The Hoppy Okapi

Occasional posts about hiking and other stuff

Wandering through North Park August 27, 2008

Having recently moved to the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego, you would think I would regularly visit new restaurants there, within walking distance, where I could stop by Pappalecco for some gelato afterward on my way home. Once in a while, this actually happens; but so often, North Park beckons with tales of bakeries and restaurants and bars so fabulous that they must be visited over and over again. I’ve mentioned the Linkery before, and Sea Rocket Bistro; and I’ve yelped about Ritual Tavern but been sadly remiss in blogging about it. In the past few weeks though, I’ve had a chance to try three more excellent North Park establishments – Eclipse Chocolat, Urban Solace, and Toronado.

I’d been reading the Eclipse blog for a few months, salivating over descriptions of sooo many kinds of Crème Fraîche cupcakes and tempting truffles, so when I finally made it to the shop, I really stocked up!

I got 2 each of five different truffle flavors, so Chuck and I could each try them all, plus three cupcakes we shared – this decadent selection provided us with desert for a good five days! The truffles included blackberry goat cheese (creamy chocolate chevre interior, chewy intense blackberry topping), double coconut milk caramel, salted coconut milk caramel, lavender sea-salted caramel (my favorite!), and caramel pecan. Can you tell I’m partial to caramel? The coconut milk truffles are actually vegan, which is an interesting piece of trivia, but the true genius of them is, of course, the rich coconut creaminess enrobed in the chocolate exterior. It’s like the chocolate version of coconut fried chicken, except inside out. Good analogy, I know.

The cupcakes I selected were Kentucky Bourbon Caramel and Marshmallow Almond, and I think that one in the middle was Butterscotch Rum. These were quite good as well – even though I’m more partial to the melt-in-your-mouth truffles, I’ll definitely be trying more Eclipse cupcakes in the future. The Kentucky Bourbon Caramel was my favorite of the three, for the richness of the caramel/bourbon/pecan combination, but the Marshmallow Almond was the most unique – I was expecting a marshmallow-creme-like texture in the filling, but there was a true, solid, chewy marshmallow in the middle of my cupcake. What an intriguing texture combination!

We went to Urban Solace for a weeknight dinner, having been lured by tales of macaroni and cheese, one of Chuck’s favorite restaurant barometers. Despite construction outside that made the restaurant a little difficult to get to, I was impressed by Urban Solace from the start – it had a very welcoming and atmosphere, with a good buzz of energy, but wasn’t overly loud. We settled in with some beers (Bear Republic Black Bear stout for me), and started dissecting the menu – how to choose when everything sounds so good? In the end, we settled on goat cheese and butternut squash dip for an appetizer: I was a little bit skeptical about this combination, but the execution was brilliant – the goat cheese added a rich creaminess to balance out the sweetness of the squash, and all was well with the world.

For dinner, I ordered the “Not Your Momma’s Meatloaf”, which was simply unbelievably good. It was made from ground lamb, with figs and pinenuts, and a fig au jus sauce, and served with crispy onions and mashed potatoes. (Also, it was wrapped in bacon, just in case the ground lamb didn’t provide a rich enough flavor!) This was easily the best meatloaf I’ve ever eaten, so good that I may have trouble ordering anything else on the menu because I know I’ll be missing the meatloaf. In the background of the picture, you can see Chuck’s chicken-and-dumpling dinner, and a side of the rich and creamy mac n’ cheese, which did live up to its hype. So Urban Solace has been given a place in our official North Park restaurant rotation.

Most recently (yesterday!) we made our first visit to Toronado, the San Diego version of a well known San Francisco beer bar that opened earlier this year. Toronado is very straightforward – it’s all about the beer, with a small menu of sausages and sandwiches for noshing. The variety of beers on tap is truly impressive, and the bottle list was far more extensive than the version they have online, but I knew exactly what I wanted the second I saw it – Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout!

photo from

This is the first time I’ve come across this beer in the wild (after months of searching!), and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint. It was very dark with a strong coffee aroma that conveyed well into the flavor. Hooray for a beer worthy of its cuteness :)  For dinner I had a jalapeno cheddar sausage on baguette, with grilled onions and peppers, with a side of potato salad (topped with chives and bacon) – so simple, and very tasty. Chuck had their Reuben, and we both agree that it was excellent, second only to the legendary Reuben Tuesdays of the Linkery.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s better that we don’t live within walking distance of North Park – we might never cook again!


One Minute Faster August 26, 2008

Filed under: running,San Diego — Amanda @ 7:05
Tags: ,

We ran another race on Sunday morning, the 4-mile End of Summer Fire Run from La Jolla to Pacific Beach.

I finished with an official time of 48:56, about one minute better than our previous four mile race. I definitely need to work on speed, since I once again went out too fast and started with an unsustainable pace, alternating walking with running after about two miles. I still finished slightly faster than my usual training pace, but I’m still not sure how to train at one pace and then magically run faster in races (of course, if it was only a two mile race, I would have been fine! Hmmm.)

Next race is another 5K in October, my goal is to beat my previos time by at least two minutes.


Cuddly Baby Okapi! August 23, 2008

We stopped by the Wild Animal Park this afternoon on our way back from Temecula, and were lucky enough to see Zuri, the baby okapi born in June. Pictures of adult and baby okapis below, plus a warthog, a tortoise, some lions, and a special “native mule deer of the Wild Animal Park” spotting…


Stone 12th Anniversary Party August 18, 2008

On Saturday we went to the Stone Brewing 12th Anniversary Party at the Cal State San Marcos campus. It was the fourth time we’ve been to the Stone Anniversary party, and I think yesterday’s event was the most enjoyable of the four.

We started our morning with a hearty breakfast from the La Creperie booth at the Little Italy mercato: eggs, bacon, cheese, and guacamole wrapped up inside a fresh crepe, it’s like a breakfast burrito with a French twist:

mmmmm, breakfast crepe

mmmmm, breakfast crepe

We then headed over to San Marcos, arriving at the campus about 25 minutes before our session began. The line was very long but well organized, hugging the walls of the buildings for shade, and once the gates were open we slowly wound our way down into the courtyard where the party was held. With more than forty breweries attending (typically with 2-4 beers each) and ten tasting tickets each, we set out to find beers that we’d never had before or that we rarely find on draught.

We started out at the Avery Brewing tent, where there’s always interesting beer to be found. I got Ale to the Chief, a “Presidential Pale Ale”, and Chuck had Fifteen, Avery’s unique anniversary ale in a slightly sour Belgian wild ale style.

After Avery we headed to Brew Dog, a brewery from Scotland that’s just over a year old and making their debut in our consciousness. At their booth I tried a double IPA, which was incredibly malty and smooth for an IPA, and Chuck tried their Imperial stout. Both of these beers were quite good, and I’ll definitely have Brew Dog beers again if I get the opportunity.

We then headed over to Port Brewing, where Chuck tried “Just Another Barrel“, a sour Belgian style ale from the Lost Abbey, and I sampled the Barbarian Barley Wine (from Pizza Port San Clemente according to Beer Advocate reviews). The barley wine was sweet and a little less strong than some barley wines – highly drinkable but perhaps not a rich as expected.

Somewhere along the way, Chuck picked up a fan club (maybe they’ve heard rumors of his homebrew prowess?):

We also tried Double Dead Guy and Imperial Red from the Rogue tent, which were both strong and good, but which I didn’t take very good notes on. The Rogue brewpub in Portland is one of our all-time favorites, with a great atmosphere and a great variety of beers, definitely worth a visit.

Nearing our halfway point, we sampled some of the European beers: I tried Urthel Hop-It, a Flemish interpretation of a West Coast IPA, it was one of the highlights of the day. Hildegard, the head brewer at Urthel, brewed a collaboration beer with Tomme of the Lost Abbey – read about it here; I think we bought a bottle of this earlier in the summer, but haven’t tried yet. Chuck tried an ale from La Trappe, also known as Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven, the only trappist brewery in the Netherlands.

In case you’re suffering from beer fatigue by now, let me tell you about Mike’s Beer Cheese… a much-cherished tradition of the Stone Anniversary parties is the opportunity to sample Mike’s Beer Cheese in several flavors. These are soft, spreadable cheeses, each made with a different stone ale and other seasonings – and they are good! My favorite was the sun dried tomato/Stone Pale Ale one, followed by the Ruination IPA/mustard cheese. The others are Napalm Double Bastard (it’s spicy, did you guess?), and one with Smoked Porter and garlic .

Alright, back to the beers! We got to try some beers from The Bruery in Orange County for the first time: Black Orchard, a black belgian wheat beer, and Humulus Bruin, a Belgian brown with good hoppiness and bitterness.

Also: A trippel from St. Feuillien (which tasted hoppier than a typical trippel); a double brown from Oceanside Aleworks, which Chuck has fond memories of; Scrimshaw Pilsner from North Coast Brewing. an IPA from Rubicon in Sacramento, which looks like a fun place to go if I ever find myself in Sacramento; and the Heirloom Blend Cider from Wandering Aengus Ciderworks in Salem, Oregon, which I highly recommend – not too sweet, not too dry, a good cider.

Another favorite tradition at the Anniversary parties is the Onion Ring tent – it always has a long line, since you can get a free sample or a whole plate of delicious Arrogant Bastard Ale-battered onion rings for only $3, but they’re well worth the wait:

These were also a great way to sample some sauces from Carlsbad Gourmet – there was a really good strawberry barbeque sauce that was my favorite, and several more flavors that were good as well.

Of course, no trip to the Stone Anniversary Party is complete without sampling some of Stone’s own brews, and this year was no exception. In the spirit of sticking with the more unusual beers, we visited their cask tent, where we tried Smoked Ported with Chipotle and the 12th Anniversary Ale.

I think having these beers on cask really brought out their flavors and unique characteristics. The porter with chipotle was quite spicy, with the chipotle adding a dryness to the usual smokiness of the Smoked Porter. The 12 Anniversary Ale on cask was the most impressive beer that we had on Saturday. We’d tried this, a Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, before at Stone World Bistro and in bottles, but the cask brought out a richness and depth of flavored that transformed this to a truly extraordinary beer experience.

See you next year for lucky number 13 :)


We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Blog for the Following Public Service Announcement: August 10, 2008

Filed under: concerts,San Diego — Amanda @ 9:46
Tags: , , ,

If you ever have the chance to go to a Steve Poltz concert, GO.



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