My mother is having way too much fun with my Momofuku cookbook, I fear I will never get it back. The upside is that I get invited over to eat what she makes, compared to the cookbook sitting at my place, unused because I’ve been too lazy to cook.
Today’s Momofuku experiment was the banh mi, or Vietnamese sandwiches. Nearly everything was homemade for this. The primary exception is the bread, which she bought from a regular grocery store. She’d been experimenting for good banh mi bread as she’d been unhappy with most baguette (too hard). She’s settled on french rolls, which are a bit like submarine sandwich rolls. Soft, and not too big. They toast up nicely.
She made chicken liver pate, and deviled ham as the meat fillings. She pickled the daikon and carrots. She grew the cilantro in the garden. She threw on smoked salmon, green chiles and crunchy cucumbers. And don’t forget the kewpie sauce!
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
This was the third or fourth of the Saigon In and Out empire that started on Milpas. I’m all for more exotic cuisines in Santa Barbara, because they struggle hard and they are a breath of fresh air to the old standards of Italian, sushi (note: not Japanese, just sushi), Mexican places that we have so many of.
This Saigon was down in the bar zone, so I can guess it was meant to attract drunk hungry people. I like that more late night eats are available, too. But perhaps others preferred cheaper faster food items, because soon this business changed its game to Lam’s Vietnamese Sandwiches.
Huuuuuh? I love bahn mi!! I totally wanted to go! But then…sammies are, like $8. Ouch. TRUE: this is comparable to most sandwiches in Santa Barbara, and TRUE: everything here is more expensive than in LA or the bay area. BUT: when it’s 3-4 times the price, it just hurts. I never found the time to go.
And then, they changed their name again! It’d become Miss Saigon. I don’t know why. Maybe people are more attracted to feminine names and Lam seemed really boring? Some mysteries will never be solved.
Anyway, we were downtown for the grand opening party of a cool record store, that was well attended by every hipster in town. Eventually, we got hungry. We had been chatting with Jeff about meeting up for dinner and I suggested Miss Saigon. Done.
Everything seemed so normal when we arrived. The place was busy, but not full, we got seats immediately, and near the window. Jeff arrived. We hemmed and hawed over the menu and eventually settled on some items. Then things got weird.
For one, it got really busy. People just kept coming in. People were standing around the door. People were standing around inside. People were queuing up to get in. Everyone was staring at the television and no food was to be seen. More people were coming in.
Over 90 minutes later, we have some eggrolls with lettuce wraps and dipping sauce, and eventually our other items arrived, but we were faint with hungry, Jeff was hangry and had gone to the front cashier twice to ask for an update on food.
Finally, we tried the pork bahn mi. It was fine! But yeah, $8, ouch.
The reason the place was so busy was because the Pacquiao fight was on. It was crammed full, standing room only, people spilling out onto the street. History was being made and everyone knew who to cheer for. The staff had no idea it would be this busy, and had called in their friends and family to help deal with all the customers.
But really, how were we supposed to know that this restaurant would be the only one televising it on State Street? Once we got outside, all the other restaurants were dead silent!
Long story short, decent food, but bad bad timing.
Update: Dec 2010. This restaurant is now listed as CLOSED. I’m bummed. Santa Barbara really does need more diversity of ethnic cuisines.
Miss Saigon – closed
I once read an MFK Fisher story in the Art of Eating about a young girl who slipped away for a day, later revealing to the author that she’d gone into town and sat at a cafe the entire time, spending her week’s allowance on a four hour meal of Viennese coffee, salami, pickles and pastries while she watched the world go by. Fisher called it dining with yourself, and rather than it being a sorrowful state for lack of company, it’s a moment of unapologetic indulgence. The girl also brought back a nice pastry for her mother. I got a similar vibe when I visited the cafe in Nordstrom, which is located on the top floor of the department store. It had an elegant indoor seating area, and a tiled patio area with a view of the downtown skyline. The atmosphere is casual; nobody dining there seemed to be in a rush. It seemed an ideal meeting spot for friends to catch up over lunch, or for a mother-daughter shopping break. It wasn’t very crowded, and I grabbed a great spot out on the patio.
Not one, not two, but three co-workers went out of their way to tell me in the past couple months how much they like the Cafe Nordstrom. The soup was given high marks. This indicates several possibilities. One, this Cafe is very girlie girl to go to. Two, maybe they have a business women’s lunch special, for business women, Romi and Michelle style. Three, they have good food and good soup!
Ordering is done at the front counter, where you pay and then find a seat. Dishes are staged up at the front counter, but a waiter will bring it out for you. My friend and I shared a French Dip sandwich and a cup of the soup du jour.
The sandwich was great, amply portioned and the jus to dip it in was flavorful without being salty. Sandwiches come with an option of kettle chips or a small salad, and I got the salad with creamy champagne vinaigrette. It cost $10, and we split it and shared. Everything tasted fresh, and was nicely plated. In fact, all the dishes coming out of the kitchen looked good.
The daily soup varies, with no predictable schedule. There’s a tomato and basil soup that’s always on the menu, but the artichoke and parmesan soup one co-worker raved about was nowhere in sight the day I was there, so I had a southwestern style chicken and vegetable soup, topped with one of the nicest crostini I’d ever eaten. Crisp on the outside, soft and chewy inside, I didn’t even think that was possible for crostini. A cup of soup cost $3.50.
To confirm that impulse shopping does work, the Cafe displays its desserts right by the cashier where you order your food, and I got suckered in by a large snickerdoodle. All the cakes and pies are brought in from an LA bakery, but the cookies and bars are baked on site, costing in the $2-3 range. My snickerdoodle was $2, large and delicious – a balance of crisp, sweet and chewy. I’d go back there just to have a cookie and a coffee and indulge in a little time with myself. Maybe I’d bring back a sweet for my mother, too!
Cafe Nordstrom, 3rd floor
The work meetup gang is always looking for new places to have our bi-weekly afternoon work sessions. Er, bi-weekly is in name only, we’re so busy that we end up meeting *maybe* once a month.
It started out with three of us, then became two for nearly a year. Recently it’s expanded, with groups ranging from three to five or six people. While it’s great to have more people involved in the discussions, it does present a problem with finding a spot that a group this size can sit together for several hours, with free wifi.
Lara, who works remotely full time, found Cafe Luna for us. It was the perfect spot. It fit all our criteria above, plus had good parking, wasn’t overly crowded, and had yummy sandwiches.
The wifi worked great. A password is required, and the staff there will type that in for you, and once it’s there, you’re set for future visits. The only downside to working here is that there are only a few electrical points. Not a problem if your lappy has a good battery, but there were a couple of us who needed the extra charge. It all worked out, though.
On this day, it was drizzly and overcast, putting us in the mood for fireside lounging, tea and coffee, hot sandwiches and lots of chattering.
I had the mushroom and roast pepper panino on foccacia, costing about $9, with a choice of bread. It sounded just right for the weather, and it wasn’t only later that I realized I’d ordered a vegetarian dish (and I’m not a vegetarian). It tasted great, I’d get it again, fo sho.
I’d heard the burgers were good here, and inexpensive. Sandwiches, too. McMarko and I decided to check it out instead of going to his de facto cheap and cheerful sandwich shop.
I had my fears about bad parking, as the autumn quarter was just starting at ucsb, but we scooted into a spot right in front on the street. Great parking karma!
I went with the standard burger, which only cost $2.50. The bun was nice and toasty and the accoutrements were good, but the burger itself was dry and underwhelming, which the other positives could not outweigh. However, this is why it’s a $2.50 cheap burger. Next time, I’ll get a bigger burger so there’s less chance for the little meat patty to overcook. It’s a nice photo at least.
McMarko did indeed get a sandwich, as this was his foray into an alternative to his usual sammie spot and he decided this was better than his usual, and for the same price or slightly less. I’d say, if the parking were consistently better, we’d come here more often. Alas, it’s still I.V. So no thank you.
This is a nice way to wrap up the Saturday marketing: zip across the street to Shalhoob’s and get a BLT, with avocado, on untoasted bread.
Simple and comforting. And if you’ve sampled sufficiently at the market, this order will feed two a sensible portion.
I’ll admit it – I haven’t been a huge fan of Fresco. Even when it was just the one deli in Five Points, it always seemed busy, which is a good sign for a restaurant, but I sometimes get overwhelmed by crowds. Many of my girlfriends absolutely love the place.
This week, a co-worker who’d transferred out of state was in the office and suggested that Fresco was a place she’d like to revisit for a lunch. She got the quiche and the Greek side salad. It cost around $10. And we got a table without resorting to fisticuffs! However, she ended up being underwhelmed with the quiche and thought it was bland. Sometimes, memory is better than reality. But we tried.
I ordered off the Specials menu, which was offering a bbq pork sandwich, and choice of side salad, and it cost about $12.50, including tax. The pork slices were grilled, and served with a bbq sauce, cheese, and a high pile of finely shaved fried onion rings. It came open face, with the hot components on one side, and the lettuce, tomato and pickles on the other.
What I should have done was eat the salad and half the sandwich, and taken the other half home for dinner. Instead I crammed all of it in and lolled around in a food coma for the rest of the afternoon. In other words, it was tasty enough for me to accept the consequences.
Fresco does offer a selection of their sandwiches in a half portion, and the salad or soup for a couple dollars less. Also, upon sitting down, a waiter brings out a small basket of complimentary bread and butter. It’s a nice touch, considering the diner orders and pays at a front counter.
Fresco Cafe North
It’s a remote work afternoon, and the other gals and I met up at Muddy Waters Cafe, as it was a good place for 3+ people to work, it had free wifi and Rebecca was really missing the tuna sandwiches from there.
Left: tuna sandwich on wheat bread with a side of tortilla chips.
I got the toast and avocado, I think it was a great deal.
Near the heart of Oxford is the White Horse Pub, at cellar level, which made for a slightly cooler atmosphere in the summer heat. We had lunch here, and it seemed like the first time we had a pub lunch more in line with a traditional pub food, rather than gastro pub food.
We had a coronation chicken sandwich, which is a curry spiced chicken salad in a baguette, and a more simple chicken and ham sandwich on buttered granary bread. The latter was exactly like the pub sandwiches I used to have. Good stuff.
Ted had a nicely pulled pint of Brakspear ale, an Oxford ale. I probably had lemonade, I don’t remember.
This pub was used in the filming of Inspector Morse, a crime drama from the 1980s. It’s been used in other filming, but Morse is more memorable for me.
The White Horse