datsunsnake

In Search of Clam Chowder

We all have our favorite spots to get Clam Chowder. If you’re from Boston, I can’t help you – as your sources are both numerous and fantastic. For me, I’ve got favorites spread all over the neighborhood. Tides Oyster Bar in the Green Valley Ranch in Las Vegas is a good one. Swan’s Oyster Depot in San Francisco – if you like it thinner with less potato and more clams – is also stellar. But when we’re home in Burbank, my wife and I have a 4-hour ritual for clam chowder that is special to us. And if the weather is just right, it’s almost spiritual.

We start by firing up our 1966 Datsun 1600 Fairlady Roadster. From my office in North Hills, we head across the valley to Topanga Canyon Road, and then up to Mulholland Highway. The drive across Mulholland is absolutely gorgeous. Eventually you end up at the Rock Store – the ultimate biker hangout. Then, it’s up the world-famous ‘snake’, where we handle the twisties and get our photo taken. Then down the other side to Pacific Coast Highway and up the road to the Ventura County Line to another pure biker / surfer hangout – Neptune’s Net.

The world famous Neptune's Net - Pacific Coast Highway, Ventura County Line

The world famous Neptune’s Net – Pacific Coast Highway, Ventura County Line

Now, there is nothing secret about Neptune’s Net – as it is packed every Saturday and Sunday with hundreds of bikers, surfers and seafood eaters. But maybe people driving by just think it’s another biker bar. Think again – it’s a seafood shack…and a damn good one.

This is not just a biker bar - this is a MAJOR seafood shack!

This is not just a biker bar – this is a MAJOR seafood shack!

And so, on this Sunday, we made the roadster run yet again, and had a pint and a half of clam chowder, some chili cheese fries and a 24 oz Coors Lite tall boy. Note: they have a wide selection of craft beers too – on this day I was just thirsty. Their clam chowder is thick, rich and filled with clams…and at the end of the day, the volume of clams is generally relative to the quality of the chowder! Around us, people were scarfing steamed clams, raw oysters, Dungeness crab, and fish and chips. It doesn’t get any better. It’s nice to have great clam chowder come with such a great ritual. Where’s your clam chowder spot – and what’s the experience like? Share it with us…

Welcome to the new capital of craft beer - Northpark, San Diego, CA

Getting “Stoned”

What is the mark of a good beer? Is it hoppiness? A balance between flavors? The ability to fill the racks of a beer pong game guilt-free? These are all relevant, but seemingly frustrating questions. And yet, us serious beer drinkers continue to punish ourselves with the search for answers, because we are ALL in pursuit of the next great experience. I call it an ‘experience,’ because when you get down to brass tacks, that’s all this stuff is. Food. Libations. Snacks. Treats. They all trigger experiences. Sometimes, those experiences suck. Sometimes, they are sublime.

Several years ago, I was visiting my grandparents in Claremont. It was another exceptional visit. We discussed the goings-on of my studies and other simple, but entertaining things. My dad, Greg and brother, Dylan watched sports in the living room, while my sister Kasey texted her friends furiously. Later, the discussion of drink arose.

My grandfather would often playfully chastise my brother for enjoying beers with more “pedestrian” flavors. Or, as he might have said, “No flavors.” This night was no different. Dylan went on about Corona, or Stella, or some such brew. Grandpa Steve laughed, and brought up the superior flavor of Stone IPA. He claimed that Stone is an exemplar of REAL beer. Two questions I had that night: What the hell is Stone? What the hell is IPA? Those questions were answered swiftly after Grandpa returned from the refrigerator with a glass to taste Dylan on.

IPA_label_smallDylan took a sip and immediately puckered-up in disdain. Eventually, the glass circulated to me, a new college student with no understanding of beers. Back then I’m sure I was still trying to argue the merits of Boone’s Farm, or Mike’s Hard Lemonade. It tastes really good, bro. Seriously, it’s not just for girls. Seriously.

The first sip of Stone IPA hit hard. It tasted like a permanent marker-infused draft of tree bark tea. But then, after ruminating on the taste for a moment, the tree bark tea evolved into a strong, but delightful blend of earthy flavors. I mark that night as my metamorphosis from a Bud Light-soaked caterpillar, into a craft beer butterfly soaked in microbrew. There was just no going back after I discovered the amount of taste and power that lies inside a bottle of good India Pale Ale–particularly, a Stone IPA. Everything else became mediocre, dull even. Needless to say, my love for wine coolers was smote to the ground.

Now, even Grandpa Steve is what I would consider an “equal opportunity” beer drinker, enjoying a variety of lights and darks. To this day though, I have not heard him speak about a beer as frequently or hold in such high regard as Stone’s IPA. Therefore, because of his passion’s affect on me, and because of that fateful night, I’ve fallen into a pretentious habit of constantly comparing my beers–my IPAs especially–to Stone’s variation. Sometimes, this habit is reductive, but their bitter is just SO damn delightfully bitter! I can’t help it!

I’m hoping that this post will serve to orient you, to give you some background as to where, when, and why IPAs became so dear to me. So, if you were expecting a different sort of post, never fear! Consider this post an appetizer, a taste of things to come! After all, I live in North Park, San Diego–a town with at least two microbrews within walking distance!

As always, keep calm and drink on.

Pinocchio1

Every Town Has One – an Old-School Italian Place

Growing up in the small college town of Claremont, California, much of my childhood was spent at cheap family eating places that had been around since my parents attended Pomona College in the 1950s. As my parents began to study food and wine, many of those ‘cheap eats’ places went away as our family ‘upgraded’ our food experience. But in the late 1980s, when I started having my own children, those ‘family style’ places came back into the fold – because with kids it’s all about easy, big and cheap!

Vinces Spaghetti on Foothill Blvd. in Upland, CA

Vinces Spaghetti on Foothill Blvd. in Upland, CA

Enter Vince’s Spaghetti – an Inland Empire landmark since 1945! My parents went to the Ontario, CA location in the 1950s, and we raised our children on the Rancho Cucamonga location in the 1980s and 90s. Back then, a spaghetti with meat sauce plate, soup, salad and cheese bread dinner was about $5.50 a person! Needless to say, on a Friday or Saturday night, the line is out the door and down the street!

I’ve lived in Burbank, CA for about 15 years now – and yes, even Burbank has their version of the cheap Italian family restaurant. Monte Carlo Deli and Pinocchio Restaurant on Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank is another one of those historic places that’s been family owned and operated for years. No secret to Burbank folks – check their hundreds and hundreds of ‘likes’ and ‘yelps’ – it’s a simple cafeteria line with all of the traditional pasta favorites. And again, on Friday and Saturday nights, the lines are out the door. Pizza and gelato are also part of their draw.

The Pinocchio Cafeteria line.

The Pinocchio Cafeteria line.

My wife and I do Friday nights – we share a Lasagna with meat sauce, a large Italian salad and garlic bread. That, along with a diet coke, and we’re in for $16.88. And yes, there are A LOT of families and kids there! We skip the wine – as it’s mostly San Antonio Winery jugs – but maybe someday we’ll walk in with our own bottle of Sangiovese and see if they have corkage.

My mom used to call Vince’s ‘depression food’. These days, when we go to Pinocchio on Friday nights, I rarely feel depressed. Does your town have an Italian joint like this? Tell us about it!

The famous Langer's #19

Pastrami

Three weeks ago I was in New York City with my wife.  And as with all our trips, they generally revolve around food.  And let’s face it…NYC is a pretty good place to be if you want your trip to revolve around food!

Gregorys

Some of our stops included the Chelsea Market (as I had a quick meeting with Food Network for business), Eataly (the crazy Italian market/restaurant mall from the B&B boys) and, of course, Katz’s Deli.  Now, when it comes to pastrami, I take my meat pretty seriously (oh, that didn’t sound right did it?!).  And, being a 3rd generation SoCal native, I’m partial to the Los Angeles version of the species.  I’ve been lucky enough to actually go to the factory here in L.A. where some of the world’s finest Pastrami comes from – and trimming the ‘navals’, creating the rub and smoking the meat is a true art form.

Here in L.A., I’m partial to Langer’s Deli at 7th and Alvarado.  If you haven’t been there, GO!  I call it ‘meat butter’.  The way they steam it and hand-cut it, it absolutely melts in your mouth.  In fact, if you are lucky enough to know someone (and I am!), just get a bowl of ‘burnt ends’ – the trimmings off the end of each naval – and eat until you’re comatose!  But then again, the rye bread – twice baked – at Langer’s is so damn good that you sort of HAVE to get a sandwich.  The #19 is their signature version – but I usually go #10 – no cole slaw, more meat!

The Katz's Deli Pastrami on Rye

The Katz’s Deli Pastrami on Rye

Back to NYC – and Katz’s deli.  It was time to decide if I’m still at Langer’s devotee, or in the famed NYC peppery rub was more to my liking.  First, Katz’s deli is a pain in the ass – the standing in line at the counter, the unhappy NYers, cash only, blah blah blah.  Why does it have to be so hard?  Second, the rye bread at Katz’s doesn’t hold a candle to Langer’s – although you can, as I did, go for the Italian roll…and that makes a heck of a sandwich!  Katz’s pastrami?…damn good!  Juicy, hand-cut and melt in your mouth.  Well worth the hassle!

Bottom line?…I’m still a Langer’s man.  Get down to downtown L.A. and see Norm Langer and tell him Greg Glass sent you.  It may just get you insulted, but eventually you’ll get  table and a sandwich – and all will be right with the world!

0414-LambChops-lead

Remelluri Lamb Chops

Not so long ago, my wife and I were touring some of the wine country in Spain when we stopped at Remelluri, a maker of excellent Tempranillo, located high in the hills of Rioja. Click here to view their site.

We were seated at a small dining area within the winery, when the waiter brought out a platter piled with lamb chops quite unlike any I had seen before: instead of thick and rare, they had been grilled dark brown over high heat, but previously pounded thin, bone and all, almost of if one were preparing some kind of schnitzel. Absolutely delicious!

The secret, I think, lies in the size and consequent quality of the baby lamb in the southern Mediterranean. As an archaeologist, I used to spend considerable time in Greece, and well remember that whole lambs in the Athenian central market seldom weighed more than fourteen pounds, including the head. Somehow all of that youth produced a singularly concentrated flavor.

Try this: at Costco, instead of buying the lamb chops, get the very small and fresh racks of lamb from New Zealand. Cut them into individual chops and pound them thin. Brush with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and, if you like, some garlic. Grill them over very high heat until crispy, squeeze some fresh lemon juice over them just before piling them on a platter to bring to the table.

As Poe once wrote: “Only this and nothing more.” I would suggest, of course, a nice glass of Remelluri Tempranillo to go with your lamb.

Pounding the lamb chops

Pounding the lamb chops

Laying the flattened chops out for cooking

Laying the flattened chops out for cooking

Absolutely delicious!

Absolutely delicious!