We knocked out another 560mi to reach the Bay Area. This was actually quite a pleasant drive, except for the usual disturbances on the 405 just south of the LAX. I haven’t lived in LA since 1994 and I have forgotten how freakin’ busy and congested the 405 gets. We also drove on the toll route 74 that bypasses Laguna Niguel on the 405. As a proud owner of EZPASS from the east coast I was jealous of the FastTrak system employed on this highway: you speed at 45 to 55mph and automatically pay $0.75 less in toll. If you don’t have a FastTrak, you get off to the side, stop completely and pay to a very friendly attendant: also a pleasant respite from the NJ Turnpike. On the east coast, you have to pretty much slow down to 15mph with an EZPASS to pay the tolls.
Our halfway stopover was in Los Olivos at the Sideways-famed Los Olivos Cafe. Our attempts to arrive for the lunch menu before 3pm were destroyed by LA traffic on the 405 and around Santa Barbara which cost us 90 minutes in delays. Nontheless, we sampled the afternoon menu of appetizers, salads and pizzas with a glass of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir, a 2002 Laetitia brand made just 20-40mi north on 101 around Arroyo Grande, was excellent. The Italian Grigio was good as well. The appetizers that we had were delicious, one was pastry with almonds on top and sweet sauce filled with brie cheese, and mine was a shredded phylo pasta filled with goat cheese in tomato sauce. Time Out.
The latter was basically a Macedonian burek with cheese, except its phylo dough was shreaded in little strings and baked. Tossed in a tomato sauce with a hint of feta shreds on top — Macedonian-Italian appetizer: delicious Cafe Crostada. I recommend it!
Here’s the bad about the place. While it’s a nice, friendly town, it’s being overrun by over-eager tourists who want to recreate the Sideways allure. In fact, my wife observed the funniest thing: 2 out of town women were visibly upset with the owner of the cafe because he didn’t have a particular white wine for tasting and the women wouldn’t be able to tell their friends that they tasted this particular wine at Los Olivos Cafe. Funny and sad at the same time. We prefer to visit new places and find ways to make the enjoyments more personal and specific to our tastes, without an overwhelming desire to recreate every tourist cliche.
The Cafe in particular had premium prices on every wine on its famed wall. I took a quick glance at a few known local and foreign brands and their prices were all above $20 a bottle, even for foreign wines that I was able to get in Philly for well under $15. The ridiculousness of the prices was visible on a few framed photographs of the wine making experience. The 5×7 framed photos were listed at $95, while a completely unspectacular large photo of grapes was listed at $450. I have seen many beautiful photographs at galleries in NYC and Philadelphia with prices well above $100. The distinction of beautiful photographs is key because Los Olivos Cafe had the most boring photographs one could imagine of grapes and wine pickers. Why even bother to list prices for such dull photographs except for the hope that a poor out of town sucker would pay the price? Completely dishonest.
Outside of that, I recommend a visit to the region. The best and most scenic drive is the triangle on 101, 154 and 264 to see the towns of Solvang, Buellton and Los Olivos and then continuing on 101 north to Arroyo Grande to see the vinyards. The 101 North all the way to Monterrey is perhaps one of the most scenic routes in the US that I have seen so far and ranks there with PCH 1 on the California Coast, I-70 across the Rocky Mountains and Utah, Routes 191, 24, 12 and 9 in Utah across all its National Parks.