Malibu Wagyu

After yet another minimalist continental breakfast, yet another bowl of Raisin Bran, we left our otherwise comfortable and well-located Santa Barbara hotel around 10. It was a bit of a late start, but with every day we’re a little less quick about hitting the road. Almost immediately we joined a bike path, with the crowded beach, the harbor, and the vast, gray Pacific to our immediate right.

The path was, as usual, often a passage perilous: rough pavement; inattentive dog walkers whose adorable but curious mutts wander, always, into the passing lane; oblivious couples, helmet-less, on wobbly cruiser bikes, occupying every inch of asphalt; and a few crosswalks. Beyond the urban sprawl of Santa Barbara, in the tony suburb of Carpinteria, along a shop-lined strip, a nonagenarian in an expensive hatchback pulled out in front of us without a look, coming alarmingly close to wiping David out. Ashley, naturally and not for the first time this trip, stood in her pedals and sprinted after the car; when the lady stopped ahead, miraculously aware of the red octagon (“stop!”), Ashley knocked on her window, yelling, heart rate up: “you almost killed someone.” The woman seemed surprised, seemingly spooked by the close call. And so we proceeded.

We were on one bike path after another, but in between such paths we enjoyed mostly generous shoulders on side roads, even on Highway 101. 101 was bustling, to say the least, but we were only on it for half a mile, one exit—just long enough to see our first sign for San Diego, 198 miles away. Our route avoids the freeway as much as possible, so it’ll be a little longer than that, but that sign represented for each of us a not-entirely-pleasing affirmation that the end of our long-anticipated tour is coming much closer.

Still, we cheered a little. After all, the worst is behind us. From here, traffic will pick up, maybe, and sprawl will be epidemic, but the climbs have diminished; the fifth and last of our Adventure Cycling maps doesn’t even bother to include an elevation profile. We’ll make it. There have been occasional moments of desperation and doubt over the past month, but we will reach the Mexican border. That this is both a triumphal revelation and a letdown—back to reality!—is perhaps not surprising.

At some point the suburbs thinned out and gave way to long narrow beaches, and with the beaches came a new sight: rows of RVs– one massive recreational camper after another, dozens and dozens, lined up along the coast. Some were modest, but mostly they were towering, with something like porch-covers pulled out to shelter elaborate picnic-setups. And they went on for what seemed like miles, punctuated by lifeguard stands. Sometimes beachgoers’ cars lined the shoulder for long stretches, forcing us out into the traffic lanes and making us thankful for our brilliant taillights and bright attire.

At mile 29, we went off-course, annoying our mostly-faithful Garmin navigational device (whom we’ve named Ethel) as we went in search of the Ventura In-and-Out. (Ashley had looked for this franchise in every town so far, and had finally found one, determined to lunch there whatever aggrieved Ethel thought.)

An hour later we were rolling again, fueled by the animal-style fries and lettuce-wrapped non-greasy burgers. We turned inland, passing through the unfortunately named Oxnard and, spoiled by the unrelenting sprawl of civilization, assumed we could stop any old where for more water. That turned out not to be the case, as we learned when we crossed a naval air station on the other side of Oxnard, and the landscape suddenly turned rural, agricultural, and non-commercial. A kindly local biker saw us pausing to study the map and turned back to offer advice on the options ahead. We decided we could go on, rather than turn back into the wind and sacrifice hard-earned miles for a resupply.

Rationing our water, we rejoined Highway 1 and rode another 20 miles past Point Mugu, past William S. Hart [silent-film cowboy actor] State Beach and Dan Blocker [of Bonanza fame] State Beach, past many more rows of parked cars and RVs, past surfers wriggling into wetsuits and people actually swimming in the sea, first time we’ve seen that on the entire trip. The Pacific must have warmed up, this far south.

The “entering Malibu” sign came surprisingly early, a full 10 miles before the dot indicating it on the map. We stopped briefly to “shake our tail feathers,” as we say, and refill our bottles with the usual half-water half-Gatorade mix at the first opportunity, a Chevron station, just as the traffic and the sprawl began to pick up again. We were obviously not so far from LA. The terrain rolled a little bit, and we climbed some moderate hills, but just as the biggest one loomed ahead, Ethel directed us to an almost invisible side road off Hwy 1 that flattened out along rows of closely packed beach houses, Mercedeses and Lexuses and Porsches and Range Rovers parked in their stubby driveways. We flew another 10 miles from there to the southern edge of Malibu, where our very good friends Eric and Vicky, with their son Arden, had booked a rental right on the water, with an extra room—“should you get there that weekend,” they had said, back in early May. And we did. When we pulled up to this remarkably-situated house, waves breaking under its oceanside deck, they were waving hellos from the driveway.

Beers and wine bottles were opened, showers ran, laundry was started. Eric started to cook, which for him is as natural as breathing: bacon-wrapped lobster appetizers, wagyu rib cover steaks, and butterflied lobster tails: he tucked the claw and knuckle meat into the shells and smothered them with a white wine thermidor sauce. More beers, an excellent rioja, card games — the rest weekend had begun.

Saturday morning started verrrry slowly. After muffins and caffeine, the group ventured to the Getty Villa (Ashley followed behind a bit to finish dealing with laundry).

The museum was built by the eponymous oil baron J. Paul to recreate how an wealthy ancient Roman’s villa might actually have looked and felt.

Getty likes to imagine himself in a toga, strolling the gardens deep in philosophical discussions with Plato and company.

He filled it with the art he collected (“plundered”?) from Italy in the late 1930s when under the fascist Mussolini government anything and everything was for sale (some of the antiquities have since been repatriated).

Some of Getty’s loot (top to bottom): the Lansdowne Hercules (Roman, 125 CE), head of a woman from a funerary monument (Greek, 320 BCE), harp player (Cycladic, 2700 BCE)

Lunch at the ostensibly Mediterranean-style cafe was decidedly underwhelming, but enough to sustain us until a dinner that would prove to be anything but.

We had a couple of hours downtime at the house before dinner, which we spent making plans for the remainder of the trip and hanging damp clothes out on the oceanside balcony to dry. At 4, we left for dinner in the Hollywood Hills. Yamashiro, a classic LA establishment, us perched upon a hill (under and within view of the famous “HOLLYWOOD” sign). The views go on forever, the LA skyline visible on one side and Santa Monica on the other.

The Japanese structure (whose name translates to “mountain palace”) dates back to 1914. Initially a private residence, it served in the twenties as a secret social clubhouse. During WWII it was converted to a military school. Because of the anti-Japanese sentiment in wartime America, the building was vandalized, so during its military school phase it was partially boarded up and painted black–a means of preservation. (A model Japanese village and some of the outdoor ponds were destroyed by those hostile to Japanese culture.) Since 1963, it has operated as a Cal-Asian restaurant (complete with a 600-year old pagoda).

The place is genuinely majestic, and would be a destination-spot even if the dishes were only okay. They were instead spectacular. We started with an appetizer sampler (spring rolls, hummus, etc.), which was fine, and with the unusual and extraordinary melts-in-the-mouth truffle hamachi.

Even Arden, no fan of raw fish, agreed that it was superb. David had blackened cod with wasabi mashed potatoes and mustard greens, but the star of the entrees was the American wagyu Ashley, Eric, and Arden all got. It’s their signature dish, wagyu steak lightly seared, and served with a flaming hot lava rock, on which we could cook our meat just a little more a few pieces at a time, seasoned to our liking (we were given Himalayan sea salt, a fairly subtle mustard, and a creamy garlic sauce from which to choose).

Desserts: a trio of sorbets and fruit; strawberry filled donuts; and a s’mores brownie, complete with a giant, perfectly toasted, creamy-on-the-inside marshmallow.

We feasted in the Japanese garden behind the main dining area, overlooking the koi ponds, and it was pretty much a perfect (albeit hot and sunny) meal.

Sunday, we breakfasted at 8: Eric made wagyu hash, very tasty, and so fueled the two of us pedaled the entire 8 miles to our Santa Monica hotel, right near the pier.

Eric, Vicky, and Arden picked us up at 10, and we drove an hour to Anaheim to see the Angels host the Blue Jays.

They lost, alas, but Ashley was thrilled to see two former Braves playing for the home team (Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons), and to snag an autograph from probably the most decent human being in the MLB, Curtis Granderson, now playing right field for the Blue Jays. We left in the bottom of the seventh, giving up our first-row seats on the first base line (thanks, Eric!) so that the Rasmussen-Hines family could catch their flights out of LAX. We rode with them as far as the rental car return, where we said tearful goodbyes and hailed a Lyft back to Santa Monica.

Back to our neighborhood-for-the-night, we went out on the town. Checked out a bar recommended by our Lyft driver, but it was super-packed with trendamorphic and already intoxicated beautiful young people (Ashley wanted to flee immediately: “it’s like a hundred Abercrombie and Fitch stores threw up on a frat party”–and so we did). Found a quieter, more local taproom and kitchen with excellent IPAs and good food. Started writing this blog. Were buttonholed by O’Dean, who claimed he was the original singer for Motley Crüe and invited us to hear him sing karaoke down the street. We didn’t go.

O’Dean: “You’ll love my f*****g voice!” A quick wiki check revealed that he had once auditioned for the band, that’s all. And he was pretty good at getting his new mark here at the bar to buy him double IPAs.

Day 31 stats: 8.3 miles, 186 feet, in 40 minutes. Rest weekend stats: too many ounces of superlative meat to count.

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