Monthly Archives: September 2016

California Road Trip : Yosemite Valley & San Ramon



From Riverside, we headed to Yosemite National Park and if you’ve read my previous post on Los Angeles & Vicinity, you know that it was quite an adventure to get there.  Thank goodness for In-N-Out burger which was our dinner on the road for the evening.  We arrived at our destination, Inn the Woods Suites, at 2am and tiredly unpacked the car before crashing for the night.  We loved this well-appointed and pristinely maintained inn.  There are only three suites available and each suite has a kitchen, two rooms, private patio and a BBQ grill.  There is a game room and beautifully maintained grounds outside.  Though, it is located 30 minutes from the south park entrance in the town of Ahwahnee, CA and quite a drive to Yosemite village, I was very happy with my decision to stay here.


Knowing restaurant options in the Yosemite Valley are limited and require some long drives, I had come prepared to cook meals during this stay.  A little research on Google ahead of time told me that there is a Vons in the town of Oakhurst about 10 minutes away so I knew I could pick up perishables after arriving.  The quick trip I had made to Cardenas Mexican market before leaving Riverside allowed me to be more creative in my meals.  This market, which is a chain all over Southern California was an incredible experience for me.  I was like a kid in a candy store as I walked through the aisles, staring at all the specialty foods and produce we don’t get to see on the East coast.  The highlight however was their fresh tortilla counter which produces and packages fresh corn, flour and other varieties of tortillas all day long.  I couldn’t resist picking up a package of large, thick, handmade corn tortillas along with some avocados for guacamole and some fresh salsa.  I had a plan for them. 


The Inn provided some fruit, muffins and oatmeal for breakfasts along with coffee, tea and creamers.  We packed our lunches to go in a backpack cooler since we planned to hike most of the day and ate on the trails.  Lunch on the first day was simple sandwiches, water and bananas.  On the second day, however, I made use of my corn tortillas by making spicy chicken burritos in the morning which I wrapped in aluminum foil.  They were so good and much better than boring sandwiches.  I simply grilled the chicken the night before alongside our dinner.  I also grilled some onion and a serrano chili.  The next morning, I simply cut everything up and put it on a roasting pan in the convection oven to reheat and then wrapped it all in warm tortillas with some fresh cilantro, sliced avocado and tomatillo salsa (also from Cardenas).  I did go a bit overboard on the serrano chile apparently, as my son (who can usually handle some heat) was unable to finish his burrito after biting into several of them.  But he did admit it tasted good which is really all that matters. 


We grilled some prime ribeye steaks and asparagus for dinner the second night and picked up some fresh sourdough bread at Vons to go with it.  I used an herb and pepper rub on the steaks and seasoned with sea salt.  The asparagus I simply grilled with some olive oil and sprinkled with salt & pepper when cooked.  A simple yet satisfying dinner paired with a lovely petite syrah from Tobin James ended the day on a very relaxed note.  On our last night, we had done far more hiking and returned fairly late.  So we decided not to cook as originally planned and instead picked up some cheeses, salami, more bread, grapes and steamed some broccoli in the microwave.  We ate this all “picnic style” while chilling out in front of the TV.

We loved our days at Yosemite National Park.  We hiked the Bridal Veil Falls trail but took it to another level by climbing on the rocks where the falls would normally flow.  My son even found a clear lake at the top since he went much higher than me.  In the summer, the falls dry up significantly leaving this “trail” made of large boulders open for the more adventurous at heart.  We also hiked to the top of Vernal Falls which is a 1000 foot vertical climb within a distance of 2.4 miles, the Mirror Lake trail with lots of wildlife present & more rocks to climb, and the Sentinel Dome trail.  To this day I can’t believe I actually did the last one.  It’s not a long trail at 1.8 miles but the steep final climb up the dome is quite daunting and even more so on the way down.  But I made it and the 360 degree view from the top made the journey worth it.  We also walked around the base village area but the true beauty of Yosemite is off the beaten tourist path.  This was my second visit and again an incredible experience especially since I got to share it with my son. 

Once again, we felt as if we hadn’t spent enough time but it was time to continue and as I drove the windy, hairpin turns through the mountains to San Ramon, the sunset made me wish I could freeze time for just a little while. 

We stayed with friends in San Ramon who I’ve known for a long time and recently relocated from the East coast to California.  Yes, I know people everywhere!!  We were only there for two nights and one full day which was actually a work day for me full of meetings, but my son had a great time touring around with my friend’s brother and his family who were also visiting from New Jersey.  Honestly, it was fun to just sit around and do nothing but enjoy the conversation with some great wines from their collection after our three days of hiking.  I cooked again one night and made chicken burritos with the remaining corn tortillas.  Since we were traveling with two coolers and freezer packs, it was easy to transport the food to each destination.  This time I added some bell peppers and a couple of other ingredients.  I also made some fresh guacamole while dinner was cooking.  The wonderful thing about eating in, is that conversations are always more comfortable and open.  And since there were other kids around, my son enjoyed a little time to escape the adult world.






















The next day we got a relaxed start after breakfast and a long walk to burn of some calories.  We made plans to see our friends again in San Francisco when we returned toward the end of our trip and hit the road again towards Napa Valley and Redwoods National Park  

California Road Trip : Los Angeles & Vicinity


After a short 2 hour drive from San Diego, we arrived in Rancho Cucamonga, which is about 45 minutes East of Los Angeles.  I have a good friend who lives there whom I’ve known for nearly 30 years.  Interestingly we met on a tour bus in Italy and have stayed in touch ever since, gone on vacations together, attended each other’s weddings, etc.  Despite all of this, she had never met my son.  I was working for the first two days and so we spent most of the day indoors.  It was a blistering 108 degrees in the shade outside so this wasn’t a problem.  It gave us a bit of rest in between adventures too.  In the evenings though we ate well.


On our first night, I asked my friend who is of Mexican descent, to take us to her favorite hole in the wall Mexican restaurant.  I love California Mexican food so I had to introduce my son to it.  We went to Las Cerritas near their home and as expected, the food was delicious.  I had Chicken with Mole which was really good something I haven’t had in a while.  My son loved his Carne Asada, but wasn’t crazy about the refried beans which he’d never eaten before.  Okay, it’s an acquired taste. 

The next night, I promised to cook Indian for my friend and her husband.  Since the rest of the trip would involve many stays in hotels with kitchens, I traveled with many of my important spices and masalas so this was pretty easy to do.  A quick trip to the grocery store and I pulled off a pretty good Chicken Curry, sautéed some Zucchini from their garden, along with a coconut & cilantro rice.  Her husband contributed Tangelo Margaritas made from tangelos in their garden and a self-aged tequila.  The added excitement of being really close to the Blue Cut fire that was raging nearby made the evening even more unforgettable as we ate and also planned our evacuation strategy.



















The other two restaurants we visited during these days were Ludo Bird in Universal Studios on our visit there and Bardot in the small town of Claremont.  Ludo Bird is a fast food restaurant that serves only Fried Chicken with a few different options.  Chef Ludo started in a food truck in Los Angeles and now has made a name for himself.  All I can say is that the Fried Chicken sandwich, while likely not the healthiest of meals, was really really good.  It was perfectly crispy and served with a cabbage & fennel slaw that was very tasty.  I added a bit of hot sauce of top for extra flavor.  We ate at Bardot that same evening after walking around   quite some time to burn of the calories from lunch.  Despite that, I was not very hungry and opted to get asparagus soup and a tomato salad.  Others ordered their food and the only two meals that we liked were my tomato salad and my son’s burrata salad.  The rest of the food was unimpressive and I can make better cream of asparagus soup in my sleep. 


Before leaving Rancho Cucamonga, we stopped for an early taco lunch at Tacocino where my friends insisted we must go.  Well, they were indeed right – best tacos I’ve ever had!!  It’s a small place in a mall with a few tables, but the tacos they serve on warm corn tortillas with fresh cilantro and salsa are incredible.  I had the fish tacos because one can never have too many, while my son opted for the carne asada.  Mind you, we were not really hungry but devoured our tacos nonetheless.  A quick stop at BevMo for some wine & tequila and we were off to Riverside to visit more friends.  

It’s always great to visit with people I’ve gotten to know through various aspects of my life, but don’t see very often.  These friends just had a baby and I loved spending time with their 5 month old daughter.  My son got spoiled with hot breakfast every morning from homemade waffles to scrambled eggs along with fresh fruit and all the milk he could handle.  I even got hot oatmeal each morning to start my day.  What more could we ask for and proclaimed this to be the best B&B in California.  Immediately upon our arrival and though we’d eaten our tacos only a few hours earlier, I asked my friend to take us to Asahi for sushi.  Just like the Mexican food, I find sushi in California to be much fresher.  My son has recently discovered sushi & sashimi and I wanted him to experience it in California. He loved all of it and we ordered far too much food including albacore tuna (my personal favorite), salmon, shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and so much more.  Mind you, I don’t eat sashimi very often but here I ate it all. The albacore tuna is my favorite.


Other culinary highlights from the stay included my son’s very first In-N-Out burger following an afternoon/evening at Laguna Beach.  He loved it and had several more Double Doubles before we left the state.  We also ate at a very nice restaurant in Santa Monica in the Casa Del Mar hotel called Terrazza Lounge after our second day at Universal Studios.  One nice thing about the West coast is that most restaurants will let you in even if you’re not exactly in the right attire for their ambiance.  This makes it easier to go from tourist destinations to dinner without trying to negotiate a clothing change.  We sat by a window overlooking the beach and enjoyed some quiet time with good food and wine after a hectic day.  What was originally planned as lunch became dinner due to traffic but we didn’t mind because we were on no schedule.  After our food, we walked on the beach goofing around and finally made our way to Venice Beach to goof around some more before heading back to Riverside to our temporary home.













As we were leaving for our next leg of the journey, my friend realized that we hadn’t yet had Korean BBQ, something else my son had never eaten.  And so it was declared that we couldn’t leave the LA area without having Korean BBQ for lunch.  I knew it would set us back for time as we had a long drive ahead of us, but later in the evening I would be thankful we did as an accident on the I-5 had us at a standstill for 2 ½ hours, and didn’t get us to our rental in Yosemite until 2am.  Leaving an hour earlier would have made little difference, but the decision allowed us to spend more time with friends.  Yet again, far too much food was ordered between the shaved beef slices and kalbi (marinated short rib) and all the sides of kimchi, pickled cucumbers and rice.  If you’ve never had Korean BBQ, the true fun is that you cook your food right on the table over a grill, and then enjoy it with all the side condiments which makes for a very interactive meal.  My son thoroughly enjoyed the experience and will not forget it soon especially since we ate with friends of Korean descent making it all that much more authentic.  Stomachs full, we said our reluctant goodbyes and started our journey north.

Though we stayed in the LA area for 5 days, I could have easily spent five more.  We are already planning a return to our friends in Riverside as we didn’t get nearly enough time together because they were hosting us and a couple from Holland also.  What an amazing food and travel adventure this was for my son as he discovered so many foods for the first time.  For me, it was fun and different to enjoy it through his perspective and was so happy that I could make the introduction.  I can’t wait to return again soon…..

#californiafoodadventures #koreanbbq #losangelesfoodie #calmex
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