Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton

West Coast Roadtrip, Jul-21-2011

We started our last full day in California with brunch at Du-Par's, which is the sort of coffee-shop that Denny's franchises tell their kids they can be if they work hard and eat all their vegetables. Their web site says that the restaurant was renovated in 2007, but it has a very timeless feel.

I chose the bacon, avocado, and jack cheese omelet. This was a very good omelet, with sturdy bacon and creamy cheese. Once more I loved the avocado; all the avocados I ate in southern California were richer and creamier than any I've had elsewhere.

Lori enjoyed her buttery pancakes very much.

Although we enjoyed our meals, we both wished that we had more appetite left for our exploration of the Farmer's Market, because the Farmer's Market had lots of intriguing food stalls, from Korean barbecue to Mediterranean restaurants to donut shops to Cajun cooking to smoothie stands.

Once we'd recovered some appetite, we went off to another Roadfood classic, Phillippe the Original, one of the claimants to the origin of the French dip. The atmosphere was completely that of an urban cafe, and the lines were long even at 3pm. One unusual practice: the women taking orders and dishing up sandwiches never touch money (presumably for sanitation reasons). You put your cash in a little tray, and they hand the tray to a cashier in the back, who puts your change in the tray to return to you.

I'd read a lot of enthusiasm for Phillippe's lamb sandwich, but I had some suspicions and Lori had more. So we ordered one lamb sandwich and one beef. The lamb sandwich justified our suspicions, because it had a very strong mutton taste, which we don't care for. I liked it more with Phillippe's spicy mustard, because then the mutton and mustard flavors fought each other to an agreeable stalemate. I much preferred the beef sandwich, which had the beef-and-gravy taste that I've come to expect of a French dip.

Our last tourist destination was the Museum of Jurassic Technology, an odd little gallery of curiosities. Wikipedia's summary is reasonably apt:
The Museum of Jurassic Technology traces its inspiration to the earliest days of the institution of the museum, which it dates back to Noah's Ark, the first and most complete Museum of Natural History known to man. The Museum's catalog includes a mixture of artistic, scientific as well as some unclassifiable exhibits, and evokes the cabinets of curiosities that were the 18th century predecessors of modern natural history museums. The factual claims of many of the Museum's exhibits strain credibility, provoking a rich array of interpretations from commentators. The Museum was the subject of a book by Lawrence Weschler in 1995 entitled Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, And Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology, which describes in detail many of its exhibits.

My credibility was certainly strained by things like the exhibit of the deprong mori (among other things, I find it unlikely that a bat flying into a lead wall would give an impact of only 10^3 ergs, and if it did, I don't think an X-ray viewer would see a bat 7 inches deep in a wall of lead).

But mostly I found the museum less of a strain to credulity than an incoherent mishmash. Let me explain with an analogy:

Most museum displays for the public that I encounter are more or less analogous to essays (or collections of essays) supported by artifacts, in sort of the same way that this travel report of mine is an essay supported by pictures. (There is an entirely different role that museums fulfill, but I leave that aside.) And a museum might have many of the qualities that an essay can have; it might be rambling (like my travelogues) or even boring yet creepy (like the Tower Museum in Colorado). And there are things that look like a travelogue but aren't:
I could use the travelogue form to do a hoax, such as an attempt to prove that I had been to a restaurant I'd never visited. (Perhaps Osteria l'Intrepido, which has received an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator despite not actually existing.)
I could use the travelogue form to do a satire, such as Gulliver's Travels.
I could do a joke travelogue, such as a thoughtful, elaborate review of a trip to McDonalds.
… and so forth.
And there would be museum analogies of each of these.

So, with this museum-essay analogy established, I can return to a description of the Museum of Jurassic Technology: it was like a collection of pages from books of fact and fiction, all thrown together into a new binding. But this sort of literary tossed salad is not a coherent essay, and it's not a good joke or good fiction; it's just boring.

One surprise: despite all I'd read about the MJT as a quirky, off-the-beaten-path place, it had many visitors. We were rarely alone in a room.

After the MJT, we went to visit our friends Lyndon and Diane. After an hour of pleasant chitchat and an opportunity to meet their bearded dragons, we went to dinner with them at a restaurant called Casablanca. I think that it was reasonable of me to assume that a restaurant named Casablanca would have a Mediterranean/North African focus; however reasonable it was, though, it was wrong. The Casablanca that the restaurant's name refers to was not the city but the classic film; for example, the restrooms were gender-identified with pictures of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

So what does a Casablanca-themed restaurant serve? Well, in LA, it apparently serves Mexican and seafood without feeling a need to identify itself as such with its name.

The fresh-made tortillas were really delicious. I can no longer recall exactly how they were different from the other tortillas I had, but I felt that they were clearly the best tortillas we'd had on the whole trip. We were seated right next to the comal (I'm not sure that's the right word); I would have had to lean to touch it, but I would not have had to leave my chair.

Unfortunately, I no longer remember what we ordered or who had what, though all the food was very good. As I review the menu, I think it likely that I would have ordered the Sam Burrito, on the theory that I'd favor something that the restaurant thought distinctive enough to name within the Casablanca theme, or perhaps the Sam and Chicken combo with the same logic. But I think I see both of those among our pictures. (The pictures are dark because the restaurant was dark. I feel our new camera does a good job with low-light pictures, but I don't yet have the photo-editing chops to improve those pictures beyond what the camera gives me.)

For most of the trip, we had had good luck with hotels. Few of them were special enough to warrant mentioning, but we generally got comfortable beds with nothing to complain about. That night, though, our luck ran out.
In the first hotel we selected (a Days Inn, I think), Lori spotted a cockroach in the bathroom and was unwilling to stay. She demanded a refund from the front desk and got only apathetic compliance, without any indications of surprise or regret.
So then we sat in the parking lot trying to find another hotel, only to find that at Orbitz.com, Lori's preferred travel website, would not talk to us because it claimed that July 21 was already over, so we couldn't book a hotel for July 21—even though it was only 10pm Pacific Time. It may be the case that Orbitz is based in Central Time, but even so I think this is poor behavior of Orbitz; if it's 1am and you need to find a hotel before sunrise, isn't it the right thing to say that you're checking in for the previous day?
Fortunately, kayak.com was more cooperative, and that led us to a nearby Quality Inn. We got the last nonsmoking room, just before a large group of Asian flight attendants came through the door.
This room was cockroach-free, but the air conditioning didn't work. We slept the night in a room that was hotter than the evening outside.
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