Notes from western swing through northern and central California last month, the purpose being to visit several national parks—in this case, Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Lassen—and any roadfoods within shouting distance of my route.
First two days in SF. From the airport, went directly to Swan’s Oyster Depot. The layout and the proximity of countermen to customers reminds me of Eisenberg Sandwich in New York. Anchor Steam never seemed so right as when surrounded by oysters, chowder, cracked dungeness, and a hunk of sourdough. Superb service. Oddly enough, this little joint would generate my highest bill over the course of 2 weeks. Had dinner that night at Sam’s Grill, a throwback, classic fish house. Dark woods and very clubby. Wife and I seemed to be the youngest patrons there—by 30 or 40 years. Crammed our table with sand dabs, petrale sole, sourdough, and a host of sides, my favorite of which was a buttery nest of hash browns. Everything was perfect.
Breakfast the next morning at Dottie’s True Blue Café in the Tenderloin. Very creative dishes, typical of many a breakfast spot in SF. Lunched at Chef Jia’s in Chinatown, the clincher being an award hung in its window for being “The Best Chinese Restaurant in SF That Is Not Nanking Palace.” Had sauteed yams in garlic sauce. Watched Giants trounce Mets at Pac-Bell Park that night. Bonds homered.
Day 3 –Traditional stopoff in Berkeley for breakfast at Bette’s Oceanview Diner, which is technically not a diner and in no way offers an ocean view. Love this place. Fluffy oatmeal pancakes, freshly made corned beef hash, city roast coffee—just like mom never used to make. A couple very short hours later, reached Los Banos for lunch at the Wool Growers Restaurant (great name), a roadfooderie from way back. My first Basque feeding frenzy. Dishes laden with food kept coming and coming, including a soup and a stew. Main course lamb chops barely fit the plate, nothing like the skimpy versions served elsewhere. Lots of fun. Desert was ice cream in one of those old timey paper cups with a peel-back lid. The bill of only $12 per person, including wine, actually left me feeling guilty. The platter of asparagus that came with the meal would have set me back at least that much back in DC.
Days 4-11. Roughed it in Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite.
Day 12. Long driving day from Yosemite to Redding. Stopped for lunch in Locke at Al the Wops. Exceptional burgers on french bread. Place was packed and raucous—-at 11:30 in the morning. A real party atmosphere. Afterwards, wandered up and down the block, which has to be seen to be believed. The restaurant and the surrounding neighborhood, with its history and its teetering buildings, was easily one of the highlights of the trip.
Refueled with lagers at Hubsch Sudwerk Brauerie in Davis and much later in the day reached Redding. Buzz’s Crab Stand, our dinner destination, was conveniently located just across the street from our hotel. Informal, fun place. Menu choices endless. Had perhaps the last of the season’s dungeness, fried oysters, and grilled snapper. Great fries. Even better sourdough, baked on site. And another ridiculously low tab.
Day 13 –Lassen Nat’l Park mostly snowed in. Bummer. Plan B in effect. Barreled down to Chico to pay homage to Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., a pioneer and one of the saviors of beer in America. Settled in for the night near Winters. Dinner at Putah Creek Café. Cheery place. Everything as fresh as can be. Mexican corn pie and tortilla soup stood out. Nicely done french dip. Other plates whizzing by looked good. Strawberry season in full swing, making shortcake obligatory. Went back for breakfast the next morning. Waffles and pancakes under an avalanche of strawberries.
Day 14 – Left Putah Creek and crossed over to Napa Valley. Spent good part of afternoon sampling the wares at Sattui Winery. Small, family-owned operation. A bunch of local chefs set up charcoal grills on the grounds: tri-tips, shrimp, salmon, etc. Wow! Ended the day and the trip at Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in St. Helena. Classic drive in with subtle nods to modern tastes, that is, if the corn dogs don’t suit you, try the chinese chicken salad. PA announces your name when food is ready and servers trot out to the backyard seating area with the goods. Top notch burgers, fries, rings, and thick, thick espresso bean shakes. Caught red-eye back to DC.