Gary Turns 51 and We have an amazing culinary adventure

My husband has a need for speed and to feel alive. All this sitting in a room, pushing paper around, makes a man feel less than that heroic guy who has the number one plate in watercraft racing in California. So for to honor his annual trip around the sun (his birthdays), instead of cakes and parties, I make him feel alive. Last year for his 50th, he flew on the trapeze (video on You Tube, if you dare) and spent a culinary week in San Francisco (that is more my gig, but he loves the exceptional foods, dotting sommeliers and chef superstars). This year I bought him eight laps in a real NASCAR at Fontana track in California and a ride in an F-16 simulator, and a few surprises. Culinary wise, I scored a gig rating the best in LA, so the nights we bound to be fabulous.

We left Friday morning early to beat the traffic, but we were wrong, oh so wrong. The knuckle clenching traffic added three hours to our trip and I feared we would miss his chance around the track at 160 mph. Not wanting to take more time, we ate fast food. This is a feat that most Americans excel at, but not us. We did a Jack in The Box breakfast that made our tummies rumble for two hours and a Wendy’s chicken, something covered in a sweet-spicy sauce. Nasty.
We made it to the track with minutes to spare. It was impressive. Two and half miles of asphalt that grown people hurl there bodies around in a fiberglass frame and roll bar at 160 mph. Gary was in heaven. He suited up in the fire retardant suit, listened to the instructor, rode with the pace care, then rode with a professional driver to get the feel for the track and the car.

His car was number 7- his lucky number and he roared around that track passing everyone on the oval of speed. 15 laps later, he had a permanent grin on his face and wanted to rent the whole track for a day (at a cost of only $4,500). See Video.

We check into our super cute hotel in Chino (as it was centrally located for all our adventures and super cheap at $59.00 per night). With a swimming pool, continental breakfast, and lush grounds, it was a deal. The rooms were clean and spacious. We asked for the best restaurant around and the proprietor told us most people around there celebrate at Olive Garden. Ahhh you gotta love the suburbs. Everyone is so……..normal………………average…………not daring. We check Yelp, Yellow Pages and in room magazine and it seem that not only were there no privately owned restaurants (except a Basque one, that I love, and Gary not so much), so off to Olive Garden for endless salad bowls and bread sticks. I only acquiesced because of the Italian Margarita (made with Amaretto). Gary ordered the beef rib and I had the salad and a smoked Gouda cheese fondue. It was very good. The servers were attentive and not hovering, my only complaint was the lady in the next booth yakking on endlessly about a bad flight. I was surprised.

The next day we got up early and found a local cake bakery. We had four cupcakes and the best sugar cookies ever. In our search for a local breakfast place, we found several garage sales and then a flea market. Being pirates by nature, we parked facing the sun in the drive-in theater and scoured the booths for treasure. Gary found a perfect area rug for his office, I found a pair of Gucci sunglasses for $5.00, and we enjoyed the booths with Nazi memorabilia in a town with little or none of the “pure race.”
We finally found a local place called Honolulu Harry’s that boosted $5.00 Mai Tai’s, so we ran in. Decorated in early Tiki tacky, it had grand lunch specials and famous Mai Tai’s (for which I drank two). I had the seared Ahi with rice and macaroni salad, it was a generous portion for only $6.95 and high quality. Gary had pulled pork with rice and salad and we were contented.

Our next adventure loomed at the Mig Flight Simulator center in Anaheim. They take you and your group through a “ground school” then suit you up like Maverick and take you inside the cockpit of an F-16 fighter jet. You get 10 minutes to get used to the controls and flying and then you start dog fighting. Basically, blowing your new friends out of the sky. Control tower keeps watch, gives advice, and guides lost pilots back to the battlefield. Spectators watched on monitors. Then the pilots practiced landing the aircraft on a landing strip and on an aircraft carrier. When Gary missed and crashed in the ocean after a night attempt, he asked the tower for permission for a fly by (ala Top Gun). It was all entertaining.

Next, we had dinner reservations at the new hot spot in LA, Hatfield’s. This husband and wife team had a smaller place that they had outgrown, but were known for superb service and amazing provisions. They did not disappoint. Armed with a Julia’s Vineyard Foxen Pinot Noir and a Justin Justification, we were seated right next to the kitchen. Whose wall was made of glass, so every shuffle, turn, cut, slice, braise, flambé and more was watched over by the hungry masses. I loved this aspect, we could see the kitchen, but not hear it and everyone of the 15 chefs (we tried to distinguish the hierarchy by the size of their hats but found out the Chef de cuisine and the owner wore none and the tallest chef wore a small hat to prevent his head from bursting into flames).

We ordered the chefs choice, which was nine courses of his choice, not necessarily anything on the menu. Gary enlisted the Sommelier, Peter to pair each dish with his meals; I stuck with the Foxen, because I had to get us back to Chino. Peter proved to be creative, enticing and a genius with his liquid pairings. There are not enough adjectives for fabulous to explain this culinary adventure, so here is how the meal went:

Amuse-Bouche (a small appetizer meant to tease the palate before the meal): Chopped salmon with seaweed sprinkles in a white vingerette sauce. Beyond palate pleasing.

First Course: Sashimi Ahi (a form of Yellowtail tuna) with blanched anise stalks and duck cracklings (deeply fried duck skin) with a light ponzu sauce. It was paired with a Sauvignon Blanc Ribbonwood 08 Marlborough.

Second Course: Foie Gras, a goose liver that was soaked in Medeara wine and surrounded by a butter soaked brochette topped with a Grand Marnier sauce and all sitting in a pineapple reduction sauce. This is the first chef to try pineapple sweetness with the Foie Gras and it was a masterpiece. It was paired with an amazing Louis Roederer Brut Premier Reims, a white sparkling wine that blew your idea of how champagne should taste.

Third Course: Custard and Coconut Soup with deep-fried Sweetbreads on a skewer. This soup had butternut squash custard, coconut puree and had tiny mushrooms swimming in it. Off the hook good, the texture was original and the flavor phenomenal. It was paired with a Vinhas Helhas Luis Pato 2007 Bieras. Peter explained to us that this was a mixture of two rare white grapes that had a creamy smoke and mineral refinement. It was truly an original.

Fourth Course: Salmon Roulade, a smoked salmon wrapped in cabbage and lay on a bed of linguini with a habanera sauce. Amazing and subtle. It was paired with a 2007 Maranges “Le Croix Moines” that was raspberry forward with a bright elegant fruit.

Fifth Course: Roast Squab sitting on roatmeal with bulga lentils, micro-green salad and oatmeal flake. The flavors were wild, and yet comforting. It was paired with a 2005 Hallcrest Pinot Noir that bought out the sun roasted flavors and chewy herbal fruit.

Sixth Course: Braised Pork Belly with a Meyers lemon caviar (they make it with Meyers lemon juice and tapioca like substance) on top of green beans and a cabernet sauce. It was paired with a Cidre Greniers Brut Julien Fremont 2008, Normandy (basically an apple cider) that was out of the attic with a balance basket of off-dry core fruit. This combination was creative and perfection.

At this point, we did not think we could eat anymore, so Peter brought us a “punch thru the stomach Bushnell VSOP brandy shot. We did as instructed and shot it down. It worked and we were ready for more victuals.

Seventh Course: New York steak with a light sauce assembled on spectacular spatzel. It was paired with a Clarendon Hills Baker’s Gully Syrah. The steak was rare and bursting with aroma.

Eighth Course: A passion fruit Pavlova, which was a sorbet placed on a gueatua meringue that opened up the palate and prepared us for the sweets. That was paired with a Moscato d’Asti Gianni Doglia that reeked of peach blossoms and honey suckle.

Ninth Course: A chocolate soufflé with chicory chip cream that was paired with a Brachetto d’Acquil Il Saulino, a hardy port with raspberry and floral petal delicacy.

Tenth Course: A chocolate mousse Napoleon with a cocoa nib chip and an afagatto parfait. It was paired with a Boilermaker, which was an oatmeal stout, poured into a 20-year-old port. It was magnificent.

Our waiter was primarily Courtney, but Mark brought out the food. He was shy at first, mumbling our food descriptions. I said, “No one wants to be a waiter in LA, you came here to be a star, so project Damn’it.” After that, he sang our descriptions and was full of personality. The wait staff said I should stay and be his coach.

I would highly recommend Hatfield’s to anyone trying to experience the best in food and libations. The staff was knowledgeable and eager to please and pass on their knowledge. In addition, watching the kitchen was such a novelty, I would go back for that. This chef/owner is a true artist.

We limped home stuffed and happy and got up early the next day for my big adventure:
Universal studios. We got VIP passes that meant – all you can eat in most the restaurants and front of the line passes. We ran from attraction to attraction, enjoying all, but mostly the Water World Show and the Mummy ride (4 times). I had two $10 beer’s, but they we so welcome in the hustle of the day. We were there for 10 hours and I Twittered that my inner child was exhausted.

The next day we were scheduled to see a taping of Chelsea Lately, but that didn’t happen, so we had lunch with my famous friends and discovered the Garment and Diamond district.

Santee alley must be experienced. For eternal pirates like our selves, we were salivating. All the designers were there and thousands of start-ups. We bought jewelry, fragrances, handbags, clothes, and ostrich shoes. With our tootsies throbbing and our credit cards tapped, we ducked into a Starbucks to reclaim our kingdom via caffeine. That is when I found that Rivera was right around the corner. This bastinade of Latin food has been calling my palate for over a year. We changed from shopping clothes to dining clothes in the car and strolled in to start at the tapas’ bar.

Ken our waiter had just returned from a viniculture tour of the Central Coast and recognized our Justin Isolece (we later shared the Justification I had in the trunk). We choose to eat at the tapas’ bar as the chef, Kiana proved too enticing to resist. Rivera is known for their Mix-ologist whose command of flavors of the high-octane mixtures is legendary. Gary started with the Freebird, a fusion of bourbon, homemade grenadine, soda water and basil leaves was not only refreshing, but changed his personality. He became the friend to all and it worked out to our favor. He started with the chocolate torte soaked in a drunken pineapple sauce (tequila and lime), with a pineapple dusted into the plate in chocolate powder.

I started with the patates xips caviar with chipotle-lime crema, floating under a mound of beluga caviar and spread onto house made Kennebec potato chips. It was the most original presentation of caviar I have experienced.

Then we had the Melon de mar, a poached Maine lobster with compressed melon (made to look like roe) and a chile verge gelee (hot chile little cubes of jello). AMAZING.
The conchas, which we raw Kamuto Oysters on the half shell with cucumber caviar and mezcal sauce blew our minds. Kiana explained every detail and the sommelier brought over several treats for us to try.

Next, we had the playa bar ceviche, which was raw tuna served over a bed of marinated jicama, Serrano chiles, a lime sauce and avocado’s. It was perfect. We paired it with a Spanish tickler, which was rhum, mango, lillet, habanero chardamom and seltzer. Spicy and refreshing.
For a transition course, Ken suggested the Cordero Vasco, a Basque lamb chops dish with chorizo, piquillos, olives, and capers. The plate had a woman’s face dusted on it in chocolate powder.

The Mole called my name as every chef makes it differently and Ken had told us that this chef makes his at home so no one knew the secret ingredients. For the uninitiated in Latin delicacies, Mole (pronounced Moh-Lay), is loosely translated to “concoction.” It is a rich, dark, reddish brown sauce usually served with poultry. It tastes of chocolate, garlic, pepitas and chiles. This was served on a Kurobuta pork chop with sweet potato (purple and orange) on the side. Unbelievable.

We had the three Spanish cheeses for desert with a sangria jus and crusty bread. We both sipped on a Spanish port.

It was then Gary decided that we were spending the night at the Ritz Carlton. Not one to argue when the husband loosens up the purse strings, I immersed myself in luxury as only the Ritz can do. We were surprised to find a Mormon bible next to the traditional Kideons in the desk drawer. We basked in the cheese and wine bar decorated with the set pieces from the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and had a super breakfast in the executive suite the next morning.

We strolled through the diamond district and Mr. Bayus was generous with my ear lobs and ring fingers. Then we went again to the fashion district were we picked up some amazing bargains on designer clothing and purses. At 4:00 pm, we started home, only to be stuck in 405 traffic, so we got off on Santa Monica Blvd and hit the thrift stores. I looked thru the t-shirt section searching for movie swag and scored some funny/cool shirts for our weekend wear. The best store was Hadassah run, and I found a $3,000 watch for $30.00 bucks.

We went to the Promenade Mall in Santa Monica and at the Monsoon Grill, which was awful and expensive. We got on the road at 10 pm after more shopping, with the trunk and back seat full of treasures and memories.

Next year, we are doing the dude ranch experience for his birthday.