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)
This is my second time coming here for a birthday dinner, the last time was two years ago. On this occasion, we’d heard they’d recently acquired a whole pig, and thus had many courses of pork to offer.
But first, an appetizer of chicken liver pate, caramelized onions on toast. I believe it was $3. Those aren’t worms coiled up on the toast, it’s the onions. Duh. It was good, and was gobbled up quickly.
Also as an appetizer, we got the charcuterie plate, which is ideal for sharing. It comes with hot grilled and buttered ciabatta. The charcuterie plate offered five kinds of cured meats, I’m not sure I can recall all of them, but most involved pork. I believe we had summer sausage, pork rillettes (the grey cube in the middle), salami, pepperoni, pate, with yellow mustard and basil mustard. It cost about $15.
Our final small plate was grilled pork tongue on toast with sauce gribiche – that’s the egg salady looking stuff – and microgreens. Really enjoyable, but hard to share.
Finally, we shared a main dish of roast pork, with aged cheddar mac and cheese, and collard greens. Excellent! The pork was flavorful and tender.
The only bummer of the evening was timing. We both had to go off to do SBIFF things, and it took a while to receive the last course, so once it arrived, we needed to have the check brought promptly, and had to skip dessert. At least I got a birthday dinner.
I have friends who are *still* rending their hair over the loss of our beloved Firebird. But I want them to know, Square One who moved in its place can help them through the grief cycle.
Square One’s finally got their liquor license and have created a signature cocktail menu, priced so nicely in the $8-9 range. To complement it there’s an expanded bar menu with little bites. I nommed some with a few friends recently. My favorite was the deviled eggs with whipped avocado and candied bacon (win!! and about $5.50 for five halves).
Other delicious nibbles included their version of tator tots, more like potato croquettes – which I love – and truffled mac and cheese using that squirly curly pasta.
The meaty monstrosity in the photo above is their Manwich, a pile of pulled brisket with fried onions on a soft open-faced bun. A gut buster, coming in around $16.
The decor is also going through a transformation. They added a swing outside a while back and some lighting that would display on the ground. Now the lighting varies and the night we were there we got some kind of big brother Gatsby eyes.
So now the people rending their hair because Square One’s lost its foodie touch, fear not. While the old favorites of their previous menu are more hidden amongst the bar nosh, they are still there. Like the deep fried avocado slices (personal fav, pictured above), the sweet potato gnocchi with lamb ragu (personal fav), and the unique homemade ice cream flavorings.
Ok, I wish the sorbets didn’t get the chop, I liked them more than the ice creams. Maybe they’ll come back in warmer weather. Please? But meanwhile, there’s a heap of new things to try, and that’s what’s supposed to be good, and expected, about restaurants who focus on the freshest seasonal produce. This applies to the signature cocktails, too, with farmers market fruit infusions and herbal garnishes.
Oh, before I forgot, they’ve got milkshakes for grownups. “Spiked shakes” they call them. The most expensive of their alcoholic beverages, priced around $13, but a generous serving if you know what I mean. Three different shakes are offered, all variations of the traditional vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream. Mine was the vanilla one.
There’s no “happy hour” times, because the whole menu is basically happy hour prices, running to late night. I love that the downtown area is opening up later at night, with more and more options.
A small group came here after a fantastic show of Mummenschanz at the Granada. We were still riding high on the quirky creativity of the group and an unexpected visit backstage after the show where we met the performers and even played with one of their clay masks from the show.
This time, I got to try their highly touted mac and cheese. It’s good! The right amount of soft gooey cheese that shows it’s a homemade sauce that doesn’t clump up or get greasy. I do wish the top sprinkling of cheese got a little more time under the grill, to get the cheese golden brown, but there will be other opportunities.
Not to make the macaroni our only carb, we also got the sweet potato fries, as they are my personal favorite.
Alicia got the pulled pork sliders with cabbage, which looked fabulous. She also requested the “secret sauce” which is a sweet curry mayonnaise . Uh, yum!
This is kind of embarrassing, I don’t even remember why I was here.
But I did have a few nibbles. The happy hour menu’s changed since I last sampled the goods. For one, the menu’s no longer $4 per item, it’s simply $2 off the regular item, so some items aren’t such deal anymore.
The mac and cheese dropped in price, however. The regular price was $5, so the new happy hour menu brought it down to $3 whereas the old menu was only $1 off.
And something new, a plate of toasted pita and hummus. There were two kinds served – a hummus with sun-dried tomato, and a hummus with caramelized onions. It was probably in the $5 range.
‘Allo, Gorgeous! I attended the soft opening for this new restaurant and bar. It’s in the space that was formerly Epiphany Restaurant, and is under the same ownership and management. I guess they decided to go in a different direction and name.
The folks are the same, but the menu is different. Sort of fancy traditional American mixed with California cuisine. It’s not just mac and cheese but truffle mac and cheese.
The soft opening was anything but! The doors opened at 6 and it was packed by 7. There was a good level of cougers and douchebags there, and HobNob appears to have anticipated that, and offer a signature drink called a Couger Cooler.
The guys at the bar, Andy and Ace, were kept on their toes with many many drink orders, they stayed organized and even added a little flourish here and there.
Diners were young and old alike, and lots of them. Maybe they were old loyals of Epiphany, maybe they were seeking out the newest venues in town. Both probably got what they wanted!