This location has seen some contentious times – different concepts, but usually there’s been a common element of ownership or staff throughout those times. One outcome of an intense experience is that the group that shares it become strongly bonded together, I know what this is like.
On a recent weekday evening, the front and side was packed. Older locals, young scenesters with pressed shirts and popped collars, maybe a blind date or two, maybe some casual co-workers, a good upwardly mobile mix of people, that’s a good sign. It had the feeling of a neighborhood joint that someone in a fancy dress, or a pair of flipflops would be comfortable in.
The food was a pile of ridiculous happiness. Dishes you’d recognize on the menu, with a little twist to make it their own. Plated perfectly, like a little work of art, I almost felt bad about stabbing them with my knife to break it down into bite size pieces.
I was there with one friend, we plowed into the following.
* Asparagus and poached egg. One of my favorite comfort foods, if only I can ever get my poached eggs right. Their asparagus was dressed with dill, which I loved. And the poached egg was breaded and fried, making it crisp and crunchy outside, with that yummy velvety yolk inside that oozed everywhere like it should. I do happen to get a lot of satisfaction out of dipping my asparagus into a crater of egg white cradling the yolk, and this was harder to do with the breaded egg, but where else in this town have you had a breaded fried and poached egg? Nowhere I know of.
* Heirloom tomato salad. I often skip this on the menu, and I’m stupid for doing that, because the few times I’ve ordered it at places I’m always stunned at how delicious proper fresh tomatoes can be. These were meaty, flavorful, some perhaps a bit firm, and dressed nicely with other greens and chopped avocado, and with a crisp flatbread on top coated with some kind of young herby cheese. If a Santa Barbara spring or summer day can be presented on a plate, I think it would be a lot like this.
* Truffle mac and cheese. If you want to retain any fond memory of HobNob, let it be their truffle mac and cheese. A bit trite these days, but still good, and apparently a very popular item on the menu.
* Crispy pork belly over potato salad. OMG WHAT?! This was the favorite of the night, mainly because we are crazy for pork belly. It was golden brown and delicious, fatty without being greasy. The potato salad wasn’t the thick mayo shellac, but delicate chopped pieces more like a warm potato side dish.
* Kobe beef hot dog with coleslaw and housemade potato chips. Another OMG WHAT?! How did they know I not only love a good hot dog, but I love a freaking slawdog! The coleslaw came on top of the dog, big chunky juicy zippy slaw, my friend thought its spices were reminiscent of Korean chile sauce. At $9 it was one of the least expensive on the menu, and the most ample, a meal in itself. It is also very messy, with juices going everywhere. Maybe don’t order this if you’re wearing white or on a first date.
The food came out nearly all at once, which is cool for a big group, but there was two of us, at a small barside 2-top, it was a struggle to fit it all on the table and eat the food before it got cold. I often hear people gripe when their food comes out at different times, but with small plates near the bar, I’m there to graze and linger. As it turns out, I only had an hour to eat, so getting the food quickly was a good thing. But next time I’m there, I’ll order in rounds to keep things at a manageable pace.
One guy at the bar took care of us, and he was so nice and personable, my dining companion thought we knew each other prior. Nope. But if that’s what she thought, then I think he was doing a good job.
Throw in a glass of Brander white wine (sorry boozers, it’s just beer and wine here), the bill for two people was about $33 each. We probably ordered one item more than we needed. We rolled out of there stuffed and made our way over for an evening of PechaKucha.
Arlington Tavern (downtown)