Saturday, September 24, 2022

Considering Zaddy's Canned Cocktails

One of the great joys of cocktails is the making of them--a tiny bit of precision, a whole bunch of taste, quality ingredients, a modicum of physical effort. Bonus points for any witty bartender banter. Boom, you've made people pleased in less than 10 minutes. How often does that happen?

So I guess I'm not the audience for canned cocktails, and based on Zaddy's website that's certainly true--I go there and feel late Gen X old in a nanosecond. That said, the cartoon skeletons featured on their Corpse Reviver are right up my Halloween loving alley, so I have to admit they've got marketing down.

As for the drinks, they aren't bad, particularly if you aren't hoping they nail a full flavored, just shaken version. The 100 calories bit is appealing but not half as much as the 4% ABV. Sure, these aren't as flavorful as a regular cocktail, but they are playing one with mighty fist of alcohol tied behind their backs. Think of them as delightfully refreshing midday sippers that are easy to take to the beach or on a hike. Or just to your "why is it still so warm" backyard.

My vote would be for the Gin(ger) Fizz first, and not just because I'm a sucker for ginger's sweet tang. It works in a register that one could easily confuse for hard seltzer or kombucha, if not for that background hum of juniper thanks to the gin. And, yes, it's the Corpse Reviver I like the least, only because I'm so partial to the real one and there's no skimping on all its moving parts, even with fennel subbing for Pernod/absinthe. 

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Santa Barbara’s Burrito Week Is Back!


Be hungry. Be very hungry. I got to write about El Zarape's #7 Pasilla Chile Burrito for the Independent's Burrito Week. That write up begins like this:

Full disclosure: I have eaten more El Zarape breakfast burritos than any other to-go item in Santa Barbara, only partially because I live on the Westside. Usually, I opt for the straightforward egg, rice, and beans, so this Burrito Week variation is kind of like trading in your Hyundai for a Lexus.

If you want to read the rest of this blurb and all the other blurbs by other fine Indy writers, go to their website.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Santa Barbara Should Be Primed for Rare Society


Poets have the old line that the sonnet is a form that only allows for perfection. In the restaurant biz, the same might be true for the steakhouse. It’s a tight and classic genre expressed in not just impeccably seared steaks but also in all the accouterments: alpine-cold martinis, busting with butter and tarragon Béarnaise, and as much cream — that is, all the cream — you can get into every vegetable side.

Rare Society comes to Funk Zone–adjacent State Street ready to show Santa Barbara what San Diego already knows: Chef Brad Wise has a burgeoning beef empire on his hands. Wise and his team appreciate all the steakhouse “rules,” while pushing at the lines just enough to deliver a spectacular experience of muchness, at a slightly less than equally extravagant price point.

Care to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

A Review of "Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire"

 Forget about the butterfly effect, it seems the last 130 years of U.S. foreign involvement should be called the Butler Effect. By that I refer to the now mostly forgotten—despite his distinctive name—Smedley Butler, who upon his death in 1940 was the most decorated Marine in our country’s history. Those medals were awarded thanks to his work helping create a century of empire—his first action was in Cuba, and of all places at Guantánamo, during the Spanish-American War. From that point he ended up Zelig-like at the heart of every flashpoint of America’s global attentions—the Philippines, China for the Boxer Rebellion, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, France for World War I, and China again. (That leaves out his time as commanding general at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, and a brief run as Philadelphia Director of Public Safety, helping kickstart our still problematic militarization of police.) 

Perhaps we don’t really know of Butler despite his exploits in our name because we like to sweep our national ugliness under the rug of history. As just one example, remember in 1980 Ronald Reagan partially ran for president against Carter for “giving away” the Panama Canal Zone that he claimed was a “sovereign United States territory just the same as Alaska.” Reagan and all those who voted for him could have profited from reading Jonathan Katz’s eye-opening Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire. The book is a vivid history lesson, a corrective to national amnesia, and a somber warning that we can never feel secure our democracy is, let alone will remain, truly democratic.

Care to read the rest then do so at the California Review of Books.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Tech Team Powers Validation Ale in Santa Barbara


Attention to detail can be everything. Brian Deignan, co-owner of the Funk Zone’s new Validation Ale with his wife, Briana, lamented the sad state of bathrooms at too many breweries. “We built twice as many as the city asked,” Brian proudly states. “It’s like a museum in there.” 

Those palatial bathrooms are just one data point to show that this couple took their tech background and rethought the ways of beer and restaurants. The two met while at GoTo Meeting; Brian most recently worked at AppFolio, while Briana has been working at Zoom since before it was a verb, as she put it. That put them in a perfect position financially to go for their dream, but it also gave them a unique perspective. Briana says, “Coming into an industry with no experience, we got to question the status quo.”

Care to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Stars Align at Maui's Huihui

Too often in the restaurant world, when you get a view like the one that kicks off this post, that's pretty much all you get. How greedy should we be, after all, what with a stunning Maui sunset as you stare at Lanai in the distance, and yes, two talented musicians play and a non-cliched hula dancer prances in the foreground, too? 

Well, Huihui, the newest restaurant to open oceanside in Ka'anapali (it's 13 months or so old), wants to deliver even more. This is a paradise, after all, so might as well pile on the goodnesses. They claim the name means constellation, which is fitting given the star-studded evening skies above Maui, but appropriate in other ways too. For example, the ceiling lights in the interior part of the smartly-designed indoor-outdoor space are arranged irregularly, so the bulbs form patterns themselves. And then there's the constellation of success the spot embraces--location, a crack staff, a yummy cocktail program, and, most importantly, scrumptious food from chef Tom Muromoto. 

I didn't get great photos of the drinks, but be sure to get the Lahaina Smokestack if you like smoky cocktails. Just the name is clever, as the Pioneer Mill smokestack dominates the nearby town. In addition to its base of smoked Casamigos tequila, when they bring you the drink they infuse it with a bit of torched wood chips at the table--alas, given the sylvan breezes the smoke zips away quickly, but it's a fun touch.

We started with the appetizer above, poke holokai, which indeed does look more like a sushi roll cut up with fins of taro chips attached (that also make delicious eating implements). The poke during our visit was ahi (it's mackerel if that fish is in season, and as an oilier fish it would have been fun to taste the difference), mixed with a smidge of mayo (for creaminess more than anything) and crab and avo. The nori worked for more crunchiness and salt. 

We were a bit less impressed by the Makawao avocado and crab salad, but that's for easily fixed reasons. First, the greens were underdressed, and needed more of a punch from the citrus oregano dressing. The avo stuffed with crabmeat was spot on, and they wisely served the avocado a bit under-ripe, to make sure the eating had some integrity. Then we just weren't sure about the breadfruit croutons. Certainly novel, they weren't crunchy as much as chewy, lacking much flavor. At least they bring the local and the sustainable.

The mains kicked on all cylinders, though. Above is the tangy fish lāwalu: grilled banana leaf wrapped daily i‘a (fish), creamy abalone sauce, cilantro, pohole (fiddle fern) & ogo (seaweed) relish. That's a scoop of mashed potato on the side. Lots of local ingredients done quite traditionally, with an almost vinegarish kick, probably partially coming from those odd and wonderful orange-ish fruited lime-looking guys on the plate, the calamansi.

But the absolute winner of the evening was the Seafood Huihui, which makes sense--you name a dish after your restaurant, it better carry that weight. Think of it as some Maui-cross of cioppino and a noodle-less laksa. There's so much seafood in there you can easily split it, although perhaps I shouldn't use the word easily, what with a red sauce and the need to remove flesh from shells making it a bit of a dangerous bowl of food for anyone not sporting a bib (they don't offer any). Fish, scallops, shrimp with heads, lobster, snow peas, king mushroom--somehow each separate ingredient was cooked just to and not beyond its appropriate point, usually one of the failings in a stew presentation like this one. (C'mon, you've had the veggies from a crudité plate alongside the fish hammered to mush dish at less skillful kitchens, haven't you?)

Be sure to order rice to soak up the intoxicating sauce, as you will insist on having every drop of it. Rich but not too spicy, it warms more than burns, so while a cousin to a curry, it's not as much vivid as enveloping. What they admit goes into it is coconut milk, tomato broth (plus some actual stewed tomato), and roasted kukui or candlenut, which sounds like a more exotic and pungent version of macadamia from my research.

You can also ask the staff anything and they've got answers, about the food or the history of the restaurant nestled in the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel, almost all the way to the famous Black Rock, a distinctive outcrop that catches the last of the sun's rays and then is romantically lit by torches after dark. Timing melded Hawaii laid back--we never felt pressured to eat up--but we also never wound up sitting around waiting for a course. Plus any non-eating time was pleasantly occupied listening to the two musicians, blessedly under-amplified if anything. There's never a need to shout in this comfortable space.

But we all might scream for a banana bread ice cream sandwich. That's macadamia nut ice cream made in house amidst the perfectly moist yet integrally sound banana bread that will make you feel you're having something homemade at a stop on the road to Hana. Sure, why not drizzle some caramel, too.

Or end with another respectful take on a Hawaiian classic--pineapple upside-down bread pudding, suffused with a tequila sauce for some boozy oomph (no, it didn't remind of over-soaked rum cakes from my New Jersey youth--this was sophisticated). The bread pudding had a perfect sweet-savory, crunchy outside--creamy inside yin yang thing going.

Huihui ends up pretty much as magical as Maui itself.