Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eating Out Your Independence

Hello everyone! I trust you all had a fabulous Kick An Englishman In The Teeth Day! (Normally we wouldn’t advocate such allegorical violence, but due to the English’s distinct lack of front teeth, one would have to get their shoe all the way back to their chewin’ tooth and no one wants to risk catching Caledonian tooth cankers on their toesies, now do they?) Must everything start with an awkward non sequitur? Yes, yes it must.

This year we had some pretty wide open options for how to spend the 4th. Upstate, downstate, in the hills, in the ghetto, just about all over. But given the insane level of activity that food bloggery and best friendishness has elicited, it’s high time for a head space vacation. A celebration of sloth in a beautiful setting. And where better than a wee cabin in the Santa Cruz hills where the loudest sound is the wail of a skillfully played guitar or a lovingly playful pup looking for some stick chasin’ time.

Screw itineraries and exploration for a weekend. Let’s just go enjoy some good company and conversation. If food bloggery doesn’t find inspiration, I’ll just kick down my super secret summer salad recipe before it airs on Tuesday. But as luck would have it, I was inspired! So you’ll have to tune it to watch me caper like a jackanapes. (it’s the linky on the upper right. Tuesday 4pm!)

The delicious of the weekend started pretty quickly. We had but dropped our bags and retired for a few celebratory brews when the lady of the house set into making her lemon white wine chicken over spaghettini with haricots verts. Absolute heaven! Boneless chicken breast with a white wine reduction emulsified with lemon and cold butter over al dente pasta. And the haricots verts (pencil thin, tender green beans) had a very bright flavor and satisfying crunch. That’s some Welcome to Our Home food right there! Stuffed and overjoyed, we spent the evening on the deck watching the stars and kicking back with our libations. First day of absolutely lazy holiday was a success!

So successful were we that we chilled straight until Monday, wherein we got the garden tour. They’ve had fairly cold weather up at their elevation until recently, so their garden is a few months behind our own Fresno-furnace surviving greenery. But the cool part is that it’s pretty much like it’s just barely spring there. So everything is in bloom. Little baby first growth squashes peeking out from leaves, a few beginning raspberries, chamomile flowers in abundance. It’s always fun to see plants as they are waking up and hitting their stride. They’re so cute at that age…

But as an overripe plum falls to the ground to ferment, only to be snatched up by a starving fructarian. So too must the weekend of chillaxation be bid farewell to. We capped off a perfect visit with a luxurious breakfast at Gilley’s in Los Gatos. I’ve ranted about them before though, so it’s sufficed to say that everything was just as amazingly perfect as skillful humans can deliver.  Eat there!

We did make one more stop off at the infamous piss palace known as Casa de Fruita. If there is a spot that will make you feel like an idiot for not stopping at one (or several) of the fruit stands on the way through Gilroy, it’s their produce stand. Nine damn dollars for a pound of Rainier cherries!! Those are the type of prices I expect to pay if I run out of beer in the extreme backcountry of the High Sierra! Thank goodness I was looking for early habaneros instead. But all this was just to tease my culinary outrage so that I might be a better snark-ass for the upcoming dinner at the Casa de Café.

There are some consistent good points about the café though. They’re open when it’s late and there’s nothing within another half hour’s travel. Ok, that’s mean. It’s actually a fairly clean joint from all I’ve ever seen. They’re not cheap, but neither do they really gouge you. The coffee is hot and has free refills. And there’s PIE!

So, with my nose out of joint, I’m ready to slam the crap outta this historical highway choke’n’puke. We’re HUNGRY hungry. So why not give them the best shot possible? There’s 3 steak specials up today. Impressive for a Monday. My lovely lady opts for the ribeye and I notice that they have a t-bone on the board. I haven’t had a t-bone in many a year. And the prices don’t make me want to scream. Both steaks were in the ballpark of $16 each, which is fairly good for a slab of moo-cow anywhere. She goes soup, I go salad and both for the baked potato.

First up was a trencher with a small loaf of recently baked bread with a couple cups of butter and a serrated knife. I must say, it wasn’t too bad. A light wheat bread with a bit of rolled oats on the crust, with just enough butter for the loaf. Pretty good portioning on someone’s part. We’re off to a good start. Next up were the soup and salad. I liked the corn chowder. It was rather thick with a little burn from the chili peppers hiding behind the niblets. The salad didn’t really do much for anyone. Standard pre-mix with some shaved carrots and a nigh tasteless bleu cheese dressing. But for a diner, it was at least fairly fresh and looked decently plated. I guess you really don’t pick your diner by the quality of their side salads anyways.

Main course! Someone’s timing was on, because a scant minute or two after we had finished our openers, our steaks arrived. Props on hot, clean looking plates. Good sized potatoes were flanked by some steamed broccoli and carrots and bookended some mighty tasty smelling steaks. I do love a fire grilled steak, but there’s just something about the smell of a diner steak. I don’t know if it’s the cast iron environment of the griddle or what, but it really brings out that minerally metallic flavor of the beef. Those char marks that are only 2 or 3 degrees from being burns, the coffee colored sear over the main body of the steak. It might go against all of the rules of fancy beefery, but I still find that smell and appearance comforting. Crap…there goes the snark. Oh well! But that doesn’t make everything perfect. My medium was closer to well. I was hoping for a wee bit of pink, but was hedging my bets against cheap beef and rushed cooks. Too much heat, a bit too dry, a little tough. The taste was there, but the texture almost had me reaching for the A-1. The rib eye came out much more to order. Pink all the way through with just a hint of red towards the middle of the steak. Which, oddly is medium. But all diners usually have adjusted the accepted doneness scale by one notch. So if you ask for well, you get some charred leather and a smile. Such is life. The veg were 50/50. The carrots had a fine texture, but the fartyness of the broccoli had seeped into them, ruining any sweetness. The broccoli itself was just a half pale yellow glob of sadness. Odd that the veg is bullshit when they’re right next to a big ass fruit and veg stand. But their baked potato was adequate and large enough to cover for his non-starchy cousins.

Sadly, no pie review dear friends. Too full of beef... What? It wasn’t perfect, but it was edible and still not too bad for the price. Service was on point. She kept our soda and water glasses full and checked on us often enough. But she did commit one irrevocable sin. No steak knife came with my steak! However, there was still the serrated knife for the bread, so I just co-opted it for my own use. And while she was a pretty young waitress, there was something incredibly unnerving about her. Like she had seen might Cthulu rise up from his millennial slumber deep beneath the fecund sea, stride forward and lean forth his unspeakable, writhing visage, reach forward to her face with his ancient claw and say unto her “Got your nose!”, then teleported her back into her VW Cabriolet to make out with stinky Jimmy Thunderfuck the varsity quarterback, while wishing that Ricardo Montalbon were still alive to whisk her away from all this. We tipped her anyway.