Tag: Food

Why Hanalei Bay in Kauai is the Most Beautiful Place I Know

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.

Continue reading “Why Hanalei Bay in Kauai is the Most Beautiful Place I Know”

Things to do in Tijuana, Mexico

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.

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A Review of Solare San Diego

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.

For more food experience, read about my trip to Tijuana.

Five Reasons to Miss Long Beach, California

Yesterday, Heron and I put the finishing touches on our old place in Long Beach. We vacuumed the floors, windexed the windows, and cleaned the bathrooms. Place is spotless. But as I was leaving, I noticed the liquor store across the street. I used to walk over there at night and talk to the Cambodian owners as they watched Chinese sitcoms on a miniature television. I noticed the homeless man walk by who slept on a bench at the doctor’s office in front of our apartment. I saw this crazy lady who just never stopped her dogs from yapping when Hendrix walked by. I said goodbye to my manager — who couldn’t have been better — and I realized I probably wouldn’t be spending much time there anymore. I have had this sensation in many cities, and saying goodbye is always hard. So, here are five reasons why I will miss Long Beach.

5. Portfolio Coffeehouse


When I was freelancing full-time over the last six months, I was, honestly, pretty lonely at certain points in the week. Heron was working, and I was at home, staring into a computer, writing pitches, hoping that the speed of email and responses would speed up. Sometimes, I just couldn’t talk to my dog without thinking I was insane. So I would drive down to Portfolio Coffeehouse on 4th Street. Honestly, I know it’s cliché to write and work in coffee shops, but I’ve always loved it. I guess it’s only cliché and strange if you’re not working and just pretending, but I would head down there, grab a table by a window and an outlet, and bust my freaking ass. But they had awesome lattes, and they make all these little designs with the foam. And they had some characters, too. A group of old men, probably retired, would show up every day, early, and talk in a corner about cultural events. There was this one fat guy who was the loudest. He could get annoying, but for some reason, seeing him there every time I went provided some consistency I was desperately seeking.

4. Running along the bluffs on Ocean Blvd.

View From Ocean BLVD

Whether I was working at the rehab center or freelancing, running became a part of my routine that I could not live without. It takes me out of my head; it eases stress; and it provides consistency to an often chaotic and frazzled world. We didn’t live on the beach or anything, but we lived five or so blocks away; so I would grab Hendrix or go on my own and run along the bluffs, staring out over the Pacific Ocean and the lights from Downtown and the Port. It almost seemed to look like an ancient Egypt. The weird thing about Long Beach is that they have a jetty for the port, and it breaks the waves. The ocean is flat, and no one swims there (probably because the ocean is seriously polluted). But there was something about running along the bluffs, staring out of the water, wondering about the mysterious islands with water falls, and overlooking the oil tankers that just made me at peace, calm, comfortable with everything that was out of my control.

3. The Food


As you can see from the above picture, you might be wondering why there is a shot of a random guy in a food category. Well, there is no real reason; the guy in the above photo is going to be my co-best man at my wedding, and it’s just kind of funny. So now back to the list. I thoroughly enjoyed eating in Long Beach. I wish I had more money to spend, because I would spend it all on food. There are so many different places to eat, and, being a kid from Massachusetts who wouldn’t know pho from a Korean BBQ, the LBC opened up my taste buds to some incredible flavors and spices. Number 9 in Long Beach had great pho; Tavern on Two had some awesome burgers on second street; Sushi on Fire treated us so well; Coco Renos had some bomb-ass Mexican food (plus, you can could take your food into the World Famous Reno Room).

But out of all the places to eat in Long Beach — there are honestly too many to name — the best part about the LBC for food was breakfast. The competition was fierce; there was Coffee Mug, Eggs Etc., and Starlings — and that was just by our house. My favorite place by far, however, was the Coffee Mug. You’ve got to be careful when you go there. Get there before 10. The line is crazy. I used to always get their honey-sausage scramble and drench my eggs in their verde chili. Holy shit! It tasted like a spicy version of heaven — which is Long Beach.

2. The culture and diversity

Berth 55, Joseph Lapin
Berth 55, Joseph Lapin

My buddy, Dan Stroud, used to say that Long Beach was the most diverse city in the country. Well, I found that hard to believe, and I’m still skeptical that it’s more diverse than New York or Los Angeles (Sarah Bennett, Long Beach expert and editor of The Post, would probably know), but there honestly is no city like the LBC, because there are so many different types of people. Did you know that Long Beach has the largest population of Cambodians in the country? A great article at the OC Weekly came out profiling Cambodia Town. There is no city like Long Beach. So many people, so many cultures.

1. The Port of Long Beach

The PortWhen I first moved to Los Angeles County, what I saw didn’t really match my expectations. I had this grand image in my mind that California was all palm trees and gorgeous beaches and beautiful people. Of course, this is true, but there are sides of California that aren’t really advertised. Yeah, I heard about poverty and violence, but what I never saw coming was how industrial it could be. Driving down the 405 towards Long Beach and coming into the cloud factories stretching for miles surprised the hell out of me. And when I saw all those factories that led to the ports, I knew I wanted to write about it. So, I did. I wrote about port truckers, union strikes, and blue-collar institutions. I got to know those men and women who worked at the ports; I saw their hard work and desires for a better life by lifting themselves up by their bootstraps; and I saw the beauty the harmonious machine that is the Port of Long Beach.

Five Things I Miss About Miami

I moved to Los Angeles County almost two years ago from Miami, and I have found, while L.A. does feel like Miami’s big brother, there is no city quite like the magic city.  That doesn’t mean one city is better than the other, but there are aspects of Miami culture that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else — and maybe they just don’t exist outside of the tip of America’s wang (Florida: for those people who can’t see the state is phallic).  So, I decided to create a list of the Top Five Things I miss about Miami.

5. The Docks in Coconut Grove — Dinner Key

bike Miami

When I lived in Coconut Grove, I would take my bike — almost every day — and drive around the docks.  I would pass Peacock Park, and I would listen to the homeless telling stories on the checker-board picnic tables.  I would, sometimes, stop and play basketball — until one day I almost got my ass kicked by a bunch of guys who didn’t like the way I played.  I would watch softball games filled with students from the University of Miami. But the best part was when I would driver my bike along the sidewalk that ran along the docks filled with yachts and shrimping boats.  The shrimpers were always the most interesting people.  They had crappy skiffs that seemed to perpetually have smoke coming out of their engines.  I would love to write a story about those guys one day. Then there was an area near the docks where I used to go sit; it was on the opposite side of Scotty’s Landing — a bar with one of the best views of the ocean and Key Biscayne in Miami — and watch the waves, see the image of downtown in the background, and write, well, poems in my head.

4. Lincoln Road — South Beach


At one point, actually the first year we lived there, Heron and I lived in South Beach.  We found a place that was a reasonable price for two graduate students, living on loans and stipends, and we moved into the back cottage of a house owned by a Cuban retiree.  Well, it turned out we were getting ripped off, and the landlord turned out to be a jerk, but that’s another story — and it’s a good one, too.  But we moved into this place so we could be near South Beach.  We figured, well, we’re living in Miami, why not be the closest to all the action possible?  I wasn’t really into clubbing or any of that, but we were so close to Lincoln Road, and we used to walk there a lot.  We would stop at David’s for cafe con leches, and we would just wander around the stores.  They had these great museums there, too.  I used to go to the Britto museum all the time.  It was amazing how polarizing Britto was as an art figure (this might be a cool post for later), but I’ll never forget bringing my good buddy into the museum, and he grabbed his crotch and told the store and Britto they can suck on his testes.  That was funny.  In reality, Lincoln Road is just a boulevard of shops in South Beach, but there are always interesting people — an artist who drives around with a rooster on his bike, a smaller Books and Books, a strange man in a dress dancing to a boom box, and if you’re lucky, you might see one of the funniest and most awkward mimes in the world.  One of my best memories, however, is heading down to Lincoln Road on Sundays with Heron, and I would buy her fresh flowers.

3. Calle Ocho — El Rey De Las Fritas


Calle Ocho — eighth street — is one of the most historic streets in the city.  It runs through Little Havana, and in the parks, you will find men playing dominos and smoking cigars.  One day, I sat in the park and watched the old Cubans playing dominos, and I had no idea what the hell was going on.  All up and down this street, you will find monuments, memorials, Cuban restaurants, music shops; but my favorite place on Calle Ocho — like all cool things in Miami it was introduced to me by my good friend, El Gonzo — was El Rey De Las Fritas. The king of the fritas.  Anthony Bourdain ate at this restaurant on his show, No Reservations.  It’s nothing extravagant — in fact, it’s greasy.  But oh-so delicious.  Now, you may ask what is a frita, and I will tell you the truth — pork mystery.  But it’s delicious.  They put these potato sticks on the top, and it is a wonderful “culinary” experience.  But maybe the best part is that you can wash the fritas down with an amazing shake.  They even have a shake made out of rice puffs — or something that tastes like that.  If you’re in Miami, and you’re looking for something off the beaten path, then you better go here.

2. Coffee — Espresso –Cafecito — Cafe Con Leche — Cortido — Collata


I have tried for years to find a cup of coffee that can compare to the cups of Jose in Miami.  But nothing compares.  “Cuban coffee,” usually made with cafe bustelo, is made in various ways with espresso and sucre: cafe con leche, cortadito, collata, cafecito.  My favorite was a cafe con leche.  Basically, it’s an espresso with milk. But there is something about the way it is made in Miami that is completely unique.  I used to love to walk up to a coffee shop — usually just a window — listen to the espresso machines gurgling and eat an empanada or these amazing cookies filled with dulce de leche.  And I have tried to drink a cafe con leche in other places, but it’s never made right.  It’s frustrating.  But no one, at least in Los Angeles, seems to know how to create an authentic cafe con leche.  (If there is, then tell me where.)

1. Books and Books — Coral Gables

Books and BooksIn Los Angeles, there are countless book stores that are incredible. Book Soup and The Last Bookstore are my favorite.  But in Miami, there was no question; Books and Books in the heart of Coral Gables was the best book store in the Magic City and one of the best spots to eat and hear an incredible reading.  I can’t tell you how many great writers I’ve seen there, and when I was in the MFA Program at Florida International, Books and Books became a sort of meeting ground for the program outside of the university.  Our teachers read there; our alum read there; and even, sometimes, the students read there, too.  So many good memories. I used to order a cup of coffee, sit on the patio, and write stories.  Plus, they had this turkey, apple, brie sandwich with mango chutney butter that was just out of this world.  For the literary crew of Miami, Books and Books is a special place — a meeting ground, a repository and trade post of ideas, and, well, just a beautiful site of book displays.  Go to Books and Books.  I can’t wait to return.