The 40 Project part 3 – US of A!

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When compiling this list, it was always helped by the fact that I knew that I would be doing a fair bit of travelling – Much more so than usual. Generally, I take a lot of long weekend breaks, but this year, I knew that in addition to my trips to CPH and further away, I would be spending the bulk of my holiday allowance in the USA – Firstly for an Alaskan Cruise, but then using the opportunity to visit both my sisters H and YML just outside Seattle and San Jose respectively – Which meant another chance to add a few items onto my 40 list. Given the trip was essentially in 3 parts, it’s probably best I write about it in 3 parts:

Washington State

I actually had a fair bit on my original list when it came to Washington State, but in the end I only ended up adding a couple of items onto my 40 list, but it meant that I got to do lots of fun things which weren’t necessarily food or drink related. Also, I *did* drink a fair few beers from local breweries – But there wasn’t necessarily any photographic evidence of it, so less helpful in terms of writing up on it for this blog. HOWEVER, the 2 items I managed to add to the 40 list from my time in WA. were pretty good;

Firstly, I got to eat a burger from the marvellous Burger Express in Federal Way [22]. It’s been serving burgers to the good folks of Federal Way since 1983 (there is a sign inside stating that Burger Express is Federal Way’s only independent hamburger restaurant) and all the burgers are 1/4 lb beef patties with all the trimmings and come with a massive portion of skin-on fries. The inside is done up very much with a 50’s diner in mind with a jukebox at every booth. I remembered this place vaguely from my visit 10 years previously, but I was very happy to come here again and add it to my 40 list. (Photos)

Similarly, given I was so close to Seattle, I had to get a coffee. As it turns out, whilst en route to the Cruise Terminal in Seattle later that day, we drove past the Starbuck headquarters. And well, it was by chance that we not only got to go to a Drive-thru Starbucks (I first encountered a drive-thru coffee place 10 years previously and they were unheard of in the UK at that point), but I got to have a spiced Pumpkin Latte because it was near Halloween. So, drinking a spiced Pumpkin latte from a drive thru Starbucks [23] is proudly on my list.

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Alaska

One of the main purposes of the trip was to go on an Alaskan cruise; It’s something that’s been on my bucket list given how much I enjoy the whole cruise ship experience from my Cayamo days and combined with the fact that I could see H and a few of my sisters also went along, it was going to be something special.  I must say that Alaska is truly beautiful – Some of the scenery was stunning and amongst the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in my life. The fact that you’re so close to wildlife in their natural habitat was truly breathtaking at times, perhaps I was getting soaked up by the whole experience of being in the USA, but the fact that I saw not just one, but several Bald Headed Eagles in their natural habitat was something very special.  I did miss things like the chance to see a wild bear because I was busy being too cool (i.e. an idiot), but seeing things like glaciers up close made up for it.

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In regards to the 40 list, most of the things I managed to add to the list (with photographic evidence) were all done in Juneau, AK. There, I managed to eat Alaskan King Crab [24], washed down with a pint of Alaskan Amber Ale [25] (brewed by the Alaskan Brewing Company who are based in Juneau, no less). And whilst I enjoyed the Amber Ale, it was a perfect accompaniment to the King Crab. Sure, it took the best part of 35mins for me to extract every last fibre of juicy meat from the shell, but I was struck not only by how thick the fibres were, but the sweetness and juiciness of the meat astounded me. I mean, I’ve had some sweet crab meat before, but nothing like this. It was quite pricey, but an absolute treat. Also whilst in Juneau, we took an excursion to a Salmon Hatchery and whilst it was great fun seeing all the salmon leaping out of the water to simulate being in the wild, I have to admit it was fascinating seeing a wiley seal swim into the waters to presumably try to gorge on as much salmon as it could manage. After that, we headed to an old-fashioned Salmon Bake (taken there on a kitted out old School Bus, no less) and whilst YKL was busy endearing herself to the local wildlife and we were warned of the threat of bears coming up and trying to eat your food (let them, don’t try to fight them!), it was here that I got to sample some wild (not farmed) Alaskan salmon [26] (Photos)

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I should also mention how I went to other places in Alaska on this trip and as mentioned before, some of the scenery was breathtaking – I *loved* seeing the glaciers and well, experiencing the vastness as well as some of the beauty of the USA. I joke at how it was surprisingly colder than I thought it would be near a glacier or up a Mountain summit, but the serene beauty and tranquility of it all is something I will treasure being able to experience.

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California

Ah, the Golden State, the most populous of all the States in the USA.  I’ve already mentioned how this trip was a chance for me to see some of my sisters, so it was a chance to see YML and her family in San Jose.  Before that though, the opportunity arose to spend a few cheeky days in San Francisco.  Bearing in mind that we’d just got off an Alaskan cruise where we pretty much needed to wear all the clothes in our suitcases to keep warm, the weather in California was the absolute opposite – Temperatures nearing 30c with high humidity percentages, we certainly had no need for any thermals or fleeces!  Our time in San Francisco was short, so not only did we have to make difficult decisions on where to eat and see (some of which was led by availability, tbh).  I wanted to do things like make a pilgrimage to AT&T Park, home of my beloved San Francisco Giants or even try to catch a ballgame (sadly, I didn’t have time for either, so my wait to eat garlic fries there again goes on).  However, I did manage to tick off a few things from the 40 list:

Our first stop in San Francisco was a trip to the institution that is Swan Oyster Depot. This place is just beyond brilliant and is pretty much universally loved by everyone that goes there. I mean, it’s been there since 1912 so it must be doing some right. Sure, there are higher-end places with their white linen table cloths and silver cutlery. There are bigger establishments where you can fit more people in (and with that, the £££ or $$$ rather), but none of them have the charm, establishment, feel, history or welcome of Swan Oyster Depot. If you were to look up the definition of an ideal raw bar – Swan Oyster Depot was pretty much be it. I loved EVERYTHING I had to eat there – the oysters, the chowder (and I don’t like chowder, normally) but most of all – The crab back fat. OH. MY. GOD!! That stuff was divine (and nicely washed down with a pint of Anchor Steam Beer). So yeah, I got to eat at Swan Oyster Depot [27] – And it was every bit as glorious as I hoped it would be. (Photos)

I also got to go on a Brewery Tour of one of my favourite breweries – Anchor Brewing. We could only get tickets for the late morning session but for about $15, you get to not only tour the brewery and learn about its history, see it in action and learn about the beer making process, but you also get to taste a wide range of their beers. Folks, I didn’t really have time for breakfast beforehand (I thought we could grab something on the way – I was wrong). So when you consider how all the pours were generous (I’d say about a half pint for each beer) and we tried at least 7 different beers that day. You could say I was a bit sozzled by the end of the tour and in desperate need for some sustenance. However, I got to not only drink Anchor Steam Beer, but a whole range of Anchor Brewing Beers not only in San Francisco, but at the Anchor Brewery itself [28]. (Photos)

Sustenance came in the form of heading over to the Mission District and another pilgrimage – this time to Taqueria la Cumbre – Birthplace of the Mission Burrito. Say what you like about how authentic it is, the fact is Mission Burritos are known all over the world. And when you get to eat it as establishments like Taqueria la Cumbre, they are very tasty too. You could say that I was so drunk that any food was welcome, especially starchy carbs, but I really enjoyed my carne asada – freshly grilled strips of grass-fed beef topping some rice, beans, pico de gallo, sour cream, cheese and guacamole (there may have been more), and I’m looking at the MOUND of food on the single tortilla and thinking to myself “there’s no WAY you are going to wrap that neatly!”. But in a series of deft moves seemingly defying the laws of physics, not only was the whole thing neatly wrapped, but smoothly done so in foil. Yeah, this guy had obviously rolled a few burritos in his time, but the finished item – served with some freshly fried tortilla chips – packed some weight when you lifted it up! By now, the smells wafting from the place and after watching them assemble (construct) this monster burrito, I couldn’t *wait* to sink my chops into it!. And it was worth the (marginal) wait and pilgrimage – Juicy carne asada, nice balance of rice, peas with a bit of kick from the pico de gallo. Yeah, I was a bit drunk, but this more than filled the hole and well, eating a burrito at Taqueria La Cumbre [29] meant another tick off the list. (Photos)

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For my 2nd lunch that afternoon (!!), we ended up meeting YKL in Tartine Bakery. For those in the know, Chad is probably the best baker in all of the USA – Easily within the West Coast. YKL and I were very fortunate to meet the man himself and his head baker, Richard earlier in the year as part of Relæ’s 5th Birthday Party (more of that in another post) and he very graciously mentioned that he would be happy to show us around the bakery (if he was around whilst we were there). Sadly, I didn’t get to make it as the day’s drinking took its toll on me (!!). However, I did manage to eat a Croque Monsieur and a Banana and Cream tart from Tartine Bakery [30]. And lemme tell you, that banana and cream tart was one of the best I’ve *ever* eaten.. I’m salivating just remembering how good it was. (Photos)

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For our last morning in San Francisco, we were taken on an impromptu tour of Clement St – the other Chinatown within San Francisco. It’s actually much more diverse but the amount of places with fresh dim sum (3 dumplings for $1), it honestly felt like being in Hong Kong and I loved it. (Photos) However, we were also very lucky to have been taken to B Patisserie that morning. I had heard of this place for their Kouign Amann and literally, the air is thick with the smell of butter when you are nearby. The patisserie on sale there certainly looked the part and the Kouign Amann tasted every bit as good as they looked – Light, flaky, buttery, crisp… Being able to eat a Kouign Amann (of different varieties) at B Patisserie [31] was an unexpected, but very welcome addition to the list. (Photos)

Our only foray into the Fine Dining arena was a trip to Manresa. Much had been heralded about Manresa, especially since a fire in July 2014 which devastated most of the restaurant. However, the word was that since it re-opened, the cooking from David Kinch was better than ever and indeed, the announcement that the restaurant was awarded 3*’s came a few weeks after our visit. I have to say, some of the food we ate there was stunning – Especially the signature “Into the Garden” [32]. That said, there were some misses for me (personally), but the highs were impressively good. (Photos)

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Of course, the whole USA trip wasn’t just about the #40 list, but a chance to see family too which is much more important and dear to my heart. I had great fun ticking off items on the 40 list in the USA, but the memories, happiness and joy from the whole trip are what I take away and cherish the most.

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