Monday, July 12, 2010

Pizza: California style

I recently got the opportunity to try the newest California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) to open in San Antonio the day before its official Grand Opening. Since I like to share "the love," I invited Micah and my sister to tag along to partake in some free food!

The new CPK is situated in the lovely but hard-to-get-to Quarry Market. I would frequent the Quarry Market more often if it weren't just so far from my house!

We had reservations for 6 p.m. and when we got there, the restaurant was pretty much 90% full. This event was basically their soft-opening to train the staff and get people excited about the new digs. The official grand opening was the day after this shindig. Before we sat down, the hostess reminded us that it was training day and asked us to be patient with the waitstaff. I don't mind being patient when it comes to free food!

Each table was allowed one shared appetizer and/or dessert + everyone gets their own entree + one signature cocktail and unlimited amounts of wine/Coors beer.

Linda had the raspberry mojito, which didn't have enough raspberry flavor. Micah and I had Coors Light; we both commented on how this type of beer tastes like water to us now (when did we become beer snobs?!).

{looks pretty, not delicious}

We opted to share the Tuscan Hummus appetizer and forgo the dessert (blasphemy, I know). The hummus came topped with diced tomatoes and surrounded by pizza-pita bread, which basically tasted like really thin pizza dough. The hummus had a good texture but it was lacking in the flavor department - needed more garlic. The tomato isn't accurate, but this is CPK, so it doesn't have to be right. In hindsight, we should've ordered the Avocado Club Eggrolls.

{tuscan hummus}

My pizza: Jamaican Jerk Chicken (Grilled Jamaican Jerk spiced chicken breast with our spicy sweet Caribbean sauce, Mozzarella cheese, applewood smoked bacon, mild onions, roasted red & yellow peppers and green onion)

{the crust had a nice brown tinge}

While the crust came out great, the pizza was a failure because it was entirely too sweet! The chicken was spicy enough, but it was overpowered by the lingering sweetness of the Caribbean sauce.

Micah's pizza: Roasted Artichoke & Spinach (Oven-roasted artichoke hearts, sautéed spinach and garlic, Fontina, Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses with spinach artichoke sauce)

This is one of CPK's "new" speciality pizzas. The pizza was good but nothing special. It's actually something we make at home all the time. Micah did like the thin crust, since it allows him to fold the pizza for easy eating.

Linda's pizza: The Meat Cravers (A combination of sweet Italian sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, Capicola ham, julienne salami, Mozzarella cheese and our tomato sauce)

Linda likes her meat (ha!) and this one sure had it! I usually don't eat meat on my pizzas so this was salt overload for me! Linda added some pineapple on top which helped cut down on the saltiness.

Even though we didn't have to pay for dinner, the pseudo-bill tallied up to $80. We asked ourselves if we would spend $80 of our own money on this meal, and the answer was a resounding "no." The food -while interesting on the menu- is just not that good. With different pizza chains opening in SA, I would choose Grimaldi's over CPK - hands down.

{they have a future as pizza models}

CPK does know how to lure me back in though... CPK's Frozen Pizzas! We got two for the road! Will they be better than the in-house pizzas? That's a different blog post.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tokyo - Part 2

DAY 3: Our second full day in Tokyo started with a truly Western breakfast: McDonald's! We needed those fluffy Egg McMuffins to get us through the busy day we had semi-planned.

Since it was Sunday, I figured the best place for us to visit would be Harajuku Station and the Meiji Shrine (both locations are busy on Sundays).

When we got to the Harajuku area, I was expecting some outlandish costumes, but all I got was regular folks walking around! Gwen Stefani lied!

Meiji Shrine

The Meiji Shrine is right next to Harajuku Station so it's easy to see both of these areas in a few hours. If you decide to visit Meiji, wear comfortable shoes! The walkway to the shrine is long and made up of gravel; I did see a lot of ladies wearing heels though - why?? As we made our way to the shrine, we saw several ladies in traditional kimonos (and tourists taking pics with them).

On Sundays, the Meiji Shrine is usually the backdrop for several traditional Japanese weddings. While we were there, there were at least two weddings going on amongst all the tourists.

{Notes written on wood by visitors}

{People washing their hands before praying}

Yebisu Beer Museum

After the Meiji Shrine, we got back on the train and went a few stops south to the Ebisu area to check out the Yebisu Beer Museum. The museum is located in a new area called Yebisu Garden Place, which features restaurants and shops.

The museum gives you some insight into the Yebisu beer (now owned by Sapporo) and how it has developed over the years. After you go through the museum, you get to the good part - beer tasting! We tried all the beers they had on tap and determined that Yebisu was the best beer we've had in Tokyo. Although the museum is free, each beer was 400Yen, which is still cheaper than the bars.

{vending machine where you get coins to buy beer} {Yebisu Beer artwork}

{delicious light and dark beers!}


On our way back, we stopped in Shibuya to walk around one of the "hippest" areas of Tokyo. The biggest shock when you step out of the train station is the massive crowd of pedestrians crossing Shibuya Crossing! I mean, it's kind of ridiculous! All of the vehicular traffic stops and hundreds of people cross from all different directions!

{the pictures don't do justice to the ridiculous crowds}

After getting through the Crossing, we walked around and found lunch at a standing sushi restaurant. The restaurant only had room for about 15 people so we waited for a few minutes before a spot opened up. When you give your order to the sushi chef, he makes it then places it on the banana leaf in front of you. The food was great and affordable (less than $20). Micah did make the mistake of putting green tea powder into his soy sauce, thinking it was wasabi! HA!

{sushi counter dining}

After we snuck in a much-needed nap, we went shopping at the Times Square shopping area, less than a 5-minute walk from the hotel. This worked out perfectly since a friend's restaurant recommendation was inside this shopping mall.

In Tokyo, the top floors of a shopping mall usually house several eateries. The one we were going to, Katsukura, was on the 14th floor! The line was long when we got there, but we only had to wait about 20 minutes - and it was worth it! The place specializes in tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlets) but they did have non-meat options as well.

The funniest part of the dinner was trying to figure out how to fix our own dipping sauces. After ordering our respective dishes (pork for me, shrimp for Micah), the waitress gives you a bowl with roasted sesame seeds along with a pestle. This is where the interactive part comes in: you ground up the seasame seeds, add a smattering of soy and other delicious condiments, and voila! your dipping sauce is ready for consumption.

{pestle to ground up the sesame seeds}

{sesame seeds all ground up} {jars containing tons of different sauces}

The dishes came out crunchy and hot. After eating a lot of raw fish, it was nice to have some fatty goodness on my plate!

{fried goodies getting plated - my dish: tonkatsu with a spring fried roll - micah's dish: fried shrimp}

On our way back to our hotel, we stopped off and took a picture of the Tokyo "Delirium Cafe." We've been to the Delirium Cafe in Brussels so thought it would be fitting to take a picture with their Tokyo location. We opted to not drink there since the prices were astronomical.

DAY 4: Since we only had a half-day on our last day in Tokyo, we decided to keep the activity to a minimum.

Tsukiji Fish Market

{Ginormous fish being sold}

This was one of the only places that I had to go to in Tokyo! I wanted to check out this infamous fish market for myself! We opted against the whole "eating sushi at 5 a.m." and got to the market around 8 a.m. Although the main auction was already over, there were still plenty of people working in the market.

{left: giant octopus - middle: japanese fish mongerer - right: I wanted to buy one of these so bad!}

We walked around the market for an hour and took in the fishy sights and smells.

There were some interesting specimens in the market, but nothing I've never seen before.

For breakfast, I bought a rice cake from a vendor near the market. Yummy!


Our last lunch in the city was at the same kaiten sushi we went to before, we had to fit in another sushi meal!

That was the perfect way to end our Tokyo trip!

{I had to get some green tea ice cream before we left the Narita airport!}

Notes on Tokyo: while I really enjoyed Tokyo and the Japanese people, I am not sure this place is on my Top 10 list to return. When it comes down to it, the city is like any other large city (albeit a lot cleaner and safer), it's expensive, and it's kind of sterile. If I were to go back to Japan, I would explore the smaller cities instead. The food is AWESOME though. :-)