Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Legend Continues - Trilogy V (Maui)

The best trilogy throughout time? Are you a Star Wars whore? Or do you tend to swing towards Lord of the Rings? Personally, my favorite bobbed in Ma‘alaea Harbor, boasting characters as memorable as Luke or Leia, with genuine charm, integrity and humor, against a backdrop with no need for special effects.

We approached a ferry-like boat, already mobbed with tourists shoving their way aboard, just as I heard a child's piercing scream from within. I tensed up in horror before realizing our vessel, the Trilogy V, was the serene catamaran tied next to this floating mini-van.

But that didn't mean we weren't going to be close - not in terms of space, but as a group. Yoshi, our captain, told us we were all family for the next five hours and went on to explain that if we had to go #2, that was the only time to flush toilet paper...then he asked us if we knew what #2 was (he was from Japan and they didn't have that there). We all laughed at Uncle Yoshi's lovable antics and got ready to sail.

But the "love boat” didn't stop there. All of the crew knew us by first name - pretty impressive (about 40 people or so) - plying us with juice and coffee before Mama's homemade cinnamon rolls arrived, along with a fruit platter fresher than a disobedient schoolboy (mango, papaya, cantaloupe, pineapple).

Molokini was the first of two snorkel destinations and we decided to SNUBA. What’s SNUBA?! Pretty much SCUBA without the commitment - the swinging bachelor of the diving world. The only difference being that our air tanks were attached to a raft above, so whenever we wanted to pop up for air, we had a place to rest - worth the extra cost of about $60.

Turtle Bay was the next stop, with much colder water, and only a few sea turtles spotted, but even more attention grabbing were the deafening screams of children from the sailing clown-car we’d seen earlier that morning, now anchored nearby. I felt a swell of pride like the kid who'd realized how cool her own family was and doggy-paddled back like a loyal retriever for lunch.

Lunch matched the quality of breakfast. Plates bearing teriyaki chicken thighs, rice, Ceasar salad and taro rolls were served as we lounged atop the cabin (offering seconds to make sure we were filled to the gills). Fresh ingredients + salty sea air = sea fare satisfaction.

The sail went up on our way back, while countless mother and calf whales took care of entertainment.

But they weren’t the only miraculous sights in the middle of the ocean. This woman must have arms of steel…and her kid must have some good balancing skills. Paddle on sister!

The necessary three of Trilogy:
1) Integrity: only morning launches since the ocean is rougher in late afternoon and they cancel if windy - unlike their competitors.

2) Appreciation: treating you with respect, but with a comfortable nature that automatically makes you feel welcome. Like a family member that came to visit and they’re showing you around the island.

3) The Crew:
(I’ve got almost all of their action figures…though I’m still looking for a Yoshi.)

Uncle Yoshi (Yoda) - wise, hilarious, humble, generous
Kyle (Han Solo) - the sarcastic softee, best SNUBA teacher ever
Dan (Luke) sweet, helpful, eager
Keoni (Lando) relaxed, under the radar, but always there when needed
Jenny (Princess Leia) beautiful and tough as nails, could go toe to toe with any of the men and they knew it.*

*But loved catching nurturing moments like how she was teaching Kyle a word of Mandarin a day.

I wonder how you would say thank you in Mandarin? Or that this was one of the best experiences I’ve had in Maui? Either way, I'm looking forward to the next family reunion.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Supper Standby - Urban Solace (San Diego)

Urban Solace is one of my San Diego staples when speaking/pleasing out-of-towner tongue. Even finicky Aunt Mabel can find something that registers on the familiar scale with dishes rooted in the traditional, but flashing a haute new look.

Like taking the standard Mule, known for its ginger-beer base with fresh limes and upping the ante with saffron vodka for a bit of the exotic. This Golden Mule was good in theory , but I’d probably rate it more of a bronze (saffron flavor wasn’t very present)- though I'd be happier with copper...they missed a key component when bypassing the traditional, copper mug with one more suitable for a campsite.

Fried green tomatoes topped with blended goat cheese and crème fraiche - I couldn’t have been more impressed with the delicate cornmeal coating that held its own and held on (actually gripping the tomato – sometimes they can be like bad onion rings where the outer batter just peels off.) But what really blew me away was the tenderness of the fried fruit. So many times I find these either completely unripe or tasteless - this was not the case here…and Jersey girls know their tomatoes.

Not your Momma’s meatloaf = ground lamb wrapped in bacon with figs, feta, pine nuts and fig jus. Who the hell’s Momma anyway? I forgot as soon as this newfangled, formed meat hit my mouth. Bacon acted as the loaf’s crispy corset (not like the floppy, fatty slices when old "what’s her name" used to make it). Though, I did find it a bit heavy on the fig this time, but usually the ingredients are more evenly distributed. It could have also been because the sweet mash beneath had already brought enough candy-like quality to the plate. Still, Mama didn’t raise no fool and this was always worth a re-order.

Duckaroni = mac 'n cheese with duck confit, blue cheese, roasted garlic, arugula, scallion - True Confessions: Sometimes, (gulp) I think about my precious Duck-a-roni…during the day in traffic, awake in my bed at night…and wonder what it’s doing. Is it thinking about me? Should I stop over after work? I feel like a stalker in a relationship where I just can’t seem to get enough. But my favorite part is that even if I stray from my ever faithful ‘Roni when choosing an entree, I can order it as a side and pretend that I’ll share with the rest of the table (hands off - it's mine!).

Don’t worry Mabel, we didn’t forget about you. A standard found on any menu is done to perfection here with the Niman Ranch burger. Ground chuck makes all the difference when achieving the coveted, "juices-running-down-the-arm" effect, but the sturdy egg bun stood up to chuck with a sweetness similar to potato bread and offset by the sharpness of aged white cheddar. Add bacon? Don’t mind if I do. Fries are always plentiful and on point.

Besides being a hit for visitors, it makes an easy, in-the-neighborhood evening out (but get their early or make reservations because everyone else has figured this out too) - though it was a bit pricier than I remembered. What used to be in the $12-$14 range is now in the $18 -$20 - enough of an increase to make it feel more like a splurge than the weekly norm. Still, it’s a solid save whenever the craving for couture comfort food arises with an itching for dishes that can’t be found anywhere else in the city.

Also check out their Bluegrass Brunch featuring live music and treats like pork belly benedict every Sunday (or try the "blunch" on Saturdays 10:30am-4pm).