October is epicure.sb month, and while I didn’t have time to sample much of all the town had to offer, I did make the effort to return to Ca’Dario. It had been a while year since my last visit, for the same prix fixe lunch the restaurant had put together for 2010′s epicure.sb.
I dined with Matchoo, always an excellent companion. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I’d finished the morning marketing. The atmosphere was quiet and happy, with older couples and young families also sitting at tables. I even ran into an old friend who was likewise returning after sampling the prix fixe in the previous year.
The prix fixe is bread and olive oil, and choice of an appetizer, choice of a pasta, with a glass of Brander wine, and dessert of coffee and biscotti. It cost $25 for lunch, and $35 for dinner.
We started with the roasted figs, stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto. It was the best I’d ever had, with the figs and cheese melted until warm and swelling, merged into one entity and wrapped up in charred smokey pig goodness. My friend at the other table said this was a favorite from last year and she was not disappointed with it this year. I agree.
We also got the warm octopus and potato salad, doing an encore from 2010′s lunch. It was as good as ever with thick generous pieces of octopus, a sensible meal in itself.
For our pastas, we both tried something new. I got the orecchiette in a walnut pesto sauce. Delicious! The pasta was perfectly soft yet sturdy and the sauce was wonderfully creamy and nutty. We some of this leftover and it made a fine dinner reheated, even if the emulsion of the sauce had separated a little.
Matchoo got the spaghettini with bottaga, or maybe I did? Doesn’t matter, we all shared. I first had bottaga and spaghettini at another restaurant in town and loved it, and had to have it again. The bottaga was nice shaved pieces, and the pasta al dente, even for its fine size. We loved it all. One item wasn’t mentioned in the menu, the copious amounts of garlic used in the dish. Wow. Seriously lots of garlic, I sopped some of it up with my bread, but there was still much leftover. Did not take home.
There is an option to order dessert, for additional cost, but we were fine with coffee and biscotti. With lots of cream and sugar.
Ca’Dario does it again, with a wonderful epicure.sb lunch. I hope to make it again in 2012.
Epicure SB website: www.santabarbaraca.com/epicuresb
I’m stubborn. When I hear my girlie girlfriends say Seagrass is the place for The Romantic Date or, *shudder*, the Valentine’s Day dinner I spin around and flee in the other direction.
Dude. So not the case. Ok, yes, look at the menu and gawk at the $15 appetizers and $30 mains.
It’s only offered on the non-prime time nights, Sunday – Thursday (and they are currently closed Mondays, but I think that’s changing in May).
Just $35 for three courses, based off their daily menu. So it’s not like everyone else is chowing the $30 waygu beef while you get yesterday’s coq au vin a la king. No, you get the waygu beef.
This includes a starter, a main dish, and a dessert. The portions, so I’m told, are a smidge smaller than the a la carte sizes, but honestly, it’s enough food. I was full. And it was delicious.
The first time I ate there:
My friend had the beet salad, sauteed local snapper, and raisin pudding.
Second visit was a big share fest with my dining companion.
* Kumumoto oyster shooter, ginger gelee, salmon roe, scallions, ale foam as one starter.
* Main – Sauteed wild seabass, sugar snap peas, leek soubise, pommes brunoise, tomato fondue, veal jus, basil oil. Can you tell I cut/paste this from their website? I really have no idea what soubise and brunoise are. My friend ordered this.
* Main – Slow braised Kurabuto PORK CHEEK, carrots two ways, pan fried polenta, braised shallots, tangerine foam, natural braising jus with thyme. There was also a juicy piece of pork belly, like an obelisk of bacon stacked on the polenta. This was an incredible dish, the pork belly was so tender. There was also a slow roasted half onion on one of the polenta disks that was sweet, tender, and still held its form. Loved it.
For dessert we both had the Valrhona bitter-sweet chocolate torte, in vanilla bean crust with candied orange zest and raspberries.
Both times the meal started with bread and butter, and a little amuse buche that was a spoonful of some kind of fish, and crisp slice of parsnip.
They source locally and very seasonally. They plate the food lovingly. The owners and chefs browse the tables to see how everyone is doing. It’s a family run business, but definitely not a “mom n’ pop” style place.
And yes, you can come here for a romantic date, or the mother-in-law meal. You know what I’m talking about.
I’m really enjoying the prix fixe options in this town, they keep getting better. Such a good deal. Add Seagrass near the top of the list.
After such a nice happy hour with Wayne, the tiki man, we all met up shortly afterwards at Sly’s, so we could proudly show off why this place has The Best cocktails in 805.
The boys drank loads, and I was designated driver. I didn’t get photos of most of their cocktails, but I was intrigued by the side-by-side comparison of two different preparations of a gimlet.
The far left photo is the standard gimlet, that the mainstream expects. When we first got it, we were surprised by the clarity of the cocktail. The bartender explained that it’s clear because it uses Rose’s lime cordial. And we went, “eeeeeeew!” So then he made us a “proper” one, in my minds, using real lime juice. Hence, middle photo of a gimlet with lime juice. The verdict: we liked the gimlet using real lime juice. Keep it real, guys.
Food was great, as usual. It all started with the usual hot bread, including the sweet dark rye. Ted wasn’t as hungry, so ordered a plate of spaghetti, with a chicken liver meat sauce. You don’t see that much these days. Why does the world shun liver unless it’s in pate? This spaghetti was great, with a deep rich flavor.
Wayne’s main dish was the French alpine equivalent of a mixed grill, but not grilled. It contained chicken breast, sausage, pork rib and tender vegetables in a stew, without having been stewed for ages. It looked amazing.
The month of October was Epicure SB; a “month to savor” said the brochure. I went to a number of the events last year, especially the free or inexpensive ones. This year, I wasn’t able to go to many, or maybe the events fell outside my radar, but I did attend a couple of them.
Ca’Dario offered a lunch special for the event, Monday-Saturday, and I attended the final day it was available. Their special was a choice of insalata, choice of pasta, a glass of wine, and a coffee with almond biscotti. There were five options each for the first and second courses, and a choice of Brander Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc for the wine. Cost: $25.
This was the menu available:
There were two of us, and we opted for the fava bean salad, and the octopus salad, and ordered a glass each of the white and red wine to pair respectively. We also got a basket of ciabatta and a little bowl of olive oil lightly infused with fresh rosemary.
I’ve only eaten the warm octopus salad once before at a different Italian restaurant, coincidentally that was when I happened to sit next to a chef participating in Epicure SB last year, which turned me on to the whole event. Ca’Dario’s octopus had a lot more octopus and in very big chunks! Much slicing and dicing was needed to bring them down to bite size pieces. Chewy, too. This was a much bigger starter than I was expecting. The extra ciabatta came in handy to soak up the extra juices.
On the other side of the table, the fava bean salad was very fresh looking and tasting, and a portion more like I was expecting. The beans were lightly cooked, shelled, and a delight to eat, paired with the salami and pecorino. Both were good – one was better for a bigger eater, while the other was for a lighter eater. We did completely finish these courses.
Next came the pastas. My dining companion got the fregola pasta with clams and sausage. We didn’t even know what fregola was, but they turn out to be these dainty little pasta balls, about the size of peas. Our waitress said they were handmade, but I have no idea how they were done. Any ideas? The dish was good, but one ingredient not mentioned on the menu was garlic, and lots of it. Just look at one average spoonful of the dish, with all the garlic. I believe there was a whole head of lightly cooked garlic sliced into this one serving of pasta, adding some heat to the dish, and post-meal dragon breath for us. It’s okay! We like garlic. Maybe our friends, not so much. The Italian salami was great, as were the delicate little clams that were in the dish.
I got the pasta with the black squid ink sauce. This portion seemed big, and very black. It gave me black/purple zombie lips, which I could vaguely get away with on a Halloween weekend, but still – wiping with a napkin after every bite was required. So glad I happened to be wearing a black shirt, too. Swirling the strands of pasta on a fork could have whipped some drops of sauce off into space and onto my shirt. For those curious about how squid ink tastes, well, it seemed a little salty, and maybe a little smokey, and there was probably also some garlic added. The ink sauce was quite thick, and even with some rings of calamari added to the dish, it wasn’t fishy – at least not in a bad way. If the opportunity arises again, I would order a squid ink dish, but only if I’m wearing a dark shirt.
Wrapping up with a coffee and biscotti was great. I love biscotti and don’t make it enough at home. We dunked the cookies in our coffees, listened to the people around us chattering in Italian, marveled at some of the luscious desserts being served at other tables, and then got on with the rest of our day.
Looking over the menu posted at Ca’Dario’s website, it doesn’t look like these dishes are available on a regular basis, which is a pity, but that’s what made October that “month to savor” according to Epicure. I hope next year is just as good.
Epicure SB website: www.santabarbaraca.com/epicuresb
I first set foot in Sly’s when I joined some friends on a quest of good cocktails, and not only did we find them, but we also stayed for the food.
Sly’s pedigree includes Lucky’s for upper-end steak and seafood, but that should not turn off an average diner with an average sized pocketbook from exploring what’s there…as long as you are fine with trekking over to Carpinteria.
The back room does have a feel of a finer dining experience, with its linen cloths, quiet atmosphere and patient yet attentive wait staff. But the front bar and bistro area is casual and comfortable. I really enjoyed sitting at the bar, even for eating.
And I mentioned that my first reason for coming here was for the cocktails. Sly’s cocktails are among my favorite in this area, especially for the classics, like a Manhattan, Gimlet, Negroni, gin and tonic?or Moscow Mule. The Manhattans are made with real Marasca cherries; they make their own tonic water for the G&Ts, and the Moscow Mule comes in its traditional copper mug. And the prices are good for this level of quality. The Moscow Mule I had on this night was $7. Ted got a shot of the exquisite Maker’s 46.
The real special I want to focus on, though, are their prix fixe dinners. The menu changes about every three weeks to a region of France, and I recently got a chance to sample it.
For my meal, the prix fixe was based on the regional cuisine of the Brittany coast, known for savory buckwheat crepes, cream, and salted butter.
The price for each is $35, for a starter, a main, and a dessert. For wine pairings, the price is $55. I had the meal only. I was in a group that enjoys trying as much as possible, so we managed to order almost everything off the menu.
* Bisque of cepes (mushrooms)
* Moules frites – mussels and french fries
* Special gateau Breton
I had the cassoulette, which came in a cream and white wine sauce, and drizzled with lobster sauce. A good-sized portion, and the sauce was great for dipping with their fresh baked crusty bread.
My rack of lamb was prepared medium rare, and the diner specifies its doneness. It comes with a little wood toothpick labeled with the correct doneness. They’ll prepare it, or steak, well done if you desire, and not give you grief on that choice. But if you ask for their recommendation, the suggestion is medium, to medium rare. The dish came with the white beans, as listed. They were tender cooked flageolets. Also, fresh crisp-tender green beans with a light cream sauce.
I selected the special Breton cake for dessert, as I’d never heard of it before and didn’t expect to see anything like it elsewhere around town. The dough is rolled and folded, in a style similar to puff pastry, and layered in between with sugar and butter. If you can imagine a cake made mostly of butter and sugar, held successfully together by a little flour and egg, this is it. Baked as a pancake, the bottom was quite dense and needed a knife at times to cut it into bite size pieces and tastes sweet, slightly salty with a buttery chewy texture.
The salt in the caramel had one friend enjoying her crepes, saying it was very flavorful and not cloyingly sweet. And the bittersweet chocolate mousse was so rich and dense that it went a long way, even shared between several people.
The Brittany menu is wrapping up soon, and may have already completed. That is okay, because the next prix fixe is going to specialize in the cuisine of Provence!
Lunch downtown during the workweek is now a rare occurrence. But given the opportunity, I’ll take it! This time we went to Elements, a restaurant and bar I have little experience with. The last time I dined at that location, it was a little bakery, and a chocolate croissant was a real treat after spending an afternoon in book bliss at the library.
The first thing I noticed at Elements was a prix fixe lunch special; three courses for $20. It sounded expensive at first, but most lunch sandwiches or burritos can easily cost $10, so adding in a soup or salad and a dessert, the price becomes reasonable. Then I started reading the food descriptions. Greens from Shepherd Farm, almonds from Fat Uncle Farms…these are all local companies I see at the farmers market. Sold.
I started with a simple green salad with avocado and vinaigrette. The other option was tomato soup. No complaints – the avocado was perfect and the salad was dressed nicely.
For my main course, I selected the fish and chips. It’s quite different from the typical fish and chips. The fish has a corn meal crust; the tangy coleslaw uses jalapeno and no mayonnaise. The tartar sauce is spicy and looks house made. Pots of ketchup and malt vinegar are also provided. It’s a lot of food! The fish pieces were sometimes a little crumbly, because the corn meal doesn’t bind together as well as traditional batter. Rather than dip the fish, it was sometimes easier to spread on condiments.
Other options were a grilled chicken sandwich or a vegetarian sandwich.
My dessert was a 50/50 of citrus fruit granita and ice cream, topped with whipped cream and crushed roasted almonds from Fat Uncle Farms – very enjoyable when the weather took a break from the June gloom.
My dining companion had a cup of French onion soup, and the Elements burger, “Santa Barbara style” with grilled onions, bacon, tomato and avocado. These were a la carte items from the menu, not part of the prix fixe options. Mmm, burgers.
The atmosphere of Elements is mellow and elegant. It’s perfect for business lunches, or a book club meet up. I hear there are good cocktails here, although I’ve never jived with the trend of calling drinks whatever-tini. I like a martini, or a vodka martini. Going into Bellini-tinis, Melon-tini, Pearfect-tini…maybe I’m just not trendy. But I do like innovative cocktails, why not put in another minute of creative thinking and come up with a better name. Anyway, if you’re happy hour inclined, their signature cocktail is usually just $5 for the first drink. That’s a great deal for being downtown with a view of our lovely courthouse and sunken gardens.
My final note: the lunch menu has gyros! Casual word on the street is that the gyro meat is also house made. I wasn’t able to try this for my lunch, but I’m very curious to learn more. The problem is that I probably won’t be in the area for a workweek lunch for a while. Anyone give them a try?
Some friends who are #1 fans of food brought us here for dinner on a Saturday night. We also got the prix fixe with assorted supplements.
Damn. It was my best meal in Portland. Tabla brought out the subtle purity of its ingredients and the wines paired well.
On the chalkboard near the front door is a list of all the local source companies that contributed to the menu. The chef went to the main farmers market that morning to pick up fresh items.
The 3 course dinner is a deal almost too good to be true. $24?? Even with maximum supplements (worth it), the food hardly goes higher than $35 and the smaller plates by no means left us hungry. In fact, I needed a small box to take a good portion of the 3rd course home.
But first! An amuse buche. Er, I don’t remember what it was! But trust me, we ate it happily.
I started with the trio of fish. Fresh crab, black cod and mackerel. It’s hard to say which was best, they were all standouts. The group did enjoy the combination of the mackerel with fresh apple slices, though. This dish had a $5 supplement, two at our table got it and everyone loved it.
2nd was the paglie e fieno. Paperthin, nearly transparent pasta with steamed manilla clams, shallot, white wine, house cured guanciale. The clams were sliced thin, allowing me to get a bit of the shellfish in every bite. The guanciale added some smokey umami. I liked it a lot, but it was essential to stir up the dish quickly upon the dish being set down because pasta was so thin it would stick together without constant lubrication of the sauce. A must for clam lovers. I actually enjoyed the black pepper fettuccini with cauliflower cream and aged balsamic that someone else at the table ordered, but that is because I am a bigger fan of balsamic and cauliflower than I am of clams.
My main was grilled coulotte steak with garlic cream, beluga lentils, sylvetta arugula, and horseradish salt. With a $3 supplement. The beef was cooked exactly to my specifications, somewhere between medium and medium rare. Loved the lentils, which were dainty and creamy. I was told they have hard cooked egg yolk mixed in to attain that creamy texture.
Elsewhere on the table: baby octopus (above), two kinds of pasta (below), and duck confit (far below).
I don’t recall the wines we had, but it was two bottles on Tabla’s recommendations. The first was a wine that was delicious with the table olives. And btw, the olives were great, too. Three distinct flavors for the green, purple and black olives. Yum. I should have dipped the bread from Pearl Bakery into the olive bowl, but completely forgot – there was enough food on the table to keep me occupied.
For dessert, I wanted to skip. I was too full. But our group of four decided to share one dish. The one with chevre in a cheesecake, and we picked it because we did not want something overly sweet. For that, we had a small glass of dessert wine, I was told it was local and prepared to the effect of eiswein. Sweet, but not cloying. A favorite beverage of the night!
With all the alcohol consumed (LOTS), the tab did add up. But the prix fixe with moderate supplement and a good glass of wine for under $50 is outstanding value for the quality of food that you can either study and discuss with the staff or simply stuff in your gob.
Much disappointment. 2.5 stars, if I could give halves.
Red Square was the perfect example of the facade that is Las Vegas. Beautiful themed ambiance, with little substance to back it up.
The menu has pages upon pages of cocktails, and on the surface it appears impressive. But read the descriptions, and it reveals cheap ingredients.
Moskovskaya vodka is listed in several drinks. Sounds impressive? It’s that $8 bottle from Trader Joe’s. You can have a shot of it in a cocktail here for $13. Worth it? Depends on how much you value the cocktail over the 10 seconds of the guy pouring it with great flourish into a pyramid of glasses.
We got the tasting menu, at $65 each +$10 for foie gras. The food was good, but overshadowed (pun intended) by such a dark interior we could hardly see it. Dark restaurants don’t do service to the dishes, it makes me think there’s something to hide about the food.
We both received an amuse buche of caviar and creme fraiche in a cookie. It was fine. The breads we got with our food, honestly, was the best part of the meal. Wish we’d taken home the leftovers.
My foie gras appetizer was not photogenic. Instead you get T’s fried calamari. How Russian is that, I wonder. We both received a good salad plate. No complaints about that.
For our main courses we had the beef stroganoff, not easily identifiable under the crunchy sticks, and a steak with blue cheese and mash potatoes. Lots of blue cheese. Too much! I had to scrape most of it off.
We were both given a small glass containing sorbet and vodka, to cleanse the palate. It was good.
Dessert was strawberries and cream, with a very fancy looking cookie, and creme brulee with very non-crunchy burnt sugar. Sigh.
We shared a cocktail, supposedly Russian, but not memorable. I can’t even remember what it was.
My feeling is that Red Square doesn’t appreciate its own food. And we walked out, $200 poorer, feeling the same.
The house won this time.
ps. no restrooms. There are hotel restrooms outside, around the corner, by a fountain.
Photos by Ted Mills.
My visits here have petered out some, once I started working in the sticks of Goleta and PV stopped serving lunch on weekends, but there have been some occasions in the evenings that I’ve found myself in the area and hankering for a nibble. PV does not disappoint.
Like one night, my friend and I were cold and rather than walk to the car for a jacket, we ran into PV, sat at the bar, and shared a drink and a small plate of smoked salmon, red onions and capers. Better than a jacket! Until we got back outside, but, well, happy tummies.
Or recently we stopped in for the Sunday supper. The weekend had been full of gluttonous dining, but there was KOBE HANGER STEAK on the prix fixe menu. My father was raised on hanger steak and still pines away for it. It’s not commonly available and boy is it good when cooked just right. The price I’ve paid for the raw material isn’t much different to the full price of the whole four course dinner here, so are we going to turn down this opportunity? HELL NO.
1st Course: Two prawns cooked in shellfish broth, served with lobster oil and black tea. I’ve had this before, it has a decadent smokey flavor with a little spice in the oil.
2nd Course: Salad of shaved fennel, mushrooms and parmesan. I’m really enjoying fennel this season, so this was yet another good dish with a delicate licorice crunch.
3rd Course: three options were available, and we selected the Kobe hanger steak, medium rare. And the duck confit, with a dark cherry sauce. Was it good? YES. Was it more than we could eat? YES. Am I still thinking about it? YES.
4th Course: Dessert of vanilla ice cream, espresso and whipped cream, each in its own container. The ice cream had a plump blackberry on it, too. It was a playground of dessert and I could dabble in each, or dump it all together.
Price: $23.50 plus tax and tip.
Really fabulous recession special.
I also love that the staff do not rush the courses. I am dining, not gobbling. I like to talk to my dining companions and I like to ask questions about the food. My service is never slow.
One problem: Y’ALL aren’t eating there. Lately, I’ve noticed an older crowd. With age comes experience – they know a good deal when they see one.
Passing through Little Italy, and wasn’t in the mood to eat at a place heaving with people. This seemed as good as any.
The prix fixe lunch was $12.95, I got a penne with mozz, basil and eggplant to start. Moved onto the basa, a white fish in white wine sauce, and vegetables. Very filling, totally decent.
Top: Cynthia’s wine, on left. Penne with mozzarella, basil and eggplant, on left.
Bottom: Basa fish, and veg, on left. Antipasti and cleavage, on right.
Service was attentive and friendly, they went out of their way to seat me at the outdoor table I wanted. It was worth the 20% service charge they added on, and it was good I saw it on the bill, so there was no need to add another tip on the credit card slip.
Bonus: maybe they didn’t see me waiting for the restroom down in the lower floor. But I got a preview of my waiter preparing to strip out of his work clothes. We made eye contact, which stopped him mid belt-buckle, but since it made me laugh, he laughed it off and did a little dance. Didn’t have a dollar on me to tuck into his skivvies – consider it added to the service charge.
Grotta Azzurra Restaurant