California Dreamin’

19 Apr

I’ve been thinking a lot about California lately.

A couple of my best friends moved to Lala Land a few years back, as did my favorite little cousin.

Manhattan Sunset

I have a hard time dealing with this. I am a dyed in the wool East Coaster. I understand why they did it, moved out West. They felt they had tapped New York for all it was worth, that there was nothing left to do here and that they needed a change. I’ve felt that way before, too, but that would set me to dreaming about moving to London, or Berlin, or Paris, heck even Marrakesh, Dubai or Bombay. Never Los Angeles.

Union Square, Before The Storm

I visited L.A. once long, long ago with my mother and father. I think I must have been in 3rd or 4th grade. I hated it and I’ve never been able to get over that. I hated the traffic. I hated the driving around in the Hollywood Hills. I hated the punk rockers. I hated the smell. I hated the sunshine. I hated the dirtiness.

We did other things on that trip that I loved, so I know it wasn’t just the moodiness of a 9 year old. We got a behind the scenes tour of the San Diego Zoo from a friend of my mother’s. A dolphin fell in love with my father at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. We flew to Seattle for a day. I loved everything about it. The soft grayness, the gentle smells, the smaller, more human scale. The very opposite of Los Angeles.

Chrysler Building At Dusk

But back to California…

I’ve been planning a trip out west for August. I managed to finagle a whole week’s vacation for my step-brother’s wedding at a vineyard in Sonoma. I know, I’m really bummed about it, too! But I had to decide what to do with my other 7 days; hang out in San Francisco and Northern California, or visit friends and family in Lala.

What I really wanted to do was spend two weeks out west, go the full monty, from San Diego all the way up to Seattle, but alas, I counted the years I’ve spent at my job wrong and that extra week of vacation will have to wait until next year. I had to decide.

New York Harbor Sunset, Fairway Parking Lot

I weighed what I knew. My friends love L.A. And I love them. That means, in the weird calculus of the heart, that I, too, would love L.A. (Isn’t that a song?), and maybe I could go to the Santa Monica farmer’s market, and eat at Lucques.

But on the other hand, I know I at least like San Fran. I spent a very odd long weekend there once that was pleasant enough to make me want to go back, and San Fran is closer to wine country, and I can buy beans from Steve there, and just maybe I could score dinner at The French Laundry or Chez Panisse.

Chelsea Market Bridge

But Luisa made L.A. sound almost as good as my friends make it sound, and then there was the matter of the salad. Tucked blithely into her Los Angeles dispatch was this nugget:

I still can’t stop thinking about our pink and green salad starter. Lightly dressed frisee and radicchio were tossed with fresh tarragon leaves, slivered blood oranges, and snowy-white shreds of sweet, fresh crab. Simple, bright, and explosively flavorful – that was a salad for the ages. No photo would have done it justice either, but if you’ve got access to good crab, for God’s sake, go and put this together. No recipe required.

I’ve been obsessing over that description, dreaming about that salad. The ballsy mix of bitter and buttery greens with bright citrus acidity, anise-tinted, earthy tarragon and creamy, briny seafood. It’s genius. Pure genius. And something I had to try. I mean, how could a city that can come up with that ratio of greens to herbs to crustacean be bad?

Squid Salad, Lala!

So I tried it. At home and with squid in place of crab. Yep, here we go again, put a recipe in front of Ann, and she just has to go and tinker with it! But here’s the thing. Now that I’ve had the one dish I knew I wanted to try in L.A. I was able to make a decision with a (somewhat) clear conscience.

Squid Salad, Lala!

Come mid-August we’ll be hanging out in San Fran for a few days and then heading north into wine country and along the coast, ultimately ending up in Sonoma.

Sorry, L.A. Sorry Mon, Poodles and Cousin S. I promise, next year, I’ll come see your magical world. I’ll give it another chance. The salad has won me over.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Squid Salad, Lala!

Squid Salad, Lala!

prep time: 20 minutes ~ cooking time: 5 minutes

Cook’s Note: There are no measurements in this salad, choose your ratio and amount of greens based on the number of people you will be feeding. Figure at least 4 squid per person. And the only wine appropriate for this salad is a lovely, creamy sparkling wine or champagne. It mixes well with the acidity and the seafood and reacts in a magical way with the tarragon. Truly spectacular.

  • Mustard Greens, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
  • Sorrel, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
  • Butter Lettuce, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
  • Endive or Radicchio, washed and cut into bite sized pieces
  • Tarragon, washed and picked off the stem
  • 1 Blood Orange per person cut into supremes or just separated into sections
  • Squid, bodies only
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Pomegranate Vinegar (I get mine at Trader Joe’s, but just about any vinegar would work here. Sherry vinegar would be nice, or a citrus scented one)
  • the very best Extra Virgin Olive Oil (this is the time to use the good stuff)
  • Bread

Toss the greens together an add the tarragon and blood oranges. Set aside.

Wash and clean your squid, make sure to check inside them in case the beak is still attached. Set aside in a bowl and coat with a light slick of olive oil and some salt and pepper.

Set a grill pan over high heat to warm up.

When it is hot place the squid in the pan, be careful not to crowd. Allow to cook a few minutes (2-4) on each side, no longer, or they will get tough and rubbery. Remove from pan and set aside.

To serve: Mound a big pile of greens on each person’s plate, add the squid on top. Douse with a light splash of pomegranate vinegar and a healthy glug of extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Dig in! Sop up the juices with pieces of crusty, hearty bread. Enjoy!

11 Responses to “California Dreamin’”

  1. Lisa (Homesick Texan) April 19, 2007 at 12:45 pm #

    I agree, Luisa’s posts about LA make it sound like paradise. Too bad you don’t have more vacation, not that you won’t have a fabulous time in Northern California! You should check Amateur Gourmet’s site. He mentions this food-blogging couple who had the first wedding ever held at the French Laundry, and subsequently have a very special relationship with the restaurant. Maybe they could help you get a reservation.

  2. s'kat April 19, 2007 at 1:12 pm #

    You totally made the right choice! Have you already decided upon a place to stay in wine country?

    If not, take a peep
    at my photos from a trip to California. (5th row down)

    We rented a lovely house in Asti… the view has to be seen to believe!

    Quite a nice riff on the salad, throw in some prawns and it would be about perfect.

  3. sher April 20, 2007 at 2:47 am #

    Wonderful salad! I’m a confirmed Northern Californian, so I’m biased. I’ve eaten at the French Laundry 3 times–and the only way I was able to do it was by getting myself on the waiting list. They have openings quite often on it.

  4. ann April 20, 2007 at 6:49 am #

    Lisa (HT) — Wow! I just checked out the story of that couple. That’s insane good luck. They should open a hedge fund.

    s’kat — Yay! We haven’t decided on a place yet. I know where we’re staying in SF and where in Sonoma, but I’m open to suggestions! That view is incredible.

    Sher — I knew you’d agree with me! How does one get on the wait list? Can you give them a set of days and they’ll call you if you’re one of the chosen? I’ll give them 3 days and plan around that if I have to!

  5. Susan in Italy April 21, 2007 at 10:26 am #

    I’ve never been to L.A. so it’s just my prejudice (no childhood trip) that leads me to not liking it. Your photos of New York make me wonder why anybody’d ever leave it.

  6. Terry B April 22, 2007 at 12:33 am #

    As a New Yorker trapped in a Chicagoan’s body, I somewhat agree with Susan. But my wife is a big fan of LA. She and I went there a year ago, and I was pleasantly surprised by the art scene, diversity and big cityness of it all. And the food was amazing, everywhere we went.

  7. bloglily April 22, 2007 at 12:34 am #

    Yes! This post was like watching the Oakland A’s play the Angels. i love it when my team wins. Still, when I was in LA a month ago, I had a really wonderful dinner at Lucques. Your trip sounds fabulous, something to really look forward to. xo, BL

  8. Christina April 22, 2007 at 11:34 am #

    LA is worth a visit. Having lived on both coasts myself, I understand the allegiance those from each side hold for their part of the country. But, if you skip the tourist traps in LA and instead explore the patchwork of ethnic neighborhoods, the mountains, and the wonderful East side, you’re guaranteed a great time. And Lucques? Well let’s just say it deserves the hype.

  9. Ari (Baking and Books) April 22, 2007 at 12:20 pm #

    Even I, a native California girl, don’t like L.A. That city is just too much, which is saying a lot since I’ve been in or near New York City for the past few years. Both are big cities, but there is a world of difference in my opinion!

    I’ve been thinking about California a lot too…. wondering whether I’ll be visiting family anytime soon. Fingers crossed!

  10. ann April 23, 2007 at 7:51 am #

    Susan — The weather this weekend made me wonder why anyone would leave NY as well… But today’s going to be in the mid-80’s, that’s a dose of summer too soon.

    TerryB — That’s what I’ve heard. Next time!

    BlogLily — I love the way you phrased that. It literally made me laugh out loud. Thanks for agreeing with my decision!

    Christina — Hi! Thanks for stopping by! I’ve heard that about LA, the patchwork thing… It sounds wonderful and really interesting to explore. I’ll have to brush up on my map reading skills before I head out there I guess! Thank god I’m a rare New Yorker that not only has a driver’s license but can actually drive as well!

    Ari — I hope you get a family visit soon. So important!

  11. FrenchLaundryAtHome April 23, 2007 at 10:03 pm #

    Ya know what? Make plans to get to LA sometime soon — I think you’ll be surprised. The Farmers’ Market on Fairfax is great, I could recommend restaurants out the wazoo…. so many amazing neighborhoods to explore. And the Cook’s Library? One of my favorite places to browse and buy cookbooks.

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