Friday, June 15, 2018

Tripping with George & Chryss--Victory Was Ours (Eureka, Healdsburg, Berkeley)

One of the great bonuses of completing a long run you've built up to for a long time is you get to take a few days off from the training regimen, and that means you can wake up and just go have breakfast. So that's what we did Monday morning, finding Los Bagels not far from our stay in Old Town. Suckers, as we are, for the Day of the Dead look, it was hard not to find the place charming. Very good coffee, whole wheat bagels (a bit too healthy for me, but I'm an East Coaster at heart), and that avocado smear was green goodness. The chorizo egg mix wasn't quite as good--again, maybe that chorizo wants to save us all from too much piggy fat, but that just meant it was a bit dry. Stick with the avocado.

Lovely-leaping signage nobody could get away with in Santa Barbara. It's good to travel.

Chryss a bit sad we didn't see the actual Bigfoot at the Legend of Bigfoot roadside crap-atorium ("you'll be thrilled to see all the junk we had shipped from China for you to buy to memorialize your trip to this gorgeous scenery!"). How is it that it's impossible not to stop at a place like this? It's like peering into America's eager-to-sell soul. Remember when we had one? Good times.

Much better times were further down the 101 as we pulled into Healdsburg for a late-ish lunch. I'm sure Sonoma natives see it as a sell out--its square ringed with spots wanting to entrance the tourist dollar--but at least a lot of that is done with some class. Take Shed. Its motto is "gather, share, and learn with us," and they leave out the buy and spend part, but that might just be because that's crass. What they sell is "curated" (as if most stores just let anybody put stuff on the shelves), and you can go on a foraging for Sonoma seaweed trip. It's kind of an upscale Williams Sonoma for people who want to take "make your own shrub" workshops. So that means it's me and all I'm not sure I like about me in a giant modern "barn" space. With food.

So, we set luncheon sail with the cured fish board, small version. If you like sea things, salt, smoke, pickling, you want this board, with all sorts of tones and tastes. Chryss would have been happy with just a bowl full of the trout mousse, piquant with dill, but then mackerel and gravlax and smoked trout and white anchovies and that lovely squid salad at the center. To drink, sweet driver Chryss had a pear shrub (what a tasty way to be alcohol free) and I had a glass of the Windgap Trousseau Gris, simply because practically nobody makes that wine, which is too bad--mysterious and alluring, a hint of smoke but mostly tropical fruit and lemon blossom in a steely package. Great lunch wine.

Then as if we didn't have enough, we also ordered the Farro Verde, which also came out on a board and pretty much looked like it was still growing. So how come people have not been feeding us fava leaves before? We love pea shoots, so think of fava leaves as their heartier cousins. There are actual fava beans in there, too, very young so roasted whole--this was a dish (a board?) that completely made you eat in ways you hadn't, but in a nudging not obnoxious way. The fava bean romesco and pine nut ricotta added depth and creaminess and a bit of crunch. What a wonderful way to welcome to spring.
Having had all that for lunch we needed to walk around, so we did, checking out the ritzy pet supply store, passing by tasting rooms, realizing it was so much hotter here than in Eureka. (Oh, I forgot to say we definitely saw the Humboldt fog--there is a perfect gray line off the coast most days, just like in one of our favorite cheeses. Talk about the scenery making one hungry.) So, we walked, and sweated, and then there had to be an ice cream shop. So despite being full, we stopped at Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie Bar, which made us instantly wonder why there aren't more pie bars. (We'll have to add that to the brewpub+bookstore.) It's very creamy ice cream, and I couldn't resist trying the cornflake-maple flavor, which was the teensiest too sweet for me, but I guess I should have expected that. Should have had pie.

Then, more car, luckily going the opposite way versus the out of SF end of work day traffic, and our next night's rest--the Bancroft Hotel in Berkeley. It's a National Historic Landmark, for good and bad. The building, from 1928, was designed by a guy who had worked with Julia Morgan. It's very California Craftsman, and that's great. It's kept up well, too, and they've gone very green with it--this is Berkeley, after all--from drapes made from recycled soda bottles to EcoTimber hardwood floors. But the rooms are small (as people a century ago didn't need as much space as we do) and our room was on the third floor and there's no elevator. You feel every step of those floors a day after 13.1 miles. But, it's well-priced and directly across from the Berkeley campus. Location, location, look out for the screaming homeless person.
Or duck into a bar, after spending lots of time and not too much lots of money at Moe's (hooray old school bookstores!). That's the board at Raleigh's on Telegraph, and to show you how long it had been since I'd been to Berkeley, I thought I remembered a Raleigh's as a good place to drink interesting beer, but the place I knew burned down and took 6 years to get rebuilt and I missed all of that. So it's much more modern, and, to be honest, there's even more great craft beer, so much so it was hard to leave. So when you don't know the beers--and we didn't, as most of them were northern CA made and therefore don't make it to SB--pick based on what's important to you. So, IPA. So, hazy, because it's a trend we like. So, a Santa Rosa brewery called Henhouse, as we have one. A solid IPA from Sonoma, perhaps the least notable of the four we tried. So, an Oakland brewery called Novel and a beer called Dust Jacket--perfect for readers like us.Perhaps the favorite we tried. Then one from Nevada City, Ol' Republic, called Cosmic Fly By. Another solid, satisfying pour. And then an Alameda Island Island Haze, a perfect name for a New England style IPA.

So then we continued, IPA fortified, down Telegraph a bit to an odd international food restaurant mini-mall featuring Peruvian, Korean, Swiss, and our goal, Ethiopian food at FinFine. You see above a double order of the vegetarian combo with more injera than you can eat, especially since you're going to want to gobble up the giant one that has had your food soaking into it for a bit, too. Nothing like having a whole different spice rack than you're used to working to please you (alas, we don't whip up some berbere often at our house, and it's our loss, of course I'm not quite sure where I could get korarima, either). But odd-toned gingers and rue and nigella make for some delightful eating. Even better, they like to shop from local organic farms, so it's farm-to-table exotic. Although the owner did joke, "I have to add some salad, this is America," a line that reverberates in so many ways.

So much food on so much beer means, what else, more walking, so we head over to the Shattuck business area to the west of the Berkeley campus just to check that out. And after a 30 minute walk we're, of course, up for more adventure so visit Jupiter. Not the planet, but the pizza joint/brewpub, as my FOMO still hasn't settled since we wee in Raleigh's.

As you can see, the left side of the board is all their own beers, but the guest taps also rock--it was very hard not to go with another Novel, especially when it was called Gravity's Rainbow. But I figured, when in Jupiter, feel heavy, so I had to try one of their experimental beers under the Launch Pad name, High Gravity. It was delicious, with its heart full of Mosaic hops. Chryss, meanwhile, went for a kombucha, which it was probably a good thing she didn't quite know what it was before she ordered it. From Sacramento, Zeal does truly unique flavor combos, and the one Chryss had and loved featured pine, hibiscus, chamomile, lavender, ginger and vanilla. The balance made it all work, given any one of those ingredients added heavy would have made some disaster. Fascinating.

We walked home. We made it up to our third floor room. We dreamed dreams of the full and pleased.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tripping with George & Chryss--We Run, Then Eat and Drink a Lot (Eureka, Arcata, Ferndale)

So it's simple. We do this:


So we can do this:


That first part, though. It's hard.We are joggers, not runners, in the way that we are cooks and not chefs--nobody is paying us for our skills. But that doesn't stop us from doing, and that's a half marathon in a nutshell--just keep doing. There are all sorts of tricks: have a bouncy bit of music run in an endless propulsive loop in your head (the chorus of this one kept me chugging); try writing in your head so you forget your body; pick other runners as pace rabbits and try to stick with them; count the distance up to 6.5 miles, just over an easy 10K, and then back down, comparing the distance left with trips you know you can do easily ("heck, this is just our house to State St. and back!"). And, of course, for this run, you just had to look around and think, "Goddam world so pretty!" A bonus of being slow--you have that much more time to take it all in.

Beyond staying hydrated, I like running on an empty stomach, so post race our first need is coffee. We can't even make it all the way back to Eureka, and instead visit Victorian Ferndale, which was recommended by one of the race volunteers at the packet pickup the day prior. It is something--looks like a movie set.

You even have to get there via Fernbridge, a concrete arch bridge from 1911 (things weren't so wide then) over the Eel River (they're really lampreys and the difference matters to eel people). Despite all the old-timey, good-feely stuff, there's still the Mind's Eye Manufactory & Coffee Lounge--caffeine, tasty baked treats, and a maker space. Yeah, we find the hipster place in the squarest place every single time.

After hitting our Air BnB for a well earned shower, it was time for BEER! We decided to also check out Arcata, Eureka's northern neighbor, so saw more of the down-on-its-yet-digging-them-in-heels Eureka and drove over the causeway looking for Redwood Curtain Brewing Company, since it's best to try stuff that you've never had. You see our first two pours up top; the one on the right was mine, the cleverly named Sellick Stache American Pale Ale. Here's how they describe it: "Magnetic aromatics of citrus blossoms with an essence of spring pine, followed by a gentle earthiness. Tropical Starburst fruit with a firm dankness blanketed with our signature bready mouthfeel." As my first beer after the half, I describe it as heaven. It did just the right amount of hops bitter with rich malt mix at a not huge ABV (5.6%) as a fine place to start the drinking day.

We needed food, too, and luckily there was a food truck, because that's what chill breweries do now. LoCo Fish Co. was parked outside, and Chryss went for some bowl thing while I didn't listen to their name and thought "cheesesteak!" It was good, but had a design flaw; they upgraded it some with goat cheese instead of good ole American or cheddar, and while that's great for flavor, and Humboldt local to boot, it's the wrong texture, too dry for a cheesesteak. Not a huge problem--I still ate the whole thing, but it meant I needed more beer, that's for sure.


And that was part of Redwood's intriguing Funky Notion series, AKA brewers play with brett. All of them were fruit-brewed, but I opted for La Baie D'Oie, because who gets enough gooseberries in their life? Here's their take on it again: "Tight and dissipating head. Golden sunburst in color. Pleasant aromatics of sweet yet acidic Nopales cactus, prickly pear and slight desert horse blanket. Firm and gooseberry mouthfeel followed by a tender nectar with approachable acidity. Brewed with Simpson Maris Otter, Weyermann Pilsner, Weyermann Munich, Crisp Wheat, Tettanger hops and our Proprietary Belgian yeast strain. Aged for 12 months on French Oak barrels with our Wild Yeast Blend and then aged on gooseberries for another 6 months." Luckily, I didn't get much horse blanket, but did get much sour delight.

Let's skip ahead, already, to dinner, then (I think there was a nap--every good race deserves a nap), or should I say pre-dinner, for in the very building in which we were staying on the third floor (even harder to climb those stairs now) was Humboldt Bay Provisions on the first floor, and that meant oysters. I'm pretty sure they go to their own special stomach when you eat them--I mean, who gets filled up on oysters?--so we figured sharing what they call a Captain Sebastian, 6 raw, 6 broiled, each with a special topping, would be a way to get the evening going and celebrate where we were, blocks away from a bivalve-full bay. Of course there was more beer--I got to have that Redwood Curtain Imperial Golden Ale I skipped there (good choice!) and Chryss had a Six Rivers IPA, which was solid. But the oysters were much more than that, from the ones just mignonette-ed out to one dressed with Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog, spinach, and lemon juice. A very chi-chi place.

So for actual dinner, we had to go to Eureka stalwart, that just happened to be around the corner from our digs, Lost Coast Brewery. It's more, well, Eureka, if quirky; look out for that giant spider that lowers when you walk in the door!


Did you know they're one of the older microbreweries, and started by a woman? All very cool. So while many places have beat them at what's latest, greatest, hippest, hoppiest, they still aim to please beer-loving folk. And their new-ish Revenant IPA matches any standard West Coast hop bomb, rich with the classics, Simcoe and Citra. Plus you pay $4.75 for a pint. As for food, it's not gourmet in the slightest. I'm pretty sure my giganto portion of Chipotle Shrimp Macaroni (that name leaves out there's bacon in there) was as irresistible as it was unhealthy, but that didn't stop me from eating all the equally addictive cheesy garlic bread that came with it too. Chryss, insisting she wasn't just trying to make me feel guilty, had one of their veggie burgers.

After that, there was Rose's Billiards with no one but us there. For you can't have a vacation until you shoot pool. Family rule. (Yeah, we shoot pool like we run, er, jog, but we still enjoy it.) There may have been more beer....


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Tripping with George & Chryss--A Bit Closer to a Half (Santa Rosa, Laytonville, Eureka)


One of the trickiest parts of running a half marathon--assuming you've put yourself through the training, which isn't tricky as much as grueling--is figuring out how to eat the day prior. What complicates that for us is we like to do destination races, so we're often in vacation mode the day prior. And, at least for me (go look at the name of the blog again), vacation mode means celebrating with the food and drink of the region.

Needless to say, you don't want to run 13.1 miles the day after a celebration. So, you have to pick wisely, and I usually don't have any alcohol the day before a run (sometimes the week before a run if I'm feeling particularly noble or in need of any edge possible).

Luckily that doesn't rule out a good latte and some scrumptious baked goods for breakfast. So we took out the Yelp machine and hunted for delicious in Santa Rosa, and managed to find the town's artsy district as a bonus. Somehow we weren't smart enough to take our own photos, so the one above is one of theirs, but it seems fitting to pinch a picture from Criminal Baking Co. & Noshery. It's tiny, but its display case will make you mighty desirous, and fretfully indecisive. You'll want a scone, a muffin, a savory pie, a piece of pie. Then there's actual breakfast sandwiches that other tables seemed perfectly pleased with. I somehow focused on the bacon, apple, cheddar scone, all those flavors an equilateral triangle of balance, and the scone itself manna from heaven. Chryss had a savory pie, chard and goat cheese. Noble sounding can still be delicious you know.

The couple of blocks about Criminal featured more coffee, studios, graffiti/art--all the kinds of things you might not imagine in a town most famous for its longtime artist Charles Schulz. But the vibrancy in this area was more than peanuts, let me tell you. (I'll show myself the door.)

Or, we showed ourselves the car and drove north. Walked about a bit in Hopland, and were distressed to see the old Mendocino Brewing Company spot empty and for rent, plus, of course, I instantly wanted to open a brewpub.


Kept heading up the 101 to our destiny with doom, I mean the race the next day. But we got hungry, of course, so ended up at Big Chief in Laytonville. If you think you're pulling in at a laundromat, you've found the place. Of all things, this spot, which seems from the outside to be a typical greasy spoon roadside diner, serves Cajun food (if Yelp can be trusted--hey, no snickering--the owner is from Louisiana). So we ordered a shrimp po'boy and a mushroom po'boy and each had half. Tasty, if not terrific, but such a surprising find. And I'm not going to talk about their self-billed Draft Punk taps--we're talking beers I haven't seen in Santa Barbara (like stuff from Bagby in San Diego!). Cause I wasn't drinking. Running long distances hurts.

The Avenue of the Giants is the term for the 31-mile portion of the old 101 that snakes alongside the new, multi-lane 101, because logging trucks! It's about an hour south of Eureka, where we chose to stay for Saturday and Sunday, since not much is in-between the two and we didn't have enough time to build a treehouse. Yeah, there's camping, but me and camping are a long story (or maybe a short story: I came from an indoor family), and it's better to wake up in a bed and then go run 13.1 miles, than wake up on the ground and try to do a long run thinking there's still a rock lodged in your erector spinae (that's what the kids are calling back muscles these days).

We stopped in to grab our numbers at the race packet-pickup and to figure out exactly where we had to be Sunday morning. Turns out even the felled redwood by the visitors' center knew we were coming:

And if you were wondering, "up" is "way" in this neck of the woods:

But the good news is we knew it wasn't going to be too hot running the race, since the sun generally can't quite makes its way to you. OK, enough wise-cracking, the redwoods are the kind of place where words don't suffice, photos don't suffice, even your memory assumes it's failing, for it assumes what you want to think you saw can't be that sublime.

We continued on to Eureka and checked in to our AirBnB, right in the historic area in a historic building...that meant we had to walk up to our third floor room. We're talking rooms with 12 foot ceilings, btw, so a floor up is a hike. So much good last day training! And then we got to be so happy during the race, not having to hoist our suitcases too. It turns out it's some special art on the town kind of night (every town does these now, don't they?), so we wander a bit for that, and Eureka kind of rhymes with quirky for a reason--there's a nifty novelty store (I was a 70s mall child and miss Spencer's), vintage clothing stores for when women were half Chryss's size (really, I mean, women weren't 5'10.5" once upon a time), quaint people tabling for Delaine Eastin for Governor, and the cool Eureka Books, which has a huge display of Amy Stewart titles because she and her husband own the place. (So that brewpub we own will have to be a bookstore too.)

For dinner we chose Oberon Grill as it was near, cute, and offered us something relatively simple and direct, so we both ordered the same thing (we never do this, that's how weird the night before a race is). What you see is a pleasantly grilled filet of steelhead (it's Humboldt County, seemed like a good local call), lapped in a chipotle sauce with a bit of zip but more smokiness (again, anything too spicy will hurt you running morning, no pun intended), and some spinach and mashed potatoes for the traditional carb packing part of a meal.

No wine, no beer, no cocktail. Their bar was pretty though.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Let Those Without Tickets Start the First Whine


I've been writing about the Santa Barbara Wine + Food Festival for 11 years, which sounds like a long time, but that only means I've been covering it for slightly more than a third of its history. A mainstay, and fundraiser for the education programs, of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the SBW+FF has been around so long it even was not at the museum for a couple of years--think of that period as the Avignon Papacy of the festival (yum, Rhone wines!).

Fortunately for the event, and even more so for us, it's been in the incredibly capable hands of organizer Meridith Moore for the last many years, somehow ever out-doing itself. It obviously has a headstart with its setting, the oak groves behind the museum on Mission Creek. You get to feel like a sylvan wood nymph as you enjoy tastes from 50 fine wineries, mostly from SB County, with well-curated space found for a few makers from further north like Toucan and Tablas Creek. Even better, since so many of the region's founding winemakers have been part since the beginning, they've got a sense of loyalty to the event--once it was the only tasting of its type in town (can you imagine? it seems like there's a festival every other weekend anymore). So that Longoria might likely be poured by Rick Longoria, that Alma Rosa by Richard Sanford, that Ken Brown by, oh, you get it by now. It's not one of those, "I'm just a volunteer--I know nothing about wine, let along this wine. I'm just waiting for my pouring shift to end so I can get looped," kind of festivals.

As for that loopiness, if that happens you can only blame yourself, for few such events offer so much food, wait, make that ridiculously delicious food. If I counted correctly there's almost 40 food purveyors (and 50 wineries), and somehow Meridith just keeps adding the hottest spots in the region each year--new adds for 2018 include Blue Water Grill, Goa Taco, and The Little Door. And anyone who went in 2017 has to wonder what Bear and Star will do to outdo itself from last year. From Barbareno to Via Maestra 42, it's a culinary delight; that's why they added Food to the name last year.

I'm not going to praise the event too much, though, as I left the bad news for last...while it happens Saturday, June 30, 2-5 pm, it sold out yesterday. So if you don't have tickets, you're not going to be there. You see, they limit the number, too, to keep it at a buzzy happy size and not a "I hope I get to the front of 5 wine lines this hour" size. It's that good.

Here's a bunch of other times I've written about this, if you need to read up:

Natural History Never Tasted This Good

Away from State Street for Solstice

A Festival from the Winery's Perspective

Under the Oaks

A Museum-Quality Wine Festival