This past weekend, Henning and I took a minivacation to Santa Barbara. We had to pick up Henning’s new passport at the German embassy in LA on the way, so we spent the day going to a few museums there. The Modern West Landscapes exhibition at LACMA is a bit boring, save the part from the 30’s. MOCA‘s feminist exhibition Wack! was ok, if lacking a pulse—I expected more. The highlight of our art tour was some new Tim Hawkinson pieces at the Getty. I adore Tim Hawkinson. He is one of the best working artists right now (along with Hung Liu). His work is always incredibly inquisitive and ingenious. The Getty commissioned four pieces and is also showing the Uberorgan, a wonderous instrument of giant organ-shaped plastic sacks connected with tubing. Every hour on the hour, a belt of wide white plastic with black dots begins to turn, and the organ begins to make incredible bbbbfffffffrrrrgggggg noises. It’s great. Unfortunately, the exhibition only had the four other pieces commissioned by the Getty. All of them were fantastic, but the scale wasn’t nearly that of the Whitney-LACMA exhibition a few years back.
For lunch between museum-hopping, we stopped at Grand Central Market in downtown LA. Oh how I wish San Diego had something like this! The market consists of vegetable vendors selling bargain-priced decent-looking produce, two or three Mexican spice and chile vendors, a few meat/seafood vendors, and a bunch of food vendors. And it’s there every day. At one of the Mexican spice vendors, I bought a huge bag of guajillo chilies, a handful of canela cinnamon sticks, and a fistful of annato seeds—the total was $2.54. Then we ate at the most crowded of the food vendors, figuring this was a good sign. The place was a taco and torta counter, so we had some of each: a carnitas torta with everything, a carne asada taco, a carnitas taco, and an al pastor taco. All were excellent, though the al pastor was my favorite and Henning preferred the carnitas torta. Henning is getting a bit tired of Mexican food, though. *sadface*
Friday night, we ate at Ramayani, an Indonesian mom & pop joint in Santa Monica, on a Chowhound recommendation. It was my first Indonesian food, and while it was pretty good, I must say that I find Thai food much more complex. Indonesian food seems to sit somewhere between Thai food and Chinese food, and many dishes have that characteristic soy-Chinese taste. We ordered a soup, a salad, a noodle dish, and a chicken dish, and I don’t remember the names of any of them. The salad was my favorite—crispy lettuce beneath bean sprouts, tofu, and a peanut sauce. Henning liked the soup, which was a lemongrass curry broth with bamboo shoots and chicken. The chicken main came drowning in an extremely fatty chile sauce, which kicked the grease factor up to unappetizing. The flavors were good, if a bit simple.
And then, there was Santa Barbara. I did my undergraduate degree there, and it was interesting to be back. In 2003, I left frustrated and bored with the place and people, so it was funny to feel that tinge of nostalgia visiting my old favorite places. It has changed a bit, but not much. Isla Vista is still a pit of sin, full of beautiful, barely-twenty kids getting their party on, and State St is as swanky as ever.
On arrival Friday night, we picked up Henning’s friend Sebastian, who is in town from Innsbruck for a physics conference, and headed over to the Mercury Lounge, an old haunt of mine. I love this bar. It’s in old town Goleta, sandwiched next to an auto parts store in a spot so nondescript that you’d never know it was there unless someone showed you. Inside, it’s “decorated” with thrift store couches and 70’s lamps. They only serve beer and wine, but it’s a good selection with lots of interesting beers. Plus, they have free popcorn on demand. The patio seating out back is great if it’s not a chilly night. After a long chat and a few beers, we called it a night.
Saturday morning, we got a simple breakfast of rolls, foccacia, and a muffin at Our Daily Bread on Santa Barbara St. The jalapeno roll and the tomato foccacia were excellent. We headed over to State St, stopping on the way at the courthouse to tour the inside and go up to the tower to look at the view—something I’d never done while I lived there, what a mistake! I picked up a nostalgic latte at Coffee Cat, where I spent about four hours every day for my last 15 months in Santa Barbara. It’s a great coffee shop, open and bright with color, with a sleek city vibe. Next up was the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. They had an interesting looking exhibition on Tamayo, a Mexican modernist painter. The exhibition was ok, consisting of several brilliant paintings mixed in with a lot of crappy ones. After that, Henning and Sebastian went to the beach while I did a bit of shopping at Anthropologie and got some reading done at Java Jones. For dinner, we ate at Galanga, my favorite Thai restaurant in Santa Barbara. The Som Tum (green papaya salad) was excellent, as were the Panang curry and the spicy mint noodles. I was a bit sad that they didn’t have mango and sticky rice. So it goes.
Afterwards, we went to Elsie’s, a bar on De la Guerra St owned by the same people who own the Mercury Lounge. It has a similar vibe as the Mercury Lounge, with similar offerings and decor. Next we headed up to Isla Vista to give Henning and Sebastian a taste of the UCSB party scene. Talk about a trip down memory lane! We walked up and down Del Playa, and found a party with a live reggae band. Oh man, the crowd… let me just say that I’m glad to be in graduate school.
Sunday, I met a former professor for breakfast at Cajun Kitchen, for some good ol’ American food. My California eggs benedict were damn tasty, but my homefries were a bit boring. The rest of the day offered little in the way of culinary interest, as I spent my time hunched over my papers at a coffee shop.
It was nice to get away for a while.