Big trees and bigger cliffs. That was the gist of my family’s recent spring break excursion into the well-populated wilds of Sequoia and Yosemite, where I hadn’t been for about 30 years.
The trip was prompted by a unique combination of Omicron-powered reticence — over booking plane flights back in January when we briefly considered reviving our canceled March 2020 adventure to Spain — and elementary school access, in that all families of 4th-graders get free National Park passes. We didn’t want to worry about COVID for two months if we opted for Europe, so instead we decided to do a California road trip, which had a much better chance of not being waylaid by viral surges or, as events further unfolded, war.
We rented homes in Three Rivers to explore Sequoia and Wawona to hit Yosemite. Jaw-dropping nature and geology would be our prey — not the food and drink targets that so often fuel my excursions, even those I take with my wife and kids. Of course, we packed plenty of good eats to prepare and great bottles to pop, and we even managed to bag some epicurean excitement along the way.
Here were those food and drink highlights, check out my Instagram story from our entire trip here:
- Fish and chips at Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles. We’ve stopped there many times, but I always forget how excellent these are. (David Walker, of course, is a Brit, so they better be good.) Luckily, my son, Mason, did not forget, and I was reminded of their expert crispness when I cleaned up his leftovers after finishing off my pimento cheese dip.
- A can of Firestone’s new Hopnosis on the bank of the north fork of the Kaweah River, which rushed past our Three Rivers rental.
- Mason’s beautifully stacked turkey burger on that rental’s riverside deck. It’s a handsome burger prepared by a handsome chap who finally cracked a smile for the shot.
- Wines and beers from the book of Freedom Beverage, the North Carolina importer/distributor that Laura Booras, the longtime GM of Riverbench, is leaving town to take over from her dad. Highlights included a crisp white blend from the North Macedonian producer Tikveš, a barbera d’alba by Daniele Conterno, and a Napa cab by DuMOL.
- Those were treats that we added to the two cases of Central Coast wines I brought, which included Villa Creek, Chanin, Morgan, Neely, Grassini, Future Perfect, Roar, Big Basin, and two bottles of a newer, natty-leaning line of super-fresh juice called Tinto Amorio.
- A sampler of four beers and a hard seltzer from Three Rivers Brewing, where homebrewers were having a get-together and a pupusa truck was serving Salvadoran cuisine to a mix of Sunday church goers and motorcycle riders. We also talked about coffee and brewing with the proprietor of Kaweah Coffee Roasters, who runs a shop next door.
- Last but not least, a massive, pre-marinated tri-tip from the owner of the Pine Tree Market in Wawona, which we grilled on our deck beneath the pine trees just a half-block away.
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Events Keep Coming
If your inbox is anything like mine, it looks like the culinary events world is back in nearly full swing, with wine dinners, beer festivals, and other gatherings growing in number every week. Here are a few on my radar:
- The S.L.O. Coast Wine Classic is up is Pismo Beach tomorrow, April 2. It’s a celebration of their new appellation, and I’ll be running a couple panels. Tickets here.
- The legendary Hospice du Rhône returns to Paso Robles April 21-23. I’m not doing anything official, but I’ll be there checking out Rhône-style wines from near and far. Still tickets available.
- On the beer front, Lagerville is back at Figueroa Mountain Brewing in Buellton, with more than 40 breweries pouring lager in what must be the biggest lager celebration in American. Tickets going fast.
- For those with $600 and a desire to taste expensive wines paired with five courses, San Ysidro Ranch is starting a wine pairing series. Jonata is on April 7, followed by Promontory from Napa on June 23. Get a reservation by calling (805) 565-1720.
- Nella Kitchen in Los Olivos is teaming up with Carhartt Family Wines for a special “Prima Collab” dinner on April 12. Tickets are $125. Buy them here.
- Closer to the coast, Costa Kitchen & Bar at the Mar Monte Hotel is also starting a wine dinner series. The first dinner will feature Paradise Springs on April 21. Get your $125 ticket here.
Further down the road, the California Wine Festival, one of the largest food & drink events anywhere, is scheduled to descend on the Santa Barbara waterfront on July 15-16. Tickets run from $40 to $180.
From Our Table
- Vanessa Vin is our new food and drink writing fellow, sponsored by SBCAN’s Mickey Flacks Journalism Fund. Expect much more about her and by her in the weeks to come, but her first published piece was on the continued success of Dalan Moreno’s vegan concept, Rascal’s.
- And in case you missed the March 24 paper, I wrote a feature about Santa Barbara–raised, Napa-trained Chef Ryan Fancher of Ox + Anchor in the Hotel S.L.O. Check that out here.