Thursday, December 13, 2012

One of the Great Things…

about every stay in San Diego is spending time with Chuck’s cousin Karen Allsing and her husband Dick. Somehow food is always part of the equation.

Soon after our arrival, we met up at Casa de Pico, a restaurant to which they introduced us on our very first visit and one that has become a “must eat” on subsequent visits.

“By reputation, San Diego has some of the country's best Mexican restaurants, with authentic recipes and ingredients. One of the finest is Casa de Pico, in La Mesa.

“For most of its history, Casa de Pico was one of Old Town's premiere restaurants in Bazaar del Mundo. But Diane Powers, the founder and developer of this major tourist attraction, lost her lease in a pitched battle with an eastern corporation. She may have been down, but she was not out! She exhausted all of her legal remedies. So, she did the next best thing. She regrouped, retrenched and rebuilt.

“Powers established the new Casa De Pico—named after an early governor of California—in La Mesa, bordering East County with its large Hispanic population.… With exquisite attention to detail, the new restaurant recreates the feel of elegant Mexican dining, whether on the roomy outdoor patios or in the beautifully decorated interior” (David Rottenberg at Case de Pico has been named one of the 50 Best Mexican Restaurants in the U.S. by Hispanic Magazine.

We have always eaten in one of the indoor and beautifully decorated dining rooms but the weather that day was almost perfect. Actually, it was perfect. And a great day to eat outdoors under one of the patios colorful umbrellas.

We hadn’t seen each other since meeting in New Orleans last December, so conversation took preference over my usual note-taking. But, as best as I can remember, both Dick and Karen ordered from what is titled the “Healthy Dining” section of the menu.

For Dick it would be the Fiesta Fajitas, a delicious and colorful mélange of vegetables sautéed with achiote sauce. The fajitas came with soft tortillas, black beans, and rice.

Karen ordered the Enchiladas Verdes de Pollo or seasoned chicken in two corn tortillas topped with tomatillo sauce, salsa quemada (roasted tomato salsa), and Mexican Chile Mexican cheese and accompanied by black beans.

I was excited to see my new Mexican restaurant “go-to” dish—Mexican Shrimp Cocktail—on the appetizer menu. I don’t know who could eat this filling combination of chilled shrimp, fresh avocado, cucumbers, celery, and cilantro as an appetizer and then go one and order and eat an entrée. To me, this makes a satisfying, filling, and healthy (Yes, I also ate healthy.) meal.

I had initially thought that this was a Mexican-American dish (like Mongolian Beef is a Chinese-American dish), but have found numerous references to what is called coctel de camarones and was surprised to find that ketchup is an important ingredient. Now I know where the sweet taste undertone comes from. I always want to boost the heat (spice) level somewhat and thought about getting one of the bottles of hot sauce displayed on a front counter.
But instead I used some of the salsa that came at the start of the meal with our tortilla chips.

Chuck, being the hungry man that he is, ordered the combination plate with one beef taco, one cheese enchilada, and one bean burrito. The plate also came with rice and beans.
When in polite company I am reluctant to keep reaching over to his plate and sampling. I did sneak a small taste of the dark enchilada sauce and while it was not at all spicy had great depth of flavor.

Chuck and I finished the meal with a couple of sopapillas and vanilla ice cream—so much for my eating healthy.


Just this week we had the chance to visit again over lunch and this time at a restaurant that we introduced them to—Red Lotus. Not only do Chuck and I really appreciate the Lin’s take on Chinese food, to us the Lins are the epitome of what politicians mean when they talk about “small business.”
Shown in this photo with Dick (far left) and Karen (far right) are Vin Lin who performs most of the restaurant’s server duties and Mrs. Lin who one has to think is the heart of the business. She works the house, works the kitchen, and works the phones. I think that she does everything.

We were lucky that day. The day’s soup that accompanied the lunch combo was hot and sour, and their version is one of my favorites.
And we couldn’t eat at Red Lotus without an order of their calamari.
Chuck’s choice of meal was the Hunam Chicken with thin slices of chicken that become a little chewy and a little crispy when fried in oil. The dark sauce includes sweet, sour, and spicy notes.
Karen’s lunch was the shrimp with snow peas and water chestnuts in a light sauce.
Both Dick and I ordered the Spicy Honey Shrimp. This was a new dish for me, but is Dick’s Red Lotus favorite. The plate consisted of nine or so large battered shrimp which were then tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce. The plate photographed was my meal which I asked be made extra spicy. Do note the profusion of red Chinese peppers dotting the plate.
We left after making plans to get together over the holidays when Karen’s sister Barbara and their brother Tom, whom we have never met, will be visiting.

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