Fresno is for Ahi Poke Lovers
We arrived in Fresno before noon on a Thursday in mid November after a few hours of driving from Malibu and made our way to our friend John's house in a new housing development. The address was not yet listed on Apple maps so Siri could not find it but fortunately Google Maps had it listed. When we arrived at a gated community of 30 or 40 homes we knocked on John's door only to find out he was out. John had spent the morning with his parents as they had been visiting before us and was sending them off, but we did not have to wait long.
The plan for our trip was to catch up with John, a prosecutor for one of the nearby cities, and check out what was happening in Fresno over a long weekend. Although we had been in Fresno before it had been well over three years since our last visit.
John's house was charmingly decorated with an impressive collection of empty spirit bottles proudly displayed on top of the kitchen cabinets (lawyers and alcohol) and after an official tour of his home, we were whisked away to see the nearby river.
Fresno is a city with different neighborhoods and split personalities in the California Central Valley. The city has good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods, dilapidated houses and mansions all sprawled on an apparent flat plane and flanked on the northeasternly or eastern edge by the Sierra Mountains and forest. For reference, Yosemite Park is about a 2 to 4 hour drive out but a 6 hour drive with delays due to road construction.
What's most striking about Fresno is that everywhere you look you will see orchards and agricultural action. We asked John what was the primary crop grown there and he replied "pistachios" for exportation to China and domestic consumption. Nuts are water hungry crops and water billboards from farmers abound alongside the highways.
The highlight of our trip included Gazebo Gardens, a nightly beer garden set in a nursery with live music, food trucks, and a beer and wine bar. And the second highlight of the trip to me was Butterfish, a Chipotle style poke restaurant where you order poke made from salmon, ahi, and other types of fish, with any number of fixings. The atmosphere at Gazebo Gardens was buzzing with youthful and hipster vibes that attracted a family crowd of young and old patrons. An older couple step danced to the live music. Young people enjoyed their food truck snowcones and dinners while we conversed on the hassles of getting older and I enjoyed an apple cider.
To my surprise, Fresno is for ahi poke lovers. I live near Joshua Tree National Park where the closest good ahi poke is at the Joshua Tree Saloon. However, we have not been there in years. I think ahi poke restaurants in the style of Chipotle restaurants and eateries are a brilliant idea and am glad they've been popping up all over California. Although, to be honest, with raw fish on the menu it's probably a tricky legal proposition for any entrepreneur to take on. What if your customer gets sick and claims your fish did him in? Your ahi poke restaurant would definitely need to have the most impeccable hygiene and warning signs plastered with "Danger! Eat at your own risk. Ahi poke is not for the faint hearted, but it is deliciously tasty!"
The best place to get ahi poke in Fresno is definitely Butterfish although my opinion may be biased. The place is clean, with modern furnishings, well lit, and their topping options are fantastic. I had the salmon on a bed of lettuce with the citrus ponzu sauce and a number of other fixings. It was delicious! And there are also cooked protein options as well for your raw fish is not for me type of friends.
Near Fresno there is also the town of Clovis which has a cute and historical downtown so if you are in the area I would highly recommend checking it out. They offer many breakfast options with standard american breakfast fare which is a travel ritual for me and you will also find a number of quirky shopping options. It's really quite quaint!
By Sunday morning we were ready to bounce back on the road and head north to the rugged Northern California coast so we bid out friend goodbye, left him a bushel of apples which we brought as a house warming present and host gift and departed on our way to Mendocino County.