Last stop in California: Eureka. I can’t explain articulately why I wanted to go to Eureka so badly. The decision was partially impacted by the mystique of Humboldt Bay. If you’ve never studied it on a map, I think it’s worth looking up. It’s a big bay with a tiny inlet. Also, it’s the namesake for Humboldt Fog goat cheese, and we all know I’m a cheese fiend. Additionally, I wanted to see the greatest giants of the Redwoods, and I figured it would be a good idea to aim for the Northern end of the state, and Eureka is definitely that.
It turns out that Eureka is pretty weird. Weird suits me, so it worked out well, but it also left me scratching my head as I drove out of town. Our first stop in town was at bizarre second hand shop/fire hazard, packed with decades worth of used clothing and accessories. It was run by a woman who most likely also lived upstairs, and she had everything in stock from plaid pants to a wide variety of furs to a few mean cats, whose danger was warned against in poorly located, hand written signs. We then stopped at a chain liquor store called BevMo, that was anything but what you expect from a chain. The staff was friendly, informative, and engaging; they had a great variety of all types of alcohol, and they even had a compelling selection of meats and cheeses. From the delightful staff at BevMo, we received a recommendation for a bayside sushi spot called the Bayfront Restaurant.
At the Bayfront, we enjoyed hot sake, miso soup, sushi, and a spectacularly entertaining view of a vagrant gentleman furiously changing a damaged bike tube, spilling and collecting crayons on the sidewalk, and washing his hands with malt liquor. No, you didn’t miss anything: that is literally what we observed while we dined on fish wrapped in rice. We even went outside afterwards to verify that they were indeed crayons, as one was left behind. I was personally hoping that they were pastels, but alas, what we found was an orange crayon nub, with a yellow, Denny’s-clad, paper wrapper. Either way, the experience was fascinating.
I had a roll called “The Pink Lady,” which included a central channel of shrimp tempura and yellow tail tuna, wrapped in something called “soy wrap,” then coated in rice and roe. The soy wrap was pink, stretchy, and mildly sweet in flavor. Our server told us they have it on the menu as a strictly vegetarian alternative to seaweed; it’s in the tofu family. This didn’t quite explain why it was on my fish/shrimp-laden roll, but I liked the aesthetic, and the mild flavor, which allowed me to really taste the mild yellow tail, which was tender, and tasting like the sea. It was also garnished with a drizzle of sweet eel sauce, and crunchy, little tempura fried bits; I know this is the farthest thing from authentic sushi, but it was oh so delish.
We also had “The Bayfront Roll,” which was simply tuna, avocado, cucumber, and roe. It was simple, tasty, and fresh; however, the true pleasure of the Bayfront restaurant was the opportunity to observe the locals. Jean noted that everyone in Eureka seemed to be clad in work boots. Even on Saturday afternoon at a quiet and relatively sophisticated sushi restaurant, everyone seemed to be fresh off of a manual labor job. All of the customers from the Bayfront then filed out the front door upon completion of their meals, and headed next door to a gelato shop. Alas, it was an interesting culture that appeared to have blue-collar roots, yet with a clear taste for the finer things, like sushi and gelato.
Overall, it would have been downright sinful to vacate California without indulging in sushi, and this feat was achieved in the company of the surprising and compelling Eureka crowd. After dinner, we checked into a motel, and the irony continued; we settled into our room, cracking open drinks, cheese, and peppered salami purchased at BevMo, to be greeted by a view of the Humboldt Country Correctional Facility. I know this slogan is borrowed from Austin, but please, keep Eureka weird.