Archive for April, 2009

McGrath Family Farm Santa Monica Farmers Market


McGrath Family Farm, Santa Monica Farmers Market

McGrath Family Farm, Santa Monica Farmers Market


Farming is at the root of American cultural development and at its truest is a spiritual discipline and a significant provider of both rural and urban communities.  The farmers that provide us with the goods from their land exemplify just that.  For several decades our country emphasized big agribusiness which de-emphasized community and estranged people from the land and knowing their food source.  The burgeoning of farmers markets across America in the last decade alone is a warming sign that we collectively desire a closer connection to our farmers and the foods we eat.  Today there are over 4600 farmers markets from coast to coast and agricultural commerce is thriving through greater personal connections once again.  Even more importantly, the connection between the chefs within the restaurants demanding food from its source has created an agricultural revival.  They have raised the collective standards for fresh produce for their guests and increased the ultimate value of their dining experience.  Our farmers are doing the best they can to provide sustenance and livelihood via the produce they harvest.  They are the redemptive forces at the wheel propelling our communities together in the name of food, bridging the miles between us into acres and feet.  There is little more to say than that.  It is an invaluable valuable that brings better meaning to the bottom line.


I cannot get over the Japanese tomatoes from Beylik Farms.  They are some of the best tomatoes I have ever eaten, ever.  I consider myself quite the tomato connoisseur.  I have been eating them and loving them since I can remember.  Beylik Farms has taken a truly resilient tomato variety dubbed the “Tough Boy” and grown it hydroponically, which allows vines to reach as high as TWELVE feet tall.  With the assistance from bumblebees for pollination, they produce these meaty, succulent stand-out tomatoes that can hold their own against an heirloom variety any day.

Japanese Tomatoes from Beylik Famliy Farms

Japanese Tomatoes from Beylik Famliy Farms

I truly cannot say enough about the Coleman Family Farm.  Everything they grow seems to come from magic!  From their premium heirloom lettuce varieties to the best green garlic I have seen and tasted at the market, they have turned growing into an art form.  Even through the heat wave their crops have sustained themselves and continue to thrive.  The Piret Butter Lettuce and Freckles Lettuce are the perfect canvas for a salad, the Broccoli Spigarello is begging to be braised and their green garlic is spring at its finest: young, bright and alive!

Green Garlic from Coleman Family Farm

Green Garlic from Coleman Family Farm

For your radish fix, Jaime Farm is bringing us nearly every radish variety in the book:  Icicle Radishes, French Breakfast Radishes, Easter Egg Radishes and my personal favorite Baby White Belly Radishes.  They are also growing some SUPERB jumbo sweet red and white Spring Onions, that are harvested before they reach their full size and packed moist, not dried.  They also have the most amazing sweet and flavorful Black Cherry Tomatoes ever.

Life’s A Choke makes artichoke growing look easy!  Daisy bring dozens of forty pound bins to the market full of her signature varieties, Anzio, Fiesole and Lyon and blazes through them before 9 AM!  But never underestimate a great farmer!  In her repetoire she also has purple-tipped Pencil California Asparagus and Squash Blossoms that are glowing form the recent burst of water they have been injected with!

Purple-Tipped Pencil California Asparagus from Life's A Choke Farm

Purple-Tipped Pencil California Asparagus from Life's A Choke Farm

Garcia Organic Farm and Polito Family Farm are still harvesting some of the juciest citrus at any market!  Growing unique varieties like Meiwa Kumquats (Garcia), Tom’s Terrific Tangerines (Polito) and some of the sweetest Meyer Lemons (Garcia) I have ever tasted, these farmers know citrus!

McGrath has the Firecracker lettuce along with Wild Arugula.  Rutiz Farm has just introduced some Cherry Victoria Rhubarb into the lineup!  A perfect marriage for their Jerry’s Berries, chefs???  And English Peas get their California plates from Tutti Frutti Farm, picking young, tender and SWEET!

Coastal Organics is harvesting choice fava beans that have been sleeping tenderly in their comfy pillowy blankets, but now it’s time to eat them!  A labor of love and worth every shelling!  They also grow the best Green and Red Gem Lettuces that if were put into a contest would win the blue ribbon!

Green Gem Lettuce from Coastal Organics

Green Gem Lettuce from Coastal Organics

As May nears, warmer season produce appears and the horizon is looking sweet, succulent and soon, ripe for the picking.  Seasons ebb and flow.  New life brings new ideas and creative offerings.  Stay tuned!


On a final and humbling note, this week San Diego lost one if its greatest culinary pioneers, George Munger.  He was a man of stature, vision and inspiration.  He and his wife, Piret brought culinary class and idealism to San Diego.  In the 1970′s, through their restaurants, they introduced San Diego to the best food it had ever seen yet.  In 1975 they opened the Perfect Pan, which served as a cooking school that brought in such legendary chefs as Julia Child, Paula Wolfert and working chefs alike.  They offered a prix-fixed lunch menu serving classic French countryside fare daily to sixteen guests.  The school inspired their restaurant, Pirets, which opened in Mission Hills in 1979.  The food was innovative and absolutely everything was fresh.  Pirets became a local culinary institution and legend.  Many current chefs and restaurateurs made their way in the ranks, whether on the line or in the dining room, through the walls of Pirets.  George Munger’s personal and absolute desire to bring quality and fresh ingredients to San Diego and his manifestation of those desires is a true legacy.  We, as chefs owe a great deal of gratitude to him for paving the way and opening San Diego to the fresh bounty that is available to us.  He injected a mindset into the culinary landscape that prior to was not fully there.

I had the personal pleasure of knowing George and cooking for him.  He was a regular guest at my restaurant.  He challenged me, inspired me and made special requests of me sometimes weeks in advance of dining.  We kept a special case of his favorite white burgandy in the walk in for him and I always made time to sit with him and listen to his advice and stories.  His experience, his generosity and his remarkable passion commanded everyone’s attention.  Although San Diego has lost a true culinary hero and visionary, it has gained a bounty of inspiration and credibility thanks to George.  So, thank you George for mentoring so many culinarians, opening our eyes and changing the food landscape of San Diego for good and forever.



Baby Green Zucchini with Flower – Life’s A Choke Farms inject water into each squash blossom’s stem to ensure their freshness and livelihood.  A wonderful and glamorous spring and summer menu accoutrement!!

Pencil California Asparagus – Skinny, tender, tasty purple-tipped and LOCAL! So thin it cooks in a flash!

Japanese Tomatoes – I just love these meaty tomatoes!  They are the most beautiful tomatoes at the market right now.  Great pre-heirloom season variety nicknamed the “Tough Boy” for its heat-resilient texture and succulence!

Baby White Belly Radish – sweetest radish out there with edible greens too makes these 100% delicious.

Baby Celery – from Yasutomi Farm, more leaves than stalk, hydroponically grown, slender and almost herbaceously tasty stalks.  The best baby celery available. Period.

Jerry’s Berries Strawberries (Galante variety) from Rutiz Farm – sweeter than candy!!

Jerry's Berries Strawberries from Rutiz Farm

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CRA Gold Medallion Awards @ Hilton Bayfront

Gold Medallion Awards 2009 San Diego

CRA Gold Medallion Awards @ Hilton Bayfront

CRA Gold Medallion Awards @ Hilton Bayfront

Tuesday April 21st, 2009 I had the pleasure of attending the 25th Annual Gold Medallion Awards hosted by the San Diego County Chapter of the California Restaurant Association. It was held at the brand new Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel in downtown San Diego. I spent the first hour trying to cool down from the unseasonal heat, another half hour preoccupied with finding a phone from which I could tweet the results, and the duration of the dinner on twitterberry! My iphone just didn’t do the job – sorry AT&T, but the Sprint Blackberry won out for the night, I still love my phone, but maybe I won’t discredit the others so much in the future!

So, here are unofficial results, if you didn’t follow my @SpecialtyProd tweets!

Associate Member of the Year, Large:

Southern Wine & Spirits
Specialty Produce
U.S. Foodservice, San Diego
Young’s Market Company

Associate Member of the Year, Small:

Cafe Moto
San Diego Magazine

Chef of the Year:

Hanis Cavin, Kensington Grill
Jonathan Hale, Blue Point Coastal Cuisine
Jeff Jackson, A.R. Valentien, The Lodge at Torrey Pines
Paul McCabe, Kitchen 1540, L’Auberge Del Mar
Dean Thomas, Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino

Restaurateur of the Year:

Philippe Beltran, Beltran Restaurant Group
Jean-Michel Diot, Tapenade Restaurant
Phil Pace, Phil’s BBQ
Dan Shea, Donovan’s Steak & Chop House
Jeffrey Strauss, Pamplemousse Grill


Brian’s American Eatery
Dakota Grill & Spirits
Market Restaurant & Bar


Mister Tiki Mai Tai Lounge
Saigon on Fifth
Taste of Thai


Bread & Cie
Gelato Vero Cafe
St. Tropez Bakery and Bistro


Lightning Jack’s
Phil’s BBQ
West Coast BBQ & Catering


Cafe 222
Crest Cafe
Pacifica Breeze Cafe

Best Burger

Corvette Dinner
The Burger Lounge
The Waterfront Bar & Grill

Casino Restaurant

Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino
SYCUAN Resort & Casino
Viejas Casino


French Gourmet
Premier Food Services/Carriage Trade Catering
Urban Kitchen Catering

Continental/French, Casual

Bleu Boheme
Cafe Chloe
French Market Grille

Continental/French, Fine Dining

Laurel Restaurant & Bar
Mille Fleurs Restaurant
Thee Bungalow


Athens Market Cafe
Cafe Athena
Indigo Grill
Zocalo Grill

Family/Casual Style Chain Restaurant

Cheesecake Factory

Fine Dining Chain Restaurant

King’s Fish House
Ruth’s Chris


Parallel 33
Red Pearl Kitchen

Hotel Restaurant, Casual

Firefly at the Dana
Soleil @ K at the Marriott Gaslamp
The Grill At the Lodge

Hotel Restaurant, Fine Dining

1500 Ocean at the Hotel Del Coronado
JRDN Restaurant at Tower 23
Jsix & Jbar at Hotel Solamar

Italian, Casual

Lotsa Pasta
The Venetian Restaurant Inc.
Vigilucci’s Cucina

Italian Fine Dining

Acqua Al 2
Piatti La Jolla
Trattoria Acqua

Mexican Quick Service

El Indio Mexican Restaurant
Nati’s Mexican Restaurant
Roberto’s Mexican

Mexican Dinner House

Cafe Coyote
Casa Guadalajara
Old Town Mexican Cafe


Kensington Grill
Terra Restaurant & Catering

New American

George’s California Modern
Prado at Balboa Park

New, Casual

The MerK

New, Fine Dining

333 Pacific
Cowboy Star
Nico’s Steak and Chop House
Roseville Restaurant

Pacific Rim

Bali Hai Restaurant
Kemo Sabe


Pizza Nova
Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza
Woodstock’s Pizza

Quick Service Chain Restaurant

Daphne’s Greek Cafe

Seafood, Casual

Anthony’s Fish Grotto
The Brigantine
The Fish Market

Seafood, Fine Dining

Blue Point Coastal Cuisine
Oceanaire Seafood Room
Top of the Market

Steakhouse Casual

Bully’s East
Butcher Shop & Steakhouse
Gaslamp Strip Club

Steakhouse Fine Dining

Azul La Jolla

Island Prime

Sunday Brunch

94th Aero Squadron
Tom Ham’s Lighthouse


Banbu Sushi
Sushi Bar Blue Fin


Ballast Point Brewing Company
Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens

Live Music Venue/Restaurant & Lounge

Belly Up Tavern
Humphreys By the Bay

Night Club Restaurant & Lounge

Confidential Restaurant


Altitude Skybar
The Bitter End
The Field

Sports Restaurant/Bar

Moondoggie’s Pacific Beach
Seau’s the Restaurant
The Fleetwood

Wine Bar

Firefly Grill & Wine Bar
The Cask Room
Wine Vault & Bistro

2009 UT reader’s choice:

Bali Hai

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