Friday, September 01, 2006

Coast to Coast: The First Leg

Driving solo 10,000 miles around North America in thirty days, proved to be both relaxing and hurried. Contributing to the hurried part was my decision to delay departure for 24 hours to purchase the day of release what had been proclaimed most advanced cell phone camera yet, namely a new Samsung SCHa-990 cell phone camera with 3.2 megapixels. I'm sure it is capable of producing better photographs than any of its cellular predecessors, though I have yet to master with it the art of clandestinely shooting good food close-ups with it in restaurants under low light.

First day, Tuesday, and 600 miles got me from Baltimore to Elkart, Indiana, just in time to check into a motel room along I-80 and make last call at the adjacent Texas Roadhouse. The serious culinary part of this trip was scheduled to begin in San Francisco for a visit with my son Alex and daughter-in-law Angela, over whose food sensibilites I've had considerable influence. As a securities analyst for Bank of America in San Francisco, Alex follows the restaurant industry exclusively and has always spoken highly of TXRH (Texas Road House) as a good company, regardless of how its stock was performing. The Eckart shop worked out just fine for a particularly satisfying margarita, a good Caesar salad, a good sirloin steak, and side dishes of seasoned rice and cooked down green

Mid-afternoon the next day, Wednesday, found me over"pig wings" at the bar in Hessen Haus, a German Restaurant at 101 South 4th Street in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. Listed at $7.95 as an appetizer, these “wings” in reality are sections of pork shank that have been marinated in a special barbecue sauce and then deep fried. They proved a serious new treat. After a bit of prodding, the bartender obtained for me a written list of ingredients for the barbecue sauce in which these pig wings were marinated: Guinness, blended whiskey, salt, mustard, Maggis, thyme, orange marmalade, Valentina hot sauce, olive oil, Cookie’s Barbecue Sauce, white pepper, brown sugar, and garlic herb seasoning.

Next stop at nightfall was Lincoln, Nebraska, where few places were still serving dinner. I was fortunate to score another steak somewhere in Lincoln's Haymarket Complex.

Thursday was spent driving through Nebraska, into Colorado through Denver and Golden to reach Georgetown in time to find a place to stay and a spot for dinner. The latter find was the homey family run New Prague Restaurant at 511 Rose Street. To whet my whistle while waiting for a delicious fried walleye that tasted fresh from the river, they served me Becherovka, an herbal Czech liqueur that reminded me of Chartreuse.

Next day, Friday, I headed toward Aspen by what the map suggested should be the most scenic and realistic circuitous route. After getting there with a near empty tank and paying $4.00 a gallon for regular at the only easily accessible gas station, my mindset was to keep moving. Not far out of town, a sign heralding Woody Creek prompted a turn. Within a few minutes, I was seated at the bar at Woody Creek Tavern, neighborhood spot of the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. His autographed picture hangs prominently near the bar. Snapshots picturing hundreds of characters, many of them very likely cronies of the good doctor, cover all four walls. By 3:30 p.m., I suspect in another hour, the scene will pick up further, enough to run interference with my plans for driving another 200 miles. Given a chance to do over again, I'd have stayed around, spent the night nearby, and still been in the mining town of Ouray by noon the next day.

From Ouray, Colorado's spectacular Million Dollar Highway" traverses Red Mountain Pass to the yet more remote movie-set historic mining town of Silverton. I got there by mid-afternoon, on an empty stomach. Thank goodness for Paul Rathban’s Jerky Safari, whose jerky would sustain my return trip via the "Million Dollar Highway" to Ouray, and on from there to Telluride. Paul, a professor at Arizona State in the off-season, is one of many jerky entrepreneurs to set up shop in small towns throughout the western United States. His antelope jerky and ostrich jerky were great, though my favorite was a very thin, dry, peppery, and brittle but easy on the teeth beef jerky from New Mexico.

Getting to Telluride well before dark allowed me time to walk around and check out all the menus. Honga’s Lotus Petal on East Colorado Avenue was my pick for dinner, but not until after enjoying a beer in the historic bar of the New Sheridan Hotel on West Colorado Avenue. Though tempted to stay put after observing wild boar spare ribs on the Sheridan's chop house menu, it was time to give meat a break. Honga’s is a sizeable establishment with a tea room, a couple of bars, and extensive dining space. Grabbing a seat at one of the bars, I ordered sake with a ginger vinaigrette dressed warm pork and blue crab salad with string beans, asparagus, cucumber, fingerling potatoes with skin, and fried leeks with noodles on top. It was most pleasing. .

Sunday Morning in Telluride was beautiful, perfect for a drive up the treacherous mountain road leading to Bridal Veil Falls, and later up another another no less treacherous mountain road past the Ophir Needles to a small lake at Alta. By the time the Liberty had returned to a paved road, the engine warning light was on, and no place was open on Sunday to check out the problem. The nearest place that could see it the soonest was a Sears 170 miles away in Grand Junction, to which the Liberty then made it without incident. The bad news was that the only place still serving dinner by the time I got there was the Red Lobster, where the drinks were far too sweet, the lobster pizza was OK, and the baby shrimp accompanying my Caesar salad were to gag for. Better news was that when I left, the absencse of that troubling yellow engine warning light ignited in my mind a green one for heading on to San Francisco.

Between Grand Junction, then through Utah, Nevada, and California to San Francisco the natural scenery was great, though not the food scene, particularly along "the loneliest road in the US," through Nevada, namely, Route 50. Famished upon arriving in Reno, if a great meal were to be had, the Liberty had begun acting up to the point that I wasn't about to go driving around in start-stop traffic to find it. Dinner ended up being a steak, somewhere along the highway outside of Carson City.

One more day remained before my scheduled arrival in San Francisco. Rather than give it up to worrying with having the Liberty checked, I headed west into California to South Lake Tahoe, which I circled for nearly the entire loop in search of an area with a beach, a place to stay, and a decent restaurant. Having circled most of the way back to Nevada, what I was looking for appeared, namely King's Beach. After paying $80 to check into Ferrari Court and hitting the beach I soon noticed that a happy hour was going down from the deck atop restaurant called Steamers. The scene was friendly, the crowd mostly locals, and I'm sure the food was good in the restaurant below. It was wanderlust that lured me away to drive along the lake and see what other restaurants were around until committing to Yama Sushi/Robato Grill in Tahoe City, which worked out just fine.

By tomorrow afternoon, I'd be in San Francisco.