Saturday, July 07, 2007

Feed Me

Who wants to deny it?
No way.
Food is an awesome part of camping and road trips.
I love the food we prepare.
I love the food we discover.
I love the food we long to go back to.
So no account of a road trip is complete without a foodie post.

Save your allowance. Budget your discretionary cash. Arrive hungry. This is my tried and true advice for your arrival at Big Sur's Nepenthe. I've been 3 times, and haven't been disappointed once. It's the vibe of the place, the view, the mellow California scene. Last year I ordered the sweet potato fritters with a mild curry dip, and I have been dreaming of it ever since. The fritters have pecans too. The kids don't like them, isn't that wonderful? The whole basket was mine. If only I weren't the designated driver; I suspect they would pair nicely with a Margarita.

The curry dip has an outrageous color and a unique flavor... it's like no curry I've ever had... maybe because it's slightly sweet, sort of creamy. What do they put in it? If they told me it's pureed banana slug, I'd still go back next year.

I would love to arrive for lunch, sit inside, linger, reflect, absorb the atmosphere and take a long walk around the place, then ask for a seat outside to have dinner and watch the sunset. It's not about eating a lot. It's about eating well and in a beautiful setting.

Max's quesadilla was beautiful, with grilled cheese pouring out of the crisp tortilla. He took it with a hot chocolate. Max orders a lot of hot chocolates, but doesn't often finish them; this one went all the way down. Alex had an ambrosia burger, William a tuna salad sandwich. Maria grazed on their amazing french fries.

Why do I love Capitola Gayles? They make food beautiful. Really, I've eaten very little off their tremendous menu and yet it's another place where I have not been disappointed. Going there is a total sensory experience, especially as a person that appreciates the time and effort it takes to prepare and present food. At Gayle's everything is appealing. The walls, the service, the look of the cakes and veggies... everything!

I snapped a few pictures, like I always do. It was the middle of the week when we popped-in and took a number. The line was huge and there were as many employees working behind the counter as there were eager customers waiting to order. They were calling number 32. Our number was 57. After we got our grilled vegetables and roasted chicken they were calling number 83. Amazing, yet not surprising.

Now, before Gayle's came into my life, I knew about The Buttery, just up the road in Santa Cruz. My brother Bill introduced me to both bakeries, and really, I am not a big bakery fan, but these two are just such irresistable standouts I can't help but sing their praises. The Buttery is charming and quaint. Inside, looking at the fresh baked items, you instinctively know they are not skimping on the ingredients. Fresh local fruits are glistening in buttery fresh pastry.

Check out these locally grown confections. Maybe we don't frequent bakeries very often, but if you are going to indulge in a treat, shouldn't it be special?

A woman was talking with a baker about a cake order and she was showing her a drawing of her daughter's. The baker was going to make a custom cake from the daughter's drawing, using her art and colors for inspiration. It was so refreshing to see the interest and time the baker was taking to satisfy this rather elaborate request... it's a personal touch that it nice to know can still be found.

I am sure the cake will be lovely. Look at this tiny masterpiece. It's hard to see without something to compare it with... this cake is really little, yet possessing all the detail and charm of a main event kind of cake. There are lots of temptations and sweet details to admire at The Buttery. We fell for the Ollalieberry pie and brought it back to Bill and Alison's... good food tastes even better shared.

Another place Bill introduced me to: His very own Taqueria. He and Alison bought it a few years ago, and now Bill is running the whole operation like a pro. He wears a lot of hats... buyer, manager, cook, janitor, accountant, personnel, counselor, dishwasher. I spent a little time refreshing my memory about what it takes to do restaurant work and to learn more about the management of a business like his... sort of trying on a new hat, to see how it fits.

I learned that there is a lot to oversee. Customers want variety, and the seasons really affect their appetites: Summer is hot, very busy. Winter is cold, business drops off dramatically.

I learned that everything is done on a scale that vastly eclipses home cooking, and chopping 12 quarts of onions, can make even an experienced cook cry, cry, cry.

Salsa, by the bucket, can disappear in a day, so can chips, rice, guacamole, shrimp, cold drinks, chopped cilantro and cheese. Everything is fresh, tasty and served in generous portions. He has customers that come in regularly, like the Junior Lifeguards that break for lunch and wipe out the bean and cheese burrito supply.

Could I do this job everyday? This question is still bouncing around in my head. As I headed home, camping, and cooking over an open fire, I had a better appreciation for the work of preparing food, for serving a tasty, pleasing meal. It is hard work and gratifying too, even on a smaller family scale.

OKay, the wine is cheap, and I didn't have butter for the corn. In my opinion, good corn doesn't need butter. Good wine? Well, it's nice, but I was a happy woman with stars overhead, candle light and the company of my four happy campers.

Camping and road trips are food occasions. What about wedding anniversaries? I think a better bottle of wine would be nice, maybe a big salad and a nice loaf of fresh baked bread... whatever, I'm more interested in the company.


Tracy said...

What a yummy post! I'm hungry just looking at all these pictures--LOL! Those sweet potatoe fritters look especially delicious! Oh, and those cakes & pastries...Looks like you all had fun! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today. I look forward to coming back and visiting you here! Happy Weekend to you! :o)

nikkipolani said...

All those desserts look good, but it's those fritters that sound scrumptious! Nice photo of them :-)

Anna Banana said...

Happy anniversary! Must be your did I know??

Marisa said...

Your photos are awesome. All that color! What a bright and beautiful collection.

Tarie said...

Yes! Food is an important part of vacations, travelling, and having fun. :) And yes! Good food tastes SO MUCH better when shared with people we love. I wish I could visit the places you wrote about... I'm so hungry now...

tea time and roses said...


Oh how delicious everything looks,and that is the most beautiful tart I have seen yet. I must visit this place..


judy in ky said...

Nepenthe is one of the places I love. I just wish I lived closer.