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Mother Approved: Amul India

Recently, we had the chance to meet up with a long-time Indian-American friend of ours, who had dropped by town with his wife and two very young children to visit family. With the limited time we had to meet up, we determined it would be easiest to meet up at his parents place to watch some football, eat, and just hang out and enjoy each others company.

As the night went on, the conversation somehow turned to the Indian restaurants around the Columbus metro. Our friend's mother asked us what our favorite places in the area were. When we mentioned Amul India, she nodded and smiled, saying that was one of her favorite places.

It's always good to get confirmation from someone who should know their stuff.

Tea for Two and Ma Po Tofu - Tripping into San Francisco

The South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood in San Francisco stands a bar with a
name many Columbus residents would recognize in Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker's
Christmas in San Francisco has become a tradition for us on our trips back to the West Coast. Perhaps the most unusual thing about this trip was it was the only day we made our way into "The City by the Bay" (cue background "whoa-whoas" by Steve Perry now.)

Of course, with the day being Christmas, the venues that are open are limited, and those that are are often jam-packed with people wanting to get out of the house for the day. We both agreed very early on that the touristy places were generally ones to avoid, but slowly but surely they have made an appearance on our itineraries with a bit more regularity. On this day, we journeyed to Golden Gate Park for a visit to a place neither of us had ever visited before: the Japanese Tea Garden.

Berkeley Brew-seeking: Fieldwork Brewing/The Rare Barrel

A close up of the "non-protest" side of the "Berkeley Big People" sculpture tandem
from Scott Donahue, located (somewhat oddly) on a freeway pedestrian bridge
In craft beer terms, one generally thinks of the San Francisco side from a historical perspective: Fritz Maytag's efforts with Anchor Brewing provided the inspiration for numerous homebrewers of that era and the original wave of modern craft breweries. However, Berkeley, located on the opposite side of the bay and generally is better known for non-craft beer topics, has a little bit of its history here as well in Triple Rock, opened in 1986 and touted as the oldest original brewpub in the country.

These days, the craft beer scene is looking up: one of the companies spawned by Maytag's efforts, Sierra Nevada Brewing, opened up a hub for their beer along Fourth Street in the form of The Torpedo Room in November of 2013. Other newly established efforts such as Fieldwork and The Rare Barrel, both of which we visited during our time in town, have been earning their own acclaim.

For The Sake of Sake: The Takara Sake Museum and Tasting Room (Berkeley, CA)

Berkeley, California: where free speech monuments and
sake museums can reside next to each other in peace
My first experience with sake, the Japanese beverage fermented from rice that dates back to roughly 300 BC, was an indirect one, Back in high school at a party hosted by a mutual friend, we found a fairly ornate bottle containing this truly exotic beverage (for us at that time, Corona qualified as exotic.)  One of my friends particularly found the sake to his liking...too much so, as it turned out. That was the first time I had seen anyone so stinking drunk in my presence, and it still ranks well in the top 5 examples of this unofficial and ignominious personal category.

Flash forward to today, where my spouse and I have made craft breweries one of our top targets during our travels. If nothing else, this has led to a pursuit of other forms of adult beverages on a lesser scale, including wines, cocktails and spirits, and mead. When it came to sake, our experience pretty much amounted to combination of nil, nada and zilch. Combine that status with a willingness to try new things and some free time to kill before the holiday family gathering, and we found ourselves in, of all places, Berkeley, California.

California Brunching (Pt. 2): Cabin Fever and a Keller Instinct

A look down at the cities of the East Bay from the Berkeley Hills
The second of my California breakfast/brunch posts for 2016 takes our first peek into the San Francisco Bay Area proper, where we enjoyed the a fine sit-down meal inside a vintage catalog house.  Also, a glance at a Wine Country town known worldwide for its gourmet restaurants and some of the prettier pastries you could ever lay your eyes (or taste buds) on.

You don't exactly go looking for log cabins within the urban landscape, nor would you expect to actually find one. However, Sam's Log Cabin, located along a main thoroughfare just outside of Berkeley proper, is worth seeking out for some scrumptious early day eats.

Built in 1930 from a Sears Roebuck catalog home kit, the space which houses Sam's has served many different capacities: speakeasy, roadhouse, and a gambling institution (as in off-track horse race betting.)  Current owners Mike Daillak and Rhasaan Fernandez took over the space in 2010 and have implemented a focus on organic and local food sources as well as an expanded backyard that doubles as a community/music event space and a customer waiting area.

California Brunching (Pt. 1): Motorbikes and Explorer Hikes

We stopped into a shop we passed along the way
Well we sat down on our seats and we began to say
We know you like you to bake, and you know we're gonna' stay
California brunchin' on such a winter's day
(Inspired by "California Dreaming" by The Mamas and the Papas)

The North Coast of California is full of drive-thru coffee establishments
such as the uniquely designed Gold Rush Coffee in Eureka, California
One thing we noticed during our first excursion through California's North Coast area is the plethora of drive-thru coffee places. Anchored by the Grants Pass, Oregon-based Dutch Bros., a franchise with 270+ locations scattered through the Western U.S., it seems every town you pass has at least one such place, perhaps inspired as much by the long distances you have to drive between towns as much as the sheer number of overcast days found in the region. When Mother Nature's natural pickup is blocked overhead, a little caffeine enhancement is almost a must.

For us, drive-thru coffee was not in the cards on this California excursion, but it didn't mean we didn't find places to enjoy a good cup of java. Even better, the places we stopped by provided both unique atmospheres and some good eats to accompany our morning caffeine.

Brews Among The Redwoods: Loping Around the Lost Coast

As we drove into the southern portions of Eureka, California, on US 101 during our recent California travels, we couldn't help but struck by the flashy, Las Vegas-style sign that points the way to Lost Coast Brewing (sadly, we couldn't quite make it work to stop by here on our travels, but it's on the docket next time we're in the area.)

Lost Coast's new sign means no one will ever have a problem
finding their brewery (image from Lost Coast Outpost)
It struck me that this rather easily noticed sign is a bit of a paradox: historically, the so-called "Lost Coast" has been a reference to the section of along the Humboldt County shoreline which is not blanketed by either US 101 or Highway 1. Deemed too challenging to cut a highway through, this especially rugged part of the California coastline remains sparsely populated and little visited, acting as a haven for select hikers and other wilderness lovers, whale watchers, or those who are seeking a luxurious, more private view of California's picturesque coast at Shelter Cove's Inn of the Lost Coast.

(Fort) Bragging about the North Coast

In terms of rugged beauty, it's very hard in this country to beat the coastline of the Pacific Ocean. Some places get more publicity than others, and rightfully so; the Bixby Bridge leading into Big Sur, the Oregon Dunes, and Washington's Shi Shi Beach. But really, your odds for a spectacular view are tremendously good along any of the pacific coastal highways or small towns.  On our latest California visit, we decided a tour of the north coast was in order, including a stop in Mendocino County's Fort Bragg.

Sporting a population of just over 7,200 people, Fort Bragg started off as traditional hunting grounds of the Pomo Indians. As settlers moved in, this town alternately served as military post, Indian reservation, and later as a central point for fishing, railroad and the lumber industries. These days, this tony town's economy is much more diverse, including a fair number of tourist dollars.

Serene and Spiritual: New Clairvaux Vineyard (Vina, CA)

The majestic Mt. Shasta, which towers over the northern reaches
of California's Central Valley
As one drives northward into the upper reaches of California's Central Valley on Interstate 5 during the winter months, an enticing piece of eye candy grows more prominent on the horizon. This white-capped, jagged precipice is Mount Shasta, a member of the "Ring of Fire" volcanoes which rim the Pacific Ocean and deceptively serene-looking (the last eruption for this stratovolcano was back in 1786, a relative blink of the eye in a geological sense.)

Chico and the Plan: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

My first ever experience with Sierra Nevada Brewing's products involved, like many others I'm sure, their signature Pale Ale back in my college days. As is the case with most college students, the more inexpensively you could do something, the better. In beer terms, this often meant copious amounts of cheaply made lagers.

Every now and again, however, I would encounter a bottle of Sierra Nevada's flagship Pale Ale at a party. Many of my fellow students hated the bitter taste profile, now considered fairly tame by current standards. I was not one of those people: I didn't hate it, but I wasn't really sure if I liked it or not. As time has gone on, though, I have come to appreciate this beer, especially when it's the lone craft beer selection in a sea of macro beers.