Friday, July 1, 2011

Coast. Commonwealth. Comstock. A Day's Work

One of the things Significant Eater and I like to do when we’re visiting California is to take a nice drive; it’s a car culture after all.  I mean, people drive to mail a letter, if you get my drift. 

So on a rare for California in June rainy Tuesday, that’s just what we did.  We set out for Pescadero, a little town snuggled just off the coast somewhere between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. I remembered and had always wanted to get back there, because in “town” there’s a famous old tavern serving some of the best artichoke soup this side of, well, Castroville.  Heading down I-280, the Junipero Serra Freeway (hey, it’s California) affords some great scenery for an interstate that basically runs through the middle of Silicon Valley.  That’s because there isn’t much to the west of it except state Fish and Game Refuge and a large reservoir system – which is just fine. We cut over to Route 1 on the coast via Route 92, which is a nice, windy road (with a couple of local fruit and veggie stands; we bought some early, delicious cherries) that runs out to Half Moon Bay, and from there headed south – we’d “explore” Half Moon Bay on our ride back to the city.

The main street through Pescadero is called Stage Road, and that’s where our destination, Duarte’s, has been since 1894...  


We ate in the bar room, where this guy watches your every move…


Seriously, how great is a place that not only has a head mounted on the wall, but the whole series of velvet paintings of dogs playing poker?  The actual bar is the original, as our server and bartender, the ever-friendly Larry, pointed out.

So, how was the soup?  Actually, it might have been ever better than I remembered.  It’s offered two ways; pure cream of artichoke or split half and half with their cream of green chile. Both were brought out for us to sample, and we opted for the half and half, “like the locals do” according to Larry…


I rounded out my meal with some local fried smelts and a huge cracked Dungeness crab, while Sig Eater had the fried oyster sandwich. Hey - it ain’t haute, but it’s good. Before leaving, we walked out back, where the restaurant has its own vegetable garden. No surprise as to what’s growing back there…


We headed back up the coast, all the way into San Francisco – there’s some stunning scenery along the way, but don’t go hiking up or down any of the hills.  Many years ago, I nearly got arrested for doing so – they’re muy peligroso and the CHP doesn’t want to spend the time or the manpower rescuing any dumb tourists when they get stuck or fall…


Dinner that night was at Commonwealth, one of the new wave of San Francisco restaurants that I’d heard and read good things about.  Before we left for dinner, I snapped this shot from one of the windows in our rental…


We arrived as the restaurant was  preparing for its first wave of diners; it was early because that was the only reservation available, but dining at the bar is obviously an option…


My starter of spring peas, yuba, black trumpet, silken tofu, etc. was very good – and foamy…


As was the soft-shell crab (hey, not everything has to be local), exquisitely fried and there’s that foam again. Oh, make that an emulsion, a yuzu kosho emulsion, to be exact…


Grilled squid with a bacalao croquette was hard to pry away from SE, but I managed a few bites…


And my main, a spin on surf on turf, was a spot prawn perched atop a portion of “young hen,” with asparagus, spring onions and crushed fingerling potatoes. They do chicken well here.  For dessert, the two of us split the “peanut butter semifreddo with chocolate ganache and frozen popcorn,”  basically, a really great frozen Reese’s peanut butter cup.  

Our verdict – this meal doesn’t need to compare itself against any from New York – and certainly not at this price point. We’d return in a second, and I’ll send anyone going out west here too.  "Fig man” included.

Since it was an early dinner, and since I didn’t drink at dinner because I was driving (a plus – the restaurant has its own parking lot), we ended up walking over to Columbus Avenue once more, to Comstock Saloon, where the drinks, be they classic or modern, are delicious; and the d├ęcor, like the original bar, is from the early 1900s.  And you’ll really know you’re in San Francisco, and perhaps think you’re in another era, when you look over and sitting on the bar next to you you see this…



7 comments:

  1. yay!
    next time you need to have duarte's ollallieberry pie for dessert!
    how long are you here?
    enjoy! (as if i need to say tell you that...)

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  2. You ate EXACTLY the meal I have about once a month, minus the crab. The soup, shared smelts, oyster sandwich.
    total yum.
    Robynn

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  3. Mitch,

    You and SE were on the coast and we didn't get a call? Pescadero is only five miles from La Honda. We're crushed...

    Edwin & Marcy

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  4. I love Duarte's. I go every time I work in SF. I also go to all "our" old Chinese haunts and remember such fabulous times together. MIss you guys...so glad you are enjoying this coast

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  5. G and I ate at Commonwealth on Saturday night, walked in at 7 and sat at the bar, and it was GREAT. awesome grilled pork loin and deep-fried hen medallions...everything was great.

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  6. Hello Mitchell, Paul here. If memory serves, the last time we saw each other I was dropping Pino's motorcycle off at your place in San Jose. He pushed me in the direction of this latest blog entry. Good writing, good topic! I want to share a soup recipe with you if you're interested. Get back to me and we can talk about it.

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