Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Okay, we forgot to take a pic outside the restaurant, so we added one from 2003. Enjoy.
Our February restaurant pick: Vagabond in South Park, just east of Balboa Park.
Atmosphere: French bohemian with a cozy vibe. We came here when we first started our monthly dinners years ago and sat in a corner booth seat with cushions. This time around we were at a table.

What we drank: Jen had the Basil Martini after remembering how good it was last time we were there. Elisabeth ordered a Belvedere grapefruit Martini with St. Germaine.

Appetizers: We shared Kung-Pao Style Calamari with peanuts, scallions, and spicy hoisin, as well as the Crispy Pork Belly on a creamy parmesan polenta with chimichurri sauce & a poached egg.

Entrees: Elisabeth had the Double Cut Pork Chop, grilled with creme fraiche mashed potatoes, braised cavelo nero, and a charred tomato coulis. Jen ordered the Braised Colorado Lamb Shank with celery root puree, fennel, caramel apples & a yogurt sauce.

Dessert: We split the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with mango soup and the Flourless Chocolate Cake with Ricotta whipped cream and raspberry coulis.

Elisabeth's take: Since there was no drink menu & I wanted something sweet, our server sent over the bartender and he suggested a martini with grapefruit vodka & St. Germaine (magic liqueur words to me!). It was delicious and tangy and sweet and a perfect complement to the appetizers. My second one was a bit stronger and more sour, but not totally unlikeable. 
The calamari appetizer was definitely Asian in flavor, but with such a gorgeous mix of salty, spicy, & sweet that I gobbled most of it. Also evident of its deliciousness: I tried the piece with all the tentacles (which I normally shy away from because, well, its icky!) and when a staff member came to adjust our wobbly table, I didn't bother to pause my eating. Yes, folks... this is good calamari! 

I suppose now I have to write an equally glowing paragraph about the pork belly, because it was also magnificent! Tender, salty, and well-rounded with a bite of the creamy polenta and egg (I'm really liking the poached-egg-on-everything trend) and sweet/tangy chimichurri sauce. I've not been so close to licking a bowl in quite some time.

Entree time: my pork chop was well-seasoned and I'm always a fan of meat & potato dishes that satisfy. This one was juicy & buttery, with enough acid from the kale-like cavelo nero to soothe all taste buds. I hardly ever wrap up leftovers for home, but I left with a box this time!

When the desserts rolled around, I found the mango soup overly sweet but really liked the peanut butter granola that accompanied it with the panna cotta. The chocolate cake was good, but the coulis (which I swear isn't raspberry but couldn't quite place the flavor) was amazing and lent a really nice touch. Added to the quiet, cozy-but-hip vibe of the place, it was a terrific meal and Jen & I lingered quite a while after the last bites. I'm very pleased we returned to an old favorite.

Jen's take:  Elisabeth and I decided to return to this old favorite because we had such fond memories of the food and once again Vagabond did not disappoint. I was a bit worried to start off due to the lack of drink menu and our server not being able to recommend much of anything. The bartender was happy enough to come over and work our drinks out, however, and I settled on the Basil Martini after remembering how much I had loved it the first time around. The only drawback was lipstick on my glass, which was quickly and apologetically fixed. The drink itself did not disappoint!

Our appetizers were two vastly different flavors and I worried how they would taste being eaten together. We solved that problem by eating one and then the other. The calamari was delicious with a tangy, spicy sauce that worked perfectly. The pork belly was a little bit of heaven on a plate. The perfect bite had a bit of pork belly, polenta, chimmichuri sauce, and egg with some of the runny yolk. The chef certainly knew what he was doing creating this dish. Another thing I enjoyed about this dish was that the salt didn't overpower as it has in other pork dishes we've tasted recently. The seasonings and flavors were perfectly balanced.

After the disaster that was my entree last month I was hoping for an amazing dish this time around and, again, Vagabond did not disappoint. The lamb was fall off the bone tender and the sides provided a striking compliment. And the sauce, the yogurt sauce, brought the whole dish over the top. The whole dish was a tender, flavorful, melt in your mouth deliciousness that I would highly recommend!

After all the yumminess that was our meal so far I had high hopes for dessert. Normally I don't go for dishes such as panna cotta but this one made me a believer. I loved the peanut butter granola and mango soup accompaniments. While devouring the chocolate cake all I could say, over and over, was, "This is so good!" It was exactly that, a chocolate cake done well with a delicious coulis. Nice atmosphere and great drinks and food, what more can you ask for on a rare night out?!

The verdict: Dependably varied & delicious food in an inviting atmosphere, with an attentive and charming staff. We definitely recommend Vagabond! reviewers average 4 stars for Vagabond. We think a 5!

Best Bites,
Elisabeth & Jen

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Red Door

Our January restaurant pick: The Red Door, in Mission Hills, north of downtown San Diego.
Our cozy corner booth

Atmosphere: UpscaleAmerican comfort food with cozy booths & tables, wood floors, and large windows looking out onto busy Washington Street. We were seated in a large, comfortable booth in the center of the restaurant on a busy Thursday evening during Restaurant Week (no, we didn't participate - we wanted more options to try!).
The Cholly Cranberry Mojito
What we drank: Elisabeth had the Framboise Lemon Drop (citrus vodka, chambord, and lemon juice), and Jen had a Cholly Cranberry Mojito (rum, mint, lime, & cranberries). For the second round, we ordered off the drink menu from their sister (& neighboring) restaurant The Wellington. Elisabeth tried the Bee's Knees (vodka, pineapple & grapefruit juice, and honey) but returned it for the Cranberry Mojito. Jen drank The Lord Darnley, a mix of gin, St. Germaine liqueur, & lemoncello.
Framboise indeed!
Appetizers: We shared the Red Door Crab Cakes with bell peppers, Kalamata olives, sun dried tomato & sweet basil dressing, and we also split the Grilled Romaine Heart Salad, which was served with Granny Smith apple, candied walnuts, and a Roquefort vinaigrette.
Entrees: Elisabeth ordered the Braised Meyer Short Ribs with Cabernet sauce; Jen had the Lamb Meatballs with gnocchi & chimichurri sauce.

Dessert: We had the Belgian Pot de Creme and the Creme Brulee.

Elisabeth's take: The meal started very strong for me. My Framboise cocktail was sweet & tangy and looked gorgeous in the glass - right up my drink alley! I enjoyed sipping in our booth-with-a-view and really dug the cottage-cozy vibe. The crab cakes were good (great texture, nice layer of flavors), and the sweet basil sauce made them spectacular: a really flavorful mix of sweet, savory, & salt. I'm not a huge fan of bleu, crumbly, or stinky cheeses, so I scraped off most of the dressing from the salad. But grilled Romaine was a new concept for me, and I liked the smoky char on the leaves mixed with the acidic crunch of the apple. I want to try it at home. I'll just skip the Roquefort. 

My second cocktail, ordered off the menu from their more posh sister-neighbor The Wellington (did you know, you can get almost anything from The Wellington at The Red Door, but not vice versa? Hm!), was a disaster: the mix of honey and juices sounded so delectable but was a bitter (literally!) disappointment. Jen complained for me (I'm still embarrassed about those things) and the waiter graciously (I think!) switched it out for the cranberry Mojito Jen had in the first round. Much better - tangy, although the pieces of mint coming through the straw were hard to get used to.

I was thisclose to ordering a burger. Again. But the short ribs caught my attention, and I'm so happy. They were out of this world. Tender, dripping with wine-infused juices, and each bite of meat-with-cabernet-sauce-with-roasted-vegetables-with-crunchy-fried-onion-strings was a complex, texturally pleasing, savory experience.

I love dessert (duh), and this is where The Red Door lost me. Both the creme brulee & pot de creme (um, I suppose we were in the mood for creme) were okay. It was a temperature thing: the pot de creme was cold: chocolate, dish, everything, as if the staff had taken it from the fridge two seconds before serving us. Perhaps letting a couple dishes thaw first would have led to a better experience? Even the creme brulee was cold under the burnt top layer. Not the best presentation of what should have been a great final note to an otherwise terrific dinner.

The service was terrific until the final course; our server seemingly disappeared and we waited for a long time to be attended with the check, etc. So the high notes of the atmosphere, first drinks, etc. were definitely tempered by the dessert & service waning towards the end, and I like my dining adventures to be strong throughout!

Jen's take: Drinks started off great from a small, varied menu. Both of my drinks for the evening were recommended by our waiter. My mojito with a cranberry twist was tasty. Normally I don't care for cranberry but it worked with the combination of ingredients. The Lord  Darnley was delicious as well, just my kind of sour/sweet drink.

Our waiter also recommended the appetizers. For me, this was a split experience. The crab cakes were a-maze-ing. The sauce and sides that came with the dish perfectly completed the crab cakes. Each bite was delicious. The salad, on the other hand, was a huge disappointment that could have been easily fixed with the addition of a little more dressing. The first few outer bites of the lettuce were yummy, the flavors mixing well with the Roquefort and apple. But after the first few layers the remaining bites were plain wilted lettuce.

Since everything but the salad had been great up until this point we had high hopes for the main dishes. Elisabeth's short ribs were perfection and I did my best to sneak as many bites as possible. My dish, the lamb meatballs, fell short. The meatballs were tasty as well as the gnocchi but both needed something to liven them up. The chimichurri sauce that came with the dish would have done the job as it was so flavorful but there was hardly enough to cover the meatballs. Overall, the dish was a let down.

Dessert was the final straw. Our first trouble came with being unable to order the creme brulee listed on the menu, a white chocolate green tea. We ended up going with what was available, a white chocolate burnt caramel, as well as the pot de creme. Both dishes would have tasted quite good had they been room temperature. The dishes and desserts were both refrigerator cold despite the creme brulee having been torched. They tasted better as they sat while we waited for our check.

Overall I'm not planning on returning to The Red Door. While some of the dishes were superb, everything should have been good.

The verdict: Recommended for a casual, comfort-food experience. reviewers average 4 stars for The Red Door. We think a 3.
Outside the Red Door
Best Bites,
Elisabeth & Jen

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bo Beau

Our December restaurant pick: Bo Beau located in Ocean Beach, north of Point Loma.

Atmosphere: Bohemian French (with music like Weezer playing throughout. Hm.) - chalkboards everywhere, hand-stamped logos on the paper table-coverings, wooden beams-and-stuccoed cottage walls. The sink is communal & trough-like, located outside the bathrooms, in the foyer of the restaurant (which is weird, no?). The tables are close together; conversations are easily overheard (luckily they were all about food and we appreciated the input!).

What we drank: Jen got Le Bohemien made with St. Germain elderflower, rum, mint, and lime juice. Elisabeth tried Le Romantique which consisted of Belvedere black raspberry, pomegranate-rose petal nectar, champagne, and a rose petal.

Appetizers: We split the duck fat deviled eggs, Jen had the Caesar salad, and Elisabeth had one oyster on the half shell.

Entrees: Jen ordered the leek "fondue" mac n cheese with the works (pancetta and lobster) while Elisabeth had the burger royale with cheese and fries.

Dessert: We indulged in the menage a trois, which consisted of white chocolate bread pudding, bittersweet pot de creme, and  chocolate ganache with peanut butter brittle.

Elisabeth's take: By now you know I love my cocktails on the sweeter side. My Romantique was not (you'd think otherwise, with words like 'nectar' & 'raspberry' in the description, but I was disappointed). But Jen's was - so we switched (thanks, friend!). The Bohemien was a delightful combination of flavors, and anything with St. Germain usually has my vote. The duck-fat eggs were decent, but were very chilled and and lacking  a salty note to complement the kick. My oyster was delicious, but I really enjoyed the perfectly soft-boiled egg from Jen's salad plate (again, thanks for sharing!). 

Burger time: I am always a sucker for a great buger. This one was a let-down: very salty. The salt overpowered the other seasonings and for someone who loves salt, I was hard-pressed to enjoy the meat. The fries on the other hand, were perfectly textured and seasoned and I mowed through them. I just wish the burger had been better. 

When it came time for dessert, I was so excited to try the menage a trois but it fell flat: the white chocolate bread pudding was bland and the chocolate items (ganache & pot de creme) were very ordinary to me. I suppose I was expecting something as clever & off-beat is the name, but no such luck here.

Jen's take: I'd heard a lot of good things about this restaurant prior to our night out which can sometimes lead to a let down. In this case it definitely did. Overall the food was so-so, the atmosphere strange, and the service missing. 

The drinks sounded delicious and I was looking forward to my Le Bohemien. It turned out to be overly sweet for my taste. Fortunately Elisabeth and I were able to trade and enjoyed each others choices. Our first app, the deviled eggs, is one we've enjoyed at a number of restaurants and I was looking forward to them. When they arrived we puzzled out why they weren't that great: they needed to be brought to room temperature and salted. I think if those two things had been done we would have enjoyed them immensely. My salad on the other hand was delicious. I don't like to make salad at home so I often order one at a restaurant. This one was satisfying if not a bit simple.

My meal was rich, creamy, and flavorful, my favorite combinations in a meal. I was a bit nervous when it arrived as the presentation was lackluster and there was a pile of white sauce on top of the dish but after digging in I was not disappointed. I'm not sure the works (pancetta and lobster) made much of a difference in flavor as I barely noticed them; I would probably withhold them since they weren't worth the extra money. 

Prior to dinning at Bo Beau I had looked up their desserts and knew I had to convince Elisabeth to order the menage a trois. She readily agreed, especially as we had seen a table near us receive the dish when we arrived and it looked delicious. The pot de creme was good, nothing special but the rest of the dish was bland. 

The verdict: A good place for a decent meal. Not the Cohn group's best dining effort, but a go-to for interesting atmosphere and French-inspired, albeit casual, menu. reviewers average 4.5 stars for Bo Beau. We think a 3.5!

Best Bites,
Elisabeth & Jen

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Tractor Room

Our November restaurant pick: The Tractor Room, located in Hillcrest, north west of Balboa Park in San Diego.

Atmosphere: Dark and brooding with a hip, old-fashioned hunter/farmer feel. We loved the antler chandelier, the rich colors, and the long wooden family table that gave a homey feel to the meal. The cow skin chairs at the bar and thick curtains covering the door completed the look.

What we drank: Elisabeth had the Organic Margarita: Casa Noble organic silver, lime, organic agave, Cointreau, glacier ice with a grey salt rim. Jen requested the Roman Holiday but was told they were out of the ingredients so she went with the Purple Bowtie: muddled fresh lime, Matusalem rum, purple basil, clover honey.

Appetizers: We shared two, the Smoked Salmon and Rock Shrimp Cakes with Crisp Crostini and the Cornmeal Crusted Calamari with Famous Chili Mayo.

Entrees: Jen had the Venison Meatloaf, and Elisabeth ordered the Filet Mignon Skewers. For our sides (sold separately!), Elisabeth picked the Acorn Squash with Bacon Maple Farmer's Butter, while Jen chose the Smoked Wisconsin Cheddar Mac & Cheese.

Dessert: Just one this time - we were getting full! We had the chocolate cheesecake with peanut butter topping and caramel sauce.

Elisabeth's take:
The margarita was good and strong - a delicious starter, but in hindsight it didn't really jive with the food or atmosphere. I sipped Jen's Purple Bowtie and really liked the tangy sweetness of it; I would have ordered that if there had been room for a second drink!

That black skillet cornbread with the chives and honey butter? Heavenly. The appetizers we ordered pale in comparison to this complimentary starter. The calamari was disappointing; it was devoid of flavor without the spicy mayo that accompanied it. The crab cakes were okay; a little on the bland side by themselves, but if you take a bit of the potatoes with the cakes, the flavor and texture improve a bit.

The filet mignon skewers I ordered, however, redeemed the Tractor Room by leaps and bounds. The seasoning was just right, they were cooked perfectly, and I wound up thoroughly enjoying myself. And my acorn squash side was like Thanksgiving & breakfast in one: maple syrup? Yes. Tender, nutty acorn squash? Yes! Melted together with butter and bacon? Yes. It's a half-squash served in-skin, and I ate half at dinner. The other half was gobbled down the next morning. Must replicate at home!

The chocolate cheesecake was dense and delicious. I usually like my chocolate on the lighter, fluffier side, but this one was surprisingly smooth and a ice way to cap off a good dinner.

Jen's take: 
I'm not sure why but I haven't had any luck with drinks at the last few restaurants we’ve been to. At the Tractor Room we were a bit overwhelmed by the number of drinks on the menu, which I suppose isn't necessarily a bad thing. After finally settling on the Roman Holiday I was told they were out of some key ingredients. I quickly switched to the Purple Bowtie which was good but not special. The purple basil was supposed to be look like a bowtie in the presentation but sort of just floated around my drink, a bit of a disappointment all around.

Crab cakes are a favorite of mine so I was excited to try the salmon and shrimp cakes. Again, they were good though not amazing. The accompanying sauce could have made them better but was a strange horseradish flavor that didn't go with the dish. The calamari was lacking in flavor and the accompanying sauce was little more than Sriracha in a bowl. I wouldn’t order either again. The only good thing about the first half of our meal was the black skillet cornbread with honey butter. It came with our meal and was better than the appetizers we paid for!

I was a bit worried about our meal after the lackluster drinks and appetizers. But, dinner is where the food began to shine. My venison meatloaf was mouth-watering. The portion was huge and I knew I would be bringing some home but each time I stopped I kept coming back for more. This dish is what all the hype is about. It was flavorful, complex, a meal in itself. Usually the hubby gets my leftovers but this one I kept for me. I was a bit put off by having to order and pay for separate sides but both were delicious. The acorn squash Elisabeth got was surprisingly good considering I don’t care much for acorn squash and the mac and cheese was everything you want in a gourmet mac and cheese.

Dessert was delicious if rich. A perfect dish to share, the chocolate cheesecake was complex and the toppings added to the overall flavor.

The verdict: For the price everything should have been amazing. The main dishes and sides were but the rest of our meal was lacking. We won't be heading back soon but maybe would return with friends. reviewers average 4 stars for The Tractor Room. We think a 3.5!

Best Bites,
Elisabeth & Jen

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Full Disclosure Policy

As per the FTC guidelines, here it is...

Rare Bites is a personal blog written and edited by us. We don't accept any form of advertising, sponsorship, or paid insertions. We write this blog because we want to share our experiences for those of you that have limited nights out also. Our opinions are ours!

We don't make any money doing this, although wouldn't that be great. We bet our husbands wish we did considering how much time and money we spend on it.

We've never been compensated. This blog is a personal blog written and edited by us. This blog does not accept any form of advertising, sponsorship, or paid insertions. We write for our own purposes. However, we may be influenced by our background, occupation, religion, political affiliation or experience.

We've never received any form of compensation for anything we've posted on Rare Bites. Of course we love receiving free things, which is why we enter so many giveaways. If we were offered something that we truly loved and wanted to share we would disclose that first thing but we will never be influenced by any form of compensation.

Can we have a conflict of interest if our only job is a stay at home mom? Needless to say there are no conflicts of interest with this blog.

If you'd like to share what we do here please use a picture and link back to our site. Please don't copy and paste full posts or more than one picture without our prior permission.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant

Our October restaurant pick: Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant, located in Bankers Hill, just north of downtown San Diego and west of Balboa Park.

Atmosphere: Barn-meets-garden-meets-glass warehouse. We loved the succulent plant "art" on the wall, which the host told us was grown in the owner's backyard before transferred to the restaurant's patio area. There were a few light fixtures made of wine glasses and glass bottles which intrigued us, and the high-beamed ceilings inside added a rustic touch.

What we drank: Elisabeth had the Rum Ramos martini: rum, lemon, egg whites, sugar, and orange cream soda. Jen had the #5 (gin, lime, St. Germaine, cucumber & basil), followed by the grapefruit martini: grapefuit vodka, lemon, and sciracha.

Appetizers: We split the Deviled Farmer's Market Eggs and the Braised Bacon-Green Apple Salad.

Entrees: Jen had the Crispy BBQ Braised Pork Tacos, and Elisabeth ordered the BH Burger with Truffle Fries.

Dessert: We split the Butterscotch Pudding and Chocolate Cake.

Elisabeth's take: Apparently there's a new trend in cocktails: adding egg whites. Though it originally gave me the shivers to even think about it, it's yummy. It gave my drink the perfect touch of creaminess. None of the ingredients was overpowering, and although I love a sugary drink, it wasn't overpoweringly sweet. So delicious, I had two! Impressive. The deviled eggs were amazing. Little capers everywhere... the texture and taste were such a creamy and wonderful combination I could have happily ordered a few more and had them suffice for my dinner. And the chips that came with them were the size of our heads. The bacon and apple salad was great too, but a bit salty... maybe influenced overmuch by the bacon? Hard to tell, as the bacon sat off to the side and was superb in its own right. I liked the crunch of the apple salad (and more of a slaw, I thought), but the salt needed something else to tone it down...

My go-to at a new place is almost always their burger. I can't resist a good burger, and this one didn't let me down. It was moist and the heirloom tomatoes atop added an elegance I appreciated. The truffle fries were the perfect side: salty but with a depth of flavor from the truffle that was unexpected and really enjoyable.

The butterscotch pudding, much-hyped, was great! A good balance of cream and sweet. The top was almost like a creme brulee, but underneath was very special. I liked the chocolate cake, too; it was denser than I usually enjoy and the chocolate-covered pretzel sticks on top weren't much to note. But what really stood out was the accompanying banana-caramel ice cream. I could have had much more of that deliciousness and been so happy!

Jen's take: I normally love a drink that includes gin but The #5 was a disappointment. It lacked flavor and, for the first time ever, I returned a drink to the bar. But my replacement, The Grapefruit Martini recommended by our server, made up where the previous drink failed. The Absolut and lemon brought a nice sour note that was oddly complemented by the Sriracha. In fact, all of our server's recommendations that night turned out delicious. Second on his list were the deviled eggs with housemade potato chips. I was having trouble imagining how to make deviled eggs fancy but BHBR did an excellent job. They were creamy and flavorful and the capers added a nice element. The housemade potato chips I could take or leave but that may have more to do with my general dislike of chips than the quality of the ones we received. I also loved the bacon and apple salad even with the salty overtones. All the flavors and textures combined nicely on the tongue. If we return I would order it again.

For dinner I was vacillating between the Spice Rubbed Idaho Trout and the Crispy BBQ Braised Pork tacos and again our server came through. Although I imagine both items are superb and will probably order the trout should we return the tacos ended up being an amazing choice. There wasn’t much to them, mostly meat, but the flavors were enough all on their own. A nice added touch was a side of pineapple in mint cherry vinaigrette. I could have eaten a large bowlful of these and highly recommended asking for a few if you eat there.

Dessert was the oddest part of the night. As a chocolate fan I insisted on the chocolate cake figuring the sweet salty combination would be a certain win. I wouldn’t have given the butterscotch pudding a second thought if not for the recommendation of a friend and our server who had already proven his worth. The cake was a disappointment, too salty (seeing a theme here), lacking in flavor, and dry. Unsurprisingly I didn’t care for the ice cream as I don’t like banana flavoring. The butterscotch pudding, however, was all that the hype made it to be. Smooth and creamy, deliciously flavored, I would definitely order it again.

The verdict: In spite of the saltiness of some dishes Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant is a great place. The food was delicious, the atmosphere just hip enough, and the service superb. Not only would we recommend this restaurant, but we also hope to return very soon. reviewers average 4 stars for Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant. We think a 5!

Best Bites,
Elisabeth & Jen

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rare Can Be Well Done

Greetings! This is us in 2003. Fast friends in grad school and frequenters of the best coffee shops in San Diego as we munched on the most delicious muffins and made our way towards our Masters' degrees.

Fast forward a few years, and we both find ourselves married, mothers, and immersed in all things family. It's tough to find time to maintain our friendship! Years ago, we made a commitment to each other to meet monthly for a meal out. We sample the trendiest, newest, or simply yummiest restaurants we can think of, and bond over cocktails and cuisine.

San Diego has a lot to offer us, and we have enjoyed our monthly nights out so much that we wanted to share a "bite" of it with you. So here's to the best we've found for a rare night out. Bon appetit!

Elisabeth & Jen