Rée: Whenever we visit the bay area, we make a pit stop at a place I called home for four years. It’s a nice little beach town in Northern California called Santa Cruz. Hippie. Organic. Liberal. I made good friends. I made good art. But most importantly, I walked away with so many good memories. Now, each time I visit Santa Cruz with SJ, I want to show him what life was like for me before I had met him. I become relaxed, more opinionated, and I try to enter into a cool kind of nostalgic daze.
SJ: What have I done? I give you the task of writing our intro and you go into some psycho-existential-babble about your past. Can you get us back on track? Or do I have to save every post?
Rée: Geez. What got into you?
SJ: I gotta play the part of Mr. Grumpy. Yup.
Rée: Whatever. As I was saying, Santa Cruz. The most enjoyable stay we’ve spent together was at a bed and breakfast called The Adobe On Green Street.
SJ: Located in a quiet residential area, just a few blocks from downtown Santa Cruz, the Adobe takes you away from the bustling college/beach town atmosphere into a serene garden draped with flowers and greenery. The inn offers the guests a place to relax and truly get away from the everyday grind.
Rée: It’s true. It feels very removed from the outside noise of existential-psychobabblers.
SJ: Ha. Ha.
Rée: You’re welcome.
SJ: Actually, the “Green” in the name, not only applies to the street that it’s on, but it also relates to the Inn’s theme of being environmentally conscious. The Adobe provides guests with Burt’s Bee’s natural bath amenities and also uses solar energy when possible.
Rée: And that’s something I can support. I learned a lot about environmental activism while in college, as well as alternative healthy eating methods. Knowing that I can still count on the town to relay that message is comforting.
SJ: By ‘healthy eating methods’ are you referring to your crazy gluten-free diets, or your raw-vegan heydays?
Rée: Very funny. I suppose, but I don’t think that I was on any particular diet when we were visiting this time around.
Rée: I remember enjoying their spread of breakfast foods in the mornings. Scones, bagels, yogurt, blackberries…. it was a limited assortment, but one that was thoughtful and intimate. It accurately conveyed the hippie/ local vibe of the town.
SJ: The scones were quite good. I think the owner made them from scratch. As for the other items, they were okay… I rather start off my morning with some eggs and bacon… perhaps a croissant.
SJ: The room that I had chosen, the lookout room, offers the most privacy at Adobe. It’s the only room on the second floor and is the largest out of the four rooms you could book. However, if you would like a tub instead of a shower, this room is not for you as it only has a large shower. The room looks out to the gardens and also offers a lovely view of a bell tower. Overall, I’d say that this is the best place to stay if you are in town and want to explore Santa Cruz or just want a romantic weekend with your partner.
Rée: They also kept a bowl of Lindor truffles by the front door! This was a definite bonus that contributed to my own collecion of fond memories.
SJ: You’re telling me a bowl of chocolates is all it takes to make you happy?
Rée: Perhaps. Care to experiment?
The Grumpy Concierge approves of this cozy and simple bed & breakfast.
SJ: LA RESTAURANT WEEK 2013! There were some big names on the list last year, including many Wolfgang Puck establishments; however, when in LA I like to stick to Japanese due to the dearth of good Japanese places in Richmond. So, we chose Kiriko, a small Japanese spot on Sawtelle in LA’s Little Osaka.
Rée: Actually… I don’t recall there being any Japanese places in Richmond.
SJ: There are. Silly wife. I just never took you to any of them.
Rée: Okay. I’m determined to find a good place in Richmond the next time we go.
SJ: No thanks. They’re not going to have dishes like bluefin tuna or golden snapper that are lightly torched and melt in your mouth. Exhibit A.
SJ: Or the Alaskan king salmon tartare. Exhibit B.
SJ: Get the picture?
Rée: Yes. And that’s unfortunate. Because, I remember enjoying the tartare quite a bit.
SJ: The sushi was pretty good as well. The cuts of fish were generous and the rice was actually done pretty well. Still, nothing like what we had in Korea. My favorite item on the plate was the blue crab hand roll. The roasted nori was filled with a sizable amount of blue crab meat, slightly dressed in mayonnaise and surround by rice.
Rée: I didn’t have any of your sushi, so I can’t comment on the ‘rice’, though I still don’t have a strong grasp of what “good” sushi rice is.
SJ: Well, first, it should be seasoned with a sushi zu which is a mixture of vinegar, sugar, mirin and salt. Then, it needs to be slightly cooled. The chef should handle the rice softly enough that it falls apart in your mouth but doesn’t fall apart when you pick it up. The chef who made my sushi did a decent job of seasoning the rice, but it didn’t fall apart.
Rée: I see. Glad I got the sashimi instead. I guess.
Rée: And, as always, I saved the salmon for last.
SJ: No, as usual, we had dessert for last. Silly wife.
Rée: I meant, before we had the dessert. Silly husband.
SJ: Do you remember what kind of creme brulee that was?
Rée: Red bean?
SJ: Nope. It was hoji tea.
Rée: I don’t remember that at all. I do remember the berries over vanilla ice cream though.
SJ: Both of which were pretty good and clean.
The Grumpy Concierge approves of this small yet enjoyable sushi joint.
SJ: Little Tokyo is just a little section of the vast wonder that is downtown LA. As previously said, it has truly been revitalized in the past 10 years or so. The revitalization has partly been led by noteworthy chefs like Josef Centeno who has been at the forefront. On this day we decided to visit his Tex-Mex spot, Bar Amá. D’s mom actually joined us on this day as she LOVEs Mexican cuisine.
Rée: She really does. Like… a lot.
SJ: And, especially guacamole, it looked like. Makes sense. The apple never falls too far from the tree. Or should I say, Avocado? Slaps knee
With the two avocado lovers on hand, we had to start out with some freshly made guacamole. It was excellent as were the house made chips. The celery in it actually gave it a nice textural contrast that we really enjoyed.
Rée: Did you catch how my mother pronounces this dish?
Rée: No. She calls it ’whackamole sauce”. Uncontrollable fit of giggles ensues.
SJ: Get a hold of yourself. Geez. Please introduce our next dish.
Rée: You mean, the white nectarines with blueberries and cheese and honey?
SJ: Yes. This dish was a superb example of seasonal cuisine. The sweet white nectarine was enhanced by fresh blueberries and cheese. The robust honey just added depth of flavor to another very refreshing starter.
Rée: It was indeed refreshing as we had several more filling and heavier dishes to look forward to. Like, these potatoes.
SJ: And, if we see potatoes on the menu, we have to order potatoes. Let’s just say, these did not disappoint. The smashed potatoes had been crisped on the outside and were soft and delicate on the inside. Served with some queso fresco and pickled veggies on top, this was another winner.
Rée: Yeah, it was. But, you forgot to mention- very filling. By this point in our meal, I was already quite full. Unfortunately, or…. fortunately (I’m not sure which), there was more food to be eaten.
SJ: These puffy tacos were for mom and I think she enjoyed them. Topped with crisp cabbage and seasoned beef, the freshly fried crispy taco was also quite filling as we ordered three and took one home.
Rée: I don’t remember eating any of it; I just remember how big they were. But, thankfully I made space for our ‘main’ course.
SJ: D and I decided to split the signature dish, Chicken fried chicken served with buttery grits and topped with a zesty gravy and a sunny side up egg. The dish was definitely meant to be shared as it was big and hearty. The seasoning on the chicken was spot on, the grits were creamy and the egg put the dish over the top. WE WERE FULL! But there’s always room for dessert, right?
Rée: I think we need to stop adopting that motto… but making the exception for this rice pudding was a great idea. Each bite of the caramel, whipped cream and rice pudding combination melted easily in our mouths. We needed only to chew a little bit- to savor the flavors.
The Grumpy Concierge approves of this muy magnifico restaurante.
SJ: Ah Peru, where East meets West. Elements of Chinese, Japanese and traditional Peruvian style of cooking create a culinary culture like no other. What! You’ve only heard of Peruvian rotisserie chicken! Well, you have a lot to learn! Why don’t you join us for dinner at Picca? A trendy Peruvian joint run by Ricardo Zarate, a rising star in the LA culinary scene.
Rée: We came here to celebrate SJ’s 30th birthday… a couple days late.
SJ: I started off with an artfully crafted Pisco Sour. Made with Pisco (Peruvian brandy), citrus, simple syrup and topped off with whipped egg whites, the cocktail was very well balanced in terms of flavor. The interplay between the creamy egg white foam and the sweet and sour drink really made it the perfect aperitif. I was ready to eat!
Rée: Calamari! Never a bad item to begin with. It was well fried and placed on top of a tangy and saucy halibut ceviche.
Rée: I don’t recall loving the halibut as much as the calamari, but I did enjoy the crispy and tangy combination.
SJ: I’ve had ceviches before and this was by far one of the more memorable versions. I really enjoyed having the two components, the warm calamari and the cool sour halibut, together in one dish. The next small plate was the chef’s take on causa, a peruvian take on mashed potatoes. In his version, Zarate topped it with unagi, giving it a Japanese flair.
Rée: It reminded me of the guy who uses noodles instead of rice to make his sushi creations.
SJ: Ah. Yes. Chef Choi Hyun Seok of Elbon in Seoul. Well, Zarate of Picca used to work at Nobu, thus drawing his inspirations from Japanese techniques.
Rée: That would explain the fried rice with scallions and pickled daikon.
SJ: One of the best fried rice I’ve ever had… The Arroz Chaufa De Mariscos had the smokiness from the wok, the seafood was cooked superbly and the rice could not have been seasoned any better. It was especially impressive since I have found making fried rice with medium/short grain rice to be more difficult as they have a tendency to clump up.
Rée: I would agree. It definitely had the Asian type of flavor that I’m used to. I didn’t realize Peruvian food had so much oriental influence. I always thought it was closer to Mexican or Spanish cuisine- even though geographically, that would have been inaccurate. The following dish, however had every bit of the latin flavor I was expecting of my perspective on Peruvian cuisine. While I enjoyed the combination of spices and sauces, I didn’t like the fact that the skin on them was thick and fatty. I would have preferred a thin and crispy outside layer.
SJ: Yeah, while the seasoning was on point and the wings were very moist and tender, I would’ve enjoyed the dish more if the skin was crispy. On the other hand, at least the wings were easy to eat. Our next dish was very difficult to eat even though the flavors were interesting.
Rée: Yeah. Artichoke isn’t the easiest thing to eat. Anyone have any pointers?
SJ: Because…. it took us a good 20 minutes to get through it.
Rée: Thankfully, there is always a reward at the end of a struggle. It helps when the reward is moist, spongy, not overly sweet but packed with flavor.
SJ: Viva Tres Leches! I can’t wait to try out his other spots.
The Grumpy Concierge approves of this trendy find.
SJ: Very Hungry in Little Tokyo of Los Angeles starring SJ and Rée. Co-starring Mr. Shin—Shin Sen Gumi. This is a story of the hungry couple who were in search of noodles. But to their dismay, Daikokuya had a crazy long wait. As despair turned into struggle, the couple panicked in hanger. Two blocks later, with the promise of no wait and a tonkatsu broth just as rich, Mr. Shin came to the rescue and the couple lived happily ever after. The End!
Rée: The opening act began when the takoyaki danced onto the table. The savory griddled bites were gooey on the inside and filled with tender morsels of octopus.
SJ: I love dancing bonito! Next came the star of the flick. The tonkatsu ramen. The noodles were firm, the chashu was tender, the broth was rich enough to satisfy. Although, I didn’t enjoy the tamago as much since I usually like the yolk to be a little softer. Overall, a solid bowl of ramen without the wait. Oh yeah we had one of the best chicken karage I’ve ever had along with the most garlicky gyozas ever too!
Rée: Yes, if YOU thought it was too garlicky… guess what I thought about them! That’s right. Inedible. On the upside, they were cooked just right. However, I was quite happy with their fried chicken. It was crispy, not too oily and the meat was tender and juicy. The appetizers did their jobs well, because I was still able to eat—inhale, I should say—the entirety of my fried noodles.
SJ: The fried noodles were quite delicious. Toothsome, savory and full of umami. So, when hunger picks a fight with you in Little Tokyo, strike it with some noodles from Shin Sen Gumi.
The Grumpy Concierge approves of this oishi establishment.
SJ: Wherever we go, we must have dessert. ESPECIALLY ICE CREAM. I had a list of Seattle ice cream shops on my list and Molly Moon’s was right at the top. It has locations throughout Seattle and we happened to stumble upon the Capitol Hill location after a brisk afternoon walk.
Rée: There was a line. It was a Bi-Rite Creamery at Nine PM on a Friday night kind of moment. Eventually, we got inside and sampled a few flavors. Among them, the strawberry balsamic got my taste buds’ attention.
SJ: The salted caramel actually grabbed my attention. I knew they were famous for it and I could see why.
Rée: While I enjoyed the strawberry balsamic more, I think the caramel was nice to have to balance out the flavors. Well made ice creams. Not icy, and unique flavors.
SJ: Oh yeah. Technique, local ingredients and high quality dairy usually equate great ice cream. When in Seattle and craving ice cream, shoot for the Moon, Molly Moon!
The Grumpy Concierge approves of this delightful little scoop shop.
SJ: With a newly acquired taste for oysters (Thanks Rappahannock Oysters!), I was glad to hear that many of Seattle’s finest establishments offered oyster happy hours (.75 cents to a 1.50 per oyster). Since we were in the vicinity of Pike Place Market that day, D and I decided to drop by Seatown Seabar and Rotisserie, another restaurant run by one of our favorites, Chef Tom Douglas.
SJ: Don’t those oysters look magnificent? They were rather small but very sweet and flavorful. Served with a bruleed lemon and mignonette, these bivalves were quite easy to slurp down with a pint of pear cider. All the hard work was done by our wonderful master oyster shucker who happened to be from Hawaii!
Rée: And, again- since I don’t love oysters, I kind of hung out while I waited for my dessert.
SJ: That’s right. You didn’t order anything.
Rée: Nope. Our oyster shucker (Jennifer, I think) was super awesome, and gave us a sample of the poke they had made. It was so yummy!
SJ: That was the first time I had poke.
Rée: In Seattle? Even though you had lived in Hawaii before this trip?
SJ: Moving on…
Rée: Thankfully, my dessert came out before you finished the lasts of your oysters. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but it was actually quite delicious.
SJ: Yeah, dessert at a Tom Douglas establishment has never disappointed and this was no exception. The frozen banana parfait was topped with caramel and served with a biscotti. Nice textural contrast between the creamy parfait and the crunchy biscotti.
SJ: Thanks to the great service and the delectable food, we decided to return next morning to enjoy breakfast al fresco.
Rée: I think English Muffins, Eggs and Potatoes are my go to breakfast items. Aren’t they?
SJ: Sometimes you vary it between bacon and french toast though.
Rée: That’s very true. You manage to be in the mood for something different all of the time. I don’t understand how you do that.
SJ: You are a creature of habit. That’s why. As for me, I am an explorer. I like trying out new things most of the time. Like this sandwich for example. Lumps of Dungeness crab meat, avocado and Beecher’s jack cheese sandwiched between Dahlia Bakery English muffin… Couldn’t be bad right? Sandwich fit for a Seattle explorer!
The Grumpy Concierge approves of this gem of various treasures.
SJ: Want to see palm trees in Seattle? Take a climb up to the First Hill neighborhood and you’ll find them at the charming Sorrento Hotel. The Seattle landmark, which opened in 1909, is located between Downtown and the hip Capitol Hill neighborhood. Although it may be a hike to get there (They do offer a complimentary town car service for all guests), the service and the warmth we received from the Sorrento made us want to extend our stay.
Rée: A complimentary upgrade to a suite never hurts either.
SJ: Indeed, we did receive an upgrade. Although the room was a little worn, (the floor was a little slanted and the paint was chipping off the windows), the decor seemed to have aged well.
Rée: Like good wine!
SJ: Smiling, Our home away from home had classic style furniture, a small yet luxurious marble bathroom, a comfortable bed and a flat screen TV. Along with the room, the hotel provided us with two bottles of Acqua Panna as well. The Italian touches continued with the bathroom amenities.
Rée: Yes! The Tarocco blood orange product line was very fitting for the Italian themed accommodation. Good job, sweetie- for scouring deals and packages for several weeks before our trip. It was a very cozy and welcoming hotel- even with its noticeable age. Our room was big and comfortable, and in a convenient location.
SJ: Our package also came with 25 dollars in food and beverage credit, which we used to grab a late lunch (quite delicious btw), in addition to breakfast for two. The breakfast was hearty and tasty. I got the lox and bagel plate. The lox, cured wild salmon, was what I expected in the Pacific Northwest, no fishiness and not overly salty or oily like those made with farmed salmon.
Rée: My breakfast was delicious. It was simple, but delicious. The potatoes were just a little crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. It wasn’t overly salty. My only mark against the potatoes was its portion. More potatoes = happier me.
SJ: The wonderful service continued even at checkout (after checkout I guess) as the town car driver offered to drop us off at the next hotel we were staying at. He even got the bags out of the trunk for us.
Rée: I even remember the set of 2 chocolate truffles the front desk agent gave us when we checked in. Or, how quickly the hospitality team was in bringing us a tub stopper upon our request. Clockwork. They definitely makeup in hospitality, for what they lack in ‘new’.
The Grumpy Concierge approves of this old but romantic and quaint hotel.
SJ: Let’s take a walk at our favorite market of all time (sorry Ferry Terminal and Reading), Shall we? Pike Place Market, where you’ll find the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
Rée: It even comes with a 30 second view!
SJ: 30 seconds?
Rée: That’s how long it took me to take this shot.
SJ: That’s right. I remember. Moving on…
SJ: … to our first stop, the Crumpet Shop!
Rée: We actually came early enough to see the guy making crumpets this time.
SJ: They are made in the traditional way, on the griddle, then topped with sweet or savory ingredients.
Rée: I think we got this crumpet last time. I remember trying to recreate it with Trader Joes’ crumpets, cream cheese, honey and walnuts.
SJ: Wasn’t the same as the ricotta they used in these crumpets, eh?
Rée: Nope. I even tried to make these pesto eggs.
SJ: Green eggs and ham! Both of the crumpets were excellent. Soft, chewy. Topped with high quality ingredients, the crumpets are a great way to start off your morning near Pike Place. How about we walk around and burn off some calories for our next snack?
Rée: We as a couple truly embody the saying… “live to eat”. But, how can you stop when good food surrounds us, everywhere we choose to go? Another case in point. The white chocolate covered blueberries from Chukar Cherries.
Rée: Or the fresh and locally grown produce at the stalls inside?
SJ: Oh yes, and the vendors are very generous with the samples. I think I tried every kind of chocolate covered concoction that Chukar Cherries offer. The fruit stands usually dole out portions of what’s in season, which usually means it’s going to be fresh, sweet, and delicious.
Rée: Or, just fresh and colorful.
Rée: Walking through Pike Place Market is really just a huge buffet- for the mouth, the eyes, nose and ears.
SJ: That’s a good way to put it. How would you explain our next course?
Rée: Amazing. Cheesy, buttery, rich and bouncy.
SJ: Yes, but the best mac and cheese in the world? I think not. Definitely worth the calories though. The store, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, should be on a Pike Place visitor’s list. You can watch the cheese being made and a sample of the Beecher’s flagship is a must!
Rée: I will argue that your mac and cheese is the best in the world, sweetie.
SJ: blushingly Well… onto our next course.
Rée: Piroshky Piroshky: A Pike Place must!
SJ: Freshly baked Eastern European style pastry, I’d say it’s a must as well.
Did you enjoy our brief tour? We didn’t get to visit all of our favorites. (Pike Place Chowder, better than anything I’ve had on the East Coast) But no worries, I know we’re going to go back very soon for more of the best from Pike Place Market.
The Grumpy Concierge approves of this brilliantly eclectic establishment!