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  • The Anonymous Hungry Hippopotamus

It's All Good From Diego to the Bay (California Love)

Welcome to my 100th post. I did not know what to expect when I started this blog about 18 months ago, but I was excited about the journey. One hundred posts later, I can say that while writing still feels uncomfortable and continues to stretch me, it is truly a joy to share my experiences.


In settling into the discomfort, I have seen beauty and growth on the other side. Thank you to anyone who has read a post, and a special thank you to those of you who have read every post. Time is valuable, so I thank you deeply for choosing to spend some of yours here.


The title of this 100th post is "It's All Good." This is first and foremost because it has indeed been "all good" because God is so good and has blessed and protected me through all of the ups and downs that this journey (and life in general) has held. This is also my chosen theme because in the midst of traveling to so many different destinations, I wanted to pause and show some "California Love" to my home - the Golden State.


In regard to the remaining portion of this post's title, borrowing from the lyrics of "California Love" by Dr. Dre, a Southern California native from Compton, and Tupac Shakur, who adopted Oakland in Northern California as his home town, "It's all good from Diego to the Bay." Here, the "it" for me refers to food, for which I have a deep passion and respect. Food connects people, reveals culture, creates memories, conveys love and hospitality, perpetuates tradition and sustains us.


“Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” (Alan D. Wolfelt) My value of and appreciation for food, was first instilled in me by my mother. Whether coming together to share a home-cooked meal, or relishing in the culinary skill of a professional chef at a restaurant, the beauty of sharing food with others, was something my mom taught me to cherish from a very young age.


In that spirit, below are some of the places in California, "from Diego to the Bay," where I have shared excellent meals over the past year and a half, with some of the people closest to me, creating lasting memories that I cherish, and am excited to share with you.


From Diego ...


Paradisaea

Paradisaea, located in San Diego's Bird Rock neighborhood, opened in September of 2022. Impressively, within one year of its opening, it received Michelin recognition. The restaurant serves contemporary, California cuisine in a tropical-style, dining room. The environment is casual and lively, and the food is refined.

I was blessed to share a meal at Paradisaea with my cousin, one of my favorite people in the world. We enjoyed great conversation, lots of laughter (per usual), and an extravagant pre fixe dinner to celebrate her birthday.

Salmon Belly Tartare Lettuce Wrap

We started our dinner off with this amuse bouche.


Roasted Carrots

The carrots, crunchy, smokey and flavorful, were served on a bed of smoked yogurt, with orange and almond gremolata.


Mushroom and Burrata Raviolo

The raviolo (a single, large ravioli) was stuffed with porcini mushrooms, surrounded by a cream foam made of more mushrooms and garnished with watercress.


Seared Sea Scallop

This scallop, with its caramelized crust, sat atop uni (sea urchin), lemon-brown butter sauce and spinach, all topped with crispy, shoestring potatoes.


Wagyu Beef

The steak, which was served with roasted mushrooms and a silky, reduction sauce was wonderful, but my cousin and I agreed that the potato terrine was the star of the plate. The myriad of thin, stacked, potato slices created a cake, so to speak, that was creamy inside and crispy outside, and simply delicious.


Pistachio Cake

We finished the night with a generous slice of pistachio cake, layered with vanilla marscapone, flavored with rose syrup and garnished with rose petals.


... Headed to the Bay, Via Orange County ...

My next stop on my way to the Bay, was in Orange County.


Here, I dined at Sushi ii with a very close friend. Sushi ii is a kaiseki-style Japanese restaurant. Kaiseki is the multi-course, haute cuisine of Japan. Sushi ii also offers an omakase menu which we partook in, featuring dishes selected by the chef. Both the kaiseki and omakase menus showcase the freshest fish from Japan.


Sushi ii is located in Newport Beach. Just outside and across from the restaurant are beautiful views of the harbor. Inside, the restaurant is swanky and intimate. There are only a handful of tables and an additional ten seats at the coveted, chef's counter. We were fortunate to snag two and watch the sushi master, Chef Susumu Ii, at work.


Miso Soup

We started with a warm bowl of miso soup.


Tamago

The tamago, a Japanese omlette, was fluffy, light and sweet.


Black Perch

Black perch is a luxurious fish. Its natural fattiness gives it a soft flesh and deep flavor.


Giant Clam

This mirugai (geoduck) had a great snap and gorgeous salinity.


Salmon with Kelp

The salmon we were served was incredibly soft and flavorful. The addition of a piece of kelp on top of the fish, added a nice bite.


Shima Aji

This striped jack was lean, with great taste and texture.


Unagi with Kelp

This was the second piece of nigiri we had that was topped with kelp, a preparation I was unfamiliar with prior to dining at Sushi ii. I am now a fan.


Ezo Bafun Uni

This sea urchin is fished off the coast of Rausu, Hokkaido, where the kelp it feeds on is exceptionally nutritious. The result was a soft, creamy and sweet piece of uni nigiri.


Hokkaido Scallop

Hokkaido scallops, as compared to their domestic counterparts, have a firm texture and a perfect balance of sweet and savory flavors.


Toro

The toro at Sushi ii was full of flavor from the fat, but had an unusually firm texture that was refreshing.


Halibut

Our halibut's mild flavor was highlighted by some saltiness from a quick, brush of soy and the tiniest hint of wasabi.


Conch

Conch is a sea snail with a taste similar to, but bolder than, clams.


Blue Fin Tuna

Most blue fin tuna I have had, minus chutoro or otoro, has been on the firm side, but here, Sushi ii set itself apart again. This regular cut of blue fin was so tender, it nearly melted in my mouth.


Panna Cotta

We finished our meal with a serving of panna cotta. This Japanese version of the classic, Italian dessert, omitted the gelatin, and added more cream for even more decadence.


... A Stop in Long Beach ...

From Newport Beach, I headed to the city of Long Beach, the hometown of Snoop Dogg, another California native, who incidentally performed "California Love" with Dr. Dre at the Super Bowl LVI halftime show, paying tribute to the late, great Tupac Shakur.


The Attic

Located in the Belmont Heights neighborhood of Long Beach, the Attic restaurant serves a New American style menu with heavy Southern influences. With its front porch and outside patio, dining at this craftsman-style bungalow feels more like visiting a friend's home in the South than eating at a restaurant in Los Angeles County.


I was fortunate to share an amazing meal with my best friend at the Attic. We dined at their outdoor bar, where we enjoyed friendly service, superb food, and that quintessential, sunny weather that Southern California is famous for.


Biscuits and Gravy

We started with the biscuits (made in-house daily) smothered in Andouille sausage gravy. Atop those were fried eggs garnished with scallions.


Andouille Sausage

The friendly and knowledgable bartender insisted we get a side of the Andouille sausage to accompany the biscuits, and his suggestion was spot on. The addition of the spicy links enhanced an already delectable dish.


Gumbo

Next, we moved onto the gumbo, made with succulent shrimp, more Andouille sausage, chicken, rice and scallions. This gumbo plays a very close second to the best gumbo I have had, which was at Dooky Chase restaurant in New Orleans.


Biscuits with Sorghum Butter

The bartender also insisted we try a side of biscuits so we could appreciate these handmade gems on their own. The flaky, warm, pillowy, layers shined, whether covered with the homemade jam or sorghum (a cereal grain from Africa) butter.


Twelve Layer Chocolate Cake

We finished our meal with this 12-layer cake. Feel free to count the layers. All 12 are there in all their chocolatey glory. This was the richest, most fulfilling chocolate cake I've tasted. After two bites, I was satisfied. As a chocolate aficionado, my best friend devoured much more, and even then, there was still a little more than half a slice to box up for leftovers. This slice of cake is no joke.


... Onto Los Angeles ...


Citrin

The next stop on my journey from Diego to the Bay was at Citrin in Los Angeles. Josiah Citrin, of his eponymous restaurant, touched the Los Angeles, fine dining scene 25 years ago. After opening Mélisse, which earned him two Michelin stars, he went on to open Citrin.


I was elated to dine here with my best friend on my birthday. Everything about our dining experience was fantastic, from the service to the ambiance to, of course, the food.


Bring on the Night

Being that it was my birthday, starting off with this cocktail seemed appropriate. It was made with tequila, guava syrup, benedictine, jalapeño, lime and Peychaud's.


Basil Brioche and Country Roll with Beurre de Baratte

Next, we were sent a complimentary bread basket of warm, fresh-baked rolls.


Hamachi Crudo

Our starter was a hamachi crudo made with green chili, onion blossom, purslane, and mini sourdough croutons for some crunch contrast.


Duck Ragout Cavatelli

Our next course was a handmade cavatelli pasta, with duck ragout, porcini mushrooms and pistachio, all lightly sprinkled with pecorino cheese.


Corn Agnolotti

After that, we shared another pasta made of sweet corn-stuffed agnolotti, sprinkled with more sweet corn kernels and finished with a brown butter, truffle froth.


Steamed Sea Bass

We finished our meal with an entree of steamed sea bass and Fall vegetables in a shellfish broth.


LeBron James

Ok, so LeBron was not one of our courses, nor was he on the menu. That said, he was at the restaurant, sitting close by, and I like to believe, sending me secret birthday wishes.


... And Finally, To the Bay.

This culinary journey comes to completion in the Bay Area.


The Progress

The Progress, located in San Francisco, has been serving award-winning food for a decade. The restaurant specializes in shareable plates listed in their changing menu, written on a Venn diagram. I devoured many of their well executed plates with one of my closet friends.


Caviar Potato Cloud

If you can imagine mashed potatoes whipped so well that they have a cotton candy texture, then you are half way to understanding this appetizer.


Dig into the cloud, and you'll get the perfect bite of creamy potato balanced by saltiness from the lavish caviar buried beneath.


Hedgehog Mushroom Toast

Heaped on top of crispy crostinis in this dish, are sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onion jam and Pleasant Ridge cheese.


Each bite was marvelous.


Burrata and Fried Butter Beans

As a fan of burrata, I am always looking to try new preparations. In this dish, the mound of brokaw kiwi, avocado, crispy butter beans and lemongrass-guava dressing, covered and set off the plump ball of burrata with a creamy center, hiding beneath.


Coal Roasted Broccoli

The smoky, roasted broccoli in this dish was enhanced with a bit of spice, due to a hint of Calabrian chili, and cream, due to the contribution of taggiasca olives and pecorino cheese. This is one of the more complex and satisfying broccoli preparations I have tried.


Full Belly Farm Masa Dumplings

With toma cheese and huitlacoche crema-stuffed, masa dumplings topped with mushrooms, this dish inventively brought together elements of Italian and Latin cooking.


Brown-Butter Seaweed Noodles

These noodles, made with oyster mushrooms, tomato-kale dashi and bonito flakes were a feast for the palate, ...


... and the eyes, as the heat of the noodles made the bonito flakes dance on the plate.


BBQ Liberty Farms Half Duck

And now for The Progress' most iconic dish - the smoked duck. Both the presentation and taste of this dish were astounding. The duck was perfectly tender and served with peanut-fried rice and smoked chili vinegar. This is a not-to-be-missed dish on the menu.


That is it for my culinary tour of California from "Diego to the Bay" and my 100th post. Thank you so much for joining me for this, and any other posts you have read. I hope you will let me know if you have had any favorite posts along the way, and that you will join me for many more to come.

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3 Comments


Desiree Miranda
Desiree Miranda
Apr 10

Happy 100th post Swati! Cheers to many more adventures, living vicariously through you!

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Anne Kingsley
Anne Kingsley
Apr 10

Thanks for sharing your 100th post! You are amazing and an inspiration to write your passion and just keep going forward. Love you!

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Grace T
Grace T
Apr 10

Swati - Thank you for sharing your adventures. The way you craft words brings texture and intimacy to the reader. Much appreciated. Also the LeBron James cameo lol.

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