California is a Magical Land Pt. 1

At least once a year, the family and I head to Northern CA,  to visit my husband’s family (he’s from the Bay area), wether it be for the holidays or like recently, a Grandma’s 90th birthday party.  Usually I am at the mercy of the in-laws when it comes to eating.  I’ll never forget my first trip to San Francisco, one of the best food cities in the world, and being stuck in this awful restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf, surrounded by tourists with fanny packs while eating Dungeness crab (with an undercooked baked potato) that Californians are so damn proud of.  Well, I’m sorry California, but your crab sucks.  Virginians, be thankful for the glorious Chesapeake and your delicious blue crab! 

Fortunately, there is relief, because every time we make this trip, my husband sets aside two days just for us and takes me somewhere I’ve never been. This mini-escursion has become extremely important with the addition to our family because she stays with Grandma while Mommy & Daddy enjoy some much-needed child-free time together. My husband and I may not agree on much, but one thing we do agree on vehemently is that vacation is about eating!  Every excursion we take, I am in charge of finding where we will nourish our bodies three times a day.  This task, although rewarding once we get there, is daunting and sometimes stressful.  I scour the internet reading review after review, dissecting menu after menu, and mapping restaurant locations.  I cannot go on vacation and just wing it, i just can’t and I really wish I could.  Nothing angers me more than wasting money in a shitty restaurant and a bad meal, especially on vacation.  When I see the Outback parking lot packed in Nags Head (or anywhere for that matter), I want to scream out of the window “Don’t you know any better?”

 …. anyway…… for this past trip, the hubby and I headed to Monterey, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  My new favorite place in the Golden State!

We stayed in a kick-ass bed & breakfast right on the ocean. The Martine Inn in Pacific Grove, CA (or PG as I heard a local call it) is just perfect.  The innkeeper is a collector, boasting probably a few million in antiques all beautifully displayed throughout the Inn.  There are no phones or televisions in the rooms (who needs ’em?) and there was always Starbucks coffee and cookies available.  I chose this place because most B&B’s have a happy hour and on Google Maps it was the closest one to Cannery Row with water views.  Our room was not ocean view as these rooms were way out of our price range, so we settled for a courtyard view.

aaaaaaaah……

When we settled into our room, I asked my husband why the windows were open with no screens.  (It never got above 65 degrees, btw, such a beautiful relief from the wretched summer heat of VA).  He said “Because there are no bugs, babe”.  NO BUGS?!  What sort of magical land is this?  “California IS a magical place!” I said. This silly idiom was the running joke throughout our vacation with his family.  When they start complaining about the heat, I just roll my eyes and say “yeah right, it’s sooo hot.”  Give me a break!  We have 100 degree days with 80 percent humidity and bugs the size of small cats.  Shut up you spoiled Californians with your perfect weather and your all around awesomeness!

California’s magic also lies in their produce.  The road trip to Monterey was a wonderland of farms and fresh fruit and veggie stands. When I saw a sign that said “avocados, 7 for $1” my jaw dropped.  And before this trip, I had never seen an artichoke plant.  We drove past fields and fields of them.  For whatever reason, this was very exciting for me.  Did you know that Castroville, CA is the artichoke center of the world?  Me neither!  They even host an artichoke festival every year!  Yippee!

artichoke plant

I rely heavily on Trip Advisor for hotel and most importantly, restaurant reviews.  I’ve rarely been let down.  I’m also a member of Open Table, which is great for making reservations, however, this site may not list all the hot spots in the area (as was the case with Passion Fish, discussed in Pt. 2, coming soon).  Our first night in Monterey (Sunday), our chosen restaurant was Montrio Bistro in downtown.  I chose this place because of the reviews on Trip Advisor and Open Table, but most importantly because they had half off  all bottles of wine on Sunday nights.  Yay! I can get twice as drunk!  

The place was packed and loud.  I love the sound of a busy restaurant.  The decor was a little overwhelming, but still fun and funky with huge pillows resembling clouds hanging from the ceiling.  The service in California is a lot different than the Southeast. It’s much more business-like.  I’m not saying I don’t like it, I’m just not used to it.  Servers in the Southeast are much more welcoming and warm. I felt a little silly for smiling and being a little chatt y with our server at Montrio.  She was all business and never cracked a smile.  AND she informed us that the Sunday night wine special did not apply to that Sunday night and she didn’t even have a good answer as to why.  I have to admit, I felt a little awkward for asking.  WTF?  She just said “The wine special does not apply tonight.”  Whatever!

Fortunately, the food made up for this minor disappointment. We started with calamari served with a chili-citrus aoli. I was expecting a plate with regular small rings with a few whole squids, you know, the usual calamari.  Instead, we were served the tentacles of a giant squid!  At first, I thought “this can’t be calamari, no way!”  They looked like mozzarella sticks, they were so thick! Anyway, it was delicious.   It had the consistency of scallops and was not the least bit rubbery.  Sorry, no pics, I felt ridiculous taking pictures of my food!

Then it came time for the main course. I don’t normally go for mainly veggie dishes.  When I go out, I want meat!  Especially meat that I’m too scared to cook at home.  But this artichoke dish (yay for artichokes!) was irresistible to me and when our robot server said it was her favorite thing on the menu I was sold!  The Artichoke raviolis with bacon, baby artichokes, peas and Italian parsley creme fraiche was AWESOME.  Oh my god, it was creamy and savory and tangy (yay artichokes!) and bacon-y and just plain wonderful.  How I wish I had snapped a picture for you!  My husband had one of the dinner specials, a smoked bass. I’m not crazy about a smokey flavor, but this dish was very good.  The bass was cooked perfectly and it was served atop of asian style vegetables in a nice broth.  Well done Montrio!

Although I felt silly snapping pictures of our dishes (I know, I need to get over it), I felt it was okay to take a few of the lovely art work we left on our butcher paper.  I forgot to mention the restaurant had crayons at every table. 

My husband’s version of me……. Alice.

Alexander Valley vino makes me draw mermaids and weird versions of my husband.

And write stories….

We did order dessert, but were too full to enjoy it at the time, so we took it to-go.  This was a mistake.  It was a strawberry shortcake sort of dessert that’s not listed on their menu and the next day when we got around to it, it was like eating a cold sponge with strawberry jelly.  BOO!

So our first night in Monterey ended with full, happy bellies and in the bed by 10:00pm submitting to a food coma with all of the windows open in our room, and no screens.  Hooray for Monterey!

Stay tuned for Pt. 2……..

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3 thoughts on “California is a Magical Land Pt. 1

  1. ahahah your crayon story is awesome and yeah, you really do need to get over taking pics of your food… at least a quick no-flash pic if you’re feeling weird. Yay artichokes!

  2. I have been enjoying your blog Jen. I loved California where we lived in San Diego for 6 years. Monterey
    was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Reading about the open windows and no bugs
    made me very jealous!! I’d love to go back. 🙂

  3. I live in the Santa Clarita Valley (Southern California) where it is in the upper 90’s and 100’s 5 months of the year and I love to get away to Monterey any chance I get. Thanks for the visceral gastronomic depictions!

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