I checked the blog. It has been a mere three years since I visited the famous French Basque restaurant in Los Banos. It feels like an eternity.
The Wool Growers has been open since the 1890's and I don't imagine a lot has changed in that time. What a meal I just had!
I took my time leaving this morning and making my way up the Central Valley. Why rush? I checked into my hotel around five and asked the owner about food recommendations. Great Mexican a stone's throw this way, Italian on the other side.
But I knew that I was too close and I had to return to one of the most simple and unique places that I have ever encountered. I so rarely get an opportunity to eat this sort of food.
I walked about ten blocks through the old yet clean downtown streets to the familiar corner.
When you venture into the Wool Grower it is easy to close your eyes and pretend that you are in a foreign country.
I only heard Basque and Spanish spoken around me tonight. Rather than the farmers and hunters I encountered on my last visit, these were certainly sheep herders. The language was beautiful, the laughter robust.
This is peasant food, not an ounce of pretension anywhere.
I decided to be smarter this time. Last time I filled up so early I could barely eat my entree, a choice of tri tip, lamb or pork. I asked the server to scale down the nine course meal and he was happy to oblige.
The stew was superb as was the entree. Simple, rustic fare, completely unpretentious and absolutely delicious. Nothing fancy but totally real and pure. Unaffected.
It took me back to my youth on the island of Ios in Greece, eating at a remote taverna on the backside of the island and dining on a freshly caught rabbit stew and homemade red wine. Heaven, indelibly etched in my gustatory memory.
Or feasting with the Pueblo Indians at San Ildefonso on the day of the corn dance, I was once again a visitor sharing a food experience and fare that goes back hundreds of years and is yet to be despoiled.
I left with the biggest smile on my face I can remember having leaving a dining establishment in a very long time. I will be back!