Dinner and Lunch and Dinner in San Diego

My wonderfully game co-worker and I had enough time for lunch today that we were able to leave the conference site and head into the Gaslight District. I had talked her into coming with me late Sunday night to an Indian restaurant down there, Monsoon, and today for lunch we ended up at an Afghan place, Chopahn, within a couple blocks of the Indian place.

Having hardly eaten since that dinner on Sunday night, and having had almost nothing but white flour-based foods for the past two days, (while attending a nutrition conference, oddly enough) I ordered everything vegetarian on the menu, which, at an Afghan restaurant is sometimes not that much, but is usually quite well executed, just as steakhouse vegetables usually are. (If they only do three things, they seem to learn how to do them exceptionally well.)

True to form, two enormous piles of spinach and roasted eggplant and a slightly hollowed round of pumpkin filled with yogurt landed in front of me.

I tucked into the pumpkin, which was perfectly tender and pleasantly tart from the puddle of yogurt, and only slightly exaggerated the relief I was feeling.

“Ah, Vitamin A,” I sighed.

“That’s kind of a lot of food for lunch,” my co-worker said when I was halfway through (and had no plans to stop).

“But not calorically dense, of course,” I said, applying a great deal of spinach to a small piece of nigella-seeded bread. “This is one of the great things about being a vegetarian,” I added, gesturing toward my plate. “Big piles. You get to eat a lot.”

As long as you have the good fortune to like what’s good for you, I suppose.

Tonight, after the workshops and the reception were over, I called her up. She was thinking of staying in.

“I picked out an Ethiopian place,” I offered. “Red Sea Ethiopian Restaurant.”

Our parking attendant and some other people I’d seen staffing the conference center had seemed to be of Ethiopian ancestry, and that made me think there might be a place or two nearby. There was; this one described as both good and “unassuming,” restaurant-review code for “an authentic restaurant the appearance of which may scare some white people.”

“Well, okay,” she said.  She was pleased to have the adventure.  I was pleased to have the company.

I haven’t had a chance to have Ethiopian food since I moved away from D.C. in 2000, besides a series of pretty successful Misr Wat experiments born of an initial Berbere Sauce experiment in my own kitchen back in Michigan. I had to dispense with all my condiments when we moved to California in 2003, as there was no way to transport them without leaving them all unrefrigerated for a couple weeks, and I’ve never gotten around to making another batch of Berbere Sauce. I lost some great condiments in that move.

The restaurant did turn out to be of quite unassuming appearance; I said to my co-worker as we were about to walk in, “Either we’ll get a great dinner out of this or you’ll get a great story to tell about the time I dragged you to that Ethiopian restaurant in San Diego.”

Dinner was terrific. It was too bad we’d (I’d!) had so much lunch. Since she’d never had Ethiopian food and we wanted to have plenty to try, we ordered everything vegetarian on the menu (collard greens, yellow split peas, lentils, and carrots and potatoes – all $5 a portion). It’s too bad the hotel doesn’t have refrigerators. We both agreed we’d certainly eat more of the stuff for breakfast and lunch the next day.

While we were happily scooping up bites of stew, I said, “Since you’re getting back into the office before I am, you have to tell everybody where we went to eat.” Gesturing with injera in my hand, I indicated the escalating perceived obscurity of the cuisines we’d experienced and their respective inaccessibility in the San Joaquin Valley. “First the Indian place, then Afghan, then Ethiopian.”

We did a good job of enjoying things we couldn’t have had at home. But if we stayed any longer, I thought, and wanted even more obscure gustatory adventures, I’d have to start looking for a restaurant that serves regional Botswanian food, and after that, perhaps head for some Venusian cuisine.  And I don’t think anyone even has that outside of Manhattan yet.

It’s time to head out.  Next stop, Orange County.

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Hotel Time Travel

Tc3500dblrm_1 I have been suddenly plunged back into the very late 1980’s or possibly the very early 1990s.

I wasn’t expecting it; I showed up at this hotel for a conference with one other member of my organization, and when I stepped into the lobby last night, the swirling, scrolling jewel-toned oriental-floral wallpaper – a very large pattern (and an entire hotel lobby – wallpapered!) took my breath away, because I swear, I had a Jessica McClintock dress that I wore for District Choir in high school that was the very same pattern except in navy blue. 

The bedspread and wallpaper in the guest room are the same design.  I keep having this strange urge to curl my bangs, and I half expect to turn on the t.v. and see the Berlin Wall coming down.

Unfortunately, the onsite restaurants seem to have ceased to change with the times at about the same point the last redecoration took place.  Due to the length of my day, I was compelled to order room service for dinner at about 8:30 tonight.  I ordered a side salad.  It was slightly tired squares of iceberg lettuce, cucumber slices, and cherry tomatoes with an overly acidic and suspiciously well-emulsified Italian dressing, exactly the salad I used to dread the arrival of when I first became a vegetarian, as it and a baked potato were often my only menu options.

So I had my anemic salad, my vegetable soup that had clearly been sitting in the kettle a long time (it takes hours to get celery that limp) that included a grand total of one kidney bean, a very well-executed if entirely unseasoned side of carrots and zucchini (the one thing I ordered that had not been on the menu), and a piece of cheesecake for which I had not requested fruit topping (it was extra and I didn’t want it) but it came with it anyway; it was a color of red that does not appear in nature, and besides, with the first bite I took from the crust I could tell that the cheesecake had been defrosted rather than made in-house, and that it had been sitting next to something stronger-smelling in the fridge at that.

This all made me sort of miserable, having had to eat a wan white bread and vegetable sandwich for lunch from another of the restaurants and having not really properly had breakfast besides an apple I’d brought as a travel snack, and usually being totally spoiled on most trips because my organization’s group, when assembled, operates in such a way that meals are very important, restaurants are carefully chosen, and I never have to worry about whether there will be something for me to eat, because there will be, and it will be really good. 

How bad was today?  I ordered the cheesecake specifically because I figured it would at least have a shred of protein, unlike everything else I ate since I got up this morning.

I need to go drive someplace in the morning and get some decent fruit, at least.  And some soymilk.

And pick up a curling iron.  Holy cow, did you hear about the Berlin Wall?

For Breakfast

I’m back from Boulder. Though the work to be done was immensely enjoyable, the scenery breathtaking and I’d love to go back, I’d take supplemental oxygen next time. Last night as I opened my bottled water and then, in turn, each of my toiletries that had sucked their sides in, I said to Chimp, “That was my lungs, too.”

There were no complaints to offer about the hotel, that’s for sure. Everything about the room was wonderful: great fluffy-soft bed with a variety of pillows, a heartbreakingly nice bathroom with a spotlit tub that drew me in for a soak that left me feeling absolutely boneless – even the hairdryer was a really good hairdryer. Additionally, everything about the hotel in general was delightful, including the jazz trio in the lobby in the evening near a window-backed gas fireplace and during the day, a panoramic view of Flatirons Mountain.

I didn’t have the opportunity to try breakfast at the hotel – we had it at our meeting both days – but I did take a look at the card they provided to be left on the door at night for breakfast service, and when I did, I was sorry I wasn’t going to have a chance to order. Here’s part of the card:

Check out the bottom of the first column of the “A La Carte” section.

Yes, that’s right, you can order tofu for breakfast. No more information than that, unfortunately, so I don’t know if it was scrambled tofu or roasted tofu or just a big honkin’ block o’ tofu with a little piece of parsley on top of it. I suppose I’ll have to go back someday with my oxygen tank to find out.

But seriously, this is the first time I’ve ever seen tofu on a breakfast menu anywhere, and I was so pleased at just the idea that I could get some protein for breakfast. This is Boulder, of course, so perhaps I should not be surprised. I’ll be pretty happy, though, if there ever comes a day when menus are like this everywhere and I can confidently travel without an emergency stash of suitable food.