Sunday, February 21, 2010
First Day to Big Bend - it's all about the cuisine
Yes, I'm in Marathon TX at the Gage Hotel and am back in my room after an absolutely fabulous meal at Cerizo's, the hotel restaurant. I admit it. My decision to stay at the Gage Hotel was driven by the opportunity to have at least one fine meal at this dining room. But let me back up a few hours and give a synopsis of my ride to get here today.
I left the house this morning, wrapped in thick fog as I got up onto Beltway 8 and headed west. Beltway 8 to Westpark Toll Road to Fulshear, and then north to I-10 with a quick stop to top off the gas tank. The fog lifted and bits of blue sky were visible by the time I got to Luling and it was full-out sunny when I got to San Antonio. Another quick stop for gas at Seguin, and I was soon passing through San Antonio and heading west on U.S. 90. Lots of wind, very little traffic, and I pressed on toward Del Rio.
Since I was riding alone, I could count on the long range on my FZ6 and not stop for gas until I arrived in Del Rio, although I was pushing a strong headwind and my gas gauge began its unnerving count-up at about 180 miles. This is Yamaha's way of letting the rider sweat bullets, watching the last little bar on the gas gauge blink and the odometer switch to a taunting "you dummy, look at how many miles you've ridden on reserve" sort of display.
At Del Rio, I stopped for gas and put 4 gallons into a 5.1 gallon tank (take that, you Yamaha liars) and then proceeded to the right turn that would keep me on the U.S. 90 continuance toward Marathon. I stopped for lunch at a Jack in the Box in Del Rio and had my usual favorite: chicken fajita pita. Just west of Del Rio I stopped at the Amistad National Recreation Area Visitor Center to get a National Park stamp in my passport book. More on that later.
The winds became absolutely brutal once I was west of Del Rio, but the skies were blue and temperatures were moderate and I was able to shed my jacket liner in the Jack in the Box parking lot. As I approached the Pecos River, I debated whether to take the turnoff to the overlook. But I've been there and done that a couple of times and in the interest of arriving in Marathon early enough to relax a bit, I pressed on. The same goes for the stop in Langtry - a standard for me - to stop by the Judge Roy Bean visitor center and then have an ice cream at the little shop across the street. I had a more compelling destination in mind.
The stretch of highway between San Antonio and the Pecos River is just short of absolutely awful. It's flat, barren, with very few towns and precious little interesting scenery in between to break the monotony. About the only things of note were all the Border Patrol vehicles parked along the side of the road in random locations.
I gassed up again in Sanderson and from there it was just 53 miles to Marathon TX. At least the landscape gets a little more interesting west of Sanderson, as low mountain ranges begin to appear along the horizon and, to the south, the location of the Rio Grande is marked by the canyon walls that follow the river's course as it heads east toward its ultimate release into the Gulf of Mexico.
The last few miles passed quickly as I anticipated my arrival at Marathon and the Gage Hotel. I was really looking forward to my three days' retreat at this historic hotel. The rooms in the original hotel are great...and I was given the very same room I had last time I stayed here 8 years ago. Hardwood floors, wooden shuttered windows, High poster bed with down comforter and pillows, animal skin rugs and a really cool stone basin that "floats" above a dark slate corner cabinet in the room. In the private bath, a large walk-in tiled shower and pair of terry robes completes the luxury.
But the best part of staying here was waiting for me next door. When I arrived and checked in, I made a reservation for 6:30 for dinner at the restaurant. I'd been "saving myself" for this experience ever since I booked my hotel room. When I went into serious training for the Houston Marathon last summer, I was determined to shed the pounds I'd gained when I'd been waylaid by the stress fracture in my foot. Two years' worth of extra pounds. Running alone wasn't going to do it; it took serious caloric deprivation to lose 30 lbs in 4 months. And it took an extremely low fat, low carbohydrate diet to do it. But the rewards were so worth it...back down to 108 lb, back into size 4 clothes, and so much easier to run the long distances. Even through all of the many holidays - Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentines Day - I was in deprivation mode.
So...now I had something to look forward to, a real treat. I went whole hog at Cervizo's tonight. First of all, the bar is fabulous. It's intimate, nicely lit and with a fabulous fire going in the fireplace. Two couples about my age were chatting softly in one corner, a younger couple were sitting at the bar having an intimate conversation, and I ordered a glass of sparkling wine and pulled up a chair next to the fireplace. Soon, I found myself engaged in conversation with the two couples sitting next to me. One couple was from Alvin (the next town to Pearland where I live) the other from Houston.
At 6:30, I wished them a pleasant evening and went into the dining room where I was seated and my order taken: Pan-seared scallops with roasted red pepper sorbet to start, followed by lamb chops cooked rare on a bed of risotto with caramelized baby onions and cherry tomatoes. And another glass of champagne. I ate way too much food, including the wonderful freshly baked yeast bread with pecans and cranberries. Never have I eaten anything as light and heavenly as this. Because it was leavened, it was so light. I passed my compliments to the chef and a couple seated behind me stopped at my table as they readied their departure to say the same about the bread. For dessert the waiter convinced me that the banana and Baileys pots de creme was to die for. A couple was seated next to me and they had engaged the waiter in conversation about a new camera she had. Later, when the waiter served their bottle of wine, I offered to take their photo toasting each other.
As I departed the restaurant, the two couples I'd spoken with earlier in the bar were just getting ready to order and they waved me over to join them. I chatted with them a bit, answering their questions about what I chose for dinner. I have an invitation to join them for dinner Tuesday evening and I look forward to it.
So here I am, groaningly full but satiated by an outstanding dinner, well prepared. Tomorrow I will get up and, if the spirit moves me, get a short run in, then change into my riding gear and head into Big Bend National Park, camera in hand.