Cambrian: Slice of Life

A culinary spring break

There’s no greater compliment than when your children or grandchildren want to spend time with you. The supercharged version of that flattery is when one of them wants to travel with you, too.

Years ago, son Sean, then in his 20s, called to say he was going on a Caribbean cruise with friends. He said he and they wanted us to go with them.

What a tribute! I smiled for weeks after that call.

Yes, we went and had a blast, even though it was a Spring Break cruise. The ship was packed with college kids on vacation, who knew that on the high seas they could legally drink alcohol at the age of 18.

Fast forward to March this year. The weather looked good, I had a few days of vacation booked, and Husband Richard and I were going to a weekend trade show in San Mateo. Turns out, son Brian was available for a few days, too, until Friday night when he was to give friends a ride home from the San Jose airport.

I’m not one to ignore rare, serendipitous coincidences. So, we took our favorite chef on the first leg of a gastronomic tour we’d been promising him for years, but our schedules hadn’t meshed before.

Brian started his lifelong culinary career as a young teen, working in the bakery with us. He’s now an executive chef and master baker. But he also was our creative catering partner for many years before branching out to train in some of this county’s finest restaurants.

As caterers, we had such fun together, testing out new recipes, mapping out menus for our clients and then pulling everything together, whether at someone’s wedding, an event at Hearst Castle or a winery, a movie shoot or a wine-festival brunch in the middle of a field.

Our creative partnership was culinary brainstorming at its best. With a new recipe concept in mind, we’d all mentally roll the flavors around on our tongues and discuss our options. Instinctively, Brian would know exactly which mystery ingredient to add to make the formula perfect.

So this 2011 culinary tour provided a rare chance for the three of us to revisit the fun of years ago.

Along the way, we introduced our chef to some favorite haunts and found a new place to add to our list. All are large restaurants, but they’re usually full of customers, so plan ahead.

Among them were:

*ABC Seafood, Foster City (next to San Mateo): A classical Cantonese restaurant, its menu goes for many pages and includes some authentic Oriental foods that even we’re squeamish about trying. No problem. There are plenty of other options. Their wor wonton soup, shrimp dumplings and walnut shrimp were among the best we’ve had anywhere. ABC also serves lovely, lavish dim sum brunches on Saturdays and Sundays (don’t miss the beef balls!).

* Phil’s Fish Market, Moss Landing: A fast-paced, funky eatery that grew out of a harbor-area fish seller’s shop. The extensive, Sicilian-influenced menu includes Phil’s famous seafood soup, cioppino (judged better than Bobby Flay’s in a Food Network “Throwdown”!), great clam chowder, fried squid and fish, killer shrimp-and-crab quesadillas, artichoke dishes and massive platters of sandwiches, salads and pastas. Save room for dessert!

* Davenport Roadhouse & Inn, Davenport. Super breakfasts, including do-it-yourself omelet combos. Next time, we’ll try lunch (if we can tear ourselves away from Phil’s).

* Kula Ranch Island Steakhouse and Sushi Bar, on the dunes in Marina. Innovative menu and recipes, prepared well. On a Tuesday night, it was jam-packed. About 9 p.m., Cinderella turned into a go-go-girl — bouncers came around and put bands on our wrists to prove we were old enough to be in the bar (?!?), as if anybody was ever in any doubt. Then, the restaurant morphed into a hip nightclub for the young, nubile, highly energetic and oh, so cool mostly females in very high heels and extremely short dresses. If that’s not your scene, plan to eat earlier than we did. Our trip was such fun that we’re already plotting our next culinary tour, probably in San Francisco. We’d be delighted and honored if our offspring want to share that adventure, too.