Road Trip 2009 Part One: The Food

Julie and I joined our friends Ted and Claire on a trip down to Los Angeles via San Luis Obispo this last weekend Saturday to Tuesday. I decided to split our recent vacation trip report in a few parts for focus. This one’s about all the yummy food and drink.

We started out with a quick bagel and coffee breakfast in San Jose before hopping on 101 for the major drive. Nothing too fancy, but it was enough to have a small something in our stomachs because that day was for wine-tasting!

Despite being in the area for college, we never had a lot of wine from the region surrounding San Luis Obispo. Claire had done some research on some wineries in Paso Robles along route 46 (i.e. connecting 101 at Paso Robles to hwy 1 at Cambria). Our first stop was Doce Robles where we were able to meet the vintner who signed our bottle of native-yeast petite syrah which was doubly good as we thought it tasted the nicest and we liked the idea of it fermenting with its own yeast.

Next up was JanKris which appeared to be in transition to the name Veris which seems to be a local company that makes fancy candles and soaps which were also for sale there. We were most impressed by the viognier and they also had some sparkling wines which were interesting– notably the sparkling almond.

There was another winery here that we had our picture taken in front of and had a balalaika player inside, but the lines for tasting were very slow and the wine buses were out in force so we moved on. We stopped in at Eagle Castle, but it was also too crowded with a mother-daughter wine-tasting bus filling the place.

We took a detour out to Caliza winery which had only three wines to taste: a blended white wine, a blended red wine, and a syrah and we liked the last one the most. While here, Ted asked why there seemed to be a trend towards blended wines. I believe the percentage has to be 70% or more to call it by the dominant grape, otherwise it can be named anything but that, and there seemed to be two or three at each winery that were a mix. The person running the tasting room (who may have been the vintner) said it was a trend to blending because it is the route to make better tasting wines rather than being tied to a single grape. I see two ways this can be interpreted: a. people are becoming more accepting of blended wines because of a reduced amount of wine snobbery or b. it’s a way to make the wines stand out more because the blended wines can be named anything: Kissing Cousins, Companion, Crossfire, Trinity, Royale Red… which makes it easier to differentiate than “that pinot noir I had with dinner on Sunday”

We started heading back and stopped at Brian Benson Cellars where a young man stopped out of a warehouse building as we walked up and he started running the tasting room. Sure enough it’s Brian Benson. He started his own imprint sharing space with his father’s winery Dark Star and he also has a passion for customizing hot rods. He had chocolate out as the wine-tasting snack which ended up pairing very well with his wines which were all reds.

Our last stop was back at Eagle Castle which definitely won for architecture inside and out. We tasted many (too many at that point in the afternoon) of their wines and really liked their desserty wines: muscat, late-harvest zinfandel, and a zinfandel-port.

We rolled the rest of the way into San Luis Obispo and made a quick stop at Central Coast Brewing for a beer tasting. I really liked their Scotch Ale, and we’ve sampled their Chai beer and highly recommend it.

At this point we were more than a little peckish having eaten only winery snacks (crackers, chocolate, and a little cheese) since the morning bagel, so we struck out at Mo’s Smokehouse in SLO. After our discussion of the blended wines, Claire and Ted recommended we pick up Ménage à Trois which we found at both Bevmo and CVS on our way back to the motel. We played some card games then went out for more food, this time satisfying the sweet tooth at Bali’s Self Serve Frozen Yogurt and finishing up with a little salt from Tio Alberto’s.

Day two began at Bon Temps Creole Cafe which was one of our favorite college breakfast spots. We highly recommend splitting an order of Pain Perdu with your breakfast as the honey-rum sauce with pecans tastes fantastic.

A quick fuel-up on gas and a stop for some road-snacks (and emergency pajamas) in Santa Maria and we were off to LA. Target’s chocolate-espresso bean trail mix, Trader Joes dried mango, and some beef jerky goes a ways on a roadtrip but does not make a meal which we were about to find out. We didn’t eat again until dinner that night in LA after walking around the Getty all afternoon and taking the long way home down Mulholland.

We decided to walk out down Hollywood Boulevard and settled on Lucky Devils which ended up being a really good place despite the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the neighborhood. Good beer selection, tasty food from scratch, and nostalgia tv and cartoons playing on the monitors.

We took advantage of the Magic Castle Hotel’s free snacks and breakfast as often as we could while there. More on that in a later article. The next day’s food was focused on Langer’s Deli which is a family-owned old-school restaurant with a landmark pastrami sandwich. While it was extremely tasty, and I do believe in supporting good delis (see the book “Save the Deli“) it might have been a bit overpriced.

Our dinner choice that night was unfortunately aborted as their prices were significantly higher than expected. We ended up walking down to Wok n Roll China Restaurant whose website looks very nice and professional and completely opposite to our dining experience. It felt like they crammed a Mr. Chau’s into a former Burger King, and all the trays were about 3 scoops from empty. My favorite part was when Julie ordered the combo with broccoli and the server looked at her funny then picked the broccoli out from the beef-and-broccoli tray which afterwards was just the beef-tray. At least it was super-duper cheap.

After our last hotel-breakfast we hopped on the road back, and stopped for lunch in San Luis Obispo at another college haunt: Gus’s Grocery. Three words: pound of mojos. I believe they’re twice-battered potato skins, and they’re awesome. Also the made-to-order sandwiches and outdoor seating made for an excellent final road meal.

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