I’ve spent the week in southern California; two friends from college got married on Saturday in San Diego. Having never been south of Los Angeles before, I was expecting a lot of fish tacos and to be able to spend at least two days pretending I was a cast member on Laguna Beach (kidding!) (not kidding!).
For some reason, California always makes me feel strangely displaced: It has all the hallmarks of a vacation place to me, but yet I am acutely aware of people leading such non-vacation lives around me there—grocery shopping and going to work and commuting home. Obviously this is true in lots of warm regions where I have vacationed, but I sense it more in California.
At the wedding, my friends were gushing about how much they’d love to move to La Jolla and I thought, "I could never". Odd because it would offer me all these things I love, like dozens of yoga studios, endless time at the beach, tequila cocktails, and a citrus tree in my backyard. But I’d be so homesick for the seasons: the leaves afire in fall, the smoky smell of wood fires burning in October, the chill as December creeps closer, the endless excitement over the first soft, warm spring air, and the sticky humidity of summer.
So now that you can safely assume I won’t be moving to La Jolla anytime (which, DID YOU GUYS KNOW is pronounced La Hoya #embarassing, and why I am admitting that), let’s discuss the very memorable moments from 9 days spent in southern California. These are the experiences I’d recommend, and hopefully you find yourself able to try a few:
1. Dinner at The Hake in La Jolla: The restaurant is perched atop the beach, with floor-to-ceiling windows and an uninterrupted view of the endless Pacific Ocean edged by high sand bluffs. I booked it for the view alone, but the food was so surprisingly excellent that I barely remembered to look up. We liked it so much that we came back twice in a week. The highlight: opah chorizo, a bowl of firmly crumbled sausage spiced heavily with chorizo spices, that turned out to be opah (a mild white fish) instead of pork sausage, which is a culinary sleight-of-hand I still can’t entirely comprehend.
2. Fish tacos: Hold onto your hats. Prior to a trip to Vancouver a few years ago, I’d never had a fish taco. I didn’t particularly like seafood as a child (thank god I’ve matured so well, right?), and tacos and fish didn’t seem like a superb mix. I am happy to admit that was highly flawed thinking. Seafood is light and delicate, the perfect protein for a lighter, warm-weather meal. On Tuesday night, we had an easy dinner at the hotel restaurant of shrimp tacos with a spicy pico de gallo and an avocado crema and another plate of tacos filled with lightly battered and fried mahi-mahi. On Wednesday at The Hake (see above!), we ordered tuna “carnitas”: one napkin-covered plate held a stack of warm, homemade corn tortillas. The next plate was a shallow bowl of four large pieces of tuna, which were marinated in carnitas-style spices. At the touch of a fork, the fish pulled apart like slow-roasted pork, falling into shreds that tasted exactly like a pork taco. Amazing. Five stars. Would eat again, nightly.
3. Sparkling Collins Royale: This signature cocktail at one of our hotels is a light and effervescent combination of a French 75 and a Tom Collins, made with lime, mint, simple syrup, vodka, and Champagne. It’s perfect for hot weather, and I’m looking forward to figuring out how to replicate this summer for a good batch-able entertaining cocktail. Fair warning: Quite strong. Do not drink 3 in one night. Unless you want to not put your pajamas on backwards. Not that I’ve ever done that or anything.
4. Sun: Did you know it’s sunny, sort of always, in San Diego? Wonderful. No wonder everyone seems so chipper all the time. No honking, despite the endless traffic on every freeway!
5. Gjelina in Venice: The wedding coincided with my fiancé’s birthday, so we waited until the next day to celebrate. We booked dinner at Gjelina in Venice Beach, which I would recommend to anyone who has ever liked pizza, ever. The space is gorgeous: rustic and open-air, with wooden tables, a sprawling patio edged by trailing vines of white flowers, and industrial-style light fixtures. The menu has dozens of vegetable-centric dishes with wildly interesting flavors (think roasted beets with miso or homemade French fries with harissa ketchup)—it’s not a pizza place with salads as an afterthought, but a vegetable restaurant that happens to use meat and pizza as a canvas. We had grilled baby bok choy dusted in bottarga and chili flakes, charred snap peas with mint and soffrito and soft-roasted slices of garlic, a towering salad of torn herbs and bitter greens in a bright Meyer lemon dressing, and two pizzas because BIRTHDAYS: one without cheese topped with a slew of roasted mushrooms and rosemary and one with shaved asparagus, melted roasted leeks, Parmesan, and topped with a soft-egg, its yolk saucing the entire pizza. To drink, we tried pét-nat for the first time (see below) and a foamy white wine cocktail with ginger and lime.
6. Pétillant-naturel: (Note: We did do more than just eat and drink. By which I mean I sunbathed and took gently sloping hikes and someone else biked about 4 hours a day.) I’d been reading a lot about these natural wines—as a serious lover of all things bubbly (see: La Croix coconut seltzer, nightly Prosecco), I was interested to learn about this technique for making sparkling wine. Made in the méthode ancestrale , it means you ferment and bottle the wine without any added yeast or sugars. This yields a funkier, cloudier wine that tastes like a cross between beer, kombucha, and Champagne. Depending on the bottle, it can have tiny pinpricks of bubbles or bigger, rolling bubbles. Every bottle is more of a surprise, which is fun to consider. Contrast this with the méthode champagnoise, where yeast and sugars are added before bottling, yielding a more traditional sparkling wine that has a predictable flavor profile: sharper and more dry.
(Actually, given that I spent a semester studying in South Africa and visiting wineries, I know very little about wine. Did I sound convincing above? This summer, I’m planning on taking either a class or doing some more in-depth tastings out on the North Fork of Long Island where I’ll be spending most of my time. If you have any suggestions for how to become more educated about wine (and more tolerant of red wine, which makes me tired and feel like I’m in church) short of reading a lot of long books, I’d welcome any advice.)
7. The song “Scared to Be Lonely” by Martin Garrix and Dua Lipa (especially the Brooks remix). Not only wildly catchy and very good to singing loudly in the car, but slays with these lyrics: it was great at the very start/hands on each other/couldn’t stand to be far apart/closer the better/is the only reason you’re holding me tonight/cause we’re scared to be lonely.
8. More poetry: Sometimes, it’s not that you’re scared to be lonely. It’s that you feel the same way as these lines by Nayyirah Waheed:
when they hear
others upon hearing
this is how
And these I love, too:
can calm itself
so can you.
does not want me
it is not the end of the world.
if I do not want me.
the world is nothing but endings.
All told, a restful and sprawling vacation, the quiet kind where you wake up and take a three mile hike, breathing in deeply the smell of flowers and fresh air, and don’t think about what’s coming next. But after ten days away, I’m looking forward to my own bed and not living out of a suitcase and a kitchen in which to cook simple foods. Up next: a swanky black-tie wedding in Manhattan this week, two days away to work on the garden at the new house (more on that soon!), and lots of recipe testing. I’ll post lots of those this week.