May 082008

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted. That makes me sad. Because really, if I haven’t been posting it means I probably haven’t been cooking much.

But at least there is a good reason.

I’ve barely been home in the last couple of months. Since my swim meet in February, really. But the nice thing about traveling is that you get to try out a bunch of new local flavors. Unsurprisingly, whenever I travel I make an effort to eat at locally owned places. They’re always much tastier and I get a warm fuzzy from supporting a local economy. Plus, really, what’s the fun of eating the same things everywhere you go?

So without further adieu, here is a list of honorable mentions from my travels. Sadly, I didn’t have my camera with me, so this is to be a presentation with visual aids.

State College, PA
Otto’s Pub and Brewery – 2105 N. Atherton St., State College, PA
I love brewpubs. I have yet to be disappointed in a local brewpub that makes its own beer and food. Otto’s was one of the best I’ve tried. It was really close to my hotel, so I ended up eating there three – yes, three – times during my short five-day stay. Their burger with goat cheese was delicious, as were the osso bucco and butternut squash ravioli with a sage butter sauce… and the chicken marsala was probably the best I’ve ever had. They have a seasonal menu which is both good (since the menu will be much tastier, fresher, and, well, in season) but bad because you can’t go back and have the same thing as me. Luckily, you can have the same beer, which was the Red Mo Ale, and you can sit down and split three pitchers of fantastic sangria with new friends.

Oahu, HI
Kona Brewing Co – 7192 Kalanianole Highway, Honolulu, HI
You know how I mentioned how much I love brewpubs? This gem in Hawaii is a must-eat-at. Again, Cory and I (yes! We were actually together! In Hawaii!) ate there three times during our two-week stay. This place is on a marina, and you can see the boat that catches their mahi mahi and hebi parked right there. But one of the things I loved most about the place was the bread. They made all of their own breads from the spent grains used in the brewing process, and they were delicious. Not to miss were the guava ginger grilled fish, the pita (yes, again, made from spent grain) and hummus, and the strawberry spinach salad with fresh strawberry vinaigrette (which I tried to get the recipe for but apparently it’s guarded like a state secret). Biggest regret – not trying the pizza (with, of course, spent grain crust). The beer was fantastic – my favorite was the Lavaman Red Ale, though the Firerock and Longboard were widely available at restaurants around the island and even in, well, Texas and Alaska. Bonus: it’s less than a mile from Hanauma Bay, so it’s a fantastic place to sit and bask in the fact that you got to swim with the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a!

Lucy’s Bar and Grill – 33 Aulike St, Kailua, HI
We found this in an internet search for a late dinner while we were trying to recover from the sunburns we got an Hanauma Bay. I had absolutely zero interest in eating in Waikiki (which can fall off the island and sink into the ocean as far as I’m concerned) so we decided to venture to the other side of the island. So we zipped across the trans-island under-the-mountains tunnel and ended up in Kailua. This is one of the places that aren’t visited by the tourists and it was a total find. I decided on the seared ahi tuna with Okinawan sweet potatoes – something that is not to be missed. Rare, seared ahi is one of the great joys in life, especially when it is as fresh as it is in Hawaii.

Uncle’s Fish Market – 1135 N Nimitz Hwy, Honolulu, HI
I found this place in a binder of menus in the office I was working. It was located at one of the piers, so the fish was guaranteed to be super fresh. The ahi poke (Japanese raw seafood salad) was spectacular, as were the broiled mahi mahi and the ahi tacos with mango salsa. It’s super-casual and super-fresh – a great combination.

The Pineapple Room – 1450 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu, HI
We ate here the last night we were in Hawaii. I had yet to try the kalua pig, so that’s what I ordered here. It was yummy for pork and the ahi poke was exemplary, but the thing that really made the restaurant stand out was the dessert, an indulgent bittersweet chocolate pudding pie dome. Seriously, it was a dome. Of chocolate. Filled with more chocolate. And drizzled with chocolate. Good chocolate. How can you lose?

Champa Thai – 98-199 Kamehameha Hwy # C2, Aiea, HI (among other locations)
Unfortunately I didn’t get to actually sit down and eat at the place, but we ordered takeout while we were in the middle of a twelve-hour graveyard shift. Nothing is more welcome than some super-fresh lemongrass mahi mahi in the middle of a shift were your other prospects are either a fast food Korean or a crappy sandwich made from bread and turkey bought at the commissary (nothing makes me miss my own kitchen and the bread and roasted chicken which pour forth from said kitchen like business trips). The vegetable curry was also lip-smacking good. I wish I had had time to sit down and actually order something from their kitchen!

The Hale Koa – 2055 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI
Admittedly, I didn’t eat here. But it did have the best Mai Tais on the island and some great beachfront patios on which to watch the sunset with your hubby. (This is a military lodge, so sorry, no Mai Tais for you civilians!)

Northern California
ZuZu – 829 Main St, Napa, CA
Cory and I followed our trip to Hawaii with some leave in California to celebrate our anniversary. We returned to the scene of the crime, as it were, by staying in the same hotel in St. Helena. The night before The Night we decided to branch out and try something new, which is hard for us when we have such favorites in the area, we tend to get stuck in ruts. Yummy ruts, but ruts nonetheless. We chose ZuZu in the nearby town of Napa. This is a yummy tapas and wine restaurant where you can sit down with a nice glass of vino and order small plate after small plate. Each one was delicious – especially the paella – and gave us an awesome opportunity to try all sorts of new yummy foods. The decor was awesome too. It will be hard to not get into a rut by going to this place over and over!

Pizzeria Tra Vigne – 1016 Main St, St Helena, CA
We had dined at the main Tra Vigne for our rehearsal dinner but weren’t going to have the opportunity to go back, and besides, we were trying to stay out of a rut! We were in the mood for something smaller so we followed the big red tomato next the the winery we tried that morning and shared some calamari and a margherita pizza. It had a nice thin crust just the way I like it and the calamari had deep-fried lemon slices with peel and everything. This is a great place to grab a lunch.

CIA Greystone Wine Spectator
CIA Greystone is, well, y’know, Mecca. I don’t dream about going to fancy grad schools to pick up a nice shiny math or astrophysics Masters (or two), I dream about the Culinary Institute of America. I actually met a former instructor on a trip to Korea once, and trust me, hearing him describe the rigors did nothing to slake my lust of the place. So when Cory said that we had reservations to the restaurant there for our anniversary dinner, he got major points. This place tends to get bad reviews but I can’t fathom why. The interior was warm and cozy with an awesome open kitchen and dessert station. Of course the food was great, made from fresh local ingredients (what else?). So contrary to what reviewers tend to say, it’s definitely worth dining here.

Taylor’s Automatic Refresher – 933 Main Street, St. Helena, CA
This place is a total dive – greasy burgers, fries, and shakes. But of course it’s in the Napa Valley, so it’s like a fancy dive. If you drive by at any time, you’ll see that the lines are long. But rarely do long lines lie, and this place is no exception. You guys know me, I wouldn’t be raving about burgers, fries, and shakes unless they were special, and these are. Ahi burgers, sweet potato fries, and espresso shakes were what found their way onto my plate that day. The ahi burger was rare – just the way it should be – the sweet potato fries were spiced just right, and the espresso shake was almost as good as the ones from Mozart’s (more on that later). Plus, there’s a wine list. A wine list at a burger joint. It’s a pretty tasty place if you’re in the mood for a burger and fries. Even if you’re in the Napa Valley.

Crepes A-Go-Go – 1432 N Main St, Walnut Creek, CA
I don’t think it counts as a rut if you’re a regular. Cory and I discovered this place on New Year’s day last year and he’s gone there every week since. Of course, whenever I’m in town I join him to get my fill of sweet or savory crepes.

Silk Road
Mmmm, flatbread and hummus perfection. Pomegranate chicken? Gyros? Tabbouleh? Yumyumyum. This place not only has great food, they get the whole customer service thing too. When I spilled my iced tea (clumsiness is my strong suit) they promptly moved us to a new table and brought us new flatbread even though the old one sustained no damage. It was an appreciated gesture. Delicious Mediterranean food at its best!

Breads of India – 1358 N Main St,
Walnut Creek, CA
This is another place that Cory and I go all the time. They have a daily menu that sources local organic produce and meat and they make bread pairing recommendations much like one would with a wine. We have yet to try a bread twice. Or see a dish on a menu twice, for that matter.

The Mountain Room
This restaurant in Yosemite National Park had food that just about matched the scenery. We started off with a pear and brie tart with a port and fig sauce (port + fig = best combination ever), moved into a delicious baked trout dish with butternut squash risotto, and finished off with apple pie a la mode. The entree was a little overly salty but the fish was fantastically fresh and flavorful. The interior was decorated with breathtaking photography, which tied the whole experience into something really special.

Austin, TX
Chuy’s – 1728 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX (among another locations, including other cities)
I don’t miss much about Texas. I prettymuch hate the state. But there are a couple of things that can only be found there, and good Tex-Mex is one of them. It’s unsophisticated, it’s bad for you, but still, it’s comfort food, y’know? I ate at Chuy’s all. the. time. in college and really, it’s one of the first things I thought of when I found out I’d be heading to Texas. It’s not the food to eat when you’re competing in a swim meet and supposed to be fueling your body and all that jazz, but still, I couldn’t resist those chicken enchiladas in blue corn tortillas topped with tomatillo sauce. And the gaudy atmosphere? You just can’t find that type of quality decorating in restaurants outside of Texas.

Zax – 312 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX
Our last night in Austin, we were searching for a brewpub throughout throughout the city and simply couldn’t find one. We thought we had found one when we were driving to Chuy’s earlier that day but it turned out to be not what we had thought. We happened to drive by Zax and originally gave pause because it looked fancy and we were dressed pretty scrubbily. But we went in and were totally surprised by what we found. My parents and I all ordered drastically different food and it was all outstanding. My Dad’s burger tasted like lean grass-fed beef, my Mom had a yummy artichoke, spinach and goat cheeze pizza, and I had the fish special – a pumpkin seed-crusted mahi mahi with saffron rice and blanched snow peas, which speaks for itself, really. The place wasn’t very crowded which makes us hope that the place is doing ok, so if you’re in Austin, eat at Zax and help keep the restaurant open!

Baby Acapulco – 5610 N I-35, Austin, TX
Driving though Austin in college, I had always wondered what the place with the pink elephant was. Well, when we checked into our hotel it seemed like we were in a sea of chain restaurants so we asked the clerk at the desk what was good, nearby, and locally owned. He recommended Baby A’s and so I finally got to find out what the pink elephant was all about. Did I mention “Tex-Mex” and “gaudy” in the same sentence before? This was just like Chuy’s, just without Elvis. Again, the food was fanstatic – the shrimp enchiladas, veggie fajitas, and tortillas were just like they should have been. Hooray for comfort food!

Mozart’s – 3826 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX
In college, friends and I used to drive to Austin on Sunday night to get away from San Antonio, drink some great coffee, and get some serious studying done. Did I mention it’s on a lake? And often has live music? And desserts that are to die for? So I was super excited to go back there when I was in Austin. We went after the first day of swimming and I had to be all good and get a skinny cappuccino and some sorbet, but man, I was jonesin’ for an espresso shake or some chocolate mousse. But I was good since I still had two days of competition left, but man, when the meet was over, we went straight back so I could get that espresso shake. It was everything I had dreamed of over the last several years.

  One Response to “In which I explain away the hiatus – or – eating well when you’re on the road”

  1. so fun! sounds like you found some great places. my fiance is living in san antonio for two more months (almost done!) but we haven’t driven up to austin yet — i’m putting that on the agenda for the next visit!

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