Southern California

deer_lodge2.jpg You ordered Grilled Ostrich last night? Venison medallions in cherry sauce? Roast duck breast that tasted like the best gelato you ever had? Killer game splattered everywhere - into all soups and on top of all salads? 

Well you were probably sitting as my dinner guest at a rustic table next to a wooden carved motorcycle sculpture that is parked in doors in front of a fireplace that sits beneath deer antlers festooned with xmas lights at the Deer Lodge in Ojai, California. 

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SYoutsideWhile we find ourselves in Santa Barbara wine country, also known as the Santa Ynez Valley, about every other month or so, I can honestly say I had never been to the actual town of Santa Ynez until last month. I use the word “town” quite loosely to describe this 6-block, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, gathering of small office buildings, shops and homes. I’ve seen it on the regional tasting map for years, but until S.Y. Kitchen moved in, there was no reason to ever go there…at least not for a tourist.

Despite its proliferation of wineries in the last  decade, the restaurant scene in the Valley just has not kept up the same pace of growth. Your high-end / non-chain options are few and far between (literally), so when we heard of this place - owned and operated by the team behind Toscana in Brentwood - we figured we would give its “modern, rustic” Italian food a try. The chefs - brothers Luca and Francesco Crestanelli - are direct from Verona, bringing their expertise to fruition in this tiny corner of wine country.

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Adams Ave 3The whole Friday night crowd is out in University Heights. Good thing we reserved at Adams Avenue Grill. This is really something: they start at 8 am and serve lunch until 2 and open at 5 for dinner. They do it seven days a week and, if that isn't more than enough, they deliver. Three meals a day, seven days a week. Really. How'd we end up here? It's Michele's turn to show me and The Thin Man places we won't find on our own in San Diego.

Butcher paper and crayons are fun while we're waiting. Too bad our game of Hangman is riddled with artistically challenged and bad drawing. A painter with much better ability has a show here of fine water colors. We have flowers plus actual salt and pepper shakers on the table. (You can hardly find salt and pepper anywhere anymore. We'll uncover more about this another day.)

We're going simple. The Thin Man opts for Anjou pear, Mandarin orange and arugula salad with grilled chicken and Boston lettuce, spinach, walnuts and blue cheese. Pears are perfectly ripe and oranges are juicy. We're partial to salads with heft from cheese and nuts and if you throw in some croutons, that's great. Californians take greens for granted although we were in a Whole Foods, somewhere between Costa Mesa and La Jolla, and the greens were not what you expect. Anyway, in Boston we take lobster rolls for granted. Not beans, not ever.

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coachella1.jpg"Can I get real milk?"

"Honey, you're not in LA, it's creamers or black coffee for you."

He must have been expecting a brat face back because my smile caught him off guard. He had no idea that he had said the magic words and black diner coffee was exactly what I was after.

Thom and I had both woken up at 4am to work on set on different commercials, he is a stylist and I was working as a wardrobe assistant. After our respective jobs wrapped we met up at the Bootleg Theater to see Buffy Sainte Marie, who gave everyone in the audience an out of body experience. By 12:30am we were on the road to Palm Desert, picking up our friend Merrick on the way. We got to the desert by 3am, went straight to sleep, and woke up the next day to enter Coachella.

Nightmare upon nightmare it took us three hours to get into the festival (those con artists woudn't sell single day tickets this year and it's the only year the festival has sold out) so we waited in traffic and line upon line to enter a post apocalyptic like field filled with hipsters and, well, L.A.

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pier46logo200.jpgThough I'm not a betting person, I would have put my small stash of savings on the line if anyone had told me a year ago that I would become a seafood lover. While still not on the sushi bandwagon, I have to say that 2009 changed my mind about how good fish can be. Of course, that is, when prepared by professionals using the freshest fish available. Chef Ludo Lefebvre prepared the best seafood dish I have ever had at LudoBites 3.0, one that I instantly wanted more of, much to my husband's disbelief. When we go out to dinner, one bite of his fish is usually enough for me. However, I know I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much if I hadn't discovered Pier 46 Seafood first.

They are located in Templeton, CA, a small town just south of our favorite wine region – Paso Robles. We go to Paso a lot, but I had never heard of Pier 46 until I joined Twitter last March. Their name came up time and again between my winery tweeps when discussions about lunch were bandied about. Everyone claimed they had the BEST fish tacos in the region.

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