Cherries. Is there ever really enough of them?
During cherry season, EAT AS MANY CHERRIES AS POSSIBLE.
Sage advice from my father many years ago and I take this advice seriously.
Thanks to the recent Edible Institute that took place in Santa Barbara the weekend of March 16-17th, I got to try fresh oysters from Open Ocean Shellfish. They’re referred to as Hope Ranch oysters, as this is the area where they are cultivated, although they are specifically Pacific Oysters (Crassostrea gigas). I have certainly eaten them at numerous restaurants in town, this was the first time I had them directly from the oyster farmers.
Our Hope Ranch oysters at Edible Institute were served alongside glasses of sparkling wine during a break. Delicious! Briney, with a little crispness to the bite. I only took one, to allow the visitors from farther away to eat more, I can always get some at the farmers market. And I did this past weekend.
Eat and enjoy! I had four raw, and two I threw briefly onto a skillet with some olive oil, then ate with the mignonette. Both good. Raw is better, of course. You can also slice off the little scallop piece that attached the oyster to the shell and eat that.
Open Ocean Shellfish sells at the Saturday morning Farmers Market, in the corner farthest from Santa Barbara and Cota Streets. 8:30 am – 12:30 pm. They also supply shellfish at the Fish Market at the Harbor.
I’ve had breakfast and lunch only – no dinner yet.
If you are staying at the Indigo Hotel, aren’t you the lucky one to have this food brought to you in bed. It would be such an incredible luxury.
But I simply walked in the door, sat the bar on two occasions and a small 2 top later on, and thoroughly enjoyed my meals nonetheless. Maybe it was because it was the first beautiful days of quintessential Santa Barbara weather (“Sunny. 72. Next update in 5 days.”) that broke everyone’s pseudo Seasonal Affective Disorder from the freezing temps of 2013, or maybe because it’s damn good food.
If it can be made in-house, it is. If not, it’s sourced from local purveyors and those names are available online, or ask.
My first visit, I had the two eggs any style, with bacon or sausage, potatoes and toast. I opted for poached eggs, it came in a pretty bowl with a sea urchin pattern. The house bacon is sweet and smokey, not salty. Potatoes were delicate little roasted things. $10.
My friend had the tomato braised Niman brisket with poached egg and potatoes, a tender mass of good things. $16.
Second visit was lunch with a very hungry friend, we got loads of good things.
* Mushroom pizza – made with local mushrooms and truffle oil. This is good to share with a friend. The truffle was not overpowering. I’d like to try their other pizzas, I just love the fresh char and smoke on crusty bread.
* Panna cotta – very enjoyable of the desserts we got. At first my friend seemed critical of the dish, it wasn’t apparently jiggling in a way he would have expected. But in time he admitted it was good. I liked the touch of seeing lots of vanilla seeds throughout the dish. I’d get this again.
Third visit was another breakfast, less than 24 hours after I’d had lunch. We tried the crab and eggs benedict, the breakfast sausages, and another cinnamon roll. All were delicious, and the sausage made in-house, but now that I’ve had both bacon and the sausage, I’ll stick with the housemade bacon. It is so good.
Everyone working there was extremely nice and knowledgeable. Sitting at the bar is a pleasure, where you can look up in awe at the variety of liquor available. I’m eyeing up the Negroni. But that’s for another visit.
Anchor (adjacent to the Indigo Hotel, with a street entrance and hotel entrance)
This location has seen some contentious times – different concepts, but usually there’s been a common element of ownership or staff throughout those times. One outcome of an intense experience is that the group that shares it become strongly bonded together, I know what this is like.
On a recent weekday evening, the front and side was packed. Older locals, young scenesters with pressed shirts and popped collars, maybe a blind date or two, maybe some casual co-workers, a good upwardly mobile mix of people, that’s a good sign. It had the feeling of a neighborhood joint that someone in a fancy dress, or a pair of flipflops would be comfortable in.
The food was a pile of ridiculous happiness. Dishes you’d recognize on the menu, with a little twist to make it their own. Plated perfectly, like a little work of art, I almost felt bad about stabbing them with my knife to break it down into bite size pieces.
I was there with one friend, we plowed into the following.
* Asparagus and poached egg. One of my favorite comfort foods, if only I can ever get my poached eggs right. Their asparagus was dressed with dill, which I loved. And the poached egg was breaded and fried, making it crisp and crunchy outside, with that yummy velvety yolk inside that oozed everywhere like it should. I do happen to get a lot of satisfaction out of dipping my asparagus into a crater of egg white cradling the yolk, and this was harder to do with the breaded egg, but where else in this town have you had a breaded fried and poached egg? Nowhere I know of.
* Heirloom tomato salad. I often skip this on the menu, and I’m stupid for doing that, because the few times I’ve ordered it at places I’m always stunned at how delicious proper fresh tomatoes can be. These were meaty, flavorful, some perhaps a bit firm, and dressed nicely with other greens and chopped avocado, and with a crisp flatbread on top coated with some kind of young herby cheese. If a Santa Barbara spring or summer day can be presented on a plate, I think it would be a lot like this.
* Truffle mac and cheese. If you want to retain any fond memory of HobNob, let it be their truffle mac and cheese. A bit trite these days, but still good, and apparently a very popular item on the menu.
* Crispy pork belly over potato salad. OMG WHAT?! This was the favorite of the night, mainly because we are crazy for pork belly. It was golden brown and delicious, fatty without being greasy. The potato salad wasn’t the thick mayo shellac, but delicate chopped pieces more like a warm potato side dish.
* Kobe beef hot dog with coleslaw and housemade potato chips. Another OMG WHAT?! How did they know I not only love a good hot dog, but I love a freaking slawdog! The coleslaw came on top of the dog, big chunky juicy zippy slaw, my friend thought its spices were reminiscent of Korean chile sauce. At $9 it was one of the least expensive on the menu, and the most ample, a meal in itself. It is also very messy, with juices going everywhere. Maybe don’t order this if you’re wearing white or on a first date.
The food came out nearly all at once, which is cool for a big group, but there was two of us, at a small barside 2-top, it was a struggle to fit it all on the table and eat the food before it got cold. I often hear people gripe when their food comes out at different times, but with small plates near the bar, I’m there to graze and linger. As it turns out, I only had an hour to eat, so getting the food quickly was a good thing. But next time I’m there, I’ll order in rounds to keep things at a manageable pace.
One guy at the bar took care of us, and he was so nice and personable, my dining companion thought we knew each other prior. Nope. But if that’s what she thought, then I think he was doing a good job.
Throw in a glass of Brander white wine (sorry boozers, it’s just beer and wine here), the bill for two people was about $33 each. We probably ordered one item more than we needed. We rolled out of there stuffed and made our way over for an evening of PechaKucha.
Arlington Tavern (downtown)
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!
Props to an acquaintance, Jonathan, who had given me some details about Cielito that got me excited to eat here. He spoke of high quality, well-sourced fresh ingredients. That, I can get behind. My friend Eric was in town for the holidays, we were in the mood to splurge, so we came here a week or two after its opening and really enjoyed it.
The chef comes from Arigato, so I was expecting a stylized interpretation of Mexican cuisine, with good plating. Expectations were met on that level, and then exceeded by tapas style dishes that reminded me of higher end Peruvian tapas.
Eric and I agreed that the prices were reasonable if not slightly underpriced for seasonal, locally sourced fresh ingredients and housemade everything, including the tortillas and chips. We ordered 5 dishes, 1 dessert, 2 margaritas, and the bill was just shy of $100 after tax, before tip, and we brought home leftovers.
Loved the ceviche, which is prepared at a special raw bar that folks can walk up to and watch. We got the sampler ($18), which came with a basket of corn and plantain chips.
* Coctel de Atun Tropical - yellowfin tuna, mango-grapefruit salsa, citrus broth. Pictured far left.
* Ceviche Verde – local halibut, olives, avocado, red onion, pickled cabbage, tomatillo-serrano sauce, plantain chips. Pictured in the back.
* Ceviche Peruano – sea bass, aji amarillo pepper, red onion, red jalapeno, cucumber, crispy choclo, sweet potato, lime-ginger sauce. Pictured front right.
Also from the raw bar, a half dozen oysters, which came with tomatillo-habanero salsita, jalapeno minoneta and lime wedges, $14. Our server struggled a little remembering the names and origins of our oysters, but we were really grilling her on them. I wish the oysters came with little spoons, the forks it came with made it hard to get some of the juices of the accompanying sauces.
Moving onto “artisan antojitos,” we got these items:
* Empanadas de Jaiba y Camaron – two crispy corn turnovers, sauteed Mexican white shrimp, fresh crab, Mexican cheeses, tomatillo-avocado sauce, mango-habanero glaze. $12
* Sopesitos de Costilla - four crispy corn mini-boats, Negra Modela guajillo-braised short rib, black beans, avocado, fresh cheese, tomato broth. $11. We were sitting in an area of 2-tops and the tables on both sides of us ordered this as well, and everyone seemed to be enjoying them.
* Cazuela de Chorizo con Rajas - homemade Mexican chorizo, roasted poblano rajas, Sonoma jack, Manchego cheese, queso cotija, tomato broth, $10. This was the most “comforting” of all our dishes, really hot and bubbly, and came with fresh tortillas. I took some of this home and it reheated to make an awesome rajas-style taco.
For dessert, we shared the opera cake, $8. Layers of chocolate almond cake, soaked in tequila. It’s a dainty portion, but very rich and we were happy to share this between the two of us.
There’s an impressive selection of tequila, and a range of cocktails. The signature margarita is just $8, while the more mixology ones range from $10-$13.
I really liked that the small plates came with morsels that easily divided for two people, like two empanadas, and four sopes per order. Really great for sharing.
If you want something faster and more casual, there’s a separate taco and tamale counter. You can’t order from this menu in the main dining rooms, counter service only. I’m most curious about the tamales on this menu, but haven’t yet tried any.
The atmosphere was also very enjoyable, perfect for one of those dress-up nights on the town where, for a moment, we can pretend we’re dining in a bigger, more cosmopolitan city, then walk outside into our quintessential Santa Barbara tile and terracotta arcade.
Not all was not perfect! Some whingy bits:
* The ceviche assortment, while beautifully presented, was a structural disaster waiting to happen. It’s served in long-necked glasses which are top-heavy. These are then placed in a bowl of chipped ice, supposedly to hold the glasses sturdy, but the bowl itself is rounded, it’s not sturdy at all. We leaned our glasses against each other to keep them from toppling over, re-arranging them every couple minutes because once the glass tips over, there’s no saving the fish that’s fallen into a bowl of melting ice. Best to simply put the ceviche in small glass bowls nested in the larger iced bowl, then they won’t tip over and the ice may actually keep the fish chilled.
* A 2-top is not big enough for two people ordering a meal of small plates. Once two dishes were on our table, it was full and plates started overlapping, stacking and felt like a messy kitchen counter. For a place that has a strong focus on small plates in a sleek, elegant surrounding, this is constantly going to be an issue. My solution is simple enough, I’m going to ask for a bigger table next time.
Overall, very enjoyable! Loved the interpretation of central and south American food, going beyond the standard street-food style fare this town primarily offers.
It was a mellow night, and I met with a friend for a catch-up chat. He’d not yet been to La Tour, so I insisted. He tried a flight of wine under Graham’s recommendations, and I had my usual splashes of whatever was good. Some European stuff.
But what I *really* wanted was a charcuterie plate. It’s hit or miss whether the plates are available. All the charcuterie is made locally by a chef who does it as a side job under the name Spare Parts, and when he’s slammed with his regular work we go without yummy charcuterie. I was in luck and here’s what was available.
* rabbit rillettes
There was also a little wedge of some soft creamy cheesy thing that I ate a lot of, but forget the name. I ended up sharing with my friend and another fellow sitting at the bar. Extra crackers, please. $12.
La Tour (@ The Pub)
On Wednesdays the special of the day is banh mi.
They use curry-marinated chicken, shredded daikon (radish), sweet peppers, carrots, cabbage with a Vietnamese-style dressing on a granary baguette. It included side portions of sweet tangerines and apple slices. The apple has a light turmeric dressing, which makes them derishous. The meal is $9.
This is Corey’s lunch. I didn’t have as much stomach real estate and asked for a half sandwich. Mine was $4.75 and still came with tangerines and apples. The filling is yum, but the bread is a bit tougher than I prefer for banh mi. However, later that day a friend send me a picture that stated: people who eat white bread have no dreams. So perhaps today was a good day to have granary bread.
This was my second time attending a supper club hosted by Red Star and La Tour. And as a first, Pink was the guest chef. This excited me to no end, as I loved her food when she was at Square One (RIP). Her commitment to the farm-to-table approach to food resonates well with me, and she’s so fun and approachable as well.
I didn’t take any photos. This time, I wanted to fully enjoy the experience.
The event took place in Al’s funkzone loft on Helena Street, a large industrial space tastefully designed with local art. This evening’s dinner was set on two round tables, each seating 8 people. Decorating the diagonal space adjacent the tables were flickering fires which added a feeling of warmth to the room.
As with other dinners, we started the evening with a glass of sparkling pinot in vintage-style champagne glasses. We got to mingle upstairs and make introductions. When we sat down for our meal, this was the awesomeness presented to us.
First: Bacon brioche.
Second: Jamón Ibérico De Bellota, with crisp albino acorn squash polenta.
Third: Shaved fennel, chioga beet, Buddha’s hand, handmade chevre.
Fourth: Potato potage, smoked truffle compote.
Fifth: Brown butter sable cookie, foie gras, walnuts and pomegranate.
Six: Squab with pork belly and prune,“dirty rice,” curly mustard, armangac reduction.
Seventh: Pumpkin moussaline, spiced chocolate ribbon, ancho-chile anglaise.
Pink and crew put together this amazing meal using little more than camping stove equipment, a feat in itself. The back wall of the loft, where the gang worked, opened out into a vast open field. It opened the space even more, let people work in a cool environment, and further added to the “camping” appeal of working under the stars.
Eating in with one of my favorite foods, eggs.
Poached egg and asparagus.
Peacock farm eggs. Asparagus from that stall that always has asparagus and artichokes. Tamworth bacon from C’est Cheese.
Heaven. Even when eaten over the sink.