Flying to Sonoma to Eat at LaSalette Restaurant [The Flying Gourmet]

Jim Jellison - The Flying Gourmet

LaSalette Sonoma

Dessert at LaSalette in Sonoma

LaSalette Restaurant
452 First St. East, Suite H
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 938-1927
LaSalette Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Modern takes on Portuguese dishes are served at this intimate spot with a wood-fired oven & terrace.

Sonoma Sky Park (0Q9) is only 45 nautical miles from Livermore, but flying certainly beats driving an hour and a half in traffic. Driving, however, is mostly what I do since my motive for the trip is to pick up my quarterly allotment of wine from Gloria Ferrer and sampling some champagne. Drinking and flying is a no no, besides my wife can drive my car but can’t fly an aircraft!

In the years of making this trip we have become quite familiar with the eating establishments in the town of Sonoma. One of our favorites is LaSalette Restaurant. This restaurant has many unique items on the menu that may take a little bit of bravery to order. They advertise that their menu is “a modern take on Portuguese dishes.” The Portuguese Fisherman’s Stew is about as daring as I have gotten, we usually stick with the more mundane fish and chips, BLT, or pulled pork sandwich. Their food is great, a good wine selection, but even when you stay on the mundane side of the menu you still are exposed to the exotic in the form of piri piri seasoning. What is piri piri you ask? Well, I had to ask too because I had never heard of it before. It is an African bird’s eye chili that originated in the country of Mozambique. Portuguese explorers discovered and settled Mozambique in the 16th century and discovered the pepper and created a sauce from it to complement their foods.

There, on the menu, is a dish called Spicy Piri Piri Chicken Salad, my wife and I have both ordered it and found it not too spicy, but tasty and wonderfully different. Piri piri also shows up on your French fries and interesting enough, your ice cream. Our “must have” dessert is a platter of two sorbets and two ice creams. The two sorbets are crisp green apple and mango, the ice creams are chocolate port and chocolate with, and you guessed it, piri piri! The chocolate ice cream is very rich and creamy, but just after you swallow a slight burning sensation is felt in the back of your mouth and throat. It’s a very interesting combination of smooth and creamy and spicy at the same time.

So, when visiting the Sonoma wine country, plan on stopping by LaSalette for lunch, you will be glad that you did.

Oakland Aviation Museum [The Flying Gourmet]

Jim Jellison - The Flying Gourmet

Oakland Aviation MuseumOakland Aviation Museum
8252 Earhart Road
Oakland, CA 94621
(510) 638-7100

Everyone who lives in the Bay Area is aware of the micro climates that exist, drive just over the hill from the Bay Area to the Tri-Valley most days and witness a dramatic temperature change. So, on a hot spring day (nearly 100 degrees in Livermore) my flight instructor suggested that we do our normal landing practice at Oakland’s North Field (20 degrees cooler). I generally stay out of the Bay Area’s air space due to air traffic congestion, but since my instructor was with me I felt confident. I was very much surprised at how easy it was to get cleared to the North Field and how accommodating the air traffic controllers were. I was also surprised to find that there is an aviation museum just outside the fence.

The Oakland Airport has played an important part in aviation history here are just some of the highlights:

  • June 1927 construction of the North Field begins, including a 7,020 foot long runway the longest in the world for its day.
  • July 1927 new speed record set from Oakland to Hawaii 25 hours, 37 minutes.
  • August 1927 nine planes participate in the Dole races to Hawaii.
  • January 1935 Amelia Earhart returns to Oakland from Hawaii, the first trans-Pacific solo adventure, an 18 hour, 15 minute flight.
  • May 1937 Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan depart Oakland for their ill-fated around the world journey.

The Oakland Aviation Museum exists to keep this rich aviation history alive. Now, this isn’t the Smithsonian, the hangar is cool and musty smelling but to anyone interested in aviation history, it is a gold mine. There are rooms and exhibits dedicated to African American aviation pioneers, women in aviation (one of which, Amelia Reid taught me to fly), WWII flyers, Jimmy Doolittle, Amelia Earhart and airlines that got their start in Oakland. In addition to the numerous displays there are of course aircraft.

There is the one of a kind Hiller 10-99 helicopter, contender for the U.S. Army assault helicopter contract that was won by the Bell Huey. Outside with some old warbirds you will find a NASA experimental two seat Harrier, a BOAC clipper, and a ubiquitous MiG-15. Over in a corner there are pieces of what was once a reconnaissance jet, model unknown to the docents I talked to. I came home did a little research and identified it as a 1950’s vintage RF84.

If you are interested in aviation history and more specifically aviation history in the bay area may I suggest a visit to the Oakland Aviation Museum? They are open Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Unfortunately there is no food available at the Museum, I was hoping for at least a hot dog stand!


Flying to Hotel Sutter in the Gold Country [The Flying Gourmet]

Jim Jellison - The Flying Gourmet

Hotel SutterHotel Sutter
53 Main Street
Sutter Creek, CA 95685
(209) 267-5211
Hotel Sutter on Urbanspoon

It’s a beautiful evening, mild temperatures, light winds, and clear sky – a perfect evening for a dinner flight out of Livermore. There is nothing I like better than to share a flying experience and a good meal with a friend. Recently I was able to accomplish this by flying to Jackson Westover and catching a cab ride down to Sutter Creek.

Sutter Creek, like so many small towns off the beaten path, have been hard hit by the declining economy. I have watched restaurants, good ones, come and go since I’ve been visiting the Gold Country over the years. Luckily a new called Hotel Sutter has opened with a promise of good food and friendly atmosphere. I have visited this place twice and have enjoyed a great meal both times. I’m happy to report that the place seems to be doing a brisk business.

I have been told to never order sea food at a restaurant that isn’t located near the sea. That seems to be sound advice if indeed you are expecting fresh fish! I couldn’t help myself and ordered the seared salmon, which turned out to be delicious as did my friends grilled rib eye steak. The service was prompt and courteous with reasonable prices.

The building has been around for a long time and the primary reason for its longevity is that it is constructed of brick; most wooden structures have succumbed to fire multiple times since the gold rush era. With wooden floors, brick walls, and high ceilings you get a real sense of history.

Unlike many old hotels that are now merely restaurants, the Hotel Sutter actually has 21 rooms and a cellar lounge where you can enjoy Monday night football or live music. It seems that the Hotel Sutter Team has put together a winning combination with Executive Chef Darius Somary and the rest of the staff.  I wish them continued success. As Arnold Schwarzenegger says, “I’ll be back!”

Beach Dining at Hangar BBQ in Merced, CA [The Flying Gourmet]

Jim Jellison - The Flying Gourmet

Hangar BBQ - Merced, CA

Hangar BBQ – Merced, CA

Hangar BBQ
26 Macready Drive
Merced, CA 95341
(209) 349-0174
Hangar BBQ on Urbanspoon

Over the last eight years the economy has dipped dramatically and then slowly rebounded. This roller-coaster ride was especially hard on small businesses – specifically mom-and-pop airport restaurants. Over the years I have watched them come and go. One in particular is located at the airport in Merced. The two preceding restaurants to occupy the corrugated, hangar looking building were breakfast and lunch only places. Several years ago I stopped for breakfast only to find it boarded up, but met a guy who was taking it over and had an idea for a BBQ-Rib restaurant. He showed me around and explained his vision for the place. I thought sure, but the last two didn’t make it so I really didn’t give him much of a chance.

Fast forward a couple of years and I found not only is he still in business but thriving! On a beautiful Thursday evening last week, a friend of mine and I flew to Merced to check out Hangar BBQ. We found it hopping with about thirty patrons which seemed great even on a Thursday!

Hangar BBQ - Merced, CAI was tempted to order the pulled pork sandwich, but since ribs are the specialty of the house, I just had to try them. My friend ordered the ribs and steak sandwich combination, he is a big guy! They both came with fries; I ordered the garlic ones, but they mixed up the order and gave me the regular ones. No matter, we shared and with coleslaw it was more than enough food for two hungry guys. The food was great; ribs were large with a lot of meat on them and the sauce was tangy but not too tangy. They also serve a variety of beer battered fried vegetables which I’ll be sure to try on the next visit.

The thing that makes this restaurant unique is that their patio area has been converted into a beach with lots of imported sand. The patio includes a covered bar, a number of cabañas and beach chairs which face the stage (live music Wednesday thru Saturday). With these features, I can see why this place would be a hit with the local college crowd. However this looked more like the over forty crowd.

Merced Regional Airport/Macready Field is located about 70 nautical miles southeast of Livermore and features a 6,000 foot paved and lighted runway. For pilots KMCE is easy to fly into without much traffic, although the airport is serviced by a commuter airline with several flights a day. If you’re passing that way on Highway 99 by automobile be sure to stop.

Taming the Taildragger – Part 2 [The Flying Gourmet]

Jim Jellison - The Flying Gourmet

Taming the Taildragger Part 2

The infamous tail wheel

In Taming the Taildragger – Part 1, I mentioned that the primary difference between the tricycle gear aircraft and the taildragger is the placement of the landing gear (wheels). Tricycle gear aircraft have the center of gravity (CG) in front of the main wheels and the taildraggertaildragger has the CG behind the main wheels.

On takeoff three forces are at play, P Factor, Torque, and Gyroscopic. All three of these forces want to turn the aircraft to the left as power is applied. The same forces act upon any single engine, propeller driven, aircraft but they are tremendously mitigated by the placement of the landing gear (CG) on a tricycle aircraft. Logically one would think that these forces can be counteracted by the application of the right rudder, and that of course is true. But, in a taildragger the question is, how much and exactly when? It turns out that you must be sort of psychic because you must anticipate the use of the rudder and the force that must be applied as it needs to be applied.

The Citabria

The Citabria

On my first takeoff, upon application of full power, the aircraft started a turn to the left, I countered with a hefty amount of right rudder which then turned the aircraft to the right. Then, I countered with left rudder which turned the aircraft back to the left. All this was taking place while the aircraft was accelerating with the tail wheel off the ground (the aircraft was up on the two main wheels). Weaving at this attitude caused the aircraft to tip to one side and then the other on each one of the main wheels, YIKES! This all happened in a matter of seconds and then I heard a voice from the back seat saying “I have the controls”. During the course of my training I have heard those four reassuring words, from my instructor, Steve, more than once!

Landings are another story; there are two types, a wheel landing and a three-point. The three-point is the easiest of the two to master. Approach at 70 mph, put the aircraft in proper attitude (so that all three wheels will touch the ground at the same time) hold the aircraft off from landing as long as possible, to reduce speed, and keep the nose perfectly straight. Upon touch down, hold the stick all the way back.

Taming the Taildragger Part 2

A tricycle Cessna 172

Wheel lands are a little scarier, approach to 80 mph at a level attitude fly the aircraft right down to the ground just kissing the pavement with the main wheels. At the exact second that the main wheels touch you reduce the power to idle, push the stick forward and keep the nose straight. When the tail comes down, pull the stick all the way back and keep the nose straight.

As a private pilot with 2,000 plus hours I have found the taildragger experience humbling. I feel certain that a taildragger endorsement is in my near future and I believe the experience will make me a better pilot no matter what type of aircraft I fly.