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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monterey Bay Trip - day 1

Our vacation begins. Here we are heading out of Los Angeles.

There were so many beautiful scenes we drove by. My favorites are rolling farmlands as far as the eye can see, the ocean waves pounding the rocky shores, gorgeous seaside homes, and vineyards filled with lush grape vines. Unfortunately we don't have that many pictures of these. I was on drive duty first and Jojo does not like taking pictures! I will take more when it's Jojo's turn to drive.

After driving over 3 hours, we decided to stop at Pismo Beach, walk around and stretch our legs and grab lunch at a place called Huckleberry's.

Jojo and I started with a cup of their home-made gumbo. I had high hopes for this but was disappointed. First, traditional gumbo should be slightly "sticky" because of the okra used in the dish. Instead their version was very watery. Second, gumbo should be hearty with lots of veggies, meat, sausage, etc. The soup we ordered had a few pieces of veggies and maybe 2 pieces of chicken and no sausage. Lastly, gumbo is a strong-flavored soup/stew but this dish really tasted almost watered down.

For our main course, we shared the beef ribs and grilled chicken platter. Again, it fell short of our expectations. The ribs were tough and the chicken breast was dry. The fries were too thick cut for my liking and a little bland. Food presentation was virtually nonexistent. Plus prices were not cheap but food quality certainly was. I guess we won't be back at this place the next time we drive through.

At around 4 pm, we arrived at the Days Inn - Monterey Bay located in downtown Monterey. Since I was not that familiar with the area, our Triple A travel agent recommended a place. Days Inn is a small complex with only 36 rooms. It's a drive in place located on a busy street. I was a little hesitant at first. We decided to book it anyway. We figured that it if turned out to be horrible, we could always move somewhere else once we were there and could see the other places to stay. We got good rates ($125.00++ per night). It turns out the place was quite charming. Although located on a busy street, the property is recessed so the traffic noise is not heard. Plus the place was very safe since only hotel guests could drive up and park in the slots provided. I had grown to like the place enough to recommend it to others visiting Monterey since it is so close to everything, has very friendly staff (who lets us use their computers / printers) and has a complimentary continental breakfast every morning.

We had a second-floor, corner room which was nice since we had a great view of the mountains from two sides of the room. The place was nothing fancy but was quite spacious and very clean. I am so glad the bathroom was clean and modern-looking (with marble features and new shower curtains). I hate places with grungy accommodations and tiled-bathrooms.

After checking in to the hotel and freshening up, we drove over to Carmel-by-the-Sea to a place called The Barnyard. This was a series of barnyard-like structures that housed several shops and places to eat. We decided to explore the place before dinner. The weather was really nice and cool. And since it is summer, we get extended daylight hours that are just a great way to "prolong" beautiful California days.

We walked around the place which had a lot of quaint little shops. I liked that all the stores were small businesses (and not chain stores) but on the other hand, that just made everything so expensive. The place was very quiet though and didn't have the usual crowds at most malls. It was all very relaxing and almost serene.

We decided to have dinner at Lugano Swiss Bistro. It is a charming restaurant that had decor that reminded us of a cozy chalet complete with wood furniture, ambient lighting and a roaring fireplace. The interiors are as close to Hansel and Gretel's cottage as you can imagine. And I loved that the servers were dressed in costume - the ladies in colorful peasant skirts, and tight laced-up corsets over fluffy white peasant shirts.

We ordered the 5-course fondue tasting menu. We started off with a salad of fresh mixed greens with a creamy lemon-poppy dressing. The dressing was slightly sweet and slightly tangy yet not too overpowering so you could still taste the veggies.

Our second course was the cheese fondue. We were served a basket of different kinds of bread cut into cubes. Then we dipped it into this boiling hot pot of delicious melted cheese. It was so yummy. The cheese was just the right amount of salty and had a very mild bitter aftertaste. Our cheese fondue was a mix of Gruyere, Emmental (Swiss version of queso de bola) and white wine.

Next, we were served dishes of hashed potatoes cooked with ham and cheese. The potatoes were crispy on the outside and very soft on the inside. Our plates looked like painter's palettes with separate sections for 5 dipping sauces (teriyaki, barbecue, peanut, calypso (which tasted like Thousand Island dressing), and horseradish). These were the dipping sauces for our next course (the meat dishes).

Then came the chicken, beef and veggies that were dipped into a steaming broth. Traditionally fondue meat courses are pieces of meat dipped into hot oil - using broth was Lugano's take on making it a healthier alternative. It was very good - the beef slices were so tender (as long as you did not over-cook them), the chicken was very flavorful and the veggies were sweet and tasted very fresh. The broth itself was so tasty that Jojo kidded about asking for a spoon to drink it up.

For dessert, we had a delicious chocolate fondue (with melons, pineapples, strawberries, bananas and sugar cookies for dipping). It was so good - the chocolate was slightly bitter and the fruits were so sweet. The perfect end to such a perfect meal.

After dinner, we were so full we decided we needed to take a walk. We drove back to our hotel and parked the car. Afterwards we crossed the street to the Del Monte Shopping Center. It's an amazing mall complex filled with lots of high end stores. The mall property was literally 10 steps across from our hotel driveway. But we entered through the back lot so it was almost a 15-minute walk through a humongous parking lot. The weather was so cold (the fog was coming in), we could see our breath in the air.

This is the inside of the Del Monte Shopping Mall. I really like malls with outdoor settings - provided of course that the weather is cooperating. Since it was pretty cold that night, Jojo and I loved walking into to the shops that were heated. We spent quite some time stocking up on books at Borders before heading back.

This concludes day one of our three day vacation.


mom said...

Enjoyed your detailed narration. Cannot wait for the 2nd and 3rd days experiences. Am glad you had fun.

Jojo_LYF said...

The fondue was my favorite meal for the whole trip, something really unique.

It was quite hard taking a picture from a moving car specially you have to capture it in an instant. Hmmm I think we need to upgrade our camera soon, what do you think ?

Joanne said...

Ni, the fondue was really good but my favorite meal had to be the oysters at Cafe Fina =)

And yes, we need a new camera!!!