Thursday, July 31, 2008

Anniversary Trip: Monterey

We do not always do something special for our anniversaries. But every five years (5th, 10th, etc.) we do try to do something really special. Five years ago, I had just had Maya. We went to my favorite restaurant in LA Nick & Steph's and went to see The Producers. Ten years ago we were at BYU taking classes, I was pregnant with Madison and puking up a storm. We were at our poorest point EVER. So maybe the every five years theory doesn't exactly work. But, I am rambling. We were really going to celebrate the 15th!

ON our actual anniversary, Ryan was in his MBA class so we waited for the weekend to celebrate. McK would be at Girls' Camp for the week and so she spent a couple days with the Lowell family and then left for camp. The other cherubs were taken to my mom's house for a week of fun and frolic with grandma, two aunts, and three cousins.

Ryan planned every little detail. He gave me two chunks of time to do something I wanted, but everything else was his brainchild.

We left early and headed straight to The French Laundry. That got its own post. (see below) Ryan had to go change into his formal attire so I went over to check out the Bakery and Bistro of the owner and chef, Thomas Keller. Lines were long.

After our most glorious meal, (see below) we went to check in at our hotel: the Embassy Suites. I know, I know: it is NOT a Marriott. We felt like we were being unfaithful. But we had scads of Hilton points that needed to be used (or we would lose them) so we ended up getting a beautiful corner suite with two ocean views completely covered by points. Translation: completely free. Woo Hoo! This gave license to Ryan to force me to do expensive things because he could always say that the hotel was covered.

We immediately headed out to Pebble Beach. Now at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, this is Ryan's place of worship. Don't worry, he is still worshipping God, just the God who created Pebble Beach. (I prefer to think of the natural state and not the man-made course and facilities, lest he is worshipping the designers.) We ate dinner at the Tap Room at the Lodge. (The dessert is features in the 7/24 post.)

Since this was my anniversary too, Ryan allowed me to have a little input in our activities. I told him I wanted to go to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. Okay, maybe this is why he doesn't give me a lot of input. But John Steinbeck is my favorite American novelist (sorry John, but two Russians stand in front of you for the number one and two spots.) And since he used so much of his own experience in his writing, I wanted to go and see his inspiration. I loved every moment and when Ryan saw that he earned the Nobel Prize for Literature AND was voted the number one American author of all time, he thought that maybe he would actually like to read some of his "stuff." My favorite (American) novel is East of Eden and in that book, he used several of his own family members as characters. I loved it. It was very interactive and a worthy showcase of his body of work. It is a Smithsonian partner, so I'm sure that is why it is well done.

Now off to Monterey: Cannery Row. We ate, we shopped. As we walked around, Ryan, all the sudden, noticed that everything was John Steinbeck this or John Steinbeck that. Ryan bought some stuff at the Pebble Beach store (their version of an outlet, I think.)

We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and were in absolute wonder of the amazing sealife we saw. The jelly fish were amazing, probably our favorite part. It was a little chilly: translation, we were in heaven. Being in the desert, we relish opportunities to feel a chill, wear a sweatshirt, experience a drizzle, appreciate an overcast day.

We went back to the hotel, took a swim and went to Chili's for dinner.

The next morning, we headed out for a Pebble Beach Day. First stop: the Spa. Ryan had to talk me into going. Then he had to talk me into leaving. He needed to relax. With a high pressure job, the bishopric calling, a full-time MBA program, and four girls who love him dearly and clamor for his attention; the only way he can relax is to schedule it. He got a 50 minute massage and then a 25 minute foot therapy. I had the salt scrub. What I really loved was just hanging out in the facilities: the serenity room: no talking allowed. (We need a serenity room in our house.) We swam together and then went to separate places to enjoy our treatments, jacuzzis, saunas, aromatherapy, showers, etc. Three hours later we emerged relaxed.

For lunch we went to the Pebble Beach Market and got sandwiches, chips, and drinks for a picnic overlooking the beautiful views.

We did the Seventeen Mile Drive, with a few detours of Ryan's favorite golf holes. As the supportive wife of the man who endured Steinbeck with me, I oohed and aahed at the appropriate times. I love Seventeen Mile Drive. I love the cypress trees, the rugged terrain, the beaches. Ryan loves the golf courses and views over the ocean. We absolutely agree that that is where we would live if money were no object.

We headed over to Spanish Bay Inn for a walk and dinner. There are fire pits and beautiful views of the course. They have a Roy's which is my favorite seafood restaurant. We orders the Tiger Prawn and Beef Springrolls for a starter and then moved to the patio for dinner.

Ryan explained to me that a bagpiper was going to be coming around sunset from the beach. Okay, yeah, whatever. I was not quite getting why a bagpiper would be at Spanish Bay. But as we enjoyed our meal and as the fog started coming in, the music started faintly coming from the beach and made its way up to the patio. Now I got it: it looks like Scotland. The course is patterned after the Scottish links style (no trees, natural type habitat) and we were transported to Scotland in that instant. So cool.

Here is my butterfish. [Me: "My name is Lisa and I am a butterfish addict." Everyone else in the room: "Hello Lisa."]
I wish I could order something else from this menu (not really) but it is so good that I can't do it.

They had us wear leis in celebration of our anniversary and printed out a special menu with our names on it to commemorate the occasion. And of course, we got our beautiful dessert. (That's three for anyone keeping track.)

The next morning we went to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Now I don't know the exact difference between Carmel and Carmel-by-the-Sea, except that it sounds more hoity-toity so they can probably charge more for real estate. We checked out a couple of shops and then headed for the beach. The beach. The beach. THE BEACH. This ranks as one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. The sand was like baby powder and soft, soft, soft, white, white, white. The views were incredible. Oh yeah, it looks right over Pebble Beach Golf holes #9 and 10. So Ryan, who originally was not that keen to get sand all over everything, all the sudden has to show me golf again. He shows me his favorite house. And here it is. As he points to the house that he promises me he will buy me someday. Overlooking a great golf hole and the most beautiful beach ever. I am madly in love.

In the afternoon, with all of Ryan's agenda taken care of, he again allows me to choose an activity. Whale Watching! Now if the Steinbeck didn't convince him to not give me any say, the Whale Watching did the job. But he was a trooper. We went out at 2:00 and a few minutes out of the harbor, it became obvious that this was not going to be a pleasure cruise. "The sea was angry that day, my friends." I don't get sea sick. I love the rouge waves. The waves that make me feel like I am on a roller coaster. I held on and started with my woo hoo's of excitement. There were other people who did not like it. A few hurled off the side of the boat, A few hurled off the back of the boat. One hurled on the boat, right next to us. At this point Ryan is not happy and, to paraphrase, asked me: "Why the #%$ we went on this &%$@ boat?" I know in my heart the only thing that kept him from losing it, was knowing that I would have taken the picture and put it on the blog. He told me this when we got off the boat and I validated that I was almost disappointed that he didn't feed the fishes because I would have done exactly that.

But the whales. The dolphins. I loved seeing them come up. We saw a Humpback mother and her calf come up and go down a dozen times. Sea World is great. (I love Sea World!) But I really love watching sea life out in the open ocean. I tried to explain that we were so lucky to be in a location of whale migration. Loved it.

Here is a pirate boat with the full sails.

And that pier over there is where it all happened 15 years ago when Ryan asked me to marry him and I said yes.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Anniversary Dinner: The French Laundry

The French Laundry. If you have watched the Food Network or any program on the best restaurants in the world, you know the name. My dream? Sure, I would love to go. Ryan's dream? Oh Yeah. Dream of Dreams. So as soon as he booked the hotel, his next goal was to secure the reservations. You need to call two months ahead to the day, right when they open. He calculated the first day we could go and had two other people helping and calling with him. One got through and made the reservation. The French Laundry is considered one of the best restaurants in the world and has twice been voted the BEST IN THE WORLD. The chef is Thomas Keller who has won America's Top Chef and his restaurant has won every award in the industry. So it goes without saying that the expectations are fairly high. So on to the food. We were seated and presented with the menu. The cool clothes pins are attached to the napkin and are your souvenir and their business card. The phone number is on the back. Our waiter explained the different choices: there are two different menus. One is a Chef's Tasting Menu (aka carnivores) and the other is the Tasting of Vegetables (aka herbivores.) We requested the Chef's Tasting Menu and sat back for a good time. He also explained that the menu we had that day would be the one and only time it was ever offered. Elements might be repeated on other days and desserts sometimes had a longer appearance. But the menu would never be duplicated. We made our water and soda choices and informed them we would not be drinking alcohol. They were totally cool. I was afraid they would be snobbish about it, but everyone was there for us. So here comes the parade of food:The first surprise was these little buttery puffs of gruyere cheese. Warm and mellow. They were not on the menu. They were delicious. The people across from us were seated before us but they were savoring every different type of wine with every type of food. We passed them up real quick. One of them had flown in that morning from New York City and was taking the red-eye out that night. He came just for this meal.The next surprise were these little cones of salmon tartare on a black sesame cone with creme fraise. The texture concerned me a little since I had an incident when I was pregnant with smoked salmon, but when in Rome ... So I tried it and it was delicious. Very good texture, nothing creepy or unpleasant. I thought, okay, I can relax, nothing scary here.Next was the first course on the menu: Califlower "Panna Cotta" with Island Creek Oyster Glaze and California White Sturgeon Caviar Now we are talking. This was really good. Cauliflower is the ONLY vegetable that I do not care for, mainly because of the texture. In this, there was no texture of the cauliflower. But the mildness of the white mixture with the saltiness of the caviar was awesome. Everything is so fresh.Next was the salad. Just a note here. At first, I was not sure if I would be looked down on for taking pictures. But when I saw other dinners doing it, I whipped out my camera and started taking pictures. Unfortunately some of the food looked so good and I was so excited to try, that I would be on my last bite before Ryan would say: "picture" and I would say "oh, dang it." So the salad was one of those "Oh dang it" moments. Here it is: Salad of Compressed Belgian Endive Mejool Dates, Nantes Carrots, Young Cilantro and Madras Curry Yogurt The dates were about 1/2 inch balls. I had to ask. So sweet and delicate, were they bred that way? Nope, just a tiny melon baller. The waiter was so nice in answering questions that I immediately relaxed and decided that this was really fun. A foodie dream come true. We had three different bread services throughout. And could they give us ordinary butter? Of course not. I didn't get the names (note to self: next time bring a little notebook) The ball was creamy and more yellow. The small silver try had a creamier one with coarse salt. Luckily Ryan liked the yellow ball and I liked the salty so there was no unpleasant fighting at the table. The bread was delicious.Next course: Atlantic Halibut "Confit a la Minute" Fine Green Beans, Yukon Gold Potato, "Piperade" and Nicoise Olive Essence (Sorry about the over-exposure: flash was on.) Every single course got better and better. The fish was warm and soft red stuff on top was made of red peppers and gave a very subtle heat. But my favorite part of this dish was the smear of olive paste at the bottom. It was salty and tangy. Perfect with the mild halibut. When the waitress picked up my plate, she asked sarcastically: "You didn't like that did you?" I said, "If I could get away with licking the plate, I would." She said: "That is the greatest compliment you can give the chef."Next was Ryan's favorite: New Bedford Diver Scallop "Poelee" Golden Corn, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Celery Branch and Summer Truffle Coulis with shaved Truffles This was really good. Once again perfectly cooked. Perfect balance of sweet and salty, mellow and tangy, smooth and crunchy. So many perfect combinations at once. (Sorry about the focus.) One of the reasons that I believe this chef is so renowned is because every element of every dish was so balanced and so original. The influence is French, but there was no reliance on butter, cream, or wine glazes. He cooked with hardly any alcohol (only one dish had any.) After eating his food, that style seemed cliche. He relied, instead, on fresh ingredients and the combination of those ingredients. There was no salt and pepper offered and there was no need for it. There were very few herbs even used. He relied on pure and perfect flavor combinations. No repeats.Next was the Four Story Hill farm "Cuisse de Poularde" Sultana and Pine Nut "Mousse," Glazed Sunchokes, Wilted Arugula and Pickled Pearl Onions This was chicken with something that looked a little scary. But the taste: Oh my gosh! So good. And the onions were so good. I need to make pickled pearl onions part of my daily life. The sauce underneath was so good. Again, I asked the questions, got my answers.

Next was the Herb-Roasted Medallion of Marcho Farms Veal Jacobsen's Farm Summer Squash, Sweet 100 Tomatoes, Bluefoot Mushrooms and "Sauce Japonnaise" Sorry, another "Oh, dang it" moment with the camera. It was gone quickly. Even though the portions were small, there were so many courses that we were beginning to feel a little full. But the good kind of full.

The cheese course was "Amantegado Cardus" French Laundry Garden Beets, Marcona Almonds, Apricot Puree and Mache Lettuce The Cheese was a little tangy for Ryan. I divided it in threes since that is how many beets and almonds there were. With each bite I had cheese, almond, beet, lettuce and a swipe of the apricot. Perfect flavor combination. Another "Oh, dang it" moment. My apologies.Cantaloupe Sorbet "Muscat de Beames de Venise en Gelee" and Compressed Melon This was the only thing on the menu that had alcohol and it was easy to avoid, since it was pretty much pure. The sorbet and melon were really good and cleansed our palate. The sorbet was like the most flavorful cantaloupe I have ever had. More, please more.Now for dessert: Lingot de Chocolat en Mousse de Malt Croustillante" Candied Spanish Peanuts, Popcorn Sherbet and Caramel Normally I like to order something different than Ryan for dessert (so I can taste each), but this time the popcorn sorbet was so intriguing, I had to have it. They brought it out with our happy anniversary tag and we went for it. The popcorn sorbet was incredible. Neither sweet nor salty. The warm milk is poured over fresh popcorn and steeped. The mixture is then strained and made into the sorbet. I don't think I will ever tasted anything like that again. And the chocolate. Yum-my.The next thing on the menu was "Mignardises" What that really means is hold on to your hats, because we are only getting started. They brought out small creme brulee and pots de creme and chocolate covered candied macadamia nuts. Okay, that was nice. They cleared our dishes and put out a small silver tray. "What is this for?" Next was the trio of goodies: bittersweet truffles, fruit en glacee, and lime pistachio nougats. Wow, unbelievable.Next was the homemade chocolates. Take as many as you care for (note to self: next time bring a new zip-lock bag to bring home the extra goodies.) They tasted like they were made that day. They were filled with raspberry, peanut butter, passion fruit, banana, and chocolate. Okay enough already. So then with our check they presented us with bags of cookies to take with us. And then a package of chocolate bars in celebration of our anniversary. Now I ask you: with nine desserts, how can you beat that?

I asked the waiter, if it was possible to get a souvenir menu, because I knew that there was no way to remember all the details of that perfect meal. "Of course, I'll be right back." Everything was perfect. I walked in expecting my mind to be blown away and it was better than expected. We were told that it was a once in a lifetime experience. But honestly, I can't wait to go back. The girls' high school graduations, college graduations, 20th, 25th, 30th anniversary, and so on. Ryan and I cannot stop talking about it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

15 Years of Wedded Bliss

(This dessert was courtesy of the Tap Room at Pebble Beach.)

So we made it to fifteen years. I have no problems about lying about my age. In fact I think every women is totally allowed to lie about age, weight , and hair color. It is a pass in my book. But my anniversary? 15 years seems so long. But If I lie about it, it might make my 12 year old illegitimate. So I will own it. I will own it with pride, since many people did not think we would last two years - and that is just family members.

Now in titling this post, I was not sure if bliss was too strong a word. After all, we have had our share of fights/disagreements/frustrations. But more importantly, we have learned how to deal with those as well. We have been as poor as church mice and learned to deal. We have had to make tough sacrifices and, again, we learned to deal. We have come to learn to rely and depend on each other. We have learned HOW to discuss our differences. We have learned to support each other. So is bliss too strong a word? Yes it is. And anybody who truly believes you can have nonstop wedded bliss is a fool. Or a liar.