Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Natural History Never Tasted This Good


I've been writing about the Santa Barbara Wine Festival for ten years, long enough for it to officially change its name to the Santa Barbara Food + Wine Festival to recognize you get as much to eat as drink (more on that in a bit). But that decade really is just a grape in the bucket, so to speak, for the festival--put on by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History--is celebrating its 30th Anniversary.

That edition is happening this Saturday under the oaks behind the Museum. So it seemed appropriate to give a quick course in eight reasons you need to go if you care about southern California wine, local food, and your own satisfaction.

1) It was first. Check out that name. You don't get that by jumping in late to the "oh, Santa Barbara wines are cool" game. They've been doing this since 1983 (they missed a couple years)--that's 21 B.S. (Before Sideways). The Museum deserves huge props for supporting the local industry in its youth.

2) Because they were first, they've earned the respect and affection of the founding winemakers of the region. So not only will you get to taste Alma Rosa and Au Bon Climat and Brander and Fiddlehead and Ken Brown and Longoria and Lumen and Qupe, the odds are pretty good the person pouring that wine will be Richard Sanford or Jim Clendenen or Fred Brander or Kathy Joseph or Ken Brown or Richard Longoria or Lane Tanner or Bob Lindquist. You learn stuff here, just by being near. It's not just some well-meaning but unknowing volunteer telling you, "Yes, the chardonnay is a white!"

3) Oaks. They're really fun to stand under. They keep you cool. And there's a creek bed. Rumor has it, there was even water in it this past winter. (That is, there's no more beautiful setting for a wine event.)

4) Food is important at wine festivals, if for nothing else than to give you ballast. But it's way better than that at SBW+FF. A few years back they even had Michael Hutchings do cooking classes--now he just feeds you directly. But he's only one star, and the festival also knows how to keep track of what's latest and greatest. Highlights include Barbareño, Bob's Well Bread, Pico, Loquita, and the just opened and highly lauded Bear and Star. It's the kind of event where the DD's (who, if they pre-register are free entrants with a paying guest) get to have almost as good a time as the tipplers.

5) This year there will be booze. Santa Barbara's own Ian Cutler will serving up tastes of his deliciously distilled wares.

6) It's run, with a keen sense of everything anyone might want or need, by event consigliere (that might not be her official title) Meridith Moore. There's no wiser, more gracious host, and the museum is very lucky to have her.

7) Just as the food has kept up with what's happening, so have the invited wineries. So it's not just a respect for the long-time players, it's the folks with a strong if not as long track record, like Larry Schaffer at tercero (he will have homemade bread for you too, no doubt, the man knows his yeast) and Tablas Creek from Paso bringing its stable of brilliant Rhone wines (have their rosé, you will be hot, it will be refreshing), and Larner Wines (did you hear they've finally got permission to have a tasting room by appointment!). And then there are newer, at least when it comes to their own wines, folks like Dave Potter and the brilliance he makes as Potek (here's hoping he's pouring his Kimsey Syrah), and Graham Tatomer, making Riesling and Gruner safe for southern CA. (Correction, change safe to delicious.)

8) One hundred percent of the net proceeds from the Wine Festival supports nature and science education for adults and children. So you have a great time and are doing something good. If there's ever a time we need more education and more science, it's now.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bacara Blast





While Santa Barbara might like to show off, it still puts its fancy pants on one leg at a time. On June 25, those festive, fantastic trousers are going to be at the Bacara as it celebrates the first anniversary of the remake/remodel of its main restaurant Angel Oak with a party called One Under the Sun. Guests will get to feast on special dishes, enjoy drinks from local wineries and breweries, and take in our coastline from a gorgeous site.

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

All Ginned Up


Despite the lyrical wisdom of Pink Floyd, we do need an education, especially when it’s a Gin Education Dinner. Just ask craft distiller Ian Cutler of Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, who is willing to be our teacher for the evening on June 12. “As opposed to whiskey, when it comes to gin, it’s still a mystery spirit to many people,” Cutler opines. “They often don’t even know what the key flavor is, let alone there are multiple styles.”

So think of the dinner/tasting that Cutler has developed with Phil Wright at Bar 29 as a way to lose your ginnocence, so speak. After a three-course meal paired with cocktails featuring jenever/London dry, Old Tom/barrel-rested, and New Western/sloe gin, you’ll know all about that key ingredient juniper (the taste gin-o-phobes often call Christmas tree), plus a whole bunch of history. Along the way you’ll have eaten a strawberry goat cheese salad, a Wagyu beef slider with bacon onion jam, lemon aioli and garlic fries, and sesame-ginger flat iron steak lettuce wraps with peanut sauce.

Cutler, always for “getting more knowledge out,” has often had a hand in public events, and when recently talking to Wright mentioned he hoped to do a gin dinner. Before he knew it he was pleased to have a partner, for as he says, “They’ve got some classy cocktails at Bar 29.”

Cutler – who currently only makes a New-Western style gin (that is, not just a slap of juniper, but something a bit more floral with some distinct citrus notes) – sums up the evening this way: “I’m just trying to fill that information gap about gin. It also helps me get out in the community, not just to get people to know my products but to know the more global sense of gin.”

4-1-1: Don’t end up under the host at Cutler’s Artisan Spirits Gin Education Dinner, Monday, June 12, 6:30 p.m. at Bar 29, 1134 Chapala St. Tickets are $65 per person, plus service fee (inclusive of tax and gratuity). For tickets and more information nightout.com/events/bar29gindinner/tickets.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Bitter and Beautiful


First, we just have to get over that there's a thing called Negroni Week, which simply means some cocktails have crazy good press agents. But hey, it's the Negroni, and to do that horrible thing of quoting myself: "If the martini is the little black dress of drinks, the Negroni is a sequined strapless gown — not for everyone, but for those who can pull it off, a sexy stunner. Sticky, sweet, bitter, beautiful, this cocktail traditionally made from gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth beguiles bartenders as it seems so simple, yet suggests so many variations (the drink itself is a twist on the Americano)."

Just tonight to get myself  prepared for writing this post I whipped up a rye variation, as I felt a hankering for dark liquor as opposed to clear (I love gin, but it can make head hurt when it's in a mean mood, and I never know when that mood is--I refuse to see this metaphorically). Let's call tonight's drink The Rye Amar Republic (the Rye-C-Groni?) and it goes like this (for one cocktail): 1.5 oz. rye, 1.5 oz. Amaro Lucano, 1 oz. Carpano Antica Formula. Ice, stir, up in a coupe, lemon peel. It's a lovely Amaro, smoother than many, and the fancier sweet vermouth ups the viscous quotient too--it's easy to imagine the lemon peel might stand straight up in the drink.

Meanwhile Acme Hospitality is having fun with the Negroni all week, so try to check to what they're doing--some money is going to charity, and if you fill out a passport from all 5 locations, you win valuable prizes (complimentary menu goodies). One of those Negronis is a donut (stuffed with campari cream, lathed in lemon juniper glaze, topped with candied lemon zest). I'll see you at Helena Ave. Bakery tomorrow myself. (Oh, and there's also Campari washed in jamon at Loquita. This little piggie went to Negroni....)

Here's the full deal, as you want the details:

ACME’S NEGRONI WEEK IN THE FUNK ZONE: JUNE 5-9

The Lark

(Benefits Santa Barbara Humane Society)
6 Negroni cocktails featuring at least one per day, each day of the week

Negroni Jardin - $14
Dolin Genepy des Alpes, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, Suze Dandelion Liqueur, house fennel bitters, fennel frond garnish

The Bitter End - $14
Venus Aquavit, Tempus Fugit Gran Classico, Punt e Mes Vermouth, lemon twist

Florita - $14
Correlejo Reposado Tequila, Campari, Napoleon Mandarin, lemon twist

Negroni Punsch - $14
Kronan Swedish Punsch, Leopold Bro’s Aperitivo, Botanist Gin, Batavia Arrack, lemon twist

Negroni Alexandre - $14
Ventura Spirits Strawberry Brandy, Campari, heavy cream, Crème de Cacao, dollop of house Campari whip, shaved dark chocolate

California Negroni - $14
Cocchi Americano, Maraschino, Aperol, Botanivore Gin, california laurel bay leaf, citrus-poached Bing cherry, Meyer lemon peel

Loquita

(Benefits Angels Foster Care of Santa Barbara)
serving the Bellota Negroni every day, all week long

Bellota Negroni - $14
Bellota Jamon-washed Campari, Gin Mare, Vermut Rojo, Amontillado sherry

Les Marchands

(Benefits Food from the Heart of Santa Barbara)
serving the Bruto Brazillian every day, all week long

Bruto Brazilian - $14
St. George Bruto Americano, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, Avua Cachaca Amburana

Lucky Penny

(Benefits YStrive for Youth, Inc.)
serving the frozen Gertoni Frogroni every day, all week long

Gertoni Frogroni - $12
watermelon, gin, Carpano Bianco, Lillet rose, peach bitters

Helena Avenue Bakery

(Benefits Heal the Ocean)
serving Negroni Donuts all week long

Negroni Donut - $5
campari cream, lemon juniper glaze, candied lemon zest

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sip This: Good Bar Special Grapefruit IPA





When tasteful, enterprising people get together, especially over a few drinks, expect good things to happen, like this collaborative effort between M.Special Brewing Company and The Goodland in Goleta. While far from the first or most famous grapefruit IPA (here’s toasting to you, Ballast Point), it’s hard to deny how well citrusy hops and citrusy citrus play together, and the grapefruit is strong in this IPA — timed perfectly as the weather warms up. It was as if they were thinking you should drink it around The Goodland’s pool.

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

No Miss Steak

Here's the danger about waiting six weeks to write about a dinner at a place that really truly is seasonal (yeah, yeah, everyone is seasonal now, which is why people are serving tomatoes like it's summer already)--going through PYT's current menu, only two things we had back in April are still on the menu and one is our dessert. So that's going to make this write-up a bit more impressionistic and less specific, but no less praise-full. For what Josef Centeno is doing at PYT (which might stand for Pretty Young Turnip), the mostly vegetarian restaurant he's carved out of the charming old school, mosaic-tiled Ledlow space downtown, is a delight. It's the kind of place you want to bring those who don't think vegetarian food is compelling; they will leave feeling both full, and very differently about the essential need for animal protein on a plate.

 OK, so that's a salad. The "greens' in this case are bok choy, grilled a bit, but then you can see how much other flavor joins them, from sultanas to what was called a snow of cheese. Fresh herbs. So much life in one dish. But with the bit of cooking on the bok choy, just enough sense of the seasons changing, too, spring warming out of winter.

 This plate might be even harder to read as a photo, but it's favas seriously seasoned and aside feta and dill and bread to scoop it all up, a sort of nod to hummus that's not so much deconstructed as un-constructed, so heartier, each element announcing itself to you as you ate it. You would be a fool not to welcome it back.
Then this, called morels and ramps. We sort of had to get it, given how you can't really buy either as just ingredients in Santa Barbara (why are we such a touch town in which to find interesting mushrooms?). If I recall correctly, there's sesame seed in there--he seems to like to dribble some seeds atop things to bring flavors together--and again, this truly sang spring.

 And those seeds are back for the hand-torn pasta, an exercise in the joys of texture. There's nothing quite like the pull-chew of "live" pasta, and this dish had that down. Centeno also finds wonderfully complementary matches from across the Pacific rim to make unusual, memorable flavors--here it's shisito peppers giving the cream a bit of zip, but then there's yuzu, and cilantro, and brown butter, and mint. Bright, brighter, brightest. Talk about figuring out how to make pasta seem not in the least bit a heavy dish.
That's dessert--peanut pudding, whipped cream, salty caramel. Perhaps the one less pleasing dish of the night, but then again, it didn't have any veggies. (Plus it could have more salty caramel, because what couldn't.)

Still, we'd go back in a sec to see what's the best stuff just fresh from the fields meant to taste even more like its own loveliness.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bar 29 Woos Evening Drinkers

So what do you do for a sequel when you own two of the best beloved dive bars in town? Go a bit upscale. That’s the latest move for Phil and Kourtney Wright, who have owned The Sportsman (hey, Nerf Herder has immortalized it!) and Whiskey Richards and have now opened Bar 29 & Kitchen in the old Hungry Cat space.

Want ot read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.