Thursday, February 25, 2021

Samin Nosrat on Fame, Food, and Writing

The James Beard Award–winning author and Netflix star Samin Nosrat needs no introduction. To call her thought- and taste-provoking. Salt Fat Acid Heat a cookbook is like saying Hamlet is a ghost story — except Shakespeare didn’t have such nifty infographics.

It’s our great fortune that she will be part of an UCSB Arts & Lectures virtual talk on Sunday, February 28, at 11 a.m. Moderated by Santa Barbara’s own restaurateur Sherry Villanueva, owner of The Lark, La Paloma, Loquita, and other hotspots, the chat also features Israeli-English author/chef Yotam Ottolenghi — remember when his book Plenty would be set dressing on television shows as a symbol that characters had hip taste?

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

And, yes, she's as warm and funny and self-deprecating and engaged as she seems on the Netflix show in real life, if a 35 minute phone interview is real life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Genever, With Your Orange Hair, Genever, With Your Green Eyes*

Which came first, the genever or the gin? Wait, you don't know genever? Well, then you should have been on the Zoom tasting I was part of on Monday, all about genever, America's Lost European Spirit (which as a tag line is brilliant marketing, no?).

So it's simple (unless you're trying to distill a good one)--genever, originating in the 1500s in Holland (well, The Low Countries, back in the day), must have two things: malt spirit + juniper berries. Like gin, which it preceded, it's usually got botanicals, sometimes of the "if I told you I'd have to kill you" variety. It can be aged or un-aged, in oak or not. It can have added caramel color to suggest it had been aged (kind of a reverse Grecian Formula for spirits). It's got a great history, helping create the term "dutch courage" and being connecting to William of Orange--when he married into English royalty, genever and gin came with him.

And this is way too late in my post to add the most important thing, it's damn delicious, in lots of different styles. Sarah Lawson-Stopps, bartender at Wildhawk in San Francisco and a genever brand ambassador, took us through the evening, a tasting of five different expressions showing the ranges within the two basic styles. The first, the old style, is darker and with more malt (15%-100%) and makes one think of whiskey, the second, the young style, is lighter, brighter, and more like a dry style gin (with a malt percentage under 15%). 

That younger style is a bit more in ascendancy now, as genever is still recovering from its near fatal moment during U.S. Prohibition. But mixologists of the past 10 years or so find it fascinating for its backstory and versatility, so get used to seeing it more frequently behind your favorite bars. Why not, given Bobby's Schiedam Jenever you could easily assume was just a dry gin, but then its Indonesian botanicals sneak up on you--lemongrass, cardamom, ginger. Or when you could drink Rutte Old Simon Genever, 40% malt, so brilliantly complex, even more so with its additions of celery, carob, and a distillate of roasted hazelnuts! How convenient that along with our sample bottles (nowhere near the gorgeous full 750 ml bottles most genevers sell to the public in) we were sent snifter packets of classic botanicals to snort. Makes a Zoom event a lot more sensory.

And then there's the origin of a shot and a beer, which goes back to genever. Kopstootje is the Dutch term for this special ritual, and it translates as "head butt." So if you want to be a mating ram at your bar, get them to pour a healthy shot of genever into one of the classic tulip classics that match the spirit and have your beer ready to go. And by healthy shot, I mean one that almost over pours--the goal is to have an arcing meniscus of genever above the glass, the rainbow for you to wish the exciting future of your night upon. Then you lean in--I mean, you aren't trying to pick up that close to an overflowing glass--with your hands behind your back and sip deep. There's even a crazy method where you lip-lock the tulip into your mouth and toss it back that way, but I'm too old for that kind of uncouth thing. Even if the genever itself has a good four centuries on me.

*OK, this title doesn't really make sense, but I just really like this Eurythmics song, sorry.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

To Syrah, with Love


While the term Rhone Rangers always makes me think of winemakers astride giant wine bottles in Monument Valley--"Heigh ho, Nebuchadnezzar, away!"--the serious side of me never minds a ride with a few glasses of Syrah (or Grenache or Mourvedre or...). For as Santa Barbara legend Bob Lindquist put it, quoting Jim Fiolek, "Syrah delivers what Merlot promised." 

All of that is a far too fanciful way to introduce a quick look at the Santa Barbara Rhone Rangers' recent event on February 4, a Syrah tasting that took viewers on a quick tour of the county. Moderated by Lamar Engel of The Wine Militia (sorry, but by now that's a name that has to change, no?), it featured a stellar winemaker cast with brilliant bottles to boot:  

 Larry Schaffer of tercero wines with his 2014 Syrah - Larner Vineyard, Ballard Canyon 

Matt Brady of SAMsARA Wines with his 2017 Syrah - Zotovich Vineyard, Sta Rita Hills  

Kristin Bryden of Zaca Mesa with her 2016 Syrah - Black Bear Block, Estate Vineyard, Los Olivos

And the aforementioned - Bob Lindquist of Lindquist Wines with a barrel sample of his 2019 Syrah - Bien Nacido Vyd Z Block, Santa Maria Valley  

The group was wise, entertaining, and sometimes geeky, even entering into a clone discussion of Syrah as if it were all finicky like Pinot Noir or something! (Although they seemed to agree that site trumps clone for making a good wine.) Whatever the topic, this free Zoom also made clear Santa Barbara winemaking stands tall (and often foot stomps hard). 

And, perhaps, underlined one of the "problems" for creating a vinous Santa Barbara County identity. For this event featured four delicious syrahs (and we were lucky to taste three of them, all except for the barrel sample, and for that we swapped in a Jaffurs 2016 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, which was a gorgeous monster, btw) that made clear site and winemaking will lead you to very different expressions of the same grape. The tercero, at just 12.9% ABV, lured you in to its loveliness, with a floral character the others didn't touch. It's the kind of wine that forces you to wake up and be aware, which is a good thing. The SAMsARA, with Brady's fondness for whole cluster, added a pleasing, despite the words I'm going to use, vegetal funk--a unique wine that made you keep sipping more. The Zaca Mesa, from the warmest location (and the SB vineyard that first planted Syrah way back when--we got a lot of history, too), had a fascinating depth and spice. And then Bob's wine--well, we don't know as we couldn't have any, but how could it not rock having been made by one of our county's founding wine fathers?

Even better, the SB Rhone Rangers will be doing more of these events, so go check out what they have to offer. And drink their wines--you won't get one expression of anything, but you will get a scrumptiously expressive everything. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Peregrine Supreme at Barb’s Pies Is Umami Bomb


It’s easy to forget the delight, amid the rest of the memorable meal, of bread service at Barbareño. But when that sourdough and fresh butter arrive, it’s a transformative moment, the simplest of food made transcendent. (And that’s part, I’d say, of a strong Santa Barbara tradition: think back to Downey’s Irish soda bread and Sly’s rye raisin rolls.)

So it’s no surprise that the pizza dough from the same punchy starter kicks off the crust to-die-for at Barb’s Pies, which is Barbareño’s sister restaurant “hiding” in the kitchen at the recently opened bar/restaurant Venus in Furs on East Cota Street. What a crust it is, formed into leftover-providing 18-inch ovals, thin in the center but puffed and charred on the edges. 

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Hotel Californian’s Blackbird Is Ready to Fly (well, except for COVID and all...)

 Somehow I never posted this item I wrote for the Indy that ran back in December. Have been doing so little freelance work that I don't remember how to follow up properly! 

But here's the first graph:

Forget fine dining, think clubby casual chic. Au courant cocktails and share plates emphasizing global flavors and local produce. That’s what the recently reopened and reimagined Blackbird at Hotel Californian now offers, both in its inviting red-and-black-tiled dining room and its street-side terrace. Although it’s not easy to remain relevant and COVID-19 safety rules compliant, this edition of Blackbird seems ready to fly.

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

Monday, December 28, 2020

Seven Seafood Courses Swimming

We finally got around to doing something we've always wanted to do, and I mean that two ways, as you soon shall see. To celebrate the season we decided to try to pull off a version of The Feast of the Seven Fishes. Of course it's odd to do this during lockdown, when the only ones feasting on the fish would be Chryss and me, but the most unusual of years deserves a fittingly strange fete. Note, while people like to act the Fo7, as I will be calling it, is something passed down from generations ago, as if Italian grandmothers smuggled heirloom recipes between their sweaty bossoms from the Old World, it actually started in the U.S. just over a century ago. What's more, if we were being traditional we would have done this on Christmas Eve, but we decided to make it a day's journey of seafood eating on Christmas Day itself. After all, we didn't have to worry about any of the non-meat-eating fasting pre-Christmas vestigial rules, not being dues paying Roman Catholic Church members, plus Chryss is pescatarian all the time anyway. Oh, and we opted to skip any course with pasta (too heavy--we've got all the fish to swim down our gullets!), or tomato sauce or even fra diavolo, and we opted to make it to seven seafood items and skip a seventh dessert course (panettone is just fruitcake with an Italian accent, you can't fool me).

The trick was coming up with a menu that was diverse enough and worked somewhat progressively, so we could keep eating throughout the day and spread out the food prep. That means Fish the First, was smoked salmon, the crazy good version from Cambridge House right here in Santa Barbara that Lazy Acres sells without fancy packaging by their seafood counter. You see that above, on little brioche toast circles Chryss artfully cut out and toasted in butter, as we figured this wasn't going to be indulgent enough otherwise. There's a dollop of creme fraiche below, a sprinkle of fresh dill above. Each one a salty, tender, creamy, bright bite. We were off to a good start.

Keeping it simple, around lunch we toted out the tins. To the left (above) you see Fish the Second, smoked clams, and to the right Fish the Third, Jose Gourmet Smoked Trout fillets in Olive Oil. There's also some Asiago with rosemary for a creamy cut to all the oily fish, and some kalamatas for a snap of brine. Without a doubt the trout was the star here--my guess is it's best to do something with smoked oysters, not eat them "raw" as it were. But we got caught discussing whether to go dip or chowder and did neither out of ease. Not that we didn't consume them all.

If you were beginning to think--gee, you really didn't make anything, did you?--let me introduce you to Fish the Fourth, a Mexican-style shrimp cocktail from a Rick Bayless recipe and Fish the Fifth, a crab Louie salad. That shrimp packs a kick, cooked and then marinated in fresh lime juice, to be finished with Tapatio and white onion and avocado and cucumber and cilantro and a jot of olive oil. And, yes, ketchup. The only approved use of it in our house. The crab salad had a bit of a kick too--some Sriracha in its mix of Veganaise and lime juice, and then tomatoes, capers, more avo(!) and Bibb lettuce. Given the preciousness of crab (both it's light if delightful flavor and that it was the most expensive per pound thing we bought) it was hard not to try to just eat all of that first and then enjoy the salad after, to be honest. This course was around Happy hour time, and it went perfectly with Buttonwood's unusual Hop On White, that's Sauv Blanc dry-hopped. So smells a bit like IPA, tastes like grapefruit and lemon.

Fish the Sixth was mussels in Pernod cream, sauteed with leek, fennel, red bell pepper. The last of the Hop On went into the cooking juice we of course devoured with spoons after. Don't ask me how, but I forgot to put a crusty loaf of bread on the shopping list, but we wisely remembered we had Alexia truffle fires in the freezer, so heated those up and suddenly it was moules and frites. Perfect with the mightily potent Gulden Draak Belgian ale we'd been hanging out to for evidently just such a Belgian occasion. We really did not do the Italians proud with our Fo7, I have to shamefully admit. But we ate well.

So well that we threw in the towel for the day. (A beach towel, given all the fish.) Fish the Seventh waited for dinner the next night, a gorgeous filet of Coho salmon that we did in very much a throwback style, adapting a recipe from Beverly Gannon's Family-Style Meals at the Hali'imaile General Store. That's what she calls a take on dynamite scallops sauce for sushi, again with some Sriracha, scallion, Veganaise, miso, splash of veggie stock. It's a rich kick and keeps the baked fish marvelously moist. Alongside are coconut-green-curry green beans and jasmine rice given a bit of added flash with cilantro stems, fresh ginger, and a spritz of black sesame seeds and dried seaweed (we actually bought in Ireland--don't tell the Italians, or the Hawaiians...) atop, too. 

So we made it--seven fishes, four meals, two days. No apologies. Well, maybe only to the things that used to be a-sea but now are a part of me. I appreciate their tasty if unwilling sacrifice. And if we ever get to do this again with actual other people to feed too, there will be pasta.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

clapping, Clapping for flapping, Flapping


Joe Woodard listens to more than you. Way more. You might want to say, “Of course, he’s a musician and a music journalist, that’s his job,” but sometimes one’s calling comes before the paycheck (particularly if you’re a musician or a music journalist, ba-dum-bum). As guitarist-composer for Santa Barbara’s Headless Household he’s helped music wander far and far-er, as album titles such as mockhausen and post-Polka just begin to intimate. And as a writer, well, he no doubt has penned enough column inches in periodicals ranging from the SB Independent to Downbeat to the LA Times that if you lay them end-to-end you could walk on them to the Montreux Jazz Festival*, which Joe would no doubt be covering.

What’s more important for the subject at hand, he listens more, too, in that way listening is deconstructive, reconstructive, a creative act.

So when his semi-occasional “rock ’n’ droll band” (his term) flapping, Flapping (his capitalization) offers a song like “Tuesday Afternoon” on its latest and third album seeyoutonite (his spacing), its horn break will make you think Beatlesque. But Woodard, no doubt, thinks of a specific Beatles moment, when he first heard it, who else has nicked it, and who arranged the charts each time. Other songs on the disc will tickle your memory receptors for bands as diverse as Steely Dan, Radiohead, Little Feat, Neil Young, Van Halen, Peter Gabriel, The Move, maybe even Terry Allen.

All of that adds up to seeyoutonite being a total delite. (Couldn’t resist.) It’s an engaging stroll down rock and pop’s hallway of mirrors with a brilliant guide to give you only the best reflections, aided by many of the best Santa Barbara musicians, in particular the one other remaining original player in the band, drummer Tom Lackner. Versatility is Lackner’s watch word, as he can swing, drive, parry, thrust, keep so much aloft.

And there is much, for while the album does hold classic FM radio sound as its lodestar—heck, I called it an album!—it also ranges far and wide for texture, nuance, grace. Take accordionist Brian Mann’s appearances. On “Something for  Nothing” he helps add to the Tex-Mex flavor that perhaps passes through Talking Heads’ True Stories for a quick tequila shot, and when he returns for “Wonder in the Backyard,” his squeezebox is distinctly more Gallic, perhaps setting us up for the song to return as a recitative in French. Diversity like that makes me toss my beret skyward.

Hooky as heck—check the tasty lick that opens “Closet World”—willing to wade neck deep in the sea of cliché figuring there might still be a swell swell to still ride to shore—one tune is bravely called “Boy Meets Girl”—and ever able to engage with Woodard’s truest love jazz without ever becoming archly academic (the parts in French are about asparagus) or pointlessly improvisational (the one instrumental CRANKS), seeyoutonite has something for everyone, which can happen when a band’s previous album came out the same year Clinton beat Dole for his second term.

*Walking under oceans not recommended.