Southern California

hnedrys_boathouse_logo.jpgI've always had a strange relationship with The Wedge. I see it on the menu, I want it, I plan to order it and then I change my mind. I'm always afraid that I'm going to get stuck with a chunk of iceberg lettuce (no nutritional value) smothered with cheap, prefab blue cheese dressing (that's neither blue nor cheese). Then suddenly, this summer, after a day at the dog-friendly Hendry's Beach in Santa Barbara – there it was – not just on the menu but at the next table – what looked like the most delicious wedge salad in the world.

I'll admit, I was hungry, beach hungry. But I'm the type who polls other diners if I like what they're eating. And diners are always willing to give me their opinion. The nearly-naked couple I talked to at the casually elegant Boathouse restaurant on this fateful summer day gave me the thumbs up (their mouths were full). But more than their thumbs up, what encouraged me most was the sparkle in their eyes. They were in wedge heaven.

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ieentranceI just love the food and wine community on social media. They find all the coolest and latest places to go when you head out on the road. While our trips to wine country always center on finding the best new wineries and visiting old favorites, ballast - in the way of great eats - is equally important if you want to survive a day in the tasting rooms. The Santa Ynez Valley (also know as Santa Barbara Wine Country even though it's 30 minutes north) is home to over 100 wineries, but the towns are pretty small. This leaves your lunch options a bit slim especially in the Buellton area, unless you're looking for fast food or are hankering for a bowl of pea soup. So when I heard about a new place called Industrial Eats, I just had to check it out. Well, I actually saw a picture of one of their pizzas on Facebook and it made my mouth water. So on our next foray up the coast I made it our lunch destination.

Open for about a month or so, there isn't much info out there about it, so it was not the easiest place to find. I have to admit we initially drove right by it, finding ourselves at the end of the road and out of luck. There was only one option and that was to turn around and look up the address again. This is something that happens quite a lot in wine country, as many of the best places are not on the map, so to speak.

Located on Industrial Way (which I guess has something to do with the name), it's sort of tucked in behind the owner's main business, New West Catering.  Jeff and Janet Olsson have been putting their 30 years of restaurant experience to good use in the Vally for over a decade and this is a clear expansion of their efforts. Why not put your catering kitchen to a secondary use during the week and bring your talent to the public at large?

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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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harrisranch.jpgI'm an obsessive travel planner. I leave nothing to chance when venturing far away from my home. I need a lay of the new land to feel safe and happy. I don't always do everything or go to every place I research, but the last thing I want is to be bored when I'm away from home sitting in a generic hotel room. Since I've also been, at least until the last year, a fairly picky-eater I like to know my dining options. I will only eat fast-food in an emergency, i.e. when there is absolutely no other choice. As a result, my pre-trip planning involves many sessions on the Internet, trying to find the best and cheapest restaurants that also have a decent wine list and cuisine that isn't too ethnic (the Man won't eat Indian, Thai or Chinese that doesn't come from a container). This is not an easy task.

Our most recent road trip to Sonoma county meant an endlessly boring drive up the I-5 from L.A. We could have flown, but we wanted to spend our money on wine and since we needed a car anyway, we bit the bullet and hit the highway. Once you cross the Grapevine, Central California is mostly flat desert with nothing to see except the occasional gigantic farm or mass-producing vineyard. I hate this stretch of road more than the road to Las Vegas and believe me that's saying something because I hate Las Vegas. (Only the I-10 to Phoenix is worse.)

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michaelslogo.jpg You might remember we were on a slight squash kick recently. It coincided with a visit to one of my favorite restaurants here in Long Beach, Michael’s Pizzeria. I’ve said a million times that I don’t really “do” restaurant coverage because a) it’s overdone and b) it’s not my thing. I think the irony is that I get to eat in some of the most amazing places all over the damn globe and could probably have a blog over just restaurants alone, but again, it’s best left for others. Having said that, when I do write about a restaurant it’s because I find it pretty special and/or I’ve graciously stolen a recipe to inspire me at home. This is one of those cases on both accounts.

A few things you will not engage me on unless we are best friends and in the comfort of my own home: religion, women’s reproductive rights, politics, and who makes the best pizza. I’m no dummy. Each topic is loaded with sensitivity, opinion, and weighs a million tons. I’m better off just smiling and talking about pretty plates and napkins and puppies.

When it comes to pizza, I will not argue with you about what you like or who makes the better pie. Why waste my time? I will, however, tell you that I prefer a thinner crust, only a few high quality toppings, and fired quickly at a high temperature. See? How evasive was that? Truth be told, meet my few easy requirements and chances are I’ll enjoy it. Which is why I prefer pizza napoletana. Keep your deep dish, pal.

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