NoCal Road Trip: Days 6-8 (Soccer Tourney)

The initial impulse for our road trip was the Santa Clara Invitational Soccer tournament. It was only fitting that waking up on Friday, that we would enjoy the company of the Seattle Sounders FC coaching staff and team and players during breakfast. ;)

After sleeping in and a hearty meal (with inspirational guests), we departed for Morgan Hill, CA – where the initial qualifying round-robin portion of the tournament was played. In 95 degree midday weather, Caleb’s team took the pitch for its first game against the first of 3 California club teams. Notwithstanding some apparent heat exhaustion (and nausea by some of the boys), Caleb’s team played well, but loss on a couple of careless mistakes. It was a good effort, but unfortunate.

Mid-afternoon, Caleb returned to the team hotel for to unwind with his teammates, while Janelle, Anthony and myself went into central Morgan Hill for lunch. While the community has the appearance of placeless California suburb from the freeway, downtown Morgan Hill was actually attractive and boasted some great restaurants. We surveyed our options and settled on lunch at the “Good Fork.” We were delighted! Opened just one month, the former French Laundry sous chef had opened the Good Fork as a farm-to-table restaurant outside the bustle of the central bay area (and he was succeeding). Highlights included Organic Sirloin Burgers with Candied Bacon, Truffle Fries and a Golden Beet salad. It was splendid and surprising inexpensive. One of the best lunches I have ever enjoyed – hands down. This is a must revisit on a future Bay Area excursion.

Late afternoon, Caleb and his Seattle United teammates returned to the pitch – this time on natural turf. Notwithstanding a solid performance by his team, a couple of careless mistakes resulted in a close loss. It was a disappointing start to the tournament, effectively ensuring they would not advance to knock-out rounds. Sadly, they weren’t beaten – they simply lost. Caleb returned to the team hotel for the evening, and we departed for Sunnyvale to meet close friends for dinner.

Matt and Kristin met us on Murphy Street for dinner. If you’re seeking a Bay area cultural experience, I suggest avoiding this area of Sunnyvale (it offered little character and presented a faux experience). We did manage to get some good food at DishDash – a Mediterranean restaurant with Turkish/Lebanese inspired menu. Following a good meal and conversation with our friends, we retired to the Fairmont Hotel to watch Olympics coverage.

After sleeping in on Saturday, we worked out at the Fairmont Hotel gym, and made a quick exit to Morgan Hill (stopping by Bijan Bakery). Caleb’s third game was another despairing loss, despite a relatively well-played match. Small mistakes compromised the team’s collective effort and resulted in a frustrating loss. Bummer!

Afterwards, we jettisoned for Santa Cruz via a local route (Heckler Highway) that offered some splendid scenery and farms. We fought cross-city traffic at this coastal getaway, to arrive at the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery. Matt & Kristin met us for a pint of beer and street vendors dogs (mistake!). While my stomach wrestled to digest a “hot dog”, we scurried to the beach to find a patch of sand to briefly soak up the sun and surf.

In San Jose that evening, the Seattle Sounders played the San Jose Quakes at Santa Clara stadium. We dropped Anthony off to join Caleb (and his teammates), while Janelle and I spent the evening together – alone! We dropped the car at the Fairmont Hotel and walked to Mezcal to unwind. Beyond the ambiance, the restaurant offered nothing memorable in terms of food or drink. Nonetheless, Janelle and I relished the time alone to catch up on our trip experiences. The boys taxied home from the game, and we all crashed in bed with intentions to depart for Seattle in the morning.

After an early rise, we packed the car at the Fairmont Hotel valet (saying hello to the Seattle Sounders as they too departed). We drove north to Vacaville, CA to meet our extended family, Peter and Erika, for a quick visit and coffee. Although the visit was short, it was great to catch up in person.

En route home, we pulled off in Williams, CA for a 5-mile detour to the Charter Family Fruit Stand to pick-up fresh produce (which I had promised to Janelle). 200 miles later we made our last California destination, the Liquor Wholesale Warehouse to pick up desired spirits (sans tax!). We pressed ahead and arrived in Eugene Oregon that evening around 730pm for dinner at a local college pizzeria, before completing the remainder of our drive to Seattle (arriving at 100am)!

Sleeping in our own beds made it worth the 12-hour return drive home from San Jose to Seattle. Despite a disappointing soccer performance, our family experiences in the Bay Area made the trip well worth the effort and solidified memories to last a life time. Life is short – make it count!


NoCal Road Trip: Days 3-5 (College Tours!)

Settled into the San Jose Fairmont Hotel for the week, we took it upon ourselves to find great coffee and pastries for to kick off our morning routine. Anthony stumbled upon Bijan Bakery below the hotel, we took a gamble and were not disappointed (a love affair ensued for the week with their classic French pastries). I only wish that I had found their Raspberry roll earlier – it was my favorite!
We kicked off our first Bay area college tour with Stanford University. Wow! We were all impressed (Janelle remarked, can I go back to college – here!). We had the good fortune of a fantastic tour guide, an acrobat (literally a circus stunt student). He gave Anthony and Caleb some great insights to college life at Stanford, sharing great personal stories, and inspiring all of us. We were all impressed with the Chapel inside and out (mosaics), the academic buildings, the overall expanse of the campus – including the athletic facilities (four soccer fields), and the avid use of bicycles.

Following a full-day on Stanford campus and attending various sessions, we then strolled down University Ave in Palo Alto to unwind for the evening. Having spent a lot of time in Palo Alto for work, I took my family to one of my favorite local restaurants – Nola (a New Orleans restaurant boasting classic creole and Cajun foods). In addition to our Mojito pitcher (Janelle), the most memorable aspects of our meal included gator pot-stickers (Caleb), short ribs and gumbo (Anthony) and jambalaya (James). Sitting outdoor in the open-air two-story courtyard was a treat. We drove home slowly and crashed!

On our second day of college tours, we targeted Santa Clara and California Berkeley. Following a short stop at Bijan Bakery, we spent the entire morning touring Santa Clara campus. Granted, following Stanford was going to be hard, but the Santa Clara kick-off was lengthy and uninspiring (which did not do the college justice). Fortunately, we had a good guide for the campus tour. The athletic facilities were impressive, and the boys had a brief meeting with the soccer coach too.

We drove up to Berkeley for the afternoon. Auntie Kristin met us for lunch on campus (bringing take-out), and then giving us a personal tour of campus (we had missed the earlier, official tour). We went up the (in)famous clock tower, toured the graduate library, paleontology museum, and the redwood and eucalyptus groves.  Afterwards, we stopped at Bancroft to shop for some souvenir clothing.

Wednesday evening, Kristin and Matt took us a local venue, Pizzaiolo for dinner. The outdoor eating area in back boasted picnic-table style eating, bocce ball and a chicken coop! The wood-fired pizzas were splendid, the bartender was talented (a perfect Manhattan), the weather was good and conversation was great. Afterwards, we went to Emoryville to visit Kristin and Matt’s boat, walk the jetty (looking back at the San Fran skyline), and to enjoy after-dinner drinks at Trader Vics. It was a memorable day!

The third and final day of our college tours included a brief return to Stanford, before heading onto to University of San Francisco. The boys had a chance to meet the Cardinal soccer team and coaches – cool! After picking up some memorabilia, we drove north, into and through a fog bank to arrive at the University of San Francisco (situated at the top of the hill!). Prior to the official tour, we strolled through campus to find lunch (whereupon the boys ran into the soccer team and coach – small world!). After satiating ourselves with Falafels, we commenced the USF tour with a group of a prospective students (including some local Seattleites). USF was a beautiful, intimate campus, with great academic and athletic facilities, a gorgeous church (St.Ignatius), and a delightful student body. Situated closely to downtown San Fran (3 miles), it was obvious why the school attracted so many international students (30%!).

Afterwards, we drove to the Nobb Hill Fairmont Hotel to drop the car, considered a trolley ride (but gave up given the crowds), then proceed to walk to Union Square to shop (Levi’s Store, Nike Town). Following a quick change in the hotel, we spent Thursday evening in the Mission District at one of my favorite restaurants – Foreign Cinema! The ambiance and people were beautiful, but the food was star of the night. We splurged: pork belly (appetizer), bavette steak (Anthony), duck (James), cheesecake chevre and apricot cobb (shared), and grappa! Notwithstanding the long drive back to our hotel in San Jose, it was tremendous day in San Francisco.

After 3 days and four college visits, Anthony and Caleb got a better sense of the prospective opportunities before them, and all of us got to enjoy time together over some fantastic food. Conversation was good and laughter was abundant.


Northern California Road Trip: Days 1-2

When I was in high school, my college research consisted of reviewing a few books and magazines at the library (actual books), to identify potential colleges where I could enroll in a respectable architecture program and hopefully go abroad for a quarter.  Today, college recruiting is full-tilt, including active solicitation of our sons (beginning in middle school), ongoing newsletters (weekly/monthly), and, of course, in-person campus tours.

When Caleb’s soccer team qualified for a tournament in Northern California the second weekend of August 2012, we jumped on the idea to combine it with a college tour.  The Bay Area boasts several well-regarded colleges, public and private, that welcomed our entire family for a visit.  It was also a great opportunity for Caleb to “showcase” his soccer skills in at an invitational soccer tournament, where 60+ college recruiters were watching.  Despite the distance, it was a great drive and time well spent.
We departed Sunday afternoon, August 5th, after Anthony’s team finished the Starfire tournament in Tukwila.  After a quick change in the car, we departed for California.  We stopped in Centralia for a short shopping spree at the Nike Factory outlet, then eventually made our way to Portland for dinner (Mississippi Street – one of our favorite strolls).  Unfortunately, the food carts we so love were closed for dinner, and we had to settle on a quick bite at “Little Big Burger” to satiate our appetites.  The burgers were flavorful, but their truffle fries were most memorable.  Thereafter, we made quick time to Center Point, Oregon to crash at the Holiday Inn Express for the night (arriving about midnight). 

Monday morning navigated the “labyrinth” of streets in Center Point to find Starbucks for a morning pick-me-up. Mid-summer weather made for easy travel over the Siskiyou’s.  Mt. Shasta offered a warm welcome upon arriving in northern California (Janelle reminisced about a childhood report on Mt. Shasta and bringing the classic soda to school).  We exited in Williams to explore a less-traveled, state highway to Napa valley for a late lunch.  We passed an attractive fruit-stand (Janelle drooled), and I committed to stop on our return trip to Seattle.

The California heat welcomed us and we relished the sunshine road-side, while Janelle took snapshots.  We had to make a u-turn in Middletown (one of several on this journey), after passing a local antique store.  Janelle scored and found some unique, antique Mason jars for canning (she reminded me they would be necessary for all the produce she was going to buy at the fruit stand 50 miles back, on our return trip!). One more u-turn and we got a keepsake snapshot in front of the classic Napa valley sign (great idea Anthony!), before finally arriving at Farmstead in St. Helena for a late lunch.

Farmstead is a classic, farm-to-table restaurant boasting local ingredients and a well-regarded chef to share culinary inspirations with its patrons. We were not disappointed: Farmstead delivered on taste and ambiance.  Caleb and Anthony enjoyed a burger creation (including an egg on top), while Janelle and I savored meatballs and organic greens.  The cocktails were superb, but just too small (Janelle coined it a “three-sip” temptation, compelling you to buy more).  Farmstead, note we prefer a more generous pour please. 

Afterwards, we sauntered down the Silverado trail to soak up the road less traveled and picturesque wineries hillside.  Notwithstanding a stop to take pictures of grapes and decompress (a.k.a. a vigorous discussion outside the car and ears of our children), we pushed onward to the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge.  The Chevron refinery fire caused us concern as we rounded the north side of the bay (until the emergency broadcast system notified us it was not a terrorist attack).  Once in the city, we drove back down memory lane on Lombard (the “crookedest street” in the world) before getting on 101 to San Jose.  We had previously visited San Francisco as a family in 2006 (touring Alcatraz, the wharf, trolley lines), and planned to return later in the week.

We arrived at the Fairmont Hotel, San Jose around 8:00 p.m. (after a multitude of memorable stops, u-turns and detours).  After a quick and gracious room-change (thank you Fairmont!), we fell into a booth at McCormick & Schmick’s for a late dinner; not our normal faire (at a “chain”), but their food is consistent.  After a long day on the road, convenience does offer value and fills the aching stomachs of adolescent man-children. ;) 



Weekend Excursion to the Olympic Peninsula

My sons are growing too quickly and encumbered with busy lives of their own.  As a result, in recent years we have made it a tradition to escape each Memorial Day weekend for a family cycling excursion.

For Memorial Day 2012, we elected to travel to the Olympic Peninsula, catching the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, then driving to Port Angeles to start our cycling adventure.  After a beautiful ferry ride and pleasant drive, including a short detour in Port Gamble (gorgeous), we landed in downtown Port Angeles for dinner at Bella Italia. 

Notwithstanding Twilight-series fame, Bella Italia delivered on its reputation for authentic Italian food and a wine list that would impress any enthusiast (including Robert Parker).   The food, service and ambiance exceeded our expectations for a small town venue. We enjoyed a great meal, then meandered over to the local movie theater to watch a late night movie – the ‘Hunger Games’.  Sharing the theater with less than a dozen people effectively amounted to a private showing of a premier movie. 

Afterwards we made our way to the Olympic Lodge for a short night of sleep, before embarking on our first day cycling.  Piling all of our bikes in a hotel room and sleeping together brought back many memories of our European trip.   We woke up to sunny, warm weather (a stark contrast to a year earlier en route to Portland).  After packing up and departing the hotel, we coasted into downtown Port Angeles to find some food.  We happened up the Juan de Fuca festival, where we toured artisan wares, including a wood smith that made several toys and games (Janelle bought me a traveling cribbage board).  After some Falafel to fill the boys’ bellies, we navigated to the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT) and took off along the water.

The ODT offered a splendid mix of open trail (along the Strait of Juan de Fuca), rolling hills through the forest, wooden bridges and stunning mountain scenery.  The ODT was an  unexpected find and reminded us all of the Belgium countryside.  One of our favorite stops along the way was Agnew Farms, which was a combo local grocer and grange.  A classic 1940’s truck caught our attention, but the great food and wine selection, along with goat, chickens and rabbits, made Agnew Farms a highlight of trip.  We sat outside on a picnic table with a bottle of wine, smoked salmon, goat cheese and sandwiches for lunch; it was fantastic.

After lunch, we cycled through the midst of several farms, spied some classic cars (corvettes and trucks), and soaked in the sunshine and astounding views of the Olympics.  We arrived in Sequim late afternoon, dropped the bikes at the hotel, then toured a couple of local shops.  Unfortunately, Sequim is a retirement community, so everything closed by 5:00p (boring!).  As a result, we decided to go to dinner early too. 

The Alderwood Grill was another surprising find in the midst of nowhere.  Boasting locally grown, organic ingredients (meats and vegetables) well prepared by a skilled chef made the Alderwood Grill a memorable experience after a long day on the bike.  A cold, brisk ride back to the hotel kept us alert and energized us for a late night activities.  The boys and I unwound first in the hotel pool and spa, then settled in for a classic movie: Invincible. 

After a thorough night’s sleep, we capitalized on a complementary continental breakfast, including endless pancakes. J  Our return trip, cycling back to Port Angeles, went much too quickly.  The weather held and we soaked up the time talking with the boys during the return ride.

Upon landing in Port Angeles, Janelle and the boys perused several antique stores, while I traversed back to the Olympic Lodge and picked up our car.  After loading the bikes, we had a final meal at the Next Door Gastropub – a stupendous bar that boasted outstanding burgers and a great selection of local beers.  Yum!  It was the perfect capstone to the end of our cycling trip.

I am already planning our next adventure. ;)


We call ourselves Meat-a-tarians!

While we are into local produce, organic gardening and enjoy our urban-farm fresh eggs from our 7 chickens – we are not shy about meat. In fact, we eagerly seek out local, grass fed producers of beef (from Skagit Valley and Eastern Washington), and relish hyper-local sausages from Link Labs (2 blocks away). Lucky us!

So when Seattle Magazine published the Top 25 Burgers in Seattle, our family was all over it. We printed reference copies to secure in our car glove compartments for post-soccer game treats, and mid-week excursions. In the month of March 2012, we managed to sample 5 venues on the list. Through much discussion (and little debate) we all agree on the following prioritization of favorite experiences to date:

1. Uneedaburger (Fremont): Runaway Number 1! We are skeptical any joint will unseed their burgers, fries, onion rings, shakes, service and ambiance. Uneeda offers the total package, execution and consistency at an unbelievable price too (we’ve returned 3X+)!

2. Skillet (Capital Hill): Bacon Jam on burgers? Yum! And the fries are spectacular. Local food truck also available in Wallingford on weekends. Sweet. Gourmet burgers at gourmet prices ($14+, not including fries). If you can afford it, great choice.

 3. Red Mill Burgers (Phinney Ridge): Classic stand-by and weekend favorite for a family lunch and shakes after a soccer game. Red Mill offers classic backyard barbeque quality, no frills, and consistent service at a great price.

4. Lunchbox Laboratory (SoLU): Burgers featured on TV for good reason, and a great retro-vibe – attractive to teens and young adults. Great experience, but given the pricepoint, the quality of burger execution is overshadowed by TANG! d├ęcor.

5. Teddy’s (Woodinville): One of only three suburban venues included in the Seattle Magazine article. We expect this will be #25 of the Top 25. While the burger was decent, the entire experience was artificial and the service was poor. We hate “manufactured” destinations absent personality and quality food. If I had to choose between Teddy’s and Red Robin, I would certainly pick the former. However, given a choice, I’ll drive 25 miles to Seattle for a more immersive dining experience at Uneedaburger or Skillet.

This past month of April, we took “off” from follow-on Burger experiences. While we call ourselves meat-a-tarians, we do appreciate variety. We expect to resume our Top 25 Burger adventure in May. Stay tuned.


Related Posts with Thumbnails