Song to go with this post: Sublime – April 29th, 1992
Hello, everyone! Man, has it been a while… Did you miss me? I sure missed you!
As you probably know, I spent about a month of this summer in my hometown (well, one of my hometowns) in California. It was really wonderful being with my parents, my brothers, and my cat for a relatively large chunk of time, especially during the holidays. We had many adventures there, but as this is a food-blog, I will be focusing on food (duh).
So without further ado, I present to you my Culinary California Adventure!
**A note to my kosher & vegan readers: Some of the food I cover here is NOT vegan. All of it, except the food I cooked with my family, is NOT kosher – in some cases the establishment is not kosher, while in others the food in question is a downright cheeseburger. Sue me.
1st Stop: In-N-Out:
In-N-Out Burger is an excellent burger joint that has stores only in the west coast. The place has a wonderful old-school vibe and the deco is minimal and plain.
On the junk food scale, it rates pretty high in quality. It’s still not somewhere I would eat everyday (or every week or even every month), and is more of an obligatory visit every time I come to California. Being one of the only places open late on weekends that isn’t a bar, this was where my friends and I used to hang out in high school. Pretty lame, now that I think about it, but there are still some crazy, funny moments associated with that place for me.
Onto the food: In-N-Out has a very basic menu, offering none of the frills some other, larger chains do such as salads, chicken nuggets, and fish sandwiches. It has all the basics you would expect of a classic burger joint: A plain burger, a cheeseburger, and a “Double-Double”, which has two meat patties instead of one. All the burgers come with their famous “pink sauce”, which is basically Thousand Island dressing mixed with sweet relish. They also offer fries and milkshakes.
Of course we ordered water to go with everything. Cause we’re not fatties.
Aside from the regular menu items, some “under the counter” personal tailoring can be made to the order. For example, you can choose to have your burger “protein-style”, where they use lettuce instead of the usual buns. You can have your fries “animal-style” (pictured here), where they will melt cheese on top of your french fries and top it with fried onions and their famous sauce.
All in all, it was a very satisfying meal!
Next Stop: Chipotle:
Chipotle is another obligatory fast food location. Although it isn’t exclusive to California, it is still pretty hard to find a decent burrito in Israel, so I go there to get my fix whenever I’m in town. I was very pleased to find out that their menu has expanded to accommodate vegan burrito-lovers! They now have an option for Tex-Mex flavored tofu bits that actually go really well with the whole burrito, once again proving that it’s rarely about the meat itself but about the texture as well as flavor of the seasonings.
I got the vegan option, while my brother, in a typical teenage-boy move ordered a TRIPLE BURRITO. Yes, that’s a burrito inside a burrito inside a burrito.
Seeing as Americans are either eating triple-burritos OR obsessed with doing out with carbs and getting as much protein as possible, Chipotle also offers a tortilla-free version of their burrito, where it is deconstructed into a yummy salad in a bowl.
The burritos were as huge as I remembered them, and I was surprised that I actually managed to finish mine.
3rd Stop: Cocola:
Finally, I finished with my obligatory visits and went on to some more interesting places. Cocola is a lovely coffee shop / bakery on Santana Row, a mostly-pedestrian street in San Jose lined with interesting shops and restaurants. Every shop has its own unique design, and they come together to form a beautiful plaza.
Cocola specializes in mini-cakes and pastries, and everything is presented in such an appealing way that upon entering, you immediately feel the urge to try everything all at once. The shop-keeper was very nice despite the huge line (a usual affair at Cocola), told me what his favorites are, and let me take as many pictures as I wanted.
I then had a dilemma on my hands: On one hand, the shopkeeper had highly recommended the Tiramisu. On the other hand, MACARONS. My absolute favorite. My love, my passion. My golden Snitch. I never pass up a good French macaron.
I think you can guess how I resolved this dilemma. Yup, I just got both. And a mocha on the side, because their coffee is almost as amazing as their desserts. As I was by myself there I did imagine that the people sitting next to me were giving me some looks, but I gave them one back that said, “Don’t judge me. I’m working.”
The tiramisu was amazing – light and creamy, with the sweetness kept light and not overpowering as it can be in some other places.
The macaron… Well, first of all, it was a macaron, so it already had that going for it. I chose a raspberry flavored one, and it was a sweet combination of crunchy and chewy on the outside, with a tart, cold, creamy mascarpone filling. Just writing about it makes me crave it again.
The mocha was amazing and since I “forgot” to order it caffeine-free (what would Freud say..?) it also made me feel on top of the world.
I strongly recommend for anyone in the South Bay to visit that street in general, and that bakery specifically.
4th Stop: Hanamaru:
Hanamaru, or “Sushi Boat” as it has been dubbed by most of the Israelis living in the South Bay, is a small Japanese place with a giant selection of delicious foods. They have creative Bento boxes and other main dishes, although I normally like to just go for sushi. Lots and lots of sushi. Luckily I was there with my family, so there were many different things on the table for me to photograph.
One of the things I like most about Hanamaru is the complementary green tea, which is served in pretty, mismatching ceramic mugs and is refilled constantly throughout the meal.
Wow, my dad makes a pretty good hand model, doesn’t he?
Sushi restaurants are as abundant in California as falafel stands are in Israel. I have never been to Japan and thus can’t say this for certain, but I have a feeling that some of the dishes are more of a Japanese-American fusion than authentic Japanese.
I had three types of sushi – salmon and avocado, spicy tuna and cucumber, and yellow-tail with spring onion. Any seafood other than fish is Fear Factor material for me, so you will have to excuse how boring what I chose sounds and just believe me that it was incredible.
My parents both got Bentos filled with goodies, and my little brother ordered an interesting tuna dish drenched in a delicious teriyaki sauce.
At the end, we all shared a fried green-tea ice cream for dessert (this part I’m SURE doesn’t exist in Japan… Right?) which was as delicious as it was excessive after such a satisfying meal.
If you’re in town and in the mood for a no-frills, straight up sushi, this is the place to hit.
5th Stop: Beretta:
Beretta is an Italian restaurant in the Mission district in San Francisco. I happily convinced one of my SF girlfriends, S, to take me to the best pizza place she knew. Even though she normally never eats this type of food (she is a very healthy individual), she made the exception for me as she knew pizza is my favorite food.
I liked the vibe there from the start – it was jam-packed with people and the tantalizing smell of freshly baked pizza was making me crazy. We had to wait for our table, so we decided to wait by the next best place to a table – the bar.
The bartender was charming and helped us choose our wine – S wanted a white and I wanted something on the drier side, and what he recommended to accommodate us both also happened to be the cheapest on the menu – great success!
After a while of chilling at the bar and being tempted by all the wonderful aromas, we became a little impatient. When we finally got to our table, they apologized for the mix-up with our seating and gave us a free appetizer. Of course, we forgave them instantly. The appetizer was toasted pieces of rustic walnut bread with a garlicky taste, topped with a generous dollop of Burrata cheese and mushroom-truffle honey and sprinkled with chives. It was amazing – the cheese was soft, warm, and buttery, while the bread was nice and crispy, and it all came together in a perfect combination. Beretta is named after that cheese, so it was expected that a dish like that would live up to its name.
Then we ordered our pizza. It was equally amazing, hot and fresh with goat cheese, pesto, mushrooms, and a thin, crispy crust – just the way I like it.
We also got a lettuce and fennel salad with wide shavings of Parmesan.
The atmosphere there was amazing, and this is definitely a place I will be returning to.
6th Stop: Russian River:
This isn’t actually an eatery, but a vacation spot! As I mentioned previously in my pancakes post, we spend three days in a lovely “cabin” by the river. I say “cabin” because this place was more well equipped than our house, so while the beautiful setting (and lack of cellphone reception) definitely provided a feeling of solitude and reflection, there was literally nothing that we needed that wasn’t there… Complete with canoes in the back yard, an access to the river, and an outdoor hot-tub. Yes, a hot tub.
But nothing pleased me as much as the kitchen did, which was not huge and had everything we needed. There was something very comforting about having everything you need, and nothing more.
Later when I reflected on our time there, I found it amusing and insightful that most of what I did for those three days of complete, pure vacation-time was to cook and to program. I guess I’m really doing the things I love in my day-to-day life, and I consider myself quite lucky for that.
The highlight of this trip is not culinary, but I have to share it with you: I learned how to skip rocks! Rock-skipping has always been in my mind some magical ability to be possessed by fathers and cool uncles, but not me…
So when my brother taught me how to do it and I succeeded the very first time, it was really an amazing feeling! I skipped for hours, trying to get more and more skips each time. The next day, my entire right side felt like it had gotten a Tetanus shot, but on crack. Here is a picture of me trying to find the perfect pebble:
Meanwhile, back at the cabin… All of our amazing breakfasts!
If you are interested in vacationing in the area, I highly recommend going specifically to this cabin. The owners are extremely friendly and easy-going, and the whole place is dragon themed!
That’s all for this vacation, I will keep you posted on the next adventure!
PS: No, none of the places mentioned here paid me or gave me any perks for writing about them. In fact, some of them gave me some trouble with the whole picture-taking thing, and in any case I doubt any of them even know this blog exists. Everything expressed here is my honest opinion, as always.