Friday, May 4, 2012

An American Wedding

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to an American wedding. After two flights of fourteen hours’ airtime, I found myself jet-lagged in Los Angeles, California. As if I needed to specify the state. But I spent a week there, and I can honestly say that I did not see a single stereotypically obese person. Not one. Most people were in fact in very good shape. Despite the fact that you have to drive for half an hour to get to a shop. I, however, went for daily walks, and a lot of people were staring at me as if I were from Europe.

This is an account of all my gastronomical experiences during that week.

First my friends and I went straight from the airport to a fast-food joint called In-n-Out Burger. Very good for the price, and if you know the secret password you can get all sorts of extra toppings (ask for your burger and fries “animal-style”). The cashier guffawed when I accidently asked for my fries doggie-style. Oops. Luckily I was saved by the Bible verse printed on the bottom of my cup of root beer.

Still on Estonian time, we began the bachelor party (which means we started the party at two in the morning my time). Picked up by a stretch-limo Hummer, this was the most ridiculous vehicle I have ever been in. But the three on-board bars helped pass the hour of driving time between stops. Basically, the whole party was taking a tour of local breweries. And there are many, many fantastic breweries.

First stop was the Noble Ale Works, in Anaheim. We sampled no fewer than eight pale ales and India pale ales. Average alcohol content about fifty percent more than an A.le Coq. Each of these recipes would no longer be available in a couple of months, as they are only brewed once. Constant innovation and experimentation. Each ale was a work of art.

Next stop the Playground, in Santa Ana. More amazing beers. All of it brewed on site. At this point I should mention that we were all wearing kilts. Not that it’s relevant, but nine guys wearing kilts consuming high-class beers was a bit different than nine guys in Tartu drinking Bock in Pirogovi Park dressed in denim.

I should also point out that these pints of joy cost about four euros each. That’s all. For another fifteen euros at a classy joint whose name I cannot remember (might be because of the Manhattans we consumed during the hour to the next stop), I ordered an amazing salmon dinner, in addition to the broad selection of appetizers. And yes, that salmon was delicious, but I am proud to say that Estonians can out-salmon Americans with their eyes closed. And soon after the salmon, my eyes were closed, too. My body just could not take the jet lag and booze. Luckily I had loads of room in the limo to stretch out and snooze.

The next day we ate a late lunch at some random restaurant in a marina in Long Beach. Very juicy beef patty, excellent Provolone and…ketchup. Yes, Americans eat ketchup, too. We just don’t use it for spaghetti sauce.

The day before the wedding was the rehearsal dinner. The Stone Brewing Company in Escondido, just north of San Diego. The food was succulent, and I don’t need to mention that the same applies to the beer, if you can use that adjective for beer. But the premises…the best layout I have ever seen. A gargantuan complex, large boulders everywhere (hence the name), and frogs. Once the sun set, conversation was difficult if you were outside due to the frogs. And they were real, as well. I was sure that because this was in the middle of a desert, and because it was America, it was just a sound effect. But I found no hidden speakers, and after my eyes adjusted to the low light in the park, I actually began to see the little amphibians jumping around.

The waitress, Christine, approached our table. What followed was a series of unanswered questions. “Hello, and how is everyone doing this evening?” Christine began.
—How are you? my friend asked.
“Would you like to order drinks?”
—A Stone Pale Ale, please, he said.
“Would you like to try our house special?”
—Where’s the toilet? I asked.
“Um, what?” Christine appeared visibly frightened, almost offended.
—Do you mean the “restroom”? my friend suggested.
“Okay, like, wow! The ‘restroom’ is…do you know where the downstairs bar is?”
—I can find it, thank you.

My friend reminded me that “toilet” was impolite in these United States. I responded with, “Oh, shit, you’re right!” The other people at the table looked at me like I lived in Europe. “So you live in Europe, right?” someone asked me. I said yes, that I lived in Estonia. They thought for a moment, then continued with, “So yeah, you live in Europe.”

On Saturday, we had the wedding itself. I believe that my favorite aspect of the ceremony and festivities—apart from the Southwestern d├ęcor, food, venue (the Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo) and so on—was the company. The bride had three bridesmaids and a “bridesdude”. Two of the bridesmaids also brought their girlfriends. Homophobia, also known as “social immaturity”, just wasn’t an issue. Everyone enjoyed everyone’s company for one of the most joyful, memorable nights you could imagine.

As for the wedding food, it was a Southern theme. Pulled pork sandwiches with mustard sauce, baked macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes with chicken gravy, plus “street tacos” with grilled mahi-mahi.

But the fun could not last forever. On the way out of San Diego the next day, we stopped at the crappiest looking Mexican dive we could find. Remember, in the States, crappier is better. For just six bucks I savored every bite of my beef burrito, cheese enchilada, refried beans and Mexican rice.

On the way to the airport we stopped for coffee and bagels. A simple onion bagel, that dense, savory big brother to the donut. Quite often the food in the States is very good. There is definitely variety. But I actually cooked that first night, and quite honestly had trouble finding fresh ingredients, like fresh mint, Parmesan that wasn’t processed and sold in powdered form in a green can.

I love visiting the States, but I’m happy here in Estonia. It’s good to come home. The day after my jet lag was over, I baked fresh onion bagels for breakfast and homemade beef and chicken enchiladas for dinner, followed by an A.le Coq something or other. As I fell asleep that night, the question of why there are no microbreweries in Estonia went unanswered.