It dawned on me today that it has been a full five years since I moved back to Baltimore from the Inland Empire. This made my travels today a bit more melancholy than I had expected. But as we say on the East Coast, I had an overall good day yesterday.
- My tour of my favorite fast food joints kicked off in San Bernardino, outside of the local Cal State campus, with Del Taco, which is much much better than Taco
HellBell (I'm not alone in that opinion). I got a very simple, not as cheap as I remembered Del Carbón taco for $1.49. It is just about the least fast-foodie thing I have ever gotten at a fast food restaurant (yes, including the crap that McDonald's passes off as "healthy").
- After my aforementioned experience with Fresh and Easy, I had a filling lunch and then headed towards Riverside. After visiting some professors at UCR I headed over to one of my earliest haunts, the lush Canyon Crest Town Center. I was surprised to see many of the same businesses there that had been there when I left in '04. Most were then when I moved out in '97, including old faves like Papi's Tacos al Carbón and Miyako, which gave me some of of my first tastes of Japanese food. Ooh, and Miyako is back to its 2004 prices, apparently.
- Jammin' Bread, located in Canyon Crest Town Center, holds a special significance for me. At one point, I went after a Ph.D. at UCR (yes, more grad school). It was here, after much hemming, hawing and soul searching, that I decided I needed to stop with my MA. Beyond that, Jammin' Bread makes a mean loaf of bread, and they make their own bread, cookies, brownies, cakes, croissants, even English muffins. I ordered the softest, spongiest walnut brownie (I usually hate walnuts in brownies but I hardly tasted it in this one) for $2.50. I also got a cup of iced tea. They asked if I wanted it regular or in several other varieties. I said "regular," and then asked if it was sweetened. She said no - it was regular. D'oh!
- I remember when they zhuzh'd up the Ralph's (California's version of Giant). Basically, they Whole Foods-ified it and sold slightly fancier things. One less fancy thing was a bag of Beer Chips. These chips are a little sweet and actually taste a little like beer. I am intrigued.
- I got a chance to go back to UCR and watch their Javanese gamelan orchestra practice for their big concert on the 5th of June (of course, after I leave). Before that, I drove around to see what haunts were still around. I saw Indian and Mexican markets, Arabic, Italian and Vietnamese restaurants, and several Starbucks that were there when I last left. Another familiar place was the sort-of UCR-affiliated Getaway Café, where many grads, undergrads and even the occasional prof or two go for some wings or beer. I got a (somewhat overpriced) $4.25 pint of Inland Empire Brewing Company's somewhat hoppy, somewhat peppery India Pale Ale. It was pretty tasty, but not for $4.25.
- After passing by the "East Coast Bagel" restaurant, I realized something that I had forgotten after leaving SoCal: to many in California, everything on the Atlantic Coast is just "The East." There is no elusive "New England" or exotic "South," no "Upstate," "Mid-Atlantic" or "Low Country." Nope. It's all just one big lump of East Coast-iness. Funny. Too funny.
- Did I mention the delicious dinner I had at Thai Place with my hosts? Best tom kha kai I've had in ages.