after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

California Photo-Storm (pt 1)!

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t says: g and I are in the Golden State once again – we just can’t stop visiting!  Between the friends, the food, and the wine – it’s a triple threat!  We would have mentioned weather for a quadruple threat, but today, it decided to rain on us … hard … so we’re deducting points.  But at least it gave us time to stop and make this post.

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Ridge Vineyards: go there and look out onto Cupertino/Palo Alto/whatever it is that lies below.  And wines are quite good – lots of varietals to taste!

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Anyone want to start up a library of Ridge Monte Bellow cabs?  The cost is steep … but doable …

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 Just watch out for rattlesnakes (there are a lot of signs warning visitors … although we saw no rattlesnakes – much to k’s satisfaction).

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We went to Gabriella Cafe for dinner.  It’s a little, unassuming place tucked away in Santa Cruz … and they served things like this: mushroom-stuffed gnocchia with a pesto and butternut squash.  I was floored.  I did not expect this non-descript eatery to nail this dish, but they did.  Never have I seen gnocchi injected with something like mushroom, but they did it!  I guess that makes it more like a ravioli?  I have no idea.

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g’s tortilla soup was also quite nice.

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the next morning, we went to Kelly’s French Bakery, where we enjoyed a few morning treats.  Above is a chocolate “goodfellow”.  I have no idea if it was done “properly” or not, but it was quite good and something I wish I could find elsewhere.

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Coffee at Verve roasters was a highlight as well.  We snapped this photo because a had mentinoed that his heaven would be a cafe that also served bourbon … so here’s a coffee drink that uses some kind of Bulleit mixture (I assume they burned off the alcohol?).  So, it’s final: heaven is in Santa Cruz.  Next time, we’ll have to try it (they were out of it the day we visited).

There were lots of awesome photos of us scaling rocks in Monterey … but they reveal our identities, so we’ll skip them.  Let’s just say that I’m pretty agile on those rocky shores …

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La Bicyclette in  Carmel-by-the-Sea offered up some simple breakfast items done very well …

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… like the prototypical “California” breakfast featuring tomatoes, eggs, avocado, and a green of some sort.  Not pictured was the flakiest, lightest croissant we ever had in the states.  Rock on La Bicyclette.

hiking ...

We did some pretty awesome hiking around Point Lobos.  We were tempted to do the 17-mile drive … but refused to pay money to see beautiful sights when we saw plenty of beautiful sights for free!

driving ...

This was followed by a twisty-turny drive down US-1, with some of the craziest views ever!

pit-stopping ...

By the end of our drive, we were a little tired, so we stopped at San Simeo, where I was able to walk up to these seabirds and they didn’t flinch at all!

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Enchilada at Estrella in Paso was unfortunately mediocre.  The wine list was a little too focused on nearby producers – which would be fine if they would offer some small flights or something like that for tourists like us.  However, given the quality of the food, we’d pass on Estrella in the future – Artisan and La Cosecha looked great.

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The diner across from our hotel was hi-lar-i-ous.  Take a look at these menu shots!

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lo-cal plate, anyone?

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these are the banana pancakes at Margie’s.  the syrup packet is there for scale.  they were enormous.  and don’t be fooled – they were chocked full of bananas (to be seen on the underside).  I only finished half the plate.  WHY on earth would anyone need pancakes to be this huge?  I don’t know. But if we were staying in Paso Robles for more than a day, I would have brought them with me to the hotel to reheat for later (they had a microwave!).

We did a variety of wine tastings in Paso.  Our fave was Clos Solene.  Sure, their wines are a bit pricey, but Guillaume and Solene are gracious hosts with absolutely superb wines.  Definitely the best Syrah I’ve ever had in the US.  And the barrel-sampling of rose and white wines were fabulous – we’re totally in for some Clos Solene next Spring.

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Inbetween wine-tatings, g and I finally conquered In-n-Out Burger – something g had been wanting to do for years!  Welcome to the “animal style” burger with a “well done” set of fries.  Personally, I think that the “secret menu” is kinda silly.  But whatever.  Grub’s good – I’d go back.  It’s a notch above Mickey-D’s.

On the way back from Paso, we stopped in Mountainview to visit some friends, who treated us to this great little Indian restaurant nearby.  I have no idea what it was called, but all I can say is that it was tiny and had great food.

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After returning to SF, we went to a restaurant called Saru for lunch.  cm unerwent an 8-piece tasting which made his eyes roll to the back of his head a few times out of pure enjoyment.  They did look fabulous …

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I did some fancy yellowtail sashimi (it was some special kind of yellowtail I don’t recall), as well as some way-off-the-hook Chirashi (in the background).  Seriously.  This Chirashi was like full-on 8 slabs of sashimi with egg, mushrooms, and rice for around $15.  This was some of the best raw fish I’ve ever had (up there with Kiss Seafood, also in SF).

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welcome to the grilled yellowtail collar.  keep in mind that we, a bunch of silly sushi neophytes (face it, if your only experience with sushi is Philly nigiri and an occasional o-toro  or “sushi tasting” when you want to feel “spendy” … you’re a noob), had no idea what we were ordering.  now, having googled it, we understand where on the fish this piece comes from.  And let us tell you: it was crazy-good.  I haven’t had grilled fish this good in years.  YEARS.  If you go to Saru, you HAVE to order this and share it with a tablemate or two.

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We brought a bottle of Quintessa with us from Philly to share with kp.  A 2007, it was drinking beautifully, with a purity of fruit that was only beginning to gain some age.  What a treat.

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And now, for the grand finale of this post: our meal at State Bird Provisions.  kp is a SBP veteran.  He knows the standbys like the back of his hand.  And, because of the dim sum style, there were SO many dishes that it was hard to keep up.  The details are fuzzy, so if you are dissatisfied, you’re just going to have to go there yourself for the full experience.  Above is the pork loin with an apple mustarda.  A great way to start the meal (that one was early on).

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Lamb pierogies in its own braising liquid.  You know – how can you go wrong?  Take some pierogies, which are inherently good, and jam some lamb up in there … and you have heaven …

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… well … you had heaven until you ate this, and then you transcend to a whole new heaven.  This was  the “burrata on a sourdough garlic knot” topped with 5 spices.  Easy enough, right?  you figure, “oh, this is a bullshit dish – it’s all bait, and I’ve had it at Barbuzzo, so it can’t possibly be better”.  WRONG.  It can.  And it was.  I don’t know why or how.  Was it the texture of the burrata?  Was it the spices or infused olive oil?  Or maybe it was the pull-apart texture of the bread.  Well, whatever it was, it has taken over as the new Best Burrata to have ever touched these lips …

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This is the dish that made g drool.  Correction.  The food didn’t make her drool – the smell did!  It hit the table  right in front of g, and she immediately started drooling based on smell alone.  She had to wipe her mouth because she was drooling too much – I took a picture of it, but she threatened to delete it if I posted it.  So what was the dish, you ask?  It was the signature “California State Bird with Provisions” – fried quail with strips of cheese and herbed braised onions underneath.  Now, I missed out on the onions (cm interjects: t, your meal must have sucked not having had those”; g agrees: big mistake … huge.), but the quail was juicy and delicious.  To be fair, it could have broccoli for all I cared – it was so fabulously fried – but the quail did complete the dish nicely.

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Yet another dish that sounded underwhelming but delivered the goods: sourdough, sauerkraut, and ricotta.  They look like benign little pancake thingees … but what you got on the palate was a luscious burst of cheese and onion that made you want to order 10 more …

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… but don’t order 10 of those, order 10 of THESE.  These are the dumplings.  They are filled with guinea hen and a combination of spices that was insane.  The waiter’s description required like 3 sentences, 4 dependent clauses, and 5 breaths to finish.  And it killed it.  After that, there was simply nothing else I needed or wanted.  Now the broth that you see it sitting in is the real dark horse.  kp and I could have downed it by the cup.  Meanwhile k spoke out: “you know … it’s too salty”.  We were flabbergasted.  No way.  It was perfect.  I guess you’ll just have to go and decide for yourself.

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The desserts sound lame on the mnu.  Trust us: they aren’t.  They are full on flavors and as complicated as the regular menu items.  I won’t bore you with the details, but just know that they keep the party going and aren’t in the least bit “phoned in”.  cm wants there to be special mention of the huckleberries on the apple cake you see in the background, “they really made the dessert”.

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