Friday, October 24, 2008

Salty Girl does California

I’m back! We spent the past 10 days in California… beginning in Los Angeles and ending in Calistoga. A fabulous trip eating and otherwise.

While I do feel a little bit like I drank the Cali Kool-Aid in terms of how fresh and fabulous all the food was, I’m still putting my eggs in the east coast basket for now.  For now

After stumbling off the plane in LA at 10am Saturday, we drove to Santa Monica and had lunch at Urth, a lovely organic café with a fun patio and great people watching. Then it was off to REI for some last minute supplies for our backpacking trip. Dinner was at Brasserie Anisette. I highly recommend it if you are in Santa Monica… great vibe and perfect for a Saturday night.

We got up the next morning and drove to the Matilija wilderness area in Los Padres National Forest for a few days of back to nature. As anyone who hikes knows, you could barbeque a sock after a long day on the trail and it would probably rock your world. We kept it simple, and had strange noodle concoctions in the evenings, including buckwheat noodles one night that basically turned into glue. Alarming! Yet tasty!

We reemerged from the woods and headed to Santa Barbara.  We spent the afternoon ogling produce at the Farmer's Market- which puts any others I've seen to shame.  

Then it was off to my cousin’s house in Santa Barbara, where she made a fabulous roasted yam and sweet potato soup. I’ll definitely be trying to recreate it this winter. Her partner whipped up sourdough French toast in the morning, and sent us on our way to Monterey.

We stopped for lunch at a little café that overlooked the Pacific, and were told that fires closed the road up ahead on highway one. Veggie sandwich eaten, I climbed back into the car for what would be a full day in the car. But, a beautiful one nonetheless. We were rewarded with dinner at Passionfish, a restaurant in Pacific Grove that features all sustainable seafood. It totally lived up to the rave reviews, and was an easy walk from our lovely inn.

The next day we ventured to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for some starfish touching and tuna feeding and had lovely seafood salads for lunch after.

One of the coolest things at the Aquarium was the “Real Cost Café”, an exhibit set up to look like a lunch counter. It's part of the Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program, designed as a teaching tool. Behind a lunch counter there are videos that describe the perils of various food choices (e.g. tuna, shrimp, etc.). It really drove the point home and was a popular exhibit.

Thursday night we went to the San Francisco culinary temple that is Zuni. I had an amazing oven-baked halibut couscous seasoned with anise, cinnamon and garlic and served with charmoula and harissa. Amazaing. The house cured olives were also delicious, with hints of citrus and fennel.  I probably ate an entire loaf of their bread myself, and I'm proud of it. 

We waddled out of San Francisco Friday to drive up to Calistoga for a wedding. We stopped along the way in Napa to attempt a tandem roadbike (Never again! We didn’t make it out of the parking lot). We traded it in for normal roadbikes and had a laughably short ride to the closest vineyard we could find from Healdsburg. Quivira turned out to be a very cool biodynamic vineyard which provided a perfect place to picnic. We wobbled back into town, and completed the weekend in Calistoga, with great brunches and even better dinners.

Before flying home we had dinner at the Slanted Door. It's as amazing as everyone says. The baby octopus was unbelievable, as was the grilled Arctic char. Even the mint tea was sublime. Definitely worth a visit.

I’m sad to be back at work, but full of ideas for fall cooking. Stay tuned!

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