Viking Ocean Cruises vs. the others.

I was somewhat surprised when I saw so many wheel chairs and walkers being escorted by so much grey hair in the cruise ship terminal. I knew this was an adult adventure, but I never cruised aboard Viking, and I don’t quite know what I was expecting, so I explained to my wife that “we” could join the kids club once on board because we were aged 65 years or less. That kinda set the tone for our next 7 days of adventure aboard our Viking Ocean Cruises ship to Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Having found a number 5 boarding pass sitting atop a chair next to my wife, apparently left from another waiting boarding member that got up to use the restroom or something, and my wife and sister-in-law having a number 9, I decided to board. “See ya”, I said and ascended aboard the escalator in the Miami embarkation terminal.

I thought it a bit odd that I had entered the ship and not a photograph had been taken celebrating the occasion and the atrium area of the ship had a pianist or three-piece string ensemble playing as I checked in . . . I don’t remember; but the staff member that assisted me obtaining a, semi-constant throughout the cruise, Wi-Fi signal was the first part of exceptional service for the next seven days aboard Viking Sun.


My first mission aboard the vessel was to secure some dining arrangements at Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant for the second night underway, and The Chef’s Table for our Thanksgiving day meal aboard and also my birthday. The Chef’s Table offers a pre-fix menu paired with wine, if you paid the extra $137 per person (mandatory both persons pay within a cabin) to have basically unlimited access to all beer, wine and booze while aboard. I was told by one of the ship’s staff that it covered 99% of all the alcohol on board with the only exemptions include one champagne by the glass and other extra curricular drinking events . . . to be explained later. We ended up eating at Manfredi’s twice. It was quite good. The dining aboard the Viking Sun was unlike what we had experienced aboard other cruise lines in that there was no assigned seating and the dining at the specialty restaurants (Manfredi’s and The Chef’s Table) were included other than the wine pairing as mentioned above. I’m learning that Viking Cruise are mostly “all inclusive”. adfh

I finally made my way to the Lido deck . . . or the 7th deck. It was not called the Lido Deck on this ship, where the pool, buffet, burger grill and the constant flow of umbrella drinks being served by eager staff await along with the gently rhythmic Reggae music being played by a live band on the pool deck stage. Nope, it was called . . . the seventh deck, with just some gentle tunes playing modestly through the pool area sound system. I did find the bar on that deck and quickly ordered a double to get me through my next tasks.

Shortly after that I heard over the ship’s P.A. system that all bags have been placed in all of the staterooms. This was at about 1:30pm and I’m used to finding our luggage looming outside of our, and everyone else’s, stateroom at around 3:30 to 4:00pm on Princess and Carnival Cruise Lines. Although those were much larger ships with three to four times the passenger capacity, the service never seemed to be insufficient or excessive either way except for few details like having the luggage not in the hallways . . . ever, . . . even on debarkation.

Soon after getting my drink on the ‘Lido Deck’, as it will ever be referred to by my wife and I, and taking a couple of pictures and sending a couple of texts to the wife still in the terminal, I found our room, and our balcony. Balconies are a very important mandatory feature of our (the wife and I) cruising criteria and every room on this ship had a NON-SMOKING balcony, on a trip to Cuba, … really. This was a very small ship; in fact, it was the smallest of six ships currently docked at the nine-ship capacity (I think they are claiming) Miami cruise ship terminal. Very impressive ship terminal although you’d think you were lost driving around in circles (by design) on the terminal roads. Anyway, for smoking, there was one small area on the starboard side, mid-ship, a deck above and aft of the pool area for all those Cubanos to be tested once we first arrived in Cienfuegos. But I don’t know about the first night, because we had traveled to Havana and back on a reasonably (it was good) comfortable tour bus line for our first days in port.

The food aboard the Viking was decent as was the food aboard any one of the other cruise vessels I’ve been on as an average. I actually felt the foods served aboard the Sun’s buffet dining area was rather limited and just mediocre; there just wasn’t a whole lot of excitement in the food arena. The same layout format throughout the ship of the newer lines that have been coming out of Italy; everything down to the two watering stations next to the mostly unused, on this vessel, shuffle board and miniature golf sports deck. This ship did have a very nice spa and gym area on the 2nd deck (?). It included a steam bath and ice bath rooms that were kinda neat. I can say we did it. The spa area also had a bucket plunge device that drops a bucket of cold . . . not on this ship . . . cool . . . possibly room temperature water over your head. It also had a very impressive bubble machine (that’s what I call it because that’s all it was doing) large Jacuzzi-style tub that was about 92 degrees and a much smaller hot tub that was about 94 degrees. Don’t forget about the iceless water that is served with each meal. Not a whole bunch of excitement aboard this cruise line . . . and not a bunch of stimulation either.

In hindsight, I think I am beginning to realize the quality of the Viking Cruise Line vessels and vacations. They are what I call, “very Hiltony”. Meaning the quality, simplicity, comfort and expectation is very much like the Hilton hotel brand. I have asked myself and my wife several times if we would ever chose Viking again. Our answer is ‘never say never’. We may be looking for this level of cruise line in a few years. Also in hind sight, since witnessing a few things while in Cuba, Viking Cruise Lines seem to do everything with the highest level of perfection toward their brand standard. All of their ship tour adventures seemed top be planned out to the “t”, and everything was always inclusive. We never had to tip or pay for anything . . . and the cruise personnel would tell us that the tip is taken care of and to only tip if you feel it necessary.

The seven days aboard Viking was nice, clean, calculated, anticipated and comfortable. The staterooms were very nice without the towel animals on the bed and the stateroom steward kissing my ass every visit back to my room. Our steward did miss a very important ‘ice in the room every day at 4pm’ request, and I never saw him around that hour to ask him for it again. All I know is that we looked for it many of the days we were on the ship. So when it comes to tipping the steward staff, as was very common on other cruise lines we have traveled on, Viking stewards seemed to be less forcibly social with the traveling guests. The wife and I would rather our room not be visited other than minimally to refresh towels every couple of days. We hang the “Do Not Disturb, sign on the door knob with expectation that the stewards are to remain clear . . . . unless I need ice! The bath area, bed area and closet storage in the room was very accommodating and there is storage below the bed to put your luggage. The balcony area is a decent size with adequate privacy from any next door snoopers.

Since we were of the youngest 10% of the occupancy of the ship, and we usually always had a drink in hand, the bartenders, soon new our names and our drinks . . . and our room numbers. Every staff member, that I had witnessed, would use a personal ‘cell-phone’ styled device to enter all information about drink, food ordering or retail sales in the stores. Our picture was taken upon embarkation for our ships identification badge that was used to access our stateroom and both embark and exit the ship in ports. The ships crew would just verify our picture with our purchase as it was placed on our stateroom final bill. I thought the use of personal data devices for this purpose was convenient for the ships crew.

The Viking staff had everything figured out for the guests. Even when we got to Cienfuegos, Cuba, the ships own 220 passenger life/tender vessels were used to transport us to and from the terminal in that port as we anchored in the harbor off of the docks. This ship also had a fairly new crew, so some things (evolutions) didn’t quite go as planned. Like retrieving of the anchores when leaving Cienfuegos had set us back for about 2 hours due to them being fouled and the ships engineering crew chasing the anchors  around like monkeys chasing around a football. Just below my balcony . . . it was great entertainment.

As for Viking Ocean Cruise lines being compared to other cruise ship lines and how it all comes into play with the overall enjoyment of a ship-board cruise, I’ll have to check out more lines to compare. I did find another writer that does just that, compares the cruise lines from within. I look forward to reading some of his stories as well when I get ready to make my final cruise destination plans aboard another cruise line.



An exploration of Cuba – part 1

I have my own personal thoughts and interpretation of ‘all the things going on down there in Cuba’, but one of my last moments on the streets keeps replaying in my head; and it just might set the tone for the stories that follow.

“Mucho color” (Spanish for ‘very hot’ when referencing the weather), I said to the somewhat frail older Cuban gentleman sitting atop a somewhat rickety chair under the shade of a beautiful, somewhat rickety Cuban architectural structure. I was shopping in the street vender area of Cienfuegos when the sun began to really beat down on me this last day of our visit. As I stepped up onto the curb to finally get a bit of reprieve from the mostly humid heat, the gentleman replied, “No it’s not” in perfect English. He then asked if I was from the cruise ship in port. I replied, “Yes”. He asked, “Are you from America?” Again I said, “Yes I am”.

My beautiful wife had graciously and lovingly provided me with one of the best birthday gifts one could ever imagine. Although she bought a new watch on “my” birthday for herself this year due to a ship credit refund that could only be spent in the ship store, I had succumb to a year-long sister-to-sister plan for a Viking Cruise from Miami, Florida to our ultimate destination of Cienfuegos, Cuba.  This trip was my gift. I had met some very interesting people, visited some very interesting places, ate some great food and learned a thing or two along the way. And, just to let you know, I had several hundred pictures that were lost from my IPhone, just a day after the trip; so I will try to do my best novelist writing so you can visualize along with what memories I will still have along the way in this multi-part series. I had many great photos. It’s a shame. Sorry.

Cienfuegos is a fishing port city along the southern coast of Cuba. This day we were part of a street walking tour from our cruise ship in this quiet, yet robust city. Our tour guide for the day was a local Cienfuegos resident of 29 years and a very proud younger generation of that city. She had allowed our tour to walk the streets unattended and the wife and I needed to buy some last minute trinket gifts before returning to our ship for the afternoon ride back out of the channel.

The gentleman on the chair asked, “What state do you live in?” I told him I was from California as I fussed with the bags of gifts I was carrying. I had mostly made my interpretation of this remarkable island of Cuba by now as being mostly a sound country under a socialist rule that was really no different than some other countries I have visited while in the Navy. Cienfuegos, Havana and the outlying countryside we had traveled through the past few days seemed quiet, reasonably clean, graffitiless, devoid of any billboard advertising, except for mostly Castro political posters, and the very interesting display of automobiles and warm Cubans desiring our tourist monies. Most of our ship were visitors from America but I had observed visitors in both cities that were from different countries around the world.

“How’s everything in California?” the gentleman on the chair asked, again in perfect English. I kinda himmed and hawed and mumbled a bit then said , “It’s ok, life moves forward”.  He replied, “It sucks here”. That was the first time I heard anything, or any words about how bad the country might be. We spoke only a few more words after that about the tourism in his country, and the repeated visits from our particular Viking Ocean Cruise Lines ship over the next several weeks. I parted from the old man in the chair, yet I still saw the hope in his eyes. The hope I had observed everywhere in Cuba; a land that I saw bountiful with wonderful people, food, culture and splendid architecture. There is so much history here to learn. I am extremely grateful for my opportunity to witness this country first hand.

I hope to bring more stories to you over those next several weeks while the information is reasonably fresh in my head without my reminder photos.

Good luck hanging in there.





Write to write

I reserve the write to write . . . and the right to write. When I feel like writing, then I shall. If I don’t feel like writing, then I have that right too. Confused? So am I, and I just don’t feel like writing about it . . . or righting about it. Then again, am I writing just to write?

I have found that too much in life requires my diligence and timely attention. My desire to write this blog has diminished and I don’t feel like exercising my right to write. Maybe I’ll just complain harshly or be extremely happy about an experience and write about things then.

Until that next time, don’t ever settle for mediocrity if you’re expecting better.







CritDicks may very well be done. Finally! You can put that in your pipe and smoke it Scotty.


Dry-Aged Prime Beef. How to – do it at home in the fridge in 4 weeks. Simple!

There are a lot of videos and web information on the internet about how to dry-age prime rib. There are even more warnings and silliness about precautionary measures, “special rubs” or secret methods from chefs that have done this process countless times at their restaurants or in expensive climate controlled environments. Well, I don’t have a restaurant and I don’t perform this process every day, week or every month. Hell, I’m lucky if the wife will let me buy a full 7-bone roast to experiment with once a year during the holidays. I say experiment because it seems as though every year is a question as to how it is going to turn out, especially if you want to try something even just a little different from one of your previous annual attempts. In this recapitulation I will try to explain some of my concerns and hopefully give you a quick rundown of the process. It was definitely worth the effort as it was really no effort at all.


Rib roast dry-aged at 4 weeks

I did a lot of reading and watching of videos before I attempted this process. I talked with my wife about the potential for ruining $100 worth of meat or the potential for someone getting sick from a poorly executed aging process. My wife had suggested I try the procedure with only half of the meat. I then told her that I would be wasting time (4 weeks) practicing and by that time it would already be Christmas and I would not be allowed the same time to complete the remaining part of the roast because It would take another 4 weeks. I decided not to concede to her “level-headed” thinking and went about my business with a back-up plan of just buying another roast the day before our  celebration if necessary. The thought of creating something special for my guests to look forward to on Christmas day turned out to be priceless, as many of my guests were aware of my aging of the roast and knew of the dry-aged beef Christmas bonus this year. I mean dry-aged beef is something that usually costs a lot if purchasing from a Prime Steak house. I did it in my kitchen for literally no effort and relatively no additional cost. It was well worth it.

First of all I want to tell you that this was an extremely easy process and almost completely devoid of any opportunity for ruining your investment or getting anyone ill from your crappy cooking. If you read and/or watch videos on the internet, dry-aging of your prime rib doesn’t seem to translate into this simple process for such an acclaimed reward; and other than my attempt at yet another cooking process, this rib roast was delectable and tender as the aging process breaks down connective tissue and intensifies the beef flavor. The only drawback that I ran into is the juiciness of the meat upon service, since the dry-aging process removes excessive and virtually all moisture from within the roast; and I used a roasting method that was somewhat of a change for me that could have been responsible for additional evaporation of juices. In other words it was dry inside. Perhaps it should have been roasted and surrounded by vegetables in a beef stock or broth to add moisture back into the roast. Instead I used the ol’ “Johnny’s Chimichurri” to help out as a table-side condiment. Just another plug for my chimi to help build the demand folks. img_5006

Almost every internet sight says to purchase a Prime or Choice cut of beef from your local butcher. I buy most of my beef from Stater Brothers, a local super market that has given me satisfaction for many years. Their prices generally are less expensive than other markets and they have a good quality meat that was perfect for my experimenting on this project. I asked the butcher (yes they have a good butcher shop that will do almost anything for their customer) for a whole rib roast still in the cryovac bag. The cryovac bag is the first stage of the aging process but is considered “wet” aging. This process is somewhat similar to dry aging but does not remove moisture but rather retains moisture in the beef. This moisture results in more of a boiling effect on the beef. This is what we are trying to eliminate by the dry-aging process, so once the roast is removed from the bag we can begin to remove that moisture by completely drying the exterior of the beef with a few paper towels. Make sure to do a good job drying the exterior and DO NOT SEASON the roast at this time.


Rib roast dry-aged for 2 weeks

Prepare a space in your refrigerator that will accommodate the roast for a month. I happen to have a “beer fridge” in my laundry room that helped make this process even more simplified. Having more of a dedicated space for the aging process is essential for better guarding against foreign contaminants that could create a mold or fungus on your beef during the first two weeks of the aging process; and it minimizes the chance of cross contamination or transfer of flavors from any other perishables to the meat, or the odor of off-gassing back to the perishables. After the first two weeks the beef has developed a nice firm outer layer that basically prevents contaminants from coming into contact with what will become the remainder of the roast once that outer layer is cut away just before cooking.


img_5274You’ll also notice I have my roast sitting just above a 1/2 sheet pan of salt. During my research for this project I noticed one individual had done the same thing claiming that it assisted the aging process by helping to remove any additional moisture from the refrigerator air. Made perfect sense to me. I happen to have a water softener in my home so I already had extra salt and after I was done with this project, the salt would just end up in the water softening tank anyway. No harm, no foul. You can read more about the refrigeration process of dry-aging on the internet so I’ll minimize some of the technical issues with creating the perfect aging environment. All I know is that I removed any perishables and open containers from the “beer fridge” and the ice-making freezer above prior to placing the roast in there. Other than opening the refrigerator or freezer 2-3 times a day to retrieve a beer, grab a bowl of ice cream and inspect my meat, the air circulation and temperature were consistent with the aging process. My fridge keeps my beer very cold at about 34-36 degrees and the fan runs automatically. Also note: I continued to use the ice from the icemaker for my daily water intake as it should/would indicate any foulness in odor of the aging meat.

Another quick note to tell you that the very moderate odor of off-gassing was only sometimes apparent up to two weeks, after that it pretty much disappeared. You can read more about the off-gassing on the internet as well.


Rib roast dry-aged for 3 days

So now my beef has been thoroughly patted dry and placed on a rack just above the layer of salt. I have now placed the experimental subject into my beer refrigerator and inspected (looking at it is just like watching grass grow) it daily for anything that appears to resemble mold or fungus; but other than the salty looking appearance after just a couple of days, it just kind of sat there and got dried out with not much of an appearance change other than a bit of shrinkage and color difference. After the first two weeks the roast really did not take on that much of an appearance change from that point (at least grass continues to grow). After two weeks I put on a nitrile kitchen glove and prodded the exterior with my finger tip to discover a firm 1/8″ layer had formed around the complete exterior and a softer flesh underneath. This thin layer is what I was going to be cutting off just before cooking. After the full four weeks of aging, the texture of the roast had taken on more of a prosciutto feel and was easily handled and manipulated throughout any refrigerator space after I had removed it from the salt tray about 3 days before Christmas.  This turned out to be very convenient since all refrigerator space was now being consumed with holiday party food and favors. The next time we would have a worry about the roast is when we trim it and season it for cooking.

You’ll also have to pardon my lack of pictures I have to display here. When I am cooking, I am not thinking about taking pictures so you’ll have to take my word on some of these processes and search the internet to find the foodie porn shots.


Rib roast dry-aged for 4 weeks and ready for trimming, seasoning and trussing

Another thing I want to ensure I pass along is that this project is not about explaining the dry-aging process or confusing you with dry-aging times, calculating the actual age of the beef and other stupid stuff. This project was to see if I could do it at home in my refrigerator and if it was as easy as I thought it was going to be, safe and worth the effort. There are internet stories and models of doing it for only a few days, wrapping it in cheese cloth and rubbing it with other B.S.; but the 4-5 week aging time of beef is considered the perfect time investment for cost, equipment utilization and improvement in texture and flavor. I opened this roast from the cryovac bag and began the dry-aging on Thanksgiving morning when I first placed it in the beer fridge. I prepared it Christmas morning for service that day. A total of 30 days.

Now is the time to prepare your seasonings to be used for cooking. The roast has this nice prosciutto texture now and is ready to carve, season and truss. I had never before had the experience of carving off the 1/8 inch of dry jerky crust. When I did it revealed a beautifully colored and aroma free roast underneath. I seasoned mine with plenty of garlic, fresh rosemary from the yard (out here, rosemary grows everywhere) and plenty of salt and pepper. I then trussed it and placed into the roasting pan per my secretive cooking time and temperature. Again, I said it turned out dry but cooked perfectly. I removed the ribs and hid them from my guests quickly as the on-lookers were already starting to pick at them eager to taste the dream.

img_5294img_5293I’m happy to say this was a success. I don’t know that I will try this full 4-week process again to be cooked as a roast; but I will definitely be using the same technique to make some damn good steaks out of the whole roast. I just need to get the wife to agree to $100 worth of steaks for some special guests some night.

By the way the ribs were definitely the best f’in beef ribs I have ever had. Wow, what an intense flavor and tenderness.



Is it ‘owing’ an apology, or ‘owning’ an apology? – Decoy – San Marcos, CA

It all started with a walk through the grounds at Bernardo Winery. We were supposed to meet at 4pm on this Saturday afternoon to enjoy some of the shops and other Christmas hoopla that goes into the holiday season.

bernardo1We arrived at 4pm awaiting my son, Daughter-in-Law and Granddaughter to walk her through to see Santa (HUGE . . . HUGE line). Well forget about that, lets go get some food. “From here Vintana looks pretty good”, my son says. So we’re off for some friendly cocktails and a bit of fine flavors Vintana is known for. We ask to be seated but are faced with a 2-hour wait. “Forget that, I just called Decoy and they can sit us in 3o minutes”, my Daughter-in-Law says. “I know you’re not to keen on going there since our last boondoggle”, she continues. I tell her it’s fine and I would like to see if they had changed any for the better. To my surprise, it was better . . . but not only the food.

I had mentioned to my son as we finished our supper this evening, and being asked by others at our table, what I thought of the meal tonight and how it compared to Vintana and the previous visit here at Decoy. My response was, “it is definitely much better and closer to my expectations” for a great customer experience, but I also mentioned that it wasn’t just the food or menu changes since its opening. I said they must have hired a new or fired the old General Manager, Chef or staff as our entire experience had vastly improved. This experience was mush closer to what I expect from a 4-star experience similar to Vintana.

img_5111Upon arrival and being seated at our table, my son ran into the owner of the property company that owns the properties of several 4 star restaurants with adjacent resort. I guess he and my son have known each other for years as my son, at one point had interests with the company and plays soccer with the owner on the weekends. Something like that. Now I don’t know if their shaking of hands and introductions may have spawned a fresh, and quite possibly their best, server; but everything seemed to go off without a hitch tonight. Even the timing was just about perfect. The ONLY thing I found off this evening was the temperature of the food coming out of the back. Seems like the timing and expedience out of the kitchen had produced only very warm food (heat lamp) vice sizzling hot temps expected for a Rack of Lamb, Braised Lamb Shank and Scallops. Seems that the only sizzling hot plate were the Penn Cove Muscles that were tastily smothered in tomato, wine and just the right amount of Spanish Chorizo. A lot of tomatoes . . . but good. The presentations were good and consistent. The wife and I got charged an extra $4 for a splitting from the kitchen, but they were identically delicious plates. Of course, we were first introduced to the menu from our server who was excitedly explaining that “It’s completely new”. I believe I remember, as were also pointed out from our server, a couple of items that had remained.

Part of the odd enjoyment of the evening was upon our first stop while at Bernardo Winery as I had previously mentioned. Well my Son’s small family was 2 hours late that afternoon. The wife and I had decided to see what food abounds at Bernardo Winery since we are remotely acquainted  with the owner of that joint, also through my son. The wife and I figured we would just sit, relax and enjoy a glass of wine and check out an appetizer or two while waiting for the fools . . . the kids that is, . . . and our Granddaughter. We sat, ate, and drank and also watched the amount of patrons there were at Bernardo to see Santa, shop and possibly visit another food event. But that  wasn’t the food we were looking for. We wanted to see what was at the every day eatery on board Bernardo.

cafemerlotCafé Merlot was an experience that was an overall, meh! With our menu disintegrating shortly after take-off, my Linguini and Clams, or something like that (their current menu is not available on line) had changed to Linguini and Shrimp. The sauce and flavors were fine, but the presentation was possibly as it should have been, with the sauce and shrimp all together in the same pan as the pasta; because all but one of the shrimp ended up underneath the 4oz portioned pasta. I wasn’t impressed upon arrival but the flavors were quite delicious especially with the bread that came with a very unattractive looking olive tapenade tray. The tapenade tasted fine but was, again nothing food porn was missing.

I guess I am now again curious to visit Decoy again, both up and downstairs at Dockside.  I am also interested to begin visiting some of the other resort restaurants owned by this company. My son has been to another; Heat, in Lake Havasu along the Colorado River.

So I don’t yet know that I owe anyone an apology for my previous scathing review of Decoy, but I may feel the need someday after their history proves to hold culinary values.




The guy had no accent.

This week I am being trained (a professional class I am attending) by one of the leading trainers of the environmental subject I am supposed to be a specialist in. I have learned more about an Environmental Management System (EMS) from he, and my long-time friend, than any other team or program provided by the Department of Defense (DOD). As your life progresses and this story unfolds, you might start seeing a lot more of these acronyms, and understand just a bit more about yourself.

The instructor for the course, for a very long time, has enamored me with his deliberate verse of the International Organization of Standards (ISO) 14001. The instructor has an enormous background supporting his keen British, English or what may have been described by himself (after a mocking of him during class), an Australian accent in the International Standard of an EMS. Listening to him deliver any message with his dialect is often interesting in itself.

First thing my readers need to understand is that an EMS (on the environmental front) is nothing more than a way of doing environmental “stuff”. Basically, how we do environmental ‘stuff’ where I work? What is our system? . . . in a written and documented format . . . requiring certain ‘elements’ to ensure it meets an ‘International Standard’. All Federal Government agencies are required to abide.

So throughout the four days of this class I was able to dump another couple jars of my signature Chimichurri (my friend calls it Chubascomoenvea, . . . or something like that). Hopefully my Chimichurri will soon become an “International Standard”. The class was being held in Point Loma at one of a popular hotel chain’s conference rooms that supported our government employee’s sloppy learning comforts for those four days (all the very icy water available, . . . that seemed to be all). The hotel location was adequate with some mysterious parking arrangement adjacent in the city owned lot next door that perplexed every classmate and the teaching staff the very first day. Turns out the lot next door is fair game for up to 72 hours (constant). So it was easy to park and access the training site, because anyone not staying at the hotel was only there for the day. But since the training site was at a distant location from my home, I was never able, or necessarily prepared for bringing my leftovers as lunches to the training location. There was no obvious hotel staff nearby or microwave that I noticed, yet I think some of us brought some non-perishables from home anyway for sustenance.brown-bag

As the first day broke for lunch I already had my plan to extinguish my sandwich fix from Brown Bag Deli ( a long time favorite of mine and 8ft sandwich caterer for my military retirement). I also had a fresh workmate (New Guy) with me and I was eager to show him ‘my place’ to have a sangwich. I enjoyed my lunch, as New Guy and I had begun to learn a bit about each other over a sandwich; however the sandwich wasn’t the same as I remember, New Guy thought there was just a bit too much of ‘the green stuff’, referring to the avocado/mix that is used. I said to him, “no, never get the avocado”. I had forgot to tell him about that. Maybe it is the bread that I remember, cause that simply rocks; and I believe they have had the same bread for many . . . many years. I don’t remember if they make it at the Point Loma location (they have only one other shop near 32nd Street Naval Station), or if they buy it from another bakery. Good stuff!

Anyway the second day takes us further on an ambiguous road trip through Point Loma searching via cell-phone mapping app, to find New Guy’s favorite place to eat a sangwich in that area. You see, I had not totally realized this “New Guy” had lived in, basically, Southern California his entire, guessing 34 year life; and I had found out that his father was a multi-restaurant/café owner in San Diego and previous Executive Chef of the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach. But with every conversation we began to reminisce about various Southern California (I’m So Cal born and raised as well) locations. I even brought up another restaurant (must have been before his time), The Velvet Turtle in Redondo Beach, where in front of that restaurant is where I rolled the first VW I had owned. We remembered and actually shared a lot of the same locations and experiences of living in Southern California together. We even recognized some of the same events with our 20 year difference.

So New Guy (this is still day 2) takes me to his favorite ‘deli’ that he says, “It’s in the back of a market, but it’s my favorite sandwich in Ocean Beach (OB)”. Again I was still learning that New Guy has lived in So Cal his whole life . . . literally! olive-treeAfter the hand-held navigation on New Guy’s phone damn near killed us 3 times, we end up at Olive Tree Market, an international foods market that has been in this location for some 40 years, owned and operated by a Greek family that New Guy was acquainted with. I guess he had lived just down the street from this market for some time. I am walking through and checking out the market and some of the foods available. I notice this place does not carry a Chimichurri. Stumped, I become curious as to the other ‘worldly’ things this guy carries at his market as New Guy is now conversing with the store owner. New Guy calls me over for an introduction to Chris, the store owner. I am somehow surprised this ‘international food’ market owner does not have an accent that I somehow anticipated being of Greek ancestry and being introduced by another Greek . . . the New Guy, and he doesn’t have an accent either.

So I missed an opportunity to talk Chimi with Chris, but had hoped for a reintroduction later that week to drop off two jars of my Chimi and talk shop . . . and restaurants, since I had learned that Chris now owns the entire building and the restaurant next door, Ulivo, where the family’s Mediterranean cuisine may be enjoyed. There’s still another Indian food restaurant, Sundara, that has been there for years occupying the end of that building. We didn’t try either restaurant, but we did order a fresh sandwich from the deli inside of the Market. As was with New Guy’s interpretation of ‘the best’ sandwich, my experience was just played as a reverse role. My Rueben sandwich was overpowered with their 1000 island dressing. It made for an awkward eating along some part of the boardwalk wall that he had navigated us to not far from the market. As we sat along the wall eating our sandwiches and talked more about living in the area, we would become increasingly interrupted by one of the various beach transient people staring, gawking and asking questions about where we scored the sandwiches. New Guy seemed at home telling them the Market was just up the street.

I learned a thing or two about New Guy, a couple restaurants I may elect to try in the future, and a bit more about an EMS and myself, now realizing that I am increasingly less of the “original” Californians living in Southern California, cause I keep running into long-time residents with roots that run deep . . . just without an accent.


It’s my birthday, and I’ll beat you with a Wooden Spoon if I want to.

The wife has been bothering me for a couple of days now about where I would like to go for dinner on my birthday. It wasn’t until hard-pressed for an answer the day before my birthday that I hadn’t recently thought about trying out The Wooden Spoon.

“It’s 8:30 at night and I’m not going to f’ with it now”.

Tuesday night while letting the dogs out I noticed the lights were not on at the front of the house. “Damn it”. That now means I need to investigate the possibility of my large freezer in the garage may not be on. It has been a problem for years where the driveway electrical circuit is part of the garage Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) circuit. It has repeatedly tripped over the years . . . and the front landscaping lighting has always been my indicator to go check the freezer. It was poorly designed as it should have been its own circuit.

So Tuesday night I just eliminate the freezer after a few swift trouble shooting moves, like disconnecting everything in the circuit I could quickly think about, and relocating the freezer to the garage door opener circuit. “I’m going to bed”. The next day was to be my 55th birthday and the wife and I had just begun our dinner plans, texting the kids, for me (family tradition that the birthday person gets to choose where they would like to eat). Yes, sometimes it gets expensive, but it’s usually just five of us, and now a Grandbaby.the-wooden-spoon-restaurant-logo

Wednesday was to be a great day because it was my birthday . . . and the Wednesday just before Thanksgiving this year. Off to work knowing that my government workplace will probably have some kind of early release. That turned out to be some well afforded time as I sprinted off home onto the already crowded freeways to get back to trouble shooting the electrical circuit, knowing that I really only have “today” to figure out what I need from Home Depot strategically nearby The Wooden Spoon in Escondido, Ca.

I had seen The Wooden Spoon before, usually in the morning hours while I would visit the Veterans Administration (VA) clinic just behind them a block away. They were always closed but I had previously looked them up on the internet to find them to only serve during the lunch and dinner hours.

Having now identified that the short in my electrical system was in fact along the driveway circuit, I had made the decision to isolate and repurpose a dedicated circuit for the cause. And I was tired of having my freezer in jeopardy. But this day was my birthday . . . the day before Thanksgiving . . . the day before the day before BLACK FRIDAY. Hell that means I have to hit Home Depot today . . . after my dinner, and before I go home. Quick figure out where to eat, that’s nearby a Home Depot, cause I already know The Home Depot has my specific parts because I’ve bought them there before. “Honey, I want to go to The Wooden Spoon”, now having to explain to her everything I know about it; blah blah “near the VA” . . . blah blah. We both had an opportunity to begin with their website and observe the menu (perfectly up-to-date and accurate). I also noticed that the Chef was a graduate from the Los Angeles campus of the same culinary school as I. So now I had a desire to see what he had learned along the way. This was to be the second Art Institute (AI) culinary graduate’s cuisine in public I have tried. The first was great cuisine, but had since failed as a business.

Well now you know why I was at The Wooden Spoon and how I spent my birthday, . . . and most of Thanksgiving day, . . . and Black Friday, after needing to return a part that didn’t work out. I still look back at my week and think about the great week of food, having enjoyed The Wooden Spoon’s creative seasonal menu and the following day eating belly busting quantities for Thanksgiving . . . that we didn’t have to cook.


Some kind of toast with Rapini, two homemade mustards and cheese on the side.

The Wooden Spoon started us off with immediate attention at the door since the inside was already full estimating about only 12 seats inside the very small diner. The remainder of the building is basically dedicated kitchen but the outside has a large patio area with plenty of heaters to keep the atmosphere along the very busy front of Valley Parkway. I just remembered now that my wife and I used to cruise Valley Parkway when we were dating 35 years ago. That is also something to say about The Wooden Spoon’s location being further off of Escondido’s culinary hot spot of Grand Avenue that has it’s own Cruising Grand that happens every Friday night throughout the summer. Wow, memories.


Now seated and warm from the staff redirecting heaters to every arriving party on this Wednesday night as I watched most of the patio area begin to swiftly fill up. Since the seasonal menu here is small, it was easy to taste a lot of the menu without missing much. We started off with Toast. Hey, take it easy Nacho Libre. I don’t know what was on the Toast of the night, because I wasn’t listening to my son order. All I was thinking about was the Flat Iron Steak, remembering back to my days in the AI kitchen, that he better not screw up the steak. spoon2

Guess what, he screwed up the steak. Either it wasn’t seasoned at all, or not enough; relying on the sauces of Blackberry Mustard and Pickled Mustard Seeds which seemed too rich for me and left me desiring just a fine piece of meat to enjoy.

There were plenty of other sauces  on the other artful and tasty plates and things to have kept my steak flavorfully enjoyable, but the menu is so diverse, that I couldn’t find anything else that seemed to compliment the steak like just some old fashioned salt and pepper. In my humble opinion, nothing leaves the kitchen without seasoning. As for the other dishes of Grilled Jidori Chicken with perfectly steamed rice, Roasted Chicken Gravy, deep fried brussel sprouts and a 63° Egg. This was a very good dish, The egg provided just the right amount of sauce for the pre-sliced airline breast, and gave you a chance to soak it in the rice. spoon5

. . . and the brussel sprouts were very different as explained by my son who absolutely hates brussel sprouts; calls them, “little balls of death” and had mistakenly ate them this evening and said they tasted like air . . . there was nothing there. I enjoyed them only after eating about 5 of them at a time. Think about that; how can you eat 5 brussel sprout halves in one bite? They were very light. Eating the first single had a burnt taste, but a whole mouthful was delectably wonderful. A solid dish.

A couple other things we ordered included the Spoon Burger with Arugula, house made Baconion Jam, house made Smoked Blue Cheese, house made Tomato Aioli and you guessed it, house-made House Fries. A lot of very complex flavors going on with this very good burger. spoon1

My wife can’t go without her beets, so here goes. As fully explained by the server, the Autumn Beets are slow roasted beets with House Preserved Madarin Oranges, Hazelnuts and some Balsamic Caviar (gastro-spherified balsamic vinegar).spoon4

As stuff was showing up, everyone at my table was quick to grab and I had only moments to take pictures as the Grandbaby already snagged a beet.


The Bowl of Roughage. I think that’ll work.












Ok, so the Wooden Spoon was hailed that night from one of our most discerning family members as having a menu that is worth returning for. The driveway lights are now working correctly and I didn’t loose any food from a defrosting freezer; so I give them a whole crap-load of wooden spoons. If you’re Italian, you’re gonna break a couple smacking the Grandkids, and you figure out the rest. They were pretty darn good.





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