Tuesday, March 30, 2010
"A Trip Takes Us": Reading, Eating, and Drinking My Way Through the Pacific Coast
For Spring Break this year, my boyfriend Josh and I embarked on what can only be called a "road trip on crack." In search of the perfect law school and a good time, we traveled from New Mexico to Arizona to California to Oregon and back. Racing up the Pacific Coast at a brisk 80 miles/hour, we tried our best to indulge in everything the West Coast has to offer and we even found time to sleep once or twice.
As Steinbeck wisely stated, "we do not take a trip; a trip takes us." Agreeing wholeheartedly, I feel that road trips should teach you something about yourself and your fellow travelers. If it had not been for this trip, I would never have known that Josh can change his pants while weaving through traffic on Sunset Blvd. or that he knows every System of a Down song by heart. In the spirit of learning stuff about stuff, I decided to read two road-related novels (William Burroughs' Naked Lunch and John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley) and tried to eat as much food as possible. Ten pounds and one hell of a hangover later, this is what I learned...
I learned that I have a love-hate relationship with William Burroughs, a relationship I'm assuming he had with many of the people in his life (i.e. fans, lovers, friends, opium den mates, etc.). While I love the fact that Burroughs sucks me in and spits me back out into a terrifying Beat mosaic, his use of women as battering rams just highlights the fact that, much like his inability to write a typo-free sentence, he was a repressed, opiate-addicted yuppie. Harsh? Yes. True? Very much so. My personal feelings aside, it must be said that Naked Lunch is an awkward masterpiece, perfect in it's true affront to convention.
I also learned that John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row may be better than Travels with Charley, but this non-fiction, travel memoir is still a great read. Steinbeck is, as always, straightforward in his use of language and honest in all the ways we need him to be. Before anything else, Steinbeck is a storyteller and he tells a damn good story. Where Burroughs wants to obliterate perceptions, Steinbeck wants to enlighten.
In simpler terms, Naked Lunch is like your crazy uncle that drinks too much, hits on your friends, and throws up on your couch, whereas Travels with Charley is like your reliable grandfather who leans back on his porch chair, smelling always of salt and chewing tobacco (this would imply that Ginsberg and Kerouac are the dope-adled, sexually-ambiguous friends of your uncle, which would be awesome).
Needless to say, the Beat movement is over and San Francisco is much calmer these days. Not to say that you can't find hash-smoking, shirtless hippies, it just seems less subversive when the hash-smoker is a semi-obese, middle-aged bum. If it's orgies and social revolutions you are looking for, then find a time machine, but if you are looking for some kick ass crab cakes, then the Pacific Coast was made for you.
The food on the Pacific Coast is the best in the world, not because it's stuffy and complicated, but because it has carried that "screw the rules" hippie mindset over to it's cuisine. As cliche as it sounds, L.A., San Francisco, Napa/Sonoma Valley, and Portland are food cities because they prize innovation over anything else (whether it's street food or upscale dining).
A few of my Pacific Coast recommendations (please add your suggestions to this list):
1. Best Dessert - Mango Gelato at Mio Gelato in Portland, OR (Pearl District)
2. Best Breakfast - Swedish Pancakes at Fred's Coffee Shop in Sausalito, CA
3. Best Bread/Pastry - Walnut Panini at Pearl Bakery in Portland, OR (Pearl District, no surprise)
4. Best Seafood - Dungeness Crab Cakes at Scoma's Restaurant in San Fransisco, CA (The Wharf)
5. Best Pasta - Saffron Pappardelle with Jumbo Prawns and Wild Mushrooms at Allegria in Napa, CA
6. Best Cocktail - Dark and Stormy (Dark Rum and Ginger Beer) at Doug Fir in Portland, OR
7. Best Wine - Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel at Cuvee in Napa, CA
8. Best Beer - Leafer Madness Imperial Pale Ale at Henry's Tavern in Portland, OR (Pearl District)
9. Best Bar Food - Fresh Cut Garlic Fries at Weiland Brewery in Los Angeles, CA (Little Tokyo)
10. Biggest Craziest Meal - Burrito Dorado at El Cholo's in Los Angeles, CA
11. Best Burger - Cheeseburger at In-N-Out Burger in Los Angles, CA
12. Best Road Trip Food - Cake Doughnuts from Delicious Donuts in Portland, OR and Caramels from the Cheese Factory in Sonoma, CA (Josh would recommend Beef Jerky and Sunflower Seeds, any kind)
13. Best Road Trip Books - On the Road by Kerouac and Lolita by Nabokov (old favorites always win)
Warning: Chinatown's version of a small order of Sake is not small, it's huge, like a pitcher of warm, sweet rubbing alcohol.
I also recommend the Jupiter Hotel in Portland, OR (as shown above). The hotel is connected to a popular bar called the Doug Fir (bands like the Decemberists were born and raised there). I love this hotel because a) the bar connected to it houses a large glass moose head, b) the staff gives you REAL recommendations, rather than regurgitating a tourist guide, c) the decor is college dorm meets city loft, and d) you have to stumble a mere 50 feet from one of the liveliest bars in the city.
Only in Portland will you find generous slices of Vegan Pizza and Pabst Blue Ribbon in the same sentence. For whiskey-lovers, Portland's Cellar Bar in the Annex gave us the best whiskey tasting we've ever had (I recommend Jefferson's Reserve Very Old).
If New York City is the head of America, then Napa Valley is the heart. Although it seems a bit overrun with tourists, the vineyards are lush and the locals move at their own pace. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Sidenote: Skip the ghost town that is Downtown Napa and head over to it's bustling step-cousin Downtown Sonoma.