We have a tradition in Thatfamily. During the night before our birthdays, Thatparents would sneak into our room and fill the floor with as many balloons as would fit. My first year of college, when Thatboy and I had been dating only a couple of months, Thatmom called him up and asked if he could continue the tradition since they wouldn't be able to. Thatboy didn't quite understand exactly how it was done; I woke up my birthday morning to an empty floor, but a ceiling full of helium balloons. Nowadays I get the best of both worlds.
Thatboy had a few more tricks up his sleeve. Everytime I would turn around throughout the day there was a pretty wrapped package waiting for me. He divided them into 4 categories. My "practical" present ( a gift certificate), my "want" present (something I had asked for), my "extravagent" present (something sparkly in a classic blue box), and my "pleasure" present (chick lit and a new cook book). And throughout the day I received enough other presents to make me feel almost guilty about how spoiled I was. Another blue box, presents to drink, presents to eat, presents for the kitchen, presents made of leather....
Thatboy had also declared a mandatory half day in celebration. We headed to one of my favorite places, The San Diego Zoo. I love being a member of the zoo because I can spend either an hour there, or a day. Just being there makes me happy. We began with a visit to my friends.
Then it was off to the new Elephant Odyssey exhibit that just opened last month. I hadn't been since it opened and I was dying to see it. Last year I did a 5k at the zoo and got to see the work they were doing on it and I wanted to see the finished product. It didn't disappoint.
Elephant Odyssey showcases the merger of the past and the present by combining present animals with descriptions of their long lost ancestors. There's an recreation of how fossils are discovered in tar pits. The simulated tar pit fills and empties revealing bones of extinct animals.
But of course, the main draw is the elephants!
On the way out, we stopped by the old elephant enclosure to see the rhinos and giraffes. We also saw these guys! Because I'm morbid I thought this giant anteater had a dead friend on its back. Or a stuffed animal. Turns out that's its baby!!! The baby isn't weaned yet and so mama carried it around on her back all day.
After the zoo, we went home to change for dinner. Thatmom, Thatbrother, and UDubb were all coming down to have a birthday dinner with us. When they asked where I wanted to go, the answer was clear - Blanca.
Thatboy and I love Blanca. It's his favorite restaurant in all of San Diego, and it definitely ranks up there for me. I chose it, not just because I love the food, but of all my favorite restaurants, this one is the farthest north - which I thought would be helpful for my family driving down.
Like Starlite, Blanca is another one of my "hidden favorites." It's located in a strip mall, which belies the clean, modern interior. Chef Wade Hageman offers a 3, 4, or 5 course meal that changes depending on availability of the ingredients. Almost everything is caught, killed, or grown within 150 miles of the kitchen. In addition, the seafood is ocean friendly in both the ways it is caught and prepared.
Thatboy and I got there early, so we could grab a drink at the bar before everyone arrived. Blanca has some great happy hour specials. Thatboy enjoyed a Malbec and I had a Moro Blood Orange. The blood orange vodka which serves as a base makes this drink taste like juice. Very very dangerous juice.
Because it was my birthday, Thatboy let me indulge in one of my favorite treats - a cheese plate. I LOVE cheese plates. Mostly because I love cheese. This one came with a maytag blue, with sugared pecans and a pear sauce; a french cow's milk soft cheese with marcona almonds and apricots, and a creamy cheese with dates. Can you tell by my fantastic descriptions how dangerous that martini was?
When the rest of the family showed up, we were shown to our seats and our amuse bouche was delivered. Corn chowder in an espresso cup. It was sweet, it was creamy, it was the perfect way to start the meal.
Blanca offers a different bread selection each night. The night of my birthday it was a garlic cheddar and chive biscuit. Warm and cheesy - this was a hit with everyone at the table.
Course 1. I started with the lobster medallions. The lobster was grilled, which is a new presentation for me, but still let the sweetness shine through. Served with melt in your mouth herb gnocchi, and the best fava beans I've ever had. A meyer lemon reduction only emphasized the sweetness of the lobster.
Thatmom and UDubb had the warm spinach salad. The thing holding the salad together? A strip of Nueske's bacon. Thatboy was happy to take Thatmom's bacon when she offered.
Thatbrother and Thatboy had the Monterey Bay Abalone. The green papaya salad that accompanied it in the abalone shell was Thatboy's favorite thing he ate all evening.
Course 2. Thatboy, UDubb, and Thatmom all had the Kobe Flat Iron Steak. The potato gratin tasted just like a baked potato. It was a twist on a classic dish, complete with English peas and carrots, as well as a homemade worcestershire sauce.
Thatbrother had the pan seared Alaskan Halibut. The soba noodles complemented the buttery fish - or so he says. We all know how I feel about fish. Except Thatbrother who kept asking if I wanted a bite.
My selection won for entrees though. Thatboy took one bite of my red wine braised short ribs and pronounced that "they rocked." The plate then got passed around the table so everyone could enjoy. The meat was tender and perfectly prepared, falling apart by the touch of the fork. I loved the sourness added by the olives on top, as well as the sweetness from the tangerine cumin reduction.
Thatboy ordered an extra course, but since none of us did, we'll call this course 2.5. Petaluma Quail Kung Pao. Thatborther had never had quail before, and thought this would be a good place to try it. He thought it tasted like cornish hen, but wasn't as impressed with the fried presentaiton.
Course 3. Thatmom ordered the sorbet trio. Cherry sorbet served atop fresh cherries, strawberry sorbet served atop fresh strawberries, blackberry sorbet served atop fresh blackberries.
One of my favorite things about Blanca is the desserts. I think the best dessert I have ever had was their browned butter pear bread pudding. This time I went with the blueberry financier with a creme freche sorbet. Bursting with fresh, sweet blueberries in every bite, I wasn't disappointed.
Thatboy, our chocolate fanatic got the Valrhona chocolate ganache cake - filled with gooey melty chocolate. I think he especially loved that it came with spearmint ice cream.
And because we were celebrating, out from the kitchen came a special treat! A carrot cake cupcake. Because everyone should have cake on their birthday. The cake itself was perfectly dense, while the cream cheese frosting was creamy sweet goodness.
We rounded out the evening with one more sweet treat - apple candies. Sugared and jelly, like grown up gummy candy.