Sunday, July 09, 2006

California comestibles

As promised earlier this month, here are more details about our cuisine-driven trip to California (well, yes, we went because Tara was getting married, but after the ceremony Friday night we had the rest of the weekend to go gallivanting gastronomically). Mr. Tart's first choice of places to visit was the Old Town Root Beer Company in downtown Temecula. Beyond the tacky tourist t-shirts in the front of the shop was an entire wall lined with shelves of soda pop, mostly root beer (his favorite drink after red wine--and sometimes with!) from all over the country (plus a few English and German imports). Some claimed creaminess, some promised old-fashioned taste, others bragged of their nuances of nutmeg or nostalgia. Mr. Tart bought four and Lis one (after putting back a $10 commemorative bottle from overseas) while I indulged in a funky ginger ale, my favorite carbonated drink.

Probably our favorite restaurant meal during the trip--and certainly our most picturesque--was brunch at Tara and Mark's beloved Ramos House in San Juan Capistrano, which she has chronicled about twice in the short history of this blog (here's their first meal there and here's the second one). So with that kind of encouragement, how could we not go? The town itself is charming--how often do directions to a restaurant instruct you to "walk across the railroad tracks" onto the oldest street in the state and look for "the second shack on the right"?--and the nearby old Spanish Mission is lovely in its gardens and crumbling walls. And the food was as delicious as we expected--though slightly different than it was a year ago for Tara and Mark. Our prix fixe menu included the drinks (we all skipped the scary crab-claw bloody marys), unlike theirs, while our mimosas were served in thin champagne glasses, not the large and homey mason jars. Lis and Mr. Tart started with the beignets, which they raved about, while I had the hushpuppies in sweet pepper jam. Now, I haven't had a good hush puppy--or perhaps not any hush puppies at all--since my last visit three years ago to North Carolina, where I grew up. You might argue, therefore, that any old hush puppy still warm from the deep fryer would make me happy. True, but Ramos House's hush puppies are earthy and yet ethereal and crunchy and corny. Just right. Plus we all loved the pepper "jam"--thin enough to qualify as an almost-pourable jelly--that took up the entire plate (unlike Tara's serving, which only had a large dollop). Fortunately, a Ramos House cookbook was floating around the patio so I was able to copy down the recipe. I haven't had a chance to make it yet--been traveling and still am out of town--but this would be a great chance for a loyal Three Tarts reader to try it out and let us know if it works!

Ramos House Sweet Pepper Jam

1/4 c red onion, finely diced
5 red jalapenos, finely diced
6 large yellow peppers, finely diced
1 1/4 c rice wine vinegar
2 1/4 c sugar
1.5 oz fruit pectin

Combine vinegar and sugar in stainless steel pot and bring to a boil. Add peppers and onions. Whisk in pectin and return to a boil. Chill over ice bath. Refrigerate up to one month.

Our main dishes were the following: Smoked Bacon, Baby Spinach & Caramelized Onion Scramble (Lis); Wild Mushroom, Roasted Garlic & Sun dried Tomato Scramble (Mr. Tart); and Basil Cured Salmon w/ Herb Sauce & Toast Points (me--though they were actually baguette slices). Oh yum. The egg dishes were served with some kind of roasted small potatos and decorated with teeny filaments of fried onion. My salmon was exquisite and I used the last piece of bread to sweep up every smear of sauce left on the plate. And guess what--we have that recipe too!

Honey Mustard Sauce for Smoked Salmon

1 c creole mustard
1 c honey
1/2 c lemon juice
2 tsp black pepper
2 1/4 c grape seed oil
drizzle of sesame oil

Mix all ingredients together except oils. Add oils gradually while whisking. Refrigerate for up to several weeks.

Speaking of loyal Three Tarts readers, by the way, Lis and I were very surprised as we stood at the entrance to the wedding winery, handing out programs, and having total strangers greet us with cries of "I recognize you from your blog!" and "You're a Tart!" and "We love your blog!" Thank you! We're thrilled to hear that people outside of our immediate circle of friends and family even know that our blog exists (we plan on taking this responsibility a little more seriously from now on, yes indeedy). And we'd love to have you all write in with comments, suggestions, questions--let us know who you are and what you think and what else you want to read about! (Lis and I agreed that since we read so many cookbooks and other books about food, we should start posting book reviews, for example.)

We were particularly tickled to find ourselves the answer to a question during the "Tara and Mark Trivia Quiz" portion of the wedding reception: "What are the names of the two friends that Tara has a food blog with?"

And to conclude, our most disappointing meal was at an airport Applebee's which kept denying that it was actually an Applebee's. You might say that it's our own fault to choosing to eat an an Applebee's--but you don't understand. The Ontario, CA airport is modest in size but still has 30 or so gates with a handful of restaurants on either end of the terminal. Strangely enough, the only one open in the late afternoon was Applebee's. The only one. Not the burger joint nor pizza place nor bagel bakery, nothing. It was literally the only place to eat. So we resigned ourselves to it and went in. When I ordered a cocktail to start with, the waitress told me that although there was a flippy laminated Applebee's drink menu sitting on the table, the bar doesn't actually make half of them. They don't stock all the booze or the extras. (For example, no orange slices to garnish my drink.) This was no big deal, but a bit odd. As we tried to place our order, the waitress--wearing an Applebee's nametag--confessed that not everything was available because it wasn't actually an Applebee's--they just had the Applebee's name, the decorations, and the menu. But not everything on the menu. Because they weren't really Applebee's. Very postmodern. But our salads were respectable.

So we parted after that meal, our suitcases loaded down with bottles of local olive oils (garlic for me and Mr. Tart), pineapple sparkling wine, and other treasures from the local vineyards, and returned to Colorado and Utah, promising each other another Tart reunion next year, this time not just for a wedding but rather just because. We're toying with the idea of a weeklong cooking class in an area like Tuscany, you know, where a grandmotherly lady takes us to the market every morning to buy ingredients grown down the road and then we go back with her to her farmhouse where she teaches us how to make authentic pasta filled with pungent mushrooms and decadent desserts....


Blogger tara said...

I, too, am delighted to hear that some of my friends actually recognized you guys as two of the Three Tarts at the wedding. That's awesome!

Greetings from Paris. Highlight of the day: Picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower at sunset!

3:24 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I did end up making this jam--and it didn't solidify. Completely liquid, thin as water. Could be my fault--or it could be that the chef tweaked the proportions just enough that no one can replicate his original recipe the way the restaurant serves it.

8:26 PM  

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