Dining at an Outside Café...
Well sort of...
Canelleto's is actually a restaurant at The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. Which means, when you dine at one of the hotel's "outdoor" cafes, you actually have a roof over your head.
And What a Roof!
The clouds on the ceiling made it feel like dusk, 24 hours a day. The street lamps felt like they were just lit. The sounds of singing gondoliers and sloshing water could be heard in the nearby Grand Canal. And the musicians playing flute, violin and cello created an atmosphere that felt like a summer evening in an real Italian piazza.
When Don and I dined last May, we chose to sit "outside" so we could take in the view. But when I ventured inside in search of the restroom I was amazed at the festive interior. And there was a pretty spectacular view from the upper floors!
My enthusiasm sounds like someone who has never dined in Venice, Italy. In fact, I have such good memories of the "real thing" that I really expected not to be impressed. But I do love playing pretend. And I do love a restaurant with a gimmicky theme. I'd say Canaletto's pulled it off. And I must say, I love the idea of sidewalk cafes with white tablecloths, minus the issues that come with Italian pigeons.
I took some time to study the menu artwork which showed a bustling harbor scene and Palazzo Ducale. Then I got very hungry absorbing the mouthwatering details inside the menu. It was nice enjoying a little Chianti and some warm Italian bread as we made up our minds!
Our waiter had an accent but I didn't dare ask. I'd like to just assume he was Italian, although chances are he was not. We were given just the right amount of attention and the food didn't come out too quickly. I hate feeling rushed when you're trying to enjoy your wine.
Pasta, Soup & Salad
Don's pasta with prosciutto and cream sauce was deliziososissma. Picture me giving my fingertips a quick kiss, so you know what that means. My Insalata Cesarina was surprisingly yummy with egg slices and a large sheet of parmesan! I ordered the Minestrone with crossed fingers. When I was 11 my family moved to Italy for a half year and I remember soothing my homesickness with minestrone. I've been searching since 1969 for the amazing combination of vegetables, cheese and spices, that I remember adoring. Once in a blue moon have I tasted a soup that comes close. The minestrone didn't quite make it. But that's okay. The search is part of the fun.
When in Rome, (or in Venice) I say, "Act like a tourist and pose on the bridge!" It was a good way to end our meal, before hiking back to our hotel room. We worked off a few calories as we got a bit lost, kind of like you do in the real Venezia!
Tiki Stops in Nevada & California
This past spring Don and I had a chance to make 3 retro Tiki Stops on our road trip from Texas to California and back. There wasn't much dining to be had at the first and no time for dining at the other 2, but they were all quite worthy of a write up!
1- Frankie's in Las Vegas!
Being in Vegas puts you in the retro mood. We took a 10-minute cab from our hotel to this 24-hour lounge, far from the touristy Strip. Our driver chuckled with us and took our photo before entering. (More or less wishing us luck) When we stepped back out later that evening, we got to see the bright pink neon.
When we entered through the red door, we thought our daylight eyes would adjust. They didn't. It was so dark we couldn't see the bamboo walls or mermaid on the ceiling, until viewing these "flashy" photos.
It took nerve to use the camera flash, since we seemed to be the only tourists. But we wanted to see (and remember) this awesome setting that was designed by Bamboo Ben. He and owner P. Moss, with the help of a number of tiki artists created an atmosphere of southseas exotica and modern primitivism! Frankie's Tiki Room has been hopping since it opened less than 10 years ago. I admire Moss' mission to revive the tiki glory days while preserving the name and stucco structure of an actual 1950's Vegas cocktail lounge.
Bar & Drinks
The bar was an exciting clutter of Polynesian delights. The black and white TV played beach-y film clips while retro island music played. We used our cell phones to light up the tropical menu, all priced at $9. It wasn't an easy choice since there were 77 cocktails offered at Frankie's. I chose a tasty, coconut Malakula. The menu gave it 3 skulls for "strength" instead of 5.
A space opened at the bar, so we moved to chat with Mike, the most energetic, upbeat bartender you could hope for. Being tourists, we bought some quite amazing tiki mugs designed by a local artist and Mike called our cab. There's no food to be had at Frankie's, so some of us can only linger so long. But it was well worth the cab fare to come enjoy for a while!
2- Bali Hai in San Diego Area
We discovered this tiki lounge/restaurant on Shelter Island after seeing it pictured, along with a recipe in a 1959 Ford Motor Co. Travel Cookbook. We were mighty excited to find it open and still being operated by the same family since 1955!
These Polynesian figures are shown in the cookbook illustration. No one seems to know the full history of the character nicknamed "The Goof" on the roof top. The other greeter was by the door. "Mr. Mai Tai" was less cheery, but equally odd. I'm not sure about political correctness at tiki bars, but there were many more carved tiki figures to wonder about once we stepped inside.
Grand Round Room
When we stepped inside, we were greeted by live acoustic Hawaiian music and about 100 tiki artifacts.
The shiny, massive support logs were impressive, as was the wall of glass with its spectacular view of San Diego Bay. But from 4 to 6, the action was centered around the dramatic bar under a narrow cone-shaped ceiling.
We squeezed in at the corner of bar, with light illuminating the thick stone surface. The timbers holding the cone roof held dangling lanterns and glowing puffer fish, as well as a sign with changing numbers. A man drinking a Mai Tai beside us, warned us about the strength of Bali Hai's Mai Tais. "No juice. You have to be careful." Just then, the sign changed to 2,285,362. That's a lot of Mai Tai's served at Bali Hai!
So we each ordered a Mai Tai.
I ordered mine in the special Mr. Mai Tai mug. Once again, I'm not sure about these tiki images. But I think the half closed eyes are a reminder of what you will look like if you have more than one.
Meal with a View
The dining area was beginning to fill around 6, but we had to take off. It would have been nice to have dined with that view!
Quick Chat Before Leaving
Big Brian, (as he told us to call him) was the only bartender. He was moving fast, whipping out the cocktails, but I couldn't leave without showing him the cookbook. That odd book had acted like a treasure map, luring us to our little our island paradise. Big Brian's reaction was pretty fun! He nearly hopped over the bar to get to the book. He was giddy over the "Chicken of the Gods" recipe and raced back to the kitchen (abandoning the bar) to show the chef. It was a perfect ending to our second Tiki Adventure. (I look like I had numerous Mai Tais in this photo)
3- Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, California
The wonderful swooping roof and swordfish sign lured us right off the Highway. It was tricky getting into the parking area, which was bustling with very efficient traffic directors, who must double as security guards or bouncers. They were having their weekly Reggae Event and we made the mistake of trying to go in the VIP door. We eventually found the bamboo door in front, with sign. "Host to Diplomat and Beachcomber, Prince and Pirate."
"Don" or Ernest Gantt from Texas
Once again, I wish we had been able too stay for a meal. It would have been a slice of tropical heaven to sit beside a waterfall or Hawaiian mural and sample the Polynesian foods that became especially popular after WWII. The real tiki craze began in the '40's after soldiers returned home, craving the exotic foods they had sampled in the Pacific. I'm sure there wasn't really anything that unusual about the dishes served up then or now, with all their decorative pineapples and flowers, but I wouldn't mind trying!
We passed up the Reggae event, and headed for the cozy Dagger Bar where karaoke was in full swing at 4:30 in the afternoon.
Enjoying the Show
Once again we found ourselves relaxing with more locals than tourists. There seemed to be some karaoke regulars and a few were pretty decent. A couple made us wince, but that's all part of it. The fine fellow with gray beard, knit Rasta hat, braids and croqueted eye patch (with crocheted eye) was quite the performer. The lai-adorned woman pictured dancing along, was actually our delightful server. I had a chance to tell the "pirate" he did a nice job before we left. He said "Thanks!" instead of "Aye!" So I guess we didn't get to meet a pirate, prince or diplomat after all.
A Ranch in Vegas?
This past April, Don and I stopped in Las Vegas on a road trip. Why on earth would we decide to leave the festive neon city to track down this 1950's ranch, hidden within the sprawling suburbs?
A Cookbook of course!
Some people use a travel book or YELP for dining suggestions while on the road. But, Don and I took a couple cookbooks on our trip, instead.
This book was put out by Ford Motor Company in 1963 to promote road travel across the States. The book is a hoot! It's filled with recipes and illustrations, from some of the best roadside and city dining establishments back in the day. Browsing through the pages makes you want to go back in time and visit these iconic places and sample their featured dishes. But the majority of these old cafes, clubs and inns, no longer exist. So Don and I gave ourselves something new to add to our list of adventure goals for our 4 week road trip from Texas to California. We would try to track down a few of these curious places that still exist... and then give them a try! Our lunch at Bob's Ranch House was our first "dining with the cookbook" adventure!
Hidden in the Suburbs
This ranch used to be about 7 miles outside of Las Vegas. Now the 10 acre ranch is surrounded by neighborhoods, interstate and shopping centers. But once you drive underneath the wood sign, it feels just like it might have 50 years ago. Just head down the road towards the old windmill... well maybe not. That's a cell phone tower!
I was excited to know the ranch was still serving since it opened in 1955. Bob passed away a few years ago, but back in the 1950's it is said that Bob loved cooking for his friends so much, that he finally took their advice. He turned his ranch house into a restaurant.
Where's the Entrance?
It was pretty quiet around noon on a weekday when we arrived. (Except for the roaring of the nearby freeway) We followed the path, past a fountain and a few flower beds, searching for the entrance.
If we hadn't seen the sign, I would have been hesitant to go further. It really seemed like we were invading someone's private home.
Should we knock?
The door had a nice little square opening, kind of like the one the Wizard looks through, when Dorothy and her friends knock on the door at the entrance to the Emerald City.
We weren't as polite as Dorothy, we just walked on in.
This is Vegas after all, so it wasn't surprising to first be greeted by a big old cocktail lounge when we stepped inside. There were a few saddles tucked here and there, creating a unique Ranch-Vegas decor.
The view in the front dining room matched the illustration in the book! We grabbed a couple of captain's chairs at a table with a view out the window. Note the cowboy, etched in the glass.
This is the illustration in the cookbook. You can see the glass windows looking out over a pond and trees.
Liz, our server, handed us each a hefty brown and gold menu. I'm pretty sure the design, (With the words "Supper Club") had not changed since 1955. The inside of the menu had been updated, however. No signs of the cheese sauce that was featured in the Ford Cookbook. Too bad because my mouth was watering for a hot meat pie, slathered with a ladleful of Bob's cheese sauce!
Sharing the Book
After Don and I placed our order, I pulled out the cookbook. I didn't expect Liz to "get it" that we were sort of using this cookbook like a map for a treasure hunt. I didn't expect her to understand our cookbook adventure, but she had the reaction we hoped for. She laughed and shook her head as she stared at the curious book. Then she asked for permission before dashing off to make photo copies of the pages and to share the book with the chef and some regulars dining nearby.
This is the kind of place you go to eat meat. I ordered the Duke Burger. (Bob was a John Wayne fan) That's my burger on the grill, before the caremlized onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese!
We might have felt like outsiders had we not had the cookbook to help break the ice. The Ranch House is not a place tourists just stumble across. The other diners were all regulars who have probably been coming for ages. The knotty pine, western memorabilia and fireplace added to the homey appeal.
My Duke Burger and Don's barbecued pork sandwich were delicious. The steak fries were yummy too and made me almost wish I'd gone for a big old steak, which is probably what the Duke would have ordered.
I couldn't help but wonder what this place must have been like 50 years ago when Bob was cooking and the place was packed.
A Good Visit
We left The Ranch feeling pretty pleased about our first cookbook adventure. Since I'm a big fan of stepping back in time, I was glad that little had been updated in the decor. I guess the windmill-celltower was a big reminder that the ranch is trying to hold onto a little of the past, while moving forward. Gotta appreciate that!
The Lincoln Highway - November 2013
Recently my husband and I drove the nearly 300-mile stretch of the Lincoln Highway, known as the Loneliest Road in America. There aren't many dining options on the loneliest road...but I guess that made it a dining adventure.
Stop 1 - International Café and Bar in Austin, Nevada
Being big fans the Austin in Texas, we liked the name of this tiny town that suddenly appeared. We also liked the idea of a 140 year old (once) hotel, out in the middle of nowhere, serving international food. There was a lot of stuff attracting our attention as we pulled up. I particularly liked the welcoming sign announcing Ice and Free Restrooms and a very intriguing sign on the side saying, Serbian Christmas Jan. 7!
The sign said OPEN, but it was awfully empty when we entered the diner portion of the building. The portrait of W.C. Fields glaring down over the counter seemed to match the look of 60ish woman who entered from the kitchen in a Hawaiian shirt and ponytail. "Hi, do we just sit anywhere?" I asked apologetically, feeling as if we'd rudely interrupted her quiet. She nodded and left the room.
There were many tables to choose from. Most were round with Lazy Susans in the center. My photo looks like some kind of comfy pancake house with all the light wood, but there was really nothing cozy about the place. We sat and waited and I was scared to look at Don or I might burst out laughing. We know each other's thoughts too well.
Another woman entered. Her moccasins actually stomped the floor as she headed to our table. She hadn't bothered to pull her pink shirt down over her stomach, or to hide her bra or the tattoos on her bosom. However, our 40ish, frowning server may have been covering something on her neck, since the white hand towel was meticulously wrapped (not slung) around her neck. She slapped 2 sticky menus on the table and I almost jumped. She said nothing, so I greeted first. "Hi, how are you doing?" She answered with. "Do you want something to drink?" She left to get our coffee and Don and I shared nervous grins before searching the menu. There was nothing at all international on the menu! But the menu did mention something about the friendly staff at International Café. Hmm?
Ordering and Eating
When she came with the coffee, Don and I knew better than to stall with ordering. I did make the mistake of changing my order from fried egg to scrambled after she had gone to the trouble of writing it on her pad. She said nothing, but I felt a flood of childlike guilt when she shifted her weight and sighed and closed her eyes very slowly. After a short wait, our plates arrived without a word. The food was steaming hot, but I had no appetite. Don's biscuits and gravy tasted a bit spongy and my hash browns were greasy, I think...but maybe they were good. I'll never know. Our silent pink waitress had me so intimidated I couldn't taste my food.
After a while I went in search of the free restroom and discovered the old bar. The morning sun lit up the ornate wood columns and mirror, as well as lots of clutter including a wheelbarrow filled with logs...? Maybe this bar is the reason Pinky and her possible mother were so grumpy. Maybe they had worked into the wee hours and it was all they could do to serve 2 travelers on a Friday morning.
I had so many questions I wanted to ask Pinky, but before we headed to pay at the counter a middle aged couple entered with cheery smiles. I was amused to see they were treated no differently. I exchanged a few pleasant words with them to practice my social skills before attempting a conversation with Pinky. I was just so curious about the kind of reaction I might get if I asked her about the cafe's history. Or maybe I could be a little braver and find out if she grew up in Austin. Or I could just go all out and torture myself by asking her to pose for a blog photo. But more customers arrived and she was not approachable. I left disappointed that I hadn't had my chat. So disappointed that I actually called a day later. "Do you all serve International food?" I asked innocently. The confused woman's voice answered. "No?" As if no one had ever asked. With a few more questions she did explain that her husband was Serbian and they serve Serbian food for a Christmas celebration once a year. I doubt we'll ever return for the Serbian Christmas, but I bet the ladies in their bright shirts might be a little more lively during the evening.
Stop 2- Ely's Hotel Nevada Café!
A few hours later at the end of the lonely stretch, we stopped for lunch in Ely. I was pretty excited to be in Ely, because Ely happens to my middle name...an old family name. And I was quite thrilled to dine at the Hotel Nevada. This 84 year old casino may not be the oldest building in Nevada, but it was once the tallest! AND, it has a very cool neon sign with the macho miner.
Not only did the neon miner welcome us in, but the donkey mural was very encouraging with the words, Western Hospitality. That's something we were craving by lunchtime!
As soon as we entered there were things to see...starting with the floor!
I'm not a big fan of casinos usually, but give me one with neon, buffalo heads and a cowboy and I'm impressed!
Animals and Ranch Stuff
Every nook and cranny was crammed with blinking casino lights or stuffed critters or ranching gear! I love the wall behind this wild cat. In the 1960's, ranchers from the area brought their branding gear right into the casino and branded their mark right onto the wood wall.
I was kind of disappointed that the dining room had been updated with a somewhat corny race car and motorcycle theme. But at least our server arrived with a smile and she took our order and answered an important question of mine. Yes, the locals of Ely pronounce the name as if you're describing something "eel-like". I hated the teasing I got as a child, but defended the name in recent years when people argued about the pronunciation.
It's fun to eat when you're hungry and I was starved since I hardly ate my breakfast. My simple BLT came with a pickle and super-crunchy AND creamy coleslaw which was delicious! Don had a bowl of cream of broccoli soup. (I liked my pick better) We even got a free bumper sticker which did not ride home on our bumper. But the food and atmosphere hit the spot. Clean, fast, yummy and our bill came to less than $10.00!
Yea for Dining Adventures along Nevada's Highway 50!
Red Hut Waffle Shop
I've added so little to the International list during this crazy travel month of October, but the Regional experiences have been adding up. Above, we are in South Lake Tahoe, CA at a tiny Waffle Shop at 7 am. Breakfast is an important meal for people who ski or hike, so there are plenty of good spots in the area!
We visited Red Hut a year ago, when Cheryl waited on us. Back then I did more eating than visiting, since I had no blog. Now I know that Cheryl has worked here for 22 years. This family owned joint started in 1959 and has changed little. Cheryl could have been frazzled since every chair and bar stool was taken, but her calm warmth seemed to relax the place. It felt like she was just serving one big family!
If you're planning on hiking the Tahoe area, you have to have a big breakfast! Blueberry Streusel French Toast with a thick, diner-mug of coffee was just about right for a moderate hike. Since it was our first day and we were going from an altitude of about 65 ft back in Texas to around 7,700...we couldn't take on too much.
This is the kind of hike you can handle after French Toast! We did a little meandering through the Quaking Aspens on what was once part of the Pony Express!
Zephyr Cove Lodge
On another day, we needed a bigger breakfast for a bigger hike, so feasting at Zephyr Cove Lodge in Nevada was the plan. This has been a busy retreat for over 100 years! We arrived before the restaurant even opened and had the place to ourselves!
The interior has been updated with sort of cheesy furniture, but the fire and lake view made it a perfect way to start the day.
Our server, Vincente has worked at this National Forest Service Lodge for 17 years. In winter and summer the place is packed with tourists, but in October we saw mostly workmen coming in to grab a coffee.
A hefty, skillet meal of eggs, potato, spinach, mushroom and cheese was just the fuel I needed for a ten mile hike! Of course we didn't know we were going to hike that long. In fact when I look at this spread I don't know how we managed to do anything besides nap! Back to cereal breakfasts, soon!
Putting a good breakfast to use...
Our Zephyr breakfast lead to a more rugged hike than our Aspen Trail! But we were also motivated by the amazing views of Emerald Bay as we hiked!
Our other HIKING motivation was RUBICON's LIGHTHOUSE! We had been tipped off that the lighthouse was unimpressive, but all we could do was laugh when after 5 miles we came upon this weathered little building. This poor outhouse-looking thing was built almost 100 years ago and only worked for 2! Thankfully we packed sandwiches, because our breakfast had been forgotten and we had to head 5 miles back.
POINTS FOR BREAKFASTS IN LAKE TAHOE- Too hard to figure out!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.