Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton

West Coast Roadtrip, Jul-14-2011

We left the the shades open because we wanted to be open to seeing early morning on the water. I slept through the sunrise, but Lori took pictures.

Breakfast started with tasty fresh-baked blueberry muffins.
That was followed by some marvelous poached pears in a rosé wine glaze. These were so beautiful, so tender, and so flavorful–we were really wowed.

My next course was introduced as a "vegetable egg roll", and I thought that it would be an egg roll as one might find in a Chinese restaurant. I was wrong: this was a filling of sautéed vegetables wrapped in a delicate thin omelet. It too was beautiful and tasty.

Lori was suspicious of the mushrooms in the egg roll, though, so she chose the house made granola with fresh strawberries.

We toured the grounds of the Martine Inn before leaving.

The proprietor has a collection of classic MG racing cars.

We returned to Castroville to seek out smoked artichokes. I had misread or misremembered Mayor Al's advice; when I reread it just now, I see that he was recommending the smoked artichokes from Central Texan BBQ in Castroville, but I had somehow completely overlooked the mention of that specific restaurant and formed the expectation that smoked artichokes could be found widely throughout Castroville. But we hadn't seen anyone selling smoked artichokes on our way through on Wednesday. And I found no smoked artichoke sellers through Google searching. (I don't know why I didn't reread Mayor Al's advice. Perhaps I assumed that I remembered it entirely.) So we decided that if anyone knew about smoked artichokes in Castroville, it would be the people at the Giant Artichoke store and restaurant.

Lori was surprised to see what an artichoke plant looked like:

The Giant Artichoke staff knew nothing about smoked artichokes. But we knew no further leads, so we sampled their artichoke treats. Clockwise from the upper left: a half grilled artichoke, a slice of artichoke bread, and deep-fried artichokes.
The artichoke bread was like pumpkin or banana bread, but less sweet.
The fried artichoke hearts were light and delicious, definitely as good as the fried artichokes of the previous night, but in a different way.
The grilled artichoke, though, was kind of a mess. It had a lot of balsamic vinaigrette, as well as the tomatoes and dip in the center. And the vinaigrette didn't really soak into the scales. So every bite involved dribbling sauce and vinaigrette all over our hands and the table. Honestly, I've had better grilled artichoke experiences in Pittsburgh.

We drove down to San Simeon along the coast of Big Sur. The scenery was amazing and dramatic, with mile after mile of steep hills and rocky coasts. (Again, I invite you to poke around in my flickr stream.)

But, well, there's a "but": when the stunning scenery is a hundred feet straight ahead and a hundred feet down, it really focuses one's attention on the road, not the scenery. This is especially true for the driver, but also true for the passenger. I'm very glad that Lori took a big share of the driving, because it was stressful and challenging. In places, the road narrowed to a single lane, with stoplights controlling whether it was for use by northbound or southbound vehicles at any given time.

This is the sort of view that makes the road grab one's attention:

I also found myself thinking about the challenges of laying out and surveying a road like this. With a vista like this, it's really not obvious to me where the road should fit into the landscape - and this is a vista that already has a road running through this. Contrast a road like Insterstate 80 through the Great Salt Lake Desert, where road-planning could be as simple as "pick your favorite meridian", and you could start at 11:50 and finish by lunchtime.

We were worrying a bit about time and getting jaded by all the vistas of similar splendid scenery, so we missed one photo opportunity: near San Simeon, I saw a beach covered with hundreds of elephant seals. (Lori was driving and didn't see them at all.) We thought that we would see more on our travels, but we never did.

We were right to worry about time, though: we arrived at Hearst Castle just in time for the last tour of the day. It was fabulously ornate, but also very pricey for admission. I'm not sure I believe that we got good value, but I'm glad that we visited it once.

The flowers and fruiting trees around the estate were delightful.

The estate is at the top of a high, bare hill, so the views were spectacular.

These detail came from the doors of some of the guest cottages. Without sarcasm, the cottages actually were less ostentatious than the main house.

I think that this was the single view that reminded me most of Citizen Kane. This was the Neptune Pool, which was preferred by most of the guests.

Lori's preferred pool, though, was the indoor Roman pool. It was so unpopular that Hearst had the servants swim there so it would be used.

For dinner, we went to the Hitching Post in Casmalia, because I really wanted to sample Santa Maria barbecue.

Dinner began with a dish of chilled vegetables.

For the second course, I chose the shrimp cocktail and Lori chose the fruit cocktail. The shrimp cocktail was good, but Lori said the fruit cocktail was just something from a can.

Santa Maria Barbecue is beef, cooked over a fire of red oak. We were seated right next to the grill, so we had a great view of the grillmaster at work. The chain visible at the very left of this picture was connected to a wheel that allowed the cook to raise or lower the grate.

Next course: salad. You get many courses with your steak here.

The steak itself was wonderful, with a dark crust from the spice rub and a tender, juicy inside. It's two and a half months later, and I'm still salivating at the memory. This was one of the best steaks I can remember. (The traditional cut for Santa Maria BBQ is tri-tip, but the Hitching Post only sells tri-tip in stores. This was top sirloin.)

Lori loved her double fudge chocolate ice cream for dessert. I only liked my vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.

I am too bigoted in my barbecue opinions to accept Santa Maria barbecue as barbecue without a qualifier; to me, it is no more barbecue than a shrimp cocktail is a cocktail. But it was one of the best steak dinners I've had, and I'd be happy to return.
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