Santa Cruz: A Meal and A View from the Crow’s Nest

My mom is a woman that is not one bit of a fool, even though she shares her birthday with April Fool’s Day. It hasn’t been an easy birthday to have, especially when you are a woman as sensitive as my mother. My uncle once wrapped her up a dead bird when she was 13 and I tried to top that by giving her a dead fish when I was 10. I have since realized that this behavior is simply not funny. My mama is the kindest person I have ever known and on her last birthday she flew us to Costa Rica. She allowed me and my little bro to zip-line the rain forest, sit in mineral baths at a resort, get pina coladas IN the pool bar, and so much more. I decided that this year I would drive home to see her. I drove to Santa Cruz on Wednesday night and arrived only minutes before it was about to become her birthday. She managed to bypass most pranks on her birthday this year, except for one. At the home where my grandpa lives, a place filled with seniors, there is one young guy in his 40s who lives there because he had a stroke. He was wearing a shirt that said, “Keep Staring- I might do a trick” and as he was walking down the stairs my mom said, “I like your shirt!” He was on step number 5 and tumbled down the rest of them causing all of the nurses to run in a frenzy, my mom was terrified that she distracted him and caused him to fall. The man went from his tumbling position to standing straight up and saying, “April Fools!” Nursing homes are simply NOT the place for practical jokes. After all this, my mom decided that she wanted her birthday dinner to be at the Crow’s Nest despite already being there earlier in the week. I suggested she let me pick the restaurant and she said I needed to stop being bossy. She’s much tougher since she started martial arts and told me she could put me in a headlock. I obliged. We headed off to dinner and were later joined by our favorite neighbor, Buzz, who has been a regular at our meals and is now part of the family.

There are some things that Nor Cal (if you wanna be technical, Central Coast) does better than most and that is sourdough bread and calamari. I once learned at Disney California what makes San Francisco Sourdough bread better than everyone else’s, but I forget. Ok, I will admit it, I only have done those tours for the free bread and tortilla samples. Of course, a ton of places do breaded and lightly fried calamari, but it just brings back so many memories of my childhood when I eat it in Santa Cruz. I remember being at the Boardwalk (if you’ve seen the Lost Boys, then you have seen it) and eating it on the Sky Gliders and walking the wharf with a basket and being so impressed that I, at age 7, was eating and loving squid. Anyway, calamari up in SC is personal for me and at the Crow’s Nest they made it perfectly. For the main course, I had the swordfish with truffle oil and I had them substitute artichoke risotto for the mashed potatoes because I heart artichokes. The swordfish was a tad too dry but it is not my job to complain, it was my mom’s special day. She, who chose a seafood restaurant and is not even a vegetarian, ordered the vegetable stir-fry. It was an odd choice because my mom makes the best stir-frys and makes them all of the time. Oh well, it was her special day and I won’t get on her ordering style. Buzz and my brother, Cody, had the hamburger and french fries and Cody even shot the burger picture himself.

For dessert, the waiter was kind enough to bring out a mud pie for my mom. Did I think the food was stellar? Not quite. Did I think the service was out of this world? Not in the slightest. However, our busboy Shane was fantastic and he was my mom’s preschool student many years ago and someone I went to high school with. I was also told that my brother’s babysitter, Justine, is the hostess here and that my mom is good friend’s with a waiter who is the brother-in-law to one of our neighbors. It was a community meal that made my mom happy and that made me happy. For my birthday, she was kind enough to take me to the expensive and two Michelin starred restaurant, Manresa, in Los Gatos for perhaps the best meal of my life. While I prefer the seafood from Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing, this was my mom’s choice and it was a good one. This is a family restaurant and represents so much of our extended family in Santa Cruz, not to mention the view is gorgeous. Without being too obvious, it is called the Crow’s Nest and it has the view to match. If you wanna see where Santa Cruzans eat and work, then come here! I guarantee you will run into people we know.

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Happy Birthday to our Youngest and Coolest UG!

My little brother and I have 14 years between us and yet when it comes right down to it we are both so ridiculously similar. He loves to laugh until his eyes water and eat until he can’t bear to move. I always tell him that he is a better foodie than me because the boy loves bacon! If it were up to him, every breakfast would consist of only sausage and bacon. Since I was in town for the Tasty Awards and have never missed one of his huge birthday shindigs I decided to give him a day where we could do whatever he wanted. We went to a Sharks game in the afternoon and then got BBQ in the evening. If you know me, you know that I am not a sports kind of a girl. Yes, I infamously mistook Cal Ripken Jr. for Tom Colicchio and I think Scrabble is a sport. Anyway, this was his day and the SJ Sharks were playing the Edmonton Oilers. The game was fun and our team won but the whole time I was thinking about BBQ.

I asked my dear fellow Twits where to get good BBQ in San Jo, and ButtercupD responded with Texas Smokehouse BBQ. My little brother is growing up in my hometown of Santa Cruz. There is a plethora of organic food, only 1 drive-thru, and a ton of vegetarians and vegans in Santa Cruz. When my brother was in Kindergarten I bought him a shirt that read: Vegans Taste Like Chicken. He wore it with pride and made his big sis so proud. This part of SJ that we went to for BBQ was nothing like he was used to. He got orange soda, white bread in ziploc bags (the sign of any good BBQ joint), corn muffins, a slab of ribs, black eyed peas, and yams. The food was awesome and it was good to teach him that Black Eyed Peas are more than the band that sings “Boom Boom Pow” one of his favorite songs to dance to.

The next day was his Sushi and Dancing birthday party. Last year, when he turned 8, he had a Sushi & Disco party at the same venue I Love Sushi in Santa Cruz. He was in the same party outfit from last year, did karaoke, blew out a candle on sushi, organized a worm-off, a coke drinking contest, and dance freeze. This brother of mine is so sophisticated not only does he love sushi but he also picked out a lemon poppyseed birthday cake with butter cream frosting from The Buttery.

Cody Bear, since today is your actual birthday, I wanted to wish you a very Happy 9th Birthday! Your UG Girls love you and can’t wait to see you again soon and eat with you! And, yes, as soon as we get a TV show you can be featured on it!

A Very Untraditional Trip Home for the Holidays

It wasn’t easy getting home this holiday season. I was in my first car accident and felt the need to take my car straight to the auto body shop and then realized I was carless to make my trip to Santa Cruz. Thanks to everyone’s best friend, Facebook, I found out that two jr. high and high school friends that currently reside in LA were heading home for the holidays. They were kind enough to give me a ride and we reminisced on old memories on the way home. We listened to a song called “Too Close” by Next and I told them that when the song came on at junior high dances I remembered living the lyrics of, “Step back you’re dancing kinda close, I feel a little poke coming through on you.” It was so poetic to have so many shared experiences with a group of people you never see. We arrived late on Christmas Eve. It was just enough time for my 8 year old brother and I to make cookies for Santa and leave out carrots and celery for the reindeer. He then asked, “Does Santa like organic nonfat milk? ‘Cause that’s all we have.” I started laughing and he responded the best way possible, “Are you gonna tweet me?” Of course, I did.

Good thing my brother, Cody, and I did so much work for Santa. He was granted an electric Razor on Christmas morning. He doesn’t yet need the electric razor for facial hair so his razor is in the scooter realm. Since we are Jewish we also attended Temple Beth El on Christmas Day for a Fiddler on the Roof singalong and a chinese food lunch. It was a great deal of fun but my 90 year old grandfather who was born to kvetch was annoyed that they only served him water…what, no Diet Coke?!?!

The day after Christmas was relaxing and wonderful. My mom always complains that she eats too much when I visits and gains a minimum of 2 pounds. I am proud of this fact and love for her to indulge in my gluttonous lifestyle. This day was so no exception. My mom said she felt sick from eating too much, I was unimpressed. My little brother, on the other hand, polished off a 1/2 rack of ribs from Bruno’s BBQ by himself, that I was impressed by.

It was on this day that my mom shocked me by saying that she wanted to get a tattoo the next day. She has never had one and doesn’t seem like “the type” whatever that means. A sad anniversary is coming up for my family and I absolutely felt her need to mark this event. There was a name I always grew up hearing and it was Frank Fumano, who gave my grandpa his tattoo and who was my mom’s big first crush. Reading my mom’s book of poetry that she wrote when she was my age was chilling and her poem about Frank was always the most poignant for me. My mom once heard that Frank died and when she learned that he was alive and well and working in her hometown of San Mateo excited her beyond belief. She didn’t know what to do, and as the mother of an Uncouth Gourmand, she ended up sending a fruit basket to his office-the tattoo parlor. She knew that if she was going to get a tattoo only Frank could do it. Since I already have one, 2 orange elephants in the shape of a heart with the word for a good sigh written in Japanese (although hot tea has to be in your mouth to say it correctly), I was there for support and to monitor. The name of the tattoo salon is Al’s Rock of Ages and it is run by Al who has a ton of funny jokes and stuff to look at in his shop. By the way, if you have to go to the bathroom it is free to pee but a penny for a poo. Obviously, the highlight for me was being able to meet Frank and to help my mom get exactly what she wanted. Well, Frank was really the artist but I like to think that I helped.

Nothing about this holiday trip home was traditional but it was all so much fun. In the words of Fiddler on the Roof, “Tradition. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!” All I can say is sometimes being a fiddler on the roof is fun and exactly what a holiday season needs!

Christmas Evening: Tis the Day of Giving and Receiving

Tis the night of Christmas

and to tell you the truth

it was quite grand and merry

but I missed my other uncouth

I, Carina, am spending time with my family in Santa Snooze and like good Jews we attended a Fiddler on the Roof singalong and a Chinese food luncheon at the synagogue today. I am sure Josie ate some delicious tamales with her family in San Diego. We hope you are all having a fabulous day and night!

Scenes from the Thanksgiving Tables of the UG Girls

Carina had cornish hens, stuffing with grapes, and a pomegranate and apple crisp.  I, Josie, had a more traditional Thanksgiving with a turkey, mashed potatoes, and all of the other holiday favorites. I know Thanksgiving was last week but I still feel the effects and find it necessary to reflect with pictures.

Who is the Cioppino King?

What kind of girl wakes up in the morning dreaming of an Italian fish stew? Me, Carina, an Uncouth Gourmand 4 lyfe and the one without a seafood allergy. I was craving it and  I decided to ask my fellow Twits for the best bowl in LA. As the old adage goes, ask and you shall receive. I received a response from the top dog himself. The god of all foodies in LA, Mr. Jonathan Gold. Here is what he had to say:

High end, Admiral Risty; maybe better, the back room at Fish King in Glendale. RT @uncouthgourmand Where can I get a good cioppino in LA?

I was on cloud nine and invited a foodie that I used to date who I know loves Fish King to join me for a bowl. Like a real lady, I invited him via email and he responded saying:

I’ll gladly, and with much pleasure join you for some Cioppino. Now if you’re feeling really brave, you could always try the Fish King version and then when/if you go up home for the holidays, you can go to Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing and compare the two Cioppinos.

Well we planned on grabbing cioppino two days before Thanksgiving and it just so happens that the day after I was heading to my hometown of Santa Cruz. Phil’s Fish Market is maybe 20 minutes from my childhood home and has the cioppino that I have compared all other cioppinos to. How dare this gentleman plant this idea in my head. How could I walk in to Fish King with anything but ultra high expectation? I had the snapper sandwich and the bowl of cioppino. The cioppino was very inexpensive under $8 and the biggest surprise was it came with rice inside. I had never seen that but it added a nice touch. It was good and a very decent value but it became clear that the Fish King was not the Cioppino King.

I constantly end up either at the airport or on the road on the busiest travel day of the year, the day before Thanksgiving, and am always surprised there are so many people out. As I was getting in to Monterey, the 101 was at a halt and I decided to get on another freeway, the 183, which brings you right in front of Phil’s Fish Market. Continue reading

A Post-Birthday to Remember

Uncouth Gourmands

Josie has the ability to occasionally blow my mind. After making a 5 course birthday dinner for me and a group of people that I invited, which included an LA Weekly food writer, she still felt obliged to take me out. How is that possible? On Friday, after a long day that caused our investor to walk in to our office/conference room with a bottle of wine and gourmet nuts saying that we put in a good week, we still had some energy to go out. Josie let me pick the place and I chose 38 Degrees in Alhambra after reading great things on Yelp, especially from a Yelper that I used to date, and reading their weekly beers on tap from Food GPS’s LA Beer Blast. It’s funny because while I feel like I am in Alhambra all of the time to eat I never go to this downtown area and had no idea how bustling it was on a Friday night. Everyone was dressed up in their hoochie mama clothes and I felt like such a nerd in my stripes. They were letting a lot of drinks on draft run out because they were preparing for Oktoberfest the following day. Josie was still able to have a sampler and I began with a Framboise (girly, I know). We were hungry girls and I was in burger mode, which usually only happens once a month, and yes it is before that time of the month. I had the Smokehouse Burger and Josie had the Mini BBQ Short Rib “Sloppy Joes”. The food was well-priced and pretty darn good for any gastropub. Like a good Jewish girl I gave Josie the bacon from my burger and she said it was homemade and perfection. I had no complaints and we both cleaned up our plates quite nicely.

38 Degrees Alhambra

sloppy Joe sliders

burger fries

We talked to the beer sommelier and the general manager while eating and learned a lot more about this place and the concept. Basically, they wanted to bring the food from their favorite restaurants: Smitty’s, Parkway Grill, and Houston’s to Alhambra. We get that, but was most impressive was how reasonably affordable they were compared to the named restaurants. I am not that big of a beer connoisseur but my other half is and she was impressed by their selections. It was the same thoughtful selections that you see at Lucky Baldwins but are so often overlooked at the big chains like Yard House.  When Josie was busy chatting with management and ordering dessert, I had a long chat with the bartender. I was asking him if he had this amazing bottle of beer I once had, it was a white Belgian from Canada. I tried it once with the former bartender from Lucky Baldwins at Old Towne Pub. He ordered it for me because he knew my beer taste. It was love at first sip. This bartender knew exactly what I meant and pulled it out of the fridge and kept it on ice for us. So what is the name of my most favorite beer? La Fin Du Monde, which translates to the end of the world, and it is brewed by Unibroue. It is so good and I split a bottle with Josie who almost died when she saw that it was $19 a bottle. I am worth it, or at least I keep telling myself that.

best beer

After this delicious bottle it was nearly 1:20 and Josie suggested we go to the Langham for last call. I had a glass of bubbly and Josie had a beer more to her dark liking, an Old Rasputin. While Josie and I are virtually the same person and can even at times share a brain we do have some very strong differences. I am a Blackberry and she is an iPhone. I am Diet Coke and she is Coca-Cola Classic. Perhaps the image of a flute of champagne and a pint of dark ale is our best summation. Regardless, after her thoughtfulness and generosity I worry that the lesbian rumors about us may have to be forced into fruition because it will be impossible to ever find a man so caring and aware of my neurotic and constant mention of likes and dislikes. She keeps track and knows that I always want artichoke hearts, egg salad, and bamboo shoots. She also knows to always put mochi and yogurt chips in my fruity fro-yo. I know that she always requires extra dressing, a huge bowl of rice, and lemon slices galore. I make sure that she has granola and graham cracker crumbs in her tart, chocolate, or peanut butter fro-yo. We are building some type of lasting relationship and we are both equally Uncouth Gourmands, which is our strongest bond and allows us to toast regardless of what our glasses are or what they are filled with.

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After a full work week and endless birthday surprises from my partner, I headed home to see the other woman in my life, my mama. I flew in to San Jose on Saturday afternoon and I began celebrating a long weekend in Santa Cruz with my family. My mom picked me up at the airport and I told her that all of LA is abuzz about a restaurant in Los Gatos called Manresa. Los Gatos is a small affluent town in between Silcon Valley and the beach town of Santa Cruz where I grew up. It is where I spent a lot of my high school days when I wanted to get away from my hippy upbringing and wanted to get in touch with my preppy side. I actually think that the reason I live in Pasadena is because it is so similar to Los Gatos except in a big city. Pasadena is equipped with a Bentley dealership, J. Crew, and an Old Town area just like that of Los Gatos. It is close to interesting areas (read: a LOT more culture)  but somewhere where I, as a girl, am totally comfortable living alone and walking freely at any time of night.

Manresa is closed from Monday to Wednesday so we made a reservation and showed up on Sunday night at 5:30 just the two of us as my brother had a babysitter. I told the babysitter that we would be back at 9pm at the latest. I know how tasting menus work and yet we didn’t even finish dinner until 9:40. My mom said when making the reservation that it was my birthday and upon walking in we were seated right by the window and there was a discreet birthday card waiting for me signed by all of the staff at Manresa. It was a charming touch. My mom and I both wanted the full restaurant experience from Chef David Kinch, who beat out Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, and went with the tasting menu. It was not cheap at $160 a person with no wine included. I had a few glasses of a sparkling riesling and my mom got a chardonnay. We were told by our fabulous waitress, Debbie, that the menu would start at the sea, go to the garden, go back to the sea, then to land with a poultry and a meat dish, and finish with two desserts. She mentioned that it changes over the course of the night and that it is best to get there early. The first thing we were served were some amuse-bouches.

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The very first thing looked just like dessert but was actually quite savory. It was a black olive madeline and a red bell pepper gelee. The next thing we were served came on the waiter’s platter and was a foie gras croquette they recommended taking it all in one bite as it was hot and could squirt. I really am not trying to be uncouth/vulgar, I swear. However, I had to eat so quickly I forgot to take a picture and I was kindly asked by the host to not use flash, I apologize for the sub-par photo quality. However, this foie gras one bite was hot and delish, it warmed me up and definitely tantalized my palate.

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soft boiled egg

The next amuses were a foie gras soup with a fried squash blossom on top and a soft boiled egg with sherry vinegar and maple syrup. It was all delightful little one bites and I could tell my mom was loving it but wanting something substantial. It was around this time they brought out fresh bread and butter. My mom has never been to France and I always tell her that the number one reason to go is for the butter. She has yet to have french butter but was going crazy about the butter they presented to her. She told the waitress and she mentioned that they have a cow in Watsonville and that they make their own butter. My mom used to teach special ed in Watsonville and was once again impressed by all of the touches.

eating bread at Manresa

Manresa in Los Gatos

garden salad

The real courses began with oysters that were a little to salty for both of our tastes but I could tell instantly that they were extremely fresh. I wish they were plain instead of covered in seaweed and buckwheat. However, I heard the table next to us with a surfer remark that it was so salty it reminded him of just picking an oyster up and eating it on his surfboard. I think that is a great compliment. I have always been more a fruit person and my mom has always been a little bunny (it’s no wonder I am a funny bunny) that loves vegetables so she loved the Into the Vegetable Garden salad. We learned that they have 2 acres on a farm in the Santa Cruz mountains area of Bonny Doon where they grow everything. This sealed the deal. I was in love. It was like he was making and serving my backyard. Chef David Kinch even oned up his Bobby Flay victory when it was revealed that he lives in Santa Cruz. I knew I had to meet this man and the waitress arranged a kitchen tour for us at the end of the meal. I was now on my second glass of bubbly and was ready for whatever courses would be thrown my way. The next one was by far my favorite, it was an abalone soup with sea urchin and foie gras in a light gingery broth. It was incredible. Sea urchin has become one of my favorite foods and I was amazed that we had now seen foie gras in 3 dishes.

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black cod

manresa chicken

The next few dishes were black cod and a farmed chicken breast both were good but not mind blowing like that soup. The last dish once again won me over. It was a Napa Valley spring lamb and tongue confit with carrots with orange purée and exotic spice. It tasted very Moroccan to me and as someone that normally doesn’t love either lamb or tongue, I was truly impressed. I couldn’t get enough of this particular dish.

lamb manresa

We asked if we could get both dessert courses at the same time as we had a babysitter to get back to and they happily obliged. I am quite positive that this is the kind of restaurant that never says the word, “No” unless of course it has to do with camera flashes. The dessert course was the The Flavors of New Orleans equipped with beignets, bananas, and pralines and then a pumpkin soup which was poured over ice cream. One of my other favorite touches was that the last thing brought out looked just like the first, except it was a regular madeline cookie with a strawberry gelee. It was the perfect bookend to an absolutely exquisite meal.

dessert manresa

We were taken back to one of the cleanest and best run kitchens I have ever seen. The only one that compares is the Baazar and they have a much larger operation going. There was something so charming about seeing the chef working, knowing the area where their garden is, knowing where their cow and thus butter comes from that made this meal so enjoyable.

manresa kitchen

Uncouth Gourmand with Chef David Kinch

Chef David Kinch made sure we enjoyed our meal, which of course we did and I can honestly say it was one of the top dining experiences of my life. It was also so special for my mom to get a taste (pun always intended) of the food world that I have become such a fan and groupie of. The next day my mom made me lasagna and she was back in her own kitchen. We may not have had our napkins folded back in to a cone every time we went to the bathroom but it was no less of a great experience. I think 2 weeks is a long enough birthday celebration. I am done. I can buy my own food and drinks now, but thank you to all that joined in my festivities. I am sure that this will be a truly great year in my life.

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Janis Ost and Carina Ost