The Main Dish
Bo Kho at Pho Lucky
This bustling eatery adjoins Lucky Seafood Market in Mira Mesa and is most known for their pho, a Vietnamese rice noodle soup made with a long-simmered beef broth, but it’s a dish called Bo Kho that’s become a more insistent craving. This curry-like stew, flavored with fragrant star anise and lemongrass, is just spicy enough to warm you thoroughly. It contains tender hunks of beef shank and beef tendon that melt at the touch of your chopsticks. Traditionally served around breakfast time with a French-style baguette for dipping into the stew’s rich juices, it can also go over rice noodles for a heartier lunch and dinner. I like it either way, any time of day. 9326 Mira Mesa Blvd.
French Macarons at Big Joy Family Bakery & Cafe
Besides the free wifi and the best-made latte in Kearny Mesa, this family-run shop makes almost every kind of baked good your heart desires, from cookies to pastries, artisan breads and a painterly special occasion cakes that taste as good as they look. I’m a fan of green tea custard cake, which layers light-as-air sponge with green tea-flavored cream. Their latest creations, colorful big button-sized sandwich cookies of airy ameringue, filled with chocolate ganache or smooth buttercream come in flavors like coffee, chocolate, strawberry, pistachio and blueberry and are Big Joy’s version of French macarons. They may not transport you to famed macaron parlors of Paris, but they’ll take you someplace sweet. 4176 Convoy St.
Kentucky Colonel at Starlite
There are a lot of good things to drink (and eat) at India Street’s Starlite, and if you, like me, are more a fan of dark spirits, you’d be smart to order the almost too easy-drinking Kentucky Colonel, a blend of Buffalo Trace bourbon flavored with fresh lemon, house-made cherry vanilla bitters and a topped with a float of bracing ginger beer. It’s $1 off during the restaurant’s Monday through Saturday, 5 to 7 p.m., happy hour and though the Colonel not quite as popular as Starlite’s signature cocktail, a lighter version of the drink made with vodka called the Starlite Mule, I think it’s better, and you still get the pleasure of sipping something out of that gleaming, frosty-to-the-touch copper mug. 3175 India St.
Gnocco Fritto at Bencotto Italian Kitchen
Though they are nothing more than fried dough, they are the ultimate in fried dough. A specialty from the Emilia–Romagna region in Italy, these square clouds of fried yeast dough are best when split in half and their steam-puffed hollows filled with salty salumi or slices of proscuitto; Bencotto offers two versions of the dry-cured ham, including proscuitto San Daniele, a satin-textured, sweet proscuitto, thought to be some of the best-tasting in the world. But they’re good just as-is too, snacked on like a savory donuts and washed down with a glass of prosecco. 750 W Fir St.
Photo by Martini Media
Lucila De Alejandro, co-owner of Suzie's Farm
Candice Woo: Suzie’s Farm is near Imperial Beach, a short drive from downtown San Diego. Has your urban location made it easier to establish and build relationships with local chefs and restaurants?
Lucila De Alejandro: Chefs, like most of us, are busy people. One of their biggest challenges is that they work long and late. Being able to hop on the I-5 and, for many of them, arrive at the farm in 15 minutes is a boon. They get out of the hot kitchen and get into the wide open fields. They get to walk and see and taste the raw ingredients in their natural state; the farm speaks for itself, and the chefs are quick to listen.
CW: How big is your farm? How many different kinds of produce do you grow? Do you have plans to expand the acreage and crop varieties?
L: Our farm is 70 certified-organic acres. It’s easier to tell you what we don’t grow – rhubarb, artichokes, burdock, horseradish, asparagus, sweet potatoes and yams. We are a polyculture farm which means that we grow many varieties of each commodity. At this time we don’t plan on expanding acreage – we plan on getting more efficient and better at what we do within those 70 acres. We have ordered the hops and they are ready for a May planting. And we hope to grow a few rows of tobacco for use as a sacred and medicinal herb.
CW: Your farm is active on Twitter and Facebook and has a dynamic website and blog. Is it important, and imperative, that farms use social media and maintain an internet presence?
L: I believe there is no way Suzie’s Farm could have grown as fast as it did without the social media component. It is the easiest and least expensive way to spread the news and you are in charge of your image. You are in charge of the story and how you want to convey it.
CW: Is it important and imperative that farms add new media to their business model?
It depends on the farmer, the farm and the desired outcome. For Suzie’s Farm, knowing that we were urban and could easily reach our community was important to us. We wanted – and continue - to share our farm with our community. The only way to do that is to spread the word – which we did. But conjuring up a Facebook page or starting a blog isn’t the thing that drives people to your business; figuring out what your customers want and how they want it is. That customer satisfaction, that connection is what gets people talking and gets other people listening. THAT’S what you want. Twitter, the website and Facebook are just other ways to “speak” with people and to let other people speak for you.
CW: What are some other ways in which your farm works to create community with local eaters and food shoppers?
L: Farming is a communal effort. Everyone NEEDS to eat. Farmers can’t exist without community and vice versa. So we think of the farm as an extension of that. Being on the farm is healing and restorative. We offer a variety of opportunities so that people can have that experience. Of course we do farm tours but we also offer things like special CSA shareholder dinners and events at places like Blanca and El Take It Easy. In these pairings, the chef works to prepare a menu that features Suzie’s Farm products.
Also, during high harvest times we welcome our community for You-Pick events. Most popular are strawberry and pumpkin picking. And we are excited about our newest offering – Weed Dating! Like speed dating, but you come to the farm and weed next to the possible new love of your life! Or at the very least, come down to the farm, breathe some fresh air, and enjoy an afternoon out.
CW: Have you noticed any trends in what chefs are buying or requesting that you plant? Are there any vegetables that are due to have their moment? Become this year’s Brussels sprouts?
L: So far, this year, we are most excited to bring the Shishito peppers to the people. Robin, my husband, has been talking them up: Shishito he murmurs in his sleep. Get ready for them. And our Padron peppers will likely be popular again.
We often grow something that looked fun, different or delicious based on the seed catalogue photo or description. Playing with our food, we call it. Then, we introduce that something new to our community. At first we get a lot of emails, calls, and Facebook posts saying, “What the heck is this and what the heck do I do with it?!” So we introduce some ideas and recipes. People offer support – either in the farmer’s market stall or online - and before you know it, the Suzie’s Farm community has a new favorite.
CW: You and your husband run the farm...do you wholeheartedly recommend the profession? Do you see farming becoming a more popular option for younger people?
L: Hoo boy! Do I ever recommend the profession! It is my belief that future farms will get smaller and smaller as more people turn to this lifestyle. Managing 70 acres is a LOT. Five acres is infinitely easier. By managing five acres, one can more easily acquire land. One’s overhead is less. One can actually do the work one loves to do, which is get dirty, feel wonder, marvel at nature and feed people. It is hard work – nothing is harder – but deeply satisfying.
CW: As a vegan, what are some of your favorite vegan-friendly restaurants in San Diego?
L: When going out with the family, we love Blind Lady Ale House. Kid-friendly, not too pricey, a wide selection of interesting beer and wine, and the food is creative but not over-thought or over-wrought. Their ingredients are fresh and they often have a vegan dessert on the menu that isn’t sorbet.
For special occasions, my biggest indulgence is the Chef’s Mercy at Jsix. I order ahead, knowing that a work of art will be created for me, with care and precision. Jsix is serene and elegant; two things this farmer girl needs more of in her life!
Screening of “The Greenhorns” & Farm Dinner
This month’s Main Dish interviewee, Lucila De Alejandro, joins a panel that includes Jay Porter of The Linkery for a discussion on sustainable agriculture and a screening of “The Greenhorns” documentary, which aims to recruit and support the new generation of young farmers. Held on Tuesday, April 19 at The Loft @ UCSD, admission is just $8 for the panel discussion and film screening. A $30 ticket includes a reserved seat for the panel and film, plus a beverage and a multi-course, small plate meal featuring Suzie’s Farm produce, prepared by Zanzibar at The Loft. For more info and to buy tickets, http://www.artpwr.com/events/766
Beer Tasting Benefit for Japan
Blind Lady Ale House is hosting a fundraiser on Monday, April 25, from 6 to 11 p.m. and all proceeds from the $35 event will go towards the International Rescue Committee’s fund for relief efforts in Japan. The beer tasting will include two flights of beers that have been donated by local breweries including Green Flash, AleSmith, Mission, Lost Abbey, Stone and more. It will also mark the debut of Blind Lady’s brewmaster, Lee Chase’s newest release from his Automatic Brewing Co., called Quartz Japan IPA, brewed in collaboration with Cy Henley of Alpine Brewing Company. Food from Cafe 21 and other local restaurants will be offered, as well as some great raffle prizes. Buy tickets here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/171288
Dining Out for Life
Support the San Diego LGBT Community Center by dining out at your favorite restaurant on Thursday, April 28. More than 100 local restaurants are donating at least 25% of the entire day’s sales to the community center, including the Hillcrest and Kensington locations of Burger Lounge, Pizzeria Bruno Napoletano, Alchemy, Cowboy Star and Ritual Tavern. In addition, particiating San Diego food trucks will gather in The Center’s parking lot (3909 Centre St.) from 5 to 9 p.m. Among the mobile eateries will be MIHO Gastrotruck, Two for the Road, KalbiQ and Corner Cupcakes. Visit www.DiningOutForLife.com/sandiego for the entire list.