Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Road Food

We just took our first real vacation in quite a while. Naturally, this involved a considerable amount of eating out. Yay!

Our first stop was Santa Barbara. There's a fine New Orleans style eatery just off State Street called The Palace Grill. Len and I ate there for dinner one night when we drove up to Santa Barbara to see 1776 on stage. I wasn't sure it would still be there--after all restaurants have a very high failure rate--and I didn't know the address. By coincidence, the parking lot we stopped in was right across the street from the restaurant and it was open for lunch!

Len decided to try the artichoke po'boy (above) and I went for the soft-shelled crab po'boy (below.)

My tolerance for being in New Orleans is about 3 days--after that I want food that isn't fried. But for a change of pace, it is terrific, and the po'boys at The Palace Grill did not disappoint. We also liked the version of fries--sort of like deep fried country potatoes with Cajun accent.

We continued north on U.S. 101 to San Luis Obispo, which has a very large farmers' market on Thursday evenings. We stopped and walked the entire market, picking up some very yummy, freshly fried mini-donuts. I like the powdered, Len got his with cinnamon sugar. They were a bit of warmth against the settling off-shore dampness.

I bought locally produced vinegar in raspberry and blackberry flavors and then we stopped for an olive oil tasting at a permanent shop on Higuera Street calld We Olive. (We returned to the shop on our way back south to actually buy a couple of small, expensive bottles of California-produced olive oil that we did not want to submit to possible overheating in the car on our trip.)

Dinner was pretty much forgotten as we continued north until we found a place for the night in Paso Robles. We read that there would be an olive festival on Saturday, but we had a party in Salinas to attend. There are both vineyards and olive farms to be found in abundance in this central coast area. We were told repeatedly "where there is good wine, there is good olive oil" because the plants like the same kinds of conditions. I did notice how many more vineyards were planted along the 101 than I recall from my first road trip between L.A. and San Francisco in 1990.

We found our hotel in Salinas, unpacked, and headed north to Gilroy for the factory outlet mall and a stop at Garlic World, a place to find wine, olives, and, of course, garlic in its many forms. There was a huge selection of hot sauces, most of which contain garlic. I'm a sucker for label design, and I loved looking at the selection set up by the windows. I've made purchases here in the past, but these things last a long time in my house.

Len and I used to go to Bristol Farms on Sunday mornings for our weekly religious experience of looking a packaging and sampling the food. Now the nearest Bristol Farms market is in Thousand Oaks and the Whole Foods market doesn't have the same kind of bakery.

Saturday afternoon was the event for which we added 900 round trip miles to the odometer: my friend Terri's surprise party. It was held at the home of the daughter of a close friend of hers only a few miles from Terri's place in Salinas. After being punked by our GPS ("you have arrived" turned out to mean we were about 300' below the house and had to continue down the road and twist our way up the hill), we parked and socialized with a house full of strangers until the birthday girl arrived. The look on her face when she saw me was worth the entire trip.

The party was catered by The Inn at Tres Pinos. The food was wonderful. In the cast-iron pot in the foreground (below) was a chilled appetizer containing seafood, to be eaten with the freshly fried tortillas. Then there was chicken with a mole sauce, a beef dish, and vegetarian chile rellenos.

I confess, I had never eaten chile rellenos before, since the sauce and cheese didn't appeal to me, but I really like these a lot. I suppose it had something to do with the grilled corn that was included. Below is another look at the chicken mole.

The cake was a work of art, covered with shaved white chocolate and included a mouse-like layer of chocolate. I discovered I had shed quite a bit of the white chocolate on the living room floor, which was embarrassing. It was one of the best cakes I've had in quite a while.

We did several meals at diners or diner-type places on the trip. Len really liked the Black Bear Diner next to the Laurel Inn where we stayed in Salinas. I'm really glad most places have learned to substitute fruit for fried potatoes with breakfast. The decor was rustic, with artwork of bears everywhere, including carved bears and photographs. At Margie's Diner in Paso Robles, I had a huge platter of fruit in what was identified as a fruit salad. I took some of it with me. Our last full meal on the road was at Pea Soup Andersen's in Buellton, where we had the requisite pea soup, even though it is a dish better suited to the winter than 100 degree days in August.

In addition to stopping at the olive shop in San Luis Obispo, we stopped at the flagship location of House of Bread, a bakery which has only recently opened a location in Chatsworth. I pass it every time I go to see the Arabian Prince, but I hadn't had a chance to try it in the few weeks it's been open. We picked up a loaf of blue cheese and walnut bread to take home. It is quite flavorful, but I like a crustier bread. I suspect that either the plastic packaging or the moisture in the cheese prevents a crackling crust. I will try some of their other offerings when I don't have time to make bread at home. Right now, Audrey III is trying to take over the refrigerator, so I'm good.


Cheryl said...

We have a fairly new Bristol Farms here in Palm Desert! I LOVE THEM! I will go in and buy my fresh produce there about once a week. Hubby buys wine there and his favorite sparkling wine (NOT champagne)! Check out my blog at winefoodandphotographs! I LOVE your food blog! I'll have to remember to take more pics of the restaurants we go to! Have you been to the Stinking Rose in LA? LOVE IT!

Cheryl said...

We found a Black Bear diner right off the freeway outside of Phoenix. I forget what exit it was...right off the 10 freeway (easy on, easy off)! We LOVE THEM! Good food and prices and LOTS of food! We'll make that stop from now on!

M. C. Valada said...


Yes, we have been to the Stinking Rose. The restaurant has quite a collection of hot sauces.

I've been to your desert horse blog. I'll check your food blog out as well.
I was wondering where you were located. Thanks for clearing that up. I don't think I've been to Palm Desert, but I might have been past it once or twice.

And I'm glad you like my food blog. Food assignments were one of my two favorite things to do when I shot a lot for the Washington Post in the 1980s. The other was the celebrity portraits for the Style section. A collection of those hang above my head in my office.