Saturday, May 30, 2009

Carpinteria, April 2009

Wilkerson, the Wanderer

Carpinteria, April 2009

Carolyn and I decided to take a mini vacation so we drove up the California Coast to Carpinteria, a classic little beach town about 20 miles above Ventura and twelve miles below Santa Barbara with a population of 15,000 people. Why there? It represented a trip down memory lane for me having spent many childhood vacations camping at Carpinteria State Beach Park with family and friends.
Just to give you a bit of history Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola camped with his men here. The town was named in honor of the area’s Chumash Indians who came to the area to use the tar found here to seal their canoes.
We arrived about 1 pm and drove through Carpinteria State Beach Campground which holds 262 tents and RV sites. As usual it is packed being popular because of the grassy areas and its proximity to the beach and town. We parked at the end of Linden Avenue, the main street of the town, where Carpinteria City Beach starts. Known as “The World’s Safest Beach” because of its gentle waves and shallow water it is a great place for strolling, beachcombing, and building sand castles (some of which we pass and stop to admire).I notice that many of the older beach houses have been replaced with modern duplexes, condos and fancy houses with an elite area called “The Hamptons”.
Being a little chilly still because it is of course April, we decide to check out one of the upscale restaurants that I had been reading about in travel magazines and tour books, Giannfranco’s Trattoria. What a find! We have the place to ourselves and are blessed with a great waitress.

Giannfranco's Trattoria

The owner, Franco Contreras, told me about his acquiring the restaurant and his relocation to Carpinteria.

Chef Giovanni in his gleaming kitchen
The restaurant is a family affair with their son, Chef Giovanni Sherwyn, a Santa Barbara Culinary Guild graduate, displaying his talents creating contemporary southern Italian cuisine

A Family Affair On the Patio at Giannfranco's Trattoria

The presentation was excellent, the prices reasonable, and the choices plentiful. I selected a panini milano (grilled chicken breast, Roma tomatoes, avocado, provolone and basil aioli served on Ciabatta bread accompanied by an ensalata de casa for only $8. We were given a tour of the back patio, charming with its fountain and trees. After discussing our mutual Italian heritage we ended our repast with a promise to return and recommend it to others. I could eat here every day, but they are closed on Tuesdays.

Inside Giannfranco's Trattoria

Time to check in to our motel, The Best Western Carpinteria Inn. We are pleased with location –walking distance to the town and beach and easy to access from the freeway. The inner courtyard ties in the Spanish décor. Our room is spacious with views of the mountains from our little verandah. A small restaurant is on the premises, exercise room on the bottom level, and a pool. Best of all, I can check my email from a computer with high speed free internet set up in the lobby.
Later Carolyn found a Japanese restaurant for sushi. We stroll Linden Avenue, after dinner checking out the small vintage and assorted shops that we will peruse tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 2009

The Worker Bee Cafe on Linden Avenue

Breakfast finds us at the Worker Bee Café-a mom and pop operation where we were invited to “Buzz on in”. Kitschy beehives, cups, jars and décor with the bee motive adorn every available shelf and wall. We feel right at home with the locals.

The Bee Motif

I declared the biscuits the lightest I have ever tasted and engaged the chef, a retired machinist from a family of seven, into a conversation with the motive of finding out his recipe. Turns out after a flop he accidentally created the recipe by using half cake flour and half biscuit mix. YUM!!!
Yearning for some exercise Carolyn urges me to take a short dive down Ballard Road which dead ends into a free parking lot at Carpinteria Bluffs. Alternate transportation would be to take the city bus. A two mile round trip walk starts there following one of many paths through a blooming wildflower meadow out toward the ocean.
Carolyn Among the Blooms

When we reach the cliff’s edge we turn right along a trail flanked by eucalyptus trees. We skirt a flower farm where bright purple flowers are sprouting, and then bear left and cross the railroad tracks. Our destination-The Harbor Seal Preserve, home to about 100 seals who this year birthed over 400 cubs according to one of the volunteers we talked to. From December through May it is so protected you must be silent. No dogs are allowed nor is the tossing of any objects and of course, you can’t walk on the beach below them.
The Harbor Seal Preserve
If you continue past the Chevron oil pier you will come to Tar pits Park, where you will see tar oozing down the cliffs. We opted to walk the other direction and spent time watching hang gliders launch from the cliffs and drift across the beach below. View from the Bluffs on our way to the seal preserve

Next on our list is window shopping down the main street, Linden Avenue.New for me was a bed and breakfast, Prufrock’s Garden Inn, a converted 1904 bungalow. Great location!
For lunch-a must stop at “The Spot” , a hamburger stand close to the beach and campground that has been there for 50 years. When we were kids the highlight of our day was to walk over there for a banana split or fish and chips served up their little plastic boats. The boats are gone now but there is still a waiting line for their famous burgers. We order, savor and then walk over to check out the Amtrak station. We had debated whether to come by train or car but didn’t know the logistics. The station is unmanned but the train stops on a regular basis. With the proximity of lodging and shops it would be an excellent way to visit.
Carpinteria is home to 30 nurseries and is a top producer of orchids. With Carolyn’s green thumb off we go across the freeway to an orchid wholesaler,Westerlay Orchids, where the deals were amazing. Unable to resist Carolyn buys several plants that are gorgeous, huge and only $20.
Last but not least is a stop for what else but chocolate. Chocolats du Calibrassan is a chocolates lover’s paradise. Glass cases house the most unique creations. Being so close to Easter we saw colored yellow bunnies and other creations that made us salivate (of course being greeted with a free sample didn’t hurt either). Jean-Michel Carre,chocolatier extraordinaire, has the most original truffles ever including 1)ginger/lemon,2)curry/coconut,3)Sichuan pepper/orange etc. Let me tempt you with a description of the Buchette Irlandaise-milk chocolate ganache with Irish whisky cream, covered with milk chocolate, rolled in powder sugar.
Sampling chocolate at Chocolats du Calibrassan
Then there are the bonbons, and a myriad of specialties that vary depending on the season. Jean-Michel and his wife Jill created their business in 1966 moving to Jill’s native California. Glimpses of Jean-Michel in the kitchen adding touches to his creations are a treat. At this writing truffles were $1.75. We opt for an espresso served with another chocolate and relax at the little table provided. The black and red packaging with the silver Eiffel Tower is manifique. Each of us select our favorites and take home a small box. Much to our dismay we are not able to attend the Chocolate Tour and tasting that are offered two Thursdays of each month. Reservations are required and include a glass of what else…. Champagne. A 45 minute tour is $20.
Next door is a wine shop with a large variety of local wines with tempting descriptions and recommendations. Naturally, I select a few interesting bottles for a future dinner.

A brief respite and we are off to dinner. Westways Magazine reviewed Sly’s, highly touted as a power dining spot with an experienced owner from Santa Barbara. Reservations are recommended. The wine cellar is visible and impressive .Service here is excellent, however, we found it to be very pricey. A perfectly flavored and cooked to perfection sea bass was $28, a la carte-no vegetable, no salad, NOTHING else. Every day there is a Blue Plate Special like a meat loaf platter with sides for about $22, much more reasonable but what was offered this night did not sound up our alley. Of course lunch is less expensive but in these economic times in my opinion it was not worth it and I would not return. Had Giovanni’s Trattoria been open I would have gone there again. The weather has changed and it has begun to rain lightly so we return to the hotel.

Wednesday, April 2009
A new breakfast spot was recommended to us, The Cajun Kitchen. Operated by surfers it is very casual with surfing videos running inside and palapas at outside tables. Huge portions are served here with a varied and extensive menu. Prices are reasonable and shades of Hawaii, you can get sticky rice instead of potatoes with your breakfast. We take one last stroll up Linden on our way back to the hotel and make a final stop at Robitailles Candy Shop, a Carpinteria institution of 40 years. What a delight for children of all ages! Here besides their famous homemade candies

Making Homemade Turtles

are the candies from yesteryear-rock candy of all colors, candy cigarettes, Cup of Gold candy bars (and others you thought you’d never see again). You name it, they have it. We each buy a package of their famous mints (they made the red, white and blue ones served at President Reagan’s inauguration ) for our mom's for Mother's Day.

In Robitaille's With One of Its Founders

Reluctantly we pack up the car and make one last stop at Porch, a unique outdoor/indoor store with fabulous accessories for patio and garden.

Outside of Porch......(my rug was featured in Sunset)

A brightly colored blue, gold and brown patio rug in a geometric print made from recycled plastic soda bottles caught my eye. Carolyn buys a stainless steel windmill for her patio. And so the happy shoppers depart laden with their goodies (maybe it was a good thing we didn’t take the train). We supported the Carpinteria economy, renewed old memories, created new ones and oh yeah-my rug had to be special ordered so gee, I guess another trip is in the future! I LOVE this house!

For Foodies:
Chocolats du Cali Bressan,4193 Carpinteria Ave. Ste. 4(805)684-6900
Sly's Restaurant, 686 Linden Avenue, ,(805)684-6666
Robitailles Fine Candies, 900 Linden Avenue,,/
The Spot- 389 Linden 805-969-1019
Giannfranco's Trattoria
666 Linden Avenue
Carpinteria City Beach (805)684-5405

Places to Stay:
Carpineria vacation homes,
Best Western Carpinteria Inn,4558 Carpinteria Avenue,(805)684-0473
Carpinteria State Beach,Camping reservations (800)444-7275