Friday, May 13, 2011

A Jaunt Up The Coast -- Part II The Sea Chest

When we go to Moonstone Beach -- which we have done many times over the years -- we always stay at the Castle Inn. It is not fancy. Really, it's just a motel, but it is spotless and right across the road from the ocean. The owners Diane and Ed are delightful and welcoming and from Quebec and Ireland, respectively. If you know me, you're probably laughing at this kismet. Quebec and Ireland are deeply important to us. My father is from Montreal and our hearts belong to Ireland (and its whiskey!).

The view from most rooms is stunning, and literally all you have to do is look both ways, cross the street, and you'll find yourself on the wooden walkaway alongside the ocean cliffs. You can hop down the stairs and walk through the tide pools. Just be careful not to disturb the sunbathing seals!

Moonstone Beach is our quick and easy getaway. It's relatively affordable and I swear it feels like our little jaunt cleansed my head and spirits in a much needed way. You're surrounded by incredible beauty and lots of cool animals (sea otters(!), harbor and elephant seals, bunny rabbits, ground squirrels, hawks)! Another plus is that there is some rather tasty food to be had.

Moonstone Bar & Grill has really good fish tacos at lunch. The outdoor seating with the view of the ocean is not to be missed. I just cannot recommend eating dinner there. Get a cocktail -- just under 8 bucks for Jameson and Grey Goose -- and enjoy the sunset. The seafood pasta is flat out awful and expensive.

My preference is to dine at the fabulous Sea Chest. It is very seaside -- rustic and casual -- with an exceptional view of the ocean. There are business cards stapled to the ceiling, fishing-lore knick-knacks decorate the shelves and the servers are clad in Sea Chest t-shirts, and still the restaurant is very lovely with roses on the white linen tablecloths.

The Sea Chest is an oyster bar and seafood restaurant. They're serious about it. You'll find one vegetarian pasta on the menu, but that is the only time the menu strays onto land. Skip the ultra-bland Blue Point oysters from the East coast and try the smaller, brinier Morrow Bay beauties. Eat local, right?

I'd recommend controlling yourself as best you can, when it comes to the piping hot sourdough rolls slathered in butter. It's hard, but try, because the portions are massive and most come with a choice of clam chowder or garden salad. The salad is crisp and fresh, but the chowder is fantastic. Besides raw oysters, I've never tried the appetizers, but I'm awfully tempted by the Clams Casino and the Devils on Horseback. Heck, they even have oyster stew and escargots!

I follow in my Dad's footsteps. I easily become a creature of habit. I don't always order the beef taco and cheese enchilada (my Dad does!), but when I like something I find it hard to give it up. What if the new dish doesn't satisfy the same way? Will I be filled with regret? It's true, sometimes decision making is not my strong suit.

At The Sea Chest, I do not flounder.


I always order the Cioppino, my first night there. I was a wreck, when I realized the Sea Chest is closed on Tuesdays -- our first night in town!

As you may have noticed, I love Cioppino, and Steve's version at the Sea Chest is hands down my favorite. The fish stew comes out scalding hot in a scarred Le Creuset saucepan. It's exquisitely soupy and chock full of mussels, salmon, white fish, clams, squid, scallops, and shrimp. There's a crab leg too, but it's probably the least impressive part of the dish.

The spicy broth is loaded with black pepper and tomato. You'll even find zucchini and carrot in there, which is not traditional at all, but doesn't seem to offend. Your brow will likely be moist from the heat and the spice of the dish. It's a huge pot of Cioppino, and by the time your done with it and a couple glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, you may discover that you are exhausted from the experience. In an exceedingly good way.

The second night at the Sea Chest, I felt the need for some variety. I ordered sea scallops with linguine. The enormous scallops were plump and sweet. The pasta was slicked in olive oil and littered with capers and garlic and shallots. I'd order it again without hesitation.

I have just one other tip for you. Stop by Linn's in Cambria for an olallieberry cream cheese muffin for breakfast. I'm not much of a muffin gal, but these are scrumptious.

Sea Chest Restaurant & Oyster Bar
6216 Moonstone Beach Drive
Cambria, CA 93428


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Jaunt Up the Coast -- Part I La Super-Rica

Of course, there are other ways to knock out the blues. Paris is not the only fix. A visit to the ocean can help mightily. A blast of negative ions from the sea air has set me right on more than a few occasions.

Naturally, the delicious food to be consumed on the way to, while enjoying, and returning from the ocean can prove uplifting as well.

Just a few hours up the coast from Los Angeles is Moonstone Beach. It's a mere skip away from Cambria. Last week, Fe. and I packed our bags (okay, I did the packing. Fe. barked out orders.) and headed north with Mo. and my parents for a mid-week get-away.

Conveniently located between Los Angeles and Moonstone Beach lies Santa Barbara, home to Julia Child's favorite taqueria, La Super-Rica. Mo, Fe. and I were there at 11:00 a.m. as the doors opened. I find it hard to believe that this was only my third visit, considering I have traveled up and down California's coast, right past La Super-Rica's doors, an uncountable number of times.

Amusingly, the three times have all been in the last few months. When I latch onto a restaurant, I can't let go!

The definite favorite is #16, Super-Rica Especial. On the recommendation of the friendly cashier, I've opted for chicken instead of pork each time. That's not typically my style (chicken instead of pork? no way!), but I liked it so much the first time, I can't possibly change my order now. So, so good and juicy with the smoky roasted pasilla chiles and gobs of melted cheese resting atop the addictive hand-made corn tortillas.

I've also happily consumed tasty carne asada and marinated pork tacos. A large dollop of the vibrant green guacamole and a generous splash of the coriander-heavy green salsa and you are near bliss. I'm not talking cilantro, but dried coriander. The salsa is redolent with the stuff and I love it.

We've had great success on our previous visits with a dish of beef, bacon, green peppers and onions, but this last go round the meat was sadly over-cooked, so I can't give it the hearty vote of approval that I wish I could. Also the vegetable tamale, while a success for Fe. and probably for other little ones is a bit bland for the adults in the family.

I want to try, must try, in fact, the Tocino Especial -- melted cheese with bacon! -- because I'm certain it must be extraordinary. I mean, right?

La Super-Rica
622 N. Milpas Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93103

Monday, May 09, 2011

Vous Me Manquez

It has been so much longer then I had hoped it would be.

I've missed you!

My list of excuses could go on and on, but suffice it to say that we've been a bit sick in our house and being sick with a sick kiddo is a lot different than being sick on one's own. It really sucks. The other problem is that I've been in a funk. A gloomy cloud has been following me around. I'll tell you, it does not promote creativity or provide inspiration.

I'm working on shaking it off.

I can recommend something that seems to have a touch of curative effect.

If you are able, plan a last minute trip to Paris!

I know. I know. Easier said than done, but that is exactly what A. and I have done. We've got a whole lot of investigating to do, because our future may be in French.

I'm starting to buzz just beneath the skin. I'm all shortness of breath and excitement (pretty sure it's not the lingering illness). We haven't been to Paris since 2004 or 5. I can't even remember, but it has been too long. A. and I are pretty serious francophiles. We've both lived in France at different parts of our lives and we've been anxious to try to return for a much longer spell.

We'll see...

So I'm writing this little post to explain myself, ask forgiveness for being away for far too long, and to request your assistance.

I am tremendously sorry for leaving you hanging on Cioppino. I have so much more to share! Please forgive my absence. I won't do it again, except for another week towards the end of May. But it will be worth it! The stories from Paris should be all food and loveliness.

Since this trip was planned a little hastily and at the last moment, I've had a rotten time getting reservations at all the hot new restaurants. Frenchie is booked through August. Rats! Le Comptoir is packed through June. I'm crossing my fingers that there will be a miracle and somehow I will finagle a reservation at Le Chateaubriand, but I am not holding my breath.

I keep reminding myself that there are a ton of wonderful places to enjoy in Paris and that even if I miss out on every one of Bourdain's favorites, I will still be eating well and having a smashingly good time. It'll just be the two of us kicking up our heels in Paris, for goodness sake! Fe. will remain stateside, chilling with my parents and sister.

So here is what I'm after. What do you folks love in Paris? What are the quieter (or noisy!), lesser known gems? Where was your favorite tarte au citron or batch of couscous? Do you love Lenny Kravitz' favorite falafel joint as much as he does? Tell me your secrets! We're dying for your advice!