Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Big Disappointment

(Chuck) "With its iconic red turrets piercing the taut horizontal lines of an azure California skyline, the Hotel del Coronado radiates with a confidence of gracious Victorian splendor that is without equal."

Along with our Travel Channel-based knowledge of San Diego's "Hotel del," this description convinced us to sign up for the tour of the Hotel.

The tour leader began with a presentation on the vision of Elisha S. Babcock, retired railroad executive from Evansville, Indiana; Hampton L. Story, of the Story and Clark Piano Company of Chicago; and Jacob Gruendike, president of the First National Bank of San Diego, who bought all of Coronado and North Island for $110,000.

Construction of a hotel "on a sandspit populated by jack rabbits and coyotes" began in 1887.

After thirty minutes, we began the tour of the hotel with a walk through the lobby. The wood panels presented a rich look to the lobby; however, it was very dark in a mysterious sort of way.

Even this massive chandelier was not able to provide enough light to enable one to easily read a newspaper.

For example, this photo of a cage elevator in the lobby, hand-operated by an attendant required a four-second exposure. It should have been longer, but expecting the attendant to "freeze" for eight seconds was unrealistic.

With a longer exposure, the colors of the lobby furniture came through, but the small stream of sunlight became a glare.

But back to the tour. It was at this point that the leader decided to insert some personal political comments into the his presentation. Several members of our group took this as a sign that their opinions were worth sharing. The tour became a neighbor bar.

We left the tour. And called the historical society to express our dissatisfaction with the leader's deviation from the prepared text about the hotel.

(Kate) Being determined not to let our unpleasant tour experience ruin our day, we went through with our plan to have lunch at one of the Hotel del Coronado’s restaurants. Of the four dining options – the Crown Room, 1500 Ocean, Babcock & Story, and Sheerwater – only the last two are open for lunch. Babcock & Story is the most casual and is an order-at-the-counter type of restaurants. We felt that our day at the hotel deserved more, so Sheerwater was our choice.

It was a beautiful day. The sky was a deep blue and this was reflected off the water we could see from our patio table.

As you would expect, service was impeccable, and we received water and menus as soon as we were seated. We sat back, relaxed, and looked over the menu. I saw a number of items that looked tempting. There was the baked Atlantic salmon with sweet corn and bacon succotash and a dill crème fraiche; there was the cioppino with shrimp, scallops, calamari, clams, mussels, roasted peppers, fennel, spicy tomato sauce, and artichoke rouille; there was the achiote chicken and chorizo flat bread with black bean hummus, chorizo, pepper jack cheese, avocado, cilantro and sour cream; or there was the blue crab cake sandwich with avocado slaw and chipotle aioli on a brioche bun.

Chuck was ready to order the sautéed shrimp and pancetta pasta bowl with garlic, sweet peas, and an asiago vodka cream sauce. But he sometimes finds the taste of asiago cheese to be too powerful, so he changed his mind and went with the fish and chips (Karl Strauss beer battered Atlantic cod with fries, coleslaw and malt vinegar).

When Chuck’s plate arrived, the food looked amazing. Unfortunately, reality did not live up to the initial impression. To be frank, both the cod and the fries were overcooked. The fries were dry in the center with none of the fluffy and steaming meat that one looks for in a good french fry. The piece of cod that I took from Chuck’s plate was from the thinner pointed end of the fillet. I wasn’t terribly surprised that this piece seem overcooked since it is difficult to cook the thicker center without drying out the end. Regrettably, the center of each piece was also dry. Disappointing.

I was ready to order the chicken and chorizo flatbread, and then I saw Cobb salads being served to the two women at the table next to ours. The Cobb salad was created by Robert H. Cobb (trivia answer – he is the first cousin of baseball great Ty Cobb) and was the signature salad at the famous Brown Derby in Los Angeles. My beautifully composed plate contained a generous quantity of grilled chicken, bacon, tomatoes, blue cheese, avocado, chopped egg and came with the Sheerwater’s house-made green goddess dressing. It was the perfect meal for dining outdoors while looking at the ocean.

There must have been a quarter pound of good and not overly strong blue cheese, a medium chicken breast worth of meat, a quarter pound of chopped bacon, two chopped eggs, one chopped medium tomato, and a whole avocados worth of avocado slices all on a bed of iceberg lettuce. And the green goddess dressing was mildly herby and didn’t overpower any of the salad ingredients.

I would rate my salad as worthy of 4.5 Addies. My only quibble is “Did I really spend that much for salad?” Chuck’s fish and chips is worthy of no more than 3.0 Addies--and that might be generous.

(Chuck) After lunch, we took a walk around the beautiful grounds of this Hotel. This classic beachfront respite has long been heralded as "one of America’s most beautiful beach resorts."

Among other recognitions have been being called “one of the top ten resorts in the world” by USA Today and "the number-one wedding destination in America" by the Travel Channel.

Architect James Reid's plans were being revised constantly. To deal with fire hazards, a freshwater pipeline was run under San Diego Bay. Water tanks and gravity flow sprinklers were installed. Reid installed the world's first oil furnace in the new hotel.

Electric lighting in a hotel was also a world first. The electric wires were installed inside the gas lines, so if the "new-fangled" electricity didn't work, they could always pipe illuminating gas into the rooms. Thomas Edison inspected the final electrical installation and returned in 1904 to oversee the nation's first illuminated outdoor Christmas tree, which was placed on the hotel's lawn.

Babcock's vision for the hotel included being "built around a court…a garden of tropical trees, shrubs and flowers."

Unfortunately, there were several sights we did not see in the Pacific Coast's oldest and largest resort. Because we were disappointed with the tour guide, we did not see the Crown Room with its arched, 30-foot Sugar-pine ceiling constructed without a single nail or its crown-shaped chandeliers designed by Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum or its crown-shaped chandeliers. Nor did we visit the Oceanfront Ballroom, the Grande Hall, or the room of Kate Morgan, the ghost of The Hotel del Coronado.

A big disappointment.

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