Monday, December 31, 2012

Iowa v Texas Through My Camera

Juat a few days before the first game, we learned that the University of Iowa's women's basketball team would be playing the University of Texas in the “Maggie Dixon” Surf ‘N Slam Classic at the University of San Diego.

So with the opportunity to see my first college women's basketball game and to photograph some of the action, I headed to the Jenny Craig Pavillion on the campus for the game.

The crowd was very small, so I was able to move around the arena to take photos from different angles.

Texas was ranked 20th in the country coming in to the tournament, so I was expecting a very competitive game.

I missed a good portion of the action, because I was watching only small sections of the court through the camera's viewfinder.

So, submitted for your viewing pleasure are some photos of the game action--without identifying the players or elaborating on the course of the game.

Final Score: Iowa 86 Texas 63


Sunday, December 30, 2012

How Many Restaurants...

can fit into one block-long strip mall?

This is easier to answer than the age old question “How many angels can dance (or sit) on the head of a pin.” The shopping center (name unknown) at 10450 Friars Road houses at least twelve. What has brought us here is Gaglione Brothers, home of the best Philly Cheesesteak outside of Philadelphia and which just might best many in a blind taste test. But you can also eat at Troy's Authentic Greek, Ra Ka de Ka Thai, San Diego Brewing Co., Einstein’s Bagels, Carl’s Jr. (burgers), Rubio’s (fish tacos), Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Fiji Yogurt, Jump Tokyo, and the subject of today’s blog—Pho Saigon Star.

I spotted this place when leaving Gagliones one day and thought that it might be new. Au contraire. It has been open for about six years. In the past I had only one focus—cheesesteaks—and never bothered to notice anything else.
But I went home and did a quick “Google” search and found numerous reviews like this one posted by Sophia W. on “This place is a hidden gem!!! So yummy! I loved the way it was set up. I honestly was not expecting such an awesome atmosphere in this part of town. The service was prompt and friendly…. The prices were reasonable…. They also have a cute deli bar in the back…”

The interior is divided by bamboo into two sections. One section had what Sophia W. described as the deli bar, and which I thought was the “to go” pick-up station; and above the bar were chalkboards listing the available beers and wines.
On one wall hung a large “mosaic” (I don’t know how else to describe it) made with smoothed pebbles.

Most of the on-line reviewers raved about the pho and bun, but I have learned that I am fonder of Asian noodle dishes than is Chuck. So we decided to order two appetizers and share one entrée—if we could find one on which we could agree.

Our first appetizer was the Crispy Wontons stuffed with a mixture of ground pork, chicken, and shrimp and accompanied by a sweet chile dipping sauce.
Were these authentic Vietnamese? I don’t know. All I know is that they were delicious and would have made a great cocktail party appetizer.

And whenever we see calamari on a menu we feel compelled to order it, so the Salt & Pepper Calamari became our second appetizer choice. This was similar to the preparation served at the Red Lotus in Santee (CA) with one major difference. Instead of the thinly sliced jalapeno peppers used at Red Lotus, Saigon Star’s included browned garlic bits.

If you, like me, have ever turned your back on garlic browning in olive oil only to find that it has turned into a nasty pan of bitter dark bits, then you know how hard it is to achieve the toasty crunchy effect that they accomplished here. While I still prefer Red Lotus’ version with the hot peppers, I do have to give Saigon Star props for a very tasty dish.

Now we have to agree to an entrée. Chuck didn’t want a noodle dish. I didn’t want a rice dish. Finally we agreed on the Sizzling Fish Fillet Skillet—not entirely knowing what we were going to get.

What we got was an adventure.

The dish came in three parts. Part Number One was a sizzling skillet of lightly battered and flakey fish fillets with onions and scallions. Think of this as a Vietnamese fish fajita.

The second part was a platter of condiments—lettuce, mint, vermicelli noodles, sesame crackers, peanuts, pickled carrots and daikon, and a garlic vinegar shrimp sauce.

And third was a container of warm water and six dry rice paper wrappers.

First, you dip a wrapper into the water (notice the half circle shape of the water holder) until the wrapper is pliable, but not soaking wet.

Then you begin piling on the components. Maybe some lettuce. Maybe some noodles.

Maybe some daikon and carrot and peanut.

Finally, the beautiful fish with some onion.

And then you wrap all this into a neat and tidy bundle. What? You don’t see a neat and tidy bundle? Well, neither did we. You have never seen two people more inept in rolling these wrappers. I am sure that all of the Asian diners (of which there were quite a few that day) were looking at us and snickering as the ingredients came cascading out the ends of our rolls.

Go ahead and laugh. Even though our rolls were far from perfect in form they were perfect in flavor and texture.

In addition to the many online reviewers praising Saigon Star’s food, many also faulted the service, which they deemed inattentive at best and rude at worst. We found that our experience was more like the former. Trying to get our servers attention to get a refill on water proved to be a challenge and reduced what would have been a 5.0 Addie rating to a 4.5 one.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Big Bay Balloon Parade

San Diego's Big Bay Balloon Parade, held in conjunction with the Holiday Bowl, was billed as "America’s Largest Balloon Parade." With that claim in mind, I headed down to see what the preparations for such a parade were like. Because the activity Life in the staging area can be chaotic, but it's interesting to see how it all comes together in the best of parades that just deal with people. Now add large balloons and a good wind and a whole new dimension is added.

To begin with, a 5K run had been scheduled before the parade, and I met a couple of the participants near the staging area.
(I still find it pretty amazing how close San Diego's downtown is to the approach pattern to Lindbergh Field.)
As I watched the balloons leave the staging area, I wondered if the billing for the parade should have been "America's Largest (Number of) Balloons."
The Balloon Platoon from Pleasanton, CA, was one of the earliest entries in the parade. After photographing them from a spot about five deep in the group of spectators, I decided to move around a one block area taking photos from different angles. I moved away from the photos of the balloons, bands, and groups and focused on individuals and details of the parade.

UCLA and Baylor played in the Holiday Bowl game, and the UCLA cheerleading squad provided a few acrobatic lifts and flips for the crowd before they took their position in the parade.

Without music, photos of bands miss a great deal, so I focus on the individual members and the instruments of the bands that participated.

Here is a member of the Salvation Army Band,

a member of the Pottsgrove High School Band from Pottstown, PA,
a member of the UCLA Band, and
a member of the Gehlan Catholic School Band from LeMars, IA.
When I saw this row of marching tubas, I was so focused on the instruments that I failed to note the name of the band or its hometown.

When I saw the Wienerschnitzel balloon in the staging area, I thought this was one worried wiener.

The reason for the wiener's "concern" was apparent as noontime approached.

Around that time the wind began to pick up.

To reduce the risk of the balloon being tossed around, the guides kept the balloon near the ground--thus incurring the possibility of a scraped nose for the wiener.

Woody, too, was carried along in this contorted position to prevent his flying away.
But Shamu was tossed around and appeared to be squashing one of the guides.

Even this tall ship in the bay seemed to be having some trouble with the wind.

The high-wheel or penny farthing bicycle drew a lot of attention,

as did this young dancer.

I don't know if the parade organizers saved this final balloon for the last spot, but this was definitely my favorite--Mr. Potato Head.

Friday, December 28, 2012

“A Little Slice of Italy…

is the best way to describe the service and dishes you will be presented with at San Diego’s…Buon Appetito. And…it is absolutely true. Located in the ‘Little Italy’ area of San Diego, Buon Appetito charms you the second you stroll under its awning and slip through its doors.

“The restaurant is quaint and unassuming; an intimate venue that showcases the simplicity and sophistication of what a local favorite can offer. The tables are close to each other both inside the small room and outside on the patio, creating a café appeal, reminiscent of a European street corner.

"A wood laden bar sits off to one side, ready to stir you up a pleasant cocktail or pour you a glass of Chianti. Surrounding you are rows and rows of bottles of wine in wood cased shelves and holders” (Kevin Leap and Steve Persitza at

“Buon Appetito brings food, wine, and art together…Buon Appetito has an upscale Euro look outside with its wheat-colored walls, navy awnings, and wrought ironwork. More like a crowded café inside, the restaurant’s bright space is also an art gallery with monthly-changing exhibits” (

On the day of our visit, the walls were hung with the works of San Diego self-taught artist Gina Palmerin, who describes her works as: “Each painting is a window view into a different time and place where the future meets the past capturing the imagination…” ( The painting depicting a golfer atop a roof is entitled “The Gold Club.”

The other is "Albatross." While I know nothing about art history, to me these works were evocative of the art deco period.

As soon as we were seated, a basket of wonderful house-baked bread was placed on the table along with a small dish of room temperature marinara that tasted of basil, garlic, and a moderate amount of red chile flake. And, since we were dining so civilly (for a change), we decided to start with wine to accompany the bread. For Chuck it was the house red.

I chose one of the lunch wine specials—Nero di Troia di Colle Petrito. “Colle Petrito is a cooperative of wineries in the Apulia region of Southern Italy…. For years, Colle Petrito concentrated on growing white grapes…but recently it has been paying great attention to the production of Nero di Troia, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Primitivo, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon” (

Before ordering, Chuck and I debated whether to share an appetizer—especially the carpaccio of the day with thin sliced beef and arugula—or a dessert. So I asked our server whether the dessert menu would have something that I couldn’t resist. After he produced said menu, the decision was made. Goodbye carpaccio. On to the main course.

I narrowed my choice to two—Fettuccini alla Montanara with wild mushrooms sautéed in a brandy sauce with English peas or Linguini allo Scoglio with fresh clams, mussels, bay scallops, and shrimp. My love of wild mushrooms ruled. This was a wonderful dish of pasta. The fettuccini was perfectly al dente. There were enough earthy and woodsy mushrooms to satisfy any mushroom lover. And the sauce contained just a hint of the slightly sweet and slightly smoky taste of good brandy.

Before discussing Chuck’s dish, I need to make something clear. I am no expert on food. What I know comes from years watching the Food Network, Cooking Channel, Saturday afternoon programming on PBS, and Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel. But I am a woman of strong opinions and, to me, Chuck’s dish didn’t quite work.

He chose Capellini alla Checca. Checca sauce is made with fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and mozzarella and “is actually one of the most popular summer recipes in Italy…. There is no explanation of why it's called ‘pasta della checca’ (translated as ‘Queer's pasta’). Still this dish, typical for Rome cuisine, is well known and loved by many” (

And the sauce was delicious, although made with larger chunks of tomato than we expected. But I think that capellina was the wrong choice of pasta. The pasta was just too thin to carry the weight of the large tomato chunks. But the sauce would have been wonderful with a hardier pasta—penne, for example.

So what was the dessert that made us pass on the carpaccio? The chocolate and hazelnut gelato tartufo. “Tartufo (tahr-too-foh) is an Italian ice-cream dessert…usually composed of two or more flavors of ice cream, often with either fruit syrup or frozen fruit…in the center” ( Here a pocket of chocolate syrup replaced the fruit, and the tartufo and plate were dusted with powdered chocolate and drizzled with chocolate syrup. Delicious.

If not for the capellini, this would have been a 5.0 Addie lunch. Buon Appetito has everything. Great service. Great atmosphere. And very good—but not great food. I suspect that had Chuck ordered a different pasta dish, 5.0 Addies would have been awarded. Instead, the restaurant only earns 4.0 Addies.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.