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About Carmel and Santa Barbara

Jun 28, 2011

Carmel-by-the-sea Carmel-by-the-Sea

If I had the slightest talent for writing poetry this would be the occasion to scribble a line or two:

"The foamy ocean,

so calm yet imposing,

tickles the tip of my toes,

breezy and velvety..."

But I am the girl who giggles in class to bad poetry so this is more than the best I can do. My talents for communicating the wonders of Carmel is limited to my humble photography: its strange shaped trees that lean towards the ocean and remind me of Baobabs, the co-existence of calmness and rage of the ocean and the silence that hangs in the air despite all the people on the beach and those who are just arriving with their surf boards in sunset... When I become speechless in the face of the beauty of a certain place, like Carmel, I become motionless too and to overcome that I feel like doing something out of the box. If I'm on a beach, doing a handspring is the only thing I can think of. 

Ben-ve-sahil Carmel Beach

Before Carmel, we stayed a night in Santa Barbara which was, in a different aspect, equally spectacular. We stayed in the tasteful Canary Hotel whose room made me not wanting to get out. It is not luxury that impresses me in hotels but sweet touches and details like the ones in Canary Hotel: candles and matchsticks placed in various corners of the room, a "don't disturb" card playfully labelled "nesting" that make you smile, the beautifully patterned pillows and afghans... However, not leaving the room while Santa Barbara awaited would have been unwise.

Canary Hotel, Santa BarbaraCanary Hotel, Santa Barbara

I expected Santa Barbara to be more about the beach and the oceanside but everything was happening on State Street and streets that run across it; the cafes and shops all lined one after another.. If I hadn't known, this little town would be the last place I would expect to see a fine-dining restaurant like Seagrass. According to what we had read on Zagat, Seagrass was supposed to be the best restaurant in town. We asked our receptionist whether we should dress up for dinner, she said "oh no, Santa Barbara is a very casual place" with an emphasis on"very". I was way too tired to be on heels so her words made me want to hug her.

Seagrass'  family-run character is reflected in its atmosphere, in a good way, making you feel comfortable and privileged at the same time. We sat down on the candle-lit terrace and enjoy the day's specialties while occasionally chit chatting with our hospitable waiter. Everything was flawless. Nevertheless, there were instances when I felt that fine-dining was being pushed to its limits: I would count at least two ingredients I wouldn't mind be missing in "sautéed California white seabass with fennel-basil puree, Yukon mashed potatoes, fava beans, shaved fennel and shiso salad, tomato ginger vinaigrette". The way we eat fish in Turkey, plain and undecorated, might be the reason of my biasedness against over-decorating fish but isn't it obvious that fish, especially seabass is delicious as it is? Plus, does it really take 20 words to name one dish? But who am I to judge; this is what fine-dining is all about.

Warm almond financier with berries, a scoop of vanilla ice-cream was one of those desserts that give you the sensation close to, hmm well, I can't pronounce here but you know what I mean... Serving financier as a dessert instead of a tea-time cookie had never crossed my mind and now I can't wait to twist and turn my own precious ginger financier recipe to turn it into a dessert course, too. Would that be stealing? 

Seagrass Seagrass, Santa Barbara, left to right clockwise: 1) seared jumbo diver scallops, "etuvée" of green cabbage, sweet peas, pommes purée, tomato dust, lemongrass-ginger emulsion, 2) mixed green salad with goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts 3) sautéed California seabass 4) warm almond financier with mixed berries, lemon mousse. 

After dinner we did a very quick bar-hopping in the light of the recommendations of Megan, our cute receptionist. We were early comers and the night obviously hadn't started yet but I didn't mind retreating to our comfty hotel room early. The next morning we breakfasted at Tupelo Junction, probably the only place on State Street open and ready to serve breakfast early in the morning. I had to eat smoked salmon for breakfast for the first time in my life which turned out to be not bad at all. In American ways, why eggs are always sided with a ladleful of pan fried potatoes that look like previous night's leftovers remains a mystery to me. That, I could never understand.

Tupelo JunctionAn unorthodox breakfast at Tupelo Junction: smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, scallion scramble bagel sandwich. And what's with the left-over potatoes?

The only exciting incident that happened during our stay in the laid-back Santa Barbara, ("laid-back" being the most used adjective preceding Santa Barbara) was when a car with two clueless tourist, entered the one way street from the opposite direction. As I was watching from inside Tupelo Junction, people passing by hastily in their suits and with their takeaway coffees, I wanted to stop and ask them: where were they rushing to, in a place like Santa Barbara?  

On the way to Carmel, we turned off the GPS for it was persistently directing us to US 101 highway for a shorter cut. We instead took US 1 that curves next to the ocean and then through the cliffs. We stopped by every "Vista Point" sign, to admire the breathtaking view. This is how we got to know this squirrel who let us feed him with the caramel-chocolate coated peanuts I had bought in Joan's on Third in Los Angeles. The tiny squirrel heartily ate four of our peanuts and when he had enough he climbed on a rock, previously occupied by a crow, and got carried away in his thoughts.

1 Nolu Yol  sights of US 1 : a contemplating squirrel, a crow and sea elephants.

We stopped by the "sea elephants vista point" sign in disbelief and watched with amazement the sight of hundreds of sea elephants just couple of feet away from us. As we advanced, we kept seeing signs that read "road closed in 60 miles", "road closed in 40 miles", "in 10 miles..." but didn't mind because it was the United States; if the road was closed there would of course be an alternative way which we would be directed to. Surprisingly there wasn't any. When we faced the "road closed" sign, we sheepishly took a U-turn and went the 60 miles back to rejoin US 101. Because that lost us two hours on the way, it was not until late afternoon could we arrive at Mission Ranch in Carmel. We ran into our "bunk house" then to our tiny porch to admire the immense green field that stretched ahead of us. As I was just starting to think that a view wouldn't get any better, I saw the ocean behind the fields. I got speechless. 

Koyuncuk Come on ram, look at the camera!

I hurried to the front yard to watch the sheep flock feeding. Appearantly the tiny cute lambs I had seen on the Mission Ranch's web site and was looking forward to meet, had grown to be well-fed adult sheep. With their puffy wool they were barely visible on the bumpy terrain. While I supposed that they were possibly the luckiest sheep alive, I remembered Karagöz ve Nazlı. And thought that their life wouldn't have been as miserable and tragical, had they been so lucky to live here in Mission Ranch. Weekenders from San Francisco were enjoying the sight of sheep on sunset while they sipped their drinks. In no time, we joined them with our glasses of cold Chardonnay.

Mission Ranch, CarmelMission Ranch, Carmel

Too bad we couldn't be in two places at the same time. We had to leave Mission Ranch to catch the sunset over the ocean at Pacific's Edge. We realized that the name was definitely a well-deserved one as soon as we climbed the stairs that led to the restaurant: it indeed was located on what felt like the Pacific's edge. We watched the sky turn from orange to purple before we got busy eating. My first course choice, Brussels sprouts with bacon was a downer for a bacon non-eater. I ordered my choice preferée in seafood restaurants outside Turkey, sea scallops (since we don't have them plenty here) and that tasted good enough to wash away the taste of bacon from my palate (sorry bacon).

 Passific's-edgePacific's Edge Restaurant, Carmel

By the time we got back to Mission Ranch, people who had been crowding the front porch had retreated and except for the feeble lights of a handful of lanterns, the place was virtually under dark; it looked deserted and creepy. While Doğa was parking the car, I walked to our bunkhouse but was too scared to unlock the door so I ran back hastily to wait for him. Just after we went to bed and wished each other "good night", Doğa told me how our room would make a perfect setting for the movie "Friday the 13th". He comforted me by adding "don't worry, tonight is the night when the fat guy with glasses is taken. Before it is time for the "hot girl" of the group, we'll be gone". Then he recklessly fell asleep and started snoring in no time. I was left alone and awake, scanning the moon-lit room from under the blanket, to discover the obvious traces typical to a horror movie: the tiny dancing flame inside the fireplace which was waiting to catch fire, the kitsch lamb statuette on the fireplace waiting to come to life, the outdated curtains and bed cover, the wooden walls, 80s furniture... Oh God, he was right! I closed my eyes in the hope of waking up in one piece or at least for the second part of what Doğa had said to be true. I comforted myself by imagining the view that awaited us in the morning: the sweet sheep wandering in sunrise on the immense green field that meets the ocean. And I counted them: "one, two, three"... 

Missin-ranchMission Ranch, Carmel. Just after dawn...

Canary Hotel
31 West Carrillo Street,
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Seagrass Restaurant (menu)
30 East Ortega Street,
Santa Barbara, CA

Tupelo Junction Cafe (breakfast menu)
1218 State Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Mision Ranch
26270 Dolores Street
Carmel, CA 93923

Pacific's Edge Restaurant (menu)
120 Highlands Drive,
Carmel, California 93923

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