Wednesday, August 9, 2017

California Dreamin': Food and Sights from a Week in Central Cali

Summer in Austin can be wretched, so I was glad to escape for a week to California, where we could sleep with the windows open every night! My trip started with a long weekend in the Santa Barbara/Goleta area for a family reunion -- lots of talking and eating!
Sailing in the Pacific with Santa Barbara Sailing Center netted seals
 and a pod of dolphins who swam with the boat.

Crab cake dinner one night in Santa Barbara at the Boathouse.
Then a friend met me and we proceeded north through San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles, where we had a charming VRBO home in the middle of wine country.
Luna Red in San Luis Obispo; Press Gang Cellars rose. Loved the patio and relaxed vibe of this place!
San Luis Obispo Luna Red Tapas
Tapas at Luna Red -- garlic infused olive oil, goat cheese with pesto, and bacon-wrapped dates. We saved the leftover oil for part of our charcuterie dinner at our rental that night.
San Luis Obispo Mission
The mission in San Luis Obispo, founded in 1772
We got a few provisions in Paso Robles (we found a cheese/charcuterie store and a bottle of wine), and then to our VRBO rental, which was technically in Templeton, about a 10 minute drive from downtown Paso. Quiet, charming, clean, and out of the way, it was perfect!
If you want the link to the VRBO just holler. 
Some of the area vineyards
We drove west on Highway 46 through a very dense bank of fog towards Cambria and then to Highway 1 north to San Simeon. Along the way, we found a roadside stand that had oranges, avocados, and firewood (we got two of the three!). Best oranges ever!

San Simeon is home to Hearst Castle, the unfinished dream of newsman/publisher William Randolph Hearst. I had visited as a teenager in 1989 and vividly remember the beautiful Neptune Pool with it's mosaic tiled floor but sadly it was under construction when we there. (Check out Lady Gaga's G.U.Y. video if you really want to see it!) But the opulence, details, and views of the entire castle and grounds never fail to impress.
The main building and some of the statues on the grounds.
The main dining room, complete with requisite bottles of ketchup and mustard, which Mr. Hearst always insisted upon.
The indoor Roman pool, modeled after the Baths of Caracalla; not visible, the eight statues
of Roman gods, goddessses, and heroes.
The ocean view from the property isn't too shabby!
We drove the few miles back to Cambria and had a wonderful late lunch at Indigo Moon. This charming house had fun artwork, and a covered back porch where we ate. They also own a cheese shop next door!
Focaccia with grilled chicken, brie, granny smith apple, and caramelized onions.
What's disappointing about Paso Robles is that all the vineyards and tasting rooms appear to close at 5 pm. We attempted to make it to Pasolivo olive oil, and arrived just before 5 pm to be told they had already closed up the registers. (I have since contacted Pasolivo and received a sincere apology, as it is their normal policy to stay open through 5 pm.) It would be great to see a couple places that stayed open until 6 pm. Fortunately, we found a great spot in downtown Paso called Artisan, where we could sit outside and enjoy the setting. Had a terrific glass of a 2015 Rhone-style red blend from Tablas Creek called Patelin. We snagged a wood-fired pizza to go, and headed back to our cozy rental.
Patelin: a blend of four red Rhône varietals: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Counoise
The next morning, we headed north towards Monterrey. Unfortunately, we had to take the inland route on Highway 101, as parts of the coastal Highway 1 are closed due to landslides. Just north of Salinas, we found a highly-rated hole in the wall from Yelp that had amazing sandwiches and great customer service. Welcome to Prunedale Market, and their tri-tip sandwich, which was so huge, we should have split one! 
From there, we made it over to over-priced but cute Carmel and dipped our toes in the ocean. The sand was so nice and soft!

And then we took the famed 17-mile drive from Carmel up to Monterrey with several stops at look-out stations along the way, while ogling the multi-million dollar houses.

We stayed at a hotel in Pacific Grove, just a hair west of Monterey. The town's annual lantern festival was the weekend just after we left, but the trees as well as many homes and businesses were decorated for it. 

Pacific Grove was charming, and appears to have a lot of good restaurants. Our first night, we found Passionfish, which is all about fresh and local food and sustainable seafood. 
Calamari

Rockfish with a miso-carrot sauce and jicama slaw; my friend had the keto salmon special with pesto and roasted corn. 
The next day we spent at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I had been once before as a teenager, and it was great to experience it again. We also did a behind the scenes tour of their sea otter program, and while you don't get to be up close with them it was fun and informative, thanks to our knowledgeable tour guide. She explained that many of the otters come to the Aquarium as rescues; they try to rehab them so they can be released back into the wild. They don't want the otters to get too used to human contact, which makes sense. We were glad we went close to opening, as it did get crowded by mid-day; it's not an inexpensive ticket, but if you can spend a good part of your day there, it's totally worth it. And the cafe on site had a great mac and cheese!
Mesmerizing jellyfish

Giant kelp forest and a leopard shark

Sea otter trying to extract a shrimp from the toy

Can you find the seahorses?
Dinner that night was in Pacific Grove at La Mia Cucina, a smaller Italian spot with great posters. Rustic Italian was just what we needed! Not pictured are their yummy focaccia and salad with a perfect creamy Italian vinaigrette.
Arancini balls

Gnocchi with gorgonzola and marinara sauces
On our last day, we found the Pezzini Farms roadside market stand in Castroville, home of an annual artichoke festival. They had a huge selection of fresh produce, locally made goods, and even a food trailer serving fried artichoke hearts.

But our mission was to get to Gilroy, and the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. Overall, they have the event logistics down pact, as you park and take a shuttle bus to the festival venue. There's tons of garlicky-filled food for sale, and also a ton of vendors with stuff, if you know what I mean -- everything from garlic bulb shaped hats to wind chimes to non-perishable garlic condiments. It did get warm (for California), and there's not enough shade.  Apparently over the course of three days, 102,000 people attended! The garlic bread and the sauce with the shrimp scampi were to die for!

We each got a combo plate and shared them.On the left, pepper steak sandwich, pasta with pesto, calamari with garlic marinara, garlic bread. On the right, shrimp scampi, garlic bread, marinated mushrooms, sausage sandwich
Like the sign says, free garlic ice cream. Not bad, but not sure I would pay for it! ;)
By mid afternoon, we were done, and it was time to head towards San Jose for our return flight. Having to return to Austin when it was 106 degrees out was LESS than desirable, but I was happy to get home to my own bed, cats, and air conditioning. I want the 55 degree nights back! A girl can dream!

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