Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sip This: Kings Carey 2016 Rosé of Grenache

This is wine done to bare-bones goodness, from its seemingly hand-drawn, homespun label (courtesy of Philadelphian Hawk Krall) to its direct, refreshing, delicious strawberries washed in light lemon loveliness in the glass. It’s made, in small lots, by James Sparks, whom you should know from Liquid Farm, which produces one of the county’s best chardonnay.

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Downey's to Dish No More

I had the great opportunity to sit down with John Downey a few weeks back and discuss, as he and Liz are shutting Downey's down after 35 years in a matter of weeks. (They're keeping the last night a bit of a secret to avoid a rush.) Alas, it was impossible to include everything we discussed in the Indy article I'm about to link to, but here's some of the extra info that I couldn't work in to that.

What's next?
"At 68 I find this really physically taxing. I know I look 40, say it," and he pauses for his very English joke to land, "but I beat the undertaker. I never wanted to be carried out from behind the line feet first."

Despite his jokes about mortality, one way he has stayed in shape over the years is hiking, including conquering Mt. Whitney. "I definitely have one Whitney left in me," he insists. "One of the retirement goals is to be in the eastern Sierras in the fall. For 35 years I haven't been able to be away from the restaurant that long, especially that time of year."

So here's the start of the Indy article:

“When we knew we were going to close, we thought we’d just disappear into the sunset,” John Downey said about his recent announcement to retire. “Liz [his wife and stalwart in the front of the house] and I thought after a week people would say, ‘Downey’s, didn’t they used to be on State Street?’ Instead the outpouring of support has been overwhelming; we’re honestly touched by it. We take it as a validation of our work the last 35 years.”

If you want to read the rest, you know the drill, go to the Independent's site.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Friend and Dear Friend and a Restaurant's Encouragement

Given my love for Wallace Stevens' "The World as Meditation," how could I not be taken by Odys + Penelope? (And if that isn't the wonkiest beginning of any restaurant write-up, show me its competition.) We had the opportunity to hit the restaurant on the way back from San Diego a couple of weeks back just in time for DineLA. And while I always feel like taking advantage of such promos leaves a bit of a "R" for rube tattooed on your forehead, we'd been wanting to go to O+P since it opened, as we were fans of Hatfield's back in the day when fine dining was still a phrase you could utter and not watch your business model crumble. (Come remember with me now....) That super smart room, the full-view kitchen with so many chefs moving in such precision, the delicious-gorgeous food. We only had it once and missed it ever afterward.

So we looked forward to see what Quin and Karen Hatfield had in store for us at their latest spot. It's somewhat big yet still intimate, partially as the scent of smoke from the big grills in the kitchen hold you in its elemental arms. And right away what seems the least impressive wows you--we haven't had a salad we liked more in ages than their Sugar snap pea “Caesar” with creamy Parmesan slaw and roasted pepitas. Talk about reinventing a wheel that had gone a bit flat. The sliced up snap peas, so bright and crisp and just the right sweet, playing off the right-angled Caesar notes of garlic and anchovy, then the slaw a sort of salve, plus the necessary crunch from the pumpkin seeds. We shared one, wishing we had two. (Not that the grilled Argentinian white prawns with ginger chermoula disappointed, especially with their charcoal depth.)

Fighting FOMO, we went off the DineLA menu as we had to know what the bread-like goodness going out to so many tables was (we've also been to Sycamore Kitchen, and know Karen Hatfield bakes better than nearly anyone). Turns out they were cheese puffs--think gougeres with attitude as they're twice gougere size--and at least four times as yummy, somehow flaky, puffy, and cheesy all at once. What's more, they come with a smoked tomato romesco (that grill is hiding in so many dishes) that was so rich we didn't use the leftover white prawn butter we made them keep on the table for the cheese puffs.

Mains were both also crazy good. Chryss had early summer on a plate, oak grilled salmon, English pea and basil puree, cherry tomato salad, and grilled corn, each element of the dish perfection (it made you want a side of corn, for instance). Grill grill grill. I had the house made pappardelle, pork belly Bolognese, fried sage, supposedly the restaurant's most popular dish. I can see why: that sauce had what seemed like ages of flavor, if that makes sense, rooted in meat generally too good to be reduced like this, and that grill was in there somewhere doing its fiery magic. And someone can make pasta, too, that perfect tension that says fresh.

I could go on about the desserts, like a straightforward yet immaculately prepared chocolate budino with olive oil, sea salt, and a stunning take on the Oreo that should make Nabisco cry (or sue) and a coconut-cashew lime "pie," (it's kind of deconstructed, over the flakiest of tart shells) with local raspberries and toasted coconut ice cream that's all flavor in your face. Or the just inventive enough cocktails, or the helpful, timely, friendly, unobtrusive service. It's a place about comfort edging very close to something like fine dining, but then quick to say, "Servers wear jeans!" or "Smoke is like camping--how casual is that!" You're sure to say, "I need to go back."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sip This: Daniel Cohn 2015 Bellacosa Cabernet Sauvignon

Daniel Cohn’s family sold its B.R. Cohn Winery, famed for its cabs and olive oil, a couple of years back, and instead of just counting his cash, Daniel decided it was time to start anew. Enter this flagship of his own brand, Bellacosa, a cabernet sauvignon sourced from vineyards throughout the North Coast appellation.

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Hawai‘i Meets Isla Vista at HiWi

If you feel like you might get reverse-carded upon entering the collegial crazy paradise that is Isla Vista — “Hey, you’re too old for this burg!” — you’re not alone. In fact, that’s how HiWi Tropical Fusion, a new spot on Pardall Road, came to be. “My cousin [Armand Bagramyan] was on the [UC Santa Barbara] soccer team, and we’d all go to games,” explains Nareh Shanazarian, the operating manager. “They’d end at 11 o’clock, but he’d never want to take us to I.V. afterward because he thought it was too rowdy for the family.”

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Belly Up to Barbareno's BBQ

Your nose, if it's a oak smoke loving schnoz, will no doubt lead you down De La Vina on Thursdays and Fridays around lunch time. That's because Barbareño has just started serving up CA BBQ, but it's telling on their menu they don't abbreviate the words. That's because there's never a sense of a shortcut here, and they aren't going to do that for a casual lunch service that stars one of their popular-from-day-one proteins, red oak smoked tri-tip, here in a sandwich slathered with their bright and flavor-popping pico de gallo. (You can order meats/the veggies by weight, if you want to skip the bread, btw--nice move.)

So it works like this: you go and order at the door, then grab a table on their patio lovelier than it has a right to be smack up against De La Vina. You take in more of the good grill smell, and if you ordered a drink, from iced tea to beer, you'll sip a bit anticipating. (I highly recommend the poorly named but deliciously crafted Ice from Modern Times--those San Diegans make magic with everything they brew, including this pilsner that's just hoppy enough but not too. And it only clocks in at 4.8%.)

You can get that tri-tip or a smoked chicken or grilled veggies with a smoked harissa romesco I'm sorry I didn't try today. (Ah, a reason to go again.) (Wait, I didn't need one.) Or you can get the pulled pork you see above, spiced with a cumin rub, laced with bigger than you think they'd be but it works pickled tomatillos. That's a ciabatta roll that's hefty enough to hold all its contents, and that has avocado BBQ sauce keeping it moist and ridiculously flavorful--GM Jesse Gaddy said it took some tries, but in their never-ending quest to bring the avocado, they had to do it. You will get a little cup extra of the sauce and eat some of it on your fork all by itself, hoping to puzzle out its combo of tasty goodness (of course avo so that good fat and creaminess, but then smoke, too, but citrus, but just the haunt of it...). The pork is ridiculously good, with some crispy bits but mostly meltingly tender, and then occasional a bit of pork fat, for that different texture thing. Plus, fat is yummy, let's face it, as long as there's not too much.

For sides you can get their evening menu pinquito beans (and if you haven't had them why not?), a ranch slaw featuring fennel (what shouldn't?), a mustard potato salad, grilled sourdough--their in-house usual--with garlic butter, or a grilled avocado, the hole where its pit sat awash in some of that garlic butter, perhaps.

Your only regret will be the only serve lunch on Thursdays and Fridays.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sip This: Grgich Hills Estate 40th Anniversary Chardonnay Napa Valley 2014

Think of this as delicious history in a bottle: while famed Napa pioneer Mike Grgich started his namesake winery in 1977 — hence this 40th anniversary chardonnay released this year — he also was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena when it won for its chardonnay at the infamous Judgment of Paris tasting that shocked the wine world in 1976 and established California’s reputation.

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