Sunday, December 9, 2018

Piperis's Perfect Potent Potables

Repeal Day is one of those odd negative holidays--hooray, we're not getting beaten anymore!--but that said, aren't you happier you have a glass of something in your hand right now? Even if you don't drink, I hope the notion of Prohibition, saying you legally can't do something that's not morally wrong, should rankle. Well, December 5th was repeal day, the 85th year of the return for legal drinking (and producing and selling) in the USA. And there's just one MAGA I support: Make America Grape/Grain Again.

All that's prelude to getting the chance to sample the latest cocktail creations for the fall-winter season from one of our town's masters, George Piperis, at the Finch & Fork at the Canary Hotel this December 5th. I've had the luck to drink with and write about him before, but he's the kind of talent that lands drinks in Imbibe Magazine and geeks out on his milk punch project, which he talks about like making boozy cheese in reverse, and along the way points out Benjamin Franklin did it first. Hoping to have it ready for Christmas, he concludes, "I could do an eggnog, but that's so boring."

Boring has no room in a Piperis menu. The current one carries over some of the previous's greatest hits, from the delicious AND gloriously goofy Barbie's Bath Bomb to the old fashioned with the very new wrinkle--he washes the bourbon in duck fat. But it's the new creations I want to highlight, as in their breadth and depth they astound at every turn. Take the You Got Chocolate in My Peanut Butter, a nod to the old Reese's ad, but Reese's never tasted this good.
(Note these images are all on the fly iPhone photos--follow Piperis on Instagram to see them photographically pimped out.) This time it's Toki Japanese whisky that gets the wash treatment, but with peanut butter. The chocolate comes from Tempus Fugit créme de cacao and some chocolate shavings across that lush peanut butter foam that's so rich and flavorful you'd order it on its own. Despite that creamy top, Piperis asserts (rightfully), "It's not just a dessert cocktail--the most masculine man can drink it." Well, as long as he has some taste.

Then there's the Tryna Send It, which he calls one for the kids who work with him. At this point I felt truly old, but fair enough, I don't know snowboarders yell encouragement by screaming, "Send it!" Piperis wanted to make a "good Long Island Ice Tea," is how he put it, and that's a challenge, as the usual LI Iced Tea is simply "how many alcohols can we mix in one drink and make it sweet enough you want another?"

His drink still delivers a boozy punch, but does so with velvet-gloved elegance, starting with the garnish of candied ginger heavily-dusted with his own fermented spicy pineapple sambal--he warns me to mix it moderately into the drink, as it does have quite a kick. The drink is composed of pineapple juice, Casa Noble blanco tequlia, The Funk rum, and Singani 63, a Bolivian unaged brandy Piperis calls "real trendy." 
One of my personal favorites now on the list is the Captain Jack Sparrow, as I'm not trendy at all. I'd like to think of as more a Keith Richards than a Johnny Depp drink, myself, full of depth, unflashy skill, and surprisingly well-aged. It kicks off with Jack​ Daniels rye, off course, but earns its buccaneer bona fides in several ways, starting with Chairman’s Forgotten Cask rum (turns out Chairman's actually found a barrel and no one knew what production it was from). To tease out rye and rum flavors in some of their most varied directions there's Tempus Fugit banana liqueur and a roasted banana slice for garnish, and then a few shots of both blackstrap and tobacco bitters, the latter, oddly enough, not made with any tobacco but with bacon fat and coffee. (Beware, vegetarians!)

Piperis compares the drink in composition to a Boulevardier, but think a boulevard in Barbados, maybe. And no, it's not too banana in the slightest--it's a drink where all the parts add up to one lovely sum.

It's a fascinating companion to another more classically-conceived drink I don't have a photo for, Hayden on Holiday, named not just for the Basil Hayden in it but also a friend of Piperis who is always on vacation. (And given the season and our location, how do you not do a "holiday" named drink?) Definitely a drinker's drink (you know who you are) the namesake bourbon get the smoky punch of mezcal, too, plus Sfumato, an Amaro made from artichoke that's lighter and smoother than the better known Cynar. Add in some Cocchi Teatro Dopo and Thai bitters, and help people realize casks add coconut notes by drizzling coconut oil on the one big rock in the double highball glass, so the ice looks like it has a snowy cap, and the smell hits you as you go in for every sip. This is a deep drink, one worth much slow consideration.

If you want to go with what seems to be a very Santa Barbara drink, it's hard to pass on the Daughter of Man that, with its eucalyptus bitters and eucalyptus leaf tied alongside, Chryss joked, "Smells like a koala's butt." Having not been upclose with those Australian critters I can't say for sure, but the drink itself brings together Copper & Kings brandy, honey crisp apple, a black currant reduction with red wine, honey, and those bitters into a refreshing very unusual drink perfect for this time of year. Sweetish, without being sweet, fruity, but not too.
Then there's version 2.0 of last menu's In the Pines, this time featuring Death's Door Gin, a sure way into this gin-lover's heart. (1.0 had mezcal.) Of course the gin is pine-y to start but it gets extra pine power from Zirbenz, a stone pine liqueur from the Alps, plus an at the table dusting of pine pollen, fragrant as a field of Christmas trees, and supposedly an aphrodisiac to boot. Add some Cardamaro (Piperis likes those cardoon-artichoke Amaros) and Cocchi Torino and you have a drink deceptively smooth for all its gin.
Piperis sums it up this way, "It's an aggressive menu for this market but I'm just proud of it." And he should be, as it's playful, powerful, challenging, comforting, and most of all downright delicious.

Speaking of, Peter Cham, the executive chef, has the kitchen firing on all cylinders right now too. For example here's the most lovely of scallop dishes I've perhaps ever-eaten.
Perfectly seared to be nearly crunchy on the outside and just-cooked but cooked inside, the scallops sit atop a rich brown butter cauliflower puree. Then the plate is artfully strewn with romanesco, roasted to just the right toothsomeness, pickled kumquat, as vividly tasting as they look, crispy capers, and enough edible flowers to make you feel you're eating at a florist. Gorgeous plate of food. (And a great pairing with the Tryna Send It.)

Same with the trout, again showing off Cham's skill with brown butter, this time made with toasted hazelnuts. That's buried in broccoli florets, more toasted hazelnuts, and the most eye-catching of greens. And along with the brown butter, it sits atop green goddess dressing that will make you think young you might have been onto something liking even the blandish bottled versions of it (I'm remembering you, Seven Seas), and warm multigrains to give the dish yet more crunch. Eat it with an In the Pines and you'll feel like you're out fishing on a tranquil Eastern Sierra stream.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Santa Barbara Wine Pioneers Open Their Libraries

When winemaker Morgan Clendenen picks up my call to chat about the upcoming Pioneers Pour Again Heritage Tasting, she takes a break from capturing photos at Alma Rosa Winery for social media posts heralding the event. For she’s not just the owner/winemaker at Cold Heaven, she’s an unstoppable marketing force for the wine region, both here and now in North Carolina, where she lives part time.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Chaplin's Favourite Pastime*

You can teach an old bar older tricks, it seems. Such is the case at Chaplin's Martini Bar (remember Charlie owned the Montecito Inn back in the day), in the spot of the recently and quickly deposed Frankland's Crab Co.--turns out town doesn't want to pay the admittedly spendy price for ridiculously fresh seafood, particularly a few blocks from the sea, especially when chef-owners Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee then opened The Monarch next door. Lesson learned: you can drive your own self out of business with a second very hot spot.

But that doesn't mean Montecito didn't need a free-standing bar (non-directly restaurant connected, "management would prefer you eat and not just drink at the bar bar," that is), and now it's got one in Chaplin's. Plus, where do you go for a drink until midnight, when the sidewalks roll up at half past nine? You might remember the spot when it was the Montecito Cafe's bar, a bit bright, and there was popcorn and a blue cheese stuffed olive Blue Sapphire martini and a mini-menu with that trout salad everyone loved. A jewel box of a spot, with its curved wall of windows looking out at the porte cochere for the hotel and Coast Village Road, and you were, no doubt, meant to gaze out while those hoping to be as chic as you ogled in hoping to glimpse a celebrity or someone having a better time than they were.

Now that glass door is mirrored, though, so you can only see out. For the Chaplin's theme is speakeasy-dark, a hide-away for assignations and those wishing they had some. You know, romantic and borderline Deco-y, especially when the piped-in tunes feature Rudy Vallee and other '20s crooners. It's like a deep dark secret right there on CVR.

Fittingly the menu leans gin, but not of the bathtub variety. Still the cocktails call back to an earlier era, too, leading with one of my faves, the Corpse Reviver #2, a blended joy of gin, lemon juice, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao (think snooty Cointreau), and Kina l'Aero D'or (sort of absinthe-y). But, hey, Chaplin's, one of the drink's great kinks is you're supposed to serve it with a cherry, its red glowering at you sexily from the v-ed glass bottom. (Dr. Cocktail says so, not just me.)

But then there's the subtly honeyed Bee's Knees from the Ritz in Paris, and for those gin-averse, another one of my faves, the Vieux Carre from New Orleans (think a Sazerac jiggered up a notch), and heck, they even feature a Rusty Nail, and if anything is due for a comeback it's Drambuie. Classics, all.

What's more, Chaplin's some nights has one of my most cherished Santa Barbara servers working the bar, Jaime Rocha (not pictured above). He's worked at the Wine Cask, San Ysidro Ranch, bouchon, and where else but here at Chaplin's, which would be one of my favorite hangouts if I only could walk to it. Because it would be best if I then walked happily, woozily home.

Oh yeah, forget to mention in the original post: you can order the entire Monarch menu in Chaplin's. So go crazy!

*"His Favourite Pastime" is a 1914 American comedy film starring Charlie Chaplin as the drunken masher.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Sip These: The Good Lion’s Green Beast and Milk & Honey’s Elizabeth Departed

What better way for the Santa Barbara Public Library to extend outreach for its Santa Barbara Reads choice for 2018, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, than by asking bartenders to pull together suitable odd parts into a wondrous new cocktail life? Four establishments are participating through October 31, and I’ve had the good fortune to sample two of their concoctions.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Bear and Starry Night

So it turns out if Eli Parker sets out to buy some art for his house, you could end up with a brilliant idea for a series of dinners. That's how The Bear and Star decided to kick-off Food for Thought, which they call "an artists series celebrating the connection between food and mind. The series invites modern innovators, from artists and musicians to technology inventors, to share their creative journey with the Los Olivos community." To begin the restaurant invited Grey Projects LA to visit, artists Tommy May and Gwen O'Neil, and set a lovely outdoor gallery behind the restaurant for us to dine in, May's and O'Neil's work surrounding us with blasts of color and composition. Then chef John Cox's plates echoed and aped the art--the bright orange hue from one canvas caught caught in the edible flower on one plate, etc.

May himself was amazed at how well Cox responded not only to their art, but to their conversations. For instance, May and O'Neil both find themselves artistically inspired by the landscapes that roll by them on long drives (such as the one from LA to SB), and one spot along that drive that always struck May is the stretched-out strawberry fields of Oxnard as one descends the Camarillo grade. Voila, the dessert, not to begin with the ending: Strawberry Fields, featuring a white chocolate cremeux (such a luscious texture and flavor), super-intense sundried strawberries, strawberry ice, what would be called strawberry leather if it weren't so ridiculously elegant (think more strawberry stained glass), pistachios, and anise hyssop.

Cox repeatedly managed to capture mini-narratives with each exquisite plate of food, while never getting precious about it. Take the opening salvo, called Mussel Beds, that he said he wanted to echo the fascinating seaside mix of nature and the industrial (Cox lives on a boat in the Santa Barbara harbor, so he knows this scene very well). The mussel is smoked, therefore all the richer in flavor, and sat upon a black garlic puree whose scent practically overwhelmed when all the servers simultaneously lined up to  plate the dish for dinners (the one fine dining touch B&S never seems to give up, and a fine one it is, so much theater and democracy in one grand gesture). But while it hits the nose like an Ali right hook, it hits the palate as if I was punching you (I'm very gentle, you know). Then there's the spectacular loop of the squid ink bruschetta, delicate almost as lace yet flavorful yet sculptural.
What a great pair with some J. Wilkes 2016 Pinot Blanc, a varietal that doesn't get enough credit, or enough drunk, but certainly had the elegance to match the powerful dish, and just enough petrol and saline to give it grip and add to the industrial edge. GM/somm Allison Crawford certainly has a lot of fun with matching these inventive dishes with the right pour (heck, it was a Jorge Ordonez Muscat de Alexandria for Strawberry Fields).

Course two was perhaps the most unusual, unless you eat more yucca in your house than we do. Chef Cox said it was about summer moving into autumn. It was called Yucca Blossoms, even if it was pretty much--emphasis on the pretty--just one, pickled from an earlier in the year harvest, sat like a cap atop the most decadent of duck egg flan. Alongside was a bit of blistered corn, some cilantro, and the dish's kicker, a poblano-bacon jam adding fatty umami and heat. Some Fess Parker Riesling, with its slight bit of residual sugar, cooled it down a bit, so your mouth was ready for the next scrumptious more.
Next up, one of the most elegant From Turf to Surf ever, complete with a seaweed and shallot ash handprint that was meant to echo the patterns found in many of the Chumash cave paintings. Plus, it had a delicious flavor, too, as you would swab a bit of the seaweed-brined Parker Ranch wagyu (again, let's not get used to this--it's a restaurant that has a ranch that provides its own wagyu) across the char and pick up even more flavor, kind of like dusting the meat all on your own. That butter poached spot prawn couldn't have been more SB Harbor or any less delicious, and then those tomatoes--that green globe is one, too--two of them roasted and rich, but the third a enchanting slice semi-dried, and all the more intense. What else could you drink with this but pinot noir? They poured Fess Parker 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard, and it was a Santa Barbara ur-wine--remember, before Sta. Rita Hills became the hot thing, it was Bien Nacido that at first defined our county's pinot.
Before dessert there was a cheese course, somewhat cheekily called The Golden State given it featured French P'tit Basque (hey, we like to accept everyone in California). The cheese got a very local turn, though, as it got smoked with hay, and came to the table served that way, giving the table even more of the wonderful smell. Those crackers were special, too, made with red wine pomace (the stuff left after the juice goes on its way to become the good stuff), providing a special depth Carr's isn't going to match, say. And why not, some roasted apple, too, as it's fall and fruit and cheese like each other, especially in your belly. The pairing: an Aspall "Grand Cru" dry English cider, its bubbles kindly scrubbing your palate of rich cheese and prepping you for the next bite.
That was an evening of as thoughtful, and taste-full, food as there could be.

Farmers’-Market Fresh at The Middle Child

The Middle Child only opened a month ago, but chef/co-owner Taylor Melonuk already faces some tough menu decisions. The restaurant’s peach-burrata salad was a best-seller from day one, but peaches don’t stay in season forever. So as we walk the Tuesday’s farmers’ market on State Street that’s just a half block from his door, he purchases 10 pounds of Cameo apples from Fair Hills Farm in Paso Robles, figuring that’s where the salad heads next.

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

Sip This: Seagrape Gewürztraminer

Often as scary to try from a U.S. producer as it is to pronounce, this aromatic white literally means “perfumed traminer” — it originated in Tramino, Italy. Alas, Stateside production often confuses perfumed with reeking, and often a cloying sweetness too.

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