My last post ended in Los Alamos, enjoying the gregarious wines and conversations of Stephan Bedford of Bedford Winery. But the road beckons us forward.
As you proceed north on Highway 101 take a detour which took us far to long to discover. Exit at the charming city of Arroyo Grande, locate Orcutt Road and get ready for a trip in the Edna Valley. It might be a little slower, but after all California has to deliver on its stereotypical laid back image from time to time. You’ve entered San Luis Obispo County, SLO County, pun unavoidable…
Nestled between Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo, the Edna Valley is a fantastic place to discover wineries that are small, which is a good thing, and wines you won’t find easily anywhere else, which is even better. Being on the outskirts of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the wine gets slurped up quickly by a knowledgeable local public.
Located on 80 acres, Chamisal Vineyards produces wonderful Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Grenache and brilliant, floral Rose. New Zealand transplant Fintan du Fresne oversees some of the best wine in the area. Give them a taste – we used their Pinot Noir for our 30th wedding anniversary dinner, if you need a rave review.
Next I’d head towards Baileyana, which houses a lot of labels and all of them are good. True Myth, Tangent, Baileyana, Zocker (yes there is a good Gruener Veltiner in CA), Trenza, and Cadre. All the boutiqueness might usually send me out the door, but the quality here is very high. There’s an Alsatian cum French cum Austrian cum Iberian palate at work in California here. And if that isn’t enough, Karl behind the bar is from England.
Timing is everything. Music is, I hope it’s obvious, an art form about time. I love jet-lag, honestly, because it allows my body to escape clock time altogether, which can be a liberating mind state. Humans invented 3:45 PM (or, if you prefer, 15:45). No dog or bird or cat or fish knows what we’re fussing about. They use the sun and moon and the light to know what’s going on. Music is always experienced out of clock time, whether you’re conscious of it or not (probably not).
So as you travel, create a flexible time strategy. Which means your meals need to be coordinated, not in a crazy strict way, but with a mind toward enjoying the time you’ve got to enjoy yourself.
Plan an early brunch (or late lunch) after driving up from Santa Barbara through the Edna Valley at a incredible little spot in Morro Bay. Trust me, we set our clocks to the meals we have at this place!
The food is on the Cajun side of American cuisine (which is one of the few genuine cuisines we have) and always wonderfully prepared. Someone was bound to figure out that making incredible breakfasts and lunches would be a great idea for a restaurant. Frankie & Lola’s is right by the you-can’t-miss-it Morro Bay Rock, which looms over the bay and coast like a West Coast version of Gibraltar. And for a winery tip, Frankie & Lola’s like Pomar Junction.
Now, got dessert?
As you head up Highway 1 to Cambria, plan to exit the road at the little matchbox town of Cayucos. It’s a foodie heaven with some haute cuisine places like the Cass House and Hoppe’s Bistro. The Cass House is a bed and breakfast so if you’d like, you can spend the night. Mr. Cass, like Mr. Foxen in Santa Barbara, was a loyal British subject who expatriated to California in the 19th century, built a pier so supplies could come to port, and must have had a nice life on the Central Coast.
We do head to Moonstone Beach to end the day, but not before we replenish our supply of Brown Butter Sea Salt Cookies. You’ll be able to taste almost everything in the shop. I’m always on the lookout for cooks and bakers who acknowledge the world of France. What Hollywood is to movies, France is to cuisine. After all, the English language entirely gave up trying to find a word describing cooking so we just use a French word. That word would be cuisine.
What don’t the French reduce to its culinary essence?
I feel it’s one of the reasons Paris is so strongly admired throughout Asia (you can see my September 2013 blogs about those ideas). The concept of flavor essence is very important in French cooking. You can make a French dish your way, tweaking this and that a bit, but if it isn’t their way, it isn’t that dish. My mom had to speak culinary French to wait tables in Hollywood. Maybe those indeed were “the good old days.” At least I know it’s probably not coming back!
Back to Cayucos. The French use of brown butter is magic. To be inspired to base a shop on brown butter cookies? An absolute triumph with to-die-for cookies! Of the various flavors, we like the coconut lime cookie after Thai food or with Vietnamese coffee, but they are all fabulous. The shop has grown and there is a second shop in downtown Paso Robles (good to know after you have a wine tasting day). I’m sure there’s a website, and look them up!
And in homage to the great American comedienne Lucille Ball, I get the feeling that somebody here loves the iconic episode of kitchen disaster when Lucy and Ethel try to make chocolates. It loops on a video in the store and is mirrored (with considerably more success) in the teamwork going on before your eyes.
With great cookies you can conquer the world. But before you tackle Highway 1 to Big Sur or Highway 46 into Paso Robles Wine Country (another magical road not to be missed), perhaps follow our native Californian lead and settle in at Moonstone Beach in Cambria.
And you deserve a California sunset.
And when you wake up the next morning, here’s your view.
The smell of sage and seashells, the salt air meeting the Cambrian Pines, restores me every time we visit. When I finally arrive at Moonstone Beach “I come to you, trusted place of rest” always echoes in my memory from the second movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. And if you need a good walk, stay on the wood path and be on the lookout for hawks, squirrels, snakes, cows across the hills, and towards the ocean, seals, otters, whales, pelicans and various sea birds. And breathe deeply……
I’ve already written a blog about the vineyard area of Paso Robles earlier this month. Traveling over Highway 46 from Cambria to Paso Robles is a joy and will take you to restful views and wonderful wines that can help heal a tired mind. Search around my blog posts for other pictures, and here’s another image of this Californian Pastoral Symphony.
Timing, again, is everything. Here’s a tip for my readers in 80 countries around the globe who might be California dreamin’. We arrive in Cambria on a Thursday afternoon, then wine taste in Paso Robles on Friday during the day so we can return to Cambria’s Friday late afternoon Farmer’s Market.
Here’s a goal to motivate your wine tasting over Highway 46. If you recall from an earlier blog, you’re going to encounter Santa Maria BBQ in the Central Coast. One of the best incarnations of this genre is at this Friday market in the West Village of Cambria. Go to the Linn’s station (you’ll easily wander to the Linn’s Fruit Bin in Cambria’s East Village). Order some ribs for your hotel room, with sauce on the side should you like. Open a bottle of wine from your wine tasting day. See sunset photo above and breathe a little easier. Top your meal off with a Brown Butter Cookie from Cayucos.
If you turned around and went back home right now you’d have seen a lot. But you’ve come this far, so don’t stop now. You’ll hopefully understand better why California is so densely populated. The place is one big promise confirming that life on earth has potential. The Sierra Club was founded by John Muir in California. The sequoia trees, the tallest living things on Planet Earth, are only found here. And to see them up north in the Muir Woods, rest up, fellow traveler, in Cambria. Because you need to first travel Highway 1 to Big Sur and Pt. Lobos to find them. And that road never gets old. And we live here. It never gets old.
Cameras are good. And let me share a driving tip. The Highway 1 road can be high and narrow, a bit scary. But if you will follow the speed limit of the engineers on the curves, you’ll have a smooth easy ride. Safety is part of having a good time! And there are plenty of places to turn off the road and take your time.
I’ve not for a moment forgotten about music, or my LA International New Music Festival. Because now this road ends with a meeting with Elliott Carter’s trusted assistant, Virgil Blackwell, in Carmel. Carter’s piano, holding the memory of all of his notes, now has a view of the Pacific Ocean. Karma? I don’t know, but I think there are just facts and not coincidences.
Elliott’s output from age 93 to 103 dwarfs many entire careers. I’m living in this music for the rest of my life, making each piece as familiar as ABC. I learned from Carter so many things over so many years that I’m planning a few posts about him. One idea I got after seeing him the last time was that eventually the ambition of youth becomes the wisdom of experience. And that wisdom is a wonderful, powerful thing after talking with an eloquent composer at 103. When Carter passed away Robert Mann of the Juilliard Quartet summed up our communal loss with these simple words.
“Schuppanzigh had Beethoven, Joachim had Brahms. But we had Elliott Carter.”
Who would have thought his piano would have a view one day of the Pacific Ocean? It’s not just the French who have an attraction to the countryside, mes amis….
Best, best, best,