Thank you for stopping by my place with your large sack that contained a lovely wheel of parmesan cheese. And for finally making good use of my 10″ chef’s knife to culinarily cut the cheese, so to speak, and leave me with a generous quantity of it.
I’m sad you’re gone, but New York is definitely more your style. I’ll come visit, I promise, and will try those macarons.
In foie we trust,
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 has been an extraordinary year for me with respect to food discoveries, and stepping beyond my boundaries. There are more good things and good people I ate with than I have the ability to mention. But there are some highlights of 2011.
First meal back at Full of Life: avocado pot de crème with egg, eaten with Tracey and company.
Uni and ikura rice porridge, Izakaya Sakura with Rob and Valerie.
Seagrass – the night of the amazing pork belly.
Snails at La Tour Wine Merchants.
Over time, Graham has picked up on my tastes and tolerance and for the first time ever, I’ve been completely comfortable with my (small) glass of wine. I’m not a wine snob, never was, and I’d liken my expertise more along the lines of benign ignorance, and the good people of La Tour have taken my hand and led me quietly but enthusiastically down the path of wine happiness.
Figs and prosciutto, Ca’Dario with Matchoo
In October 2010 I had the time to attend a number of epicure.sb events. Not so for 2011, and I’m sorry for that. But near the end of the month, Matchoo and I determinedly set aside the time for the prix fixe lunch from Ca’Dario. It was so good last year, with specialty house-made pastas and salads. This year, we were riding the bliss of attending the wedding of two close friends, the good weather, each others company, the list goes on. We met on a Saturday afternoon and shared a beautiful meal. I had the best prosciutto wrapped figs I’d ever had in my life. Heated until molten and melted together, but cooled to a comfortable eating temperature, all the flavors of the cheese, fig and cured meat had merged into a succulent mass, a sweet and savory ambrosia. The whole meal was great, but this was the unexpected treat. An old friend I hadn’t seen in years walked in during our lunch, she was there for the epicure lunch as well. Afterwards we both agreed the figs had been extraordinary.
Polenta from the Spare Parts Bistro
I was lucky enough to be an early adopter of the whole La Tour concept, when it was in that little supply closet downtown, and attended the inaugural supper club that combined the wine and new space of La Tour, and the food of Spare Parts. On this night, a group of us had no idea what to expect and were treated to a night of simple perfect food, the meal went on for hours. Tonight, I had the best polenta ever in my life. It was creamy, but firm, nutty and flavorful. It was the fourth course of the night. It had been served with house-made garlic fennel sausage, wild mushrooms and madeira. Then paired with 2008 Confuron-Cotetidot Bourgogne-Rouge. The whole meal was delicious, but the polenta in its simplicity stood out for me.
I took my parents to a food truck that served banh mi. While we all agreed it was tasty, my mother confidently declared that it was not proper banh mi, and set about making her own at home. At the beginning of the year, I received the Momofuku cookbook as a gift from her, and a year later it has yet to make it to my house – the book has been commandeered by my mother and I fully admit: she has made much better use of it than I could have. It helps to be retired and have a culinarily adventurous spouse, no? Her food truck “banh mi” experience sent her straight to the Momofuku tome and by next weekend I was invited over for a session of preparing and eating her version of banh mi. Matchoo joined in the fun, and we chopped vegetables and sliced SPAM while my mother grilled pork and toasted the bread rolls. The result was a pile of magnificent Vietnamese sandwiches, filled bursting with grilled meat, marinated crunchy goodies, nuts, and that heavenly nuoc cham that makes me salivate at the memory of it all. Then we had sticky rice and mango for dessert! There was a time I had some cooking skills that was on pace to match my mother’s skills, but man, I just don’t have the time for it anymore. I defer to the awesomeness that is my mother’s kitchen powers.
Sashimi with Gordon at Kobachi
We went all over town to events, running into friends, sharing the best cocktails here, and the best dive bar there, then lounging at an adorable bungalow in Hollywood, wandering Koreatown, getting Shpongled, then lingering over the raw bar for oysters and a bloody mary at the Hungry Cat. It all ended with an excellent meal at Seagrass, but the highlight was starting the weekend on such a positive note with Chef Ken’s exquisite sushi.
Sushi Tsune –tuna nigiri
Mai Tai Guy and I kicked off a whirlwind roadtrip to LA by pulling over in nowheresville in north Los Angeles county to a hidden gem in a nondescript strip mall. I was able to defer to Mai Tai Guy’s experience with the sushi chef and received an outstanding lunch of Japanese nibbles. It was my first time having orange clams, served first as nigiri, and a second course sauteed with sesame seeds and vegetables. The star of the meal was fatty blue fin tuna belly, and it was unlike any tuna I’d had before. I’m sounding like a broken record, but this marks yet another morsel that’s been the best I’ve had so far in my life. The chef was nervous when he saw my camera, and I think that this restaurant’s most loyal fans want this spot kept a secret, so I don’t talk about it much. But it deserves some year-end attention.
Many Meals with Nicky
Oysters – San Francisco, with Andy, Lisa.
Thank you, everyone, for listening to me, putting up with me swatting your hand away from the food so I can get my photo, letting me pressure you into checking out some new place or odd menu item. Thank you for playing with steamed buns, picking fruit together, dragging you up to some food or wine event in north county, or dividing up the entire dessert menu with me. It’s been great. Happy new year!
This evening’s special La Tour friend is Jonah. I love bringing people here for the first time!
He’d swung by the 515 project site, I was there and hungry, so we went off in search of food. It’s a slight challenge, as it was past 9 pm and most places still open was primarily greasy eats for happy drunks and we were getting indecisive and hangry. We did sort out our food (with a special visit from Tracey, awesome!), and en route back to 515 we peeked into La Tour. Bam, two empty seats and the three people already there excitedly welcoming us in to take them.
Nicky was at the helm, Jonah did the flight, I took my usual half a glass of something white recommended by the house. Here’s a shot of one of the winner’s of the flight. I’m kinda liking how the entirety of La Tour is reflected in the bottle (if you squint just the right way).
We walked out happy for several reasons:
* Jonah loved the space.
Recently I looked at my timeoff records at work and saw I had accrued so much time off I was on the cusp of losing it. I’m not much of a stay-cation gal (I should be, it would be good for me), so I’ve packed my bags and headed to San Diego for a long weekend where there are good friends to catch up with.
So far the time has been wonderful. I am reminded why I left here after school, but more importantly I am spending time doing all the great things my own city it too small to support and realizing I have more friends still here than I thought.
Clairemont Mesa Blvd and Convoy Street, for example, is a plethora of fantastic food and asian imports. Three trips there already in just two days, eating sushi, Korean banchan and bibimbamp, and a feast of incredible Japanese izakaya with flowing sake and soju. Thanks, Rob and Valerie!
My food friends send messages of their favorite places, and I’ve gone to check them out. A serendipity moment when I get an early morning message to check out Cafe 222, and when I arrive we are seated quickly while the queue behind us immediately jumps to an hour+ wait. Thanks, Rob B!
Serendipity 2 is a message from someone I met in a gaslamp speakeasy last year, with an invitation to see his new place and have breakfast. Pictured at top, it’s a massive 3000 sq ft full service condo overlooking the city and bay. He gives me a tip: get the oysters at the Hillcrest Farmers Market. Just my luck I am already headed there. We meet up with friends and chow on amazing freshly shucked Luna and Del Sol oysters. Thanks, Daniel!
The visit has timed well with an acquaintance’s annual beignet party, with wine, cocktails, bread, cheese, hot Pero and ice cream and of course, freshly fried french doughnuts dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Thanks, Sarah and Andre!
So far, so good. I’ve still two more days here.
The sausage fest gang, or at least the primary players, sent out an invitation to dinner. The food would be a mystery, just show up. I like that. But some of us did request some guidance on what to bring that would complement the meal, so eventually Nathan committed himself to making coq au vin.
I can work with that! Last summer on my England trip, I picked up some jars of rillettes and pate, and why should I hoard them. I packed up a terrine a l’Andouille de Vire – from Portobello market, some water crackers and some cornichons and headed over.
Six of us talked up a storm of local art and events, drank the wine, ate the pate, and dined on delicious chicken in wine with lemony potatoes and bowls of crisp greens. I like to feed friends, and be fed by them.
Nathan then sent us home with a jar each of homemade mixed berry preserves. We were oblivious to anything else around us. At least I was.
This weekend the Fishbon crew got together for a vision quest, so to speak. We sat down to review events this past year and what we saw for the future of the collaborative art group. And there was feasting, too.
Sitting out in Clay and Laura’s garden during a most summer-like winter afternoon was a treat.
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.
I think Kris and I had been talking about having dinner with her family for three years, and tonight we finally did it.
Her whole family is passionately engaged with food. Researching it, making it, writing about it, definitely eating it. Their kitchen is massive, with the largest center island/chopping board I’ve ever seen in a home. And the whole family contributes to the dinner process.
Shaun did the main dinner, making two of his favorites. First, pizza bread rolls. He made two kinds, one was vegetarian with lots of broccoli, the other was a sweet/spicy bbq chicken.
While waiting for dinner to bake, I browsed the kitchen, where a number of persimmons were hanging up to dry. This process is called hoshigaki, where persimmons are peeled, and gently massaged, resulting in a thick, chewy dried fruit covered in natural sugar crystals.
But back to dinner! I forgot to get a photo of the soup. This is also a specialty of Shaun’s, named Dada Soup. It’s made of ultra fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables, pureed and run through a chinoise, resulting in a rich, nutritious and creamy soup, even though it’s completely vegan. His young daughter loves it, and this is critical, as she gets many servings of healthy fruits and vegetables from it. Tonight’s soup had a lot of beets and carrots in it, resulting in a deep velvety orange-red soup that might look like it had tomatoes and cream in it, but actually had none. It was really really good.
The pizza rolls…well, how can you go wrong with fresh bread out of the oven. We ate way more than we should have.
Nancy was in charge of dessert, and she made a delicious bread pudding. While dinner was being prepared, there was vanilla ice cream freshly churning, and we got our pudding a la mode.
Last but not least, a carefully pulled cafe latte from Shaun, using Blue Mountain Kona beans and a special pump espresso machine. There was even latte art.
I was so full, he understood that I wouldn’t be able to finish the cafe latte, but I was happy to have a go at it.
This family knows their shit! My gift to them was two year’s worth of Saveur magazine, which I hope they’ll enjoy reading as much as I did and maybe inspire them. They’re already the types to travel abroad to learn different culinary techniques.
Maria’s getting ready to pop out a baby and lots of people got together to celebrate it! Most everything to eat and drink was provided by friends, and maybe a few items by Mrs. Costco.
Mini cupcakes and cake came from Shannon at Crushcakes.
Garlic bread…Mrs. Costco. :)
Not pictured, because it was consumed too quickly to be photographed: Carol’s lasagna, Jo’s salad.
Good luck, Chris and Maria. See you in 18 years!