California- it’s where happy cows come from! It’s the place foodies seem to congregate, which I’m sure happens to be because of wine country and the availability of amazing crops almost year round.
I happened to be in town for work, specifically at the Sonoma Horse Park. Which by the way is gorgeous. It absolutely has the most breathtaking backdrops, and then you’re rewarded by some phenomenal athletes as well. It was a very low key kind of show and provided a wonderful environment to meet and mingle. Year round close to 200 horses stable there, and then they play host to a show circuit which takes place over eight weekends from May to September. It was the type of place that even if you weren’t into horses, you could have a lovely and unique afternoon in wine country. Or you could be spoiled as a horse person to be up close with the action and treated royally.
I got to stay in the most lovely town called Petaluma which is about an hour north of San Francisco and a half hour west of Sonoma. My “home base” while I was in town was an Airstream trailer named Bambi, which I later learned was actually the model of the trailer. I happened to like the fact that it’s name was Bambi, which is what I’m sticking with. “She” was parked in the parking lot of the Metro Hotel and Cafe, which was a super short walk from downtown Petaluma. It was my own little oasis and adventure all wrapped into one. The Metro was a quaint 1870’s style European hotel, specifically French, which was decorated to the hilt in fun and funky memorabilia. Specifically I liked the fact that they had quiet hours, and you got a telephone number to call if you wanted to rat out rude guests. Now while I don’t believe in tattle tales, I do believe if you pay money to stay somewhere, the least they can do is make it fun for you to be away and not lose sleep. The only complaint I had about my stay in Bambi is the mattress was very worn down. So much so, that it took my already screwed up back about a week to recover once I got home. But from what I did hear from the staff- the trailer is VERY sought after, especially amongst their European guests.
Even though this is a food blog, I do have to give special props to the ladies at Yoga Hell, aka Bikram Yoga Petaluma. They helped me to stay on target with my newly adapted Bikram Yoga practices, and be able to enjoy my eating adventures without too much guilt afterwards. It was such a fun and fabulous place to go with instructors who cared about you doing things right, not just surviving class. So thanks Ryan, Brittani and the whole gang!
In the evenings I was able to enjoy some of the best quality food, and if you can believe it, my best meal ever. It sure was a wonderful journey! My first night took me to SEA Modern Thai Bistro, which after the trek across the US, was awesome as it was a hop, skip and jump away from Bambi. The Garlic Delight Beef was nothing over the top, but it was just the meal to settle a travelers nerves, fill you up and leave you hungry enough for dessert (which by the way I did not get a picture of, but was FABULOUS). The dessert I ordered was a warm Truffle Cake with Organic Vanilla Ice Cream.
A few words about California. In no way was I ever expecting what I experienced in terms of landscape. EVERYTHING except for the grapes (which I still think are what’s sucking the life out of California’s hills) are completely brown. It’s pretty, but too crunchy for my taste. The other thing I disliked (sorry California) was the power lines that seemed to intrude almost all my photographs. I get how populated the state is, but it just took away from the pristine views that would have been everywhere. I still managed to capture the beauty for you though!
My next adventure was the Petaluma Farmers Market which they have on Wednesday evenings between B and D Street. It was a great selection of vendors, and I quickly settled into some pluots and peaches from a local farm while listening to the local ensemble playing in the street. For those of you who’ve never had a pluot before, you’re missing out! They are a cross between a plum and an apricot, a hybrid which are very sweet and intense in flavor. I even took home a small nectarine and pluot pie from Bovine Bakery. It was just really fun to wander this market and see what locals from 20-30 minutes away had available. This was truly local eating.
The Wild Goat Bistro was one of these little hidden gems. It was inside a small shopping mall all tucked away and very unassuming. It led to a deliciously fresh meal with a great seat of all the happenings taking place. I sat at the bar where you overlooked a teeny tiny kitchen where they had everything down pat. Neither of the chefs got in each others way and it was fun to watch what happens as you inadvertently become a part of the meal you’re being served. They also did basil right (you can see my rant below).
I spent a tremendous time walking around Petaluma and enjoying the sites. It was safe enough for me to wander around aimlessly, everyone was very friendly and didn’t seem to mind the tourist in me. I learned that it’s completely normal to have fruit trees in small yards. I guess because we have a short growing season in New England it all seemed a bit weird to me.
I kept hearing that California was “the place” to eat Mexican because of the dense population of Mexicans, so I gave it a go at Tres Hombres Long Bar and Grill. While the food was very good, and fresh, it wasn’t the best Mexican I’ve ever had. I’m not knocking the great service I received or the wonderful atmosphere outside where we got to listen to a phenomenal group while enjoying the meal. If you’re drinking tequila, I bet this could definitely be a kick *ss location, but it just didn’t wow me beyond words.
My evening sweet tooth led me to the Petaluma Pie Company which was a very small shop dedicated to crafting all sorts of pies. You could get handheld ones, small pies and large ones from savory to the sickly sweet. I settled for a sweet tart kind of pie with strawberry rhubarb. It was very good all the way around.
Peet’s Coffee and Tea was another VERY welcome sight. I got introduced to them while living in Massachusetts and although I have to go out of my way to get to them, it’s well worth the effort. (Take a look at the ten things that make them better than Starbucks a million times over). I did have to make it my trip’s mission to enjoy some beverages from them on a daily basis. It all made me very happy. They always have the best staff and even better drinks.
Another one of my evenings consisted of Cucina Paradiso, a lovely little Italian joint. It brought out the feel of Italy with a staff who was one big family. The atmosphere was a practiced one where the staff was trained exquisitely and everything was kept in tip top shape. I do have to say that the host was so cute and beyond friendly that even before I sat down, I felt welcome and part of everything. My meal was pretty good, the pasta being the best part with very simple and defined flavors. The part that really set me off on a tirade was the fact that all the basil on my dishes were completely bruised. Italy + Food= Fresh, Italy + Food + California = Super Fresh. This basil was not that. Now whilst I’m a fan of muddling basil and essentially bruising it for cocktails, when it’s on my food to enhance flavor and/or be a garnish, I expect pretty perfect slices. Sorry for the tirade, but not cool. It’s the simple things that make a difference, so I’m just making it known.
I also love candy, it’s part of that whole non-stop sugar craving I have. I walked around Petaluma and found a place or two with candy. The first placed I stopped will remain nameless. It had endless rows of chocolate products that offer an amazing and unique selection, the staff however wasn’t helpful and there was a very unappealing smell to the store I couldn’t get over. Such a shame! But then I found Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. They had every kind of candy and chocolate imaginable with such a fun atmosphere to be in. Kid in a candy store for sure! They even had this wall of Candy Land showcasing the game through the years. Very cool!
I’ve been all giddy waiting to talk about Rosso: Pizzeria and Mozzarella Bar. Hands down, the best meal I’ve had in six years (yes I remember the last time I had the meal that changed my world). Their food is inspired by the slow food movement of Italy, with simple, picture perfect meals. I started with their stretched to order mozzarella, which took quite awhile, but was worth every morsel. I probably would have eaten about four more plates of it if I didn’t have fear of extreme constipation from overeating cheese. Sorry, TMI, but hopefully you understand the multitude of amazing. The meal just meshed so well with the laid back pace of the staff and highlighted the ingredients. If you’re in California, I suggest you go- make it your first stop.
My last stop in Petaluma before I went back to the East Coast was the Petaluma Farmers Market– yes, again! But this time it was held in Walnut Park, and actually held quite a few new vendors for me to view. I saw some things for sale that I had never dreamed about, or maybe it’s stuff you rarely see like mushrooms and fresh zucchini blossoms. I enjoyed a sample of a Vanilla Bean Strudel, which turned into a bite of heaven. I’ve never had strudel in this fashion before, so it was all a very new experience to me. I promptly bought a hunk for dessert later and it was absolutely wonderful. Perfectly flaky and crisp on the outside and stunningly smooth and creamy on the inside. I’ll admit that I couldn’t wait to bite into even while it was still frozen.
I have to mention the fact that you may be wondering how I visited so close to Sonoma but didn’t drink my way through everything. It’s simple, I don’t drink. It’s not something I’ve ever enjoyed and now it makes me physically ill, we believe I’m allergic. So occasionally I’ll have tastings, but usually nothing more. And believe it or not, I was enjoying the food so much that I was never tempted to drink!
I never knew that I would be finishing out a post about travel at the destination airport. San Francisco’s International Airport was fan-freaking-tastic in terms of the edibles I was able to get. Fresh bread? Local cheese? Fresh squeezed juices? Ok! It was overpriced as all airports are, but I would have been happy to be stuck there and not feel guilty for indulging in non-fried local goodness.
Thanks for reading, it was a great journey and I hope it’s one you may get to enjoy soon enough too!