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Wednesday Food: I’ll Even Kiss a Sunset Pig

Weblog!  More than a fortnight has passed since last we met.  And oh, much has changed!  We were both so different then, back in June.  Headquarters for Wednesday Food migrated from the superb tall buildings and elevated trains of the Windy City to the unassuming sea bungalows and sweeping coastline of North County (San Diego), California.

Your Wednesday Foodist spent a week in boxes, only to emerge triumphantly and drive up the central California coast.  I took in as many memorable meals, sublime panoramas, crafty beers, and California wine as was physically and financially possible (okay I went way over budget.)

A dear friend from Chicago flew out in celebration of her birthday and we plotted our quest from San Diego to Big Sur.  Though we hadn’t originally thought to, it became necessary to stop in Los Angeles; our swift traffic progress came to a halt literally at the LA county line.  We were joined by old friends at Father’s Office in Culver City for lunch and libations.  I’d heard of the original location, notorious for its beer selection and upscale bar food.  This second location upheld the reputation.  The highly acclaimed burger came with Maytag blue cheese, caramelized onions,and arugula; frites were shoestring thin and not too greasy.  We ordered goat cheese stuffed peppers that were subtly brightened with lemon zest but came in a meager portion, and a fennel salad with meaty artichoke hearts and intense white anchovies.  The beer list is moderate in length but thoughtfully orchestrated.  The 1903 Pre-Prohibition Lager from Craftsman Brewing in Pasadena, CA was a surprising stand-out beverage complex in flavor but light in body.  Overall, this place is high in quality and selection, and excellent in ambiance, but you’re paying for it both in cost and attitude.  There are zero ingredient substitutions or omissions, and an abundance of ‘ironic’ facial hair (both handlebar and ’70s porn star were present).  If Stephen Fry was a pub, he would be Father’s Office– pompous as hell, but irresistibly charming.

Leaving Los Angeles, we enjoyed more lovely coastal views and heinous traffic congestion until we reached Santa Barbara.  My beloved hometown is much changed this past decade, but one of the few things that remains untouched is Brophy Brother’s Seafood Restaurant.  It has long been a staple to both tourists and residents for its seafood and breathtaking view of the Santa Barbara coast and mountains.  The fried calamari that we started with was lightly breaded and perfect texturally– not at all rubbery.  The clam chowder was very good, packed with potato chunks and clam meat, suspended in a velvety cream.  A seafood skewer was well cooked, but a little tired in terms of flavor and presentation.  The beer list was likewise unremarkable.  But the portions were large enough to validate the time we lingered to watch the harbor light fall from sunset to dusk– the real draw of the place.

The following day we wound through the Tri-Counties up to Paso Robles, the Central Coast hot bed of winemaking.  It’s a region that sees 100+ temperatures in more than just summer months, but is accompanied by a daily occurring sea breeze that cools off grape vines and makes for ideal Pinot and Zinfandel growing conditions.  As it happens, Sunday afternoon is not an ideal time for winetasting– most vineyards and tasting rooms were closed.  We did manage to sneak into Arroyo Robles‘ tasting room and sampled some nice Syrah, and Grenache blends.  They were sold out of almond champagne– a regionally popular sweet sparkling wine which, because it was sold out, I can’t comment on but feel obligated to mention.

We took advantage of our designated driver and went on to Firestone Walker Brewing Co.  Firestone only recently entered the Chicago market so I only knew a few of their creations, but they’ve been racking up awards in the craft beer industry for years.  Two of us did flights of four, which I would remember more distinctly if we hadn’t been wine tasting before hand.  I’ll say everything was solid, especially the ‘reserve’ beers and the Double Jack, on tap.  I promise more details on a future visit.

From Paso Robles we were off for two blissful days of camping in Big Sur.  Before retiring to our tent at Limekiln State Park we worked up an appetite hiking and dined at Big Sur Bakery.  I knew about this establishment after finding their cookbook at a bookstore in the midst of winter two years ago.  I was shaken from a bout of seasonal depression by photos of rustic golden pastries, glistening seafood, and spring vegetables.  The stakes were high for this visit and I was unnerved at first by the ridiculously bad service.  Granted, it was the night of July 4th, but half the staff behaved as if it were their first night and they were completely overwhelmed despite the restaurant at half capacity.  We didn’t dare burden anyone with table service and sat at the bar (where it was equally difficult to order a drink.)  Everything changed when the food came out and it only took two items for my impression to bounce back.  A simple bread board presented hearty country loaf that was light and moist on the interior but had a chewy flavorful crust.  Accompanying it was a generous pat of butter and a tiny mound of mixed sea salt and pepper.  It was evident that simple things crafted well, can be great.  To share, we had a locally caught swordfish on roasted golden beets and fennel, topped with an avocado chili dressing.  The fish was tender and rich, perfectly cooked, and was qualified by my friend as “the best fish [she’d] ever had.”  The food was so good I would have been happy to pour my own beer and collect our meal from the kitchen myself.  Front of house be damned!

Our reluctant return south, back to obligations and habitual schedules, was eased with a final stop in Avila Beach.  This town is a real gem– beautiful beaches, seaside cliffs and a 19th century fishing wharf nestled in a cove.  We had lunch at the Olde Port Inn on the end of the pier which afforded a view of anchored fishing boats, and a lazy whale making its way back out to the channel.  There was a certain kitsch value to the restaurant itself but the food again, made up for any demerits.  Two grilled Dungeness Crab cakes were packed with sweet meat the only filler was a binding egg and diced green onion.  A seafood skewer– delicately grilled salmon, scallops, shrimp and halibut in buerre blanc– was the most satisfying meal I have had this year.  I spent my first two weeks in California seeking out a seafood meal that would stop me craving ocean critters round the clock, and this truly, was it.  A pint of Amber Ale from Alaskan Brewing was sweet and mild enough to keep from distracting the flavors of the fish.

The week was so enlivened by memorable adventure and decadent repast as to motivate me through the lean weeks of joblessness and beans and rice to come.

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July 13, 2011 - Posted by | Wednesday Food

9 Comments

  1. Yay! You’re home! And writing just as well in California, spurred by salt air, as in Chicago, fueled by salted streets.

    Comment by Vanessa | July 14, 2011

  2. I’m very happy to have Wednesday Food in California. I may even take that Santa B. recommendation some time this summer.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | July 14, 2011

  3. Wednesday Food, should she wish to return to Santa Barbara for a visit in the future, she is encouraged to inform the former Tuesday Hatred, whose residence in that city will shortly begin.

    Comment by ben | July 14, 2011

  4. Should Wednesday Food and the former Tuesday Hatred concede to meet at a point between their new and future residences, perhaps in the fair city of Los Angeles, the former Spoiler Alert Thursday would wish to join them, and I’m willing to bet that the current Monday Movies could be persuaded to do so as well.

    Comment by jms | July 14, 2011

  5. Wow, the whole blog is either on the West Coast or in Belgium!

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | July 15, 2011

  6. Except for you.

    Comment by ben | July 15, 2011

  7. I’m literally no where and Adam’s exception proves the rule.

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | July 15, 2011

  8. Yes, an arrangement will be in the works. Craig can venture from no where for vegan empanadas and Adam should put his ass on a plane.

    Comment by ebolden | July 15, 2011

  9. Well, Belgium is also on the West Coast of a land mass whose East Coast was ocasionally eyed by the great S. Palin. On average it is less of a drive here to good beer and one can eat stovery met frietjes prepared with beer, sugar and something that all grandmothers knew what it was. So, ass-on-plane-wise, be my guest. It might be the last chance to come to Belgium anyway.

    Comment by Guido Nius | July 16, 2011


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