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.
Roy was one of those places that popped up on my radar after I’d returned to Santa Barbara from school. It was one of the first, in my mind, that seemed approachable and affordable to a joe average person, and that sourced much of its produce from the farmers market long before it became trendy to do so.
Roy has always been an artist hub as well, drawing in local musicians, painters and the like. I run into art curators, art gallery staff, music writers, all sorts of artisans winding down their days, and they sit alongside happy hour office types, birthday parties, tourists and everyone gets along. I gotta give the place props for always having a local feel to it, from the old Jolly Tiger neon sign, to Brad Nack’s annual reindeer art show that sells out every holiday season. He and musician Spencer Barnitz (Gobble Song, anyone?) are often assisting with table service, too.
In recent times and recent economic downturn, Roy made adjustments to the menu to make smaller meals more affordable. At the worst of economic times, the restaurant offered a “soup kitchen” special at lunch, with soup and freshly baked bread for just $5. Now, there’s a $10 menu that’s good for dinner. The food on the menu isn’t necessarily different, it just offers the ability to mix and match the menu to suit your hunger level and the price you can afford. The prix fixe is still great, but I admit it’s too much food for me, especially if it’s late. For the most part, the $10 menu is the main course of the prix fixe meal, skipping the soup and salad.
The Nymphaea art installation gang and I headed over to Roy around 10 pm last week, after we’d all attended an art exhibition opening, and we explored some of the $10 options. The menu is still hand-written, as I’ve always known it to be.
The meal started out with the usual hot bread we’ve always had at Roy. It’s a whole wheat sliced loaf, served with butter. Fresh, nutty, delicious and so good we had two rounds of it before our main dishes even arrived.
Robin and Jon got the pork chop. It’s a thick cut of pork topped with sauteed apples, and served alongside market vegetables and Roy’s signature potato pancakes and creme fraiche. Roy’s also used fresh rosemary sprigs as garnish for as long as I’ve been eating there, so expect there to be a lightly infused flavor of rosemary to everything on the plate.
A favorite dish from the $10 menu is the mussels in a white wine sauce with housemade fettuccine. I’ve had this several times, although not tonight, Ted got it. I don’t know how Roy does it, but these mussels are some of my favorite in town. Each time I’ve had them, they’ve been plump and tender, almost buttery. If you can, save some of the bread to sop up the juices of dish.
My dish was chicken marsala with lots of tender mushrooms in the sauce, and the usual vegetables and potato pancakes on the side. Yummy. Another good item to save a little bread to soak up any remaining Marsala wine sauce.
The ambiance is dark and eclectic, with candles at the table and arty lamps spread throughout. The people who eat there run the range of young and old, hip and mainstream. I generally like to eat at the bar and chatter with friends who can come and go as they please, but it’s sometimes nice to sit farther back in a booth along the wall and enjoy a little privacy. Tonight we had a booth, with Nik and his visiting family in the booth next to us.