Southern California

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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Alabama Hills Cafe EntryWe were on our way back from Death Valley where the only thing on the side of the road is an occasional purple flower, a bit of brush, a lone cactus or two… My husband suggested that we take a detour to Lone Pine.

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because I went there once,” he said “and it was sort of quaint and charming. And you’d like it?”

“Really?” I made a face. I have a skinny tolerance for western mountain towns.

“And,” he added, “I bet they have a restaurant there. And you know you get cranky when you haven’t eaten.”

He had me there. So I instantly googled best diner in Lone Pine and came up with what sounded like a somewhat charming diner called Alabama Hills Café and Bakery.

Up the mountain we went, into the town that was sort of quaint and charming. But we couldn’t find the restaurant and then he made a random right turn in an effort to turn around and there we were right in front of it. And it was sort of adorable except the clock in the door said 1:58 and there was a sign on the door that said that they closed at two.

I was truly astonished when they let us in. “Why not?” he said. “I’m here and so are you.”

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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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Sushi ota 1Sushi Ota modestly calls itself the "premier sushi restaurant in San Diego." They rate the number 52 spot on Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the US but I didn't know this before. Their adamant fans insist they should have landed higher since the fish is gimmick-free without say, whimsical concoctions. I agree, fusion throws me too. How'd we end up destination dining? It's not easy finding just the right place and it's tough even where I live, let alone somewhere else.

How do you judge great sushi? Eat it everywhere with reason. Reason takes in authentic dining rooms that are busy, hopping even, and for me the longer the line the better. I had the best tuna that dropped from a chef's knife to my plate. We were sitting at the bar in a place whose name I no longer remember in a strip mall in Orinda where you had to show up in the morning to get a seat. Stunningly, West Coast tuna is nothing like what we get on the East Coast; ditto today's salmon and uni.

We start the day shopping for plants. After, we ask the mechanical lady to take us over to Mission Bay Drive. You have to convince her you're no longer in Boston; this takes more than a couple of whacks. Shortly, we all find Sushi Ota tucked beside a 7-Eleven in the far corner of a mini-mall that also houses Planned Parenthood. I get out first to see how it looks.

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