On the Oxnard Coast
We followed Route 101 back south - the highway was a bit less congested than on our way in on Friday (read about our trip to Santa Barbara) -- and stopped at several road-side attractions just because we had some extra time. Our favorite was the Gallup & Stribling Orchid Farm in Carpenteria, offering some of the most beautiful -- and beautifully kept -- flowers that we have seen.
We then headed in to Oxnard. Sometimes referred to as the "Strawberry Coast", it was easy to see why. In every direction I looked, I was treated to the sight of vast areas of real estate covered by strawberry plants. According to Wikipedia, Oxnard is: "at the western edge of the fertile Oxnard Plain, and is one of the world's most important agricultural centers, with its distinction as the strawberry and lima bean capital." There is even a Strawberry Triathlon in March and California Strawberry Festival in May to celebrate the delectable treat.
Herzog Wine Cellars
On the far east side of town (and essentially at the very gateway to the Southern California wine country), we located the Herzog Wine Cellars, a beautiful and unique structure where kosher wines are produced by the Herzog family much as they have been for over a hundred years. In the event you didn't know what a kosher wine is -- I didn't either -- here is a quote from the Herzog website:
"...kosher wine can be handled only by Sabbath-observant Jews — those individuals who strictly observe kosher dietary laws. In addition, kosher winemakers are forbidden to use any products, such as unauthorized yeasts or animal-based fining agents that might fall outside the parameters of kosher convention and thus compromise the ritual essence of the wine."
We tasted some excellent whites, reds and even dessert wines and took a short but informative self-guided tour of the winery. After a quick look at the menu, we also decided that the on-site restaurant -- Tierra Sur -- would be our destination of choice for dinner on Monday evening.
As days go, it may not have been the fullest, but it sure felt like it, and it was time to locate our hotel: the Embassy Suites at Mandalay Beach... and it was right on Mandalay Beach - what an excellent location! Our room was on the second floor and had its own little balcony that overlooked the ocean... After getting settled in, we took a short drive to the marina area to check out the location of the restaurant where we would meet our friends who were driving up for Los Angeles to have dinner with us; the place was called The Whale's Tail.
The Whale's TailNote: The Whale's Tail restaurant is no longer open for business.
According to our server, the Whale's Tail has been in its present location for over thirty years. Situated not far from the mouth of the burgeoning marina, it boasted an all-windows upper level with additional outdoor seating area, a lower level (with plenty of windows too) that seemed a bit better suited for dinner, and a comfortable, relaxed feel that made it the perfect place for just about any occasion. We enjoyed a glass of wine as we watched various types of boats move up and down the waterway, many obviously eager for the official arrival of spring and warmer weather, others oblivious to the late winter chill in the air as they guided sailboats toward the Pacific. We met the Russell "Surf" King and his wife back at the hotel, and the four of us took a leisurely stroll along the beach, laughing at the memories of our past antics and happy to be together again - even if it was only going to be for dinner on this trip.
We had planned an early meal due to the need for our friends to return to Los Angeles that evening, so we headed back to the Whale's Tail where we enjoyed some great Pacific Ceviche, Calamari and Artichoke appetizers, dinners of fresh Halibut, Pacific Snapper and Sea Bass, cocktails and excellent conversation. The months since our last time together seemed like only days and we all lamented how quickly the time passes. And much too soon, dinner was over and the Kings had to head back to L.A. Lauren and I were quite tired ourselves; we enjoyed a nightcap and quiet conversation on our balcony, then opened the windows and headed to bed, where we quickly fell asleep to the roar of the crashing waves in the distance.
Monday dawned cloudy and cool with a few lingering morning showers that quickly moved out of the area. Lauren and I had tentatively planned to perhaps go on a whale watch, but the weather wasn't cooperating -- at least at this point -- so we took another long walk and just enjoyed the fact that it was still some 70 degrees warmer than where we lived (and to where we must return tomorrow...). Ultimately, we decided that one final trip to the Whale's Tail was in order; we both agreed that the calamari was in fact some of the best and most tender we had ever had and we wanted another order of the tasty treat. After a Bloody Mary, some wine and an order of calamari, we went on a short discovery tour, snapped a few pictures of the downtown area, and lamented the fact that one of the things that I had really wanted to see was the Navy's Sea Bees base not far away at Port Hueneme. My father had been a Sea Bee during WWII, and touring the camp I know he had once been to would have done wonders for me. However, it was only open on the days when we were not in town. All that means is that another trip west will be in order!
After a swim in the pool and some time in the spa, Lauren suggested that we perhaps consider getting ready for dinner. We had made reservations that were earlier than we are used to, but we knew that it was going to be an early morning wake-up and a long travel day on the morrow. She was right; the thought of the trip back to LAX was not a good one, but the thought of dinner was, and I dressed with eager anticipation. Tierra Sur is an incredible restaurant with fantastic food and I highly recommend it. The restaurant -- owned by the Herzog Winery -- was kosher as well, and I somewhat anxiously mused what a kosher dinner would be like. It turned out that there was no need to worry; the evening was packed with new and interesting flavors that I had not experienced before (read a review of the dinner), and the accompanying wine was a perfect match. The meal left me full and very happy that Lauren had suggested Tierra Sur.
Tuesday morning was a gorgeous day and I would have much preferred to be driving through additional wine country or doing a bit more sight-seeing, or even visiting the museums and shopping areas of Oxnard... anything would have been better than the over two-hour ride back to the airport. The traffic has increased exponentially since I lived in the area, and I don't envy anyone who must make the commute "over the hill" a couple of times a day on the San Diego Freeway. At least our plane was on time; passing quickly through security, we boarded the crowded 757 for the flight back to Chicago. The plane touched down just before sunset, and not long thereafter we were struggling through rush-hour traffic, heading back to the western suburbs.
Winter is long from over and the house was still cold after 5 days
with a lowered thermostat. But the furnace soon warmed it
sufficiently and I set a fire blazing in the fireplace. Lauren and I
sipped some soothing Merlot and smiled at each other, the glow of an
oak fire lighting the great room and illuminating an even warmer
smile on Lauren's face. We both knew that although the reality of
returning to work was probably akin to driving in rush-hour traffic
in LA, we had both enjoyed a really great "long weekend" and
thoroughly cherished every minute. In a week or so we would be
getting several deliveries from the wineries we had visited; the
buttery Chardonnays and the dry but silky Merlots would be ample
reminders of our trip and all the fine places, dinners and friends!