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September 14, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation, part two

Sky%20City%20Dessert.jpgRetired in Elkridge is the second regular in the space of a couple of days to send me details of his trip at summer's end. (See also Hal Laurent's, posted yesterday.) I know some of you don't like me to tell you about restaurants in other cities you'll never have a chance to visit; but even if you feel that way, at least read his description of the train and plane meals, and especially the birthday party. Here's RiE. EL

Every year my Darling Wife and I travel to Northern California to visit her parents. Last week her father turned 92, so we had to be there to celebrate. This year we decided to do things differently, so on Tuesday, Aug. 25, we flew to Chicago, took the train to Seattle, flew to Sacramento via San Francisco, and drove the 35 miles to Yuba City. Return, almost two weeks later, was via Dallas. ...

Chicago%20Hot%20Dog.jpgWe had only one overnight in Chicago, so as soon as we got there we dropped our bags in the Conrad Chicago hotel and went downstairs to explore Michigan Avenue. First stop was for Chicago hot dogs. My DW had never had one so the picture to the right shows her eating her first Chicago dog. Except for the peppers she liked it.

After spending the afternoon walking Michigan Avenue and going to the top of the Hancock building, dinner was at the Weber Grill. As the name implies, just about everything is cooked over charcoal on three-foot-wide Weber charcoal grills. After a couple of local beers we enjoyed beef brisket (DW), smoked sausage (me), beans, and cole slaw. The brisket was tender with a nice crust, the smoked sausage was grilled so the casing was crisp but not overcooked. Their sauce was a little sweet for my taste. Sides were good too, not fancied up.

Wednesday afternoon we boarded Amtrak's Empire Builder for Seattle. We had what they call a bedroom:  Upper and lower bunks with sink and combined toilet/shower, much like some European hotels. We were welcomed aboard by Marlene, our car attendant, with splits of American champagne and chocolates. Meals, included in the sleeper car price, were in the dining car.

Dinner seatings were reserved; breakfast and lunch were first-come-first-served. The food was passable to good. Steaks and chicken were good, some of the sides and "specials" were not so good. But the joy of having dinner while watching the sun set over the Upper Mississippi River made up for it. Actually it was better than I expected, as my prior experience with train food, on the way to New York, was packaged sandwiches and microwave hamburgers. On Thursday afternoon they even hosted a wine and cheese tasting of Northwest wines and artisan cheeses.

We arrived in Seattle Friday morning and spent the day walking around downtown, the Pike Street Public Market, the Space Needle, the nearby Science-Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame and Music Experience. If you are into sci-fi or pop music these are the places to go. They even had one of Michael Jackson's sequined gloves and sequined jacket (guess which one it was displayed at).

Friday dinner was at Wild Ginger, one of the more popular Asian Fusion restaurants. We started with a bottle of a Columbia River wine, Chateau Ste Michelle Reisling 'Eroica' 2007, sweet enough for my DW and interesting enough for me. We started with a Sweet Potato and Squash Stew for my DW and Buddha's Won Ton Soup for me. The stew was really too thick to be called a soup and my DW said it was very good, with both the sweet potato and squash complementing each other.

My selection, consisting of jicama, black mushrooms, carrots and shallots served in a light vegetable stock, was a refreshing take on the traditional won ton soup, with the slightly spicy broth complementing the won tons and the finely chopped vegetable filling.

They have an extensive satay menu, so we had to order some: I ordered the Viet-In-Thai Lamb Satay, grilled minced lamb with red curry, onion, garlic, coriander and hoisin sauce served with a small cube of sticky rice and sambal-tomato dipping sauce (not as spicy as promised) and my DW had a daily special, Asparagus Satay, grilled asparagus spears with the rice and a Teriyaki sauce. The lamb reminded me of a similar Turkish dish, Kadin Butu ('Ladies Thigh'), with a more Eastern rather than Mediterranean spicing. Our entrees were a Spicy Panang Beef, grilled sliced steak in a Thai-style curry sauce with cardamom, coconut milk, and peanuts, and Vietnamese-style Halibut, another special, served with a sweet Vietnames-style sauce, not too spicy. Desserts were dishes of mango sorbet and coconut gelato, small enough that we could eat it and light enough so we walked (waddled?) away refreshed.

Saturday was our 39th anniversary, so the only dinner we could have was at the SkyCity restaurant, 500 feet atop the Space Needle. Yes, I know it's the sort of place where you are not there for the food, but it was also very good and the view was spectacular. We started with two glasses of their TopHouse White, a Reisling from Mount Baker Vineyards. Appetizers were Corn and Clam Chowder for my DW and for me a Pecan-Crusted Cypress Grove Chevre, with blackberry syrup, toasted bread, and a small arugula salad. Both were excellent, the corn and clams going well together and the blackberry syrup accenting the tartness of the goat cheese.

Entrees were a Grilled Herb-Marinated Wild Salmon Fillet, with a Pinot Noir reduction sauce, wild rice, and broccoli and carrots for my DW and an 8-ounce Washington State Double R Ranch Filet steak, served with potatoes, asparagus and a Merlot reduction, cooked medium-rare as requested. For dessert we had their signature dessert, the Lunar Orbiter. This is basically a chocolate sundae served in a special double bowl with dry ice in the bottom. When served some hot water is poured in the bottom, producing clouds of smoke and attracting the attention everyone around us. The first picture is of my DW and me and the aftermath of the smoke. The ice cream and chocolate syrup were good, too.

On to Yuba City, via San Francisco, where we had lunch, a sourdough bread bowl of tomato bisque soup for my DW and two sourdough rolls and butter for me (I could sit and eat them all day). Yuba City is a town founded during the Gold Rush and now growing out with every chain restaurant and fast food place you can think of.

Two saving graces are a local two-location chain, The Dancing Tomato Caffe, and In-N-Out Burger. Dancing Tomato leans toward Italian but also offers hot and cold sandwiches and steaks. My favorite is their Pasta Arrabiatta, cellentani pasta in a spicy tomato-garlic sauce with minced prosciutto and a dollop of ricotta. With the addition of some pepper flakes it becomes nice and spicy.

My DW ordered Cheese Ravioli in Meat Sauce, a standard dish, but nicely done with fresh cooked ravioli and what they say is a homemade sauce. It tasted like it. Salads were basically romaine lettuce with some grape tomatoes, olives, and croutons with a cream Italian dressing.

As for In-N-Out Burger, what can I say, besides Double-Double with onions. My 92-year-old father-in-law went through one like he was inhaling it.

On Wednesday, Sept. 2, we had a birthday party for my father-in-law and my DW's younger brother, who was also born on the 2nd. It was small, with my in-laws, both of my DW's brothers and wife, and a cousin. It was at a local hotel restaurant, which is pretty good for the area. The younger brother, a real wine connoisseur, brought two bottles, a 1949 Chateau Latour Premier Grand Cru and a 1967 Chateau d'Yquem. He's the one who brought two bottles of 1918 vintage to my mother-in-law's 90th birthday last year. (Imagine being 90 and drinking wine that is as old as you are.) All that plus lunch and a supermarket birthday cake.

We stayed there until Sunday, when we flew home via Dallas. Yes, they still serve meals in first class (and they don't charge for baggage). I traded in a planeload of miles for two first-class tickets home, the least I could do for my DW.

Breakfast, between Sacramento and Dallas, was a cheese omelet quesadilla, with chorizo and onions and pepper, served with salsa, and sides of melon and biscuit, bagel, or bread. Not too bad for something prepared hours before and reheated. Between Dallas and Baltimore we were served dinner. Your choice of Teriyaki Chicken Breast over Rice with salad, bread, and cheesecake, or Cheese Tortellini with a mushroom-tomato sauce and melted cheese, plus the salad, bread, and cheesecake (see third picture). I had the tortellini, my DW had the chicken. Your choice of white or red wines, type unknown, but the red wasn't bad. Served with real, albeit miniature, utensils.

It was raining slightly when we arrived at BWI. Welcome home.


Posted by Elizabeth Large at 1:59 PM | | Comments (14)


Great summary, RiE; I love reading about restaurants in places I've been/will go at some point. Our Seattle trip from a few years ago sounds similar - Wild Ginger and the Space Needle (we went for weekend brunch).

Unfortunately, can't say I've had a similar experience with the Latour or Yqem. Sigh, one of these days...

RiE - Oh, thank goodness! I thought DW was on fire, and handling it quite well!

RiE - DW is SMOKIN'! Sorry couldn't resist.

Yuba City in Summer?
No thanks, once was enough for me!

(Steinbeck fans: the main road through Sac and Yuba is the same Route 99 written about in Grapes of Wrath... with Marysville just east of Yuba)

RiE--your DW is a lucky woman. I imagine you will immediately start planning your 40th anniversary, but this one will be hard to top!

Wow! Thank you. I love reading travelogues with food!

I could almost taste the food as described, but I can't even imagine the joy of that wine. It took a minute to recognize that the lovely table seeting was on top if an airplane tray table, something I've smelled but haven't seen in such a long time. What a wonderful trip! Thanks for sharing.

Thanks, RIE. I like this kind of thing (obviously, having managed the most obscure, distant meal report yet here, besides EL's Argentina trip).

Any dessert involving dry ice has to be fun, right?

I'll be in Chicago for a week next month, and I'm going to check out the Weber Grill. Thank you, RtE!

Carol, unless you really want to see them cooking (which is an experience), ask to be seated either outside or in the actual dining room, not the booths opposite the kitchen.

RiE - I hope I did not offend you with my comment regarding DW! Just joking around...

Trixie, sweetie, RiE used to be known here as "Mr. Old Fart." Somehow I don't think he is easily offended.

I do want to see them cooking so I'll ask to be seated next to the kitchen. Thanks again, RtE!

Trixie, I've thought my DW was smokin' hot for a l-o-o-n-g time. No offense taken.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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