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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mateo's Mexican Grill – Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico

The tamales kept us from killing each other, but the post-plane munchies are strong AF.

Posada del Sol gives us a free upgrade for the first night, thanks to a glorious mix-up, and our room faces an open ocean.

The mosquito-netting canopy cascades in soft waves, billowing in a cool breeze, keeping time with the waves washing up a sandy shore.

When you get into a room like that, it takes a while to leave. It’s pitch dark along the only road by the time we stop staring into the aquamarine sea, and we can’t go far for food. But we do see lights twinkle and glow in the night, sultry red stars from across the street, and soon I sip on a Strawberry Basil Mojito as we give the Mateo’s menu a glance. 

My mojito is a strawberry mash with a touch of terrible rum. Its quality matches that of my no-light, mood-light photos, but it hardly matters as the live band plays.

is a must. Mariscos are the specialty of everyone in Tulum, and this marinated bowl of fish and shrimp does not disappoint. The lime juice is thick, and the avocado is so ripe it’s almost sweet as it oozes over striped, fleshy cubes of fish and chewy cocktail shrimp.

The Appetizer Platter is a plato of indecision, a relief for those too travel-weary to think. Fried chunks of fish are perfectly battered, a neutral cheese quesadilla is great with guac, and the carne asada is impossibly juicy and soft. There are grill-lines charred into the soft strips, and they taste like fresh flames.

Sour, salty, savory, all that’s missing is a sweet Coconut Flan. It’s airy but dense, with the occasional coconut shaving cutting through the sugar and egg.

Full belly, gorgeous shower, and waves lapping ashore in warm salt air. We pass out too soon, after what is probably the best first day we’ve ever had in another country.

First Meal - Tulum

There’s no snow in SoCal, but there is a flurry of planning before we go. I’m still too insecure to leave the daytrips to the last minute, and the plane tickets were all the spontaneity I could take.

We arrive after an easy 5-hour flight, and a private hotel shuttle awaits us; no way we’re taking a chance on the much-cheaper ADO bus being full. Our cowardice pulls up, personified by an impressively bilingual, full-uniform driver named Manuel.

First meals are usually hasty, and we’re too starved to care. Naturally, we start our trip with a gas-station Tamale, and because it’s Mexico, it’s still one of the better tamales I’ve had to date. The cornmeal is moist, the shredded chicken is well-salted, and the flavor is savory, probably some chicken stock. The banana leaf seals it all in, and it goes great with a bag of Funyuns and a can of Fanta.

Tulum, Mexico

To say that I’m uptight would be an understatement. I don’t think I’ve ever planned anything less than a month in advance, and I showed up to my second date with my fiancĂ© with an itinerary. Apparently, he wants to be married to this madness, but most people just tell me to chill.

I’ve calmed down so much in the past decade, not that you can tell, but the fact that I can sometimes do dinner with only two days’ notice is a victory lap.

I’m the worst about travel. Six months out is the opportune time to buy a plane ticket, and the world begins to crumble before my eyes if tickets and hotels are not arranged by the time we’re three months out. Then there I was, staring at a 6-day gap in my work schedule. I clicked on Kayak, and when they asked for a destination, I typed in “anywhere”. I can literally go anywhere, I want to go everywhere, and for the first time in my life I didn’t have a plan. Many affordable tickets arose, little pinpoints of potential, most of them within a tumultuous country, hell-bent on making itself great again...under the capable guidance of a lunatic.

The round-trip to Cancun caught my eye. 1) Because $272 for a couple of direct flights is criminally cheap, and 2) because that was my heart rate at the time. Three weeks in advance might as well be three seconds. And with trembling hands, I made the reservation.

I wasn’t crazy about going to Cancun, and that was never the plan. No thanks to a city of tourists, a harem of all-inclusive resorts, full of honeymooners and people who want an “authentic” travel experience that isn’t too authentic because their comfort levels are somewhat sensitive. But Quintana Roo has much more to offer, among those choices, there is the town of Tulum.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Moana Grill - Gardena

Gardena never ceases to amaze me. I thought I'd seen it all, silly me thinking I've found every fusion, and here we are, at a delightful confusion; Moana Grill.

A Spicy Mayo Poke Bowl is full of fresh chunks of tuna, and the spicy mayo is a Hawaiian flare with Japanese restraint. The mayo has some bite, but there's not enough on it to smother the fish. 

The Sweet & Spicy Chicken seems more Hawaiian, a less sour sweet n' sour with the texture of fast-food sesame chicken, coating crispy, well-breaded chunk of chicken, the color of Hawaiian Punch. It's food-court-at-the-mall but better.

Still not seeing what Japanese-Hawaiian looks like, but Japanese-white-people looks like a Tiffany Roll, and I love it. Creamy crab with avocado and cucumber inside, little langostino tempura tails on the outside, drizzled with spicy mayo. It is so shameful, but it was raining that day, and there was nothing in the world I wanted more.

Back to Japanese-Japanese with a classic Chicken Katsu Curry. Will always love the sharp panko crumbs, will never get tired of watching them never get soggy in a sweet, golden curry. 

Just what does Japanese-Hawaiian fusion look like? It looks like the best of two amazing worlds. And comfort food. It looks like comfort food to the MAX. Cafeteria-style, no-frills, this is where you go during your lunch hour at work. But if there are island-nation basics you're craving, this is the place to go.
moana grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

8bit Brewing Company UPDATE - Murrieta

Lesson learned. Driving anywhere in Temecula after 5 PM is the equivalent of sitting with the car in park and pretending to move. Except the car you're in doesn't have an engine. The Flintstones' family vehicle would have gotten us there faster.

Doesn't matter. We do NOT miss a trip to 8bit on the rare occasion we're in town. We come here for the Tator Tot Poutine, and we pound it with a damn good beer. They had quite the double IPA this time, freshly tapped and freshly poured.

A beer like that gives the Chicharrones some extra crackle right before they melt in a sassy sequence of savor and seasoned salt. A side of chipotle sour cream is creative; a fun dipper that the perfect pork rinds really don't need.

Duck, duck...PORK! Pork Belly Mac and Cheese! So much shredded pork, soft and slow-cooked, and macaroni elbows with beefy biceps on a cheese sauce that balances subtle with creamy greatness. I expected the BBQ sauce to be overkill, but it adds just the right amount of attitude to lighten up a combo that threatens to be too rich.

I don't know how they do it, but everything they do here is right. Their beers are a creative peek into some beautiful minds, and either the food or the beer is worth coming for. We got the glasses, and we have the shirts, but I have a hard time telling people about it because I want to keep a place this special for myself.

Crush & Brew - Temecula

Old Temecula has its charms. Gaudy but endearing boutiques dot the old-school, wooden sidewalks along the strip, interspersed with tourist-chic restaurants beckoning for brunch.

Crush & Brew is a bit dark inside, but the do have a nice selection on tap. I got a glass of wine, but I put some beer in my soup; the Cheddar Ale Soup, to be exact. A hearty cup of chewy cheese, a hangover cure that rivals as a couple of Advil.

The soup makes a hit-the-spot on-the-dot brunch combo with half a Beet Salad. Props for being perhaps the first establishment to price their half-portions fairly - most places I've seen will charge at least 75% of the full! Not only is the price fair, but the salad is generous. The layer of beets on top is thick, and nothing beets a coat of gorgonzola over arugula.

The Sliders are more substantial if you're not looking to lunch lightly, and it's a sampler of three of their bigger burgers. The Crush Burger crushes it with a sweet onion marmalade, brie and bacon-basically-ham, while the Brew is a bit more basic. Caramelized onions droop over perky shrooms and gorgonzola. The Old Town is an old-school classic, with BBQ sauce and an aged cheese. 

Old Temecula is more accurately described as Touristy Temecula, and the food is as expected. Nothing that blew my mind, but everything to curb my cravings. Crush & Brew isn't the most original of restaurants, but it is a nice place to eat, with not-so-naughty prices, and that's good enough for me.
crush & brew Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Cork Fire Kitchen - Temecula

A long December has come and passed, and Travelzoo has a deal. Sunday thru Thursday, Temecula Creek Inn costs $89 a night, and for two nights we can sit on first-floor balcony, watching the golf carts roll by, forgetting the world as we sip on our welcome wine. 

We did that until we got really hungry. Our building is right next to the on-site restaurant, and that's about as far as we're willing to go. And it's so pretty, the Cork Fire Kitchen, with a center bar and a homey fireplace, well-equipped for sitting and sipping for hours on end.  

We're all about some Miso Glazed Diver Scallops to start. The scallops are seared. Can't taste the miso, but the chopped-up mango on top is sweet and fruity fun. Each scallop sits on a crispy cake of onyx rice. They're called forbidden rice cakes, and I am confused. What exactly makes the rice forbidden? And can you eat rice cakes that are forbidden? Apparently, you can because I'm still here to complain about them. This entree wasn't bad, but I probably should have gone with the shrimp & grits.

Next entree...really should have gone with the shrimp & grits...or anything else. I can sum up the Tangerine Glazed Duck Breast in one short acronym: W. T. F. Made by someone who can only cook duck crudely; the middle of the breast is bleeding, and it has the density and texture of a smoked Christmas ham. Don't know where this glaze went either - do they actually know how to glaze? All those sauces, especially the amorphous mess of cherry sauce and hash, take away everything that makes duck taste like duck. I liked the polenta, but otherwise I really don't know what to do with this dish.

I sipped my wine a little faster, and moved on to dessert. Some of us drink to forget, and some of us have to drink to forget the previous dish. Then comes the daily special Crostata. The special is the part where you have to guess what's in it as all three staff members we spoke to were unable to tell us. "I don't know". *Shrug*. Absolutely no effort to find out. And this is from two servers and the floor manager. No regrets, though. A nice flaky crust and sweet apples with a hint of cinnamon and an almond finish.

We're finished too. Finished with a low-mediocre meal, and finished with the staff who don't give a... We're too wined up to whine much, but I'd whine a lot if I had to come back sober.
Cork | Fire Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato