Summer’s idyllic moments
It’s hard to believe that it is already August. The typical May Gray and June Gloom days didn’t seem as prominent, and August has actually seen some scattered showers. Best of all, there have been no wildfires! Um, yet.
This past week was fiestas, and we conducted the traditional eating of Casa de la Raza’s tri tip torta, and beat each other mercilessly with cascarones. I caught the Fiesta parade (what, horses, again?) on Friday afternoon, and perched in a sweet spot over the funkzone to enjoy a little ocean breeze during the hottest part of the day. Then, it rained.
Sunday was the day of the brunch. So quintessentially Santa Barbara, or at least my Santa Barbara. We went to Aldo’s Restaurant at State and Figueroa and sat in the patio. It was wonderful to see good friends who were visiting the weekend after moving to Portland. The cheeky newlyweds at the table exclaimed, “we’re no longer virgins!” as they shuffled in the morning after their big day. Even our city’s mayor joined us, after a long day prior of making pancakes and other assorted civic duties.
My lunch was the salmon piccata, the item I felt offered the most variety on one plate for folks like me who do not like to commit to a mono-gargantua for a meal. There was a fillet of salmon with a wine wine, lemony, capery sauce, crisp tender vegetables, and a small portion of fettucine alfredo, $17. Just the right amount. If our table was too raucous for the tourist families and blue-rinsers dining nearby, sorry about that, but you should know: we were only at Level .5 – you should see the group at Level 2.
Afterwards, I went up into the hills to catch the tail end of another brunch. Those lingering on from the meal were in that happy state, with full bellies from food and mimosas. We had a good catch-up, even though our cabana boy was the worst. Cabana. Boy. Ever – 1 star on yelp, and enjoyed the last moments of the sunshine and an otherwise blissful weekend.
It’s our first all-day brunch at the Chapala house, apparently a long-standing tradition. It was so great to join in.
We flitted in and out throughout the day, stopping by once in the morning when the light was *angelic.* I’ve learned later that this apartment was once a photo studio. Makes sense!
We came back later at night, when friends were gathered around the garden fireplace for chatter and merriment. All in all, a lovely way to welcome in the new year.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
We had an all-day brunch to get to, but we weren’t sure what the food situation would be, so I made an executive decision to get food at a restaurant first. Oh yeah, Hungry Cat, baby.
I’ve said this oodles of times, but I can’t help it, it’s so relevant: a friend once said to me, “What’s the difference between an ordinary breakfast and an extraordinary one?” I gave up. “About five dollars.”
My friend wasn’t nitpicking over the warmth of the bread, the kind of coffee, or whether it has shelf-stable creamer packets on the table. It just comes down to whether you’re willing to pay a little more to receive a greater payback. By that I mean quality, rather than quantity. The folks at the Hungry Cat source locally, including our farmers markets, local breweries and local wineries. Their fresh fruit cocktails are amazing, and a great deal if you hit up their happy hours. But my treat at the Hungry Cat is brunch.
I think their brunch is under appreciated. Or maybe under advertised? While people are queued up out the door at other breakfast spots, I’ve always found peace and quiet at the HC’s weekend brunch. The cooks are not under pressure; so sitting at the bar can be fun with banter, or asking questions about what they’re cooking, since the kitchen is right there practically in open space.
Doug got the “market frittata” with breakfast potatoes and toasted ciabatta. It’s not what I’ve learned is a frittata, seemed more like a scramble to me, but I’ve seen this done at other restaurants and called frittata so okay, fine. This cost $12.
Ted normally gets the classic bacon, eggs and potatoes, but this combination was not offered on the menu today. But they could be done as a la carte items from the sides menu. Two eggs for $4, breakfast potatoes for $4 and their delicious house cured bacon for $6 (I’ve seen it for sale in the past at C’est Cheese). $14 for all.
And I had the Hungry Cat Cobb Salad. It was even better than the last time I ordered it! Coming in at $16, it’s a gorgeous combination of fresh crab, shrimp, chicken, bacon, avocado, citrus, hard cooked egg and long slices of pecorino over lettuce. It is also my favorite Cobb Salad in town. The citrus is orange and grapefruit, each peeled completely of its segment skins. The bacon comes thickly diced. And the dressing on it all is light and faintly spiced with curry, giving it a subtle exotic creamy flavor rather than the strongly salty tangy flavor of a more traditional Cobb Salad that uses blue cheese.
Final fact: it was a miracle we were moderately alert on this new year’s morning. The waiter accidentally spilled a glass of water while clearing the table and it went straight for Ted’s lap, yet he scooted right away, with nary of drop of icy cold water into his lap. That’s survival instincts for you.
I didn’t think I had it in me to go out in this rainy weather, but some friends pinged to suggest dim sum at China Pavilion. Immediately, I realized this was the perfect weather for it. Because this weather makes me want to drink tea, and the dining experience that most English speakers mistakenly call dim sum is actually yum cha. Literally translated: drink tea.
The real intent of this Chinese brunch experience is to drink tea, as the dim sum is just the small plates of food that is supposed to accompany the tea, not the other way around. There are some minor protocols to observe for yum cha, all related to being gracious at the table, rather than greedy. The first, you must drink some tea before eating any food. Second, serve tea to others before yourself, always. Third, if tea is served to you, thank this person by tapping the table while your tea is being poured, using anywhere from one to three fingers, depending on the level of respect given to the server. Three fingers is the highest respect, as it symbolizes a head and shoulders of a kowtow, or bow.
Tea protocols addressed, it’s time to dig in! China Pavilion has an admirable selection of dim sum, much more than I was expecting. Fifty-one items, according to the menu. Honestly, I have avoided dim sum in this area, because I would reserve this treat for trips to the LA area or Bay area, which have large Asian communities to support a diverse range of wonderfully fresh dim sum in vast dining halls.
While people claim that “real” dim sum is served from roaming carts, it’s not uncommon in many restaurants for it to be ordered from a menu at the table and delivered by the wait staff. This is how China Pavilion does it, and the menu has photos and a simple description of everything they offer.
I was part of a group of four, we sampled about 10 items over two pots of tea, and this worked out to be about $15 a person, after tax and tip.
Below: Shanghai Steamed Dumpling, $4.25. These have a little soup on them, watch out, they’re hot.
Steamed BBQ Pork Bun, $3.50, an all time favorite.
Not pictured, due to them being massacred before I could get a photo:
My longtime favorites are the steamed bbq pork buns, the fried daikon and the lotus wrapped sticky rice, and China Pavilion did not disappoint.
Yum cha with dim sum service is weekends only, 11 am – 2 pm.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
Post new year’s brunch, and I need delicious to start 2010 off right. Renaud’s does not disappoint.
Croissant. Flaky, buttery, crisp, and shredding in tender pieces.
Fried egg sandwich for my friend, with lovely dripping yolk, tomato, mushrooms and ham, between perfectly toasted bread.
Croque Madame for me, like Croque Monsieur but with a fried egg on top. Ooooh, with ham, melty cheese and lots of bechamel to pull it all together. We ate them with side salads, coffee and iced water.
You can look at my photos, but it’s not the same as eating them yourself. Suckas.
Shalene’s in town for Christmas, and we met up on a Sunday afternoon for brunch and a museum stroll.
We picked the Hungry Cat because it’s one of my favorite places for brunch, the cocktails are good, and their vegetarian option is not an afterthought on the menu. In fact, they are often so delicious I sort of wish I’d ordered it.
The Hungry Cat is one of the few restaurants in town serving Natura water. It is a water filtration and carbonation system so that regular tap water can be used. Go Local! Anyway, it costs about $2.50 for the water, with unlimited top ups. We got the fizzy water. We also shared the Greyhound Proper cocktail, using fresh squeeze grapefruit juice and their housemade candied grapefruit peel. Yum.
Shalene got the strata, which was lovely and delicious. And while the photo of it looks good, it just won’t upload to flickr, I have no idea why. So, sorry, no strata photo for you. I will say: I wish I’d ordered it, too.
Not that my meal was bad! No, it was good, too. I ordered the Cobb salad. It is, by far, my favorite Cobb salad in Santa Barbara, made with wonderfully fresh ingredients: crab, shrimps, eggs, avocado, house-cured bacon, peeled citris fruits and market greens. Really really good!
The brunch wrapped up with a saunter through the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Sundays is free day!
One Sunday morning while we were having coffee at the French Press, we got a call from T’s parents and it turned out they were across the street having brunch at Andersen’s. They invited us over for dessert.
I got the Honey Ring, made with custard and marzipan. Oof, very filling. Best to share with one other, but everyone else was getting French Waffles.
Meyer lemon curd, cream and biscuit.
I joined some friends too late for savory, but did order my sweet. And shared!
Another brunch, desperately needed to rejuvenate myself after a long weekend of setting up and playing at the Lucent l’Amour party in Los Angeles.
Ted got the crab scramble. I don’t remember sampling much of it, but his flickr photo describes the dish as “very good.” So there you go.
I ordered, for the first time ever, the Pug Burger. A fist of ground beef with local avocado, housemade bacon, and a pile of garlic and parsley french fries. I think it cost about $16? $2 extra to have a fried egg on top, which I skipped. But oh dear, the burger was massive and juicy, and the fries seemed endless. Thank goodness my brunch companion can pack away food like a chipmunk, he had to eat about half of it.
We sat at the bar and watched the guys preparing our food all the way through. As always, pleasant chatter from them as well, since the place was not that busy. Again, what’s with Santa Barbara stampeeding to all these mediocre gut-buster breakfast spots when such amazing, and locally sourced, dishes are served up here. This is rapidly becoming my favorite brunch spot – that may change if the public ever figures out my secret.
Photos by Ted Mills.
I was still reeling with enjoyment from my brunch at the Hungry Cat just a couple weeks earlier, I came here again with my friend Ted. He was actually in the mood for brunch at Tupelo Junction, but when we walked by it was heaving with people. And honestly, I like the Hungry Cat more. Hardly anyone seems to know, or appreciate, that the HC is open for brunch, the place was nearly empty.
We sat at the bar for good eats and idle conversation with the nice guys behind the counter.
We ordered and shared cornmeal biscuits and fried eggs with chorizo gravy (on left), and a classic breakfast of fried eggs, bacon and potatoes. I requested the eggs over medium and got just that. The bacon, incidentally, is smoked in-house. Fans of it can buy slices at local C’est Cheese.
While dining at the bar, we watched the cooks start preparing candied grapefruit peel for their Greyhound Proper cocktails, and we got to sample their housemade grenadine. It’s this kind of casual chatter and interaction that I like about the Hungry Cat, compared to other crazy-ass busy brunch spots.
After food, we hightailed it back to State Street for an afternoon showing of a Christmas Carol at the Granada Theatre. Happy Christmas!
Photos by Ted Mills.