?

  • Visit tapirs at a zoo near you! You can see Malayan Tapirs in San Diego; Baird’s tapirs in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; Mountain Tapirs in Colorado Springs, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; and Brazilian tapirs in New Orleans and Chicago – and those are only the ones I know about! Check out your local zoo for more info.
  • Get cool tapir gear (like my stylin’ red shirt!) from any of the sites above – the proceeds from your purchase will go toward conservation, AND you’ll help make other people more aware of tapirs, building even more conservation power!
  • Learn about rain forest conservation and figure out what you can do to help save the tapir’s habitat.

Happy Tapir Day!


Eating my way through Little Italy… April 20, 2008

The quest to sample all the restaurants in our new neighborhood officially began last week with dinner at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, with pizza and beer in a classic “fear-the-falling-Chianti-bottles” setting. Since we’d been to several (three?) of the other Filippi’s locations around San Diego, that was more of a known (and longed-for) experience. This week we started the true exploration with a visit to Mimmo’s Italian Village on Thursday evening. The weather was mild and the outdoor patio was full, so we headed inside and found ourselves feeling like we’d stepped into a Disneyland ride. (Really…even though it was a replica Italian village, I found myself singing “Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me” for the first 10 minutes.)

I started dinner with a cup of Lobster Bisque, which turned out to be a pleasing orange-cream color. The soup was savory and just creamy enough without being too heavy, although the chunks of lobster were a bit chewy and I was wishing for a shot of sherry to add an extra sweetness. The true revelation of the evening was the Linguini Pomodoro – so simple, and yet so brilliant, the pasta perfectly cooked, the goat cheese adding creaminess and tartness, a dose of salt from the kalamata olives, and absolutely glorious fresh tomato flavor. It’s going to be hard to eat my way through Little Italy if all I ever want to eat is this linguini pomodoro…


Making tortilla soup in the dark April 14, 2008

Filed under: beer,cooking — Amanda @ 22:05
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It was a little disorienting cooking in the new kitchen for the first time – even though I’ve been unpacking and organizing the kitchen, I’m still not quite used to the new locations for pots, utensils, and spices. As daylight faded, I was cooking only by under-cabinet lighting, until I realized that the entry way has working lights as well, so my status was upgraded from “cooking in a cave by candlelight” to “cooking in a cave by firelight”. Kitchen lighting has been bumped up to a top-three spot on the “things to buy for the new home” list.

Onto the soup!

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup is one of our go-to dinners, easy to make and always tasty even though I make it a little bit differently every time. I first made it about eight years ago from a recipe I found on Digital Chef (which doesn’t seem to exist anymore, probably eclipsed many moons ago by, but after the first few times I stopped consulting the recipe and cook it according to memory or whim.

Tonight’s version was a little different than normal, partially because I decided to try shredded chicken instead of the grilled or broiled chicken I usually use, and partially because one of my plum tomatoes had grown a moldy beard and was beginning to infect the others, so tomato-from-a-tube saved the day! The bearded tomato was a stressful start to the dish, but I took a page from the Charlie Papazian playbook (Relax, and have a homebrew!), opened up a bottle of vintage 2007 Hibiscus Wit beer, and tried to boost the soup’s freshness profile with some extra onion and cilantro.

The soup turned out well, with spicy, herbal broth (thank you, cayenne and Mexican oregano!), and the shredded chicken proved to be a winner – more tender than the grilled method, and the broth was flavorful enough that we didn’t miss the usual spice rub, so next time I’ll stick with shredded chicken but go back to the fresh tomatoes!

Tonight’s variation:

0) Cut 3 corn tortillas into thin strips and toast. I usually need to toast twice to get my preferred level of crisp, but once I forgot about them and set the toaster oven on fire. This is not recommended, particularly if you have working smoke detectors or are fond of your toaster oven.

1) To make the shredded chicken, combine in a small pot:

  • 2 chicken breasts, cut in 4 equal pieces
  • 1/2 yellow onion, split in 2
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp each Mexican oregano, epazote, black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Add water to cover, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 20 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate, and shred into bite-size pieces with a fork and knife. (Method adapted from Chicken: 150 Great Recipes for All Seasons by Elaine Corn)

2) For the soup, heat 2 Tbsp vegetable oil in a large pot. Add and cook over medium heat until translucent:

  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine

Add to the pot, stir, and toast for one minute:

  • 2 bay leaves
  • Assorted spices, 1/2 tsp – 1 tsp each: Ancho chile powder, Chipotle chile powder, cayenne pepper, Mexican oregano, ground cumin, black pepper, salt

Add and stir constantly for one minute:

  • 1/2 cup toasted corn tortilla strips
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste (usually 3 plum tomatoes, chopped)

Add, bring to a boil, and simmer for at least 20 minutes:

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • shredded chicken from step one

Serve approximately 1 1/2 cups of soup per bowl, top with shredded cheese and more toasted tortilla strips, and enjoy!


Goodbye, SmartCorner! April 13, 2008

Filed under: restaurants,San Diego — Amanda @ 21:46
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Moving week! The dishes and cookware were all packed, so we finally hit a couple of the neighborhood joints, just in time to know if we’d be sad to be leaving them. First up, Gen Lai Sen, the self-proclaimed “Best Chinese Restaurant” in San Diego:

We’d been watching the restaurant from our balcony across the street for 4 months, and often saw buses and vans full of people stop there to eat- that many people couldn’t be wrong, right?

Our dinner: Orange Chicken, Pork Fried Rice, Fried Wontons

Overall, my Gen Lai Sen experience was pleasant but not earth-moving. The crispy goodness of fried wontons is always welcome on my plate, the pork in the fried rice was plentiful but a bit too tough, and the orange chicken had good flavor that was nicely offset by the mild bite of the onions. It was a decent meal and could be an option for dinner on a lazy weeknight. I do wonder if ordering something more exotic/authentic would have resulted in my agreement with its best-in-town claims, but I don’t quite wonder it enough to make the trip across town with this destination in mind.

Next up: La Casita!

A cute little Mexican restaurant located in a blue house right behind Gen Lai Sen, La Casita has a little courtyard in addition to the indoor seating, but difficult hours: M-F, 6am-4pm only, so we made a moving-day breakfast out of this one on Friday.

The grub: Breakfast Burritos with eggs, bacon, potatoes, and cheese.

Sadly, the verdict on La Casita was similar to Gen Lai Sen – it made a good meal, but won’t be added to my list of favorites (on the other hand, if it HAD been brilliant, I would be mourning all of the lost breakfast burrito opportunities of the past four months, but it’s always good to have a go-to Mexican place, and I so wanted to love it). The burrito was tasty, but just a bit off from my preferences in a few ways: most significantly, the tortilla was extremely chewy, and I am a big big fan of the flaky flour tortilla (Cotijas, Lucio’s #3, Cuatro Milpas), and the tortilla flavor/texture accounts for about 40% in my personal burrito evaluation scheme; second, the filling ratio was too skewed toward potato, not enough toward egg/bacon, making it a little bland and even more chewy; third, and least critical, was the hot sauce – it was a tasty one, but had strong roasted-chile flavor, while my breakfast burrito preference is for the crisper finish of more vinegary sauces. I like the roasted chile flavor with fish tacos and beef, but not so much for other dishes.

Also, La Casita did not have Horchata at the ready when I visited, and so I was sad.

Coming soon – adventures in cooking (the kitchen is almost unpacked – yay!) and finding the best restaurants in Little Italy.


Pizza Station! April 6, 2008

Filed under: restaurants,San Diego — Amanda @ 16:47
Tags: , ,

Today for lunch we made a visit to Pauly’s Pizza Station, located next to the trolley station at Park and C. This was my third visit to this pizzeria, and it’s solidified its place as my favorite NY-style pizza in San Diego. Bronx pizza and Ciro’s are still great, of course (especially the pesto pie at Ciro’s – yum!), but the pizza at Pauly’s wins out for its fresh flavor and ultra-crisp crust.

Today’s selection:


“The Works”: Pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, olives

Spinach, red pepper and ricotta white pizza

The white pizza with spinach and red peppers is my favorite of the kinds of tried – the ricotta is mildly sweet and creamy, the veggies are fresh and vibrant. I’ve also had their pepperoni and buffalo chicken varieties – both highly recommended (for the record, I’m not the biggest fan of pizza with chicken, but my love for buffalo sauce outweighs my aversion to chicken pizza – buttery cayenne pepper goodness!).


BBQ and Beer, but not together April 5, 2008

Filed under: beer,restaurants,San Diego — Amanda @ 17:13
Tags: , , ,

A flurry of pre-moving activities (storage, appliance store, furniture store) in North County this morning provided a good excuse to stop by Port Brewing and investigate Brett’s BBQ, which I learned about this week from San Diego blog What We Dig.

Port Brewing in San Marcos brews many of the excellent beers of Pizza Port, including Hop-15, one of my favorite double IPA’s; they also brew the beers of The Lost Abbey, a collection of unique, flavorful beers. We picked up a bottle of Serpent’s Stout, and I also had a taster of this one – it’s dark and thick, with a rich taste. I’ve been getting back into stouts lately, and this is one of the reasons why. I also had a taster of WipeOut IPA, which I hadn’t had in a while. It has a good hoppy aroma, and a strong, clean bitter flavor. It isn’t as flowery or complex as Hop-15, but is still a great, classic example of the West Coast IPA style.

After our beer interlude, we headed on to Brett’s BBQ. The place was pleasantly busy around 1pm on a Saturday, and we snagged an outdoor table to enjoy San Diego’s awesome spring weather and a delicious helping of barbeque. We each got pulled pork sandwiches, I with sweet potato fries and Chuck with baked beans.

Pulled Pork and Sweet Potato Fries

The sandwiches were excellent – the smoked pork was tender and flavorful but not mushy, the buns were substantial enough to hold up to the meat and sauce, and lent a subtle buttery goodness to the flavor without stealing the show. Barbeque sauce on the side is always appreciated, as I like my sandwiches wet and almost always wish for more sauce. The sweet potato fires were very good as well, with either a very light batter or extra flavorful oil that gave them a hint of tempura flavor. They needed a good dose of salt, but were otherwise sweet potato perfection. Chuck’s beans were also quite good, and quite lacking salt – they needed some zip! Overall we were quite happy with our experience at Brett’s and will add it to our regular rotation of North County lunch spots (along with Stone World Bistro and Philly Frank’s).



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