It seems that 2013 has been the year of the motorcycle for me. It was 2011, though, that I finally got the nerves to even climb on the back of one. That was when my friend David scooted us around San Francisco, and it was perfect. Being able to go anywhere, in any traffic and always have a place nearby to park, that worked just fine. He understood that this was my first time, and he went slow and didn’t take any risks. Plus, the weather was awesome.
Maybe it’s because more of my peer group is in the mid-life crisis range, or maybe it’s because I’m finally noticing, but lately many of my friends seem to have motorcycles, and they seem open or even enthusiastic about me hopping on the back and going for a moto around places. This year I’ve explored some of the central coast, more of San Francisco, even a bit of Portland, on the back of a friend’s bike. For the Santa Barbara area, my friend Dan holds the medal of most times scooting around with me.
On this day, we went downtown to explore Focus on the Funk Zone, and the New Noise Music Festival. We grabbed some snacks and a sip of wine in the Funk Zone, but it wasn’t enough, and it was getting near evening. Both of us were keen to head south on the bike, so we took the winding backroads along the base of the foothills all the way out to Carpinteria. As with other motos, it was great to feel the wind and smell all the grasses and trees along the way until we reached the moist salty air of beachside Carp.
Dan is more acquainted with the brewery in the area, with no experience going to Sly’s. But that’s where I wanted to go, at least for a cocktail, and I was eyeing up a restaurant across the street for the meal if the offerings at Sly’s weren’t to Dan’s liking. But as it turned out, we walked into Sly’s exactly at Happy Hour! There were drink and food specials. We had no idea! Talk about hitting the jackpot.
Sly’s happy hour is 7 days a week, so yes, even on the weekends like when we were there. It’s 4-6 pm, in the bar section of the restaurant and people can either sit at the bar, or the tables in the front. There is one specialty cocktail at $8, and wells are $6, glasses of wine are also $6. Again, being lucky, tonight’s cocktail was the Whiskey Cocktail. I thought they were joking, since it’s my favorite cocktail from them, but it was real. I pinched myself.
The happy hour menu has a selection of bar nibbles available too. Shrimp cocktail, mussels, oysters, grilled cheese. Check out the photo of the menu just below, it’s probably easier than me typing it all out.
Immediately I ordered the Whiskey Cocktail, which went to Dan since it was his first and he needed to be a convert. For myself, I gave the Papa Doble a try, the Hemingway Daquiri. Recipes vary, the Sly’s version is noticeably low in sweetness, it tastes more like an elegant cocktail rather than a foofy drink. And no Papa Doble I’ve ever drank was a frozen concoction. After these, we took careful stock of our limit, and decided we could share one more drink. This time, Dan needed to experience their house gin and tonic. It turned out to be the perfect choice, since Dan happens to love this drink and, like many of us, was getting increasingly frustrated by the quality of mainstream tonic – too much high fructose corn syrup. He had started to shop around for making his own tonic. Well! Sly’s makes their own tonic, in the same way Dan was planning to. It was exactly what he wanted.
Note, though: if you want the housemade tonic in your G & T, you must specify and order gin and “house tonic.” The default is regular tonic water.
Pictured below, left to right: Papa Doble, Whiskey Cocktail, Gin and House Tonic.
Of course we ordered some food, there’s hot dogs on the menu! Turns out, Dan loves a good hot dog too, and rarely eats them for the same reason he was down on tonic – most of the stuff out there is pretty bad quality. But it’s Sly’s, sources are reputable here. We both got the “Odeon” French style hot dog. It’s two hot dogs on a thick slice of bread, broiled with creamy Gruyere cheese and mustard, $6.
I also ordered the chilled bay shrimp cocktail for $7, also delicious. This was enough to get us home, but if it hadn’t been we’d have been down for some mac and cheese. And Sly’s onion rings are also really good – really fine shavings lightly battered and piled high.
Needless to say, I was happy at Sly’s happy hour, and Dan was happy to have finally discovered Sly’s and the most awesome cocktails in 805. By now it was far into the evening, and we bundled up for the trip home. We took 101 this time, along the coast, and the last lights of the sunset were still glowing over the ocean for the whole moto to Santa Barbara, it was really beautiful. You know I’m not going to take a picture of that, I’m too busy clinging to the back of the bike.
Remember how The Pub was zoned on one side of 224 Helena Street, while La Tour was on the other side? There were two separate bar tabs depending on which business provided which product. Cocktails, beer, food came from The Pub. Wine, or most of it, came from La Tour, and the food came from The Pub…except if you got the cheese and charcuterie plates, that was La Tour…er, and if your wine was Californian, then that came from The Pub. Whaaaa?
Ok, I spend a lot of time there, so I could tell the difference. But most could not, and I totally understand why. So, the boys running the spot decided to make the experience a little more seamless. The separate tabs are gone. It’s one bill. And something else that’s changed? Classic cocktails are now a focus on the bar.
You see, one of them went away to France for a while and spent time immersed in old world elegance. Drinking amazing wines, eating amazing, yet simple, food. I think we’ll start seeing some of that influence the space.
Here’s a draft of some of the “new” cocktails. New in the sense that they’re new to the menu. Old in the sense that they are some of the classics.
I had the Mint Julep, which was perfect for the warm sunny weather that day. The sweetness cut the fire of the bourbon just right. It was, however, a wee bit too potent for me, and I needed to line my stomach very quickly with some food. One of The Pub’s grilled cheese sandwiches came out of the kitchen quickly. At $6.50, including a wee bit of salad, this is more a cheese panino than American grilled cheese. This uses a chewy bread, gouda cheese, and is grilled in a sandwich press. I’ve ordered it many times as both a quick snack to share with a friend, and as a simple meal for myself.
And since I was on La Tour’s side, and there are always interesting bottles open, I tried a splash of Santa Duc Les Garancieres Gigondas. Um, I cannot remember what it was like, but I did like it. Perhaps I need to start keeping a notebook there.
La Tour at The Pub – or was this visit more The Pub?
This was a very opportunistic visit, and I was caught without my good camera, or even my average camera. All camera phone, so sorry about the crummy pictures. Still! Rudy’s has moved into a bigger space in that fine stripmall known as the Calle Real Shopping Center. Just next door to a shop I was doing errands at, and it was around 11:30, i.e. lunchtime. So why not? We walked in for a bite.
Immediately we were greeted enthusiastically by the bartender, and although I would have loved to sit at the bar, my dining companion wanted a booth so we could talk amongst ourselves. That’s fine too!
Rudy’s has always been more of an occasional lunch spot for me, although I do have friends who favor their burritos and breakfast burritos with great devotion. The atmosphere has always been very casual, a little nondescript. Meaning, it’s perfect for a strip mall. But not anymore. The new space is way bigger, decorated quite nicely to feel more like a comfortable restaurant with dark wood paneling and big booths, and a lovely full bar as the centerpiece. Strikingly different for a strip mall in Goleta, no?
There is full wait service and a friendly man came round several times to greet us and take our order. He also brought a fancy basket of chips and a dish of salsa. We loved the chips, as they were very light and crisp. The dish of salsa was rather shallow, and I wished it could have been deeper to better enable salsa scooping, but no big.
My friend ordered a simple burrito of beans, rice and cheese. She gawked at the size of it on the plate, and immediately split it in half to take home and ate the other half. She said it was good. It cost $5.
The bill was about $13.50 after tax, before tip. Pretty reasonable.
Now, about those cocktails. I didn’t try any, but I did peek at the menu. There are specialties with a focus on margaritas, and do you know what I like best about this menu? There looks to be smaller portions for a few dollars less. Great for pipsqueaks like me who can’t drink very much. So thank you for that. I took a photo, and it’s pretty crummy, but better than nothing.
The Hungry Cat in Hollywood has been talked up by Sue to keep it fresh in my mind, and it turned out it was just a few blocks away from the little bungalow we stayed overnight. All we had to do was roll out of bed, stumble around a bit, then saunter over to Vine.
The restaurant was moderately crowded, but there was plenty of room at the raw bar and I love sitting at the bar, so this was perfect.
We got to watch the men prepare a variety of seafood dishes, including ours. Their hands moved swiftly but with gentle concentration, the memory of one man quietly tossing what turned out to be Gordon’s salad is still vivid in my head.
It was also interesting to see how this Hungry Cat was different to the Santa Barbara one, and in the course of conversation, the man who was working on Gordon’s salad joined in. It turned out he’d been assisting in the SB location fo a number of months. Including New Year’s day? I asked. He said yes, and then asked if I’d been at the table near the far side window. How about that. I’m fascinated that we were both in the same place, and happened to meet up again half a year later.
So, what’s different? Well, at the Hollywood Hungry Cat, the Cobb salad uses apple slices instead of citrus. Perhaps that makes the Cobb here more traditional. Either way, it’s good and Gordon found it to taste amazing. Mark that salad down as the highlight of this meal for him.
I ordered an item off the raw menu that intrigued me. It was Tandoori cured char, spiced lebeni yogurt, cucumber, pickled pineapple, pepper cress, dates and house-made naan, about $14. I had no idea what char was, but I loved it. The whole dish was great with rich spices, although I wished the naan was a little less crisp, it was difficult to slice with a fork and knife.
We also ordered a selection of pastries: a chocolate croissant, monkey bread, and a sticky bun. These were not made on site, but brought in from a pastry company, but they were warmed for us and the sticky bun had been cut in two for us to share.
For drinks, Gordon had a Bloody Mary with an oyster, while I had a non-alcoholic Grapefruit Cooler. This brings me to the second item that was different with the Hollywood Hungry Cat. The Grapefruit cooler in my town is more like a virgin Greyhound cocktail, using grapefruit syrup and candied grapefruit peel. The one in the Hollywood location was its own concoction of fresh grapefruit juice, fizzy water and fresh chunks of muddled grapefruit and fresh peel. Honestly, I like the one in my town a bit more. Using the fresh peel was a bit too pithy for my tastes. Still, it was refreshing to taste and I do like that recipes in each location differ according to their chefs and bartenders. And btw, I do believe Gordon quite liked his Bloody Mary with the oyster. Wish I could have had one, but I must be a responsible driver.
Bonus: the Hungry Cat was just a block away from Amoeba Records, where I did a 15 minute power shop for some Boards of Canada and other electronic fun.
Roadtrip with Gordon! We were en route to Los Angeles, and had our lunch pitstop in Carpinteria, at Sly’s.
Goal: to try the Whiskey Cocktail and profiteroles.
Gordon took photos of the menu, which I am grateful for. Instant reference. Check out the classic cocktails, and their great prices. Negroni, Manhattan, Moscow Mule, it’s all good.
Our bartender composed the whiskey cocktail with attention to detail, Gordon was delighted that it took several minutes to diligently compose the cocktail, slowly stirring the simple syrup and bitters, flaming the orange peel. It was perfect.
Then we set about our food. Bread for both of us, the lunch plate of steak frites with green peppercorn sauce for Gordon, and the sauteed sand dabs with salad for me.
Both dishes are just the right amount of food for us at lunchtime, not huge meals, but sensible ones. My sand dabs were buttery and flakey, while light tasting, especially when paired with a salad instead of a heavy starch.
For dessert, the profiteroles, of course.
Open only a week, and they have it dialed in. I walk in and the mood, atmosphere, knowledge of the menu, friendliness of the staff, quality of the food, everything fell into place just right. Plus, much of the ingredients are sourced locally from our farmers market or local businesses.
It helps that southen Spanish and Moroccan are two of my favorite cuisines to begin with. I didn’t ever go to fancy restaurants in my travels there, but I did experience the traditional dishes, the spices, and the Moorish architecture. And I felt this new restaurant embodied the spirit of the region albeit on the higher end.
The people working there already knew their stuff, down to cheese preferences and details of ingredients. Those who were clearly in training were under careful care of the experienced staff. I sat at the bar initially for a cocktail, but enjoyed the beverages and company of the bartenders that I stayed there for the rest of the night. The head bartender was Dudley, a modest but very sharp fellow who took very good care of me. And bonus: he announced that someone else in the restaurant had bought my cocktail. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Was it my perfume?
My dining companion and I didn’t hold back and ordered way more food then we needed, only because we wanted to try so much on the menu.
The cocktail menu is evolving, at the time I was there only four specialty cocktails were available and I tried them all. My favorite was the Palermo, similar to a Manhattan but with a piece of vanilla pod as a twist. Best of all, it’s served with real maraschino cherries. It’ll cost you $15, though, so be prepared. The other cocktails cost less. Again, extra props go to Dudley and Scott at the bar, for the conversation and information. I know I took up a disproportionate amount of their attention, and I’m grateful for their company.
Here are the four drinks.
Toarmina: Avion silver tequila, St. Germain, fresh grapefruit juice.
Foodwise, gah! Are you ready?
* 5 cheese platter, served with a little Pink Lady apple jam. There’s a 3 cheese option as well. 3/$15 or 5/$25. The cheeses were Garrotxa, Romao, Mahon Reserva, Pecorino Stagionato, and Queso de Valdeon. Served with Pink Lady apple jam and toast. The waiter first said and we all agreed: the favorite was the blue queso de valdeon. I also liked the cheese with the rind of rosemary, as the herb had infused into the cheese. I played a game – how much of the rind was I willing to eat into to get more of the musty rosemary flavor. Pretty far, it turns out.
* cured meat platter, including buffalo carpaccio. 3/$15. Loved the serranno ham with pickled onions and garlic aioli.
* Ricottta gnocchi. My dining companion’s favorite. Three dense pillows over creamed spinach and wine reduction, and topped with crisp baked cheese. Keep in mind this is quality over quantity. Three may seems like a small number, but they are a good portion for tapas.
* Saffon risotto. A cross between risotto and paella, with firm Spanish chorizo and mussels and plenty of saffron threads. It doesn’t look like a big portion, but it is very filling. This could have been a whole lunch for me.
* Albondigas. Four California lamb meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. Two were a little salty, two were just right. Very good tapa.
* Moroccan chicken breast as a main dish, with chickpeas, almonds, swiss chard, grapes, natural jus. Different to what I consider Moroccan chicken, but the spice combinations were good, loved the crisp grapes.
* Wild boar ribs, creamy polenta, roasted baby beets, smoked bacon, fig reduction. Yummy! A robust and rich dish, and a lot of food. Meat was super tender, deeply flavored, like braised meat. This was a big dish, worthy of its $25 price tag. I was so full on all the other food, I was only able to eat one rib before declaring my meal done and getting the plate whisked away to be boxed up.
There was a lot of food left over. Honestly, if you have a drink and a couple appetizers or tapas, there isn’t room for a main dish. And that’s enough because you still get a full dose of the lovely atmosphere, which took me back to Andalucia, or Chouen or Marrakesh. I went on a Tuesday, when the farmers market was just feet away from the protected patio, like our own little souk bustling outside.
Spotted dining there: old school Santa Barbarans, other local reputable chefs and restaurant owners, travelers. Some believe the Haj is more about the enlightenment obtained from the journey there, rather than reaching Mecca itself. Therefore, to take in a traveler and be a part of someone’s Haj is an honor, for you will be a part of their experience. I’d like to think that the people behind Cadiz believe in that, too.
I love a restaurant when I can “feel the soul of the chef” in my food. It doesn’t have to be a fancy place, it doesn’t have to be a hole in the wall, it comes down to the passion of the chef and the restaurant. It was good here!
But Cadiz made one mistake. They left the jar of Luxardo cherries next to me unattended. This is more their problem than mine, mind you.
So, the bill? About $200 and we got a helluva lot of stuff, more than is realistic for two people. We probably could have cut $100 off if we’d stuck to what we knew we could eat and drink. So much went home in doggy bags.
I returned here with some friends for the happy hour specials, where appetizers are half off.
There are also deals on beer and house wines, $3 wells, and $2 off the specialty cocktails and specialty shots, which are normally $8.50 and $7.50, respectively. So, YES, Killer B’s now has a full liquor license.
I tried the Sunset cocktail, which seemed similar to a Cosmopolitan in ingredients. Vodka, lime, cranberry, triple sec I think. One thing that surprised me was the size. Elegant, no. Big, yes. Weak, probably, but not to me since I am a lightweight. I had to nurse my drink for nearly two hours. Serving it up in a pint glass is quite popular to the hungry crowds, the manager hinted. They also hinted of cocktail experiments taking place, trying to incorporate some of Killer B’s unique sauces with say, a signature bloody mary. Sounds good to me.
As for food, it was a share-fest. We shared a platter of sweet potato fries (yum!) and the slider trifecta, getting a chicken slider, a pork slider and a beef slider, all dressed with coleslaw and served on little toasted buns. Finally, we shared an order of deep fried mac and cheese balls. Deadly and delicious, thank goodness we were sharing.
With my cocktail, 1 well drink and 3-4 beers, plus sliders and mac and cheese, the bill was $25, quenching thee people. Not bad!
Now for other deal news: lunch specials!
I picked up a flier for their latest lunch deal, called the Express Lunch Menu. The dealio is that the food will come in 30 minutes or less, or it’s free. The fine print: valid Monday-Friday from noon-3 pm, excluding holidays. Does not include alcoholic beverages. Dine in only, and most notify server prior to ordering that you’re “in a hurry” ya know.
So what’s the food?
BBQ Chicken Salad
All meals include a soda and one side. Starting at $7.99 and nothing is over $10. Whattadeal, you penny pinchers, tightwads, frugal gourmets, and lunch rushers. Plus, BBQ!
Killer B’s BBQ and Bar
A co-worker recommended Range, for being affordable and Michelin starred. I’d forgotten about it until the topic of dinner came up and we were thinking dinner in the Mission area would be most suitable for us to rendezvous with James.
Apparently seats here have traditionally been highly sought after, James said he went once before and gave up on subsequent visits because the reservation list was always too long. But today we gave it a short with just a few hours notice and got an 8:45 pm seating for four.
Bonus: great parking karma! We got space just across the street. Becca insists her parking karma comes because she’s drives a banged up old car – as soon as she upgrades her karma will go away. Meanwhile, we still reap the benefits of her amazing luck of parking in the city.
Seating was efficient and prompt, and we were in a small wing with two other tables. And those two other tables were filled with hip arty types talking about hip arty things. It’s intimidating to take a photo of my food when the person whose elbow I was accidentally touching was a professional food photogarpher, and ditto for the others at his table. But I learned: spraying scotch guard on a glass, then misting with water, will give the appearance of a big refreshing perspiring glass. So take note, oh food photographers.
The other table spoke of dating Christians. I didn’t get the details. But I did get details of the cocktails! All their speciality cocktails are $9.50.
Becca: Napoleon Complex – fair vodka, torres 10 year brandy, satsuma, mandarin napoleon, vanilla, lemon.
My drink was very nice, and if it was a little weak in spirit as reviews I’d seen often complain about, it was just right for me. I picked it because of the Encanto Pisco, an artisan spirit distilled in San Francisco but in the style of authentic Peruvian pisco. Plus, bitters!
For food, we all tried different things. Becca had the parmesan custard with endive, cara cara oranges and caper vinaigrette. She loved it, describing the balance of custard with savory as pleasantly unexpected. It was a beautifully plated item and would have been one of the favorites at the table…except that everyone else loved their appetizers, too.
Damon had the wild nettle stuffed pasta with goat cheese, lemon and almonds. He noted that the nettles didn’t sting at all! I also got no photo of this, as he was the farthest away at the table and I was intimidated by the professional food photographers right next to me (not working, just judging, I feared).
James ordered the item most reviews rave about: steamed savory clams with fennel sausage, fresno chiles and garlic toast. He said it was delicious, and I believe it. The clams were lovely and delicately small, the bread was perfectly toasted. He looked like he was enjoying this playground of seafood and sausage in his bowl.
I went with the raw Massachusetts day boat scallops with shaved fennel, marinated beets, blood orange and crème fraîche. I wanted seafood, and I wanted beets. Damn, I love beets! And maybe I was still disappointed by the small portion of beets were in my lunch salad. This was a wonderful dish, very fresh tasting yet tangy, sweet, bitter, creamy, crunchy, just all round awesome.
By now I was thoroughly intimidated by the professional food photographer talk next to me, so the only photo of the main dishes I got was my own. And it’s not even a very good one! I had the coffee rubbed pork shoulder with creamy hominy and collard greens. James had the same. This dish is described as the signature item of Range, the main dish that should be a part of anyone’s bucket list. It was insanely tender, holding shape on the plate until touched with a fork when soft strands would pull away like a dark rich butter. The coffee flavor was strong, and the meat in general had that intense slow-cooked taste. I might almost say it tasted a little tired, from being so strong tasting. James agreed.
Damon had the green lentil and portobello stuffed pan di zucchero with butternut squash puree, onion rings and yogurt. He seemed pretty happy there were onion rings on his dish! From my point of view, his dish looked like a piece of raw flank steak, rolled around some filling. It turned out to be the pan di zucchero, which is a kind of chicory, looking a bit like radicchio. That was the red lettuce with white veins that looked like meat with heavy lines of connective tissue to me.
Becca picked the winner, being the person at the table who figured out the appetizers were the way to go. She had whiskey and brown sugar glazed pork spare ribs with a carrot slaw. It was the perfect portion for someone not starving, and the pork shredded off the bones in fine thick pieces, and Becca found even the pork marrow bones were soft, edible and delicious. This spawned a whole new conversation about how everyone at the table – minus the vegetarian – loved roasted marrow bones. Yes yes, it’s good stuff.
For dessert, Damon had an espresso coffee, Becca had the blue cheese plate with honeycomb, and James and I shared a bergamot and bittersweet chocolate soufflé with earl grey ice cream. The texture of the souffle was perfect, warm, fuffy, chewy on the edges, creamy at the bottom. The bergamot and bittersweet chocolate was perhaps a little too bitter for me, and I feel that’s entirely a personal preference rather than a criticism of the souffle. Pairing it with the ice cream was a good balance, but I would have liked a little more ice cream to cut the bitterness of the cake.
Foodwise, everyone loved their appetizers. Mains were a mixed bag. None were bad, of course, but didn’t seem as interesting or innovative as the appetizers. And being a main course, they were decent sized portions, which was overly filling. If given the opportunity again, everyone agreed it would be better to order everything on the appetizer menu and skip the mains. I’m down with that, I love variety.
Range – Mission neighborhood
How do you like the nifty effects on my smartphone’s camera (it’s still working!).
This seemed the appropriate place for a pit stop after attending the afternoon interview with Mad Men producer, Matthew Weiner, at the Granada next door.
I had the “Protagonist” cocktail (left photo), he had the “Dress Rehearsal” cocktail (right photo). We both had jelly beans.
Note: happy hour is no longer offered on Sunday, only M-F 4-7 pm. Quelle bummer.