It’s time to start off-loading old routines and making new ones. With the passing of an old friend – my First Thursday tradition of getting dessert at a little restaurant that has now closed – I had to begin looking for a new one. There are many places I enjoy grabbing a small plate or dessert. Needless to say, it should be a work of art since it is First Thursday, an evening devoted to appreciating art.
My First Thursday companion and I share an interest in good food and pleasant company. Lately, we’ve walked around the exhibits, joined the Art Walk crew, walked away, rejoined, then wandered off in search of food. We’ve huddled in galleries, made notes of what’s on the wall and who’s looking at them. We run into friends. Then the magic starts.
First, we step into La Tour. For only having five chairs, and for it being First Thursday, it’s a miracle when the last two seats are invitingly open. Graham knows me now and is respectful of my limitations. He gives me half a glass, tonight it’s a “very special” rosé. My friend goes with a tasting flight and finds everything beyond pleasing. That’s the joy of sitting with Graham. Tonight he’s playing Toro y Moi on vinyl, both 2010′s Causers of This, and 2011′s Underneath the Pine.
After my glass, he adds a splash of just one more, something he thinks I will like. An Italian Müller-Thurgau 2010, Südtirol-Alto Adige. Of course I don’t know it, duh! But I do like it. Instantly and deeply floral scents, like a bouquet of flowers for your mum on mother’s day. But crisp and dry to the taste, but not too sweet. Oh what, $17 a bottle? I’ll take two. Graham wraps them up for me to pick up later, once I get a bite across the street. We give up our seats to some friends from the CAF and the woman who performed at their Forum Lounge that night.
We could get the $35 prix fixe at Seagrass, and Reuben first assumes we will. But no! Tonight we are in a la carte mood and we are hungry. Tonight, no holding back. But also, no pictures! :) I’m just going to enjoy the food.
Our amuse buche is one little bite of raw halibut on a silver spoon. We are excited!
We both get the Kukomoto oyster shooter, with ginger gelee, salmon roe, scallions and ale foam. It was too hard to share one of those the last time we came.
Next, the special that night, to commemorate Cinco de Mayo: a tamale with foie gras whipped into the masa, stuffed with tender stewed pork. It is topped with fine dice of bright white jicama and a brilliant green cilantro juice that makes my mouth tingle.
Then, piccata of Hudson Valley foie gras, with caramelized unagi, blood orange “pudding,” English peas, carrot puree, and emulsified olive oil. This is beyond good, I love unagi in just about any shape or form, and this was set upon foie gras lightly seared outside and pink in the middle.
I had been eyeing up my main dish for some time, but since I’d been going prix fixe it hadn’t previously be available to me. It seemed so simple, but also a decadent splurge. This was a bowl of house-made spaghettini with bottarga de mugine (mullet), lemon zest, parmesan and parsley. Bottarga is the sun-dried roe of mullet, something I’d only heard about from the spoof British series Posh Nosh, where the Hon. Simon and Minty Marchmont explain it is the “cashmere of fish” and only best acquired from the source, directly on the docks of Sardinia. “We do our bottarga run in March.” I did mine on this First Thursday. The pasta dish was tender and creamy, still a little toothsome. It was briny and tangy from the lemon and bottarga grated in. At times it was almost too salty from the fish and the parmesan but overall it was excellent. And just $12! Ripert is right, good food can be affordable.
Finally, champagne and butter poached Main lobster, with smoked hanjuku egg, Nueske’s apple-wood smoked bacon, fava beans, brioche crostini, sherry sauce accented with tomato and a hint of curry. Oh. Dear. This so was good! The bacon was deeply smokey and imparted the flavor into the fava beans. The tomato was a great balance to the richness of the butter and lobster. This dish was available as a first course for $22, or a main for $44. The small plate, along with all the other bits we got was enough. We did not even need dessert.
But we did still get a dainty toasted coconut macaroon and a little shortbread cookie each at the end of the meal.
It was not a busy night, everyone else was out partying it up for Cinco de Mayo, so Reuben, Robert, and even Joshua in the kitchen were able to come out to chat with us. The tamale was Joshua’s creation it turns out. Foie gras in the masa! How cool is that.
Our bill was just over $100 before tip, including one glass of good white wine for my friend. At about $55 a person, we feasted and walked out in a dreamy giddy state. Thinking back, we could have gotten a couple margaritas each in a loud bar or club for about the same price. Instead, we had a fabulous dining experience.
Passing through La Tour to grab my wine, we stumbled upon some winemaker friends who initially look at us walking in the door like intruders of their secret space. But everyone relaxed, hugged, and chattered for a few moments. Then it was time to go home.
Hey, it’s not me that’s all into frozen yoghurt, it’s Sandrine. If it weren’t for her persistence in inviting me along, I wouldn’t go out of my way. But through her I am experiencing a little of the latest trend that’s sweeping through Santa Barbara.
Today we used my Axxess card, it’s a one use BOGO deal on the frozen yoghurt and we got medium sized servings. Mine was a combination of vanilla and pomegranate tart. Both were good, the tart in particular, but I have to say the combination wasn’t the best fit.
Henrik loved whatever he got. Check out those brown smiles!
Cappuccino frozen yoghurt, eaten by four of us, on what’s felt like the hottest day of the year, Earth Day.
Lunch deal: complimentary glass of wine with your entree!
I had a surprisingly good chardonnay as my glass, surprising because I normally don’t like chardonnay. It went well with the lobster ravioli I ordered ($18).
One lunch companion got the red and she seemed happy with hers, too.
All the ladies at the table got the lobster ravioli. It was not a large portion, which was fine by all of us at the table. We agreed, we were satisfied, rather than full. The raviolis had big visible chunks of lobster in it. It was served on a layer of cream sauce, with three perfectly crisp tender fat asparagus spears and topped with very lightly sauteed arugula.
All the men at the table had the filet mignon sandwich that was thick and stuffed with goodies in addition to the meat. It was quite large and the guys each only ate half, taking the other half home. I don’t know how much this item cost, it was on the special of the day and I did not see the bill (viva la business lunch!).
Another special of the day was a seafood risotto that sounded fab.
Service was good, but not perfect. Our waitress was nice and all, but had a little trouble recalling the elements of the specials.
Above all, don’t forget: free glass of wine with your lunch at the Wine Cask!
Update: 18 Feb 2009
First they stop serving lunch, I think this happened a couple months ago. That was a shame because the lunch special included a glass of wine, which made it a great place for higher end, but reasonably priced lunch.
My little trip down memory lane: came here for a birthday dinner years ago when I was just beginning to realize that good food tasted good and was reading through as much MFK Fisher I could get my hands on. This was the first place I had real truffle, which had been sliced into some mashed potatoes. Also my first taste of caviar.
Le sigh. It will evolve into something else undoubtedly.
A local newspaper has a good write-up on what happened, plus some history of the business.
Update: November 2009 – Re-opened under original ownership!