Cas had an unexpected work trip come up during this fine summer of 2019. We had enough airline miles for me to join him. The joys of working from home, I tell you! We were eager to leave Colorado Springs and a jaunt to California was the remedy we needed!
We hopped around from hotel to hotel while we were in Santa Ana and stayed at the DoubleTree and the Hilton at the airport and the Hilton in Costa Mesa and the Hilton in Anaheim. The DoubleTree was nothing too special. We did enjoy sitting outside by their man-made lake, though. The Hilton at the airport, though, gave us a pool to die for! We stayed there on our last evening in California and read our books poolside for hours.
We did have to balance work with play and somehow that seems easier in California. Is it the beautiful weather that entices you outdoors? Is it that somehow working next to a pool is inherently less stressful than working in a conference room? Or is it that the Vitamin D is a true elixir?
Or maybe it is all the good food? Could be!
On day one, we drove right from the airport to Bluewater Grill in Huntington Beach. Cas knows I love nothing more than fish restaurants that are on a pier over the water. Usually places like that rely on the quality of the fish to do the talking for them. There is no over the top preparation, just simple grilled fish with fresh sides. That is exactly what we got at Bluewater Grill. I got the swordfish and Cas had the tuna melt and we left with full bellies and happy to have had a sea-side meal.
Knowing how much I love the vibe of places like that, Cas also took me to The Deck in Laguna Beach, a spot he’d been before. We both had the grilled Mahi sandwiches. It was lovely for the food and the atmosphere. It was one of those days when we ended up eating lunch at 3pm or so. It was still packed and we got the only open table. So, make your reservations, friends!
We also walked to the LAB Anti-Mall on a few occasions. LAB stands for “Little American Business” which is, not surprisingly, what fills the anti-mall. They cultivate a collection of hip stores, trendy restaurants, Instagramable cafes, and the like in a beautifully landscaped outdoor space. We watched two 20-somethings spend at least 45 minutes taking iPhone photos of themselves in an archway that was covered with old CDs. They actually said “can you believe these played music”. We felt old.
Old or not, we went to Ruin Bar and Habana and loved each. Ruin Bar is a cocktail bar with the vibe of the living room of someone who is an avid thrifter. There was a repurposed gondola that offered a cozy, intimate seating corner. The bar was made up of several (working) pianos. The decor was a kitschy eclectic mix of cat portraits, taxidermy, and an old black and white TV that showed Lionel Ritchy videos. We enjoyed our drinks (old fashioned and a paloma) but not enough to stick around for a second round; they just didn’t have anything too special about them.
Also in the LAB, we went to Habana for some Cuban food. We sat in their gorgeous outdoor space and loved all of the intimate lighting, carefully chosen furniture, and all of the plants–We’ve never been to Havana, but I bet that there are spots that look just like this did! We asked our charming waiter to help us decide what to have and he recommended the ropa vieja and el puerco primo. We practically licked our plates. Charming Waiter also told us about Salsa nights and their brunch buffet. We didn’t, but we almost ate every meal there!
Maybe I love a good food hall, because I seem to always gravitate towards places like the Anaheim Packing District. The Packing District is a collection of a few historic buildings that were once used as packing houses for California oranges. We foolishly thought that we could just walk into the Blind Rabbit for a drink. Oh, how naive. They are booked for weeks to come! In any case, the Blind Rabbit may have been the reason we went to the Packing District, but we happily ate and drank our way through the place on two separate evenings! We started off at the BXCR bar, a retrofitted boxcar from the 1920s, for a French 75 and an, you guessed it, old fashioned. Our bartender was a bit abrupt at first but warmed up and gave us some great insight to the area. The drinks were great, the ambience was warm, and we felt tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the food court inside of a higher end bar. We went to the Black Sheep Grilled Cheese Bar for a sandwich after that. I love a good grilled cheese. I was tempted to go for their decidedly un-fancy Kraft cheese grilled cheese but ended up going for one with goat cheese, caramelized onion, roasted tomato, and arugula pesto. Ohmygoodness it was good.
On another night, we went to Cultivation Kitchen and ate a delicious healthy meal. It was so healthy we had to follow it up with ice cream from the Pandor Bakery. Cultivation Kitchen sources their food locally and uses herbs that they grow on site. We sat down and immediately the smell of basil growing in a tank behind me wafted over! They offer a mix-and-match selection of proteins (I got the salmon) and veggie sides (I got the beets and butternut squash). I always love it when menus can lean on the quality of their ingredients and not have to go overboard with processing the food. I got just that at Cultivation Kitchen! We picked Pandor Bakery for our ice cream over the dedicated ice cream place because they make their own waffle cones in house. They were still warm. Need I say more? If you know Cas, you know that ice cream is just about his most favorite thing in the world (I am not even sure sometimes if I rank first or second!) so when he rates an ice cream place as delicious, you know that comes with years of research backing it.
Of course, we couldn’t go to a place like Orange County and not drink any beer! We tried Barley Forge Brewing. The beer was really good. We were SO hungry when we went that we gobbled up our sandwiches but admidly, they weren’t that great. They weren’t that great because they weren’t what we expected. For example, I ordered a veggie bahn mi…one of my favorites. And, they did it all wrong. They didn’t use a baguette and they used a veggie burger in place of tofu. So–all of that is ok–just don’t call it a bahn mi. Cas had a similar experience with his Cuban sandwich. Not the right bread. Not the right ham. And, so, don’t call it a Cuban. But, the beer. Back to the beer. What they are known for. I really enjoyed their Orange Curtain IPA–with nice hints of citrus. We also both liked the Dear Brutus brut IPA. We seem to be liking more bruts these days…are they getting better or are we expanding our palate? Only time will tell.