When mr G voiced his plans to visit California for two weeks on a business trip in June, I offered up a generous suggestion, 'I could make myself available to accompany you!'
'What will you do in California while I'm working? he asked. My response 'I could eat!'.
Just like Julia Child (in my favourite flick 'Julie and Julia') said to her husband Paul, when they first relocated to France for his business commitments.'What will I do in France?' His response 'Well, what do you like to do?'. 'I don't know' she said as they sat at a French restaurant eating bread together. 'You do like to eat!' Paul said. 'Yes' Julia said, 'Yes I do!'
It has been twenty five years since our last extended holiday together, where I didn't cook once and we ate out every night, that was our honeymoon on Lord Howe Island!
Nearly twenty five years later, we found ourselves in Southern California together for two weeks, staying in hotels,(instead of a tent), no cooking facilities in sight, surrounded by a plethora of eating out options.
I am thankful for the many people who offered suggestions of great places for us to go, many we tried and really enjoyed. There is such a diversity of both flavour and price, in this land of plenty.
We spent half of our time in the Manhattan Beach area of Los Angeles, the other half at Pacific Beach in San Diego, both very beautiful parts of the Southern Californian coastline (and we squeezed in two nights in Las Vegas in between).
This was only my second visit to California, the first being seven years ago and more of a family tourist trail, where eating out was not such a focus.
It was inspiring and a revelation to see such a strong Mexican influence in the food, architecture, foliage and landscape. Brightly coloured bougainvillea, an abundance of thriving succulents, window boxes with vibrant red geraniums. Weatherboard cottages with Adirondack chairs in a rainbow of colours, adorning every deck and courtyard. Grand rendered, terracotta toned, beachside properties loomed along the edge of The Strand. Expansive promenades begging you to walk or ride, bronzed beach goers building muscle, a bevy of beach volley ball enthusiasts and iconic life guard towers, lining the golden sands from pier to pier.
Simple Grilled fish (snapper) tacos served with cilantro and avocado US$5.99 or Skirt Steak Taco served with cabbage, onion, tomato, cilantro, avocado and cheese US$4.99
both from Oscars Mexican Seafood in Pacific Beach were incredible.
We loved the Tableside guacamole US$14.00; enough for a family of four, made to order at your table; chunks of creamy avocado balanced with cilantro, garlic, tomato, onion, Serrano chiles and a generous hit of lime, served with house made tortilla chips at El Dorado Cantina in Las Vegas.
Of course there was always a cheeseburger to tempt, of which I did eat my fair share, possibly for comparative purposes, possibly because I have always liked a well made burger. The Kettle at Manhattan Beach served a Kettle Burger; half pound waygu beef burger with lettuce, tomato, pickle and thousand island dressing, add Tillamook cheddar US$11.75 definitely a decent burger with fries or slaw on the side.
Delicious Coconut Shrimp served with pineapple marmalade US$9.99 and Pan Sauteed Crab Cakes (combo of red and dungeness meat) on a bed of Mesculun lettuce with lemon vinaigrette US$13.99 were to be enjoyed at the ridiculously popular and crowded, Fishbar in Manhattan Beach.
Our favourite find was Gjusta Bakery - Deli - Cafe in Venice CA, so much so we went there twice. Their Chicken and Root Vegetable Pot Pie US$12.00, Pastrami Reuben Sandwich, rye, sauerkraut, Russian dressing US$16.00 and Carrot, Orange, Apple and kick-ass Ginger juices US$6.00 were all amazing. With a gorgeous outdoor courtyard, offering shared table seating and a buzzing atmosphere, makes it a place well worth searching out. Great chocolate chip cookies too!
Gjelina Restaurant in Abbot Kinney Boulevarde, Venice CA also came highly recommended by dear friends and it did not disappoint. Grilled Broccolini, Garlic, Chile and Red wine Vinegar US$9.00, Crispy Purple Potatoes, Aioli, Pickled Red Onion, Horseradish and Dill US$9.00, Santa Barbara Spot Prawns, Tomatillo Butter and Lime US$22.00 / concluding with a seasonal vegetable; wood fired pizza; Squash Blossom, Zucchini, Cherry Tomato, Thyme and Caciocavallo (stretch curd cheese)US$14.00 - Brilliant food!
This was also one of the few places we indulged in dessert; Chocolate Pistachio Tart with Creme Fraiche and Pistachio Oil US$14.00, Home made Gelato; daily scoop; honey US$3.00
Redondo Beach Pier boasts many dining options, with a bias toward fresh seafood, particularly crab. At Quality Live Seafood Inc. a live seafood market, we selected a live Spider Crab; steamed to order and a whole Mexican Snapper, filleted and broiled (meaning char-grilled). Let's just say mr G was otherwise occupied for quite some time, sharing the plate of fish with me and then extracting every little bit of succulent, sweet flesh from the just steamed crab. Did I mention it was the fourth of July holiday that day - so there was no hurry! There were people everywhere, enjoying the beach, the ocean, the seafood and the Californian sunshine, all out celebrating the star spangled banner and their day of independence.
Our final dining out experience was at Manhattan Beach Post a soulful, highly personal restaurant by Chef and co-owner David LeFevre, offering an artisan menu of small shared plates. It turned out to be our most expensive night out.
We choose five shared plates, starting with their famed Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits with maple butter US$6.00 which were really good.
Broccoflower, Lemon, Chili flake, Parmesan US$13.00,
Housemade Pork & Shrimp Dumplings, Citrus Ponzu, Chicharrones (pork crackling), Chili Oil US$12.00,
Squid Ink Tagliatelle, Shrimp, Squid, Cherry Tomatoes, Parsley, Breadcrumbs, Serrano Chili US$13.00 this dish was a real stand out.
We had ordered one more dish, which we didn't really need as we were already quite satisfied; and we also didn't notice at the time of ordering, that it was a lot more expensive than our other choices; Meyer Farm Beef Ribeye, black truffle butter US$39.00 what can I say, it arrived and was melt in the mouth tender, we left bursting.
Somedays we found a sourdough bakery, grabbed some bread and made ourselves a simple sandwich from farmers market finds, or we ordered a salad/vegetable sandwich US$9.00 at local Sloopy's Beach Cafe.
Palm trees, spectacular sunsets, succulent displays and vibrant coloured beachside eateries. Fish tacos at every turn, winding queues for ice cream sandwiches and more golden sunsets beckoning.
California you were pretty fine - and good golly you fed us very, very well. Where next mr G?