Thursday, June 22, 2017

Escaping The Heat

This is supposedly the last day of a weeklong heat wave in the Bay Area, and after we ran some errands in Santa Rosa, we headed due west for the coast, through Forestville, Guerneville, Jenner, south on Highway One to Bodega Bay, then on to Tomales, Point Reyes Station, Olema, then turned onto Sir Francis Drake east through Samuel Taylor State Park, then Fairfax where we tarried awhile, then home.

But first we had some errands to run in Santa Rosa, and decided to check out a relatively new (one year old) Burmese restaurant that's mind-blowingly good. I'll review it later, but above you can see the server mixing up Tea Leaf Salad, and below their Chicken & Shrimp Biryani. Easily one of the best restaurants in Santa Rosa!

Shots on the coast itself, where temperatures were much lower than in Santa Rosa. These are shot just south of Shell Beach in Sonoma County. Click on the photo below, and look at the boulder in the middle, it has purple flowers growing on it! On the photo above, one of the boulders, above the middle, had a bunch of seals!

Frances getting muddy at Bodega Bay.

Tomales Town Hall.

Suddenly, Point Reyes Station's got a bunch of great restaurants. Above and below are salads at Station House Cafe, both using local fresh ingredients, perfect execution. The Steelhead Trout below has a nice char on the outside, but is still slightly raw (sashimi grade, I'm sure) in the middle. As someone who used to cook fish 5 nights/week, I gotta say, that chef's got game. The flank steak salad above, wow--so tender and spot on, great counterpoint in texture and flavor.

And then onto the Marin redwoods. This is shot in downtown Fairfax.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

El Huarache Azteca in Oakland

Fantastic Mexican restaurant on International. Above: smoked lamb barbacoa plato, with nopales, rice and frijoles made from scratch, the latter two with the rich flavors of meat stock and manteca. Sublime.

From left: salsa verde, salsa rojo (probably habanero), and my Jamaica, or Hibiscus tea.

Tortillas made from scratch, natch.

Quesadilla: another tortilla made from scratch, with Huitlacoche, cheese, lettuce. Can't wait to return.

El Huarache Azteca
3842 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 533-2395

King Crimson at Fox Theater Oakland

My first time to this venue, the fabulous restored Fox Theater in downtown Oakland, Faux 1920s Art Deco Orientalism.

The pre-concert music consisted of haunting, trance-inducing chimes. Ideal for these Demonic spirits with glowing eyes.

The stage before the show, with huge signs saying photography and recording is prohibited during the concert. The fine staff at The Fox had no problem though with my taking photos before the show.

I got relatively inexpensive seats in the balcony.

After the final song (21st Century Schizoid Man) of the set. You probably can't see it, but Robert Fripp and Tony Levin were taking photos of the crowd, while we all got out our cameras and cell phones.

Waves of euphoria & adrenaline whilst in trance state. This new lineup of King Crimson presented some new songs and old ones with new arrangements. At times note for note precision, at others it felt loose and instinctive, like Free Jazz. With three drummers in the front, this is the most percussion-based version of the ensemble I know of. Highly recommended for all, especially King Crimson fans.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Drive: Sebastopol, Valley Ford, & points south

Outcropping of grey rock on Valley Ford-Franklin School Road, just north of Dillon Beach Road
Same spot, looking NNE. Notice the thunderstorms rolling across central Sonoma County and parts north towards Napa, Vallejo and the East Bay. A few minutes later, as we headed back east towards Novato on the Marshall-Petaluma Road (which is mostly untouched wilderness, an amazing back road) we'd be driving through the moderate rains ourselves. Thunderstorms are extremely rare on the West Coast, I think this is something like the 3rd or 4th one I've experienced here.

Same spot, looking just south of due east.

Looking north down the road, Valley Ford in the distance, with Freestone & Sebastopol beyond.

South down the road. Winds were starting to really pick up.

Light in the trees in the Peace Park in Sebastopol, across the street from the Sunday Farmer's Market.

We thought about going to Occidental, but we both just wanted to head down roads we hadn't been on, and first stop out of Sebastopol was Wildflour Bakery in Freestone. Most of their breads were sold out by the time (4pm) we got there, but there were still a few excellent choices. This is a cheese bread they make there called Fougasse--gouda, mozz, scallion and red bell pepper--it was still warm as we greedily tore into it.

Above and below: Bodega/Tomales Bay in the distance, Dillon Beach below.

Above & below: Tomales Bay. The wind was mighty & strong here.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Champa Garden in Redding, CA

Nam Kaow (Rice Ball Salad) at Champa Garden in Redding.

One of our favorite Lao/Thai restaurants in the Bay Area is Champa Garden in Oakland. We recently found out they have sister restaurants in San Francisco & Redding, and that the chefs cross-train in all three restaurants, ensuring very high quality. We had long planned a trip on Memorial Day Weekend to Northern California, so we made it a point to visit the Redding branch.

We knew it was going to be good, but didn't suspect it was going to be this good. The presence of this restaurant makes Redding much more cosmopolitan in our eyes. 

Their version of the Rice Ball Salad stands out from all the rest in terms of having the crispiest texture we've encountered. One thing that was quite evident was how fresh the accompanying herbs are, we're talking about mint and cilantro with just-picked flavor. In fact, all their produce & meats taste incredibly fresh, and we're thinking that this Champa Garden must have local sources for many of their ingredients.

Kaow Poont: coconut soup with chicken, vermicelli, sprouts and cabbage. One of the best versions of this dish we've had, a broth that's rich with umami, chiles and ginger.

Pad Mah Kuer: sauteed egglant, pork, onion, chiles, thai basil. Sublime.

Champa Garden in Redding
(530) 221-4999
1107 Hilltop Dr, Redding, CA 96003

Monday, May 29, 2017

Shasta Journey

These first five are shots of Mount Shasta from the small town of McCloud, where Robin & I were this weekend, selling her mushroom t-shirts & other mushroom artwork at their annual mushroom festival. This year it was noticeably bigger than last year, in terms of attendance & number of vendors. Culinary vendors had a much better selection of mushroom items, and there were many more vendors and displays on all aspects of fungus. 

McCloud is an old Mill Town with an interesting history. Those houses across the street from the Burgers & Shakes sign I gather were where laborers moved once they got married. Prior to this, they lived in dorms in what is now known as the McCloud Hotel, a much fancier affair now than back in the day (although many celebrities from the 1910s-1920s stayed there). 

Well, here's the interesting part. The Mill Owner & management hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to go undercover to figure out which labourers were stealing. Soon, they started disrupting activities of the IWW, who were organizing throughout Northern California, again at the behest of the Mill Owner.

Shot of Shasta at the end of day one. I just took my first shower in a few days as we were roughing it, first staying at the site of the festival in our canopy (just like the ones in the foreground, but with sidewalls, & the all-important air mattress we got on the cheap), then on National Forest land with mushroom foragers. 

Like last year, it was very hot in McCloud, but the challenge to roughing it was staying warm at night, because it got really cold. We spent last night in deep wilderness, with mushroom foragers we know, in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, way, way off the beaten path. Almost hit an adult coyote on the way there, who leapt across the highway right in front of us. We got lost and turned down a road that used to be a rail line, and had to reverse all the way back to the entrance.

When we finally found the campsite, I saw bear and bobcat tracks. Our foraging friends brought all kinds of interesting things to the party in front of the campfire, including Porcini Huaraches, and freshly caught & grilled trout. Haven't had trout that good since my grandparents took me camping in the Sierras in 1969. Pretty certain that was the first time I saw a forest, and decided my favorite color was green. The air smells different, and the water is otherworldly.

Shot of Shasta, Sunday morning. Covered in snow, plenty of snow melt in creeks and rivers. We went to the springs in Shasta City when we first arrived, then re-filled our 3 gallon jug this morning before heading back south. All the other major mountains in the area we could see (Trinity Alps & Lassen) were also covered in snow. Shasta Lake is utterly transformed, full as it should be, quite unlike the first time I saw it, in 2014, during the depths of the drought.

Above & below, shots of Shasta during the festival. Live music had interesting moments. Saturday was mostly Reggae & Funk, with the latter band doing a very good version of "Cissy Strut." On Sunday, it was all Bluegrass & Country, which the locals were really into. At one point, before the Bluegrass, the sound guy had some Hiphop on, and I've gotta say McCloud is about as un-Hiphop as any place I've been, but don't tell that to the 15 year old boys riding skateboards blasting contemporary gangsta rap.

Just remembered: some little girl this morning asked if I was Santa Claus. I told her I was training to become Santa Claus, but still have to do years of journeyman internship training in Finland and Norway. She looked baffled but her mom liked the joke. I saw them later and burst out with a "Ho! Ho! Ho! MERRY CHRISTMAS!" I made her day.

Trinity Alps in the distance, from City Park in Shasta City.

Plenty of old buildings and vehicles around McCloud.

Speaking of vestiges from another era, check this out, from the front of a vacant building.

Table from one of the new vendors: The Mushroom Authority. They had mushrooms, grow kits, and something that blew away all of Robin's mycology fanatic buddies: a cheese bread using Lion's Mane mushrooms! We were staying in a camp with those folks last night, and passed it around the campfire, a real hit with them. There's more and more people we're finding who are serious about wild and cultivated mushrooms.

Easily the best food at the event, served by Chef's Lounge, Risotto with Morels & Asparagus (above) and Chicken Skewers with Porcini Pesto (below). Gotta say, I was impressed that every food vendor had some sort of mushroom ingredient.

Breakfast at White Mountain Cafe. Bacon Avocado Spinach Benedict with hash browns. Hollandaise Sauce tasted very fresh. Also had an impressive breakfast at Seven Suns Coffee in Shasta, and outstanding Thai/Lao at Champa Garden in Redding. The Sage Restaurant at the McCloud Hotel looks compelling, maybe next year we'll check it out. Will blog more about those later.