Our May trip to California: the dining perspective

Oh boy, it has been over a week since we’ve been back from our mid-May trip and I can only now finally post about our dining exploits. Nevertheless, the memory lingers and I look upon it all even more fondly as the rude adjustment of returning home is now fading.

Super Duper Burger

We ought to be grateful that California/San Francisco is just a 2.5 hour flight away but with going to the airport that much earlier for a States-bound flight and waiting a touch long for our SuperShuttle, it felt like a lot had gone on during the day and we were wiped upon arriving at our hotel. But there was still daylight and I needed to get in a “snack” meal soon after setting out to explore in order to want to eat again at a late dinner!

Tim’s strong recommendation was that was try Super Duper and we happily did at their Market Street location. It has a cool upper level seating and we enjoyed our full-on combo of burger (single patty, even though we are sharing), garlic fries (YUM) and a twist milkshake.

Barbacco Eno Trattoria

I was looking at some Italian restaurant menus for LA and salivating. It’s comfort food to the hilt but why was even the most standard pasta dish well over $20? Then I came across a slideshow of interesting pasta creations around San Francisco and what caught my attention secondarily was the price. Reasonable ones. I just cross-referenced with a map of where we might be and selected Barbacco in Financial District, not too far from our hotel.

Was the hotel going to be a dive? Was Financial District going to be sketchy? Was the restaurant going to be dull and quiet because people vacated after work? None of the above, thankfully!

Barbacco is located next to its sister (and more formal) restaurant, Perbacco and the California Street strip they are on have a few other busy restaurants. Although I made a reservation, we were seated at the bar but the bartender who was often right in front of us was nice and non-interfering. We were instantly comfortable and the surroundings were cool. We ordered a kale salad to get in some greens and NPY – flooring me – suggested the bruschetta sampler. Then, when we were considering between lasagna and farro “risotto”, he steered us towards lasagna. I dearly wanted to try the orecchiette and justified to myself that I make a pasta like that anyways.

The prices were right and the portions were not overly hearty. I loved how we got an assortment of “bruschetta” that is far from being marinated tomatoes. The lasagna was made with spinach pasta which was a really nice touch. It was a great meal at the end of a traveling day and to kick off our California trip!


Beer 39

We (I) selected an unseasonably hot week to visit California and the sun was out in full force in San Francisco the day we were out and about all day. I was a little loathed to stop in most places at Pier 39 except for at Beer 39. There, we were not sampling some marked up American food for tourists but local beers. They had several flights for us to choose from and based on the composition of the beers, NPY selected the California flight over the San Francisco flight.

I really appreciated how we could duck out of the sun and the bar stools were so high I could take all of the pressure off my feet for a short while!


Seafood sandwiches at Fisherman’s Wharf

When we reached Fisherman’s Wharf – which I learned is distinct from Pier 39 – we faced several stands in a row serving up seafood salad sandwiches. Of course, lobster and crab sandwiches caught our eye but we gravitated towards more economical shrimp salad and walked among the shops to find Alioto’s which had a soup and sandwich combination. Sandwich was just shrimp but it was on Boudin sourdough and the soup was a clam chowder.


In-N-Out Burger

Because… right after the sandwich and chowder, we walked over to In-N-Out Burger. NPY has never been to and so I couldn’t order it “Animal Style”. Why must the two In-N-Outs I have been to being zoos and a little divey by fast food standards? That’s all.

Ghirardelli Marketplace

We aren’t done yet for our eating, er, walking tour of San Francisco! We finally arrived at our northwestern most destination, Ghirardelli Square and – look! – there is an ice cream shop and we haven’t had a dessert treat yet. Since I was at Ghirardelli Square last year, the Marketplace has changed, taking over the neighbouring shop and expanded to include the ice cream shop. We decided between us to split a banana split and waited and waited for it to arrive. All the better to get a bit hungrier for it!

It was a big treat that we fortunately shared. Chopped pineapple was a nice treat on the vanilla ice cream, there were realy strawberries in the topping and we got to sample the signature hot fudge sauce with the chocolate. It was a delightful stop.

Gott’s Roadside

It didn’t take long in Napa for NPY and I to realize, “We’re not in the Okanagan anymore.” For lunch, I had looked up some spots in St. Helena that sounded good, like Market, but the heat just took away our appetites. We poked around in some shops – Olivier was great! – then braved the dull walk on Main Street between the end of the commercial strip to Gott’s Roadside stand. That experience will be imprinted in our memories!

Gott’s came up in my trip research and we saw their second location in the Ferry Building. In our Napa brochure, I saw it was on Main Street so it was decided for me – three burgers in three days (half a burger each, only, mind you). After the fact, I learned that Gott’s first location is in St. Helena and we could see their original sign and name – we liked the retro branding and how utterly satisfying a burger and milkshake was at that point!


Domaine Carnernos

About.com pages aren’t entirely useless and when I was overwhelmed with the sheer number of wineries (most of which I hadn’t heard of before) in just Napa (nevermind neighbouring Sonoma), About.com pages told me which 10 were most popular, which 10 are well-kept secrets, which 10 had the best views, etc. That is how I came to select Domaine Carnernos, which has slightly longer hours, for our last stop in the region and where we can dine at a winery. The grounds and terrace was beautiful and many other people had the same idea. The scenery did not impress me so much after many trips to the Okanagan where we would see a glistening lake where instead we as Silverado Trail (road).

Our server was enthusiastic and knoweldgeable and described the sparkling wines – Domaine Carneros’ specialty – in such a way we were sold. NPY ordered a brut while I was persuaded to order a ros&eague; that goes perfectly with a sunny day. The flutes beautifully displayed how effervescent the wines were. To match, we ordered the cheese sampler created for the sparkling wines and we nibbled and enjoyed the whole experience.

La Taqueria [Yelp]

Apparently it was not a day for overly real food. We came back from Napa in the early evening and my mission was to have Mexican food in Mission. And I knew NPY wouldn’t enjoy a sit-down restaurant and I wouldn’t enjoy the expenditure. I found La Taqueria, which shares a name with one of the best taco joints in Vancouver. I didn’t bother to request that they prepare our beef and chicken tacos without cilantro as the flavours were so good I didn’t mind the vile herb amidst it. I introduced NPY to agua fresa – he doesn’t appreciate the difference from a strawberry slush but did appreciate how refreshing it was.


Union Ale Brewing Co.

Our last stop in our eight-hour one-day road trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles was in Santa Barbara. There used to be a soap opera by that name and its nickname as the “American Riviera” intrigued me. We stopped because we needed a break but also because it was a good time for NPY to tune into the playoff hockey game currently airing.

The town was quiet. But in a small area around Union Ale Brewing, some wine bars were hopping. But they weren’t showing the game so we kept with the beer-oriented joint. NPY had a beer, naturally, and we split a nachos on the grounds that it was easier to share and linger over than, say, mac & cheese. The nacho chips seemed to me more like won ton wrappers in texture and flavour but we munched happily on them while watching the game.

Sadly, just ten days later there was a horrify massacre in the Santa Barbara region. :(

The Veggie Grill

The LA Farmer’s Market was a disappointment which meant we could speed on – once me managed to locate it – to the North Market where Veggie Grill is located. A couple of years ago when I followed Lynn Chen’s blog, I was swayed to try All Hail Kale at Veggie Grill. I looked up a recipe and it required too many ingredients and I waited patiently for a trip to LA. (Although there is a Seattle location, too.)

In order to maximize what we could try, I ordered from their pick-a-pair which included All Hail Kale as a salad option. For the second item, I selected a mini Buffalo Chickin’ wrap. I am not so fond of sweet salad dressings so All Hail Kale’s dressing was just okay for me. The additional ingredients to the salad such as cabbage slaw, corn salsa and walnuts were wonderful, however. And I chose the Buffalo Chickin’ because it would be plenty flavourful and warm and I love soy products posing as chicken!


Umami Burger

A short while after Veggie Grill, we were at The Grove and NPY watched part of a playoff hockey game and then he had to breakaway or else we would incur more parking charges than we would like. We found The Grove and waited just a short while before we got a seat. Turns out The Grove is their flagship location and it is going for a natural look with light wood and bamboo throughout. We were seated in a booth and the vinyl was sadly (and ugly) torn.

It would be our fourth and final burger on the trip. We went all out on the flavour. NPY suggested we order a smother fries and I rolled with it. The braised pork was okay but the truffle gravy was the hit. I couldn’t decide between an original Umami burger or one with a fried egg and extra truffle flavour and NPY helped me decide on the egg-topped one. Truffle abounded in our dinner – I believe that is an umami flavour!

Diddy Riese

After leaving The Grove, where were we to go?? Well, we weren’t too far from UCLA and Diddy Riese which is open until midnight. It was settled and NPY did not know what we were headed for until we saw the queue that extended for a block. I need not have worried that Diddy Riese was a thing of the past. A man walking by the queue asked the girl in front of me, “Is it so popular because it’s cheap or because it’s good?” She answered, “Both, actually.” NPY had the time to walk up to the menu and report back on the great prices. So good, we could order a dessert each. And the queue is so long you want to order two by the time you get to order! NPY wanted just one cookie and so ordered a sundae. I love how you can have two different cookies and went with the classic sandwich: cinnamon sugar and chocolate chunk cookies and espresso chip ice cream. We threw in a milk as well because we weren’t having any while we were away from home.

Pink’s Hot Dogs

There was that one day when I stuck NPY to go to Universal Studios alone. Why? I only had one free pass. And I wanted him to see interesting things while I could be amused on the Citywalk (which turned out to be paltry for interesting sights, even for me). How to kill three hours? I thought I would just get a Starbucks at the midway point but I saw Pink’s upstairs. Our friend, Tim, makes Pink’s his first stop so I thought I could try it. Just a chili dog from the food fair that was depressingly not busy. Despite declining onions and mustard on my hot dog, they added it anyhow. I didn’t see the big deal.



We stayed in a hotel in Culver City so I had to wait until Thursday when the Culver City stand for Coolhaus was open. Our GPS flipped out for the second time on the trip as we try to find it on Washington Boulevard (the first time was when we were driving through SoMa in San Francisco) but we eventually found Coolhaus and braved the artificially long line. That was because just one person was tending to giving tastings then preparing sandwiches or shakes and the cash. It was almost enough to make me turn away… but I wanted a Coolhaus sandwich! And so when it came to our turn, I did max out our two samples!

They have intriguing flavours but I seem to have something of a pattern with my selection and my Coolhaus sandwich mirrored my Diddy Riese one: Snickerdoodle (not unlike cinnamon sugar) and double chocolate (a little different from chocolate chunk) with coffee and donuts (like espresso chip) ice cream.

Warner Brothers Studios Commissary

A few things we were not prepared for on our Warner Brothers Studios VIP Tour were the duration, having water handy and going on a full stomach! We were starving afterwards and went to the Commissary next door. Why not? It’s not like you would rub elbows with anyone famous – not like in the employees’ commissary – but it was really decent food and an elevated cafeteria environment of sorts.

Does a chicken sandwich count as a burger? I didn’t think it does.


Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill

This would be the third time while we were out and about we had to take a break for playoff hockey watching. That’s okay – I budgeted for that and looked up some places, none of which were used. Well, let NPY direct where he wants to watch hockey!

Tinhorn Flats is across the street from Hollywood & Highland Center and we were provided the option to sit on a couch which is decked out like a country saloon. I loved it. We each just ordered specials but why does my mixed drink have to cost, still, twice as much as a beer?

Uncle Bill’s Pancake House Manhattan Beach

On our last full day in town, we rolled out so very late. Parking in Manhattan Beach was hard to find and scary signs about how strictly parking rules were enforced abound. We rolled into Uncle Bill’s just a few minutes before they stopped serving food, shortly before 3! I ordered a french toast because it would come as a combination with eggs and sausage. NPY ordered eggs and sausage because pancakes could be a side.

While its proximity to a beach and low-key vibe is great for some people, it turned me off. It felt like a dirty restaurant from the seat that stuck to NPY’s shorts to the general disorganization of the servers’ area that I was forced to look at while waiting. I guess if you have sand in every part of your body, you’re less bothered by cleanliness. And the food wasn’t awesome either. NPY and I liked the French toast better – we are also not the biggest pancake fans.

Sprinkles Cupcakes

In the afternoon, we were walking around Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive and it is far more to our standard of cleanliness. NPY didn’t know why we were walking on Santa Monica Boulevard and we arrived so late in the afternoon everything was closed. Oh! Is that a Sprinkles Cupcakes? (We had shared a Sprinkles cupcake when we were downtown the day before, at the Ernst & Young Plaza location.) I showed NPY the cupcake ATM and dragged him into the ice cream shop.

I was completely pleased to get to try a Sprinkles sandwich with red velvet and vanilla cupcake tops and – since I couldn’t decide amongst the ice cream flavours – the current special created by Sprinkles in collaboration with Live! co-host Michael Strahan which was a salty and sweet flavour. We enjoyed our sandwich two doors down at window seating in the cupcake store.


Gordon Ramsay at The London

I saved the best dinner for last – at Gordon Ramsay at The London. We had been conservative throughout the trip and – you know what – Gordon Ramsay is that high end. We arrived early for our reservation and had beers in the lounge side. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait all the way until the original reservation time and we were seated at a table where NPY got a chair and I got a beautiful long couch. Gordon Ramsay – your restaurant is beautiful, luxe and a touch feminine. :)

I dearly wanted us to order the Beef Wellington for Two and when we last saw it on Masterchef, NPY did say it looked good. The issue is there is a lack of sides and we really would have nothing but beef for dinner. On the flip side, ordering separate items exposed us to more variety… We started with a lobster roll where the lobster meat was butter poached and roll was the tastiest and distinctively dinner roll tasting ever. NPY ordered a lamb dish while I went for scallop. My scallop might have been a touch undercooked but… it was a light and good dinner. NPY’s was delicious with tender and seasoned lamb chop and a small pot of shepherd’s pie made property with minced lamb. And NPY was down for dessert and I continued to roll with NPY’s selection and we ordered the lemon meringue.

Ah, the dessert capped it all off and made the dinner splendid. First, coconut ice cream with toasted coconut shreds accompanied the pie and it was delicious. And the lemon and tart could have been average for all I could tell but the slightly browned and creamy meringue convinced my lemon+meringue exists in the first place. It was so good combined. So, I left with good memories and a smile.


On this day..