Yay! More food trucks in Santa Barbara!
I know our food and food truck scene is totally podunk compared to Portland and Los Angeles, but that’s okay, it’s not a big town plus I know we have a zillion restrictions and guidelines that make these kind of small start-ups difficult.
O Street appears to have been in business for about two weeks now, and I got some feedback from a friend here and there that managed to get to the truck before I did. They gave a thumbs up. And I visited the truck recently on one of its Goleta days.
It was a gorgeous day in Santa Barbara (is it redundant to say that?), the truck’s brightly colored and difficult to miss. We also beat the rush.
The menu’s clearly posted outside, offering a simple range of bahn mi, Vietnamese flavored tacos, soup and salad, and drinks. The bahn mi is the most expensive item on the menu, but is still just $5.
I had a beef bahn mi first. It had a decent amount of flavorful meat, and a delightful portion of crunchy goodies like cucumber, carrot and cilantro, then was drizzled with a tangy sauce. I really liked that the baguette was slightly toasted and warm, giving it a light crispness when I first bit in. The filling in the sandwich was not as packed full like the photos on their website, but whose promo pictures are truly representative of the actual item in hand. Yeah, like nobody’s. They were fine, and need I point this out again? Just $5.
The bahn mi comes wrapped in paper and I suggest you use that paper. The juicy meat, the watery cucumber and the sauce all contribute to a drippy mess.
But that’s not as drippy as the tacos! Those don’t have any soft bread to soak up the good stuff. They are $2 for chicken taco and $2.50 for beef taco, I had one of each. They are essentially the same as the sandwich, but served on two small corn tortillas. The tortillas as spaced out slightly to hold the filling and fall apart quite quickly, so I recommend grabbing a fork from the truck to tuck in. Plus, more napkins.
There’s also little single serve pastry pizza available. I believe this is a carry-over specialty of the truck’s owner before she went into the food truck business. The crust is a flaky pastry, which can go from crisp and buttery to soft and oily quickly if you let the pizza sit around too long. There’s a red sauce and white version available, I had the white one with goat cheese and onions. $4. It’s good, but definitely more delicate. If you want the bigger bang for the buck or be full faster, the bahn mi is the way to go.
So I had one sandwich, two tacos and one pizza. It cost $13.50 and fed two. That’s a good deal.
Another thing that impressed me about O Street was its marketing. I automatically turn off of aggressive marketing that occurs before a business opens because it hypes up the business without any substance yet to back it up. And we all know that the theory of how a company first opens for business can be far different to its execution. O Street got close to borderline over-marketing with media articles before opening, but never quite crossed it. They were on twitter early talking up their launch, but it was more on a level of engagement rather than trumpeting without listening.
O Street also knows its audience. This is cheap eats, easy to grab and go, very tasty for someone with the munchies. It will be very good for a hungry crowd outside a club, but sensible enough for the daytime office types. Just grab lots of napkins so the tangy sauce doesn’t drip over your pressed shirt.
Yeah, it was alright. I snagged the grand tour reservation with 3 days notice, dining 2 days later. Don’t give up on the wait list, baby.
I probably enjoyed the chicken liver pate with bacon, caramelized onion paper, and vin santo in terms of tastiness.
I probably enjoyed the duck, foie gras and mole flavors surrounded by the warm fragrance of heady nuts and spices in terms of interestingness.
Environment and food seemed “yang” to me.
So I had to balance that out by making constant references to licking beef curtains with the wagyu beef presentation.
The dinner, maybe it could use a course called “promenade,” where a favorite server would take us for a walk around the block to break up the pace of four and a half hours of gastronomic self-indulgence.
The wine pairings were excellent with fine verbose explanations.
The menu composition, Edward Tufte would be proud.
Hey, yeah, it’s good stuff!
A friend suggested I try this place out, upon learning on short notice that I’d be visiting Chicago. We snapped up a Sunday reservation with 3 days notice, no problem.
Love the door, it’s like a secret entrance. Can’t find it, then NO L20 FOR YOU.
Hanging out in the little lounge area is also nice. Like a little calm moment of zen before the culinary explosion blows up in your face. I happened to like the white pod chairs, but my uber tall dining companion didn’t. We secretly prayed for seats on the wall sofa section…and got them. Sweet.
Opted for the four course menu, so we could divide up the options. I adored everything I got, in fact, I felt quite the smug winner that the stuff I ordered was really cool and yummy and delicious and awesome.
Amuse buche: something really small and salty. More on that later.
Warm: hamachi and foie gras. *TUD* like I fainted and went to heaven. Three fat slices of pure foie gras, seared on one side. Perhaps my favorite dish of the evening.
Main: lobster with peach, tarragon and cauliflower fritters. Lobster with tarragon was rocking my world. So delicious. The cauliflower fritters were also crumbed with these crunchy little beads, which was a great contrast to the smooth puree of the cauliflower.
Intermission: melon sorbet with lime. Unexpected and very tasty. It was half like granita and half like sorbet. Nice texture. No photo. :(
Dessert: chocolate and raspberries. It was more like 5 or 6 desserts with all the various ways the chocolate and raspberries were presented. Frozen, smooth, dark, milk, foam, COTTON CANDY, gells, polka dots. The server did not have to ask me if I enjoyed it.
Surprise: a button of chocolate fizzy something. It just popped and fizzed in a pleasant and surprising way. Rich person’s version of pop rocks.
Extra surprise: pistachio macaroon.
They took care of us until near 1 am, then sent us home in a nice car that was even less expensive than the gnarly cab that got us there. They also sent us home with a beautiful sealed envelope containing our menus for the evening.
I would give it 5 stars even though:
* Janky cab totally took us to the wrong address. Not L20′s fault, of course, but it was a crap way to start the evening.
* The amuse buche kinda sucked. My spoon tasted of rotten metallic eggs, it was super gross. It was the tinest morsel of food, but it did make me really nervous how the rest of the meal was going to turn out.
* The bathroom locks. Really cool restrooms, but for some reason none of the patrons who used the restrooms thought they locked. I visited there twice and both times pushed right in on someone else doing their business. What is up with that? I could see and use the locks, why couldn’t anyone else? Really embarrassing. I had to sit in there and watch the lone guppy potter around his little aquatic garden tank for several minutes to mull over this confusing situation.
Other quirk of the evening: the little rolling boxes that contain extra napkins and silverware and trays. The staff there push them around, constantly pulling odds and bobs out of them. I called them cabooses because they simply followed people around. Are there midgets in there handing goodies out?
I took a little peek at the pastry menu last night during a downtown stroll and even though I’d had ample and delicious nibbles elsewhere that evening, I knew I couldn’t pass up a small plate of something here.
The peach tart tempted me, but the chef recommended his dessert special. Dessert special it was, at the bar, please.
But first, a surprise dish of a slice of pate on a little toast with a citrus sauce. The toast must have been cooked over high heat, because it was crisp on the outside and soft inside, which was easy to cut with a fork and lovely to eat.
And then, the dessert. Local butternut squash in a fine mash rolled up in a crisp pastry shell with pecans on top, served with fig coulis and pecan ice cream. I loved the textures of everything. The pastry was warm with the crunch, the ice cream was cold and smooth, the pecans brought it together with its organic bumps and ridges.
The owners were great and talked to lonely little me at the bar. Over an hour later, I’m presented with the bill of $8.
Mouthfulls of art for $8. That’s a better deal than any piece on a wall or pedestal I saw at First Thursday.
Update: 5 March 2009
Left: butternut squash bread pudding. Right: pot de creme with pistachio.
Another successful dessert evening after First Thursday. Who can deny this is a fabulous way to end the night? Desserts are still a paltry $8 each.
Word on the street is that Square One will be making some interesting changes to their menu in the coming weeks.
The changes will be that ALL their food will now be sourced locally within Santa Barbara county. Currently, their menu states, “we are committed to using organically grown and sustainably raised ingredients.” No kidding!
I think that is amazing and awesome. I’m not sure there is a single other restaurant in Santa Barbara that does this. Even the beef, I believe, will be coming from Lompoc. Produce will come from local farmers, or the owners’ farm in Los Olivos. Also the beer on tap will be locally brewed, and it’s my favorite beer, too, Telegraph.
The downside will be that the foie gras will probably disappear from the menu. Currently it’s “artisan foie gras torchon: rhubarb, grapefruit foam and maldon caramel.” Augh, that sounds *so good*.
So now I have reason to eat there asap, and in a few weeks.
Oh, and the white linen tablecloths will be switched over to sustainable hemp cloth. These guys are serious about being local. I raise my glass to that.
Everyone in my dinner party agreed – the meal we had here at Square One was one of the best we’ve had this past year.
The place is owned by the chef and head waitress who put their heart and soul into the creative dishes.
A year ago I ate here and was very disappointed that the foie gras on the menu was not actually available that night. Later, I learned through the grapevine that the owners have incredibly high standards for the ingredients they acquire and would rather not give you anything at all than something they would consider less than perfect. Knowing that, I forgive them.
It’s probably cost them business from people who’ve grown to expect complete and consistent uniformity of mediocre food that chain restaurants provide, but I admire the owners for not compromising on their passions. They even grow some of their own produce at a farm in Los Olivos to ensure it’s exactly to their liking.
Anyway, my meal. UH-mazing. We all ordered the prix fixe menu ($65 or $75 each?) that’s four courses, plus little appetizers served inbetween that came with the meal.
But first, I finally got the foie gras I’d wanted a year ago. It was foie gras served three ways, whole with sweet sauteed…apples?, a pate and a “foam” all whipped up and soft and buttery. My god, so good.
We also got an appetizer from the specials that night, a duck egg with sauteed greens and truffle.
There were two small morsels before the final course, a little chocolate truffle and a profiterole with a spicy ginger sauce. How did they know I am a profiterole JUNKIE?? I love them for that.
The actual dessert was poached pear with tamarind sorbet and a little finger of toasted walnut bread still smoking/steaming hot from the oven.
The head waitress helped us pick out a wine, a pinot noir like none I’ve had before. Light, fruity and just perfect with all the seafood we had that night.
Coming here was a real treat. I wish more people in Santa Barbara would give it a try and I can have a gander at why it’s not as popular as it should be.
1. The interior can be viewed as “sterile.” It’s very simple and quiet and seems to say, “For Foodies Only.” That’s not true. The people inside are very friendly. I’m not a foodie.
2. The cost seems prohibitive. The bill was about $100 per person after tax and tip. But think about it, it was four stated courses, plus three little “intermission” plates for each of us, and two shared appetizers from the menu, one of which was the incredible foie gras. And a bottle of wine. We dined for about two and a half hours, and we were full.
Plus, there are affordable items on the menu. Many appetizers are in the $9-10 range, and their gourmet burger is $15. In Santa Barbara, that’s not unreasonable.
They’ve got my vote. Now I just have to wait for another payday to come around…