Sunday, February 27, 2011

Travel Post: Feb 2011

Vancouver, Seattle, Amtrak - Coast Starlight, LA, Palm Springs, SFO

Just got back from holiday and thought I would do a mini-post (or not so mini! but at least combined) on some of the food from our trip since some of it was supremely good and all of it was interesting.

We started a lazy Sunday afternoon at BierCraft Tap & Tapas Bar on Commercial Drive. They have an extensive belgian beer menu. If you can import it to Canada, it's available in the bottle. They also had several wheat beers on tap, including our Island's own Driftwood White Bark! Although the bottled beers we had were small, they were also strong. The final beer - one of the tap beers, came in the giant glasses that make you feel like you're teeny tiny. It would be hard to find a selection like this in Victoria - it just wouldn't survive as such a niche place.

The food was weirdly not Belgian. There were "belgian" but also "kennebec" fries which seems a bit contradictory to me, but maybe I just am not up on my fry terminology. They were okay... the lemony-mayo that came with them was odd but slightly addicting. The miso-beer gravy was actually kind of good.

For dinner, we went to El Barrio, a mexican place with killer chipotle sauce. Everything was amazing - from the pitchers (yes, plural) of margaritas, the patatas with an amazing garlic mayo and my fajitas with shrimp marinated in an amazing garlic-lime-tequila sauce that makes me drool just thinking about it. I wish we had mexican like this in Victoria! The only thing comparable is Adriana's.

After a 4 am start (ugh. surprisingly not too bad considering we were drinking most of the day before!) we stopped at Zeitgeist for something to eat and drink. Considering we're in coffee city, and this was a pretty high-end looking coffee shop I was not that impressed at all. The sandwiches we had were ok, but the coffee wasn't that awesome. Also had to explain americano misto/africano... is this a regional preference or did we just have terrible baristas?

In attempting to find headphones, we stumbled on this fabulous asian market thing. Will be going back here, holy cow! Wish we hadn't gone to the coffee shop now... full of amazing looking little places, crazy dishes I've never even heard of and just delicious smells.

We only had time for a Beard Papa, but it was aamaaaazing. A fresh puff pastry, all soft and gooey like the best kind, plus a gentle, slightly warm (if my memory doesn't fail me) vanilla custard filling. I could have eaten many more, but self-control won. I wonder if beard has anything to do with the fact that you can't eat a large one without getting icing sugar all over your face? Apparently these exist in Vancouver - we should rectify the fact we don't have them in Victoria! Might quit my day job... anyone got money to fund this? ;)

We had heard mixed reviews of Amtrak food, although their "parlour car" menu looked amazing. We tried both the regular diner car which was mostly cafeteria food and nothing special, but after that we opted for the fancy car. It was only available to sleep car customers, and they had events like wine tastings ($5 extra but everything else was included in the ticket price!).  You could buy bottles of wine for $15-25... oh America, I envy your wine prices!

Whoever did the menu was really smart. We found out afterwards that our server was also our chef. We never would have known! Here's a good example: lunch was a choice between smoked salmon on rye, or eggplant parm. Both quick to assemble, kept warm in a steamer and then served up on a moments notice. At major stops, the food for the next day is loaded on mostly ready to go. Genius! So, the dinner menu was stuff like "slow-cooked lamb in a savoury rosemary mint sauce" and it was fall off the bone because it had clearly been cooking all day and night. But all the recipes were very flavourful and appealed to a wide demographic of food people like us, to older folks taking the same train they've taken their whole lives.

As a note - Amtrak was a great experience, and we'd recommend it to anyone who is happy to sit for a few days and watch the scenery go by.

We had planned to take a trip to Bubba Gump Shrimp after our delicious meal there when in Disneyland several years ago. We have been craving ever since. But, after conversing with the Amtrak staff we realized we could do a lot better and probably should take advantage of being in the city until our train left at 3 the next day.

We didn't realize when we booked our hotel that we were within spitting distance of Olvera street - a wee market in the oldest part of LA which has become Mexican food (and Mexican-themed tourist tack) heaven.  Mexican is my absolute favourite cuisine, and at the top of my list of food I would eat every day for the rest of my life if I had to choose. We had a somewhat ambitious plan to wait until they all opened and then eat one thing off each menu to try to establish the best, but that was foiled by having huevos for breakfast at Las Anitas. Super cute place and the huevos were both excellent. We did make a stop around 1:30 for lunch, and had to have the taquitos with avocado sauce at Cielto Lindo. Highly recommended! I looked up the history online, and it goes quite far back, to the 1930s, and involves a single immigrant mother creating a fantastic business.  I'm sure that there were many more options that were just as delicious if we'd only had infinite time, and infinite stomachs. I left terribly sad we had neither!

Palm Springs
We had quite an assortment of food here - it was pretty entertaining.

Our first stop was a Chipotle, as the internet buzz around this place is epic. It was pretty yummy, and fresh tasting, but the sheer size of the burritos was enough to make me explode! I'm still full, and it's more than 30 hours later.  It was kind of like the Subway of Mexican food, with non-processed, no growth hormones and ethically-farmed fillings. Admittedly, nothing I couldn't make at home (in fact, I've made a version their cilantro-lime rice and it's quite tasty!).  Still, I'd choose it over McDs in a heartbeat and probably be a regular if the closet one weren't in another country. That being said, La Fiesta in town is pretty much the same thing complete with three-day stomach ache inducing size of burrito.

The next day we got taken to the 19th Hole - a golf-themed pub. (Don't ask - we were in Palm Springs with bonafide octogenarians as our tour guides after all!) It was actually quite tasty despite what I would have expected from the unusual decor. I had the burrito again in an attempt to get as much "authentic" mexican while miles from the border as possible. It was pretty tasty once again! I really liked their hunks of steak in a spicy marinade but I can't remember what they called it off the top of my head. The fish tacos looked like a poor version of Red Fish Blue Fish though. We had two local-ish beers - the Fat Tire which was nothing to write home about as well as the Blue Moon which was very much like te Driftwood White Bark.

As luck would have it, we stumbled on a retro-tastic hotel restaurant called the King's Highway in the Ace hotel. Online reviews suggested it would be full of hipsters, and it was pretty right. At first, we thought it was nautical themed, but it turned out to be macrame. There were leather chairs. There were globe lights on the ceilings and mirrors above the bar. Our hostess was wearing platforms, 70s shades (at night) and her lip liner was darker than her lipstick. You could buy striped pajamas as a souvenir.

As for the food - it was fantastic! They had even more choice of "local" beers including the Stone IPA which was nummy and the Arrogant Bastard Ale which was dark and hoppy. We split the ceviche, which was pretty much like fish salsa. I had a delicious, savoury dish of wild mushrooms on top of spicy polenta with a creamy mushroom-soup like sauce. I will be attempting to replicate that one at home! My partner-in-food-and-life had the tagliatelle pasta which came with delicious shrimp and veggies cooked in a sherry sauce which was from all accounts also delicious. We had to have dessert despite being full, which was an affagato (espresso over gelato) and a sticky date pudding with caramel sauce and gelato (after all, we are in date country!). We're already planning our next trip to Portland will involve a stay at the Ace there - the food will be blogged, oh yes.

Airports aren't somewhere I'd usually think about going for good food, but we were surprised to find quite a bit at the San Franciso Airport!  There was Lori's Diner (or something like that) with a giant breakfast, a sushi place with fresh sushi and even an Anchor Brewery pub with some decent beer.

Happy to be home - and happy to be continuing to review some of our delicious food here!


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