Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Day in the Bay

Thirteen. That’s the number school-free days of my Spring break. I thought it would be great for Gurujodha and me to get away for a weekend… a weekend entirely free of internet, research papers, textbooks, and hours in front of my computer screen. So I planned a short overnighter to Morro Bay. I’ve driven past Morro Bay on the 101 and 1 highways, and mainly remembered it for the huge domed rock jutting out of the water in the bay. I later learned that this “rock” is actually the remains of a volcanic plume from over 20 million years ago, and is one of nine such plumes (called the “Nine Sisters”) in the San Luis Obispo area. The word “Morro” actually has something to do with turbans! When Juan Cabrillo first spotted the rocky pillar in 1542, it reminded him of the turban worn by the Moors. He named the rock “El Moro.” But, that’s history.

So, back to my story… After a lot of internet searching I settled on a spot for us to stay, the Inn at Morro Bay. It was right next to a state park and bird reserve, and also was nestled on the bay, south of the rock. This seemed like it would be a quiet spot, and a good starting point for nature walks. That was really the extent of my planning.  We’d really just have a little over 24 hours anyway and I figured we’d just go with the flow, take a few walks, enjoy a few local eateries, and perhaps find some kind of entertainment. Gurujodha is a huge fan of jazz (I also very much enjoy). I’d hoped to surprise him with a live performance somewhere in town. There was something at a nightclub in San Luis Obispo (about 15 minutes away), but we are not quite up for the nightclub scene.

Anyway, we started off with a trip to the car wash, and left Bakersfield around 9:15 AM on Saturday for our 140 mile road trip, first heading north on the 5. Driving west on Hwy 46 it appeared as though someone had splashed vats of primary yellow, vivid orange, and lavender water colors all over the otherwise green rolling hills…  Fiddlenecks, California poppies, and lupine flashed their colors with utter lack of modesty, literally everywhere! By chance, our trip was during the few most spectacular wildflower spotting weeks of the year. Between my oohs and aahs I managed to take some photos through our already bug-spotted windshield.

Finally arriving at the Inn around noon, we got an early check in, which really just meant bringing our few pieces of luggage into our room (from the balcony we could see the bay). It was small, but clean, a very comfy King bed, and a recently renovated bathroom with a beautiful black slate floor, new pedestal sink, and slate tiled shower. The lush grounds are meticulously maintained with lovely gardens, flowers, towering eucalyptus trees, surrounding all the buildings. Across the street is the 18-hole championship Morro Bay golf course. Quiet. Peaceful.  Stunningly scenic. So far, so good!

Hungry, we drove back into town where we enjoyed a tasty Thai meal. Then we took a stroll, checking out a few great antique stores, chatting with the locals, and then headed down to the beach and the Embarcadero.

I had rather fancied the idea that we might go kayaking in the estuary that runs along much of the bay, created by waters from the Chorro and Los Osos Creeks and protected from ocean waves  by a long sand spit.

When we walked out to the end of the pier where we could really feel the ocean breeze (it was wind) and see kayakers out there struggling in the choppy water I agreed with my husband that it was probably more fun to watch, which we did for a few minutes.

Then we continued on our walk down the embarcadero to check out all the touristy shops there. I noted a restaurant called Ciao Bella Trattoria and for some reason this instantly brought to my mind a pasta dish I had once enjoyed in La Spezia, Italy, about 25 years ago, and I said to GK, “I’ll bet that this place has a great pasta dish with porcini mushrooms, just like I had at a seafood restaurant in Italy!” He laughed (and probably rolled his eyes), saying something like, “Oh yea, we’ll have to come here for dinner,” and we just kept walking, and stopped in a number of shops, the usual tourist stuff, bought a little pink T-shirt for Cassie… we got to the end of shops and turned around and visited shops on the other side of the street on our way back.

When we got to Ciao Bella, GK said, “Siri Ved, here’s your restaurant.” And I said, “Oh yea! I’ve gotta check the  menu!” And I ran inside while he waited, and can you believe it? Posted right there on the wall was their menu, and what was there? “Rigatoni al Tre Funghi,” rigatoni pasta with porcini, portabella, and crimini mushrooms in a pink sauce with truffles. I laughed and called out to GK, “Am I a food psychic or what!?” We decided then and there we would return later on for dinner.

After a lovely snooze in our hotel we headed back out around 6:30 PM and arrived at the restaurant. Jazz music wafted down the stairs as we climbed up to the trattoria. Can you believe? It was Toty Viola, an amazing jazz guitarist, doing a wine country tour, playing this one night only, at Ciao Bella. We were seated a few tables away, with an expansive view of the bay, at sunset, sipping Pellegrini with lime… was this romantic? So totally yes.

I already knew what I was ordering, Rigatoni al Tre Funghi and a primavera salad with goat cheese. GK got his usual angel hair pomodoro and an arugula salad with shaved Parmesan-asiago. Let me just say, my pasta was amazing! Perfectly cooked, the sauce simply luscious, with lots of porcinis, which give so much flavor. If this was take-out at home, I would have licked my pasta bowl. I don’t know if it tasted just like the dish in Italy. That was 25 years ago. But the memory of this one will far surpass the old. We sat for over two hours, enjoying our meal, the music, each other, the peacefulness of the sun sinking in the sea, boats passing by, the perfection of the time and place…

Gurujodha went over and talked to Toty for a few minutes (that’s how we found out who he was). I love how GK will go up and strike a conversation with anyone, from movie stars to salesclerks, and make a connection. We ended with some decaf and shared a piece of irresistible Italian cheese cake.

We left Ciao Bella close to 9 PM and walked some of our meal off, strolling the embarcadero again, and then came back to the Inn. I slept in till after 8:30 AM and woke just in time to join GK in a morning yoga set.

We loaded up our few things and headed to San Luis Obispo for breakfast at the Big Sky CafĂ©, a restaurant that offers amazing meals prepared with locally grown organic produce. I had “New Mexican” style posole with killer cornbread and scrambled tofu (it was tasty, but I don’t think they’ve ever been to New Mexico…. The sauce was all tomatoes – a big no no – and next to no red chile). Gurujodha ordered a tall stack of wholegrain pancakes with cranberries and orange zest and some roasted herbed potatoes… He saved this location on his iphone, and I on my GPS handheld. What a find! Then we explored downtown SLO for a half hour before we headed home, a return drive through the beautiful green, orange, yellow and purple hills that divide the Central Coast and Central Valley.

Tomorrow? Back to work and back to school.

Thank you God, for everything.