Californication – from Clam chowder to Fajitas

I’m back from California and what a culinary adventure! My tastebuds have literally been given a jump start having become recently complacent. Italian food is fantastic but just sometimes I like to indulge in more than the five herbs to which their cuisine stays loyal; parsley, basil, oregano, rosemary and sage.

California was, on paper, a chance for my family to spend some quality time together, although for me it was the perfect excuse to indulge in some international cuisine (and if I was lucky some junk TV!). I opted to leave the big camera at home for this trip and travelled with my Nikon D70 and 2 lens, enough to play tourist and not have to carry 10kgs of camera equipment!

After 10 hours flying and the usual yucky plane food we arrived in San Francisco in time for dinner, albeit a little spaced out. To keep life easy I opted for a burger but am then intrigued by the pulled pork sandwich and so make a last minute change. Verdict? Great pork but  a little heavy handed on the BBQ sauce. Remember my stomach is only just refamiliarising itself with life outside of Italy!

Day two and we opted for Mexican served, as the locals claimed, “in a chic bar with no mexicans in sight!” Maybe not the most authentic venue but delicious nonetheless and we shared an array of mexican tapas including chicken tacos, beef burritos and a spicy prawn combo and a few margeritas to wash it all down. (That’s me second on the left, flanked by my brother, mother and sister inlaw)

The “Bailey family” at Mamacita, Chestnut Street, San Francisco, CA

From here our road trip really got started and we headed north up highway 101 towards Napa Valley and Bodega bay. Due to some (very) bad map reading on our part we missed the turn off to Napa but as a consequence discovered the delights of the Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley wines indulging in Chardonnays and Reislings for the remainder of the trip. I also took the chance to taste a few local reds and sampled from Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Merlot.

Wine tasting in the Sonoma Valley.

Our culinary trip was tested at times by the early dining hours in some of the smaller towns. As we clocked up a few hours driving each day it sometimes became a race to our next destination to ensure we arrived in time to find both motel and restaurants open. After a few days of medioca meals we stumbled upon the university town of Arcata in the north of California where luck took us to the local Japanese restaurant, Tomo. For a pricely sum of $45 my brother ordered the special which was a mammoth menu of Miso Soup, Prawn & seaweed salad, Tempura, Beef teriyaki, Yellowtail Sushi, and sweet dumplings for dessert! The sushi was to die for as was my mum’s starter of steamed dumplings.

Popular noodle bar in San Fran.

No American trip would be complete without some staple American food and over the 3 weeks we came across our best Burger at Jakes in Tahoe City, served with bacon and blue cheese, our best Clam Chowder at San Francisco (not too thick!), our best steak at a diner at Gilda’s on the pier in Santa Cruz, our best salad at the North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg, our best breakfast at the Sugar Pine Cafe in Mariposa, our best croissant at the Parker-Lusseau bakery in Monterey, our best mexican in Las Vegas (of all places!) and our best pizza in Virginia City (although a little heavy on the jalapenos!).

We loved the microbrew beers tasting 12 at the Fort Bragg Brewing Co. and sampling others across the state. Big brand beers were a little bland in comparison. We found some great wines and were also served a few oops bottles of “over sweet” Reisling and “too dry” chardonnay but had much fun tasting.  We drank way too many coffee frappuccinos but hey it’s only ice. We became inamored with Vitamin Water after all why drink just water when you can also boost your Vitamins C and D, E and whatever else they put in it?

We loved the fresh produce everywhere.

So to sum up my summer of Califonication I’d say that I fell in love again with flavours but a little out of love with sauces; blue cheese, ranch, balsamic, italion, honey mustard, cipotle, mustard, ketchup, mayo, thousand island!!! To this day I still can’t tell you what Chipotle is!

Back at home in Italy I’m indulging in a few simple pasta pesto meals before I embark on some more creative dishes with a little california influence. First up…crab cakes with a side of spinach salad with feta, apple and cranberries.

One Response to “Californication – from Clam chowder to Fajitas”
  1. Thoroughly enjoyed California and have rediscovered white wines after years of favouring red.Will be indulging in some Chardonnay, Reisling and Sauvignon Blanc this summer!

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