Back to Woodland, Morgan’s on Main

Woodland, CA continues to surprise me. Two weeks ago it was Maria’s Cantina, Kellie, the owner invited me back to Woodland to have dinner at her other restaurant, Morgan’s on Main. Once again I was blown away.

Brick walls and rustic wood are always a hit. The place exudes class. The staff was amazing, I arrived early just so I could check the staff out before they knew I was there to meet the owner, and even the people who were not waiting on me were friendly, I felt welcome from the time I approached the door.

But, lets get to the food! What else is there to say? Devilled eggs with candied bacon AND a Bowl of Bacon. How much better could it get?

Again I let the waitress, Mel, order for me. Morgan’s is called a “Steakhouse” and they do have steak, but oh so much more. Mel brought me one of the specials, Pan seared Mahi- Mahi with Arugula Cream sauce, served with Quinoa, cherry tomatoes and zucchini. The fish was perfect, moist, with just the right crust. The Arugula sauce added color and complimented the fish just right.IMG_1939

She also brought a side of the wild-mushroom risotto. My standard for risotto is pretty high because it is my wife’s specialty, this one measured up just fine.

The biggest surprise was the liquor for dessert – I had never heard of a sweet potato liquor.  It had hints of Thanksgiving in the aroma, and was amazing.

IMG_1937I am sure I will be back to Woodland; the biggest decision will be Maria’s or Morgan’s. If you are travelling and have a lay over for an early flight, don’t stay in Sacrament, stay in Woodland, it is closer to the airport and you can enjoy a wonderful meal.

Thank you Kellie and your crew!

Woodland, CA, Maria’s Cantina, and Lu Bell

IMG_1920A stereotype set right, an expectation exceeded, and a wagging tail all made for a nice end to a day.

My flight out of Sacramento was at 6.40am so I booked a hotel as close as I could find to the airport, a Quality Inn in Woodland, about 10 minutes away. Coming in from Redding I figured I would grab a bite to eat, sleep, get up at 3.30am to head for the airport.

My stereotype was that Woodland was a run-down farming town, a bit like Yakima in Washington. I was wrong. Yes, there is plenty of farm and orchard related businesses on the outskirts of town, but driving through “Historic Woodland” (a label that I always embrace with suspicion), I was surprised at the actual historic charm of the place, and the number of inviting restaurants. Stereotype corrected.

Google Maps and Yelp both listed Maria’s Cantina with good reviews, and since when you are in the agriculture areas of California you can rightly expect quality Mexican food, off I went. The short version is that my expectations were exceeded.

The decor was out of a Clint Eastwood movie, I learned that was intentional. The bar was concrete, with  wood and wrought-iron shelving. The absence of tacky faux-Mexican decorations was a relief.

Haley, the bartender brought me Tecate and a lime in a frosted glass. She has worked there only a few months, but fits the place. Breaking with my norm of taking advantage of happy-hour, I read the menu, too many good choices, and prices that are really fair. I learned long ago that the best course of action in this situation is to let the server pick. I told Haley there were two rules, “Bring me anything you want, but don’t tell me before you bring it, and I will eat whatever you bring.“ Was I in for a treat. Expecting good Mexican, I got exceptional.

IMG_1921The first tip that this was a different presentation of Mexican food was that I was not warned that the plate was hot as she set it down, next it was a square white plate, not the oval brightly colored plates that clash with the color of the food, AND the food was not drowning in sauces of various descriptions; Mexican food does not have to be buried under melted cheese and salsa.

She brought me a Grilled Shrimp Diablo Taco, done in street style, Mexican rice, a Chili Verde Suisse Enchilada, and Charro Beans with bacon.

I tend to go for finger foods first, so started with the taco. It lived up to its Diablo moniker, but these folks know how to do picante, the heat did not overpower the multi-layers of flavor. Every bite was a pleasure.

The enchilada had just a hint of lime complimenting the Suisse cheese, the real bonus was that it was not swimming in Verde sauce, the sauce was a component not a masking agent. The meat was moist, another surprise. Too often enchiladas are filled with overcooked dry meat, then drowned in sauce.

Most of the time I view the beans and rice as plate fillers in Mexican restaurants, with the rice being my least favorite. I actually ate this rice. But the star of the meal was the beans, oh those beans; a plate of these Charro beans and a cervesa would make me a happy man. Beans are easy to ruin by over cooking or over seasoning, Maria’s gets it right. Some smoked chili and just a hint of bacon in the background. I must go back one day.

I was sitting at the corner of the bar, in the shadowed corner of the room, just to my right (think Clint Eastwood), at a tall table two ladies sat talking, Lu Bell was on the floor – a yellow lab wearing a bandanna around her neck. Ever since our Golden Retriever Boggy went to doggy heaven I am compelled to say hello to the retrievers that I meet. Like most retrievers Lulu figured that the whole reason I stopped by was just to see her. I discovered that Lu is the owner of Maria’s, she just lets her mom, Kellie, one of the ladies at the table, and Jeff who I met later, run the place for her.

Jeff and Kelly own a drilling company, but when they ended up owning this building they decided to open a Mexican restaurant, I am grateful that they did. Kellie told me that it was their staff, it is a wise owner that hires good people and then frees them to do what they do best. They also just opened another place called Morgan’s, a steakhouse. I must visit that on a future trip.

I really don’t remember ever having better Mexican food, and did I mention the beans?



I need comfort food

IMG_1826What a six-week stretch, I have certainly been places and eaten plenty, but on December 6 our basement flooded, and it has dominated the last 6 weeks. December was more Waterworld than Christmas, now it is HGTV (Home & Garden TV for those not into home remodeling). I have been to Boston, Eastern Washington, Oregon a couple of times, and California multiple times.

In chaotic times my psyche longs for “normal” which I find most often in food. Make all the comments you want about the evils of using food as an escape, but food brings normal to me. There are two places that I find solace in life, one is in the morning when I have Tea With God, and the other is when I spend time with Tricia cooking, talking, and eating.

When your basement, once nicely finished, is decimated by carpets torn up, sheetrock removed, jackhammers installing a drain, and dust on everything there is something comforting about cooking a good meal.

We have had many good meals lately, just last weekend we had crab and shrimp cakes on Friday, and Parmesan Crusted halibut on Sunday. Yesterday a simple butternut squash soup with Gruyere toasts was perfect. We had seafood and oysters with Prosecco a few weeks ago, perfect. On Christmas Eve Alexis and Joe cooked an amazing mushroom soup.

Teaching time and project management as I do, I meet so many folks that are overwhelmed by life, they are so busy, so they do the worst thing they can do, they work through lunch, and grab fast food for dinner so they can get back to work. We should learn from the French, even farm workers sit down to kitchen prepared meals complete with wine. They laugh and talk, and I am convinced they are more productive.

Comfort food is not a bad thing when it is good food, and when it is shared with loved ones it can be an oasis in a storm, it can recharge your energy, and make the tough days just a bit more normal.