Sunday, May 20, 2012

Los Angeles: Alcove Cafe & Bakery/Big Bar

Big is not always better. The coffee mugs are almost the size of my head - and I have a big head. Surely when it's such a big coffee it can't taste good? And it doesn't. Because its so huge, they have to make it really hot, so it burns my tongue on the first sip. Then it cools really quickly because of the massive mug and it's a puddle of bad tasting coffee / luke warm toilet water.

The breakfast is gigantic, with what looks like a whole pan of re-heated roast potatoes as a side to Chris' breakfast panino. The potatoes don't look appealing, I don't even attempt to try one.

I order the country breakfast: scrambled eggs, pancakes with fresh strawberries on top and a side of bacon. It was satisfactory. The eggs I could have scrambled a hundred times better with my eyes closed - they were a stiff mound of rubber. And the strawberries: not so fresh. At least not as fresh I've become accustomed to so far in the States.

Being also a bakery, they have a heap of baked goods on display, which I didn't try.

What I did like about this place were three things:
1. The massive outdoor courtyard with plenty of shade.
2. The area it's in (Los Feliz) as its a suburb I wanted to check out.
3. The people watching.

I guess that's probably the same reasons the Angelenos like this place too.

Next time you're in LA, steer clear of this place. There's way better places to have breakfast at.

Alcove Cafe & Bakery/Big Bar on Urbanspoon

Santa Barbara: Metropulos

Sunny, warm, arty, relaxing. We spent the day in Santa Barbara, quickly realising there's not much to do in this holiday destination except take in some sunshine by the beach and drink wine. Both things I thoroughly enjoy.

We walked around the main beach then through the side streets that had plenty of wine tasting and surf shops. We came across a stone mason who was working on a massive piece of granite outside his workshop and we stopped to chat to him. He recommended we have lunch around the corner at Metropulos, a Greek deli that serves sandwiches.

Metropulos is a small specialty goods store that also operates a cafe. Amongst the stacked shelves you'll find a multitude of goodies from all over the world. Although it's a relatively small-medium sized store, you could spend hours trolling through the goods.

We ordered a chicken sandwich, the Californian salad and a glass of local Grenache. The glass of wine was generous and only $4! Gotta get some more of that.

The sandwich was good but the highlight was definitely the Californian salad. It had greens, dried apricots, pistachios, goats cheese, oversize croutons and it was dressed with a honey vinaigrette. It was California summer on a plate, couldn't get enough of it!

What was even better were all the locals hanging out and eating at the cafe, discussing various topics including university education, IT business, art and painting (I couldn't help but eavesdrop). It was a cool neighbourhood spot for a cheap and tasty lunch before we hit the road towards Los Angeles.

Metropulos Fine Foods on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 17, 2012

California Dreaming

We picked up a red convertible Mustang and cruised around San Francisco for the afternoon, with the Golden Gate Bridge as our last stop before hitting the road, south down the California coast.

Our aim was to get to Carmel By The Sea by that night, which was approximately a two to two and a half hour drive. We arrived around eight in the evening, the car crawling through the quaint little town, until we found somewhere to eat. It was pretty quiet and not many places were open. We dined at an Italian and seafood inspired family restaurant. Food was average. The highlight was the gas fire pit we sat next to that kept us warm.

Since the front desks at all the inns in Carmel were closed, we headed to Monterey to spend the night.

After a good rest, the next day we got started at a reasonable time and drove all along the coast until we reached Santa Barbara that night.

The coast was breathtaking with many beautiful vista points to stop at and take in the Pacific Ocean. The photo opportunities were numerous but the sheer scale and feeling of being there in person is so much grander.

You really need to take your time, just when you think you'll gain some miles, you pull up around the corner to another vista point and you can't help but stop to take in the views.

We started by doing the famous 17-mile drive, then checked out Carmel beach and hit the road towards Santa Barbara.

There's a few pit stops long the way. Rocky Point Bridge has a restaurant nearby called Rocky Point Restaurant perched on the edge of a cliff with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean for your viewing pleasure. The decor is tacky, but food surprisingly decent with very generous portions. I had the burger with house seasoned fries, as well as a mimosa to pep me up for the rest of the trip.

I recommend packing a lunch or at least snacks, as you can easily stop along the way and picnic. Definitely pack water and if driving in a convertible, slip slop slap!

I really enjoyed Big Sur, in the thick of the national park forest. If i liked camping, then this would be a spot I'd want to do it at. There's a pit stop with a gas station and souvenir and coffee shop. We parked and walked past all that, to the southern most part of the stop and stepped into the Iron Maiden for a beer. They serve food so if you're looking for a feed, I's skip the cafe and hit up this pub instead. That's where we met a local and his wolf pet Tiana (she's 12 years old, friendly and absolutely beautiful). Big highlight as it was proof that people can have wolves as pets. Since I've been watching Game of Thrones, I've been trying to convince Chris to let me get a wolf! So this was all the proof I needed. Unfortunately we found out the guy that breeds and trains them passed away recently and that day was his funeral.

We continued on to San Simeon to check out Hearst Castle. There's a massive tourist centre at the valley, so people don't actually get direct access to the castle, instead they get ferried up and down the mountain by buses once they book in for a tour. We got there too late as the last tour departed for the day (at approx. 4:15pm) plus it was booked out anyway. So if you want to see the castle make sure to book online ahead of time. We weren't sure when we'd get there so we took the chance. Oh well, next time. We did see the small museum at the visitor centre which gives some interesting facts and history on the Hearst family and W.R. himself. Living the dream indeed.

Our last stop off before reaching Santa Barbara was Santa Maria. We had dinner at Dickie's Barbecue Pit. Santa Maria was not too appealing, slightly inland from the beach, its surrounded by large roads and farm land. We were starving, dinner proved tasty (for take away) and the Manuel carving out the meat was extremely passionate about BBQ. Their motto is "slow smoked, served fast".

We drove the last miles to Santa Barbara, glad to rest our weary heads when we got there, after such a big day of sight seeing and driving.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

San Francisco: go green or go home

San Francisco is the mecca of recycling, organic, dogs and hairy armpits. Oh, and don't forget the food, all the glorious food!

With the state of California dishing out $1000 fines for littering, I can understand why San Fran is trying to go green. It's working, there's recycling bins everywhere (hotels, buses, streets) and I didn't see one person litter.

There's a lot of dogs in San Fran. It makes sense between the high gay population and the dot com boom where people are more career than family focused.

Organic is big. There's the organic farmers market by the ferry building on Saturdays, one on Market St on Sundays, then the stores Whole Foods and Bi-Rite, plus who knows how many other local ones. These are places where hippies unite, hug trees and feel generally good about the world because they're buying local, sustainable and in season.

I do love how the vegetables are all neatly lined up, presentation is great across all stores and markets. Australia needs to follow suit and up the ante.

I joined in at Bi-Rite by buying "Lucky Peach", the quarterly food publication conceived by David Chang and Peter Meehan and printed right here in San Fran. I left the tree hugging for our road trip down the California coast. And I always feel generally good about the world.