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The Main Dish for June 2011

Memorable Dishes

Mexican Mocha at Zumbar
Zumbar Coffee & Tea’s nondescript location, inside a Sorrento Valley mini mall, is a little hard to find but oh boy, once you taste their coffee, the search will be worth it. Their skilled baristas will pull you a near-perfect shot of espresso or, if you’re more into straight coffee, they do a fine French press or cold brewed version. Of their eight house roasts, my favorite is the Red Sea, a buttery blend of dry roasted coffee beans from Ethiopia and Yemen. If you want to get fancy, try their Mexican Mocha, barely-sweetened and spiked with warming cayenne and cinnamon. Plus, there’s free wifi and treats from V.G. Donut & Bakery in Cardiff. 10920 Roselle St, Suite 106

Sesame Pancake at Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot
The main attraction at this Chinese eatery is the hot pot, cauldrons of bubbling soup— either mild or spicy with chilies—in which you cook your own dinner, from sliced meat to seafood, veggies and noodles. But the side dishes here are just as good—especially the sesame pancake, which isn’t really a pancake but a dome of homemade bread, encrusted with sesame seeds that toast up as the bread bakes. It arrives at your table fresh and piping hot, with a crispy crust and fluffy, steaming interior. The bread is savory enough to enjoy on its own, but is also great for dipping into a bowl of flavorful hot pot broth. 4718 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.

Duroc Pork Chop at The Smoking Goat
This cozy North Park bistro’s seasonally-changing menu is always peppered with tasty bites, including an excellent burger on brioche served with truffle-kissed duck fat fries, but it’s the currently-featured pork dish that tastes like it’s got the most soul. A hefty bone-in Duroc pork chop, brined until juicy and tender, is deftly seared until just-done-enough (don’t be scared, pork can be pink!) and accompanied by creamy cheddar-jalapeno grits and tender Southern greens, tangy with vinegar. A rich pan sauce, with intense porky flavor, ties everything together. 3408 30th St. 

Torte Lion Belge at Michele Coulon Dessertier
This acclaimed pastry chef, whose family ran the legendary Belgian Lion restaurant in Ocean Beach for 25 years, makes cakes and desserts in the fine European tradition of using only the best ingredients—real butter, Belgian chocolate and the freshest local and organic produce. Her Gateau Aileen, a hot milk spongecake filled with buttercream and fresh berries, is a signature of the bakery but it’s Torte Lion Belge, a tribute to the chef’s Belgian roots, that tops my list. Though its layers—chocolate cake, crunchy chocolate meringue, chocolate mousse and chocolate cream—may sound like chocolate overload, the confection is surprisingly light and not too sweet; it’s chocolate perfection. 7556 Fay Ave Suite D.  

Q & A with Andrew Spurgin


photo by martini media

Candice Woo: You’ve recently stepped away from your role as Executive Chef at Waters Catering to form your own catering firm, called Campine, with Antonio Friscia of Stingaree and Searsucker’s Brian Malarkey. How will it be similar, or different, from what you were doing at Waters? 

Andrew Spurgin: Waters has an amazing reputation not just in our community, but nationally—something we all worked extremely hard to accomplish. When it comes to similarities, expect superlative service and great food.

The collective talents of Antonio and Brian allow our trifecta to create on a completely different culinary level, since all of our cooking styles are so different. When we get together and bounce ideas off each other—aside from being just plain fun—the sky IS the limit, so expect the unexpected!

I believe catering in San Diego has flatlined, or perhaps just accepts the status quo as good enough. It’s time for a quantum leap, something new, different, exciting and alive! Catering and events, simply put, are theatre! To produce good theatre, you need a firm that can push the envelope, has the right cast of characters, can think laterally, listen to their client and create magic and memories for a lifetime—THAT is good theatre. No other firm in town has the incredible resources that Campine does—resources that allow us to bring a unique entertainment experience to our clients’ table. 

CW: Will all three of you be participating in the day-to-day operations of Campine?  

AS: Although I will direct Campine, it’s a partnership, so Antonio, Brian and myself will work in concert. Our offices will be on Fifth Avenue, across from Searsucker, a block away from Stingaree. Working downtown is entertaining, inspiring, convivial and boisterous! 

I chose the name Campine for a reason. The Campine is a heritage breed of chicken thought to date back to the time of Julius Caesar. An intelligent bird with beautiful plumage, it was almost wiped out after WWII. Unless we support heritage breeds like this, we will lose them. The providence of food is of paramount importance to Campine—all our sourcing will be sound in nature. While words like regional, seasonal, local, sustainable and farm-to-table have been somewhat over-used, certainly we will be embracing them. I prefer “cuisine of sound husbandry reflecting culinary responsibility.” 

CW: You’re the co-founder of the Cooks Confab —a group of local farm-to-table chefs—what was the genesis of the collaboration and what do you think makes it unique to San Diego? 

AS: I’ve said this before, but we really just started out as a drinking club with a cooking problem, and from there metamorphosed into today’s Confab. We started meeting up to cook up a good nosh in one another’s restaurants. We picked different themes like Pig!, Meat!, Raw!, Birds!, Egg!, Cheese!, Fish! and so on… People liked what we were doing. It grew, it was fun, we were having fun, and the guests were having fun! 

My wife Heidi thought up the name and designed a cool logo. Before I knew it, we had a small web site too…and suddenly, we had people asking, “What’s next?” 

We realized this: what we had been doing for ourselves was something San Diego also wanted…a good time and a little knowledge thrown in for good measure! Now, we partner with the local convivium of Slow Food Urban San Diego, and together we work to create a sound community educational outreach. Take the recent School Lunch! Confab event in April. We had over 300 people attend; they learned about the tragic state of affairs that has been school lunch for our children, and what San Diego, and the country, is doing to change for the better. The guests listened to a panel discussion between a wide variety of respected stakeholders, and then each Confab member prepared their own riffs on school lunch. People walked away with a stomach full of good tucker, and empowered with a little knowledge that hopefully will help affect change. 

CW: Will you continue to organize dinners with other members of the Cooks Confab? What are some events you have in mind for this year? 

AS: We will do Fish! in August at KITCHEN 1540 with Chef Paul McCabe. Hopefully we will also pull in—as we did last year—local restaurants to support us for the week leading up to the event by featuring sustainable seafood as stand-alone plates or a prix fixe menu. So San Diego chefs and restaurateurs, if you’re reading this and want in, please get in touch with me via Cooks Confab. 

I think we’re going to take a stab at Camp Confab! again this year too. That was such a blast last year! It was a day of culinary education, from a cheese class with Venissimo, a beer class from Lost Abbey, a coffee class from The West Bean and Suzie’s Farm did a wonderful farm tour. MIHO Gastrotruck pulled into the field and fed lunch to the guests, then everyone got to enjoy an amazing dinner featuring the day’s harvest from the Confab chefs, plus Snake Oil Cocktail Co.’s celebrated mixology and—wait for it—we all camped out in tents! Everyone woke to a ringing triangle and Confab breakfast for all! Sorry, Outstanding in the Field, San Diego’s got it all over you! 

CW: I know that sustainable seafood is one of your big passions; what’s some of your favorite sustainable seafood—including local varieties—that more people should be eating? 

AS: Local: Sardines, Urchins, Spot Prawns, White Seabass, jig/pole-caught Albacore, Skipjack and Bigeye Tuna, Octopus, Black Cod, Lobster. I personally don’t eat these, but there’s also local Thresher Shark and local Swordfish. 

From Baja: Diver Scallops, hand-lined fish, White Mackerel, MSC-certified Baja Lobster and more. 

San Diego fishermen are rock stars and need a break; they are the most compliant in the world and the true stewards of our oceans.

Food Events

Beer Hall at The Lodge at Torrey Pines

San Diego’s 3rd Annual Beer Week is scheduled for November 4-13, but you can begin celebrating our beer town early, starting on Friday June 10 at The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ Beer Hall event, which kicks off Beer Week’s Preview Weekend, set for June 11-13. From 7 to 9 p.m. at The Lodge, eight chefs will create dishes to pair with beer from eight local breweries. Beer drinkers, mark your calendars for Friday, June 10. Tickets are $65 and a portion of the proceeds will go to support the San Diego Brewers Guild. See the San Diego Beer Week website (http://sdbw.org/sdbwend/) for tickets to Beer Hall and info on other Preview Weekend events.

Harvest for Hope at Stingaree

The Gaslamp’s Stingaree will host the 8th Annual Harvest for Hope benefit on Sunday, June 12 from 3 to 6 p.m. The event supports The Emilio Nares Foundation, which provides aid and financial assistance to families with children who are being treated for cancer. Wine, beer and food from participating restaurants—including 1500 Ocean, Cafe Chloe, Jsix and more will be featured, along with a silent auction and a special music performance by A.J. Croce. Tickets for the fundraiser are $125 and can be purchased at www.enfhope.org.

Beer and Sake Festival

The San Diego Marriott Del Mar hosts the 9th Annual Beer and Sake Festival, presented by the Japan Society of San Diego and Tijuana. On Thursday, June 23 from 6 to 9 p.m., sample sushi and appetizers from Sea Rocket Bistro, Shimbashi Izakaya, The Marine Room, Alchemy, Searsucker, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens and more, plus taste your way through over 100 kinds of sake and beer, including both Japanese and local craft brew. Admission is $60 and includes all food, drink and entertainment. (http://2011beerandsakefestival.eventbrite.com/) 

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