3 10 2008

Every once in a while, Laura babysits a couple kids from her class, and last weekend we had a very excited 3-year old girl with us.  We decided to take her with us to the zoo, but not just any zoo; the world-famous San Diego Zoo!

You see it all over their publications, and you’ll hear people refer to it as world-famous, but the question is why is it famous?  Is it because of what Melman said in Madagascar?  “White, sandy beaches; cleverly simulated natural environment; wide-open enclosures. I’m telling you, this could be the San Diego Zoo. Complete with fake rocks.  Wow!  That looks real!”  Well the answer is simply, yes, but there’s so much more to it.

The San Diego Zoo is truly world-famous for its endangered species breeding program, and its huge success with that program.  Actually, it’s the Zoo and the Wild Animal Park together that accomplish that noble task, but when it comes right down to it, what does that mean for us?  That means we get to see some species of animals that are literally extinct in the wild, and we get to see them in a “cleverly simulated natural environment!”

There is so much to tell you about the San Diego Zoo, but it’s better if you just go yourself; I’ll stick to giving you pointers on how to prepare for your visit.

First, get a Zoo membership.  If you think there’s even a remote possibility that you’ll want to go more than once in 12 months, or that you’ll want to check out the Wild Animal Park, too, then it will save you lots of money to get a membership.  Also, having the option to return for free any time you want takes the pressure off of seeing the whole Zoo in a day, which is just exhausting.  So, Zoo membership.  Check!

Next, bring your own food.  You don’t have to hide it or anything; bring the whole picnic basket, they don’t care!  Anything you bring will be less expensive than what they sell at the Zoo, and will probably taste better, too.  Remember, you’re going to the Zoo for the animals, not the cuisine.  One thing to keep in mind, though:  If you’re going to bring a beverage that requires a straw, hide the straw.  They HATE straws at the San Diego Zoo, probably because the wandering peacocks will try to eat them and die, or something like that.  Basically, if you’re going to bring a straw, hide it, and take it out of the park with you when you leave.

Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, and whatever other sun gear you think necessary.  No matter when you go, the Zoo is going to get some sun, and you’re going to be in it for the vast majority of your time there.  Make sure that right next to your sun gear, you have plenty of water, too.

And the final thing you should bring is a bag of stuff you can mess with that’s not food.  Bring that bag of stuff with you to the orangutans (just go straight through the entrance and hang a right at the jungly “cave”), try to get their attention, then set down your bag and make a show of taking something out and using it right next to the glass.  They’ll probably come over and sit right next to you to see what you’re doing.  It’s fun, and they’re so curious!  Just remember not to do that with food because they’ll get jealous or something.  It’s like taunting them instead of playing with them.

So here’s the quick rundown:

Address:  2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA 92112 (not 100% on that zip)

Phone:  619-231-1515


Hours:  Click here.

Cost:  Daily:  $34 adult, $24 child (3-11); Membership:  $71 adult $24 child.

We’ve been Zoo members for the past 2 years, and will probably continue that tradition, so next time you go to the Zoo, look for us and say hi!  See you there!


Tractor Room

27 09 2008

San Diegans have lots of places they can choose to have breakfast, but most people who like to go out for breakfast will know Hash House.  Oddly enough, most people who know Hash House don’t know The Tractor Room, which is a shame for them, but great for those who do know, because we don’t have to wait in the Hash House line!

This morning, Matt and Melissa (Laura’s sister) called and invited us to join them for breakfast at the Tractor Room, and I’m so glad they did.  We quickly threw on some clothes and they picked us up on the way there.

Back to Hash House for a moment.  For those who don’t know, it’s a cool place, far too small for the volume of business, but they have these delicious, gigantic meals, and some really creative and tasty drinks to finish the deal.  The Tractor Room was their response to the sheer volume of customers, and is located literally across the street.  It’s about the same size, and parking is always an issue in Hillcrest, but the atmosphere is a little different, and the menu, while boasting the exact same dishes they serve across the street, is a little smaller; which is good because it’s easier to choose between 5 things you really want than 15 things.  Don’t worry, the exact number of menu items is not represented here!

So here’s the rundown of our order:

Nathanael had the Nutmeg French Toast.  It’s served with caramelized apples and pecans, a big dollop of butter, syrup on the side, some strawberries, and of course, a side of their delicious, thick-sliced bacon.  The french toast was thick, richly spiced, and tasted great with or without syrup.  The side of bacon could hardly be called a side since there were 4 really big pieces, cooked to perfection; not too crispy, not too floppy, but that mysterious balance of just right!

Laura had the special, Venison Hash.  This one really impressed us!  The venison was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and gently seasoned so that the taste of the meat was brought out nicely.  The “hash” is the specialty of both Hash House (hence the name) and the Tractor Room, and basically it means they cook up a flavorful jumble of seasoned potato wedges, tomatoes, cheese, herbs, and in this case, venison.  The cheese for this one was mozzarella.  The hash is served with a side of eggs to order, any way but poached, and a massive piece of cornbread.  The cornbread is so big that it’s served on its own skillet, and whatever recipe they use, it’s the right one!  Lightly sweetened, made with real corn, not too dry, and it tastes good with either their house-made strawberry jam, or some eggs or venison.  Don’t miss out on this cornbread!

Matt had the Chocolate-Banana Flapjack.  Yes, the order only comes with one flapjack, but I have never seen a bigger flapjack in my life.  I have no idea how they flip this thing, because 2 pancake flippers wouldn’t be able to handle it!  The flapjack was very fluffy, despite its size, and the chocolate and bananas were in there in chunks.  The bananas looked like they’d been peeled whole, sliced in half from top to bottom, and set directly on the cooking batter.  Again, this came with a side of syrup, but it tasted so good plain that the syrup isn’t really necessary.  We also found that it tastes good with a piece of strawberry mixed into a bite.

Melissa had the Buffalo Quesadilla.  This quesadilla came out looking like a mini tee-pee on the plate, but don’t get too hung up on the word “mini.”  Slow-cooked buffalo meat, aged cheddar, eggs and herbs all folded into a thick flour tortilla, sitting on a pile of seasoned potato wedges, and the final result?  A deliciously unique taste that we’d get again in a heartbeat!  The buffalo was slightly like a slow-cooked London Broil, but definitely a different overall flavor.  The waiter recommended it, and so do we!

The one part of the meal that wasn’t quite up to the high quality as the rest was the coffee.  It tasted a little burned, and whether that was the roast or just being left of the warmer too long, I don’t know.  Some cream and sugar fixed that pretty easily, though.

Now, imagine 4 adults sitting at a booth in a restaurant with all that food in front of them, each dish on its own cast-iron skillet.  We strategically ordered different things because we all wanted to try multiple dishes on the menu, but it’s hard to pass around that much food, so when we all were ready to try another dish, we picked up our silverware and swapped seats!  Simple.  The waiter totally understood.

As for the price of all that food, it’s not too bad actually.  Meals there run around $16, some more, some less, and we took home enough food to have lunch, dinner, and probably even another breakfast!  Yes, they are VERY generous with their portions.  So if you’re going with a date, and you don’t mind sharing, there’s enough in one dish for both of you to eat your delicious fill, and probably bring home the leftovers.  If you’re going in a group, definitely plan on leftovers, even if some of you share.

Some random info about the Tractor Room:

Hours:  Click here.

Happy hour:  Monday-Friday 5:30-6:30 PM, $3.00 appetizer menu, wine and cocktail specials.

Decor:  If you know a restaurant called Roam on the Range, you know the decor.  If not, imagine a place with exposed beams overhead with an antler chandelier hanging down; cowhide barstools and booth pillows; dark leather seats and cushions; there’s also patio seating with big umbrellas for sunny days, and area heaters for those frigid San Diego winters *note the sarcasm*.  There’s a jackalope mounted on one wall, a stuffed pheasant, and other such animals on the walls.  This place feels a lot like a western saloon, but tastefully so, and not overdone.

Address:  3687 5th Ave., San Diego, CA 92103.

Phone:  619-543-1007


Unlike Hash House, The Tractor Room does take reservations, even for their Sunday brunch.

We really like this place, and it’s affordable even without a coupon, so if you’re looking for a great breakfast place, or lunch or dinner, try The Tractor Room!