Continuing where we left off last time – we were at mid-day of Day 2 of our Oregon Coast and California Redwoods National Park road trip, enamored of the amazingly spritely luncherie by the name of Superfly at Brookings, OR. With only so much daylight to contend with, we set off back on our path to explore what remained of the Oregon coast (not much) and enter California. Steadily we made our way past Crescent City and into the land of the Giant Redwoods.
And what towering Giants! It would be a shame to drag those magnificent creatures into this blog – at the very least they deserve their own road-trip centric space in cyber world. We had selected some of the lesser known side routes that seemed to weave in and out of these redwoods groves, hugging one mammoth after another, swerving precariously to squeeze past another massive trunk. The drive was incredible, the awe was palpable, and the mood was reflective. You felt small. Insignificant. All those worries of the ratrace tedium and the hamster wheel seemed exactly that – inconsequential. The looming force of nature, the grandiose of millennia of existence, life and growth, the damp serenity of the silence – it was an all-out full sensory experience that I can’t really do justice to here.
Past the Giant Redwoods, we ambled alongside water bodies and some farmlands. We were planning on staying at Fortuna, CA. By the time we reached the vicinity of Fortuna, it was beginning to get dark, and the sky had suddenly become overcast and gloomy. We were also extremely exhausted. In fact, we wanted to find a place to eat before checking in, afraid that once we had washed up and relaxed, we’d fall asleep and be unable to will ourselves to go find sustenance.
As we left the highway behind and made our way into town, we were struck by how desolate everything seemed. We found our hotel, drove right past it, after eyeing a gloomy looking eatery adjoining the cluster of night-halts at the edge of town where we were staying. The restaurant can’t be that great, we mulled – since it seemed to cater to road weary travelers who were probably too tired to want anything more than a quick bite to eat before tumbling into their beds.
We kept on driving, passing fields and entering a small, perhaps-once-quaint downtown area. We yelped fervently. We furtively leaned out the car window to try to spot a fun local eatery without seeming like misfit tourists, trying to keep up with the moving car. We located a gem and then another, and then deciding all were but mirages (or just plain closed at that late hour).
We were getting a little hungry, and just a little tired. Was this the beginning of the unraveling of the so-far good luck on finding great food on this road trip? Were we going to relegate the evening repast to a breakfast bar before calling it a day?
Even as we felt the cloaks of despondence enshrouding us in its icy embrace, we shook it off, vowed to fight the powers and continue our quest as only true road warriors would. Which means we traced our steps back to the hotel, admitted defeat and checked in.
But it’s not quite what you think (read: no breakfast bars that night).
We may have admitted defeat but we didn’t give up. We asked at the desk for dinner recommendations when we checked in (smart road warriors at that). As we walked up to our rooms to just wash up very quickly and fight the urge to just sprawl out in bed and chitchat, we weighed the dinner options in our minds – the desolate traveler trap eatery we had spied earlier, or the front desk recommendation of a noisy and busy local brewery next door with the creative name of Eel River Brewing Co.
Eel River it was! We drove out of the hotel parking lot and turned into the restaurant parking lot. A befittingly short journey to cap off day 2 of our road trip!
When I walked into Eel River Brewing Co. I remember thinking about walking into a barrel for some reason. It may have been that I was exhausted, or it may have been the high wood-vaulted ceilings. The establishment lived up to its reputation of being noisy and busy. We thought it was because there wasn’t really much else open nearby. It could also have been the amazing food. We were about to find out!
We were seated at the bar while we waited for a table to open up, and we pored over the menu and the specials chalk board. Soon, I gave up. I’m not a huge fan of a million choices – it confuses my simple mind. Faced with options galore, I typically do what I did at Superfly earlier – think about the shark tacos and turkey dogs and then order the burger. I decided to let my friends order, as long as we got a cup of clam chowder. Ah nothing like a cup of clam chowder to warm the cold, travel-weary bones.
A table opened up and we sat down, digging into our salads and chowder. There were countless flags suspended from the ceilings. Oddly enough, there were mining instruments, uniforms, equipment and other paraphernalia lining one wall. The bar took up about half the length of the barn-style restaurant. There was a steady stream of traffic of steaming plates and empty trays hustling and bustling through the doors in and out of the kitchen at the far wall.
Soup and salad long gone, we gazed around and chatted, getting a bit hungry. We waited some more, ran out of things to talk about, and wondered aloud whether they had gone fishing for our dinner … Perhaps our demands had sent off half the kitchen staff on a hunting-fishing-gathering expedition, from which only half of them would emerge victorious against the rugged cruelty of the woods and seas … Our dramatization served to entertain us endlessly, and the ticking clock of waiting for our dinner became all that much less of an annoyance.
Finally our very own steaming plates emerged. As we gawked at the seemingly endless mounds of food served up, we patted ourselves on the back on our decision to order two entrees for the three of us to share, excited at the prospect of hopefully saving enough room for dessert *finally*.
I had helped pick out the blackened salmon, and my friends had cast their vote for the Asian teriyaki glazed swordfish. Both entrees emerged nestled in the crook of the comforting arm of a medley of roasted veggies, placed, nay, piled onto the oval service plates with a matronly generosity. I like my roasted vegetables to have a bit of a char on the outside, for that hint of subtle smokiness of caramelized sugars. A bit of a bite, so I’m not souping up the vegetables with a spoon. And finally, I’m a big fan of that creamy tenderness on the inside of that feisty bite – so that I’m not battling with a chewy piece of bark. You want the right harmony of that resistance, something for your teeth to sink into and playfully fight with – but just a fleeting, transient nip if you will – rewarded with the luscious feel of a molten mix of flavors inside that broccoli floret. It’s not easy to accomplish, I’ll admit that. I fail at generating roasted veggie happiness on such regular basis that I’ve decided to coin a term for my flop artistry and the sad forkful thereafter (I’m working on it – coining never comes easy to me since it demands some creativity). Eel River actually came very close to roasted veggie nirvana. Pretty good with their roasting technique, I’d have to admit. I even enjoyed the squash. Were there carrots? Now I’m blanking, especially since of all roasted veggies, carrots have to be my least favorite, even below leeks, which aren’t that awesome.
We had picked garlic mashed potatoes to accompany the blackened salmon. When I say heap, I am by no means referring generously to an elegant scoop dotted with dainty driplets of gravy in an artistic arc that you are more likely to encounter at a fine dining establishment or your favorite gastropub. When I say heap: I mean a heap, a slathering, a mound of we-make-these-in-buckets potatoes. Creamy and garlicy, maybe with some textural variation (or lumps), but mostly pretty well executed. I am not a huge connoisseur of mashed potatoes really. In fact, I would have probably tried to jazz it up a bit with some jalapeno and orange flavor infused into the mashed potatoes. Don’t roll your eyes now, I’ve tried that specific flavor blend with roasted potatoes and chicken, and it’s not as weird as you’re making it out to be.
We had picked a baked potato with sour cream and chives as our starch alongside the Asian teriyaki swordfish. I almost wish they had the option for some cold soba noodles with a crunchy sesame topping – but alas. A standard issue, no nonsense baked potato in its jacket, capped with a standard issue, no nonsense dollop of sour cream, and sprinkled with some chopped chives. And in case you were wondering, yes the chives were also standard issue, no nonsense and all, but there’s only so many times you can repeat a phrase for effect and get away with it. The fun part was to elegantly slice that baked potato in its jacket into thirds to be shared around. Mad knife skills and elegant portioning ensued, much to the wide eyed amazement of my dinner companions, by now, famished and easily bullied into wide eyed amazement.
The blackened salmon was everything it promised – the tender flaky moist salmon indulgence encased protectively in a feisty crust: center stage for the char, the spice, the kick, the fight. Ah. I prefer my fish a little less done overall, but I had no complaints. It was still moist and flavorful. I may have inhaled it whole – the slab of fish disappeared off my plate in the wink of an eye, taking with it the gnawing sensations of hunger and urgency of the need for satiation.
The Asian teriyaki glazed swordfish got a little more of my attention. I am also not one to wage war over swordfish – salmon yes. By then I was sipping on my lemonade, back in the rink of conversation, toying with a piece of squash and watching it take a bath in the garlicy mashed potatoes, and then glancing surreptitiously around to make sure no one else was glaring at the inanities being staged on my dinner plate. Phew, safe this time. I looked at the shiny piece of fish on my plate in its bright-eyed-doe-like-glory, pleading for a taste, inviting, taunting even, yet somehow muted in its allure. That must be because I inhaled the salmon! I wondered if miso would have been a good complement to the teriyaki glaze, then in my mind, replaced the teriyaki completely with a blend of miso and jalapeno. As the flavor profiles clanged and banged their dissonance and strong dissent in my imagination, I put that thought to bed and focused on the swordfish on my plate instead.
The aforementioned imaginary clanging and banging couldn’t hold a candle to the fireworks on my palate at the first brush with the swordfish. The teriyaki flavor was subtle enough grab the fish by its metaphorical waist and hoist it high on a spinning pedestal, highlighting the texture of the swordfish. I don’t even know how it did it. The meaty fish paired remarkably well with the caramelized sweetness of the Asian glaze, and the notes of the teriyaki had permeated deep into the body of the fish. After that first bite, that swordfish disappeared in the blink of an eye as well.
Dinner had rejuvenated us just enough to trek back to our rooms and consult the map to chalk out our route the next day. Dessert did not happen. Next time, we vowed, and merrily took leave of Eel River Brewing Co.