Friday, August 26, 2011

Family Vacation Center--Santa Barbara, CA

A couple of weeks ago the four of us stayed at the Family Vacation Center at UC Santa Barbara. There, we were treated to three meals a day at the Carrillo Dining Commons not far from our room. There were so many things I liked about our dining experience that I compiled a list. However, since I'm writing a blog entry and not a book, I'm limiting myself to a Top Ten. I asked a UCSB student if the food is this good during the year. He said, it's still very good, but they kick it up a notch during the summer. Even one notch below what we had would be still very, very good. So, here goes:

Top ten reasons we enjoyed eating at the
Carrillo Dining Commons at UCSB:

10. The food is all you can eat. If there's anything you like, just keep going back! Just about everything was served fresh and there was a minimum of three different hot entrees every dinner.

9. At breakfast they made omelets to order. There were even three types of pork: ham, sausage and bacon. However, it was often hit or miss, with the eggs often runny. Go up as many times as you want! I went twice each morning.

8. The pizzas from their brick oven were always coming hot and fresh during lunch. There was a lot of demand, but they were never in short supply.

7, The pasta was homemade! The wheat pasta we enjoyed was soft and chewy--downright delicious.

6. Running late? No problem! We stayed as late as 20 minutes past our designated dinner hour with nary a soul pushing us out. In fact, the food just kept coming.

5. No trays! What a great concept! UCSB figured out that providing trays in an all-you-can-eat environment led to taking more than one could chew (and a lot of dirty trays). So, they made everyone carry their plates, cups and silverware to the table. As for me, forcing me to make multiple trips made me feel like I was getting more exercise--and less guilty.

4. Stash Tea. The Dining Commons introduced me to the wonderful world of Stash Tea. Their delightful novel flavors, such as Lemon Ginger, soothed my sore throat (macho me thought I could make it through a week of Santa Barbara without a jacket) like nothing else could.

3, Quality fresh fruit--and lots of it! Everything in the fruit baskets was great. The apples were crisp, the bananas ripened just short of getting those brown dots and the peaches were juicy (but not mealy!).

2. Desserts. They mixed up the cakes and pies just about every day. The big boy in our family kept going back for cheesecake. They have unlimited soft serve ice cream, too! I mean unlimited. The line would sometimes be up to thirty people, but we were never able to drain it.

1. Kids love it! The cafeteria was part gourmet restaurant but also part playground. There were always six different cereals available (including the tough to find, but highly sought after Lucky Charms), a make-your-own-waffle station, chocolate milk (and nonfat, and 2% and whole!) and, at lunch, unlimited cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and fries. Just how can a kid with a finite tummy size navigate through all of that? When our week was just about over, I overheard a high school student say, "What I'm going to miss most about this week is the food." I hear you!

Carrillo Dining Commons
University of California, Santa Barbara

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pacific Fish Grill--West Covina, CA

As we made our way back up from Santa Barbara we stopped by to visit Jenny's parents in West Covina last weekend. Our experience at Brophy Brothers (see below) still kept us wanting for an honest to goodness hearty seafood dinner. To that end, we went to Pacific Fish grill, a new restaurant in West Covina that was highly recommended by Jenny's parents--for good reason, it turned out.

My dish, the tilapia plate, was outstanding. Though there wasn't a pocket, the "pita bread" was super soft and the rice was hot and fluffy. The tilapia was cooked to perfection. I went with the Cajun topping, though I could have had garlic butter or lemon-oregano. The dish was especially notable given that it was a mere $9.79.

Jenny's mahi and salmon tacos came with tomatillo sauce that was too spicy and didn't complement the fish well. Also, for both tacos the fish came buried under a heap of grilled onions, which overwhelmed each taco. The grilled shrimp taco, however, was a very different story. It came loaded with hot shrimp and with a well-chosen, creamy pico de gallo sauce.

There was no clam chowder when we came in at 6:40. For a seafood restaurant, that was a big disappointment. But, with the tilapia dish they're forgiven.

Overall, the value was terrific. We got full on good seafood for just a hair over $20, including tax. We'd be regulars if they'd open near us! I'd just avoid the salmon and mahi tacos.

2851 Eastland Center Dr
Ste 5
West Covina, CA 91791
(626) 332-9014

Friday, August 12, 2011

Brophy Brothers--Santa Barbara, CA

While staying at an alumni family camp earlier this week, Jenny and I were given some free time to have dinner in Santa Barbara. Because Brophy Brothers was so well reviewed, we were eager to give it a try. Things got off to a good start. The clam chowder was hot, creamy and rich. The cup could have been a meal in itself. The base was so thick, there may even have been some cheese added; at the very least there was cream. And, the Dungeness crab was cold, sweet and easy to eat. The meat came out in chunks, not in threads.

Dinner took a U-turn, though, with our entrees. I ordered the swordfish I specifically because I wanted to see if they could make it juicy--it was a test. They passed, but the fish was close to flavorless. It needed a good lemon squeeze and a soaking in the cream sauce that came along with it. Jenny's cioppino was short on seafood and long on tomatoes. It had an appeal as a dip for the sourdough bread, but it lacked the fish flavor that Jenny was looking for.
Get there early. We got there at 5:35 on a weekday and still had to wait more than 15 minutes for a table for two. Despite the crowd, the service was highly responsive and with a smile.

Brophy Brothers
119 Harbor Way
Santa Barbara, CA 93109
(805) 966-4418

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pacific Catch--San Francisco, CA

Our search for furniture for our family room took us to San Francisco Monday. Close to the sofa store was Pacific Catch, where we dropped by for lunch. The soft yet chewy bread and the tangy mayo made all the difference in my wasabi ahi sandwich. The tuna was pink instead of the dark red we were used to and it tasted a little like chicken. But, this didn't seem to matter. I opted for the salad instead of fries and was happy with the choice. The salad was fresh, very green and was topped with soybeans, which added a delightful crunch.

Jenny had the three fish tacos. Her favorite was the crispy fish, which was topped by a spicy sauce that wasn't overwhelming but had bite nevertheless. The ono was overdone and the barbecue salmon was above average. Her spicy fries were crisp and, yes, spicy, but not overly so.

A new Pacific Catch is rumored to be opening in Campbell. It'll be good to have a spot relatively nearby that satisfies that need for seafood, which almost always pops up spontaneously, whenever it comes.

Pacific Catch
2027 Chestnut St
(between Fillmore St & Mallorca Way)
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 440-1950