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volante: usa

San Diego: California dreaming
San Diego: California dreaming

San Diego

If youíre looking for the perfect LA getaway, where you can hit the great outdoors for biking and hiking, or you want to kick it up a notch on the culinary and cultural front or simply kick back in a seaside city, look no further than San Diego. Itís the southern California dream worth living, for a few days at least by Karen Loftus

 

AFTER an impromptu call from an east coast gal pal, my New York mate, I was well on my way to San Diego faster than you could say, the 405. It was a quiet blissful Sunday morning. It was an easy and breezy drive with the sun, breeze and freeway all to myself. Two hours, yet worlds away from LA, I was at the door of the famed US Grant Hotel, in downtown San Diegoís business district. Business meaning it wasnít right up on the beach, but you could still smell the sea air as you valeted your car.
   The US Grant (www.luxurycollection.com/usgrant) was stunning. This presidential palace built by Ulysses S. Grant Jr, the presidentís son, is an 11-storey 270-room historical landmark. Itís been a place of pleasure and refuge for presidents including Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Carter and travellers alike.
   Blue was not my mood while at the Grant, but it was definitely the hue of choice throughout the property. Blue has always been at the White House with the famed Blue Room initially introduced by Mamie van Buren. It, too, plays an important role with the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, the Native American tribe that owns the US Grantís land, as it associates blue with the ocean. Its Native American colour, culture and presence are woven effortlessly throughout the Grantís stunning property.
   The Grant, currently a part of the Starwood Hotelís élite Luxury Collection, recently underwent a $52 million restoration, authenticating its original 1910 grandeur and elegance. It truly was a step back in time, a time when people werenít ruled by tight schedules and unforgiving clocks.
   The Grant staff was the perfect example of that. Each and every one was so genuinely happy with what they were doing. There was ease and a peace that passed freely from them to me upon arrival. As stunning as the lobby was, I found true love in my suite. The Grant has five distinct suite types, the highest ratio of suite-to-guest rooms in the city. My Legacy Suite felt like a flat in Paris. French artist Yves Clément has added a bit of the French decadence to each room. If you canít sleep with an artist, you should at least be privy to sleeping with art.
   Clement integrates art into the designs of each headboard. He calls them drippings. I call them divine. His black drippings on the white canvas made for sweet dreams midday and through the night.
   My suite was pristine and clean yet, full of whimsy and creativity, truly French in nature. I once again was hard pressed to leave. After a few slices of the cheese plate and a sip of delivered wine to my room, I was off.
   My first night in, we met at the legendary Grant Grill across from the iconic lobby lounge. The Lounge is open and grand. We countered that with the intimate very private dining room, with its mahogany walls and old grandeur. It was then that I really felt like a president or better yet, a mistress.
   The Grill features market fresh California grill cuisine with Native American influences. Once again, the California, Native and classic American are mixed in with artistic and French influences. Itís the mix that makes the Grant so artistic, unique, chic and truly seductive throughout.
   Our spirited group opted for the Market Fresh Tasting, which I highly recommend. Each dish that evening was perfectly paired throughout the meal. We were off to a great start with Bay scallops on a risotto of aged gouda and English peas paired with a clean Robert Sinskey Abraxas Scintilla Sonoma Vineyards Los Carneros 2006.
   The Russia Rivers crisp pinot gris by J Vineyards 2006 then complemented the roasted ono, Jonah crab stuffed squash blossoms, and summer succotash. Mid-meal, I truly peaked with the leg of lamb, chorizo and braised greens with the Santa Lucia Highlands 2004 Novy Rosellaís syrah.
   I tipped a few syrahs in to my mix before moving on to Contra Cost County Zinfandel 2004, another great red, the Neyers Pato paired with persillé de chèvre, young Japanese onions glazed in honey. Knowing I didnít have to drive allowed me to embrace the many divine wines. My only potential hurdle was a run-in with the famed ghostly Grand Dame, Ulysses S. Grant Jr.'s, late wife very late, who apparenty can't get enough of the place. She has been known to pop uo at the best of occasions. Who can blame her?
   The peach tarte tatin and amoretto ice cream with the chamomile cordial was the perfect nightcap. It allowed for the suitest of dreams in my Parisian style flat, no ghosts included.
   I highly recommend the Market Tasting Menu as it was just enough of each dish, a great way for the very talented chef Andrea Nieto to showcase his skills and for you to enjoy the impeccable pairing and extensive wine list in a classic old world setting, with the sleek 1940sí mahogany walls.
   The next day we grabbed a ferry, which felt like a few feet away from the Grant. We were headed to Coronado, the Enchanted Island (www.coronadovisitorcentro.com). Once there we got on bikes with our group and pedalled for hours. The surface was flat and the ride was effortless, yet ambient. We stopped at the famous Hotel del Coronado (www.hoteldel.com) where Billy Wilder proved that Some Like It Hot and everyone likes Marilyn.
   We had a packed lunch from the Grant and ordered drinks while looking out at the water. It was a bit of bliss. No one talked. The scenery spoke volumes and said much more than we could possibly say to each other.
   After a morning of physical activity, we threw an intellectual twist in to the mix. The San Diego Natural History Museum had the largest, most comprehensive exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls (www.sdscrolls.org) ever assembled. The display at the San Diego Natural History Museum was unprecedented in size, scope and scale. This was a true step back in time featuring original 2,000-year-old scrolls, 1,000-year-old Biblical transcripts from the Russian National Library, 800-year-old Bibles from the British Library and more.
   I found it interesting, having been raised Catholic, how the Jews and the Catholics were more similar than different back in the day. Perhaps Native Americans and Americans, too, were more similar than different in their day.
   To throw another culture and culinary slant in to the mix, we hit the newly opened Aussie-owned Bondióthe Australia bar and kitchen (www.thebondi.com)óthat night for dinner. We started off with a glass of sparkling shiraz, which was love at first sip. It sated all my champagne needs and my love of red in one perfectly balanced glass. Yes, may I have another?!
   I sat in one of the VIP tables, a big jazzy net, which immediately heightened the state of frivolity on site. I had the best group of gals at my table. It was a group willing to share on the goss and the deep dish, as we got in to it a few drinks in, and were equally enthused on going family-style, which is what I recommend. The food is so fresh and exciting to the palette, you really do want to try as much as possible. Go with a few starters and a mix of entrées.
   We had wagyu beef sliders with havarti cheese, beetroot, mustard mayo and onion jam on a toasted bun and chargrilled lamb cutlets with rocket cress and apple, date and mint relish. Itís an authentically Aussie restaurant. If you miss the beef, you miss the point. We also went with salt and pepper calamari, and the warm beet and green salad with soft goat cheese. I donít need to tell you how good all that was.
   Iím sure my heart stopped mid-meal, but I just had to go with the rib-eye for dinner, which came with spinach and rosemary roasted potatoes. We complemented that with Tasmanian ocean trout fillet with asparagus, leeks and parsley sauce.
   I was all about the paired reds with my dinner as the beef to me was the guest of honour; as it was in fact, melt-in-your-mouth meat. I cheered it throughout my meal. Once I started with my sparkling shiraz, it was a parade of yet one great red after another. Cheers, friend!
   The ambiance was Aussie comfy, casual. But donít let that fool you. This is no pub. The service, food and wine list are tip-top-drawer in a place that just makes you feel like youíre home.
   Just as a meal should be balanced, so should a trip. Boy, was this one. After an Aussie evening we were off to Torrey Pines State Park (www.torreypine.org) the next day for a serious hike. Our hot Brazilian guide was all the motivation I needed to get moving. I followed him and won every trail. I didnít care where he was going. The only thing more beautiful than him was the scenery itself. I couldnít believe this view, this sea and this hike was a mere two hours away from me. I really need to get out more. The Torrey Pines State Reserve located within San Diego City limits is one of the wildest stretches of land on the So Cal coast. Who knew?
   As expected, the physical was met with the intellectual. We had a back-of-house tour of the famed Old Globe Theater (www.theoldglobe.org), which kickstarts many Broadway shows. The inside look at the award-winning costume department was most impressive. Many Broadway shows, whether they play at the Globe or not, commission this crew to build their costumes.
   We had dinner at Prado in Balboa Park (www.pradobaloboa.com), inside the House of Hospitality. The Spanish-style restaurant offered a great mix with Latin and Italian influences with fresh California ingredients. It was a lovely spirited spot with excellent food, especially the sea bass and the great flavoured mojitos and margaritas.
   Experiencing outdoor theatre, Two Gentleman of Verona at the Lowell Davies Festival Theater, was the best late-night elixir one could ask for.
   Before I left the next day, I had an in-room massage provided by Spa Velia (www.spavelia.com). I assumed my thin, thimble-like masseur wouldnít provide the deep massage I tend to favour as she was so little and lithe like. Just as I was about to throw the request out there for last minute giggles, she dug so deeply in to me I was literally in pain. I never have told a masseuse to pull back. I told Tiny to bring it back, amid tears. But it was one of those massages that really hurt while I was getting it as I was truly madly deeply stressed from my many days prior on the computer. But when I got up from the table to thank the little one, I was practically on all fours unable to stand let alone access my spine. I felt like water, fluid and fearless swimming back to my car.
   As I journeyed back to the land of the LA, my cellphone rang. It sounded like such a modern intrusion. Time stood still for me in my three days away from LA, in this idyllic seaside city. Once back on the modern clock, I had all the time in the world to return the call.
   For now, Iím still dreaming Ö ē

 

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The US Grant




Hotel del Coronado sign






Casa del Prado Theater


Costume-making at the Old Globe Theater


Natural History Museum


Unexpected landscapes in San Diego


The author looking glam

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