Eating Our Way Through the 4th: Sea Level to Mountaintops

glutenberg by glutenberg

Dinner at Fish District

Time to start the long weekend with Jean! It looks like it's also time to eat like it's going out of style again. Night one, Fish District near the Woodbury area of Irvine. This newly opened restaurant features a variety of seafood based dishes ranging from fish tacos to poke to fish salads. They do have a skirt steak option too for people who are looking for a land animal option.

Jean and I ordered the Ahi Poke Bowl, Coastal - Fish of the Day Taco, Spicy Poke Crispy Rice Cake, and the Salmon & Kale Bowl. The poke bowl was good but the restaurants that specialize in poke bowls offer more toppings and more fish options per bowl, so this may not be the best place to get a poke bowl. The fish taco, at first glance of the menu, seemed to be extremely overpriced, however, it ended up being about twice the size of a fish taco from other taco shops, so the price wasn't too bad. It was very flavorful and the fish tasted very fresh and tended to flake once we bit into it. The poke crispy rice cake was like a giant version of the spicy tuna crispy rice cakes that you can get at other restaurants. We probably ordered to much fish at this point, as it was getting tiresome eating the raw Ahi. Definitely only order either the poke bowl or the rice cake appetizer, but not both. It was, however, very tasty. Lastly, the salmon and kale bowl was a great tasting, healthy option. I would definitely get it again as a light dinner option.

Overall, the restaurant was great tasting and a great addition to the already ever-expanding restaurant selection in Irvine.

Fish District, 6278 Irvine Blvd, Irvine, CA 92620, USA

Breakfast and Coffee at Stacks Pancake House

Jean has a new obsession with Stacks' coffee. I guess they brew Kona coffee and they brew it so that it's strong, which is how she likes it, rawr. Now that Stacks opened across the street from my house, we can get it nearly any time. Stacks' specializes in Hawaiian styled breakfast foods and they excel at it. I haven't had breakfast in Hawaii since I was a tiny tike, but after eating at Stacks, I'm gung-ho about visiting again.

We got there a little after 10 AM and there was already a long line extending out of the store. We waited about 30 min. in the line before we were at the register to put in our order. Stacks is an order at the counter, seat yourself style restaurant. We ended up ordering an iced and regular black coffee for drinks. I ordered the Fitness Omelette and Jean ordered the Garden Stuffed Crepes for our meals.

The fitness omelette comes with a side order of 3 pancakes, rice, toast, home fried potatoes, or fresh fruit. For a bit extra, you can get a specialty pancake instead of a regular pancake. We ended up getting the coconut pineapple pancakes to counter the healthiness of the egg white omelette. The omelette was a good and light meal, but the pancakes are the highlight of any meal at Stacks, especially their Hawaiian influenced pancakes covered in their awesome coconut syrup.

Jean's garden stuffed crepes were also awesome. She ordered them with fried potatoes, which were surprisingly tasty. Usually giant chunks of fried potatoes are a bit dry, but their potatoes were moist and flavorful. The crepes were filled with eggs and veggies and covered in Hollandaise sauce, all of which tasted great.

Overall, Stacks may be one of my favorite casual breakfast dining restaurants and is always on the top of my list of places to eat at in Irvine.

Stacks Pancake House, 14421 Culver Dr, Irvine, CA 92604, USA

Late lunch at Pie Not

After breakfast, Jean and I wandered around Fashion Island for a bit to replenish her Nespresso pod supply and to take a look at Lululemon for some gifts. Anthropologie had now expanded all the way to the other side of the building that they were in and took over the spot next to the Russo's pet store (which is sadly closed).

After a couple of hours at the mall, we started to get a bit hungry again, so we drove around looking for some food. We were initially going to get fish tacos from Bear Flag, however, we had been eating either poke or other seafood all week, so I decided to take Jean to Pie-Not since she had never been there. Pie-Not is off 17th Street in Costa Mesa next door to Sidecar Doughnuts. The women inside recommended the Dog's Eye or the That'll Do Pig for our pie and Jean wanted to try the Sag Roll, so we settled on the That'll Do Pig (which is basically the Dog's Eye + cheddar cheese + bacon and who can turn down bacon) and the Sag Roll. We also bought a bag of chopped up Slice of Heaven bars to eat as dessert; because that's how fatties roll.

Overall, the pies and the Sag Roll are highly recommended. They're both incredibly filling and well worth the money. I'd probably skip over the desserts in the future so that I can eat more donuts at Sidecar next door.

Pie-Not The Aussie Style Bakery, 270 E 17th St #17, Costa Mesa, CA 92627, USA

Donuts from Sidecar

Gluttons, gluttons, gluttons. Eating a pie wasn't enough so Jean and I went next door to Sidecar Doughnuts and Coffee to get some donuts. Yea, so much for the diet. Sidecar is quite possibly the only "artisan" donut shop that I'm willing to pay a hefty premium for the donuts. We ended up getting a Banana Walnut and Salt & Butter donuts. We also got 3 Buttermilk Drops.

We hadn't tried the Banana Walnut in the past, but it was quite tasty. The donut had a strong banana flavor, so if you don't like bananas, don't get it. The Salt & Butter donut is one of our favorites and one that we pretty much get every time we go to Sidecar. It's uniquely simple yet superbly delicious. All it is is a cake donut with chunks of salt crystals on the outer glaze but for some reason, it makes all the difference. Lastly, we got 3 Buttermilk Drops for $3. When just considering the price, this would be an asinine amount to pay for what amounts to cake donut holes, however, these were fresh out of the fryer and honestly, after the first bite, you forget about the price. I think we downed all three within a minute.

Sidecar. Huge two thumbs up for never letting our sweet tooth down.

Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee, 270 E 17th St #18, Costa Mesa, CA 92627, USA

Dinner at Famous Dave's with Mike and Danny

It's dinner time with the guys. Danny had a hankering for some ribs, so we decided to go to wherever was still open at 9 PM. That left us with limited options, so we had to choose between Lucille's or Famous Dave's. We ended up choosing Famous Dave's, which turned out to be a good choice.

Mike met us at Famous Dave's shortly and we ordered the All-American BBQ Feast. This feast includes "a full slab of St. Louis-Style Spareribs, a whole Country-Roasted Chicken, 1/2 lb. of either Texas Beef Brisket or Georgia Chopped Pork, Creamy Coleslaw, Famous Fries, Wilbur Beans, six pieces of Sweet Corn and four Corn Bread." It's meant to feed 4-6 people for $79.99. We ended up opting for the beef brisket and got mac and cheese and mashed potatoes instead of the coleslaw and beans.

Of all the items in the massive tray, the brisket and the chicken stood out the most. The brisket was so tender that it nearly broke apart as I picked it up. The chicken was both tender and juicy. I was pleasantly surprised at how good these two items were. The ribs were pretty good too but were severely overshadowed by the chicken and brisket. The sides were fairly pedestrian, however, they were still good. We had a debate about which was better: the corn bread at Famous Dave's or the biscuit at Lucille's. I think we ended up split in our decision. I am definitely more partial to the honey butter biscuits at Lucille's but these corn muffins were good too.

Overall, Famous Dave's surprised us with how good their barbecue was, so no regrets!

Famous Dave's BBQ, 13122 Jamboree Rd, Irvine, CA 92602, USA

Nightcap at Trader Sam's

After dinner, Jean and I took Danny and Mike to Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar for some drinks and fun. Trader Sam's is located in the center of the old Disneyland Hotel area near the pool. It opened 4 years ago and is really a great hidden gem in Orange County for just a fun environment for drinking some neat cocktails. The bar has 5 or 6 cocktails that come in collector's cups that you can buy for $15 to $20 each. These drinks also come with a fun little show or trick each time they're ordered, so be prepared for a lot of yelling and 1980s styled special effects. Overall, this is definitely a fun environment for people visiting Disneyland or for locals who just want a relaxed environment for drinks.

I ordered the the HippopotoMai-Tai (Light and Dark Rums, Orange Curacao, Orgeat (Almond) Syrup, Organic Agave Nectar and fresh lime juice) and the Piranha Pool (Strawberry Vodka blended with Pineapple Juice, Cream of Coconut, Strawberry Puree and Blue Curacao). Jean got the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum (Reserve Rum, Cream of Coconut and Pineapple and Orange Juices dusted with Cinnamon and Nutmeg). Mike got a couple of Shipwreck on the Rocks (Bourbon with freshly Muddled Lemon and Mint with Organic Agave Nectar) and Danny got a Ka-blue-ie! (Light Rum, Cream of Coconut, Pineapple Juice and a splash of Blue Curacao) and a Passionate Python (Dark and Aged Rums, Red Passion Fruit and Tropical Juices garnished with an Orange Peel "Python"). The best drinks, imho, were the Piranha Pool and the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum. The Piranha Pool was like a fruit daiquiri mixed with a pina colada. It was awesome. The Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum is also on the sweeter and side is quite delicious too. I guess I'm just partial to coconut / pineapple flavored drinks.

Mike's Shipwreck was like a Mojito and tasted strongly of mint. The Ka-blue-ie! is also another drink that is a bit like a pina colada and is quite good. I don't want to spoil the surprises that happen when certain drinks are ordered but definitely try ordering any of the drinks with souvenir cups and you'll get a fun, little show.

Trader Sam's, my go to place for friends coming in from out of town or if I happen to be in the Disney area looking for a drink.

Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar, Disneyland Hotel, 1150 Magic Way, Anaheim, CA 92802, USA

July 4th on top of Palm Springs

July 4th. Our nation's birth. Time to celebrate it on top of the world, or at least about 8,500 feet above sea level. Jean and I basically lazed around all day until the afternoon, at which point we decided we needed to move around. We hopped in the car and drove over to Palm Springs to take the aerial tramway to the top of the mountain.

As we approached Palm Springs around 5:30 PM, the temperature steadily rose to 105°F. I had expected it to cool down by then but I guess the day temperature was even worse. Once we got to the tramway, we parked (luckily there weren't too many people there at that hour so we didn't have to walk far to get inside the building) and went inside to buy a ticket for the tram. Because we got to the tram after 4 PM, the ride was $22.95 / person. The normal cost is $25.95 / person. We debated about getting the ride and dine package for $36.00 / person but we decided that we wanted to eat somewhere else later. As you embark on the tram, they will take a green screen picture of you for you to purchase at the top of the mountain (a bit of a ripoff per usual).

The tram itself is pretty bad ass. As it ascends the mountain, the cabin rotates 360° to afford all passengers an even view of the ride. The tram itself sways a bit as it goes up, so if you're afraid of heights, this may not be the ride for you (ahem, Mike and his seaweed dance). The ride itself is about 2.5 miles long and takes around 10 minutes to reach the top summit. The view is beautiful both during the day and the night and by itself is probably worth the $23 entrance fee.

Once you're at the top, you can walk around the mountaintop building for beautiful views of Palm Springs below, the Salton Sea, and Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The very first thing you'll notice is the drastic weather change from the valley below. Once we made it to the top, the weather had dropped to a nice and cool 67°F. Basically, mountaintops are the best places to be during the hot summer. The building at the top had a cafeteria with a hot food bar, snacks, and drinks. It also had a formal dining restaurant called Peaks Restaurant. Although we didn't eat there, the food actually looked pretty tasty from what we saw. I don't remember too much from the last time I visited the Palm Springs tramway , but everything felt pretty new at the top, so I'm guessing it had been refurbished since the last time I was there as a kid.

After looking around inside the building, we climbed some steps outside of the building to the top of the building. At the top, you are able to see the city below and the Salton Sea in the distance. The Salton Sea is definitely on my bucket list of weird places to check out and I'm sure it'll be one of my next stops when I head back out that direction again. Once we finished up around the building, we decided to hike around Long Valley in Mt. San Jacinto State Park. This valley was pretty neat because it was fairly green compared to the surrounding desert. There were a lot of Jeffrey Pines in the valley and they smelled like vanilla or butterscotch, which perfumed the air with sweetness.

We ended up taking the Desert View Trail, which has five notches that overlooks the desert valley below. You walk along a clockwise or counter-clockwise trail that's 1.5 miles worth of walking. The hike itself is pretty easy but I would recommend getting used to the thinner air a little bit before going as you will get winded much quicker than normal. The five notches all offered slightly different views of the valley below and were well worth the walk. Once we finished our hike, it started getting dark so we decided to make our way down the mountain. I forgot to take a picture from the building before descending but at least we got a great view of the city lights on the way down the tram.

Overall verdict for this the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway? A worthwhile trip for those who want to spend an entire day hiking (apparently you can hike all the way to Idyllwild on the trails up there) and camping or if you want to save a little money, go after 4 PM in the summer and enjoy the crisper weather and the beautiful city lights. The next time I come will definitely be during the winter so I can see some snow.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, 1 Tram Way, Palm Springs, CA 92262, USA

Cooling off at Lappert's Ice Cream

After a few hours of hiking with only a little bit of water, I started craving something tart and cold to quench my thirst. As we were driving around looking for a place to eat dinner, we happened upon Lappert's Ice Cream near the downtown area of Palm Springs. We parked and happily went inside to get our tasty treat.

Jean tried a few flavors but ended up getting the Kauai Pie ice cream in a cup. The ice cream tasted like a coffee version of Rocky Road and was quite good and fairly unique. I guess the entire store had a bit of a Hawaiian spin to it, which was probably why they were also selling Dole Whip. I ended up getting the Dole Whip Float as it basically satisfied all of my criteria above. Tart, cold, and awesome.

This was a great little place for some ice cream and if for some reason you're in the Palm Springs area (or Bay Area as I guess that's where they're from), I would definitely recommend stopping by.

Lappert's Ice Cream, 130 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262, USA

Fireworks in Palm Springs

As we continued our search for a good restaurant to eat at for the 4th (most of the places we wanted to try were closed for the holiday), we came across a parking lot that had a view of the fireworks being set off in Palm Springs. When we were eating our ice cream at Lappert's, we had noticed loud popping noises but had associated it with the construction going on in the building next to us.

The parking lot serviced the main downtown area and was conveniently empty. We were both surprised at how many people were walking around the streets in Palm Spring as we did not think of Palm Springs as being a major hot spot for the 4th. Overall, the fireworks were pretty good but nothing really to write home about. I guess it's unfair to judge it since we saw them from afar without any musical accompaniment.

Palm Springs, Palm Springs, CA, USA

Dinner at Natural 9 Noodle Company in Morongo Casino

Jean and I probably drove around Palm Springs looking for an open restaurant for 20 minutes to no avail. All of the restaurants we wanted to try were closed for the 4th and the remaining open ones were either closing as we approached or weren't worth trying. As we gave up on finding food out in the desert and started to make our way home, we decided to swing by Morongo Casino to see if they had any late night food available. Twas our lucky day when we went in and found that their Asian restaurant was open until 11 PM. We made it just in time to put in our order for some relatively delicious noodles.

Jean ordered the shrimp wonton noodle soup and I ordered the beef Cantonese crispy chow-mein. Overall, both dishes were pretty good, all things considered. The chow-mein noodles were a bit funky as they tasted like the free appetizers they hand out at take out Chinese restaurants, but it sufficed. Luckily the flavor of both noodle dishes were pretty tasty. The food wasn't overly oily or salty, which is a plus.

If you're out in the Palm Springs / Cabazon area and really crave some Asian food later in the evening, Natural 9 Noodle Company inside the Morongo Casino is a viable option. It won't wow you but it also won't leave you with too many regrets. Plus, you can gamble a little bit on your way out and test lady luck.

Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, 49500 Seminole Dr, Cabazon, CA 92230, USA