Saturday, August 05, 2006

Tourist Is as Tourist Does

Just like bees flock to honey, tourists flock to places like the picturesque Monterey bay. If you live in the Bay Area, the scenic trek down to Monterey is well worth it.

Monterey is visually stunning and historically vibrant. The tomatoey-red sardine can labels that wallpaper the insides of the Cannery Row tourist shops; the vestigial, skeletal buildings that once were bustling, lively canneries employed with Asian, Mexican, and European immigrant workers who flocked to early California; and the wax figures and paintings of a stoic John Steinbeck reveal the rich story of an earlier era in California. However, not all in Monterey is history-oriented. Monterey also offers a plethora of modern activities, including complimentary wine tasting, scuba diving, kayaking, and most importantly, the ability to observe the wildlife and environment in its natural state at its famed reserve and Monterey Aquarium.

In Monterey, we started the day by climbing across the moss-covered tide pool crags to inspect the tight clusters of bearded mussels, crabs skittering across the rocky surfaces, snails slithering and squishing about, and the ample growth of earthen-toned seaweed leaves. Observing all of the sea life in action helped me to work up an appetite--for seafood. My friends and I decided to visit the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company to ease our seafood cravings.

Just like the painted acrylic statues of Ronald McDonald sitting on a bench with his arm outstretched to welcome McDonald's patrons, Bubba Gump has its equivalent. On the bench in front of the restaurant, there is a sullied pair of wooden Nike shoes emblazoned with red swooshes that you can slip your feet into just to "try." Also on the bench is a brown, boxy suitcase and a white box of chocolates with an overflowing ribbon bow--just like the ones Forrest had in the movie. The moment you enter the restaurant, you are peppered with massive amounts of movie memorabilia, including: posters, photographs, bumper stickers with Forrest-sayings, license plates, and the movie, Forrest Gump, playing on television screens in an infinite loop. When you are seated, when you are ready to order, you have to flip the license plate on your table that reads "Run Forrest, Run!" to "Stop Forrest, Stop!"

My friends ordered the Shrimpers' Heaven which included three kinds of shrimp including chilly shrimp, dumb luck coconut shrimp, and Mama Blue's Southern fried shrimp. The majority of the shrimp was battered, breaded, and deep-fried, and the entrée came with
French fries, hush pups, and four kinds of dipping sauces, including: cocktail sauce, tartar sauce, thousand island dressing, and a honey and citrus mango chutney. The entire amalgamation was served on a plastic camping plate lined with slicked, greasy wax paper with artificial Forrest Gump-related newspaper headlines and articles printed on upon it.

Unfortunately, when their meal arrived, we noticed that the plastic Silo-brand containers of dipping sauces and the French fries monopolized over 80% of the plate. Plus, I observed my friends disappointedly peeling off the soggy and excessive batter-breading and heard their repeated comments on the "okay," but bland taste.

However, I had no complaints. I ordered "I'm Stuffed Shrimp," a dish served in an individual-sized wok that held a neat circle of shrimp stuffed with a mayonnaise and crab mixture, baked with butter and garlic, and swathed in a bubbling cover of Monterey jack cheese. When my order came, my eyes immediately riveted on the substantial pools of butter that were comparable in size to the tide pools in the Monterey Bay. The melted butter soup was infused with the essence of garlic, and was a perfect dipping au jus for the crusty plank of Mama Gump's garlic bread that accompanied my meal.

Even though I sponged up the majority of the melted butter with my bread, there was enough remaining to act as gravy for the heap of mashed potatoes I ordered to go with my entrée. The creaminess of the mashed potatoes played perfectly against the crunchy deep-fried nest of onion tendrils and the bite of the scallions sliced on a bias.

To partially mitigate my chances for a heart attack, I also sampled a bite of the coleslaw that came with my meal. However, I couldn't finish it, because like the dish, "I was stuffed."

Another companion at the table ordered the fried chicken, and had positive things to say about it.

As the bill came, I realized that Bubba Gump (with locations aptly on Pier 39, Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and in Cannery Row at Monterey) had all of the elements of a successful tourist trap: a memorable restaurant interior with photo-worthy surroundings, over-the-top portions to quell the emptiest of stomachs, and prices that you wouldn't pay unless you had no other alternative.

We had fallen for the tourist trap, but had a great time doing so.


  1. I love that you travel journal through your experiences with food! The pictures, the descriptions, and the detailed accounts of your meal all come together to place your reader right at the table with you.

  2. Your dish looked so good but very rich. I think one or two bites would have been my limit or I would have been doing my own 'Run Forest, Run' right into the ladies room!

  3. I've never been to Bubba Chump's. :-P

    Nice review!

  4. Haha! Loved your commentary on the visual assault that is Bubba Gumps. Loved the photos too...vibrant!

    My first Bubba Gump trip was at Pier 39 in your neck of the woods. Since then, one opened in Long Beach, next to the Aquarium of the Pacific (I haven't been). This is only about a 20 minute drive from where I live. I share your sentiment that it's definitely a tourist trap, but since I loved the movie and am a sucker for seafood, it's one that I am happy to get myself caught in. I figure, if they're gonna theme a restaurant, you might as well make it point to something that has meaning.

    BTW, our local food critic for the alternative newspaper also reviewed Bubba Gump's recently. What a coincidence!

  5. Thank you my dear Goldfishy 526! I'd love to have more experiences where we share meals together at the same table! I had a wonderful time at Monterey and at Six Flags Marine World with you, and hope our meals will be the subject of more Passionate Eater posts for the future!

    Rachel, I laughed so hard when I read your comment, that my stomach hurt! I agree, my meal was cheese + butter overload, but I still managed to finish the whole thing! I should rename my blog to Passionate Over-Eater!

    Hi Jeff L! When are we going to visit Mijita together? We can also go to Pancho Villa Taqueria near the Ferry Building, for more "affordable" Mexican food with bigger portions.

    Elmo Monster, I agree with you that the "pop culture" of Bubba Gump's draws you in and is how it stays successful. I loved that the waitress asked us Forrest Gump trivia after we paid our check. That was fun and engaging! Since you are a fan of the movie, I'm sure that you would have answered more of the trivia questions correctly than I did!

  6. Hi PE - I loved the writing, so fun and descriptive.....even though you ate at Bubba's Rump! LOL!

  7. You have to do some exercise after that meal, PE! Hahaha. Rachel's comment says it all!

  8. Thank you Kirk! I like your nickname of "Bubba's Rump"!

    I agree that I need exercise J Haw! Especially after eating that butter dish!

  9. i have died and gone to fried heaven. love it!

  10. Haha Pink Nest, I love your comment! Although I ate it all, it was felt like "fried hell" after I ate it!

  11. PE - have some other recommendations for the Monterey area - Fresh Cream, Robert's White House, and Casanova (although the last is not what it used to be). I promise I'll write back at more length soon!

  12. I am so glad that you are coming to the Bay Area Shane! I can't wait to see you, and I hope that I can bring you to some of your recommended San Francisco restaurants!

  13. i work right around the corner from a bubba gumps here, and i can smell the fried goodness from our office windows. i've never been in, but those deadly mashed potatoes are calling me (can you tell i'm in a starchy mood today?)!

  14. I love your term "starchy mood" Pink Nest! I am always in one of those! (Your use of the word "mood" makes me think of how I am moody during a certain period of the month. Thankfully, that is only once a month, and my desire for carbs is "always!")


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