Thursday, July 30, 2009

Summertime patios.

Ah summer, what better way to celebrate your long, warm days than with wine and cheese on the patio? Over the 4th of July I went home to Denver and spent an entire day with my sister Anne in her urban garden and her apartment kitchen, assisting with a summertime feast. My other sister Claire, her friend Claire (yes, two Claires were in attendance), and my brother-in-law Blake all joined in for the eating part of the evening. And eat we did.

Anne prepared a beautiful salad from her garden with homegrown greens, tiny tender carrots, baby beats, freshly snapped peas, and a little bit of cheese, oil, and vinegar with seasoning to top it off. There is almost nothing more delicious in this world than homegrown, fresh cut greens. Seriously, they are so tender, so flavorful, and actually have a texture that is velvety and gentle to the palette. Anne also made an amazing marinade for the chicken using preserved lemons and the spiciest Asian salsa I have ever tasted. She roasted potatoes with garden herbs, and for dessert we feasted on cakeballs and homemade frozen yogurt with honey and almonds. Oh yes, and did I mention that she made the apricot jam we served with cheese herself? She is a wonder to behold in the kitchen, full of creativity and a knack for spontanious creations.

Blake toasts the cheese!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

In-n-Out Burger in my tummy. Yummy.

Our recent trip to Southern California included the mandatory stop at an In-n-Out Burger, as I had never been, but heard about the chain every time a friend visited California. "It's the best" they all said. And for the most part, it lived up to its mythical fast food God status. It was fresh, it was greasy delicious. And of course, it had ample American cheese, which is always a plus. But the best part, in my opinion, was ordering using the code language devised through years of In-n-Out tradition. I had a double double animal style, which in English means two patties and two slices of cheese with everything, including grilled onions. If you are savvy you can get all sorts of not-on-the-menu treats there, like a Neapolitan milkshake (strawberry, vanilla, AND chocolate), animal style fries (french fries with grilled onions, pickles, and the secret sauce), or a Flying Dutchmen (two meat patties and two slices of cheese and nothing else, not even a bun!).

And best of all, the wait time while they prepared our fresh, never frozen burgers gave me and Will some time to check out the macro features on our digital cameras. We both have Cannons, but mine is old and his is new. Despite the old and clunky nature of my camera, I still think it takes a pretty great close up. Look at the ketchup, couldn't you just dive right in?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A litttle Pearl in the great oyster of San Diego.

The courtyard and pool, complete with a giant movie screen for "dive in movies" and hammock chairs.

Two weeks ago Sam and I spent a weekend in San Diego with our friends Will and Carmen, and we stayed in the most fun little boutique motel called The Pearl. As they say themselves, "Life is good here, because the livin’ is easy." And they weren't kidding. The place has a vibe that encourages lounging. In our few days there we spent several leisurely cocktail hours by the pool, indulged in nightcaps at the bar, enjoyed an extended brunch with bottomless mimosas on Sunday morning, and relaxed with afternoon rests in the comfy beds in our rooms. The place just begged for us to be relaxed and easy going, and we obliged.

The Pearl's theme is a reimagined classic California hotel atmosphere, with a focus on preserving the spirit of mid-century design alongside a thriving new modernism. They use artwork, furnishings and architecture to create a feeling of hip comfort. I know, I know, it doesn't seem possible that hip can still be comfortable, but it is at The Pearl. When the Pearl revamped the motel a few years ago, they made sure that every single little space had a purpose, either as a tiny lounge for two, a side patio with a Zen fountain, a nook with a blossoming flower, or an eye-level shelf with seashell trinkets. It takes great skill to mold every nook and cranny into something purposeful, but I think the Pearl succeeded. Plus, they incorporate extensive plants and foliage in the decor to add natural beauty and color.

Perhaps the best part of the experience was the price. Amidst the vintage-modern ambiance, we got a smokin' deal. We paid $289 for a two-night package that included $100 of credit at the bar and restaurant, which we gladly indulged in. I drank many tasty cocktails thanks to this bargain, including a plum Tom Collins and a lavender and grapefruit scented prosecco cocktail called a Marie Antoinette. And when all was said and done, even with a few extra drinks on the tab, our rooms still clocked in at less than a hundred bucks a night. It was Motel 6 pricing with big bucks ambiance.

To be fully up front in my review, the rooms do reflected the price to some degree. I would describe them as comfortable and modest, with a purposeful aesthetic created on a budget. Everything was nice and clean and the bed was comfortable, but the carpet was rough and scratchy, the towels were not overly fluffy, and the grout in the shower and tub had seen better days. I am not complaining, because I know that elevating those amenities to the status of a Hilton would drive the price up double what we paid, but I must admit that the ambiance in the public space was so posh that I felt a tinge of surprise every time I entered my room and found it less upscale. Nonetheless, I am not complaining and recommend the place without reservation.

The whole place is a tiny 23 room u-shaped motel surrounding a small kidney-shaped pool. The bar and restaurant spill out from underneath the rooms to take over the poolside deck, making the entire place feel like a living room. The bar and restaurant were open air, with one open wall that pulled the patio to the inside and vice-versa.

Their kitchen, called Restaurant at The Pearl, featured California Coastal cuisine, friendly table service, and stunning interior design (you HAVE to check out the bathroom sinks, even if you don't have to go). One evening we ordered the popcorn shrimp with our cocktails, and it came with my favorite - slivers of fried citrus. Plus, there was hot pickled okra. Weird but good. For brunch I had the Smoked Salmon Hash with salmon, bacon, poached eggs, and a dill lemon creme fraiche. Carmen had the Pearl Burger - at 10:30 a.m. - made of house ground beef with caramelized onions and pommes frites. The frites were good, complete with a garlic alioli. Everything we saw come out of the kitchen smelled great and had beautiful presentation. If we had been staying a little bit longer we certainly would have eaten more meals in.

I loved the hotel. I think you should all book a night. Find them at:
The Pearl Hotel
1410 Rosecrans Street
San Diego, CA 92106

p.s. The day we left they were setting up for an evening wedding, prompting me to wonder if I could plan my own wedding part II here someday. And check it out, look what I found on the website... "OWN A HOTEL FOR A DAY: Who said you can’t have it all? Imagine owning The Pearl Hotel for a day. Yes, you heard it right. With food, beverage and hotel room packages starting at just $9,495.00, you can have up to 150 people join you for a private event at the Pearl. This is the perfect package for corporate events, holiday parties, weddings, birthday parties,anniversaries, family reunions and more." Imagine a one-of-a-kind wedding for $10 grand, including food and drink. It's brilliant. If you live in San Diego I urge you to consider it.

The view from my room. I love the palm tree.

The Pearl's restaurant and bar. Our room was right above the dining area.

The vertical garden at the pool sat right next to the tubular towel rack. It was such a pretty way to add vegetation and color without taking up space.

Check out the vintage rocking patio chairs. You can't find pieces like that these days!

Every room comes with a beta fish. Ours was named Barnaby, and he was feisty.

The Pearl encourages you to sit on the floor with pillows, shag carpet, and board games.

This cherry red retro convertible sat outside for much of our visit. I think it adds some extra authenticity, don't you?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Where in the world is Carmen? San Diego!

I spent an entire week in the beginning of July at the Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference in San Diego. While I know that sounds entrancingly interesting to all of you out there in blogland, I will save you the gripping details of the conference and instead skip ahead to the photos from our extended weekend stay.

This may in fact be Sam and mine's very first "weekend getaway," which I am pleased to report was a smashing success. In fact, the long weekend vacation was such a treat we are already dreaming of more. Sam flew out the last day of the conference and our dear friends Will and Carmen drove down from their digs in Los Angles for a long weekend (hence the childhood computer game jingle title to this blog). Together we explored the wonders of San Diego. We stayed at a charming motel named The Pearl (more on that to come soon, but some teaser photos below), ate fish tacos and sushi, splashed in the cold, clear ocean off the beach, and in general soaked up the laid back vibe of this ocean city. I have nothing but nice things to say about the entire trip (conference included!), but I will let these photos speak 1,000 words. And please, call me if you are ever in the mood for a long weekend getaway in Southern California. I'm game.

p.s. It was also my first successful change to play with our plastic fish eye camera, my new favorite toy. Enjoy the enhanced angles.

p.s. There she is, that's Carmen!