Monday, December 30, 2013

It's "Sushi Time" For Vegetarians!

  For several weeks/months earlier this year, I wondered what was going on in the space formally occupied by Pho King, the popular Vietnamese noodle place on Fremont St. in Seaside.
  It took a long time to find out, but finally a sign went up, the doors opened, and now we are loving "Sushi Time", a fresh new spot for sushi, sashimi, tempura, udon, teriyaki... and so much more.

  Obviously, I can't say much about the actual sushi and such, since I don't eat fish….but Sushi Time has some fine options for vegetarians.
  What I can say about the sushi is this….. it sure is pretty on the big plates we see zooming by while we enjoy our meal. I can also say that the place is packed every time we visit, which is always a good sign, and most everyone else is enjoying the sushi and such. 

The sushi bar, and the fast moving fellows behind all that sushi.

  From what I've read and heard, the owners are up from Los Angeles, and one of the chefs used to be at Benihana. I think I recognize one of the super sweet servers from Monterey's Ocean Sushi. Whatever the case, we have had wonderful service and great food on each visit. 

  I have very quickly started craving the cucumber salad, served with a little seaweed salad on the side. Crunchy, semi sweet/tart and super fresh, it's a perfect starter for me:

I love the "squeaky" seaweed salad, too! You can order just seaweed salad.
Perfectly dressed….

  Johnny loves inari, and here they dress up the rice inside the thin tofu "skin" with tiny specks of black sesame and little bits of red pepper. It's great. Each order has two nice sized pieces, and we pair & share it with two pieces of tamago, the egg and rice sushi that we enjoy. Both have the slightly sweet flavor I expect, without being too sweet. I love dunking these in wasabi spiced soy sauce, naturally!

Tamago, left…Inari right!

  The menu has a huge selection of sashimi and sushi, and I am intrigued by the baked as well as fried options, like the Las Vegas Roll, Crazy Roll and even the frightening sounding Alien Roll. None are vegetarian, unfortunately. We have been going in regularly, though, so I may ask if we can "tweak" the menu a little. I'll wait until we go at a time when it isn't too busy. 
  Anyway, what we have been ordering we've loved…...

Classic Avocado Roll.
Perhaps a little pedestrian for most, but so yummy for us! Fresh and creamy….

Vegetable Roll includes seaweed, cucumber and thinly sliced pepper.
The sprouts are a nice touch.

  One of my very favorite rolls is the Tempura Vegetable Roll. I especially like this because it's different…I've never seen this on any menu before. There are super thinly sliced tempura veggies actually inside the roll, with a couple of thin slices on top, too. It's salty, sweet, crunchy and just that side of decadent:

Honestly, I have to quit writing these yummy blog posts at lunch time.
My tummy is growling…again.

  Speaking of tempura, we have tried the Tempura Vegetables, of course. They are very fine…served piping hot with the usual thin dipping sauce. Crunchy and light. Not too much batter.
  I'm just so happy these are served hot. I get very bummed when the tempura is served barely warm and slightly soggy, which has been the case at another local place whose name I will not mention….
  Not at Sushi Time! Here the tempura is perfecto! 
  Thanks, Sushi Time!!

Crispy and crunchy, light and delicate…..and just enough.

 Just so you don't get the wrong idea…these photos were taken over a few visits…We would be hard pressed to eat everything shown here in one sitting.
  Unless we were really stoned.

  Ok, anyway…

  On one visit, there was a "special" sign which mentioned potato croquettes. Hey, why not?
  Of course, now we order them too often…. They are like the best tots you ever had. Mashed and soft, lightly seasoned potatoes on the inside, panko crusted and crispy on the outside. Served (thank god) piping hot, with plum sauce.

Are you kidding me?

  I like that we can go in and have a super healthy, light and also filling dinner, or we can get down and have some deep fried yumminess, too. It's all so good, and very "clean" tasting. Plus, it's really cute inside…...

I took this late one evening, just as it cleared out.
The "booths" have a nice, open feeling, but offer privacy.

Random stencil decor is nice!

More random decoration...

I love the paper lanterns...

  So, we went for it and tried dessert one night. I have never tasted... or to be honest, wanted to taste Green Tea Ice Cream. What was I afraid of? This is so good! We've had it a couple of times now, and will again, no doubt. Like everything else we've tried at Sushi Time…it's just right. Not too sweet…really creamy and rich, with a distinct green tea flavor. So very odd, but so very tasty.

A little scoop'll do ya.

  I can't say enough good things about this new favorite in Seaside. Attentive, fun and patient staff, great food, a really decent value…..
  Hey, don't walk- RUN to SUSHI TIME!

Sushi Time serves wine, beer and saki, as well as non-alcohol beverages.
It is located at 1135 Fremont Ave. in the Pacific Heights Plaza.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Driving In Umbria? YES!

  One of the questions people ask us about our Umbrian life is:
  "Do you drive in Italy?"
  "Yes, we always get a car…Johnny drives."
   Most common response:
  "Are you nuts?"

  The thing is, we enjoy our day trips around the countryside, and it's the best way for us to discover new little towns and places for Johnny to paint. We do use the train, too…we'll take the train to the bigger cities…Rome, Florence, even Orvieto. They make it so easy, and no way do we want to try to park in Rome!

And this is in a small town.
Parking can be….dicey.

But usually it's very civilized…
everyone in the "white lines", which also means "free parking".
If blue, you need to keep track of time and/or pay.

 The first thing we do upon arriving is pick up our car. We use a place just a few blocks from the train station near Panicale. Twenty minutes later, we are home. The moment Johnny gets behind that wheel, he's a very happy camper.

Drive, baby, drive!
He's a natural.

 It's a breeze driving around Lago Trasimeno, and most of the area we stay in. Small roads, sometimes gravel, mostly paved. Not much different than driving here on the central coast of California.
  We seem to always find a reason to take a drive…..listen to a little Italian Top 40, watch the trains speed by us, maybe go sit by the lake for a spell. It's all good.
  Oh, and the day we were driving, below? Yes, it was a Sunday…….

  A little further down the road, closer to town, and the place we love to visit near the lake:

Very typical "town" road…this one enters the biggest nearby town, Castiglione del Lago.
We drive this road several times a week.

  It's important to get a ways off the main roads for Johnny to paint. We try to find someplace with room to pull over to the side. This isn't as easy as it sounds…the roads don't have many turnouts, or shoulders even, like we have here. 
  Johnny has a few favorite spots…..

Close to the lake, but not much traffic.
Notice, no real shoulders to pull onto.

The favorite pull over spots are on the "white" roads…..gravel, really.
The car and Johnny, are way back there…...

  Mostly we enjoy a road like the one below. No cars, somewhat paved, and nothing but beautiful countryside to stare out at:

Who wouldn't enjoy driving around here? It's a breeze, man.
Watch out for large farm vehicles.

Mirror shot.

  We don't normally drive in the "centro storico"(old town) of Panicale. We park outside the walls, along with most everyone else. It's a short walk to our apartment, and to everything. Panicale is a small town. 
  One morning I heard the sound of a rather large engine coming our way. Early, too. I hopped out of bed in time to lean out the window and catch some shots of this truck inching it's way down our little street:

Whoa. Better pull in your mirrors, signore.

There it goes…..I think it was a heating oil truck, making a delivery.
That's a tight little jog, there. These guys are used to it, I'm sure.

  The truck drivers know what they're doing, no doubt about it. But us? Hahahaha.
  One day we decided it would be a real drag to unload and haul all our firewood from our regular parking space outside the walls.
  Sooooooo………why not drive right up to the apartment? Why not, indeed.

  Look, Ma, no scratches on the rental car!

Hard enough taking it all up those steps, and then more inside!

  I say, go for the car if you plan on staying awhile. You can get into all types of trouble, which always leads to a new adventure.

  Just make sure you have plenty of moxie and insurance coverage.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Mighty Bacari Of Venice

  Back in September, we took a little trip over the pond to Venice. I am a fan.
  We have been twice before, to explore the wonders of the biennale, the awe inspiring contemporary art exhibition which takes place in Venice every two years. I am a fan.
  I will admit here and now…as much as I love the non stop viewing of amazing art….I gotta say, it's pretty much all about the food for me. I am a fan.
  I am especially a fan of the eateries known to Venetians as "Bacari"…sort of like tapas bars in Spain. The bacari serve cicchetti, small bites of different tasty treats that are perfect with a sip of wine. 
  This being Venice, the cicchetti are often some type of seafood, often fried, or in a sweet/sour dressing. We enjoy the bacari because we can always find interesting vegetarian items, and these places can be fun for people watching.

Our very first Bacaro, which we stumbled on one night in 2007.
We always return. It's crowded and you can sit or stand outside
watching the world go by…..

Another shot of Bacaro da Fiore, a different night.

  We will typically ask the server to just fix a couple of plates for us, without fish or meat (pesci or carne). Here, we just look at the chalkboard to see what wines are being poured on this day. We sometimes get just a small glass, but most often will opt for a half carafe…. We like to share it all.

A veggie combo of fried, grilled, marinated and broiled….
The funny greenish disk on the right plate is an artichoke heart.

  A favorite bacaro is Osteria alla Vedova, aka Trattoria Ca' d' Oro. It's near the Rialto, down a very narrow street. I'd read about this place on many blogs and websites. The specialty are the polpette, little fried pork meatballs. They are handed over the counter/bar wrapped in a small, thin napkin. 
  We saw people gobble these down like there was no tomorrow. And yet, you knew that the same people would be there tomorrow, doing the same thing. It's one of the classic local favorites, you can tell. Everyone seemed to know each other. 
  We sat at a table, enjoying our treats…sipping our wine, watching as person after person grabbed a polpette or three, downed a small glass of wine, and out the door. Quick. No fooling around!

You have to really search this one out...

All waiting for their polpette…..

  We found lots of yummy things to enjoy here, despite not trying the polpette. 
  I guess most people are just stopping for a little something before the main event, dinner. Or maybe they are like us, stopping at a few places in one evening over a couple of hours. We did see some familiar faces on one Saturday night. Seemed we were all hitting the same spots….

Peppers pan roasted…they reminded me of our padrone peppers here. Loved these…went back
more than once this trip. Also, artichoke hearts with a garlic/parsley marinade
and a broiled tomato...

Marinated cannellini  beans, roasted potatoes and caramelized baby onions.

A different night, we just had to have the peppers, the beans, and the onions again….

  I shouldn't be writing this here, at work, with nothing to eat but my sad uninspiring lunch. Sigh. It's killing me, and my tummy is growling in the most embarrassing way…. Good thing no one is coming in today….

  We found a new favorite bacario tucked away in this sweet little campo….close to a very main "drag", but set back far enough to be away from the foot traffic. Plus, the guys were delightfully fun to hang out with. They were a bit stressed when we told them we were vegetarians… The main fellow…."Ma, mangiate pesci, si?"(but you guys eat fish, right?) "Ummmm…no….mi dispiace…!"(no, I'm sorry!) His hands up to each side of his head as he shakes it, exclaiming…"no, no, no….!" All done with humor and sly smiles, of course. We know that not partaking in the eating of fish is a sin in Venice…but they know we know…..and it's all good.

  So on with the bites…"Osteria dal Riccio Peoco" (the bald hedgehog, we were told) specializes in "fritti", fried treats. We had some potato and onion bites, and the dear fellows made us some beautiful bruschetta with mushroom spread, too.

Everything from fried squash blossoms to fried radicchio-filled pasta.
We returned mainly because we got such a kick out of the owners.

Just hangin' with the locals…some we ran into a few times that night.

The Bald Hedgehog, himself. See you next time!

  We walk ourselves silly while in Venice, I must say. It's really the only way to get around…you just see so much more, and it gives you a chance to discover off the track areas you would never see from a boat/taxi… well, it's also a great excuse to just keep eating, right? Must have strength, and all that…
  One day, walking back from the Arsenale where we had spent hours enjoying the biennale, we just took some turns here and there….and found/lost ourselves in this small campo, Campo do Pozzi.
  The tour groups most likely pass this one by….but it was perfect for us. One tiny corner bar, outside seating, little kids on bikes and skates... and yummy food and wine at a super reasonable price.

This is pretty much a locals place. Not even sure it had a name…..

Mr. J being a local, with the paper and all…..
Fits right in, doesn't he?

  They had games to borrow, like dominoes and such, books, magazines and newspapers to read… The music was 80's "alternative"….Perfect! We camped out here more than once.
  One visit included a table of students, one who whipped out a guitar and got them all singing. Sweet.

A perfectly tasty shared lunch…veggie pie,  a zucchini "lasagna" type thing,
and little pouches of porcini mushrooms….

On another visit, we shared an eggplant casserole that was to die for.
This was "home cooking" style, just like Nonna makes.

  In Campo Santa Margherita, where we often end up for a glass of wine and some good people watching, we ordered some plates to share. Too bad there weren't ten of us! We just asked the nice woman who served us for some mix of veggies, and maybe a little cheese...

Johnny's idea of Heaven on a plate.
Eating too much at "Osteria alla Bifora"

Just a few grilled vegetables….
There are two of us, dear woman…..

A tiny bit of marinated delights….

  Though everything was wonderful, it was more than we could ever finish….(note to self: next time meet some friends here).

  Mostly it's the little bites of goodness we go for…We love this little gem located right next to a  picturesque canal in the Dorsoduro neighborhood. Always filled with a mix of locals and visitors, "Cantine del Vino gia  Schiavi" is another favorite spot. Great wines by the glass, and an amazing selection of crostini. We like to walk over at sunset for just a nibble before heading home or going out for dinner.

  The location is so great…I love that locals will pull up in their boats, tie them off, and hop over the wall for a glass of wine and some nice crostini! Plus, it's a joy to watch boats go by while leaning or sitting on the wall. Sigh.

One of our very favorite places for cicchetti/crostini…..and why not???

An idea of a typical evening's fare.

Some of the best crostini ever!
Always an interesting variety to choose from, and very reasonable, too.

  I must say, though…...I kind of fell hard for the simplicity I found at "Al Ponte".  Located just over the "ponte", or bridge, from the Basilica San Giovanni e Paolo,  this place is tiny, loud and fun. The gentlemen behind the bar are a hoot…quick with a joke and a smile, and just flirty enough to make me feel like a teenager again.
  I love that I can go in, goof with the guys a little, and take my wine and whatever up the steps to lean on the bridge. Another great place to watch the boats and gondoliers go by, as well as lots of people.

Just look for the red exterior. 

  Inside, it's small. They do put some barrels for tables and a few chairs on the steps outside, which is a nice way to go. Inside, I found it to be just rowdy enough with the locals to make it real, with everyone getting into everyone else's business. Really fun.
  The cicchetti here is simple, with lots of fish items, but also grilled veggies and fried goodies. I go here for the wacky atmosphere. It felt very comfortable to me.

The cicchetti on display for the evening.

  For some reason, I was here by myself for quite awhile. I can't remember why….Johnny finally came along, but for me it was a perfect spot to relax on my own, enjoying a feeling of complete contentment with a touch of joy.

  Well, wouldn't you…?



Friday, December 13, 2013

A Day At The Aquarium, Lunch At Cindy's Waterfront

  We've had an eventful few days…a huge hike in Garland Park, an evening enjoying The Lighted Boat Parade, and a fun day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium…plus eating and drinking as we went along. Big Fun. 
  Though the temperature has been a little left of the dial, we still got out to enjoy the beautiful clear days and crispy cold evenings. I love that there are so few people around, and most of them seem to be at the mall, or in front of their computers. We had the whole peninsula to ourselves, it seemed.
  This is the greatest part of having our weekend in the middle of the week.

  I had noticed that it is "Free For Locals" week at the aquarium(thru Dec. 15, so GO!!!), and we long ago let our membership lapse from lack of use…so a perfect time to hop on over to see what was new. Well, I also wanted to have lunch at Cindy's Waterfront , a new venture from the wonderful world of Cindy Pawlcyn, the mega chef behind Mustard's Grill & Cindy's Backstreet up in the Napa Valley. Thing is, you have to get into the aquarium to lunch at the restaurant. So this was perfect timing.

  It's been many years since we have just spent a day wandering around the aquarium. And there were hardly any people there. Sure, mid-week in December, but it was really cold, too. All good for us. We got to see everything up close & personal.

See? It's a ghost town! YES!

  I had forgotten how cool this place is, and how amazing it must be for first time visitors….

I have never gotten to get up close to this big tank!

One fish, two fish, big fish, little fish.

  The many displays are colorful and creative…they have developed over the years into colonies of sea life beyond my imagination.

Strawberry anemones gone WILD!
I want a sweater like this, all pink and fluffy...


Sand Dabs before they are just the shells we see on the beach.

  Johnny headed us straight to the aviary section, with the birds and shoreline life. He loves this area the most. 

Birds so close, you can almost touch them.
You can see how pretty a day it was...

  We came across a wonderful older painting that we were very happy to see. Bruce Ariss, circa 1971. A classic scene of Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf. He was one of the old school local artists from back in the day, when there was an actual "artist colony" here. It's nice that this work has a place of pride, and that people from all over the globe can enjoy it. I'm sure Mr. Ariss would be proud.

  I'm not sure if there were all the tropical fish here the last time we visited, but I certainly enjoyed them. They were in the same area as the penguins, which I found kind of odd. Kids love seeing "Nemo" in these tanks, and then the penguins, I guess….I took some pictures of the little black & white flightless birds, but they were all conked out. Really, I think they must have just had lunch. I giggled watching them try to stand up while they wobbled around, almost asleep. Cute. But the pictures I took were not so cute….
  The corals and tropical fishes came along great….

The ever popular Pasta Anemone.

Ooooooooh. I like the aquarium.

  The jelly fish are so beautiful and magical and fanciful and beyond reality-ful……It's dreamy, walking through this area. Especially with that perfectly trance-inducing music being piped in. Really, all I needed were some serious hallucinogens, and I would have been gone, baby…gone.

  Since I was still looking forward to an awesome lunch, I decided against the hallucinogens, and just enjoyed the jellies in my natural state of anxiety, stress, and guilt.

  The jellies are the anecdote for whatever ails you, it's true:

Can't you just hear the Windham Hill soundtrack? It's perfect…right here.

  I have to say, my favorite fishy is the funny looking to the point of "wtf was Mother Nature thinking…."
….. Sunfish! 
  This fish, also called "mola-mola", looks like something went wrong when it was created. I wonder if the other fish make fun of it.... I'm certain there is a reason for it's odd shape, and will look into this some day, when I have nothing else to do….
  I saw one years ago, while scuba diving way out in the bay. It was huge, and from below, looked as though it were the sun passing over…. it eclipsed everything for a few short moments, and was gone. Slowly, slowly, making it's way through the cold waters of Monterey Bay. So that's my Sunfish story. We are forever tied together, in a watery dream world. 

Mola-Mola and I go back….way back….

  Now, I expected to see Sunfish, and Jellies, Rockfish, Coral, Anemones, Anchovies, Squid, Eels, Starfish..…even Penguins…
….BUT…. I was shocked and THRILLED to catch not only a glimpse, but an actual photo of the 

   Elusive RED ANT BOY

Wonder of Wonders. And right here in Monterey.
Sigh. My life is complete.

  As impressive as this was, I still had an appetite, so we went for lunch at Cindy's Waterfront:

Flatbread with a super thin crust… roasted squash, farmer's cheese,
shallots and toasted pumpkin seeds. Yum.

Vegan sandwich included grilled squash, avocado, tomato, roasted peppers and pesto….
also, house made chips, natch!

Grilled cheese and apple butter sandwich with polenta fries…..

Super clean and crunchy slaw…..

And a decadent sweet something that was a-maz-ing.

All the above, with a killer Bay view...

….and an otter at the end!

If you read this in time, local fans, go this weekend to the aquarium! No one is around….and the weather is getting so nice! Have fun!