Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the pretty damn Yummy

About 3 weeks ago, I watched The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly ...yeah, I'd seen it before, but this time, I feel like I really watched it for the first time.  It was the first time I paid attention to how the movie was put together--that iconic theme song and the amazing score are just as much stars of the movie as the actual actors.  There's not a lot of dialogue either, which made me remember that I had forgotten that ol' Clint was a damn fine specimen in his day.

Seeing this movie was sort of a preparation to my latest customer visit, which was to Marina, CA...right outside of Monterey and Carmel, where Clint was mayor and still lives in the area.  Yeah, I know he's old and craggy, but for sheer star power, could you really beat Clint?  Not that I expect to actually see him walking down the streets of Carmel by the Sea, but a girl can always hope, can't she?

This trip should officially be dubbed "A Fistful of Short Ribs," because that was essentially what I ate for 3 days.

I flew into San Francisco on Saturday afternoon and then drove to Marina, which is about 2 hours away.  I was hoping that it would still be daylight when I flew in, so I could at least enjoy the surroundings as I drove down, but it was dark.  I had opted to go a day early, so I could spend Sunday wandering around Monterey,  see Cannery Row and the Aquarium, and stalk sight see in Carmel.

I arrived in Marina at about 7:30 pm, which meant it was 9:30 my real time, and I was tired and hungry...and a little cranky that I wasn't racking up any Hampton Inn points this trip, because there wasn't a Hampton Inn as one of my lodging choices.  (Although, if you are ever in the Marina/Monterey area, you could do worse to stay at the Marina Holiday Inn Express--the shower pressure is freaking amazing. It's the little things...)

After asking at the desk for dining options, the desk clerk sent me off with a coupon to the Kula Ranch Island Steakhouse.  Since I've been homesick for Hawaii since I visited last year, this sounded sort of promising.  Plus, the coupon options included "buy one, get one Mai Tais," so how bad could it really be?

(What?  You don't think it's possible to fall instantly in love with a place and consider it home? just one winning lottery ticket away of reuniting myself and my island homeland.  In the meantime, I make do with the new Hawaii Five-0 eye candy.)

Kula Ranch seems to be a local joint, even though it feels like a betting that franchising is in the works somewhere, and specializes in Polynesian-style food.  It's kitschy, and I start to get a bad feeling about this, especially when some fresh-faced young man, looking like he walked off the set of Beach Blanket Bingo, walked up to my table with his ukelele and asked if I had any requests.  I sort of fixed him with my best gimlet eye and asked for "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," and he got style points for starting to pluck it out.  He's probably dealt with lots of old farts like me before.  Anyway, I was just afraid that everything would just have a grilled pineapple ring and a couple of maraschino cherries to make it "Island style."  Especially, when one of the coupon offerings is also "Hawaiian Nachos."  I'm not exactly sure what the hell says "nacho" about Hawaii, or if there is even a word in Hawaiian for nacho, so I wisely opt for the 2-for-1 Mai Tais.

I've about decided to go with the Mauka Skirt Steak, which is marinated in soy and citrus, when I spot the "Pork, Chicken, and other Specialties" side o' the menu.  There is Kalua Pork, but there's also St. Louis-style ribs and some Cajun-spiced, which is disturbing to me for the above grilled pineapple and maraschino cherry reasons, and a beef short ribs dish.  Y'all know the love that I have for the short rib, and I hope that these short ribs are like the kalbi-style ones that I had at L&L Hawaiian Barbecue last year.

Alas, they are not.  They are not bad, but they are not fabulous...I should have gone with the skirt steak...I didn't have any preconceived notions about it, like I had for the ribs.  I think the big problem I had with the dish was the presentation.  There was a mount of rice in the middle of the plate, with a scoop of macaroni salad on top of the rice, with the ribs arranged around the plate like spokes--that wasn't the part I found problematic; it was the dumping of the macaroni salad on the rice. It did not work for me, because it made my rice all mayonnaisey. I'm not usually freaked out about my food touching or mixing on the plate, but this did not work for me in the slightest. The Mai Tais were strong and fruity though, and it was a good thing that I was only a half a mile away from the hotel.

I headed back to the hotel and tried to get some sleep.  Predictably, I wake up at about 3:30 a.m. and wonder why it's still dark.  Ha...I hate changing time zones.  I finally give up and get up at about 7:30 to take a shower and start my day.  I figure I'll head to Monterey, do the Aquarium, and wander about Cannery Row.  As I peer out the window of my room, which overlooks a little marshy area with water birds and walking paths, I notice people walking along the paths.  These folks are bundled up like it's nuclear winter out there, and that makes me a little worried, because all I brought was a windbreaker and a light dressy jacket for the office.  I turn on the news, and it's 53 degrees F outside...seriously?  The walkers had on puffy jackets, ski caps, gloves, and it was 53 degrees below zero!

There's nothing so fun as a power outage in a hotel when you are in the shower.  I immediately wonder if there's been an earthquake, and this is the time that California breaks off into the sea...blame it on a late-night showing on 2012 on Starz.  That has got to be the worst CGI-ed disaster movie of all time.  I didn't even make all the way through the movie, because it was so bad.

The power finally returns, and I head out to Monterey to start my day.  The aquarium is cool, and I think that the up close and personal viewing of the otters is worth the price of admission.  The penguins were pretty cool, too.

I wander through the shops of Cannery Row, and then head over to Carmel-by-the Sea to check out the area and stalk Clint.  I had read an interview with him that took place in the dining room of a restaurant/inn that he owns, called the Mission Ranch Hotel and Restaurant.  I gathered from the interview that he might actually hang out there on occasion, so I resolve to have dinner there on Monday night.

I headed back to Marina and realize that I am STARVING!  I drive around a little bit and spy a Korean barbecue restaurant...kalbi ribs, here I come!!

Normally, I check with folks at the customer site to find out about the local places and get the skinny on what's good, but I decided to just wing it and strike out on my own at Nak Won Korean BBQ, and I am glad I did.  I got a heaping portion of the short ribs, along with some Romaine lettuce leaves to wrap it in, and about a dozen small side dishes of kimchi and other delights.  There were these awesome marinated large black beans that I could have eaten whole lot more of, along with a tasty potato salad, and some sweet-hot cucumbers and daikon radish slices. (Update:  I finally got off my lazy bum and actually typed "Korean Barbecue side dishes black beans" into Google, and found this site, which gives a recipe for Kong Jang, along with other recipes and a sort of how-to for a Korean BBQ party.  If I ever work up the nerve and the energy to do a Korean BBQ party, I will definitely make these beans!)

(We could also call this trip "For a Few Woks More," because I ate a lot of Asian food this week, too.)  (Did you like that Clint-ism?  I am on a roll...a California roll..bwhaaahaaa!)

The next day, I went to lunch with the client at a local Thai place, D'Anna Thai Kitchen, and had the basic Thai Basil noodles with squid, which was very tasty.  Across the street from D'Anna's is the U.S. headquarters of the Ginger People.  (Not, not a world headquarters for red heads, but the root!)  For dinner, I went back to Carmel and had dinner at the Mission Ranch.

The restaurant is very cozy, and looks out over the fields where sheep graze and you can see the Pacific Ocean...if it's not dark by the time you get there.  (Luckily, I had scoped this out the day before and saw the view and the sheep then).  I had a wedge salad with bacon and blue cheese, along with the Short Rib (Osso bucco style), which was served with grilled asparagus and the most divine mashed potatoes.  These potatoes weren't anything fancy--no smashing, no garlic, no cheese, just potatoes, cream, and butter.  They were fluffy and light and just so potatoey good.  Ossobuco is a braised dish, usually with a veal or pork shank...some slow-cooked goodness.  The short rib was very tender and pretty much melted in my mouth like butter.  I cleaned my plate and really struggled to keep from actually licking it.  Yum!  I decided to forgo dessert at the beginning of the meal in favor of a nice local California cabernet...after all, I am on a limited expense account.

Lunch on Tuesday was at a local Japanese place that had a very nice teriyaki chicken bento box...the name of the place escapes me now, but it was good...not truly memorable, but good.

Tuesday evening finds me driving back to San Francisco to spend the night and catch an early flight out.  As I wind my way around the city to a Hampton Inn near the airport, I am trying to decide where/what to look for dinner.  After getting lost twice...sometimes those overlapping overpasses are very confusing on the GPS!...I get on the right road, and lo, behold, as I pull into the hotel parking lot, about 2 blocks down from the hotel is (drum roll please) a glowing yellow arrow beacon marking the spot of an In & Out Burger .

No trip to California would be complete for me without a stop at In & Out, and I had despaired of finding one in the northern climes, since In & Out is more of a Southern California delicacy.  One double-double animal style later, along with skinny fries and a chocolate shake, I fall into a food-induced coma until the alarm goes off at 4 am, and I begin the mad scramble for the airport and my flight home.

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