This summer I made a bucket list, including a food destination list. It’s not designed to kill the spontaneity of dining out and the surprises that come from that, or to build expectations about a place. It’s more a checklist to keep me reminded of stuff, and a few priorities that turned out to be quite reasonable once I started chipping away at the list. It’s not the be all end all either – I will keep adding to it over time.
Mozza is on that list and while it wasn’t foremost on my mind, my friend Erik and I were on our way to LA for a day of looking at galleries, dinner, and a show at the Largo and once he mentioned the area we were visiting (La Brea) and that he’d heard of an amazing pizza place, my Google-fu showed that Mozza was in the area. Turns out, it was the same place Erik had heard good things about too. It was a perfect match. We arrived just after the lunch crowd had simmered down.
And what a stroke of luck, during our visit they were running a special for seats at the bar: a glass of house wine, a pizza, and a dessert for $20. I’m sold!
The ambiance of Pizzeria Mozza is elegant but casual. There are two bar options – the wine bar and the pizza bar. I opted for the latter, so I could watch all the good things coming out of the oven. And the stuff looked amazing. People were rolling out and throwing dough, dressing the pizzas, serving up tall salads and desserts. Everything looked delicious. For my $20 special, I opted for a squash blossom, tomato and burrata pizza, the chocolate tartufo dessert, and a glass of house rose. For reference, most pizzas are in the $18 range, and mine was $23, so it was a dead bargain just for the pizza alone. But also dessert! and wine!
Erik and I effectively shared this special, supplementing it with a house salad ($8) and another dessert ($10).
My squash blossom and burrata pizza was fantastic. Beautiful crust with a few charred bubbles, crisp on the bottom even after sitting on my plate a few minutes. Fresh and vibrant tasting, an absolute pleasure to eat. My house rose was also fine, being both crisp and slightly sweet tasting, perfect for my tastes and perfect for it being a hot summer day. My dessert was rich and good. It was bittersweet chocolate tartufo with olive oil gelato & sea salt. It was almost too Americanized sweet, but very good nonetheless. The couple next to me ordered the same dessert and were just finishing it when I was hemming and hawing over the menu. The woman looked up at me, mouth still full, and half mumbled and moaned at me, eyes rolling slightly. Clearly, she enjoyed it.
The guys working the pizza bar had their tasks dialed in. It’s not so much a rehearsal, but the ongoing practice of moving within each others’ spaces that made their work seemed well-choreographed. One man was looking at me, or maybe just beyond me, and with his eyes focused front, he picked up a pizza platter, held it out to his side at just the moment the fellow with the pizza peel pulled a steaming hot pizza from the oven and slide it quickly onto the platter. Everything happened behind him, no eye contact, no talk. And he knew I was watching. I saw what you did there, and I smiled at him. He smiled back and said he knows the timing well.
So, about $40 later, we rolled out of Mozza, feeling full and happy. I was especially pleased with this since it was something Erik enjoyed a lot as well, and even for being on a food bucket list, ended up being a spontaneous and serendipitous visit. I’d love to come back.
The special runs Monday-Thursday, 12 pm – 4 pm.
“Where the heart is willing, it will find a thousand ways. Where it is unwilling, it will find a thousand excuses.” – Arlen Price
It is with sadness that I say, very delayed, that The Pub has closed, and La Tour as well that was within it.
Friends knew I was very attached to La Tour, so when they’ve walked by the space on Helena and seen the doors closed, they’ve asked me about it. The people who managed The Pub have other properties, so they will concentrate their energy on those. La Tour was a singular place, a concept, and a state of mind. Location, in some ways, is not so relevant in this case, although obviously without a physical space it is currently not in business. You can’t go back, you can only go forward. I have faith it will re-emerge in some new evolution through the persistence and passion of its owner.
This evening’s special La Tour friend is Jonah. I love bringing people here for the first time!
He’d swung by the 515 project site, I was there and hungry, so we went off in search of food. It’s a slight challenge, as it was past 9 pm and most places still open was primarily greasy eats for happy drunks and we were getting indecisive and hangry. We did sort out our food (with a special visit from Tracey, awesome!), and en route back to 515 we peeked into La Tour. Bam, two empty seats and the three people already there excitedly welcoming us in to take them.
Nicky was at the helm, Jonah did the flight, I took my usual half a glass of something white recommended by the house. Here’s a shot of one of the winner’s of the flight. I’m kinda liking how the entirety of La Tour is reflected in the bottle (if you squint just the right way).
We walked out happy for several reasons:
* Jonah loved the space.
I had an appointment elsewhere in the Funkzone that afternoon and rather than schlepp myself all the way back to Ellwood for the last half hour of the workday, I hunkered down at Reds with their free wifi and finished up my work there. Turns out they have happy hour from 3-7 pm during the weekdays, and the happy hour food menu is just $4 per item.
These weren’t greasy salty snack foods designed to keep a patron parched and drinking. The menu is based on their standard menu of sandwiches, bruschetta, quiche, things you and a friend can dig into or dishes you can consume solo. I ordered a couple items for myself and a few others.
I would have loved to try every dish on their happy hour menu, there are about nine items available, but there were only three of us to share the food. And then, happy hour was over and loads of people arrived to watch the video premiere. Good times!
Shalene turned us onto this event. A beer, wine and cheese festival held in the Portland convention center. Entry fee, plus purchases are made with pre-bought tokens, plus a purchase of a mug to do tastings with.
We went into it expecting a rip off. But with a little timing, our entry fee was waived, as people arriving before noon got in free. That helped. Only Chris purchased the required tasting mug, and we all swapped saliva for the sake of saving a little money and acquiring more swag junk. It worked out really well, because we each sampled different kinds of things and shared. Chris got the beers, Ted and I got the cheese, chocolates, olive oils…things that didn’t need a mug.
Beers were actually good and well-represented. The wines we skipped. The cheeses were fine and tided us over for munchies.
But the winners of the events were the spirits. Those were tasty, and best of all, free. Also unexpected. That’s all good.
Spring Beer Fest
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.
I met the owner, Dave Potter, through Ted. Dave’s an unpretentious guy, really friendly, and he makes wine. That’s an all-round awesome formula of general awesomeness.
His day job is winemaking for Fess Parker (i.e. Frass from Sideways) and Epiphany Cellars, but at night he dons his bat suit and does his vigilante winemaking for his own line, Municipal Winemakers. The company name is a reference to Italian community wines, where small production local growers gather their resources to make a group wine for all to share. Er, I think that’s the story. This threw me off for a bit, as I thought Muni Wines was a co-op of friends. But it’s just Dave and maybe his split personalities, if he has any (I don’t think so).
Anyway, I’d been keeping up on his wine tweets and facebook updates and knew he was opening a tasting room down in the Funk Zone, but our relationship was in good enough standing that we got an invitation to visit the room before the official opening on 20 February. Thanks, Dave!
The Funk Zone is fast becoming an epicenter for local wine. Muni Wines is now the 11th winery/brewery in that area to join the Urban Wine Trail. I remember when a friend lived in these shack like rooms on Anacapa St, just a block from the beach, and now these spaces are home to 3-4 wine tasting rooms. Times sure have changed, and for the better.
Muni Wines’ tasting room was still under construction when we visited, but it was fun to see the work in progress, hear Dave’s ideas for the space and get a preview of his fermented grape concoctions. The interior has both an arty and an industrial feel to it. He and his woman Stephanie have repurposed a lot of industrial materials to be both visually appealing and practical. File cabinets are table legs, and even house a fridge. Wooden pallets have been reconstructed to hold stacks of wine. The designs of the wine labels themselves have a whimsical industrial look to them. Dave says each label can even be unique in the printing, but they are not because each design needs to be approved to certain wine labelling standards and obviously it would take forever to get unique bottle designs approved. This didn’t stop him from a self-indulgent line of select (i.e. expensive) wine with his face on the label, but there’s room to add your own line drawing for his body if that makes you feel better.
We were especially lucky that day, as he was working on a private Riesling for a friend’s wedding and we got a little sip of an extremely young and slightly cloudy white. I’d never seen that phase of wine production before, nor tried it. I liked it! Lucky friends of his.
Let’s start on the wine, shall we?
The Bright White was a light tasting wine, it was actually one of my favorites of the day. Very crisp and easy to drink for just about all occasions. The Bright Red was likewise light. Santa Barbara is a warm climate, even in winter, I think that’s why I prefer the lighter wines. Really bold “meaty” wines remind me of old people and not in a good way. I also think of stained teeth and tannins. These were very refreshing, good for summer, winter, all seasons in this town. However, they might be best consumed immediately, I don’t know how well they cellar and, er, mine tend to sit for a couple years because I take forever to drink wine.
The Dark Red is a blend of shiraz and cabernet with a richer, bolder taste. Not my favorite but by no means bad. This is the one that probably can be cellared for a bit to mature the flavors.
Now, the FIZZ, that’s the one to write home about! Whoa! Really fresh, young, lightly sweet and very fizzy sparkling red wine. It’s the most costly of his standard line at $35, but have you seen the prices of other local wineries? Their stuff starts at $35, so Fizz is a great price for a very unique wine in this area. Seriously, it’s dangerous, it’s so tasty. I left plenty red and tipsy and we had to walk it off around the Funk Zone for a while. But hey, it’s happening in the Funk Zone, we visited a gallery and grabbed a bit to eat. It all worked out.
If there’s another winery I can compare Muni Wines to, I’d say it’s a bit like Bonny Doon, but while Bonny Doon has passed its trendiness, Muni is just starting to tap into it. It’s hip and fun, it has quirks and inside jokes. I’m liking it.
After attending the wine and pasta evening during EpicureSB, I got turned onto to another event that was an evening with Cat Cora. She’s one of the house competitors for Iron Chef America, and also a Santa Barbara resident. The evening would start in the Granada theatre lobby with wine tasting and appetizers by local chefs, inspired by Cat Cora’s recipes. The second part of the evening would be upstairs, where a host and Cora would have an open discussion and audience Q & A.
The event seemed filled to capacity, with a lot of mingling folks and chatter in the lobby. Ran into a few friends and a number of professionals in the food industry. Local businesses were represented by Coast Restaurant at the Canary Hotel, Seagrass Restaurant, and the chefs from the Museum Cafe who have a private catering business. There were also a number of wineries with wines, but since I did not consume any of them, I do not recall the comprehensive list.
Coast Restaurant provided a watermelon gazpacho that was tasty, but difficult to eat with the small paddle normally used to eat ice cream rather than a spoon. I almost didn’t try the item at all, due to the logistics of getting the food into my mouth in a standing and conversational environment.
Seagrass offered a small pastry filled with a creamy mousse and topped with caviar. It was good and it would have been nice to scarf a whole bunch, but I only took one. More reason to eat at the restaurant itself.
The Museum Cafe ladies offered a small asian-fusion wrap, and unfortunately its location far back in the lobby was a dark area and I got no suitable photos of it at all.
The talk itself was interesting, although for EpicureSB I had expected the focus to be more on food in Santa Barbara. Instead the host led the forum more on Cora’s life and business, especially as it related to the celebrity chef tv show, Iron Chef America. I lack a lot of insight and interest in the celebrity chef arena, but I did appreciate the opportunity to attend the standing-room-only event. Attendees in the restaurant industry, women especially, showed much appreciation for the discussion.
I recently had lunch at Via Maestra 42, and near my table sat a man who had a 25 pound tub of Italian flour brought to him. It’s hardly an item one orders from a menu, so it got my interest. It came to pass in conversation that he was private chef, and would be holding a wine and pasta demonstration evening in town, as part of a month long event called Epicure SB.
I’d heard murmurings of the event, yet had seen very little advertising for it. And a while back I’d glanced at the website, and there was very little information available at that time. Browsing the site now, there considerably more listings available around town, starting with a grand kick-off during First Thursday that included a number of free events. Primarily, though, the special events cost money, as these were special dinners by local restaurants. Most were in the $60-$100 range, which suddenly made the $30 price to attend the wine and pasta evening quite reasonable.
We attended the evening of 8 October, held at the Hayward Center demonstration kitchen near downtown Santa Barbara. I was worried it wouldn’t have many participants, but the turn-out was decent, about a dozen people.
The chef was John Fernandez, owner of a private catering and teaching business, A Tavola! And our wine hostess was Carolyn Turner of Carina Cellars in Los Olivos. Throughout the evening, John prepared six pastas and sauces, and Carolyn poured six wines. It was very enjoyable and educational to me.
For each pasta dish, Carolyn introduced a wine, and poured for the group. Our area tends towards pinot, but Carina Cellars sure can do syrahs! Really delicious stuff.
It was an evening well-spent, and my own pasta making skills have greatly improved since then.
John and Carolyn ran the pasta and wine demonstration for two additional evenings, one in Los Olivos and another back at the Hayward Center a week later. I’ve heard the Hayward Center one was sold out. As it should have been.
The full photoset of 95 images is available here, on flickr. It includes the names of the pasta dishes and its wine pairing.
Half an hour to spare before catching the Hangover with some girlie peeps, I popped into Square One for a little morsel. As luck would have it, the girlies were able to join on the short notice and we shared two desserts.
But doesn’t the menu look fabulous? I had hoped to be able to share one of the savory dishes, but there was not enough time and not enough stomach real estate to go around. Next time, I am very eager to try the kobe burger, and the raviolo of crab with uni broth, $14 and $12 respectively.
Left: strawberry shortcake with a buttermilk biscuit, whipped cream, mint, and farmers market strawberries, $8.
Right: Vahlrona chocolate pot de creme with pistachio cream and biscotti biscuits, $7.
Nicky and Sue shared a glass of sauvignon blanc, but I passed on the vino.
Update: 25 June
I could not get that kobe burger out of my head. So I grabbed Brian the beef eater and scooted on back to Square One the next night.
We started with two charcuterie items, the foie gras torchon and sopressa. It came with the usual, and always delicious, accompaniments of arugala, fennel and blood orange salad, fried garlic and capers, brined capers, pickled shallots, wholegrain mustard and mayonnaise.
The charcuterie also came with lightly warm and toasted baguette, and sweet butter sprinkled with salt. I love butter served this way, and often do it at home for my own bread. There’s a slight crunch to the butter, and the tongue tastes the salt that much quicker. Try it!
We ordered two mains.
I’d say the chicken, while wonderfully tender and flavorful, was slightly salty considering the fries were already a strong source of salt. Also, I certainly appreciate the flavor of dark meat, but we in America have been brainwashed into thinking white meat is superior, and that school of thought isn’t changing for a while. A combination of some dark and white meat could have made the dish even better, and perhaps once people taste the two side-by-side, begin to realize that dark meat should be considered sub par.
No dessert this time. We were stuffed and had to walk off some of the meal.