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To Cambria and back …

Will Owen Feb 8, 2013 02:59 PM

Mrs. O treated me to another four-day run up to Cambria, beginning with a drive down Malibu Canyon to PCH and then to our first meal stop, at Henri's in Oxnard. It's a nice old diner with a slight French accent, on Oxnard Blvd, just past the light at the right-hand kink in the road. Mrs. O found a veggie sandwich on the menu that hit her buttons, while my choice was made as soon as I saw "Homemade Corned-Beef Hash." That was a very finely-chopped version, just meat and potato but very tasty, and it came with three over-easy eggs and some delicious home-fries, cubes of nicely seasoned potato.

Although we stopped in Solvang, we decided not to eat until we got to Cambria. We'd decided on Linn's, but as we were walking around the east end we thought we'd look at Robin's menu and make reservations for the next night. On our way there we saw a pub/steakhouse combo (Cambria Pub & Steakhouse) that seemed to be new. The steakhouse side was too hefty for our budget, but the pub looked nice and so did its menu. We got a tall table with comfortable chairs by the window, followed quickly by a friendly server, then a Lemon Drop and a fine martini. Mrs. O's meatless Cobb salad and my fish & chips arrived much sooner than expected, and I discovered that a martini is surprisingly food-friendly if said food is fried! I had my glass of good-enough Pinot Noir for dessert.

We met some friends in Cayucos the next day, and they suggested the prix-fixe Sunday brunch at Hoppe's. There's a lovely garden patio in the back where we got a large table under a translucent shed roof with a good view of the flowers. The tariff had gone up a bit since the last time our friends had been there, but at just under $26 a head for three courses and a glass of either bubbly or merlot it wasn't ruinous. My starter was the winter salad of seasonal greens, followed by eggs Benedict made with sliced ham and house-made English muffins. This came with some potatoes all but identical to Henri's, a pleasant surprise. A pickier person might have sent the dish back for more cooking, as some of the egg white was still transparent, but I didn't. I was more concerned with the blandness of the hollandaise and the aggressive flavor of the ham. Mrs. O found veggie heaven in the butter lettuce salad with Champagne vinaigrette, and then grilled polenta with tomato coulis, spinach and melted Havarti cheese. Her chosen dessert was sorbet and "champagne"; she picked blackberry, which was served floating in the house bubbly in a regular wine glass. I had the sorbet trio of blackberry, strawberry, and mango, all tasting strongly of their fruit and just barely sweet. Perfect.

Robin's had very much impressed us the last time we were in town, so we were looking forward to this dinner. The spring roll appetizer was as good as we remembered; Mrs. O was delighted to see a meatless Pad Thai, made with tofu, and I think even more delighted to eat it. One of the night's specials caught my fancy, a Portuguese-style seafood soup, made with mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops and sliced linguiça, which I had to try. Sorry to say this was a major disappointment. The seafood itself was both plentiful and delicious, but no particular effort had been put into the broth - no spice, no saffron, no lemon or wine I could taste. It was not bad at all; I wasn't going to complain about it, but I wasn't going to bother dipping any bread in it either.

After a huge (free) breakfast at our inn - Fogcatcher, as always - we knew lunch would be late, so we headed back to Cayucos to do more antiquing, and for Mrs. O to have her favorite cocktail, the Seaglass Martini at Schooner's Wharf. That's on a rooftop overlooking the beach and the pier, with a tall glass windshield to let in and help retain some heat from the sun. The drink in question is a shimmering blue, with a contrasting-color Jolly Rancher candy at the bottom. I'm told it's delicious; my sip wasn't enough to tell. I can tell, though, how glad I am I took the advice I'd gotten about their fish tacos. I ordered the shrimp, and got at least half a pound of perfectly cooked and delightfully dressed shrimp, with shredded cabbage etcetera, completely burying the two tortillas. If it were possible to have too much shrimp, that would have come close. By the time I reached the tortillas, they had been beautifully sauced and seasoned, and went perfectly with the equally excellent rice and black beans. In retrospect, that was the most completely satisfying meal I had on the entire trip.

That night we just went to Soto's Deli and had some sandwiches made and bought some mac salad and devilled eggs, and a bottle of Peachy Canyon Incredible Red next door, all highly recommended. Tuesday morning, another free breakfast, pack up the car and check out, then some antiquing and our farewell lunch at Linn's. Mrs. O, still absorbing breakfast, got her ollallieberry pie, while Mr. O thought he'd make a pig of himself and ordered the fried chicken … then after finishing off the smashed potatoes and gravy, plus one of the three pieces of chicken, had the rest boxed up for the next day's lunch.

We did not get to the Sow's Ear, which even the Family Vegetarian really wanted to visit, nor did we get to Creekside Inn, whose breakfast came strongly recommended. Next time - probably the same time next year. It's a birthday treat the giver enjoys as much as the recipient.

  1. bunbun Oct 8, 2013 02:49 PM

    Thank you so much! I'm going up in that direction in a couple weeks and so this is helpful!

    1. toodie jane Feb 14, 2013 06:07 PM

      thanks Will for your report.

      I just did Cambria with some visiting relatives; we had eaten so just played tourist, found the mall across from the Ball & Skein had some great bargains. Wild Ginger is just next door and is very decent for Asian-fusion. Did you get up to Red Moose Cookie Company for their old school cookies? Rich and sugary, but a nice treat. They're across the Burton Ave bridge, up the hill about 75 feet, turn left down into the Tin Village. Boni's Tacos is also located in the village--not much seating; eat in your car or take out to Leffingwell Landing beach park for a pica-nica. Weekends they have a taco trailer setup in the BofA parking lot. Cheap and good street tacos.

      1 Reply
      1. re: toodie jane
        Will Owen Feb 15, 2013 04:53 PM

        We looked into Wild Ginger on our first trip there and thought it looked pricey for what they offer, and haven't seen anything to change our mind. As for cookies, we'll hold out for Brown Butter in Cayucos. Again, a tad pricey, but that's a good thing because if they weren't we'd all get fat instantly. Mrs. O bought a bunch for her co-workers and reports that they all became instant addicts.

        I did see the taco truck on the weekend, but was either on my way to eat something else or just done doing it. Thanks for the tips, though!

      2. g
        gfr1111 Feb 9, 2013 08:35 AM

        Dear Will,
        I am a long-time reader of yours and always enjoy your extremely knowledgeable comments about cooking. I can see you are equally versed in restaurant review. I read your review, even though I live in Florida and don't even know where Cambria is. (I am curious enough now to look it up on the internet.)

        I have two comments to make on your comments.

        First, I don't know why chefs at restaurants make such bland Hollandaise sauces. The sauces do not have to be so. Add enough lemon, lemon zest, or lemon extract and salt, and Hollandaise can be terrific. I see that you experienced the same blandness that permeates the restaurant industry concerning this sauce.

        Second, I have experienced, as you did, the same sort of bland broth in a seafood soup that you mentioned with the Portuguese-style seafood soup. It does not matter what the restaurants call the soup, if it has seafood in it, the seafood will probably be as delicious as always and the broth bland--almost water. I figure it is because the makers of the soup think that the seafood will flavor the soup, but the seafood is not cooked long enough to imbue the soup with its flavor and if it were cooked long enough to do so, the seafood would be way overcooked. What surprises me is that restaurant cooks don't taste the soup and think, "I've got to do something about this!"

        Also, I want to remark that I do not think that you mentioned the name of the orient place with the seafood soup. The rest of the food there sounded great. Please mention the name.

        Thanks for a great review. I wish we had more like this.

        1 Reply
        1. re: gfr1111
          Will Owen Feb 10, 2013 02:47 PM

          It wasn't an Asian place, it was Robin's, which I notice has been voted Cambria's #1 restaurant on one website. Their specialty is Cal/Asian "fusion" food, most of which is very good.

          If you look in a Spanish/Portuguese cookbook, you'll see that these soups start with sautéeing onions and peppers in oil, sometimes with some smoked paprika, then adding tomatoes (and often potatoes) along with some saffron steeped in wine, and then more wine down the road, then the seafood, and if necessary some lemon juice to finish. I've been doing this, mostly with salt or fresh cod, for years, and it just makes me crazy that a cook of proven talent could blow the assignment like this. You CAN'T cook this seafood long enough to flavor the broth without ruining the flesh. What you can do, if you sell enough seafood, is pre-make a long-term broth with shells and trimmings; there used to be a restaurant in Santa Clara, California that did this, and then on Fridays they'd make cioppino with it. When that was gone, that was it until next week. People would line up, and they'd sell out before noon.

        2. Stephanie Wong Feb 9, 2013 08:08 AM

          Thanks so much for this report. Saving this info for my own trip to Cambria in a couple months.

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