San Diego Restaurant Week is upon us again. It runs from January 16- 21. You can view all the participating restaurants here as well as the menus for each of the restaurant offerings.

Over 160 restaurants are participating, offering three course price fix menus, priced at either $20 $30 or $40.

As you may recall, I’ve been lucky enough to participate in a sneak peek of restaurant week menus in the past. This time around, the people of McFarlane Promotions once again offered me and one guest a complimentary meal to preview restaurant week.

In the past, we were able to choose from a list of restaurants. This time, we were each paired up with a restaurant.

Admittedly, Nico’s Steakhouse would not have been my first choice because of location. Located in Chula Vista, it’s quite a ways from where I live, and is hard to commute to during the weekday evenings.

However, I’m not one to turn down a free meal, so off BF and I went to check out Nico’s.  Nico’s underwent new management about a year ago and is currently owned by retired NFL player Robert “Griff” Griffith.  It is located in the sprawling Otay Ranch Town Center shopping plaza.

Normally when I participate in Restaurant Week, I choose the $40 menus so that I can try out some fine dining places at a reasonable price. Nico’s offers a $30 price fix menu, so going in, I knew I had to adjust my expectations accordingly.

Once we arrived, we were promptly seated, and presented with the Restaurant Week menu as well as some hot bread rolls.

For our appetizers, I chose the smoked wings. You get a choice of sauce with the wings. The server brought us three different sauces to try: tamarind, spicy and BBQ. The sauces were a little too much like ketchup to me, with some flavoring added.

The wings had crispy skin and were moist. The smoked flavor wasn’t very apparent. The wings themselves didn’t have much flavor, and definitely needed the sauce.

BF chose the chili. We were informed the chili has some filet mignon tossed in.

We saw pieces of steak, but neither of us thought it was filet mignon. The chili was a mix of ground beef, beans, and steak pieces. I thought the steak pieces were a nice touch, though they were overcooked. BF thought the chili should have been served warmer.

For the main course, I chose the Fire Grill Salmon. Being that this is a steakhouse, I would have liked to see more steak options on their restaurant week menu, but the lone steak option was a skirt steak.

The salmon had a sweet glaze. It was served on top of a bed of mashed potatoes and spinach. There was also some pineapple salsa accompanying the salmon.

BF chose the BBQ ribs. The ribs were served on a large bed of mashed potatoes and a bowl of cole slaw. The ribs were tender, with the meat falling right off the bone. I would have liked a sauce that was a little more unique.

For dessert, I chose the banana bread pudding. The pudding came out piping hot and was topped with vanilla ice cream.

The first few bites of this dessert were heavenly. Chunks of banana were mixed with chunks of soaked bread. I was surprised at how good the dessert was, especially because dessert tends to the weak point on a steakhouse menu. After my initial few bites, BF stole my dessert and it took me a while to get it  back. When I got the dessert back, it was no longer hot and no longer tasted as good as a result.  This dessert definitely needs to be eaten straight from the oven.

BF chose the chocolate mousse pie. It was chocolately, rich and a bit too sweet for me.

Overall, we felt that the food we ate was representative of the $30 price. Nothing stood out but there wasn’t much criticism either. The one thing that did stand out was the service, which was excellent.

It also would have been nice to speak with the manager or chef, something we’ve been able to do at all our past restaurant week sneak peeks.

Nico’s Steakhouse
2015 Birch Road
Chula Vista, CA 91915
(619) 421-9500
Nico's Steak & Chop House on Urbanspoon

Braided Milk Bread

I love challah breads. When Christine’s recipes made a variation on the tangzhong bread and created a braided version of a walnut raisin bread, I really wanted to try making a braided version of milk bread.

Next time I’m going to try making a double braid, but this time I only made a single. The bread was yummy and soft and fluffy as always. I’m absolutely addicted to make bread with this tangzhong method, as it always produces such fluffy bread. I had some problems with my  braiding skills. Next time I need to roll out the dough ropes to be more smoothe and even before I start and I need to make my braids tighter. I also had problems tucking in the dough at either end of the bread.

Christine’s recipes made two braided breads, but I opted to make one giant one so that there would be more of the soft, fluffy inside of the bread.

Milk Bread (adapted from two of Christine’s recipes here and here,which she adapted from the 65 degrees book)
Yields 1 loaf


2½ cups bread flour
3tbsp+2tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
½ cup milk
120g tangzhong (click here for making tangzhong)
2 tsp instant yeast
3 tbsp butter (cut into small pieces, softened at room temperature)

1. Combine the flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast in a bowl of a stand mixer. Make a well in the center. Add in all wet ingredients: milk, egg and tangzhong. Fit the dough hook attachment on your stand mixer and begin mixing on medium speed and knead until your dough comes together and then add in the butter and continue kneading.  Keep kneading until the dough is smooth, not too sticky on the surface and elastic. I kneaded the dough for about 18-20 minutes. Each mixer may vary.

When the dough is ready, you should be able to take a chunk of dough and stretch it to a very thin membrane before it breaks. When it does break, the break should be form a circle.

2. Knead the dough into a ball shape. Take a large bowl and grease with oil.  Place dough into  greased bowl and cover with a wet towel. Let it proof until it’s doubled in size, about 40 minutes.
3. Transfer to a clean surface. Divide the dough into three equal portions. Roll out into ropes.

4. Braid the three ropes together, tucking the ends inside. Put braided dough on baking sheet and put plastic wrap on top. Let dough sit and double in size, about 40 minutes.
5. Beat an egg and brush egg mixture on top to create shiny eggwash finish.
6. Bake at 325 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes.

Honey Castella Cake

Castella or Katsura cake is a popular japanese sponge cake. If you are familiar with the cake, you will know that mine looks nothing like how it should look. Haha. My first attempt at making castella cake was not very successful.

I can never resist buying castella cakes. The soft, moist and tender cake is usually made into rectangular loaves and presliced into servings that go perfect with a cup of tea. When I looked up recipes, I thought they seemed pretty simple to make.

Since there aren’t too many steps, I’m pretty sure I went wrong at the egg stage. You are supposed to beat for about five minutes, until the egg batter ribbons. I lost track of time and was distracted. Also the recipe I read only said flour, but upon further research, all the other recipes I saw call for bread flour. My cake initially rose, but then collapsed in after it was out of the oven.

The cake still tasted good, it just tasted more like a pound cake rather than a sponge cake. I plan on trying this again until I get it right.

There are many castella cake recipes out there. I used one I found on My Kitchen Snippets because it was easier than some of the other recipes, and because her cake came out so soft and fluffy looking.
I made some slight changes to the recipe, replacing the orange juice with milk and skipping the orange zest. I also reduced the sugar a bit because I’ve always found the castella cakes I’ve bought to be a bit too sweet for me. I don’t think these changes are what caused my cake to collapse. I’ll have to do some more research before my next attempt.

Castella Cake (slightly adapted from recipe found on My Kitchen Snippets)

Ingredients :

5 large eggs
150 grams granulated sugar
200 grams flour
100 ml whole milk
2 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons oil (I used vegetable oil)

1. Prepared a square 8 x 8” square baking pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and grease it well. Preheat oven to 350 degree F and place a rack in the middle of the oven.
2. In a mixer whip eggs and sugar on high speed for 5 minutes or until batter forms a ribbon when the wire whip is lifted, the color should be light yellow.
3. Turn down the mixer to medium speed; slowly pour the flour mixture into the batter. Next add the milk and honey and mix until combined. Last, add the oil and make sure it is incorporated into the batter thoroughly.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place it in the oven and bake for 10 minutes in 350 degree F. After that, lower the temperature to 325 degree F and bake for 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
5. Remove from the pan as soon as it is done. Place it on the cooling rack and let it cool completely. Wrap entire cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. This prevents the cake from drying out. Cut and serve the next day.