Eating my way through Berkeley, CA

Published In The Battle Creek Enquirer October 12, 2013

The motto of this small California city perched on the San Francisco Bay is “Come for the culture. Stay for the food.” I can attest that the second part of the statement is accurate.

I checked into my lodging, the funky Hotel Durant, done in Euro-style with small rooms and interesting art.

Even though it was late, my daughter and I went in search of the perfect grilled cheese sandwich at The Melt, three minutes before their 11 p.m. closing. The classic was a tasty cheddar and sourdough wonder.

The second day started with a perfectly brewed latte at Caffe Strada’s, an open-air coffee bar. It’s one of a profusion of coffee bars where locals, including a large number of students at the University of California, Berkeley, imbibe a huge amount of caffeine in coffee drinks of all kinds. Strada’s is a cash-only establishment.

A brisk walk through campus brought me to the first of several vegan stops, this one at Cinnaholics, an extraordinary doughy bun bakery with outside seating. To perfectly customize your roll, you choose from hundreds of toppings and icings. Overwhelmed by all of the choices, I settled for the old-fashioned original with walnuts, passing up such unlikely toppings as chocolate chip cookie dough.

At Sliver, we nibbled on slices of vegan pizza with fresh corn, zucchini, onions, mozzarella, French feta cheese and topped with avocado cilantro pesto. In true California style, it’s a pizzeria with a mission statement: To use the freshest and finest quality ingredients on their pizza as a means to promoting human health and to empower the fight against human trafficking around the world. I couldn’t make that up.

Berkeley is an excellent town for walking. One of the most famous walks is on Telegraph, a four-block area just south of the university.

Restaurants, bookstores and clothing shops, along with street vendors, line its wide sidewalks. College students, tourists, artists, Goth-garbed teenagers, senior citizens and the homeless all flock to Telegraph, day and night.

We chose Crepes A-Go-Go, one of the many restaurants. It had sweet or savory choices, like my egg and cheese “walk-able” crepe, cooked to order. The Nutella crepe with whipped cream looked wonderful, too.

After a morning of carb-loading, we decided to undertake a Cal-Berkeley tradition, to “Hike the C.” A huge yellow letter C is painted on the hillside above the town. To get to the start of the trail, we drove up Hearst Avenue past the parking lot for the Greek Theater. The view was breathtaking, all the way to the Bay.

For dinner, we chose Herbivore, the Earthly Grill, another vegan choice. The interior was modern and stylish. The menu is filled with choices such as chicken tacos and noodles with beef strips — all faux, of course.

We started our last day with another great coffee at Café Milano. Most of the tables were already filled with students studying, or at least trying to focus on their schoolwork.

Wanting to fit in some culture, we visited the angular, concrete, U.C. Berkeley Art Museum, one of the largest university museums in the country.

A final meal at Lo Cocco, an intimate Italian restaurant, was the perfect ending to the trip. The servers, including the owner and her daughter, were friendly and offered us some incredible braided bread with olive oil to start. We shared a pizza and the mussel special, which featured spicy red sauce over linguine.

A few glasses of the house wine put me in a mellow mood for the flight home after a 48 hour eat-a-thon.

Pasadena features roses and relaxation

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer June 8, 2012

Twenty years ago, on our wedding night, the earth moved at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California. I knew the rolling feeling immediately.  It was an earthquake. My new husband and I looked at each other. “They’ll write stories about us,” he said and we both went back to sleep.

My second stay at the Huntington Langham Hotel and Spa was not nearly as dramatic and reconfirmed this as a lovely hotel for all occasions. Originally built in 1907 in Spanish Mission Revival style, the hotel was rebuilt from the ground up in 1991 to meet all modern earthquake codes, a very safe place it turns out for our wedding night.

One of my favorite spots was the inner courtyard, with its small Japanese garden.  On this particular day, a mother duck and her seven ducklings were delighting the smallest guests by paddling around the small set of connected pools. In the marvelous California sunshine, the Courtyard was an oasis of calm.

Our richly appointed room had a balcony overlooking the sweeping Horseshoe Gardens and what was originally the front of the hotel. I could almost imagine the horses and carriages sweeping up the drive to a luxury hotel. We had a club room, which meant you never had to leave the hotel to eat, as the Langham Club served five different ‘culinary treatments’ as part of the room rate. We arrived for tea – how civilized. The tiny scones with a dollop of Devon cream tided us over until dinner.

We spent the afternoon at the world famous Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. The same wealthy family that originally owned the hotel had owned the mansion and estate and created the Huntington Library in 1919. The Huntington featured both a rare book and manuscript collection and an art collection in addition to 120 acres of gardens. Wandering through three acres of rose gardens, it is hard to choose a favorite from the 4000 bushes. Each of the 1200 cultivars had a distinctive scent and lovely color.

 If you are looking for something a little more lively, you only need travel to Old Town Pasadena, one of the hippest spots for upscale dining and shopping in the Los Angeles area.  Several square blocks are filled with 100 different restaurants and 200 stores.

The evening found us in the Tap Room, enjoying the mild weather. Small plates were served with a nice selection of California wines, which was about all the food we could manage by that point.  The live music enticed several patrons to dance, but we were content to sit back on the overstuffed cushions and relax.

Before venturing back to the Langham Club for breakfast, I tried out the Stairmaster in the fitness center. Suitably sweaty, I visited the Huntington Spa with Chuan Body + Soul. Many of the Langham properties offer oriental healing treatments in addition to the regular spa offerings.

Bagels and smoked salmon competed with fruit-filled mini blintzes for my breakfast attention. The club’s charming concierge was available to help us make reservations for lunch at the hotel’s Terrace restaurant. Overlooking the pool, the Terrace is a favorite of locals.

Pasadena is known worldwide for the annual Tournament of Roses parade, where floats decorated only in flowers travel through the streets on New Year’s Day. Football fans know the Rose Bowl as a premier football game held that same day. Pasadena has a great year-round climate and activities to offer, no matter when you visit.

If you go:

The Langham, Huntington

The Huntington, Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens