(Filed from San Francisco, California at 3:50 p.m. on August 3, 1999)
The first thing to do on arriving in San Diego is to make a beeline for Mary Pappas' Athens Market Taverna. Mary's restaurant is located across the street from the courthouse in downtown San Diego so a lot of her customers are lawyers and judges. I'm sure they're glad they don't have to go toe-to-toe with this determined lady 'cause she'd blow 'em away if they did. The lady of the house is smart, self-possessed -- and she knows a thing or two about food. You'll usually find her behind the bar in the smaller of the two dining rooms.
Fen and I pull up stools at the bar, where Mary proceeds to introduce us to a Greek chardonnay with a label reading "Ampelones Vassiliou." It's dry and just right.
"This is the only place in the world where I've liked Greek food," I tell Fen. He looks perplexed.
We begin with soup. Fen gets the fakee, a lentil soup which is light, flavorful and made from a family recipe. Mary refuses to divulge the details. I have the avgolemono, a homemade chicken broth with pasta and a whipped egg-lemon sauce. This is the dish which won me over at Mary's -- its lemony broth is wonderfully smooth and creamy yet the whole of it is delightfully light. I'm ready for more.
Our next dish is a grazing plate of Greek favorites. Among the tastes are perfect dolmathes, stuffed grape leaves which taste as fresh as can be and are topped with more of the lemony egg-lemon sauce. I could make a meal of these morsels and am tempted to do so, but Fen curbs my zeal. Our plate also includes tiropita and spanakopita, flaky squares of filo pastry stuffed with cheeses or spinach or both. Even Mary's pastry is light! The hummus , which comes to us in a small ramekin, is pleasantly garlicky, prompting Fen and I to fight over the last bite.
A generous helping of moussaka follows. I can't quite figure out what's in the various layers of this meaty pie but it doesn't really matter -- a faintly tomato-y flavor prevails and that's good enough for me. We have a few skewers of souvlaki (shish kabob to the uninitiated) and finish off our meal with some roasted chicken and another glass of chardonnay.
"You weren't kidding," Fen says. "This is really good stuff."
Mary rules .
* * * * *
San Diego has been called The Model American City. At least I think it has. Okay, maybe it's me who called it that but that's what the place looks like. The sky in San Diego is forever azure and usually cloudless. The sun seems to shine all the time. Everywhere you look there is blue water, whether it's the roiling Pacific or the inland pools of Mission Bay. Streets are clean in San Diego in a faintly Republican sort of way.
One seems to walk more erect in San Diego, perhaps because there are so many Navy guys (I see nary a military gal) in dress whites showing off their perfect posture. It's okay by me -- I like walking nice, at least whenever I remember to do so. And if there aren't a whole lot of military gals around, that's okay, too, since the top gal in town, Mayor Susan Golding, is indeed a gal. A Republican.
I've brought Fen to San Diego so that he can experience a model American city. He's lived in California for nearly twenty years yet he's never been here. I find this hard to believe. This city of pristine beaches and glorious sunsets (preferably viewed from a beach) is the California that most east-coasters dream of yet look for in San Francisco or L.A. Nothin' doin', bub -- this is the California that the Beach Boys had in mind when they sang "Surfin' USA" and the rest of their tales.
* * * * *
The Loews Coronado Bay Resort is the kind of place which showcases San Diego at its finest. Located at the far end of the Coronado peninsula, the Loews is one of those complete resorts which must have been pulled together by a Virgo. In other words, no detail has been overlooked. The tan-colored buildings which dot the property, along with the sailboats and pleasure craft which bob around the surrounding marina, give the place a vaguely Nantucket feel, although the resort aims somewhat higher than that. Think Venetian palazzo by the beach. And if there's something you'd like to do while you're here, rest assured that someone has already thought of it and put it on the day's schedule of activities.
A few things for your consideration while at the Loews: kung fu classes for kids ages four and up (and that includes you, Dad). Kite making and flying. Surfing lessons (hey, beautiful Silver Strand beach is mere steps away). Aqua aerobics, tennis and limbo. Yes, limbo -- it's very limbering. There are marshmallow roasts on Saturday nights and a real refrigerator raid (good stuff!) on Thursday eves. A family baking class is held every Saturday morning, a nice follow-up to the "dive-in" movies on Friday nights. Come on now, haven't you always wanted to see a flick while swimming in an outdoor, outsized pool? You can also pedal a bike on miles and miles of bicycle trails and jog along the endless stretch of nearby white sand.
Call me a purist, but biking and jogging wind up being my favorite activities here, although plain ol' pool time is a serious contender. The Loews has smartly designated one of its three pools as an adults-only pool and if that isn't a masterstroke, I don't know what is. The most interesting activity at the Loews, however, may be the gondola rides. Yes, real gondolas manned by a real gondolier. I said it was a Venetian palazzo, didn't I?
Our suite at the Loews is done in neutral tones with bursts of blue, orange and green. The king-size bed has a down comforter which I am tempted to take home (of course I don't). There are two TVs in our room and three data ports, two more than we need. Our deck overlooks water (what else?) and the high-arcing Coronado Bay Bridge. The overall feeling at the resort is beach lite, which makes me feel lite, too. Reality can be successfully suspended at the Loews for several days. Even a week. Maybe that's why they call it an escape.
* * * * *
Fen and I leave Coronado and drive into town for dinner. Our destination is the Fish Market, a seafood house which overlooks the bay and is utterly romantic once night falls. The fish at this market-cum-restaurant is fresh as can be, which is how it should be this close to the sea. We feast on locally-caught white sea bass and not-so-local Westcott Bay oysters. Most importantly, we leave room for dessert down the street.
Sweets on this evening are at Karen Krasne's Extraordinary Desserts. In the case of Karen's place, the name is no boast. The elegant yet fun Ms. Krasne is a pastry chef extraordinaire who learned a thing or two at Paris' Cordon Bleu. She also spent some time in Hawaii, which is why most of her desserts are topped with edible flowers in beautiful hues.
I tell Fen that we only have room (in our tummies) for one dessert but he talks me into two. Good thing. My Caribe Chocolate Mousse Cake is wedged between layers of passion fruit mousse and served with melting roasted coconut ice cream. Fen's apple liqueur creme brulee is even better, its caramelized apples and chocolate mousse acting as perfect accompaniments to the delectable creme. Even the coffee at Extraordinary Desserts is grand. While this is a singular place to wind up a meal, smart marketer Krasne is open morning, noon and night. I confess to Fen that I've been known to come here twice in one day and he doesn't seem the least bit surprised.
* * * * *
"I have our first celebrity sighting," Fen tells me. We're poolside at the Loews, which doesn't seem like the likeliest place to spot a star. I was expecting to do that in a couple of days, in L.A.
"So who is it?" I ask. I'm doubly skeptical since Fen isn't exactly an authority on celebrities.
"Jesse Ventura," Fen replies. "I knew it was him because of the cigar and the voice."
"Are you sure?" I ask. "He's from Minnesota. What the heck would be doing down here?"
"Come see for yourself," Fen says confidently. "He's sitting near the adults-only pool."
Trying to be discreet, Fen pulls me by the arm (somewhat indiscreetly) and escorts me into the big kids pool. He wraps me around him so that my head is resting on his shoulder and facing in the general direction of the supposed Jesse. Sure enough, it's Jesse V, wrestler-turned-governor. The big guy is smoking a cigar and sipping a beer, his lovely wife (I recognize her) by his side. Five or six navy guys, dressed in either tan or white, are also at Jesse's table. Jesse is dressed in a navy t-shirt which says "Navy Seals" over his heart. Cigar smoke wafts over the adults-only pool.
"Pretty cool," I tell Fen. "But I have to wonder, could you spot any real celebrities?"
"Well, um, I could spot Clint Eastwood. And Jack Nicholson. Kim Basinger...nah, I guess I probably couldn't spot Kim Basinger."
© 1999 Elaine Sosa
San Francisco, California
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