Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Santa Cruz Mountains Camping

Pigeon Point Lighthouse
We were on the fence about camping this past (Easter) weekend. On one hand, DH had Monday off, making it a 3 day weekend and an ideal weekend to check out the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains. On the other hand, it was scheduled to rain. 
Now I am a glutton for punishment just as much as the next guy but camping in the rain is for the dogs!
So one can imagine our shared delight when we checked the weather report Friday to see the rain was no longer in the forecast! We packed the car early Saturday morning and were on the road just after 8am, ready to discover a new spot.
enchanted campsite surrounded by redwoods
Home away from home!
We'd heard good things about Butano State Park in the town of Pescadero and in fact, this campground was one of the more remarkable and beautiful I have experienced. The campsites themselves are rather small and not ideal for more than 1-2 tents but the sheltering redwoods create a very intimate, serene space. 
Banana Slug!
Having never been to Santa Cruz, I was ecstatic to see a real life banana slug for the first time. So adorable. These mushrooms looked delicious...and dangerous!

Whale City Bakery

Ollaberry croissant
After settling in we headed down a particularly breathtaking strip of Pacific Coast Highway toward Santa Cruz, stopping along the way at whatever roadside attractions caught our eye. Whale City Bakery was a nice little spot where we picked up an amazing ollaberry croissant and an artichoke-stuffed bread loaf (not amazing). 
Wine tasting and camping go hand and hand in our experience and DH was particularly excited to try the wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The pinots of Beauregard, Silver Mountain and Santa Cruz Mountain Wineries were excellent and the tasting rooms were pleasant and understated. 
veggie sandwich, rigatoni salad & local beer on tap
We headed into the center of town for lunch at the lovely River Cafe. I am still thinking of their delicious veggie sandwich with raw asparagus slices and homemade kombucha on tap!
colorful wetsuits on sale

surfboards for every size

Verve lattes
Not unlike the coastal cities of Venice, Santa Barbara and Big Sur, Santa Cruz is a distinctly Californian city with classic laid-back surfer/hippy vibe. Racks of wetsuits and surf shops line the streets and Verve coffee is a knockout coffee spot whose beans are brewed up and down the state.
Duarte's tavern and restaurant
After a delightful, decadent day in Santa Cruz, we headed back to the campsite to discover an unforcasted rain dampening our good time. Not to be discouraged, we dined at Pescadero's only dinner spot, Duarte's Tavern. Around since the turn of the last century, Duarte's is known for its artichoke specialties and its cioppino.

By the time we got back to the campsite Saturday evening, there was no denying the rain was here to stay. By Easter Sunday, the campsite was drenched and anything with a surface (everything) was wet or wet and muddy!
Nepenthe's famous sour cream pancakes
persevering pancakes
There were two options: either pout about it and pack up camp OR persevere. 
So we persevered with pancakes! Nepenthe's famous sour cream pancakes to be exact. A good pancake can really brighten the tone of an otherwise dreary moment.
And after persevering with pancakes...we packed up and headed home. Sometimes you gotta know when to fold 'em!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sol Food

DH outside Sol Food
Where and what one is eating is a topic of conversation I am endlessly interested in. It is is one of the few subjects I am equally happy to talk about with anyone, be it close friends or perfect strangers. As a result, restaurant recommendations are an important part of almost every conversation I find myself in.
Upon moving to the Bay Area, a restaurant frequently recommended was SOL FOOD in San Rafael, a half hour north of east bay by car.
Of course I heard SOUL food whenever anyone said it and politely passed on the suggestion. There was already more soul food restaurants in east bay than we could handle so why would we get in the car and drive to yet another soul food place in San Rafael?
After a half dozen different people suggested Sol Food, we could ignore it no more. 
And so we made our way to SOL Food, the Puerto Rican restaurant that now haunts my every waking hour and some dreams.
colorful doors line the interior walls

a kettle collection and family mementos are sprinkled throughout
Puerto Rican sodas and coconut waters
That last sentence might be an overstatement but only slightly. Sol Food is one of those rare restaurants that is so good, you almost regret knowing about because it completely distorts your relationship with all other restaurants. 
Am I the only one that has this perverse relationship with restaurants?? 
(Viet Noodle in the Atwater area of Los Angeles has this same effect on me.)
pique, housemade hot sauce
limonada fresca
Two staples of the restaurant are the pique, the vinegary homemade hot sauce, and the limonada fresca, perfectly sweetened limeade mixed with sparkling water and served in a 32 oz. mason jar! 
veggie plate with 'pink' beans and maduros, sweet platanos
veggie deluxe sandwich on tostones, with garlic-lemon dressed greens
The menu is very vegetarian/vegan friendly while still having quality chicken and steak and seafood options. DH usually orders the vegetarian plate of rice, pink beans with green olives, lemon-garlic dressed greens and either sweet or savory platanos. All sandwiches have the option to be served on tostones, or garlicky flattened platanos as a wheat-free option, a must in my opinion. The veggie deluxe sandwich on tostones pictured above is a sandwich I simply cannot recommend enough.
An angry letter from a concerned citizen
At the corner of Fourth and Lincoln in downtown San Rafael, Sol Food's mint green building has become iconic. In fact there is a hilarious letter from an uppity Marin county citizen advising the proprietors to change the 'garish' color of the restaurant or risk going out of business!
When we last went on a Monday afternoon, after the typical lunch hour rush the line was still out the door so luckily, the minty green Sol Food is here to stay!

Fish fry sandwiches

pan fried cod sandwiches with salt & vinegar chips and braised broccoli
Sunday afternoon, while driving home on the I-5 North after a long and wonderful weekend in LA, DH and I both came down with an intense craving for a fish sandwich. Not just any fish sandwich mind you, but the fish sandwich from local Oakland eatery, Wood Tavern. Theirs is a harmonious blend of pan fried sole, fresh frisee and a pickle-caper remoulade together on a La Farine baguette, the best baguette in the bay area. 
Sadly though, this perfect sandwich is served only on their lunch menu and we were somewhere in Bakersfield when we got the craving. 
Wood tavern was not in the stars Sunday night.
crispy cibatta rolls, garlicky aioli & red cabbage slaw
So we opted for the next best thing and recreated our own fish sandwich!
We opted for local rock cod and DH whipped up a very delicious red cabbage slaw and a garlicky aioli. Salt & vinegar potato chips are a given with a fish sandwich and the braised broccoli made its best effort to make the meal ever so slightly healthy.