365: Day 176 – La Bodega in Ojai

365: Day 176 – La Bodega in Ojai

This was our first time eating at this restaurant, but our second time visiting. A few weeks ago we drove for over an hour just to find that the restaurant was closed. The reviews were good enough that we decided to come back and try again.

We showed up on a Sunday morning about 40 minutes before their opening time of 11am. While we awaited their opening we went to plug the car in for about 15 minutes at the Tesla superchargers just outside of downtown Ojai and then returned to the restaurant and walked to the front of the building to check out a store on the corner.

It is one of those typical artsy stores you find in California small towns with lots of interesting and unique items to browse, photograph, and purchase is you’re so inclined. I was content with just a few pictures as we only had a few minutes before the restaurant, La Bodega, opened.

We walked towards the back where the patio at La Bodega is located and saw the screens inside were tuned to soccer games, but no sign of any employees. Just a few minutes past the hour and a young man came to open up the tapas bar and sat us on a table in the Patio. The menu was sampling of typical Spanish tapas and a few wine options.

From the top left corner and continuing clockwise, we ordered:

  • Pescaditos fritos – These little fried fish were our second favorite dish. The seafood/ocean taste was strong but not overpowering and the coarse ground sea salt was just right. The smell and taste reminded me to times I’ve had very fresh seafood alongside the shore. I would definitely order this dish again. I even try making this myself and buying the small fish from one of the many Asian or Mexican supermarket chains in Los Angeles.
  • Bombas – These were balls of potato, meet, and some veggies coated in a batter and fried and served with a spicy sauce that tasted a bit of vinegar. I found the sauce similar in taste to Cholula or Tabasco, but without being as spicy as those sauces. These were good, but I probably would not order these again in favor of trying something new.
  • Tortilla Española – This was quite delicious but not the best example I’ve had. The Spanish tortilla doesn’t have to be freshly made, but it is so delicious when it is. This tasted like it was made ahead of time (I’m not faulting them on that at all). It’s quite a simple dish and very common in Spain so my primary impetus for ordering this was pure nostalgia. You can’t go wrong if you order this, but next time I would also replace this with something else on the menu that I haven’t tried.
  • Pulpo – This octopus dish was the best dish we had. The octopus was very fresh, the texture was tender, and the flavor absolutely delicious. It was perfectly salted and seasons with a dusting of paprika and served on a bed of potato slices that seamed to have been baked in the oven. I would highly recommend this dish and will probably order it in every future trip to this restaurant.

Now with the food out of the way, we really enjoyed our time at this restaurant. The outdoor patio was very quiet on a small town street, the weather was pleasant, and the luckily we were the only patrons. This being a tapas bar, I imagine it is far busier during evenings and especially while sporting events are being televised. Although being the only patrons is ideal for us and will certainly be looking to coming around the same time of day again.

We then went to Downtown Ojai to walk off the meal. I love the artsy feel of this town with the mission style architecture of the buildings in the downtown area. We explored a few shops looking for that one piece that just has to come home with us. We walked past a store with many Tiffany style lamps but we figures we’d wait until we find one of those Turkish lamps. A couple of storefronts down and lo and behold we find ourselves looking into a store with Turkish lamps and rugs. We ended up walking out with a beautiful blue swan neck Turkish lamp.

I don’t have an in depth description of the town or places to see as we were only briefly there before we had to head back home and do some work before the end of the weekend.

365: Day 161 – Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta in Ojai

365: Day 161 – Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta in Ojai

We wanted to do something out of our normal routine so we headed up to Ojai for an early dinner. It’s a nice drive out of the city about 65 miles north. The weather was pleasantly warm and we were of course on the lookout for restaurant with mainly outdoor seating. We were initially headed to a tapas restaurant but it was closed when we arrived despite them being listed as open on Google Maps.

I felt a little guilty driving through Ojai without my mom because I know she loves this place, but I did not go to Suzanne’s—a lovely restaurant to have one of those fancy 3 hour dinners. Today, it was just something spontaneous and casual. So the alternate we found was this pizza and pasta place on the town’s outskirts. We saw quite a bit of cars when we arrived and were a little concerned but this restaurant only has outdoor seating and all the tables were quite far apart. So we felt quite comfortable being able to remove out masks while we ate.

The Garlic Bread was good but nothing particularly remarkable about it. The Sautéed Zucchini in Garlic Butter was very delicious and the Zucchini’s were very picked from this restaurant’s garden that same day. It’s hard to ask for veggies fresher than that. The Shrimp Scampi was also very delicious with more of our that fresh zucchini a shrimp that was quite fresh as well. This dish was also prepared in that garlic butter and was quite saucy at the bottom of the dish. At this restaurant you can build your own pizza but I decided order the Boccali’s Combo Pizza which was loaded with pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, olive, bell pepper, and red onion. This was probably my favorite of all the items we ordered, The only thing I would change is to make the pepperoni be cooked longer. I tend love the charred flavor of ingredients, but I do realize it’s not the healthiest thing to eat—we have to watch out for those carcinogens.

I would highly recommend this place if you’re looking to make a quick trip outside of Los Angeles. I hope to bring my mom to this casual spot sometime soon and perhaps Suzanne’s when the weather is colder.

365: Day 134 – Bird of a different feather

365: Day 134 – Bird of a different feather

It was fall of 2017 and I was in Boston with some friends and business school colleagues for a conference and was sharing a hotel room with one of my most valued friendships. I met him at the previous conference in Texas and we have remained great friends ever since…but that’s a story for another post. The point of the preceding context is that I was surrounded by people I wanted to spend as much time as possible with, but when it came time for dinner plans and the obligatory drinks afterwards I made my escape.

Hillary Hahn was playing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra that night and naturally I hopped in a car after returning to the hotel to dress myself in a suit. I took in as much of the city as possible through the window as I was driven to concert hall. After a short ride, there it was identified by BSO–the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Few would so eagerly give up a social outing in a new city with friends, but my soul, in all its solitude, rejoiced at the sound of the orchestra tuning in preparation for this night’s concert.

365: Day 119 – Mont La Salle

365: Day 119 – Mont La Salle

My “Sacred Road” post a few days ago reminded me of my visit to Mont La Salle which is the regional headquarters (if you will) or the Lasallian Christian Brothers on the west coast. This was also through my high school campus ministry.

After a drive up through the a winding road through the forest in these sierras surrounding Napa Valley, I step out of the van into a chilly and misty morning and in front of me is this beautiful complex that is anchored by a lovely chapel. The area is completely surrounded by forest and vineyards. The silence is remarkable. The grounds are immaculately kept and it has that undeniable air of being a place of spirituality, religion, and worship. I split off from the group a few times to take in the beauty of this place. I step in to the empty chapel and towards the back there is both the organ console and a piano. I invite myself to a seat at the organ and briefly an excerpt from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. The pipe organ comes alive and the sizable chapel vibrates with the power of the organ, so I quickly stop as I’m sure the sound of this powerful instrument carries into the grounds outside. Loving the cathedral-like acoustics, I walk over to the piano, open the lid, and sit myself in front of it and start to play mostly a few movements from Beethoven’s sonatas and a couple of versions of the Ave Maria. I lose track of time and in walks one of the Christian Brothers and does a small clap when I finally notice him. I am a little embarrassed as this is really unlike me to take the liberties of helping myself to these two beautiful instruments but I the experience was well worth the embarrassment.

I then step outside and start of a path that buries itself into the tree-covered hillside. I enter it and begin to make my way up the hill. As I walk contemplating the trees along the path I notice a statue of Jesus and by the next statue I realize that these statues are the stations of the cross. By the time I reach the station where Jesus dies on the cross I notice a clearing up ahead and at this clearing you reach the final station of the cross where Jesus is laid in the tomb and the clearing before me is the cemetery where Christian Brothers have been laid to rest. It is so beautiful it gives me chills and makes me a little emotional.

I pause in silence and contemplation and quietly follow the patch back down in self-reflection and in a newfound perspective.

365: Day 114 – Philosopher’s Path

365: Day 114 – Philosopher’s Path

Photograph from Matcha.jp.com

It is late morning and I’ve been walking for a few miles in the cool springtime air. The last forty-five minutes of my walk have been the slowest of my life. I am helpless as nearly every step of the way as I keep raising my camera to photograph the most wonderful blooming trees. The Sakura-lined Philosopher’s Path is the most beautiful walk I have ever experienced. I could spend a lifetime composing music, painting a landscape, and writing about my emotions as I experienced this path and they would all fall short of capturing what my heart feels in this place. This land is foreign and far from home, yet my soul would have me thing it is home. A part of me belongs here in Kyoto as strange as that may sound.

I finally decide to take a rest and walk into this beautiful little cafe along this path. There are lovely lamps with colored glass lamp shades and all filling the interior of the room with a warm glow that brought to life the wood on some of the walls and furniture. Soft instrumental Jazz music was playing on the radio. The small round tables near the large windows are basked in the late morning daylight. I set my backpack on the floor and set my camera aside. I order a cappuccino and a matcha roll cake. While I wait I take in that incredible vista of the blossoming Sakuras and the passersby fixated on the pink boughs. My order is placed on the table and the ceramic cup and plate with the silverware resting on them complement the scene better than I could hope for. I am again helpless and pick up my camera to capture the moment that I know all too well to me so tragically fleeting. I dream of being able to experience scenes such as these an photograph and write about them. It is moments like these that I treasure being alone because time is immaterial when it all belongs to you.

365: Day 71 – Day Trip to Balboa Island

365: Day 71 – Day Trip to Balboa Island

Coastal California towns are my favorite to explore. They have a refreshing small town feel where life is more relaxed, the people are friendly, and their streets are dotted with small businesses selling local apparel, lovely smelling soaps, art, home decor, etc. Balboa Island is no different even though it is still within the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

My favorite way to reach the island is to go to Newport and enter the Balboa Peninsula and continue driving until you reach the Balboa Pier area. There are lost of shops and restaurants to explore there as well, but today I will focus only on the island. Near the pier, but on the opposite side of the peninsula you will find the Balboa Island Ferry. There you can hop on the ferry on foot, on your bike, or in your car. Only about four cars fit on the ferry and it’s quite fun to drive onto this tiny ferry. I recommend trying to be the first car on (especially in a truck or SUV) because when you pull all the way forward you will only see the water beyond your hood. It’s quite fun when especially when you start to feel the gentle floating on the water. If you’re prone to motion sickness, don’t worry about it as it is a short ride to the island.

Once you’re on the island make your way towards the main street. It’s a small island so if you get lost, you will still end up on the main street with all the shops. Parking on the main street may be difficult so try looking for parking on the side streets as well. Everything is walking distance and you’ll want to be walking by as many stores and restaurants as possible.

Shopping

As I mentioned before, in the shops on the island you can find local apparel, lovely smelling soaps, local art, and unique home decor. You’ll find only boutique shops here and I love it. I can’t comment much on apparel, but we did buy some great soaps and few unique items for our home. If you go later in the fall you will find lots of beautiful seasonal items. A part of me wanted to buy everything and turn my home into a Christmas wonderland. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, this would be a great place to buy unique gifts for friends and family instead those plastic rectangles everyone seems to exchange these days.

Restaurants

The island has about a dozen restaurants, and of those the list below are the ones we were most interested in trying.

  • Shanghai Pine Garden Restaurant
  • Basilic Restaurant
  • Balboa Island Baking Company
  • Picante Martin’s Mexican Restaurant
  • Ciao Italian Restaurant

All of these seem pretty self explanatory in terms of what cuisine they serve except for one. Basilic turns out to be a highly-rated French-Swiss restaurant which also ends up being the most expensive restaurant on the island. The first time we were tried to eat there, but they were booked for the evening so we agreed to come back to this restaurant for my mom’s birthday and make a reservation. So I will leave you on that cliffhanger as I will write about our dinner at this restaurant in tomorrow’s post!

However, in the meantime I will leave you with a few pictures of the neighborhood from our walk around the island.

365: Day 56 – Surprised by Panama City

365: Day 56 – Surprised by Panama City

I was to spend a few days in Panama City as part of a school trip in late 2015. I didn’t know much more about Panama beyond there being a famous canal joining the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This trip had me mostly excited for the Colombia part of it that would follow. However, I was blown away by the beauty of Panama City and the stark contrast between its many skyscrapers and the gorgeous old town, Casco Viejo. It has been called the Central American Singapore and in many ways it is. My first night here I found myself on the highest bar some fifty or sixty floors above the city and curious about what this beautiful place had in store. The rest of the time in this country was just one pleasant surprise after another. I promise I will make more detailed posts from my notes, memories, and old photos.

365: Day 55 – My First Time Landing in Asia

365: Day 55 – My First Time Landing in Asia

After sixteen hours of darkness racing away from the sun, light finally started to break outside my window and we had started our descent. The very faint light added to the otherworldly effect of the craft’s lights trying to pierce through the thick clouds that shrouded the water world below. I focused on the developing scenery outside and began listening to John Adams’ Nixon in China from the beginning. The unstable air outside began to gently shake the craft around. Lower and lower we went and my heart began to race with excitement at the anticipation of exploring this new world. The landing gear was deployed and the silhouette of the Asian continent began to appear and suddenly I had time-travelled a day forward. I imagined myself aboard a spacecraft coming out lightspeed or warp after an intergalactic trip about to debark at a space port. Air travel fascinates me and I can’t help but see myself as living in some ancestor’s science fiction fantasy. I exit the aircraft into the Hong Kong International Airport–a spaceport at the crossroad of many worlds in our galaxy.

My first sight in Asia

Next time you travel a night, especially if you’re heading West for an extended period of time, try imagining yourself as traveling among the stars. It’s hardly a stretch to the imagination as you are engulfed in darkness with a clear view out into space.

(March 11, 2017 before dawn)