In order to be a writer or creative or just be happy, I believe it’s essential to travel and experience new worlds, meet different people, and uncover new ways of living. Here you will see some of my personal journeys.
When I think about what I want my son to remember when he’s older from being a baby, I have high hopes that he’ll remember how much we loved him. But I’m not a delusional new parent…at least totally delusional. He clearly won’t be able to recall any of his experiences directly. I’m aware that he won’t remember me singing Randy Travis songs to him accompanied by my semi-hollow guitar; he won’t recall that I dressed him in a Patriots uniform before one of the big games; he won’t recall the first time we buckled him into his car seat, and he won’t know how many times we checked in the rearview mirror to ensure he was alive. In fact, Daniel Siegel, child psychologist and author of “The Whole Brain Child,” called the beginning of a child’s life infant amnesia, which is the phenomenon where adults can’t recall episodic memories from before they were two years old.
It’s sad to think that everything I do for my child won’t be directly remembered.
I’ve been living in San Diego for a few years now, and I have an embarrassing confession to make: I have never been to Mexico. I have never been Tijuana. I have never been to Rosarito or Ensenada. This madness needed to end. So, last Saturday, I decided to end an awful precedent and head to Tijuana for my first time. Now that I’m back, I wanted to share with you all my recommendations for things to do in Tijuana.
For four years, I’ve been living in San Diego, California, after moving from Los Angeles, and I’ve learned that when people talk about Italian food in our city, they always mention Buona Forchetta first. It’s a staple. The lines are long, the pizza is delicious (though I think Tribute in North Park is better), and most of the waiters have an Italian accent to make the patrons truly feel (or believe) they’re getting an authentic Italian experience. No wonder I had never heard a mention of Solare San Diego.
So when I heard that a San Diego-based restaurant won an international pasta competition in Milan, Buona Fochetta was my first thought. Turns out I was wrong.
Solare in San Diego Wins International Award
In 2017, chef Accursio Lota of Liberty Station’s Solare Ristorante won the Barilla Pasta World Championship in Italy. Accursio beat out 19 chefs from other countries around the world. While this isn’t fresh news in 2018 (I heard about this a couple months ago when I visited my favorite food blog Eater), I asked around to some of my friends if they had ever been to Solare, and many of them admitted they weren’t even familiar with the restaurant. Perhaps it was just the crowd I was running with, but I found it entirely strange there wasn’t more buzz around an international award-winning pasta champion.
On Friday, my wife and I decided to try the restaurant. When we showed up at the restaurant, I was greeted by a hostess in a red top and a black skirt that made her look like she was going to try and tango dance me to my seat. I made a reservation, thinking Friday night would be packed, and I looked around the restaurant and saw many empty tables. My reservation wasn’t needed.
Behind the hostess, there were poorly designed and bland signs touting more of Solare’s successes, including being named Best Italian Restaurant in San Diego, Best Chef, and Best Wine List by San Diego Magazine. How in the world is this place empty on a date night?
My wife and I were led to our seats, and we sat down in long tables that made us feel far apart, as if we were eating at a formal dinning hall in a Game of Thrones episode. On the far back wall, there was an old Fernet Branca advertisement, but other than that vintage touch, the design felt more like I was eating in a chain restaurant than a top-ranked, award-winning Italian restaurant.
The drink menu was overwhelming, and the cocktail list came across as a placard you would get in a beach bar before sipping on a pina colada and munching on some conch fritters. However, I was impressed by how many wines by the glass they had, and I could find a nice glass of wine instead of feeling like I would need to buy a bottle to try something memorable.
I settled on the Fattoria del cerro, vino nobile di Montelpulciano. When I was recently in Florence, I tried a Montelpulciano, and it was rich with tobacco and black cherry flavors. This wine didn’t have as much tobacco as that wine, but it was moderately intense with some hints of vanilla.
The waitress was constantly at our attention, and it felt like she was anticipating our orders and wants rather than responding to requests. She brought over some house-made bread with an olive oil that was so peppery I coughed a bit. (Nothing quite like a peppery olive oil.)
My Courses at Solare in San Diego
My first course was a tomato salad with anchovies. I’ve finally concluded that I don’t love anchovies, but they were fresh, and the tomatoes rivaled those I had in Italy. My wife had an eggplant soup that was ugly brown yet delicious. I would recommend ordering the soup and not being intimidated that the eggplant flavor would be too overwhelming. It was balanced and flavorful.
For my main meal, I ordered the Pappardelle al Sugo di Salsiccia, which is a House-made pappardelle pasta, Pecorino aged 365 days, South Creek Ranch sausage sugo, and roasted pistachios. Pappardelle are thick and long pieces of pasta, and it was fresh and wonderfully paired with the sausage. The roasted pistachios gave the pasta a bit of a crunch.
Overall, I thought the cuisine at Solare was wonderful, even though I only tried a few of the items as we were eating light. But I can’t wait to go back and try their tasting menu and perhaps try a cooking class.
However, I did understand why there isn’t much buzz around Solare. Perhaps the lack of conversation and interest, despite their awards, has to do with a booming scene at Liberty Station, but I have a gut feeling that it’s simply the design of the restaurant. The long tables, the tacky menus and placards, the general ambience of an Italian-restaurant chain are what I think hurts Solare. If you can get past the lack of buzz and the generic atmosphere, then you will enjoy the flavors and the freshness of the food. Sometimes, great food just doesn’t know how to be cool.
Over the last few years, my wife and I have been interested in vacations that combined stress-destroying nature set in culturally rich places where adventure and great food were as common as the wide-open spaces, and Jackson Hole (we recently discovered) is clearly one of those places. I’ve been interested in visiting Jackson Hole since I saw a photo of the Grand Tetons, and every day we had in the Hole was an absolute pleasure. Below, you will see 10 things to do in Jackson Hole with Your Wife.
1. Be Beary Aware
All throughout Grand Teton National Park, Teton Village, and Jackson Hole, it’s impossible to ignore the signs that read: “Be Bear Aware.” The signs are pretty self explanatory, but they want you to be on the look-out for bears. Well, Heron and I were terrified of bears yet incredibly intrigued by the prospect of seeing one. (We actually preferred the slogan “Be Beary Aware.”) So, when we were hiking to Amphitheater Lake, we actually saw a bear as we were coming around the corner of a switchback. He was young and ravaging through the huckleberry patches. It’s quite a sight to see, especially if they’re not about to eat you.
2. Buy Bear Spray
When I was hiking and we approached switchbacks, I always reached down for my bear spray, just in case some hungry Grizzly wanted to have a French and Irish snack. I really recommend buying the bear spray at the supermarket — or asking your hotel to borrow some — but it does feel essential, considering I talked to a couple that needed to use it.
Ask people in the hotel you’re staying at if they have a good bear spray story. The best one I heard is that some people commonly interpret bear spray as a bug spray. One of the hotel employees told me the story of a father lining his entire family up against a wall, the bear spray in his hand, and dousing his entire family. From what I hear, the pain of mace to bear spray is like comparing the heat of a campfire to the sun. This poor family must have lost all faith in their father.
Huckleberries are a treat for bears…and humans. (Not pictured above.) It’s not right to let all the bears get all the good stuff. I recommend finding a huckleberry patch and searching for the delectable berry. Make sure that the plant has alternating leaves on the stem. If you have time, then try and find some huckleberry dessert at a local restaurant. I recommend Westbank Grill or Gather.
4. Morning Sunset on the Grand Teton
Get up early in the morning and try and find the alpenglow.
5. Take a Safari
For some reason, I never imagined I could take a legitimate safari in America, but in The Grand Teton National Park, you certainly can hop in an SUV and see incredible wildlife that truly make you understand “where the buffalo roam.” Heron and I took Eco Tours, and we were lucky enough to have Laura “the Legend” as our tour guide. I call her the legend because every other tour guide that met her along the way had a story about her. Here are two of my favorite:
Stalked a bison for 20 days
Killed a deer in the middle of winter with a bow and arrow and carried out the carcass on her back
Overall, EcoTours was fantastic. We drove around in an SUV, drank fresh coffee, and saw incredible wildlife and parts of the park we would never have found on our own. For instance, we saw bison, elk, a coyote, a badger, pronghorn, and more.
6. Dance Like a Cowboy at the Silver Dollar Saloon at the Wort Hotel
I grew up in Massachusetts, and I wish I could actually say that I was close to being a real-life cowboy. I can’t, however….mostly because I tend to glamp instead of camp. But I can claim to dance like one. I recommend heading over to the Silver Dollar Saloon in Jackson when the live band is playing and figuring out how to cut a rug like you know how to herd cattle.
7. Peresphone Bakery
When I first decided to book a vacation in Jackson, I never expected to find such incredible food. We ate at several great restaurants, but my favorite spot was Persephone bakery. They had great coffee, a peaceful outdoor patio, and spoons on the wall. Go there for great breakfast and Intelligentsia Coffee.
8. Hike to Amphitheater Lake and see the Elephant eye
Heron and I love to hike, and before you die, you need to make sure you get as close to the Grand Teton as possible. I recommend hiking to Amphitheater Lake. It’s a difficult hike, but the views are intense, and the sense of accomplishment is even better. When you get to the top, you can wade in glacier water so refreshing, cool, and clean, you’ll almost want to go swimming. But then you’ll remember the cold part. Plus, you’ll get to see the rock that looks like an elephant eye. (At least that’s how I see it.)
9. Walk with the wildflowers
In Wyoming, the state flag is a bison, but I would argue that it should be the wildflower patch. Take some time to walk through a meadow and appreciate these colorful planets buzzing around your feet.
10. Fly Fish Down the Snake River
With all of the above said, it’s easy to say what our favorite part of the trip was in Jackson Hole: Fly fishing down the Snake River. I don’t claim to be a master fisherman, and neither does my wife. In fact, I have never been fly fishing before in my life, but we couldn’t miss the opportunity to try something new. We booked “Fish the Fly” with Tristan, our guide, and he took us down the Snake River in his boat, prepared all the rods, and hosted us down a river that was as large and glorious as the West. My wife was the only one to catch a fish, but it was worth it just to float down the river and catch site of the Grand Teton Mountains behind us and watch bald eagles and osprey zoom over head. Plus, we saw two golden eagles that stood taller than I could ever imagine. Being able to float down the Snake River in Wyoming, well, it gave us a reason to always return.
The other day I visited White Oak, one of the world’s premier wildlife conservation facilities, which is 30 miles north of Jacksonville, Florida. I was able to visit such an incredible facility that spans 10,000 acres because of my sister (I hate to write the word “in-law” [really diminishes the idea of family, no?]) and future brother (insert same frustrations here) work there. They took us around White Oak, telling us about how rhinoceros are unfairly poached for their horns and the difficulty of breeding birds in captivity. What’s most enthralling is how much space each animal has to roam, and I was able to take some photos of these cute animals on a conservation. See my eight photos below.