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road trip, Cambria(long): pinnipeds and the elusive o-berry

moto | Jan 19, 200605:08 AM

thanks again to Dave and toodie jane(any relation to J.Garland's baby sis in "Meet Me in St.L"?)for their help around Morro Bay. Our day in Cambria began with an excursion to Piedras Blancas to gawk at the beach bound behemoths. Mating season was still a couple of months away but all the males past puberty were practicing their chops, and there were plenty of pups, newborn and older,around their cows.A panoramic theatre of natural selection in progress, free admission. The magnificence of the elephant seals' adaptation to their world doesn't get displayed before humanoid peepers, as they navigate the sea and dive to great depths for food. Ashore, the mutant primates bound to their industrialized habitat forage in their own fashion,fortunate for the blubber bearers,depending on fossil fuels instead of rendered fat. We went to Linn's for lunch, mainly to try the touted (big billboards) ollalieberry pie. Posts on this board for their food were mixed, with repeated praise for the pie.We were skeptical of the place on a previous walk-by, because of its prominent gift shop. The esteemed Professor Salt has a bulletproof BBQ hypothesis,which correlates better 'q with minimal decor,not that 'q was in the equation, but a sizeable gift shop can either be a neutral or negative infuence on food. The place that sets our purple standard for o-berry pie,the Avila Valley Barn, also has a gift shop (one that has more practical souvenirs, I think, like the Cheese Board Collective's cookbook. There's also a decent produce stand to balance the bric a brac).Our intro to the o-berry was pickin em at Swanson's just north of Santa Cruz, where one learns that the perfectly ripe specimens start dissolving upon getting plucked.The clusters ripen very unevenly, and anyone attempting a large scale harvest would necessarily get variable ripeness of fruit. The fresh ones can't endure long distances or times; popularity depends on jams and pie fillings. Up the road from Swanson's in Pescadero, Duarte's pie has a lot of fans, but we think AVB's is better, more fruit, and good in what most of their pies lack: they don't over-sugar, or over-adulterate with thickening. Our lunch at Linn's was o.k. Clam chowder was above average, as were the fries, long thin cut with skin on,crisp ends softer middles, nicely spice-dusted slightly too salty,but once in a while they're good like that.We'd been spoiled by above avg to great sandwiches on this trip (the best,Rusty Pig's oak-grilled meats,and the rest included Zankou's tarna wrap),and Linn's Calif.grilled chicken brought the curve down a bit. It depended too much on the little spoonful of grilled onions for flavor, and none of their house label special mustards had any whole grain mustard kick. As for the pie, it was lacking in that o-berry sparkle of hard-to-pin-down(the berry itself is a hybrid derived from multiple ancestors including other hybrids) tartness. The Linn history is blurbed on the menus, and they started as a farm and farmstand. Maybe it was the crop that went into this batch of filling,or the handling and cooking,or another malady beneath the symptoms of the gift shop and bland specialty mustards. We found the best place to lunch right after, of course, when we walked down to the Friday farmer's market. The squash I picked up was sweet and dense when we had it days later, and the recently harvested organic pistachios from NPO (it's a pun on the latin used in hospitals for nil by mouth, 'cause I found out later that Nurses Pistachio Orchard was created by retired nurses), the best. I got some freshly made tortilla chips from the taco truck, and just looked at the large grills cooking Santa Maria style meats and chicken. FF to the evening, we were glad we'd made reservations at Robin's as it was full + 30 min. wait.There are newer places in Cambria to try, but the eclecticism on robin's menu, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, made our choice, and we'd had a pleasant lunch there a few months before. The food is consistent and good, might not get above that, but the service is very good, and prices fair, considering the town and type of trade. The wine list is very fairly priced with small local producers not widely found outside of the region; the bottle of Mediteranean-style red blend we drank,SLO county made, was only $28. It went well with the tender rogan ghosh lamb my wife had, which was assertively spiced but mellow in Scoville units, and the portabello lasagna I chose. We hadn't climbed to gustatory heights on the penultimate day of our vacation, but were hardly disappointed, with the majesty of the sea mammals to remember. cheers

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