Last Day of Summer in Palos Verdes
The weather was perfectly summery and Californian as I opened the sunroof and windows, with long hair blowing wildly in the wind. My youngest daughter, seven, carried an armful of dolls into the car for her entertainment, while my ten year old daughter listened to music through her headphones. The drive was clear and we were sailing smooth on the southbound 405 freeway from the heat of the San Fernando Valley, with the Labor Day holiday to thank for an open road.
We arrived just a little earlier than our reservations at Catalina Kitchen. Outside on the patio, the light, the temperature, everything I could have wanted for an early dinner, was idyllic. As I noticed there were other families sitting around us at the neighboring tables--- we were but a small nucleus of three--- mom and two daughters.
Our waiter came to the table and gave me the run down of dinner specials, but we had already decided on one thing: pizza. Brick oven pizzas listed on the menu as Margherita, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, Farm, bacon, salami, tomatoes, white cheddar, Bianca, white cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, goat cheese, sage, Rocket, oven roasted tomatoes, mozzarella, parmesan, olives, wild arugula, lemon oil, Prosciutto, gorgonzola, prosciutto, tomatoes, oregano. The girls were quite satisfied to have only pizza, however, I was eyeing the heirlooms and mozzarella salad, with an impulsive decision to ask for the truffle parmesan fingerling potatoes as well. With a quick glance at the wine list, a glass of Chardonnay was my treat, while my youngest insisted on her favorite cocktail of lemonade. My ten year old didn’t want iced tea as I suggested. That's fine. Her iPhone battery went, much to my pleasure, and she actually made conversation. I was so happy to share a place that I love--- Terranea. My daughters were talking and laughing together rather than bickering and teasing each other. Glass of wine in hand, I took a deep inhale.
The sky reminded me of a Maxfield Parrish painting as the sun slowly sank into the ocean's horizon. Not quite dusk yet, the glass lanterns above us on the patio glimmered in the reflected light, and everything glowed with a golden hue.
Our Margherita pizza arrived first. Nothing fussy, just fresh from the oven with a thin, crisp crust, neither greasy nor heavy, with ample amounts of fluffy mozzarella cheese. The tomatoes appeared roasted, sliced in their skins, grown in the Terranea gardens, as I'm sure these tomatoes, as well as the basil, green and fragrant, chopped in chiffonade ribbons and strewn upon the surface of the pizza, were all grown here. I've come to know the kitchens of Terranea, as my previous visit was a private dinner at one of the villas, where Chef Bernard Ibarra explained how they source their produce locally, growing a harvest of vegetables and herbs, as well as create their own signature sea salts. The difference in flavor is remarkable. Separating the slices out for both of my daughters, they savored, didn't complain, and my youngest tasted the tomatoes instead of casting them into a discard pile on the side of her plate.
The fingerling potatoes, rustic in their skins, were placed on the table in an iron skillet. I'm not expecting truffle oil and fortunately the subtle hint of truffles mingled with the parmesan. It was real truffle and not the cloying oil. The waiter did not offer ketchup, thank goodness, nor did he come around often asking if I'm "still working on that" --- two peeves of mine. I'm in heaven. We were simply allowed the leisurely pleasure of eating good food. Potatoes, dusted with parmesan, nothing complicated.
Once my girls were well into their second slices each, I took my time and noticed how this last day of summer seemed to go on longer, bringing me back to childhood, when hours elongated their shadows and moments like this impressed into my memory.
The last days of summer when I was a girl were spent running outside in my backyard, barefoot on the damp lawn, with sprinklers arcing out their feathery droplets. Tomatoes grew abundantly in our garden--- plump-bodied, juicy, flavorful ripe tomatoes.
The Heirlooms and Mozzarella Salad arrived with its golden slices of tomato that looked like mango, with a pillow of burrata, olives, basil, avocado, pine nuts, olive oil and balsamic. I gave a slice of this golden tomato to each of my daughters to taste--- their eyes widened tasting its flavor. This was a true heirloom tomato.
Before sunset, my daughters wanted to swim. We left the table to walk around in the balmy air, circling the swimming pool until we found the right lounge. As my littlest girl dove into the pool, I wrapped myself in a warm swath of hotel towels, letting go into the last few hours of the day, as the cerulean blue sky changed into deep indigo. The fire pits began their warming blaze, and laughter came from my two girls at the setting of the sun into a blue horizon of night.
Catalina Kitchen, Terranea Resort Hotel, 100 Terranea Way, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275 (310) 265-2800 Reservations: (866) 802-8000