Roadtrip with Gordon! We were en route to Los Angeles, and had our lunch pitstop in Carpinteria, at Sly’s.
Goal: to try the Whiskey Cocktail and profiteroles.
Gordon took photos of the menu, which I am grateful for. Instant reference. Check out the classic cocktails, and their great prices. Negroni, Manhattan, Moscow Mule, it’s all good.
Our bartender composed the whiskey cocktail with attention to detail, Gordon was delighted that it took several minutes to diligently compose the cocktail, slowly stirring the simple syrup and bitters, flaming the orange peel. It was perfect.
Then we set about our food. Bread for both of us, the lunch plate of steak frites with green peppercorn sauce for Gordon, and the sauteed sand dabs with salad for me.
Both dishes are just the right amount of food for us at lunchtime, not huge meals, but sensible ones. My sand dabs were buttery and flakey, while light tasting, especially when paired with a salad instead of a heavy starch.
For dessert, the profiteroles, of course.
“The Palms. Isn’t that the place where you pay for the honor of cooking your own food?” Well, yeah, so if you’re picky about what you like, here’s a chance to do it Your Way. And the price is right.
The DIY fondue style eating didn’t last long in Santa Barbara (RIP Melting Pot), but DIY grilling has found its niche in Carpinteria at The Palms, which has been around since 1912. I’m not from Carp, so I didn’t grow up with the only options of finer dining being The Palms or Tony’s. In fact, I didn’t even go to The Palms for the first time until this year, but it sure was fun.
This was dinner with Tory and Sibel, and it was their last night in town. They’d been camping in Carp for the last week or so, I think they enjoyed the locale a lot. Anyway, three of us got the 10-ounce rib eye ($13.50), and Ted got the 8-ounce top sirloin ($9.95). All the dinner plate options included the salad bar, with baked potatoes, Texas toast (again, DIY), beans, the salad bar itself and The Palms’ specialty – deep-fried croutons. BTW, there are main dish options where the kitchen will do the cooking for you. But I like a challenge.
My gang doesn’t fear the grill, and we crowded around the heat with our spatulas and shakers of onion salt. My secret weapon is the pats of butter that are brought to the dinner table. I use them on both sides of the steak in the last 5 minutes on the grill for browning and juicing things up. It’s so good. I also butter and garlic the bread, and set those lower on the grill to soak up the juices of my steak for a little extra umami.
Mmm, now here’s a full meal with beans, potato, toast and steak, and maybe a lunch the next day with the leftovers.
The Palms is very popular with the oldies but goodies. That’s not surprising, since The Palms has been around long enough to establish many generations of loyal customers, and as long as those who’ve been around the longest aren’t dying, they’re still coming here. Must be something in those deep fried croutons.
Where the Carp elite greet in boofy hair for meaty treats.
There is something special about the Palms that residents of this area fiercely hold dear to their hearts. There was a time that the Palms was the best Carpinteria would muster up by way of a fancy dining experience. And by that, I mean Carpinteria firmly stood against all that was rootin’ tootin’ high falutin’. Those who didn’t like the combination of a casual yet exclusionary atmosphere quickly fled to bigger cities or to Montecito. Those who stayed, well, they liked Carpinteria just as it was. And so the Palms thrived.
With the Palms long established as THE dining spot in town, it’s easy to understand why Carpinteria has been dragged kicking and screaming into the “new era” of fancy restaurants they perceive as existing only for tourists and Montecito throwbacks.
Solid 3 stars for food, plus one more for being so darn kooky, and being a local business around since 1905.
Props for the building looking so old and elegant from the outside. The interior, however, is more like walking into a church parlor room-turned-cafeteria in the 1970s. That’s not bad, just set your expectations appropriately. The menu is printed on your paper placemat, okay.
As everyone has said before, the Palms’ unique selling point is having the option to grill the main course yourself. This is, like, Carp’s version of a fondue party, so jump in and join the fun.
I amuse myself with theorizing how this marketing came to be. Back in the day, maybe carp’s residents were such talented farmers on the range that they were constantly criticizing the Palms chef about how to cook the meat. And then, the chef finally went “FINE! You do it yourself!” and stomped out of the room in a huff. Thus the self-grilling was born? Ha ha, maybe.
The result is a fun family atmosphere that is by no means fine, but an acceptable and relatively fancy destination for residents. Plus, very affordable.
The salad bar option is $6.50. You can easily fill up on the salad bar, comprised of mostly iceberg, half a dozen crunchy additions like beets, chickpeas, cucumber, onion. All the standard dressings and the Palms special topping – deep fried croutons. Plus, baked potato, chili beans, salsa and bread. Did I mention this is not fine dining? No, it’s very standard and simple. This is why it’s $6.50!
Main course options already include the salad bar. So if you order a 10 oz ribeye dinner for $14, that’s downright, almost suspiciously, cheap.
If you have any grilling steaz, you’ll be fine. There’s an assortment of condiments by the grill to enhance your meat as it sizzles. I pre-seasoned my ribeye back at the table with salt and pepper, and once at the grill added seasoned salt, powdered onion, worcestershire sauce and my secret ingredient: butter pats from back at the dining table.
Extra tip, just cuz I’m nice: the grill is hotter at the top, cooler at the bottom. Leverage that knowledge!
Use some of the butter pats to lightly butter both sides of the bread for toasting on the grill. Sprinkle some of the garlic salt on one side. Toast it in the middle portion of the grill and if it soaks up some steak umami, even better.
The bread is white and doughy (like many of the Palms resident diners), that’s how it’s done. I’ll guess that some bright-eyed chef years ago tried to introduce something new or healthy as the bread and was run out of town on rails.
Cocktails: kitschy, but with no irony. I had the Lava Lamp and it was a bit too sweet and creamy for my dinner tastes. But I was the noob at the table, everyone else got vodka tonics or beer. Lessons learned.
Dining was a great experience. Now, finally, there’s time to look around the room. Screaming children throwing bread crumbs and cucumber slices under the table, elderly couples in their sunday best, a birthday party or two, and the crowning glories of gravity defying boofy hairdos that you know only a professional armed with a can of aquanet could have put together for this occasion.
Leftovers are expected.
The Far Western holds a special place in my list of food favs. It takes effort to get to, and that greater efforts yields a greater sense of reward.
My family started coming to the Far Western since childhood, on the yearly camping trip to Los Osos. The annual trek has fallen to the wayside, but when the wanderlust to Central California picks up, this is the place I feel drawn to.
To me, this is one of the benchmarks of the central Californian steakhouse, second only to HP1 because it opened 6 years later in 1958. But it goes a step further by providing two distinct dining areas – the saloon and the dining room, and providing all the detail of meatlover’s restaurant down to animal skin curtains and booths, and rooms wallpapered with cowhide.
Meals, unless ordered a la carte, come with many little side dishes. It’s a gut-buster, yes, but it’s all so good that it’s hard to pick your battles. Just nibble on little bits of it all and put together a doggie bag.
First, crudite and salsa, or maybe it’s called a relish tray. The platter has radishes, pickles, carrots, celery, peppers and spring onions. Much crunching to keep your mouth busy while perusing the menu. There is also a bowl of salsa, for dipping, or for adding to other parts of the meal.
Then, your choice of soup or salad. Go with the soup unless you love roughage of any kind because the salad tends toward the simple iceberg although the croutons look housemade. If you’re with someone, get both. The soup that day was beef and vegetable and I thought it was lovely. Good chunks of smokey flavored and extremely tender beef. The vegetables were sturdy and not overcooked.
The main course arrives with a bowl of Santa Maria’s own pinquito beans and a basket of garlic bread. If you really need to ration your stomach space, pass on the bread, but it’s really good to dip it into the beans and hard to resist.
Our main courses were the ribs and the 8 ounce portion of the cowboy steak, medium rare. The ribs were grilled and slicked with a citrus bbq sauce. I really liked the flavor for not being overly sweet and the ribs were good to gnash the teeth on. Not falling off the bone like traditional bbq, but it’s still possible to clean up those bones properly. The ribs are two 10 ounce racks, price is $35.
The cowboy steak in the 8 ounce portion was $25, cooked right to our specifications, very juicy and tender.
The main dishes come with a choice of starch, we got a baked potato and the grilled polenta. The polenta was very simple in flavor, which was good to soak up the steak juices. The baked potato came with a pot of sour cream and sliced spring onions.
The Tavern serves up a lot of local wine, and the server came make recommendations. The wine prices are quite decent, with a push to order a bottle rather than a glass. The price of a glass is roughly half the cost of getting the whole bottle. We had a generous pour of a Malbec. And after the meal, some coffee.
There are other steakhouses within 30 miles that have a similar menu, down to the crudite and shrimp cocktail, but I like Far Western because of its authenticity without being pretentious, but still having an atmosphere of dignity where you can feel comfortable dining in boots and jeans, or in your Sunday best.
Parking’s a snap. The city is a bit of a ghost town to begin with, so if there isn’t parking on the street, there’s plenty in the public lot just across the street. And there you can admire some of the fine murals of Guadalupe.
This was food stop #2 on the Great Hwy 33 Loop I took last weekend.
I’d never heard of the place, and it wasn’t until we were looking at the online map of the driving route when we saw there was a little square of civilization on Hwy 33 a dozen or so miles before hooking up to Hwy 166 near Maricopa. But once we found out the there was a place called Sagebrush Annie’s, we found information about it online. Seemed like a worthy stop.
If it weren’t for a GPS, we’d have almost blown right by it, there’s very little warning. But it’s right on the Highway, and only requires a cautious turn into a dirt lot with a lot of loose sand at the entrance.
We weren’t the only ones thinking this was a pleasant little stop. Reservations are required for dinner. Not that we were there for dinner, we thought a quick stop for wine tasting would be in order. The sources online said the wines were consistently award winning. And we weren’t the only ones there were wine tasting. Another couple must have arrived just minutes before. Perhaps that set the priority of who got to talk the most, or maybe it’s because the two were from orange county, but they were the alpha talkers in the room.
If it’s any testament to the devotion and love people have for Sagebrush Annie’s, the two other wine tasters had left their children to wait out at the car parked in the sun, or let them play outside by the highway.
This was one of those spur-of-the-moment evenings when we’re downtown, hungry, and suddenly decide it’s the perfect time to grab a meal at Square One. Sitting at the bar is the way to go, so we can engage the folks working there.
We had a glass of red wine, and shared two main dishes. I focused mainly on chestnut ravioli with bacon and cress. Sweet tasting, and very good. T got the “Petite” steak, which was very confusingly titled, because the petite steak was anything but. If petite means 12 ounces, then yes it was petite. Coming in at $19, cooked perfectly, and served alongside french fries and green beans, this is a great deal.
Dessert was fresh sugar doughnuts with an espresso creme anglaise for dipping. Delicious.
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.
I had no background information on this restaurant inside the Paris Hotel and Casino, and low expectations for a place located so near the front door of a casino.
I was expecting high prices and mediocre food. So we ventured further into the casino, looking at restaurants and menus, all the way to Bally’s. That’s when we realized that the restaurant we were meant to go to was way back at the first place we looked, Mon Ami Gabi.
I love hanger steak, and it was on the menu for a mere $20. We went on a Friday night, no reservations, and were seated immediately with a choice of the patio or inside. We opted for inside, and were given seats right at the patio window. Best of both worlds, it turned out, because we had all the views of the patio and Bellagio fountains, and all the warmth of the interior.
We are not gut-buster buffet eaters. In fact, listening to some frantic gamblers that evening talk about how they stuffed themselves silly on a comped buffet turned us right off of trough feeding.
Loved the sauce, coupled with the thin, crisp fries that came with the steak. And I adored all that warm yummy yolk oozing into my frisee salad dressing.
Fresh, hot, crusty baguette and a pot of soft butter came to the table, along with a few mouthfuls of fine carrot salad. We didn’t need more bread, but it was so good we got a second baguette and used it to soak up the sauces of our two dishes.
But it wasn’t a perfect meal and here’s why. I love hanger steak. I love hanger steak even more when that one strand of fiber is quietly cut from the length of the steak before it’s cooked and becomes virtually impossible to remove without mincing the whole piece up. Floss is one item the TSA will still let me take on a plane, I’d don’t need it in my steak. Two quick slashes and it’s gone, it’s so easy and will vastly improve anyone’s enjoyment of the dish.
On short trips, I rarely frequent one place multiple times, but felt that a breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi would be good. It was good, and we sat outside this time in the sunshine, just as the Bellagio waters were springing into action.
I had the chocolate waffles, which were a sensible portion, and came with piles of whipped cream, chocolate sauce and jam. It was good, but I didn’t think I’d died and gone to heaven. Ted had the old standard of bacon, eggs, hashbrowns and grain toast. It was a lot of food, we had to leave some of the potato and most of the toast behind.
This time, unfortunately, we were in a hurry, so the experience wasn’t as enjoyable. But even with more time to linger, we still would have preferred dinner there over breakfast. Of particular note in the breakfast was the bacon. Thick, streaky, but not overly fatty, flat. Like it had been roasted rather than fried. Yum.
For what it’s worth, Ibrahim was my dinner server, and Brenda was my breakfast. Thanks!
Photos by Ted Mills.
Mon Ami Gabi
Ordinarily the food at Cafe Buenos Aires is Argentinian, but this was a fixed menu Christmas dinner, so it merged into a California cuisine with a slight south American flair. Well, maybe that’s what this restaurant is year round, but tonight the food trended more on the California cuisine side than usual.
First, a simple salad of greens, tomato and a grilled and/or marinated onion, I never figured that one out.
The two mains we ordered was a grilled salmon with asparagus and corn relish, and a mini beef filet with asparagus. For dessert, flan and chocolate cake.
There were a set number of festive cocktails available, plus a mojito. The cocktails were nothing spectacular, especially considering we’d just had pre-dinner cocktail at a secret private tiki bar elsewhere in Santa Barbara. The desserts, likewise, were meh. But the main courses were quite enjoyable for a large party dinner. Plus, there was no company Christmas party this year, due to the downturn in the economy, so the fact that the department had one for its members was all bonus. We all like an evening of dress-up every now and then.
Photos by Ted Mills.
Cafe Buenos Aires
My first visit here was an experience in perfection. Nothing over the top, or wildly “foodie” innovative, just good classic food and cocktails, done right.
There are two distinct dining areas, to suit your mood. The front area is the bar and bistro area, for when you’re feeling casual or moody.
I went with four friends for a quiet weekend evening and the first thing we noticed on the menu was the cocktails, with dates next to them. The dates are the accepted years that each of those cocktails was devised. It was our first hint that this place had purist ideals.
* they make their own orgeat for mai tais,
We sampled more than this, but I do not want to appear like a total lush, so I’ll leave it at that. The bottom line on the cocktails is that Sly’s is serious about them, making sure they’re done proper. I have no doubt the other cocktails on the menu are just as good.
We stuck around for dinner, and remained at the bar. The bartender knew the menu forwards and back, including the specials, and could name the sources of all the dishes we inquired about, especially when they came from local businesses. I think it’s important to note here that the more questions we asked about the food, the more pleased they were to answer them, because I feel their knowledge of ingredient sources and preparation is what makes Sly’s different to other steak and seafood places. And it’s really something to be proud of.
I had the mussels, Spanish style, which came with firm chorizo, caramelized onions and a tomato-based sauce that was so delicious we used our hot bread to soak up all those good juices. I even resorted to scooping it up with a spoon since there was so much. The dish was also generously portioned, about 20 mussels, and it cost $14. There are several other sauce options, and they all range in price between $12-$14. So reasonable.
Nothing could top a meal that brought back those European memories like a round of profiteroles for dessert could. I swear I had no idea what was on the menu and when I was offered the dessert menu I flat out said I could not be tempted, unless there was profiteroles. And guess what was there, prominently displayed on the menu. YES! A handful of choux pastries filled with vanilla ice cream, topped with chocolate sauce and a warm pot of housemade dark caramel sauce on the side. The price on this varies, depending on the number of profiteroles requested. I selected 5, and that was $13.
There are many other items on the menu, different cuts of steak, bigger cuts, lots of fish and shellfish. The prices are generally on the upper end, as these are sourced from reputable specialty companies, not mysterious agri-beef businesses or large scale produce corporations. But still, the items we happened to order were very affordable, especially given the attention to detail and the quality of the ingredients.