Something very special happened this past weekend and it had nothing to do with large men wearing lots of protection running around the grass and taking breaks every 40 seconds. It has everything to do with turning a year older and having super awesome straight up baller friends.
First, I remembered that Greg and Rob in the past had flown into town in Greg’s plane to have lunch. On Saturday I whimsically sent Rob a message, “Ya wanna?” and they’re all like, “Dude! Hells yeah.” Meanwhile, a third friend Mike who caught wind of the action going down is all, “Psst, I want in, but keep it on the DL.” **
What resulted was Greg and Rob flying into town at noon on a private freaking plane, I collect them at the Atlantic airport for private planes (they get free coffee and fresh baked cookies there, did you know that??) and we go to Via Maestra 42 for lunch, where Mike’s already waiting at a table for us. Surprise!
And what a fabulous lunch we had. How quickly we forget that Santa Barbara has some nice Italian food outside of the popular spots downtown. Via Maestra is a small gleaming gem in the mid-late century of uptown suburbia. It’s tiny inside, reminiscent of European bistros, waitstaff that are proud of their product and their positions, and quick to give great recommendations. Our guy pimped his caffe lattes very well.
The boys went the more traditional route of ordering main dishes. But I started with San Pellegrino bitters, as Via Maestra is one of the few places I know that serves it. So nice of them to put it in a fluted glass with a slice of lemon.
And while they feasted on the house salads their main dishes come with, I have a more substantial dish called the Tricolor Salad (but spelled in Italian). It was a baby green salad with candied walnuts, dried fruit, prosciutto and blue cheese. Beautifully presented and substantial, a meal in itself, especially if you’re ordering dessert (hint of things to come).
Food came generally at once, so while I was digging into my lovely salad, the main dishes came out for the manfolk. Mike is fond of pesto, so he ordered bowtie pasta with pesto sauce. Greg succumbed to my recommendations and ordered the pumpkin ravioli with brown butter sage sauce.
Rob, the hungriest of the bunch and also the primary moneybags of the meal, got one of the specials: grilled salmon and crisp tender greens. Oh, it looked really great!
For dessert, I opted for a small selection of sorbets, and Greg and Rob shared the profiteroles. All of Via Maestra’s gelato and sorbet are imported from Milan. We also bowed to the pleasant pressure of our waiter and ordered his special caffe lattes. Yes, they were beautiful and delicious. Thank you.
Then Mike drove home to LA, and Rob and Greg piled back into Greg’s Cessna and flew home! And I ate some of the chocolate chip cookies at the airport. Then, because I’m officially old and crotchety, I went to bed at 8 pm.
Via Maestra 42
** conversation not verbatim
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.
A quick lunch with Tom, while running errands. We were peckish, but not particularly hungry. We went to Kahuna Grill, I got an order of sweet potato fries.
It’s ample, but these are not my favorite. They are a bit too soft and mealy for my tastes. But I do like making a dipping sauce from 4 parts bbq sauce, and 1 part ketchup, both of which come from the condiment pumps.
There ya go.
How to please a Santa Barbara gal like me:
I was in the area running errands, noticed it was past lunchtime, and walked into Whole Foods for inspiration. I should point out here I was beyond hungry, the kind of hunger that makes me indecisive in the face of food.
I was deeply suspicious and talked to the man at the counter for a while. What’s the deal? What do you get? Is it already made?
No! It’s a freshly prepared burger, completely customized to your specs.
I selected ground bison, cooked medium, with grilled red onions, swiss cheese, toasted ciabatta and the regular fixings. Sure enough, about 10 minutes later, it’s ready, loaded into a little paper tray and packed neatly into a takeaway box.
The fries sit on the bottom, so they will get soggy fast, eat those first and quickly. The bison I selected is naturally low in fat, so I found that medium doneness tended to be more cooked than medium and will take that into account if I order it in the future.
Their deli offered other burger combinations, such as ‘cowboy’ style, or bacon, these cost a little more, like $0.50 or $1.00 more, still a very good price.
When Whole Foods first opened, there was an outdoor seating under an arbor. Now there’s indoor seating as well, just inside the entrance. At first I was worried that the baked goods and gelato that had been near the door was gone forever, but the good folks there pointed out it had moved to the back corner where the rest of the bakery was. Whew! I can still get my gelato fix. Oh, and one more thing. You know how McConnell’s is closed for remodel? Whole Foods has a small selection of McConnell’s ice cream.
Burgers seem to be the benchmark of rating American restaurants. Maybe that’s because it’s such an approachable item on the menu. The price is usually moderate, usually everyone’s had a burger sometime in their past to form a judgment of what they like or dislike about a burger, and it’s offered on nearly every menu in a standard restaurant.
But how could I be such a fan of Sly’s without ever trying their burger? Today, I finally did. I had a catch-up lunch date with a friend and I took the plunge and ordered the burger.
Holy smokes, it’s a lot of food. Officially called Sly’s Hamburger Sandwich, it’s a half pound of burger, ground fresh daily, served with fries, $12. I opted for additional gruyere cheese, too.
And a monumental stack of french fries. Eaten with their housemade mayonnaise. I swear I tackled the pile of fries all through lunch and it barely looked touched at the end of the meal.
The burger itself was intensely juicy and flavorful. I really enjoyed it, and the company, but in the future I either need to have a much much bigger appetite or I need to share it.
My dining companion, meanwhile, ordered the more demure huervos rancheros, only available on the lunchtime menu. I wish I’d had room to sample the dish.
Sly’s has public wifi, which was perfect for me to stay the remainder of the afternoon and complete my regular day job work – you know the stuff, that pays the bills. And it was certainly more effective than driving the 30 miles back to the office.
This was supposed to be one of those working lunches, where we get together to get stuff done. However, the business partner I was supposed to be introduced to wasn’t there! So it became just regular lunch, and work got done back at the office.
I’d been to Buenos Aires once before in semi-recent times. A company dinner a year earlier. But never for lunch, so this group was keen to try it all out.
To start out, everyone enjoyed the bread basket and chimichurri sauce to dip it in.
Sean’s lunch was pastel de choclo, a dish of layers of fresh ground sirloin with olives and raisins and sweet corn with basil served in a casserole dish, $11. Gustavo said this was particularly good, he’d had it before. But today he went instead for parrillada de carne y verduras, a plate of mixed grill and vegetables, including skirt steak, short ribs, Argentine sausage, and grilled vegetables and pineapple, $16. Plus an order of sweetbreads, $4.
David and I got sandwich plates, each served with a choice of soup, salad, or fries, $10.
One was the lomito argentino, with sliced sirlion and french fries (left photo) and the other was puerkito chileno, or thin slices of pork slowly cooked with beer, served with lettuce, tomato, onion, saurkraut, mayo and mashed avocado. This had sweet potato chips on the side.
Overall, this is a gorgeous little spot, with a pretty courtyard and fountain. Santa Barbara has very few restaurants specializing in South American cuisine, so Cafe Buenos Aires is a gem.
Cafe Buenos Aires
We’d heard this rumor that the Dutch Garden’s burgers were exemplary because they ground the meat in house. That nagged at the back of our minds for ages because there’s such a narrow window of opportunity to try their burgers. One, it’s only served at lunch, and two, they’re not open three days a week.
But we finally made it, and tried the burger, with cheese. Oh man, it’s big, half a pound of ground beef. And we confirmed, no, it is not ground in-house. Aw! But it was still good. I especially like the grilled bun, with a golden crisp underside. And a platter of German mustards is brought out, to dabble with. This is a burger best eaten open face, because it is big and juicy.
I ordered an item I knew nothing about, but was curious about the name. This is called a Strammer Max and it was pretty much breakfast on an open faced sandwich. Fried eggs, griddled ham and cheese, on toasted sandwich bread and assorted sandwich fixings like lettuce, onion and pickles. Another sandwich-style lunch best eaten with knife and fork because the egg yolks go all oozy over the meal, yum yum.
And finally, a glass of beer to wash it all down. Aaaah.
Naan Stop may be my favorite lunch spot in Isla Vista. The food is not the usual ginormo burritos for drunk people, it’s tasty, they serve it up quickly from a buffet style counter, and the price is right.
A two-item combo costs about $8, and includes rice, salad and naan. Here’s McMarko’s combination with chicken korma and saag tofu curry.
I KNOW that SB’s Korean food representation is sadly lacking, compared to the Bay area and LA hotspots. I feel like I need to insert that remark for just about any food comment in Santa Barbara. I mean, duh, of course that’s going to happen. Those are big cities and big communities to support it.
So when something gets my attention that’s good for *this* area, hells yeah I’m going to get excited about it. And it beats driving all the way to [insert big city name here].
Choi’s is one of those places I heard about, but did not visit for a long time. Why? Parking’s ass, thanks to Domino’s and South Coast Deli being in the same plaza sharing the same handful of parking spots. And I heard that the hot lunch items are only offered…you guessed it, at lunch. Which is when parking is double-wide ass. But I visited just before Christmas, and my secret was that I was parked elsewhere, but nearby, and I walked over.
What I like about Choi’s is that it’s run by a cute old couple, the few times I’ve been they’ve been nothing but friendly and helpful. Choi’s has all the Korean basics to get you by and for a town this size, it is enough and better than driving all the way to [insert big city name here] for some chile paste, banchan goodies and kimchee.
I was most intrigued to try their bibimbap, and I bought this, just a smidge under $8. The woman at the cashier is also the cook, so just people should just chill out and browse the aisles while she dashes around gathering up ingredients and helping people at the front counter.
The reward: a box with rice topped with a soft-fried egg, some slices of marinated grilled beef, and banchan-like items of mushrooms, greens, sprouts and pickled vegetables. Plus, the tub of Korean chile sauce. And some seaweed soup on the side. It cost about $7.75.
My egg was perfect, a little crisp around the sides while the creamy yolk oozed over the rice when I pierced it. I dumped it all into a large bowl, gave it all a big stir, and it was good to go.
Another item Choi’s offers for lunch is the Cal Bowl. This is essentially a big bowl of ingredients that go into a California roll: Krab, cucumber, avocado, rice and nori with a pinch of pickled ginger. This costs about $7.25 and the portions are quite generous, it makes a good lunch as well. I gave it a try, since I was picking up lunch for two and wanted a bit of variety. Of the two items, the bibimbap is the better pick, since California rolls are plentiful and bibimbap isn’t.
Here’s the assembly of one lunch plate, dividing up the bibimbap and the cal bowl. Just stir it up and consume.