Cuisines of California

Published 4:02 pm Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A mayonnaise sandwich. I was laying in the front bedroom at Compass Lake after having my tonsils removed while in the third grade. I could hear my brother and sister having a great time in the water and I could barely swallow. The only thing I could think about eating was a mayonnaise sandwich. Two of them. On Colonial bread, because it had more holes in the texture, which would allow it to soak up more of the mayonnaise.

Chicken noodle soup. It has cured every fever my wife and kids ever had. Not homemade, but Campbell’s. Loaded with salt and a teaspoon of chicken.

“If you eat something, you’ll fell better.” It is a saying that generations of Southerners have grown up hearing.

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For 45 years I have been going to California. The many drastic ways that made us so different in the 1960s have blurred over time. Time, technology and television have made us more alike than at any point in our history. Except for the food.

Granted, chain restaurants are the same all over the country. It’s the food on the edges that define the differences that remain. Like breakfast. How is it that Californians don’t eat breakfast like Southerners? Growing up, I woke up every morning to eggs, grits, bacon and biscuits. The “most important meal of the day” was drilled into my head. How ironic that I would wind up in a business where breakfast is the cornerstone of the day.

Californians put odd things on their burgers. Avocados, sprouts, Portobello mushrooms and jalapeño peppers. They even love a burger without meat. Some may eat vegetarian burgers in South Georgia, but not in public. It doesn’t matter to Southerners what a burger has on it as long as it has ketchup, mayonnaise and meat. Real meat.

This week I had the opportunity to eat two meals that probably illustrate the cultural differences in the way we eat more than any other. Hawaiian fusion cuisine is the way food at Roy’s is defined at this Newport Beach, Calif., restaurant. Fish, European sauces and Asian spices. I am not sure what all that might mean, but it was very good.

According to their Web site, they have Ono, Opakapaka and Onaga. Keep in mind, this is a restaurant whose menu is in English. Although I didn’t know what those items were, I later learned they are fish native to Hawaii. I ate several of the appetizers, including sushi. Not bad for a fish that isn’t fried.

The dish I ordered was a sampler; Hibachi Grilled Salmon, Blackened Island Ahi and Hawaiian Style Misoyaki Butterfish. I am a fan of Salmon and it was grilled to perfection. Ahi is yellowfin tuna, which they recommend rare. Rare in this case means uncooked. Butterfish is also known as a Melon Seed or Wart Perch. Butterfish definitely sounds more appetizing than a Wart Perch.

They come in cute little portions about the size a children’s building block. If priced equally, a Six Dollar Burger would cost around $35. The wine was expertly matched to the food and the price.

Two days later I was eating at the Log Cabin Restaurant at the end of the paved road near the dam at Columbia. Fish was on the menu. Catfish. You could get your tea sweet or unsweet. Our meal for five was the price of my appetizer at Roy’s. Shrimp, quail and steak are the other specialties. You will be able to pronounce everything on the menu. The sauces and spices include tarter sauce, salt and pepper.

The lines can be long at the Log Cabin. You can wait on benches outside with the dogs that lay about in the grass. You’ll meet new friends. You’ll see them again when you return.

My high school classmate and friend, Nancy, and her husband, Gene, have owned this jewel for many years. We celebrate birthdays and special occasions at the Log Cabin. This place is as Southern as they come and they make no apologies for it. Maybe that’s why we love it so.

Part of the blessing of travel is the chance to experience things different from your own background. I’ll be back to Roy’s again, enjoying their cutting edge cuisine. But when I sit down to the catfish and quail, I’ll know I am home.

Arriving at the same time, place

Thanks to all who e-mailed regarding last week’s column about changing goals when I didn’t retire at 55. Imagine my surprise when my college roommate called me for my birthday Sunday and informed me that he is indeed retiring at the age of 55.

His career at Monsanto allowed him to travel the world. Bill Moench is a textile and chemical engineer. We helped each other get through college. We have remained great friends for all these many years.

When I asked Bill what he was going to do, he replied that he was spend some time figuring out what to do with the rest of his life, define some new goals. After all these years, we arrive at the same place at the same time.

Good luck, my friend.