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Wednesday Food: A Weekend in California

ca2Six months was the longest I’d gone without visiting my home state, so Thursday night when my flight touched down in San Diego, the itinerary I had drafted filled every free margin of this month’s crappy Architectural Digest.  The prime directive* intent of the trip was to see my family, who are some of the coolest people I know and with whom I share a passion for well crafted food and drink.  While I can’t say every event was crossed off, the list has certainly been lightened and my appetite for all-things-California, temporarily sated.

First stop, bags in tow, was Toronado, where I was met by a lively handful of The Sister’s comrades. I committed myself to only drinking that which I cannot find in Chicago (readily, at least).  The night began with O’Brien’s IPA from Alpine, an exciting libation for which I have nothing but praise: piney pungent hops and a mild bitter finish, exactly how you imagine a distinguished IPA to taste.  I had the ambition to drink in as much of the generous draft list as possible, but the bartender had no interest in attending her anxious wards until she decided to declare last call.  Changing gears, and continents, I finished with the Maredsous 8 Bruin, a Belgian brown ale that had a smooth, lightly fruity, but not terribly complex taste.  There’s an effervescent quality about certain Belgian beers, (that somebody more knowledgeable than I can assign), which is not unlike champagne and produces an almost giddy feeling halfway between drunk and high– a great way to close out the night.

The next day, as The Sister and I headed north, we stopped in Escondido for a visit to the Stone Brewery.  A new site, it has a few hit or miss points.  The draft selection extends past what the brewery produces, and appears to be unlabeled, insinuating that the bartenders are capable of pouring from memory.  I started with the Ruination IPA which satisfied my craving for intense biting hops, then moved to the 13th Anniversary Ale which has since become a favorite.  A brief retrial of Duchesse de Bourgogne reminded me that I just have no taste for Flemish reds and their similarity to balsamic vinegar, (that said it would make for an outstanding reduction sauce).  The Sister ordered a CoCoNuT Porter from Maui Brewing, which I would have loved on a dark night in January, but just couldn’t handle in the July heat of Southern California.  We both enjoyed the BBQ duck tacos , although the sauce was excessively sweet (perhaps because it was based on a porter?).  The macaroni and cheese, which The Sister had coveted, ended up being a huge disappointment with undercooked elbow noodles drowning in a watery beer cheese sauce, and sausage that was delicious but overpowering–it should have been a dish in itself.  All we could do was reminisce about macaroni and cheese and hot dogs, which I doubt was the chef’s intent.

Visiting the brewery was worthwhile in the end, because they have a large, gorgeous garden property that one can meander through while sipping or snacking on all that the restaurant has to offer.  I should also mention that the site and structure are about as sustainable as can be, utilizing materials unearthed on location.  Plus, the plants are indigenous, so they don’t put any strain on California’s dissipating water supply.

Continuing north to the LA suburb where my dad lives, one must suspend expectations of culinary greatness.  In terms of eating out, Macaroni Grill is about the highest level of sophistication.  Though on second thought, they did get a Natural Cafe which fills a niche in the small world of informal vegetarian cuisine.  Most often we stay in and eat grilled tri-tip with the Santa Barbara Country Meat Market Co. dry rub, and salad from the backyard garden.  My dad (whose birthday is today), has an unstoppable rapport with nature that rewards him with 16 thriving tomatoes, a rose garden, a couple of dozen adoring hummingbirds, and a magical compost pile that spits out potato and squash plants every time you throw scraps into it.

By Monday I was headed south to catch my flight back to Chicago, but had to make one final stop in Ocean Beach at South Beach Bar and Grill .  Ocean adjacent, it is situated in a neighborhood that hearkens back to Isla Vista in the 70’s, where people still bike with a board under arm, and shirt and shoes are rarely required.  About a third of the restaurant’s patrons are locals who have spent the last thirty years perfecting this lifestyle, the rest are skateboard toting college kids and tourists who have been tipped off to the famous fish tacos.  We ordered a mini-platter which comes with 5 tacos including mahi, wahoo, grilled shrimp, calamari and baja, and though two are fried they all taste outstanding, slightly nuanced and perfectly complimented by the pineapple-habanero salsa.  Accompanying the spread I had the Yellowtail Pale Ale which was quickly overshadowed by Green Flash‘s West Coast IPA.  Before I knew it The Sister was dropping me off at Lindbergh Field and in about twenty minutes we were climbing up to 35,000 feet and back to the world of Three Floyds and Metropolitan.

*I was going to edit this out but thought I’d keep it for laughs.  Turns out years of engrossed Star Trek viewing has infiltrated my concept of reality to the extent that I employ Trekkie jargon without realizing it.  Though I didn’t even use it properly.  Whatever, “you’re an impossibly stubborn human” death to the Borg!


July 15, 2009 - Posted by | Wednesday Food


  1. I live literally—literally!—a block from Toronado. You could have written.

    Comment by ben wolfson | July 16, 2009

  2. That is, from the Toronado in SF. My mistake!

    Comment by ben wolfson | July 16, 2009

  3. I had no idea that the Toronado had expanded their operation down into San Diego. Love that place, surly bartenders and all. Helps that they love my wife and give us free drinks from time to time. Rosamunde should open a location down there, too, in order to replicate the experience completely.

    Ben . . . I took you for a Mission-dweller.

    Comment by Brad Johnson | July 16, 2009

  4. Lower Haters 4 Life

    Comment by ben wolfson | July 16, 2009

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