Monday, June 28, 2010

A day in San Diego: skydiving, beers and Stone Brewery Bistro

This weekend, I went skydiving (yes, I'm still alive!). Since we were jumping in San Diego, we decided to make a day of it by planning a brewery crawl. I love pub crawls and San Diego is the best venue for that- it's home to many of the country's best microbrews. The great thing about San Diego is that it's far enough to be considered a weekend getaway but still a close enough drive from LA (at just over 2 hrs). The idea of a brewery crawl was my friends (I'm more of a wine drinker), but I planned the itinerary for the day, cuz you know.. I'm type A like that.

Before we could even get to sample any beer, we had to jump out of a plane (don't worry, we had plenty of mimosas before hand). We decided to skydive at Skydive San Diego because it came recommended by a friend's friend who is a regular skydiver. It's not a fancy establishment by any means but it's very efficient (we were in and out in 1.5 hrs) even though we were told to plan to be there between 2-4hrs. Hey, that just meant more time for beers! BTW, skydiving wasn't scary. I was expecting my heart to drop a bit (like during the freefall ride at Magic Mountain) but it was actually quite peaceful and therapeutic to be cruising in the air. It was also a bit anti-climatic. We hopped off a plane, flew in the sky, landed, then jumped in our car and headed off to the first brewery.

Ballast Point
Ballast Point wasn't on our initial schedule but since we were an hour early before meeting up with the rest of our crew, we decided to squeeze in a brewery. As we soon came to realize, breweries are very different from wineries. Most were located in business complexes instead of free-standing buildings on large compounds.

Ballast had a bar area that was pretty cool, with a TV showing the football game where US lost to Ghana.

There was an option of two beer tastings. Our favorite was their wheat beer.
Even though we didn't like all the beers (I'm not really an IPA gal so I didn't care for their seasonal Sculpin Ale), we enjoyed the ambiance at Ballast Point best amongst all the breweries we visited. It seemed like a cool joint where neighbors gathered to drink beer and watch a game. There was a very welcoming vibe. A gentleman offered chips and homemade Gouda and Stone Pale Ale cheese dip that his wife prepared. Another couple also gave us some menu recommendations for our dinner at Stone Brewery later that evening.

When we asked the woman at the counter for some dining recommendations and she mentioned Carl's Junior and Subway, we cringed a bit. Hey, don't get me wrong. I'm not a fast food snob. I love my Mickey D's and KFC, but we we looking for something more satisfying. But when the same woman mentioned that there was a sandwich shop that was popular with the locals, we knew that was the spot.

Chez Nous
It's a casual sandwich joint that is known for their spicy chicken melt. So casual that it's cash only.

You order at the counter and the kitchen prepares your sandwich fresh. Prices are also affordable.

Even though for a split second I was tempted by the chicken salad sandwich, I had to go for the spicy chicken sandwich. We all did. OMG what an amazing sandwich. I am a super picky sandwich eater (I only eat turkey and wheat with no condiments or sides) but this was perfect. I had it sans cheese and tomatoes of course. I ordered the chicken regular spicy but my daring friends went for the extra spicy which apparently numbed the tongue for minutes after. The men ordered double serving of chicken. The chicken was surprisingly tender and juicy even though it was white meat. You could tell that it was good quality chicken. The lean chicken was mixed with a sort of sriracha sauce that seemed to be mixed with yogurt that gave it a mild creaminess. The chicken was sandwiched between thick, buttered jalapeno cheese toast. The sandwich was simple yet every bite was perfection. We were all still talking about it for the rest of the day. We also recommended it to some of our friends that we met up with later, who decided to go off to get themselves some.

Ale Smith Brewing Company

You'll walk into an unassuming office building to the back tasting room, surrounded by boxes, crates, kegs and barrels. It was an intimate scene and surprisingly rather packed. I liked that the brewers were present so you could chat up with them and get good recommendations. The Nautical Nut Brown was our favorite. BTW, tastings for $1? Awesome!

The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Company

The venue was much larger than the other two breweries that we had visited previously. Even though I liked the ample seating and beer-keg-tables, I do appreciate the smaller tasting rooms more.

Similar to Ale Smith, tastings here were also $1. It's on an honor system, you come back when you're done and let them know how many you've had. Only in San Diego will this work. Their seasonal Carnivale saison ale was excellent and refreshing, perfect for a warm SoCal afternoon. Their Red Barn Ale was also tasty.

Green Flash Brewing Company

The tasting room was located on their bottling floor.. and boy did it smell like beer and yeast over there.

We got the 9 tastings for $6. Another great deal - so different from wine tasting in Napa which is sometimes a bit snobby and will cost you much more. Unfortunately my favorite Green Flash beer (Summer Saison) wasn't available.

Stone Brewery
We had intended to squeeze in a quick tasting at Stone before dining at their bistro but time flies when you're having fun. We made it just in time for dinner.

The restaurant is gorgeous with huge doors opening out to the luscious garden.

They offer a vast selection of beer as well as wine.

Their cuisine is not your typical brewery fare. It's priced on the higher end and utilizes fresh, seasonal and sustainable products. The menu is kind of eclectic and includes classic California dishes of salmon and steak, but also a tempeh shepherd's pie, yakisoba and bouillabaisse.

Because we were beered out at this point, some of us opted for wine.

We ordered some appetizers to share for the table. The spud buds and mac & cheese came recommended by the lovely couple at Ballast Point.

Spud buds - Stone IPA organic garlicky mashed potatoes, deep fried in Arrogant Bastard Ale batter, served with Stone Smoked Porter BBQ sauce.
I liked the crispy breading and the soft interior of the spuds. I liken this to hush puppies.

Stone-style Soft Pretzels- seasoned with sea salt and served with Stone Pale Ale open seed spicy brown mustard sauce from Carlsbad Gourmet and cheddar cheese sauce.
This was the favorite of the table. The pretzels were freshly baked, and were delicious because they were fried! It was appropriately seasoned with salt and went well with the thick cheddar dipping sauce.

Mac and Beer cheese - Mike's Stone Smoked Porter & garlic beer cheese with sun dried tomatoes, basil, Stone smoked porter sausage
The pasta was cooked to a nice al dente and was lightly coated with the cheese which was viscous and surprisingly not too heavy. The addition of a protein reminded me of ham mac and cheese from my childhood days.

Artisanal sausage with four sausages- Arrogant Bastard smoked cheddar bratwurst, spicy polish, chicken florentine, and hot italian with provolone, served with braised cabbage with spicy brown mustard

Pan roasted scallops - Mano de leon scallops with white truffle pomme puree, Mushroom meadows wild mushroom ragout and cabernet demi
I really enjoyed my entree. I thought the scallops were cooked well but my friend had inconsistent pieces on his plate. One of his was tiny and very dry. The white truffle potato puree was rich and fragrant, and the mushroom ragu was flavorful. Everything on the plate worked well together.

Chicken Schnitzel - Jidori chicken pan fried to golden brown and served with garlic mash potatoes, local organic vegetables and lemon caper cream sauce
The chicken schnitzel was tender and well seasoned with a bit of spice. I liked that it wasn't greasy, however I thought the cream sauce was a bit too heavy.

Wild King Salmon -herb panko crusted fresh Wild King Salmon topped with a horseradish creme and Carlsbad Gourmet's Stone Brewing Cal-Belgique Spicy Brown Mustard sauce, served over poached asparagus and a citrus and apple cous cous.
The salmon was cooked to perfection but the sides were unimpressive. We thought the fish should have been served with something saltier.

Yakisoba - Japanese stir fried noodles with tofu, carrots, snap peas, red onions, mushrooms in a savory dark sesame oil, soy and pepper flakes, cashews
My friend didn't enjoy this dish, she said that the noodles were tasteless. I guess we learnt our lesson - leave the asian food to the experts.

Chicken Tikka Marsala - spiced Jidori chicken breast skewers sauteed with onion, peppers and summer squash, topped with marsala sauce and served with basmati rice.
I liked that the chicken was tender but I was hoping that the marsala would have more flavor. It seemed a bit watered down. I suppose they were trying to cater to the regular American guest and were afraid to make it more authentic with additional spices.

Rack of lamb - All natural California lamb rack, pan-roasted to medium rare, with grilled Mediterranean polenta, sauteed organic broccolini and olive vinaigrette
The lamb was cooked well and did not taste gamy. The polenta was a nice creamy accompaniment.

Buffalo Ribeye steak -All natural 13 oz Buffalo ribeye grilled medium-rare, chipotle butter, served with Cheswick aged white cheddar organic mashed sweet potatoes and la Milpa Organic's fresh, local and organic seasonal greens
The ribeye could have been cooked a little less because it was rather dry. Such a pity because it was such a good cut of meat. Buffalo is such a lean meat so overcooking it dried it out quickly.

Arrogant Bastard brownie sundae with vanilla bean ice cream, Callebaut dark chocolate sauce, fresh whipped cream and walnuts
Quite a large portion that was enough dessert for our table of 9. I was too full so I did not sample but everyone was satisfied after taking a couple bites.

I thought that the food exceeded that of any brewery but I wouldn't say that it was exceptional. I liked they incorporated their beers in the food menu and also used good quality ingredients. The appetizers excelled while there were some execution issues on the entree front. I liked the ambiance- it had a touch of classiness from the menu to the formality of their service, but yet still casual with bustling dining room and it's welcoming outdoor garden patio. After a day of jumping out of a plane and hopping from brewery to brewery, it was nice to sit down, have a good meal and drink a couple glasses of wine.

Ballast Point Brewing Company
10051 Old Grove Rd. Suite B,
San Diego, CA 92131
(858) 695-2739

Chez Nous
9821 Carroll Canyon Rd.,
San Diego, CA 92131
(858) 566-4766

Ale Smith Brewing Company
9368 Cabot Dr.,
San Diego, CA 92126
(858) 549-9888

Port Brewery/The Lost Abbey
155 Mata Way #104
San Marcos, CA 92074
(800) 918-6818

Green Flash Brewing Company
1430 Vantage Ct.,
Vista, CA 92081
(760) 597-9013

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Garden
1999 Citracado Parkway
Escondido, CA 92029
(760) 471-4999


weezermonkey said...

Fried pretzel?! WANT.

Daniel S. said...

The food at Stone Brewery looks amazing, especially those pretzels. I agree with you about Napa tastings, snobby and expensive :(. Looks like you had a great time in San Diego.

Anonymous said...

that's where i went skydiving too!

Diana said...

Ditto Weez. Plus that ginormo brownie sundae and spicy chicken sandwich!

I'm a turkey and wheat sam girl too. Except I like mine with provolone (oh the horror!), an obscene amount of lettuce and mustard.

Liz said...

I'm from SD! You are so brave to sky dive. How was it? This looks like a crazy amount of food. How many of there were you? I've only been to Stone and I don't think I noticed the pretzels from the last time I was there. It all looks great!!!

stuffycheaks said...

weezermonkey - yep, that was the best thing I had all night.

Daniel - I do love my wine but I love the casual aspect of SD breweries.

Catchacubinitsden - did you like the spot? I was a bit wary cuz it looks a bit dilapidated, but at least they were efficient

Diana - i am still dreaming of the sammy. Gonna see if I can recreate it at home

Liz - the skydiving part wasn't that scary. I was hoping for a thrill but I didn't really get one. There were only 4 of us diving, then we had a total of 9 at the brewery hopping + Stone. Haha i think we did overorder on the apps but they were all really good. You'll have to try the pretzel for sure.