Tuesday, November 22, 2022

A Review of "Orwell's Roses"


Think of Rebecca Solnit’s Orwell’s Roses as a whydunit. Beyond admitting how much he influenced her as a writer/journalist/activist, Solnit was also moved to learn of the rose bushes Orwell planted by his countryside English cottage in Wallington. Planting fruit trees made a certain practical sense, but roses fed no one. 

 That would be the too facile conclusion one might have before reading Solnit’s lovely, hopeful book. Despite relatively harrowing, clear-eyed passages about our current climate crisis and about the vicious Stalin-led starving of Ukraine in the 1930s, Solnit also succeeds at what she claims Orwell accomplishes. Both calm yet crusading writers help us witness “imperfect and unidealized beauty.” That is, see the world we live in.

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Delicious Dia de los Muertos at La Paloma


(photo by Chryss Yost)

In some ways who better than La Paloma Cafe & Restaurant to hold a Dia de los Muertos celebration given the spot is a resurrection of a previous restaurant (the 1940-1983, pre-Paradise Cafe, La Paloma). Given November 1st is considered the day the veil between the living and the dead is most diaphanous, sure, let's break out the sugar skulls, paint our faces, set up an altar to those we care to honor, and, of course, do some serious eating and drinking.

While I'm pretty sure spirits don't gain weight, it's pretty definite we did that evening, feasting to the memories of those we loved and lost. Things kicked off with the cutest of mini-cocktails, a Calaverita in a skull shot glass, but its size belied its kick, what with both tequila, mezcal, a hibiscus-cinnamon-ginger piloncillo syrup, and lime and ginger beer. Adorned with flowers and a tajin rim, the only thing wrong with it was you wanted to imbibe much more.

I'm going to avoid a complete rundown of each dish, but La Paloma seems to have completely found its stride at this point, even on a special evening with lots of customers (particularly for a Tuesday). Indeed, some friends got seated outside on the uncovered back patio, and when a shower let lose (see, spirits had to be involved to cause rain in Santa Barbara), they were quickly ushered inside and received a gratis dessert to comfort their slightly wet selves. Just one way the service was shining along with the food.

I'd be remiss not to mention the music, by a combo whose name I missed (sorry). But they kept things buoyant and bubbly with classics ranging from "Besame Mucho" to "La Bamba," adding to the festive feel.

Still, it was the food that made the evening truly special. An appetizer crudo sang of the sea; the crispy Brussels sprouts brought smoke from the red oak grill and earthy funk from a syrah-porcini mushroom reduction. And to single out one main, the evening featured a special Chili Colorado, beef tender and braised with such depth of flavor in a sauce no doubt made with numerous kinds of chiles offering their orchestra of heat notes. Wow. Wrapped in tensile homemade tortillas, the dish was a kind of simple heaven.

Matched by a dessert, a Mexican salted chocolate tart that's as good a chocolate dessert as I've had. Too often such plates get either too much or boring five-forkfuls in, but this had such a perfect balance of sweet, heat, cocoa, caramel, and salt you keep going back for more. It could tempt the dead.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Meet Loquita’s New Chef Sergei Simonov


It’s only been about six months since Sergei Simonov started leading the Loquita kitchen as executive chef, but it’s felt like 10 years already. “This summer, we’ve done the biggest business since the restaurant opened,” said Simonov, who tells us more about his circular culinary journey below. 

 Mentored by Jason Paluska: Simonov moved from the Bay Area to attend culinary school at Santa Barbara City College in 2011, then landed a sous chef job at The Lark under Chef Jason Paluska. “I still call him about things like how to cost out a dish,” said Simonov of his mentor. “He taught me A to Z, not just the flavor profile and palate.” He still borrows from Paluska’s plating style and love of pickled elements.

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

AR Social Club's Crazy, Boozy Zoom Room

It's not every day I've been convinced to add maple syrup to what's billed a margarita, but not only do you only live once, you might only once partake in the AR Social Club's Halloween spectacular that truly helped put the spirits into the spooky season. But, being a boring straight white guy, I'd never taken part in a kiki before, let alone one Zoomed into my house from hipster Brooklyn. By now my guess is you're confused, so let's take s step back to set the scene via informative Q&A.

Q: What's an AR Social Club?
A: Let's hope you've got those last two words--I can't explain everything to you. But the AR stands for AskRonna, an advice podcast hosted by Ronna Glickman (@ronnaglickman) & Bryan Safi (@bryansafi). Not only are they IG account-forward, they are more or less characters created for humorous now consumption--Glickman is a long time persona for Jessica Chaffin, while Safi went by Homosensual on his podcast Attitudes! It's all very fabulous and very New Yawk. 

You actually get a monthly box of booze and other goodies (for Halloween those included plastic fangs with stage blood, two full-sized Snickers, and two full bottles of liquor...more on those in a bit). Reminded me of the moment when Major Kong in Dr. Strangelove opened the survival kit and concluded, "A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff."

Q: Do these subtly famous funny folks know about booze?
A: They don't have to! That's because Conor McKee from Fiasco! Wine & Spirits puts together the packages that feature artisan liquor and then comes up with each episode's cocktail. He really knows what he's doing, and the other people in the shop even get you the Zoom link if somehow you never got yours. So, A+ for Fiasco!

Q: You get full 750ml bottles? And the stuff is good?
A: Hey, that's two questions in one ask. Yep, two full bottles. (And before you ask, a single kiki+box is $125, but it's $100 if you sign up for at least three.) I can only vouch for this box, but the two products were tasty and unusual. DE-NADA provided a bottle of their tequila blanco that's additive free and bright and clean as a mercury beam. The blood orange aperitif came from Elsewhere--that's actually it's name--created by bespoke R&D Matchbook Distilling out on the non-snooty end of Long Island. Made with NY organic corn, CA organic blood oranges--8000 pounds of them, cut by hand, a party everyone wants to be invited to next time--and then enough roots/botanical to practically make this an amaro: quassia, pink peppercorns, cloud forest cardamom, gentian, Indian cinnamon bark & wild cherry bark. It's a bit too much of a kick as a sipper, but it gives a cocktail that good deep depth, if you know what I mean.

Q: You actually got info during this event?
A: Yes, if highly interrupted and played for corny comedy gold. For instance, when Paul Monahan from Matchbook was talking about the north fork of Long Island where they're located and said it had less fancy developers than the folks in the Hamptons, Ronna cut in, "Those developers were called Pilgrims, dear." And, of course, the two college buddies who developed DE-NADA got lots of gruff for going to Tulane, not that they didn't run with it. One of them joked he majored in Liver Destruction. But, yes, people from both liquors were on the Zoom.

Q: Was it worth an hour?
A: If you like madcap and manic, sure. It's clear there's an in-group learning curve trying to suss out the loving/sparring duality that is the Ronna and Bryan relationship, and then other Zoom-ers are allowed to pop in like the cherished annoying neighbor on a sitcom, along as they are also a somebody--this episode that was comedian Naomi Ekperigin. Otherwise we were advised to keep our mics off, which really just makes sense or a Zoom with five screens of participants can become chaos. not that people didn't fire off their opinions in the chat that never let up. 

Q: Is that a butt on the blood orange aperitif label?
A: Why, yes. There might have been a crack or two about that.

Q: Are you sorry?
A: Do you know me by now? Never apologize for puns or scoring two full bottles of good booze.


Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Santa Barbara Wine Auction Grows into Weekend Affair


Though Direct Relief might be the fifth-largest charity in the United States (according to Forbes Magazine), that doesn’t mean the Goleta-based nonprofit never endured lean times. In speaking about next weekend’s Santa Barbara Wine Auction, Direct Relief’s vice president Heather Bennett explained, “[Winemakers] Jim Clendenen and Frank Ostini started this connection between the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation and what was then Direct Relief International, and they helped us pay the bills when we really needed the support.” 

That was way back in 2000, the year of the first Wine Auction. While the Vintners Foundation’s biennial gala continues to support Direct Relief’s internationally minded efforts two decades later, it now also directly helps the region’s farmworker community by benefiting Community Health Centers (CHC) of the Central Coast.

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

Friday, October 28, 2022

House of the Rising Hilt


It's only fitting that famed architect Howard Backen gives off a beneficent golden glow, as he's designed so many beloved spaces, from Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, from MGM Studios Theme Park to Meadowood Napa Valley. He's also become a go-to for wineries who want comfort and style shy of outright ostentation, from Cliff Lede to Harlan Estate to, now right here in Santa Barbara, The Hilt Estate. That's not too surprising, as The Hilt's owner, Stan Kroenke, already had Backen design Screaming Eagle for him (even if it's closed to the public), so bringing a favorite architect south made all the sense in the world (especially when money is no object). 

The property recently celebrated its first year open to the public with a to-do featuring Bracken himself, folks from his team, and also many craftsmen and builders from Grassi & Associates, including founder Mark Grassi and partner Paul Niles. The evening was a well-earned love fest for everyone involved, as it's a gorgeous project, managing to provide plenty of space for high-end tasting while still remaining appropriately sized for the property. It doesn't hurt it's one big property, as Rancho Salsipuedes is 3,600 acres nestled into the elbow where Santa Rosa Road meets Highway 1 at the far western end of the Sta. Rita Hills. Only about 200 of those acres are vineyards.

The Barn took the place of old historic barns and mimics them a bit, with wall lumber set about a half inch apart to let the air in. But then you look closely and realize that now everything is screened off, so that flow happens without any buggy accompaniment. Such details abound. Take the two over-sized metal stoves in the two side tasting rooms (which, of course, open to the main room but can be shuttered off if the space needs that)--they provide a kind of hearth that's unique, homey, almost big enough to climb in. You don't just warm a backside in front of one, you get a full-body heat hug.

And, of course, it's an indoor-outdoor space, as this is Santa Barbara, even if one of its more chilly locales, just 13 miles from the Pacific. The wide open side of The Barn frames the low-lying Puerta Del Mar Vineyard and in the distance the Imerys diatomaceous earth mine glitters like a snowy mountain (and hints at the property's own diatomaceous earth that makes the Radian Vineyard such a horrible and therefore wonderful spot to plant grapes). You feel placed here.

Then there's the wine facility itself, which winemaker Matt Dees and his team thought through function first. All the dirty stuff--you know, this is a farming operation--happens outside the building, so it's spectacularly clean inside, even on what turned out to be the last day of 2022 harvest arrivals. There was some water here and there and some activity, but the most unkempt thing in the winery was Dees sporting a true mountain man beard thanks to the demands of the season. The basement barrel room is a football-field long (hey, what is that other thing Kroenke owns?), and you instantly get hit with oak and fruit as you descend the stairs. Dees points out the huge concrete space is sparse enough that if different people figure out a better way to make wine two decades from now, they'll have a blank canvas to begin with. 

Of course the evening also featured a tasting. The wine included The Hilt sparkling, a true beauty of fizz, tension, brioche, pear, and a lean, clean finish, The Hilt Estate Chardonnay (talk to Dees for a bit and he'll passionately convince you Chardonnay is the grape of SRH), almost lets you taste the ocean breeze that whips these vineyards. The Hilt Estate Pinot Noir is a bit more reserved than many SRH Pinot, but that just means it draws you in slowly and seductively to its cherry, spice, and cola. Finishing up was Jonata's Todos (Jonata is the sister property in Ballard Canyon, featuring Rhone and Bordeaux varietals, and now even some Greek grapes--Matt's always experimenting). Todos, as in "all the grapes," is a deep wonder that leads a drinker to much reflection about how full a red blend can be. Only another sip can get you anywhere near an answer.

Of course there was food, too, passed appetizers that never stopped coming, from delicate cheese-bomb gougères to seemingly just-fired arancini to the most adorable and delicious fish tacos that I was tempted to stuff my pockets with, they were so good, but luckily trays of them kept floating about the room so I didn't have to hoard. Thanks, Poe & Co., for the terrific stuff. Of course The Hilt isn't in the business of doing anything halfway, so the food had to be terrific. After all, they flew in a photographer from Sun Valley, Idaho for the gig just because he was their favorite.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Living the Lyrical Life with Nigella Lawson


Being famous can get in the way of how good you are. Take the case of Nigella Lawson, who has sold more than 12 million books worldwide and is on so many “successful television programs,” as her bio proclaims, that she’s “a household name around the world.” 

 But she’s not just a comely face on our bookshelves and small screens, and no one should discount the power of her writing. Take this passage in her latest book, Cook, Eat, Repeat: “I do so love a crumble. I don’t just mean to eat, but also to make. When I stand at the kitchen countertop, with my hands immersed in cool flour, fluttering my fingers against the cold cubes of butter to turn these two disparate ingredients into one light pile of soft and sandy flakes, I feel, at one and the same time, that I’m not only repeating a process but reliving the memory of all the times I’ve done so before, and yet utterly immersed in the present, alive only in a sensation of flour and butter in my fingers, as they scutter about the bowl.”

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