Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gomme Sweet Gomme

Perhaps I feel cowed by the creativity cocktail makers seem able to offer so simply with just a shake of the wrist. Perhaps I am dulled by consuming too many of their drinks. But it's seemed hard to write this entry I've been meaning to get to since December 6, as December 5 is a day that should live in famy (isn't that the opposite of infamy?)--the repeal of the 18th Amendment. For 13 long years our poor country was dry and not high. That stretch even includes some Depression years, and if you can't drown away your centless sorrows, how miserable must life be? No wonder it was also the era of the great Dust Bowl.

But is it perfume from a bitters, that makes my entry all a-skitter? Indeed, for today we are in a perfect storm of cocktailiana--everything's legal (even absinthe), history is lovingly excavated by artful archaeologists, and then there's the fine fuel of the local-artisanal food movement turning its eye to craft distilling. Add in global influences as if sprinkling with fairy dust that's actually ground crickets and pretty much anything can happen in a cocktail glass.

Some of it's quite tasty, too, not just novelty, and that's crucial as a cocktail is nothing if it's not tradition. When you toast, it's not just to the person or people you're with, it's a cheers to every drinker ever, a sign of civilization at its most civil: we have tamed this firewater, made it beautiful, and will share it peacefully while even better doing our best to make witty and wise.

This was easy to do at a place like Drago Centro in downtown LA, all sleek and not at all old school Italian despite nailing Italian food with that simple made perfect from kick-ass ingredients way (tomatoes are tomatoes here, even in December, somehow). And then the brilliance of this dish il risotto allo zafferano e midollo, which just sounds beautiful (say it aloud, so your tongue gets ready for the beauty of the actual dish while eating it). That's saffron risotto and salsa verde, almost something minimalist, that is until you start to massage in the roasted bone marrow that sits atop. So much richness in each forkful.

But as to the cocktails, or the "new classics" as they put it, cleverly making oxymoronic sense (as a drink does, so very elegant as it begins to muddle your mind with its spirits). We had: the Blessed Bliss made of Karlsson’s vodka, Cardamaro, Underberg bitters, fresh ginger, fresh apple, and fresh rosemary; and the Hot Bellied .45 made of Bulleit bourbon, Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Cocchi Americano, Art in the Age snap, and Fee Bros. lemon bitters. That first led with its herbs--the very skilled waiter warned us he wasn't fond of the drink as he's not a rosemary fan--, but that's little surprise as in addition to the prominent rosemary sprig, Underberg supposedly packs in 43 herbs. So, something of surprising depth. As for the .45, the mezcal gave it a kicky smokiness, always a fine match for a bourbon, and then, again, things got complicated, what with a bit more lemon than mere bitters might make one expect and the molasses depth of the Snap (as in ginger).

Alas, this foray was nothing compared to what awaited us at Sly's on December 5 itself. It turns out the "Mix mistresses and barmen" as they bill themselves, craft a special cocktail list only for Repeal Day, and then it's your secret handshake for the year, as you can flash it and request the drink of your choice on it that no one else knows. Nothing like having your speakeasy and prohibition too. That's eleven choices I get and you don't (sorry, dear reader--go next year), including one from Chef James Sly himself, a sneaky Bloody Mary variation that swaps beet juice for tomato (it's a salad in a glass!, or, more seriously, the perfect drink to have with a salad, always a tough pairing).

And I don't mean to be coy, but I'm not going to spill any of the drinks' names, for they belong to those who are part of the secret society. Mandy Chinn, the head mix mistress there and award winner several times over for her mixology, has her team always take things one step beyond the norm. Here there's nothing so simple as simple syrup, it's gomme syrup, which with its gum Arabic emulsifying away, ends up even smoother than just sugar water. That's the way it used to be done, and still is at a place as fastidious as Sly's. Even more mysteriously, even owning the menu doesn't quite get you to the point where you can recreate the drinks at home, for key ingredients often don't make the list--is that merely a typo that there's a comma at the end of one write-up, or a sneaky hint Sly's is living up to its name? Don't worry, sip away, and watch as Chris Chinn beats a glass with sprigs of thyme like a penitent flagellating. Ah, ritual, delicious as sin, these well-balanced brilliances.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Top Notch Idea from the Bottom of the Barrel

Sure, Thrillist can be downright Maxim-ish douchey at times, but they can also point to good new places, deals, and manage to disguise that douche in enough pop-culture obscurantism that you barely feel the need to shower afterward. All that said, here's a deal I'd jump on (ok, and now everything I write will sound like a double entendre, I know) if I lived in San Francisco: "Drink 40 Premium Bourbons at The Alembic--$250 for a passport for full pours of 40 fine bourbons, good anytime for 9 months." It's not just that I'm fond of the Alembic and have been for years as a surprisingly fine find mid-Haight. It's not just I like bourbon and would love an informal course in its barrel-aged ways. It's the sense you were part of a commitment, and then part of a community. Or maybe it just means I like to come up with ways to dress up my drunkenness.

All that said, anybody in the Santa Barbara area want to come up with a deal like this one? What's Social Living or one of those places for but some creative thinking/drinking?

(P.S. It took my amazing wife to realize I should pitch this locally. Thanks, dear!)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Downtown Dose of Mimosa

“About a year ago, when we started seeing new businesses opening up on State Street, Chris and I would say, ‘How crazy people are!’” said Derrick Melton, chef and co-owner of Restaurant Mimosa with his pastry-chef wife, Chris Melton. But that’s exactly where he is today, many blocks from the corner spot on De la Vina Street where the longtime French restaurant lived for its first 28 years. The new Mimosa’s only been open since November, but it already feels like home, said Melton, pointing to a new feature in the remodeled location, formerly home to Piranha, Matador, and Chino’s Rock & Tacos. “My wife wanted it, so I etched a compass rose into the concrete floor,” he explained. “It’s symbolic of how this place feels like home.”

If you want to read the rest do so at the Indy's site.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Holidays at the Ah-wine-ee

They call it the Great Lounge at the Ahwahnee Hotel, and that’s not even a scintilla of upsell, especially if you’re there for one of the eight annual Vintners’ Holidays held each November and December. The room itself, and the entire National Historic Landmark hotel, are what insiders dub “park-itecture,” which features lots of stone, wood (which may be fire-safe concrete made to look like wood), windows, and blazing hearths — think Frank Lloyd Wright goes Native American. But it’s not just the room that awes, for as you’re sipping your way through the seminars, you can look over your left shoulder, out the window, and indeed, that’s Half Dome fringed in snow. It’s as if both the natural and manmade worlds are conspiring to teach you a lesson in beauty.

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Miss Maui, 2011

This is already a memory piece, of a meal in late July, but all food writings are memory pieces, aren't they. We either recall, relish, hope to relive or search for relief by ranting and venting. This, happily, is the former, as perhaps just this photo might make clear

as we're discussing a spot Pacific-side in Maui, so much so the turtles bob surfside like something Disney might have dreamed up, but these are real. It's in Lahaina, too, a town the tourists have taken over too much since its early whaling days when Herman Melville and Richard Henry Dana sailed through on their eventual writing ways. It's now dominated by t-shirt shacks and food filling stations (you can hardly call them restaurants) with maitre d's with headsets for traffic control, that will help you, definitely, get to the Cheeseburger in Paradise emblazoned t-shirt shack attached. Yes, that spot, but a bit to the north on the way out of town, close to another fine place I should blog about, Aloha Mixed Plate, sits Mala Ocean Tavern, and when in Maui you must go.

You must eat too much, too, as so much is good and the flavors run in so many directions--as if the tradewinds kindly dropped all the Pacific's cuisines into Mala's kitchen, along with enough cooks to pull it all off, too. Our fine dinner, on a deck at ocean's edge, as the sun set...well, why even finish that sentence? Oh, yeah, because the food and service (much more on that in a coming entry, promise) were so stellar we could have had the meal in a viewless cellar and been perfectly pleased. We shared a starter and salad, as that sort of seemed healthy and not-too-gluttonous, a plate of alii mushrooms in garlic and parsley (and they don't mention the probably butter/olive oil combo) and a Gado Gado salad, sneakily vegan with its tofu, brown rice, sugar snaps, tomato, chickpea, and a richly delicious coconut peanut sauce. This was a first course feast of food, and if you've never had alii mushrooms and are a funghi fan try them--they're marvelously meaty and called the "king oyster," so think that flavor, yet more room in the mushroom for it. A simple saute like the one Mala does sets them off excellently.

For a main we went for the the whole fish of the day for 1, as it feeds 2 amply. This day it was kampachi, a Hawaiian yellowtail rich and wok fried fantastic, fleshy and flavorful, the star of a dish full of other goodness, too, from a ginger garlic black bean sauce that makes clear what lame imposters most Chinese restaurants are to Molokai purple potatoes, a tuber that makes you wonder if potatoes need to go through the whole heirloom craze that's made tomatoes so exciting the past few years. If you wash that down with a 2009 Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett the spice will go nice and the bit of sweet will treat, and you won't get schnockered as it's low in alcohol, too. Oh, and the fish looked like this

and the photo doesn't do it justice, not till the iPhone camera comes with smell- and taste-o-vision.

There was dessert, too, at their peak fresh fruits, a slew of them, in something cheekily called a Caramel Miranda, so indeed, everything was a bit broiled to get the sugar up, and then there's just enough caramel and chocolate (the slightest hint) to send it all off into the stratosphere. It was a meal of ever increasing care and detail.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Apple of My Eye

Downey's always leaves me thinking the old adage: Simple is not always best but the best is always simple.* And so, somehow after their Autumn Chef's Dinner earlier this month, and after all the other fine courses (including a homemade pasta with a light--yes, really--cream sauce and chanterelles, the pasta rung by kale, well, I could have had plates of that), I keep thinking of the dessert above, for which my iPhone photo does little justice.

Basically it's apple pie a la mode, isn't it? Well, I love my mom, but she sure didn't do this. For every element seems to have been labored over as if it were the only element, and you add all that care up and you get an apple dessert that will ruin you for any other. That crust, flaky and crisp, buttery but not so much it seems to ooze from your pores afterwards. Balance. Same with the apples, halved, perhaps, and then baked to the point you chew through without problem, but they still hold together--it's fruit, not sauce you're enjoying. That ice cream, vanilla and cream and enough (nothing worse than a la mode that a-la's away too soon). And then the caramel sauce, here importantly not too much--it's like a spice for the other elements that shine enough they only need a wisp of burnt sugar.

There is a reason we gave John Downey the 2011 Independent "Izzy" Award for Lifetime Achievement. The man can cook.

*Note: I do not always believe this, no way, nohow, as a lover of the Bradbury Building, Ulysses, and Phil Spector (producer, not murderer).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Here’s Looking at Casa Blanca

As a co-owner of Casa Blanca Restaurant & Cantina, Adam White can be honest to a fault. “We started with a fairly pedestrian menu that didn’t match the facility in some ways, so we had to get a more high-octane chef,” he admitted recently. “Onofre Zuniga had been let go by Cava after 15 years and was recommended by one of our vendors. He started last Wednesday [November 2], and the damn food is night-and-day better already.”

 Want to read the rest then do so on the Indy's site.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bottom of the Fifth and the Bags Are Loaded*

The Hot Stove League ain't methadone enough to soothe my baseball jones, so this time of year is always hard, when baseball's season ends and I have to go cold turkey. For months. (At least there's labor peace in MLB and I don't have to play the "do I root for the millionaires or the billionaires" game basketball fans get to enjoy right now).

You might be wondering why this confession of mine is here at Georgeeats, not Georgefans (which not only suggests my liking of the game, but also aptly would sum up my time in the batter's box). It's because one of my favorite internety spots, Baseball Prospectus, kindly has posted this today: "Buy Me Some Wontons and Crackerjack: 11 Foods That Should Be Available as Ballpark Concessions but Aren't."(I think the article isn't behind the paywall, so let me know.)  It's good to see them having some fun with it--no one could argue with the idea of the $2 veggie taco and the $3.50 microbrew, but then people also suggest poutine, and even better, communal fondue stations.

What I'd like to see is more places feature knock-offs of famous restaurants from the town the ballpark is in--screw Dodger Dogs, which have become pretty execrable (sorry Farmer John's!), and let's have a Pinks. And for burgers, I want a MoFo (that's a Mobile Father's Office) on at least every level. San Diego needs its Stone World Baseball-istro. Yes, I know, you can get Stone in Petco already, but why not the food too? It's already priced like at stadium-prices. Speaking of that, why not some high-end versions of classic ballpark food? This treat could be a true seventh or any inning stretch, no?

Plus, beyond food, there needs to be mobile bartenders with little carts working the aisles. How much more civilized a game might be at Yankee Stadium if a section were sipping on Bronx Cocktails. The vendor-bartender just better to be sure not to use a Boston shaker.

*You do all know this one, don't you?

Monday, November 7, 2011

"The Kitchen" Heats Up the Screen

It’s not every day an actor’s audition hinges more on his ability to whip up an omelet than memorize a monologue, but that was somewhat the case for Samuel Roukin, one of the stars of the National Theatre’s production of The Kitchen, coming to a Campbell Hall HD screen near you. While Roukin has worked as a waiter, kitchen porter, barman, and restaurant manager, what he says most helped him to prepare for the play were rehearsals with consultant Jeremy Lee, an esteemed London chef at Blueprint Café. “He put us through our paces, taught us knife skills, basically turned us from actors into kitchen help,” Roukin explained. “He got us louder and quicker.”

Want to read the rest then go to the Indy's site.

Friday, November 4, 2011

SOhO Plays It SOL-ful

Over the past 18 years, SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State Street, [805] 962-7776, has probably been better known for the latter part of its name. That’s going to change, as SOhO’s menu certainly has — 75 percent of the food is now sourced locally and sustainably.

Want to read the rest, then go to the Indy's site.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

You Need-a Pepita?

Is there anything more common yet weird to eat* than toasted pumpkin seeds? I mean the ones you yourself have scooped out from a pumpkin...that you then go and carve, preferably with a knife Michael Myers might wield, into something resembling a face. So there's that, the whole borderline brain issue, but I'm more concerned with the anticipation/result portion of the pumpkin seed snack. For they certainly smell lovely when roasting, either in the pan or in the stove, a scent distinctly fall, and no doubt that's associational, but it's a sweet spot between firewood and root vegetable. Of course you can then spice them in so many directions, from simple salt (and who just has simple salt anymore--I think we've got at least 6 salts in our house right now) to a curried extravaganza (either cheat with powder, this is just a snack, after all, or start with turmeric and keep adding). They can become a vehicle for a flavor, this way, no different than a potato chip dressed up for a foodie ball in its buffalo bleu gown, say.

But it's not even the taste I want to address. It's what happens when a handful of seeds slowly get crunched to pulp in your mouth. Is it just me, or is there at least a scintilla of the sense you're eating wood? It passes, and you'll grab another handful cause you're not sure. Or is it you refuse to believe. No doubt your mom first made this for you, and if you're of a certain age (say, oh, mine), it might be one of the first times the kitchen seemed interested in re-use/re-cycle. And, perhaps, suggesting you shouldn't care about such things. Or, suggesting we're oak-nivorous at heart.

There's no way that it's a trick moms play, for they deserve their spook-inducing treats too, you know.

*Hope that keeps any of you from suggesting, "Why, George, Seasonal Yak Testicle Jerky from Tavan Bogd is pretty weird, isn't it?"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Olive Oil for Life

If you own a popular olive oil, vinegar, and assorted-cooking-products store like Global Gardens in Los Olivos, you’ll probably end up writing a lavishly illustrated cookbook someday. At least that’s how the store’s owner, Theo Stephan, puts it. “Honestly, so many people came into the store, and I took it for granted they knew what to do with olive oil and vinegar—I was raised Greek, so I knew,” said Stephan. “But so many people asked, ‘What recipes do you make?’ I thought maybe it was time to put something together.”

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

P.S. And on page 4 of the cookbook, the photo of Theo, check out that photo credit.

ADDED: And once again a kindly ex-Santa Barbaran now at the New York Times smiles upon our humble work here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Do You Know the Way to Monterey?

Moments do resemble ads sometimes, and such was the case with a lovely-and-a-half dinner we had the great pleasure of hosting earlier this summer. It's mighty fun to hang with cool people under the wisteria-covered arbor in the backyard of our Spanish charmer. Thanks to everyone and everything and all the planets aligning etc.

And then Matt Kettmann, Indy colleague, went and wrote it all up too:

In an evening of culinary highlights, perhaps the happiest words we heard on a warm night in a backyard on Santa Barbara’s Westside this past summer were these: “I have these little presents to give out.” So said chef Danny Douglas ( as he presented the 10 of us with his main course, succulent halibut filets cooked in paper and just this side of done, served alongside asparagus, bok choy, and shiitake mushrooms. “Wow,” said The Indy’s food editor, George Yatchisin, our host for the night. “That smells great without even opening it.”

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

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Farmer to Table: Goodland Kitchen Kicks Off Series Celebrating Farmers

Sorry I'm so late (too late for the actual event) posting the link to this one. And I've got lots to blog about--SOhO's new local-sustainable focused menu, palate food + wine in Glendale--and I didn't link to this online only item about Wine Cask's first beer dinner (turns out it was a huge success--they turned folks away, even). I'm behind in life, folks. In the meantime....

“I went to a dinner party a few months ago where all the guests sat with the farmers that grew their food, as well as the people that cooked it,” says Melissa Gomez, co-owner of Goodland Kitchen. “Everything was delicious, and we enjoyed it much more than other meals because we understood the care that went into creating it. I wanted to re-create that experience for our guests, so I decided to start the ‘Meet the Farmer’ Dinner Series.”

Want to read the rest, then do see at the Indy's site.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Food fests are frequent and everywhere of late, popping up like mushrooms that we then have to ponder over--is this one delicious or sick-making? After all, the food fest, however well intentioned, can become a glorified excuse to cloak our gluttonous consumption in a hairshirt of educative moments extolling organic, local, sustainable goodness on our way to personal godliness. Or maybe the problem is that I eat and drink too much at these things--each little taste or micro-pour is just a mouthful or two, after all, so it's hard not to stop. But I do know that at a certain, often quite early, point when attending these that if the choice is to listen to a seminar/demo or go stuff my gullet, look out stomach, here it all comes.

A couple of weekends ago we had a feast of fests in the area, what with the SOL Food Festival right here in Santa Barbara and Sunset Magazine's Savor the Central Coast up in Santa Margarita, both in their second years. SOL was a huge success (so much so evidently the food ran out a bit early), pairing up producers and kitchens, hosting the wonderful Santa Barbara Independent Foodie Awards (go us),

(Me and Branden Bidwell from Wine Cask at the Foodies)

letting a turkey roam the grounds (no, not me, a real bird). The word "hippie" has been taking a horribly beating of late, thanks to the right's lack of imagination and desire to lazily label the OWS crowd (plus, they're still fighting the '60s battles, hoping to keep youth, women, and people of color in their place--while us lefties are all about the future), but SOL captured hippie in its most optimistic sense. Maybe we all can just get along, and that can only start if we're all not hungry, and that means the land we eat from, too. The whole system has to stay healthy and fed. Thanks for stressing that, SOL.

As for Savor the Central Coast, that's a bit more upscale, but what do you expect from Sunset, which is sort of the Trader Joe's of lifestyle magazines--it's for people with some college-developed sense of taste, but who lack the money to be ostentatious about it (call them English majors). Having it at the Santa Margarita Ranch is a huge boon to begin, a lovely spot too many don't know about that seems old west in the best ways. I only had the chance to hit one day of what was billed The Main Event (no relation to the old Streisand movie), which had a bit of everything a food fest could do but on steroids (non-gmo ones, I'm sure). One slight cavil was a big part of the fest was Vons Land--nothing like corporate cash to turn a pretty standard supermarket chain into a paragon of local, organic, sustainable. No doubt these folks might have had some ideas about how sustainable Vons can be:

That said, there was more good eating than it was possible to do in a couple of hours of speed grazing, especially when the temptation was to stay at the Cracked Crab's booth and keep doing crab bisque shots. While it was supposedly a Central Coast fest, and even Ventura represented in the Pavilion of Travel Bureaus (ok, it had some other name, I'm sure, but you know what I beamingly mean, you've seen the permanently smiling sorts that shill at these things), but it was pretty Santa Barbara County light, beyond Bradley Ogden himself and Root 246 representing with a couple of delicious noshes.

Not that a whole bunch of SLO and Paso hurt--most of the best wineries were there, like L'Aventure and Tablas Creek--and then the food was as good or better. OK, make that perhaps nothing better than a lamb taco that Central City Market (in what I'm told is the godforsaken Santa Maria Mall) was serving up with lamb from Superior Farms Lamb. There should be more lamb in Mexican food, it seems.

We also took in one seminar, The Art of the Oyster with Sunset Food Editor Margo True. There was tons of information, but almost as much tantalization (and if that's not a word, it should be). Alongside the very informative and surprisingly self-deprecating (especially when it came to shucking) True was Neal Maloney from Morro Bay Oyster Company, who offered much fascinating info about teh bivalve that does so well slightly to our north. One of the best bits is Morro Bay's oysters are shaken not stirred (and, sure, Muscadet, Champagne, yeah yeah yeah, a gin martini makes for an elegant oyster pairing)--that is, as they farm the oysters, they shake the bags, which chips off the soft parts of the shells (better for cleaner eating later) and that shocks the little fellows a bit, too, so they deepen, making for a meatier oyster with more room for that lovely briny-sweet liquor. Then True whipped up some recipes, but we didn't get to taste any, which is sort of the lap dance of food. If anyone would like to have me over for barbecued oysters with chipotle glaze, I will be there before you finish reading this paragraph.

(These seminars were in the Santa Margarita lovely old barn/chapel, but then the videoed all of them, and often had the camera guys in the way, so you had to watch the video, even while the real action happened 12 feet away. It's an a-v world, isn't it.)

So was Savor worth savoring? Completely--an embarrassment of riches, so the less good things you could brush off with the next magnificent taste. But they might need to have some early seminars next year on the Art of Pacing Oneself.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Chip Off the Old Choc

It's not perhaps the best karma to have to taste seven chocolate-related food items while staring across the street at the conscientious few conducting Occupy Santa Barbara. But that was the unfortunate geography of an event at which I was a judge Thursday night, as the Downtown Organization and First Thursday hosted a Chocolate Taste Off as a way to celebrate Let them eat chocolate, I guess. Sorry protesters--promise I'm usually part of the 99%. But afterward, there's no doubt I occupied more of Santa Barbara then when I began.

I'm not going to run through all the entries, but the participants were Seagrass, Aldo's, Chocolate Opulence, Pierre La Fond, Wine Cask, Viva Oliva, and Adama. What people offered us was all over the board, too, if true to their businesses, but let's just admit that when somebody's baked you a whole dessert, a single raspberry in balsamic infused with three chocolates just can't compare. It's got a zen purity, sure, but this is about chocolate, and beyond spellcheck wanting to turn Opulence into Corpulence when I originally mistyped it above, it hits me now that "chocolate opulence" is pretty near redundant. Unless you're eating the wrong chocolate.

I am a bit chastened to add my winning choice came in second overall (I was one of four judges), but that might just prove that if you work the word doughnut into your dessert's name, I'm suddenly Homer Simpson. That's what Rosie Gerard at the Wine Cask did, serving up one of their regular menu items I've somehow so far resisted (mostly because I can't get past her amazing butterscotch pudding): chocolate & chevre doughnuts, crème anglaise, cappuccino ice cream. The goat cheese really works, so don't crinkle up your nose like an actual goat just stuck its horns through your monitor--it adds a creamier texture, cuts the chocolate's sweet a tad, gives it a bit of deeper dairiness. And the doughnuts were perfectly cooked all the way through, so there's no raw dough surprise or anything. Wonderful and elegant, especially with the cappuccino ice cream adding its coffee kick.

As for the winner, I had it as a close runner up, and would gladly eat one right now, especially since there might be time to have a second one before the day's end. Chef Nathan Heil from Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro prepared for us a salted caramel chocolate tart with Chantilly and caramel Oreo popcorn. Starting with the dessert's side...and, well, why don't more desserts have sides? If you're going to keep eating after a perfectly good dinner, there's no point in being a little pregnant, as the old joke goes. As for this popcorn, Heil could no doubt bag it and sell it on its own (his restaurant is close to the movie theaters, after all). Chocolate and caramel and popcorn and salt--that's four food groups. The tart itself beckons like any good tart, with its slip of salt, its crisp and flaky crust, its mix of luscious chocolate and caramel creaminess. I have no problem with it winning at all, beyond it's hard to beat a doughnut all gussied up.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ain’t Nothing Wrong with the Way She Moves

Crista Fooks has been kicking around the idea of opening a restaurant for half her life (she’s just turning 40), a few years after getting bit by the food bug when enjoying escargot for the first time at Carp’s late, great Epicurian on her 16th birthday. “It was like you were in a wonderland there,” she recalls, “and the whole room led me to be willing to take the chance. My family just started getting really adventurous about food.”

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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The 2011 Foodies: A Baker’s Dozen of Deliciousness

There’s nothing terrible about twos for the second year of The Santa Barbara Independent’s annual Foodie Awards, which publicly recognize the people and places responsible for making our town such a feast. Once again, we received close to 100 nominations from more than two dozen of the area’s leading tastemakers and then fine-tuned that list to a baker’s dozen of deliciousness.

From pizza for adults and Chinese food with a squeeze to killer croissants, fabulous flatbread, and service with a smile, the 2011 Foodies shine the light on spots we should all celebrate. Do we see any trends that stand out? Why, yes: State Street isn’t such a bad place to eat anymore, or, in the case of our Lifetime Achievement Award winner Downey’s, it hasn’t been for nearly three decades. So without further hors d’oeuvres, we present this year’s especially exciting epicurean entrées.

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

ADDENDUM: And I'm glad to see that once again The New York Times is kind enough to throw us some traffic.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The SLO Tomato

As unfortunate as it’s been that summer seemed to slumber up until the past few weeks, that sudden burst of heat did wonders for tomatoes, concentrating them and their peak season. If you, like Pablo Neruda, care to celebrate that “the tomato offers / its gift / of fiery color / and cool completeness,” you need to get to the four properties in the Boutique Hotel Collection in SLO County for “Ode to Tomatoes: A Culinary Happening.” Running from September 22-October 6, the event celebrates the wondrous fruit/vegetable in almost 20 varieties, from green doctors to boxcar Willies, with four-course, totally tomato-centric prix-fixe menus. Sure there’s a gazpacho (a fine one at that), but then there’s something like a pineapple tomato Napoleon with seared Texas toast, an over-easy egg, white truffle vinaigrette, and a smattering of arugula (think of this as the best McMuffin you’ll ever have). And there’s tomato dessert, too — turns out the tomato’s very much a fruit, scrumptiously subbing for apples in an upside-down green-tomato caramel pecan pie.

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

October Is the Foodest Month

What will already be the third annual might fancy the lowercase title for style, but it’s an all-caps kind of food-centric throwdown for the month of October that you may as well start planning now. Restaurants run specials, 1st Thursday will have food on its artistic mind, CAF will end the month with its usual pumpkin-carving contest, and even The Indy will get in the act, awarding its second annual Foodie Awards at the SOL (Sustainable, Organic, Local) Food Festival on October 1 (more on both the Foodies and SOL in coming issues). Otherwise, the four main festivals within ( are as follows:

Want to read the rest then go to the Indy's site.

Monday, September 19, 2011

David Hopkins Unbridled at Bridlewood

They bill David Hopkins “half winemaker, half mad scientist” at Bridlewood Winery, and it is true he gets to experiment on E. & J. Gallo’s behalf in this more boutique setting. Aspiring to “excess in moderation,” Hopkins will wax eloquent about how adding actual frozen viognier grapes, not just viognier juice, to syrah at fermentation will make the final syrah better, but that’s just one of the many details you’ll hear in a chat with him, which might also include talk of the best barrels to musings about Bowzer from the band Sha Na Na. Simply put, Hopkins is as good a talker as he is a winemaker, and that’s saying something: For, as he modestly claimed, “After 30 years in the business, in the last five years I’ve finally figured it out.”

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

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tacos to a ‘T’

It’s hard to fight the urge to abbreviate the alliteratively named El Taco Tequila Taqueria “TTT,” but after eating there you might be more apt to call it TNT, as much of the food is explosively flavored, starting with a hot salsa that is “singe your mouth for a month of Sundays” potent. Matthew Chrestenson, who co-owns both El Taco and Union Ale with brother Ben, put it this way about the spot, which has been open almost three months: “The concept of the taqueria was our first plan, but the Union Ale space was too big for it, so we waited. Our focus from the beginning was after the taco, and when we found the location with the liquor license, we decided to go after tequila. It’s like a taco truck with a tequila bar on the front.”

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

And lookee here: the New York Times decided to point to this story (they like the no chips deal).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cecco Is Magnifico

Ever play the game “What was my least favorite dish from that fine meal?” and not be able to come up with one? Ever do that after nine courses? That’s the kind of thing that can happen to you when David Cecchini is in the kitchen, as is the case at Cecco Ristorante, which has been open about six months now in Solvang. The longtime Santa Barbara chef has left the Harbor Restaurant to be full-time at Cecco, a mere half mile from his home, and it shows in the exquisitely balanced flavors on every plate. For example, there are the fried oysters on thin golden beet slices, a brilliant take on surf and below turf. A bit of baby arugula adds an almost horseradishy kick, and then there’s a truffle emulsion for extra unctuousness. Want to read the rest, go do so at the Indy's site.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Wait, Wait, Don't Serve Me

Since I tend not to go negative when writing (how convenient it is the places that aren't very good usually crash and burn--take a recent example of a place that specialized in one dish of one cuisine and then didn't make that very well), and I want to today, let's say the place a group of us chose to celebrate someone's birthday last evening is called, oh, Mike Harkey*. Thursday night, 10 pm, perhaps a calm before the long weekend storm as this establishment isn't very crowded when we show up--one large group of maybe a barely drunken dozen just finishing up, a table of two, and the four of us. For awhile it's just the four of us, till a lone woman, brave soul, walks in and sips her libation at the bar.

Setting this scene in important, as this is a tale of service gone, well, wrong isn't even the correct word, but then again, neither is service. There are 3 employees this evening, so for a good chunk of it, the employee-to-customer ratio nears 1-1, but while this is one of the few businesses helping to get Obama re-elected in 2012, that doesn't seem to matter. We get our drinks pretty quickly, but the water we ask for doesn't show up. Generally you can just ask the server for it when she checks in to see how the drinks are, or when she comes by to see if you want any food, but despite the room being small, she never checks in, and it's a good thing we were saving ourselves for the Blue Owl (mighty yumminess).

We finally do get water when a person at our table does the big arm in the air hail a taxi wave (the more subtle earlier attempts of imploring eye contact had failed miserably), and the server sort of almost says sorry for forgetting, but not quite. As for the wave part, I missed this so it's hearsay but another person at the table insists the waitress did a "do I know him, is he trying to pick me up?" look before realizing the sort of business relationship we all had going. At this point several of our cocktails were at pessimist's level--that is, you could only say they were three-quarters empty and not a quarter full--but she took no note of that, or did and chose to ignore our approaching dryness, but such active negligence would imply too much of a connection to us and her job. She did look fabulous, though--there is a premium on that at Mike Harkey.

Then, for a bit after the lone libation lover at the bar left and our table was the only one occupied, all 3 staff disappeared. This should feel good, to have a spot all to one's selves, but it's actually sort of disconcerting, like you'll need to do dishes and lock up or something.

Turns out we were at Mike Harkey for well over an hour, and easily a third of that was with dry glasses, but I guess it's doing so well they don't even need to ask people if they want a second. And we all walked, so it wasn't like they were saving us from DUIs, not that they had any idea how we got there, or really, it seemed, cared we were there. I had to approach the bar to ask for our check, $50 for 4 drinks, so one hopes we were paying for something more than the liquid itself.

Sometimes it's fun to remember that tipping is optional.

*First, grant me my Pozterisk, but naming this place after a tantalizing but ultimately unfulfilling first round draft pick is actually surprisingly apt, for Harkey seemed like he'd be good--he even finished fifth in the 1990 NL Rookie of the Year balloting--but injuries, a low strike out rate, and a high walk rate all did him in. Still, I remember to this day one friend hurling amazingly profane strings of insults at Harkey as he single-handedly destroyed one of my friend's fantasy baseball seasons, back in the days before the internet and we actually met every week with our USA Todays so we could do the league stats by hand. My how the world has changed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Coast Catches the Local Food Wave

Coast has long been the downtown hotel restaurant that could … if people only let it. Chef Brian Parks has a flair for seafood and a sense of simple elegance about his plates, so it wasn’t really a seismic shift when Coast revamped its menu this summer, doing what they call “From Farm and Coast to Table.” The menu proudly boasts of local sourcing, and not just for old-time produce favorites like Shepherd Farms and Tutti Frutti Farms—it also calls out the Cultured Abalone in Goleta for its lovely little mollusks and Steve Escobar and his good ship Ocean Pearl for spot prawns, crab, and the like.

If you want to read the rest, do so at the Indy's site.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Liking My Beer and My Steaks Rare

It was one of those beery weekends for Georgeeats, as Stone held its 15th annual festival, but that's just one part of the goodness, as I also now own a bottle, one of only 500 in existence, of the very long-winded ale illustrated above. (You almost expect to see a "Francis Ford Coppola's" in there, no?) I had to enter a raffle to win a chance to buy a bottle of beer, which makes me a very serious man or ridiculous, I'll let you decide, dear reader. I've had the "regular"--that is not aged, let alone in bourbon barrels--version of this beer at Stone Festivals prior to this edition and it was wonderful, hearty and deep and balanced, given it could taste like an explosion in a candy shop. So I'm looking forward to popping this not quite big boy (that verbiage to the left on the label merely means it's a 500ml bottle, and that's what the series of odd one-offs Stone will be releasing will be called) soon, even though I know it will continue to age, but I can't wait. Desire is a mighty thing.

To confuse you yet more, at Saturday's actual festival, I passed up beer from Russian River, Green Flash, AleSmith, Port Brewing, Maui, Ommegang, North Coast, and Ballast Point. Still had an amazing time. It's getting harder and harder to surprise me, that's all, and as much as I love Pliny the Elder or AleSmith IPA, I can and do get those semi-regularly (thank you, oh gods of hops). With only 20 tastes between the two of us (my lovely partner in drink and I, and we always got different beers to get the widest range of taste-age--is that a word?), we didn't want to waste one on something we already knew, no matter how much we liked it ("and lo" I said to my weaker self, "do not be tempted by Temptation!"). We didn't want to waste our tickets on beer we didn't like, either, so there was that risk. Admitting that, we did surprisingly well.

Fave Tastes

All the stuff in the Collaboration Booth was at the least interesting, but generally much more than that, pushing at the edges of what beer can do: one had parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (the Saison du BUFF from Dogfish Head, Victory, and Stone) and was sort of the rosé of beers, the perfect warm summer afternoon sipper; another's name tells you all you need to know--Jason Fields & Ken Sheppard / Troegs / Stone Cherry Chocolate Stout. (OK, maybe that name doesn't tell you everything--it was mightily controlled, so just enough of the flavors with plenty of the stout, and crying out to be used in a beer float). Then there was the Stone/Brew Dog bashah [lower case theirs] that's supposedly a Black Double Belgian IPA. In a word--complex.

As for happy hoppy new faves, Great Divide's 17th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA, Mother Earth Brew Co.'s Rysing Tide Rye IPA, and Eagle Rock's Populist IPA all made us bitterly pleased.

Here's the rest of the list of what we consumed, in no particular order (but the list begins and ends on fine, huge notes):

2011 Stone BELGO Anise Imperial Russian Stout
Breakwater Brewing Maverick's Double IPA
Breakwater Brewing Kali Kush
Bear Republic Endeavor IPA
Cerveza Tijuana Morena
The Lost Abbey Witch's Wit
The Bruery Loakal Red
The Bruery Mischief
Lightning Brewery American Amber Ale on cask
Green Flash / Pizza Port Carlsbad / Stone Highway 78 Scotch Ale
21st Amendment. Firestone Walker / Stone El Camino (Un)Real Black Ale
Baird / Ishii / Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA on cask
Avery Anniversary Ale - Eighteen
Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA on cask

Thursday, August 18, 2011

When Is a Restaurant Not a Restaurant? When It's a Jar

There's that old line, "Simple is not always best but the best is always simple." I guess I believe that about 75% of the time, which leaves me room for the dazzle of Hearst Castle, the prose of Joyce, and moles of infinite ingredients known only to the wisest of abuelas. Then there's steak. It would seem easy to do one well, just get a high grade cut of beef, season, cook to temperature. But if that were true, why do some steaks sing, and others make you question why you want to chew cow slabs about three-and-a-half bites in?

I'm not sure I have the answer to that, being a writer second and cook third, but as an eater first and foremost, I know 100% sure that the best steak I can get is at Jar in Los Angeles. Part of that is the room, no doubt, swank as all get-out with its non-ironic paneling, b&w photos and color swatches adorning those walls, then those simple flying saucer light fixtures, too many of them almost, but always emitting just the right glow. I was there last when it was still daylight outside and the room almost seemed impossible. It says, "Here, you need a martini, dry," and makes you want to call your date a doll. Heck, for all we know, steaks weren't even bad for you in those days.

But the steaks are splendid. That good grill char, but also the pleasure only beef brings, a mouth-watering joy of the chew, but the best never become too much chew--it feels good to sense the food breaking down in your mouth, if that's not too explicit. A Jar steak won't get to that point that mediocre steaks do, when the meat sort of seems to go to pulp--like you can chew the flavor out. (I know I'm making painstaking, and perhaps gross-making, too much out of this.) Part of that is the fat seems incorporated--you want that fat taste, but you don't want its texture too much. (It's like wanting butter in the flaky dough of the croissant, not on top or oozing out.)

In the case of my last steak there, it probably helped it was aged, which means the enzymes do their magical chemistry trick, and the steak gets yet smoother, the fat more integrated, everything better. You almost don't need the lobster Bearnaise or the creamy horseradish sauce, but, of course, you do, as luxury might as well lap in luxury. (I might just eat the sauces on their own.)

But, as for that last steak, it was one not on the regular menu, the oxymoronic bone-in filet (no doubt the bone helped add to the flavor, too). The waiter sold it well, and it lived up to his billing, all 14 oz. of it. But then there was the billing. I really don't get the reserve waitstaff seem to feel when announcing specials--how hard is it to say, "Those lobster and shiitake stuffed squash blossoms are $16," (or whatever they cost--we didn't order them, so we don't know). I guess part of it is, if you're eating at a place like Jar, you shouldn't suddenly get thrifty. I get that. But I also want to know when the steak--and again I must say it might have been the best beef I've ever had--I ordered would set me back $63. That's a good twenty bucks more than any other steak meant for one.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Let's Go Mezz!*

Last Sunday at Intermezzo's lovely afternoon soiree celebrating its anniversary, co-owner Doug Margerum introduced two of his sons saying, "He's 14, this is 15 [pointing to Intermezzo], and he's 16--they were busy years." Of course, Intermezzo wasn't always Margerum's in that stretch (in that dire time when the Rosenson was off the bloom of the hallowed Wine Cask, so to speak), wasn't even always Intermezzo, however the name Bar/Cafe just never stuck, despite Mitchell Sjerven's attempts.

So Intermezzo it is, and a fine thing, that. Especially now out in the courtyard, where those wonderful sail-like awnings have just been installed, not only easing the midday sun (well, let's assume we get some midday sun--where is summer this year?) but making the largish space cozier, too. The flatbread program keeps evolving and if possible getting better--right now it's hard to beat the summer treat of the Orchard with fresh peach, salami, goat cheese, pepper preserves, and a balsamic reduction (ah, that's where summer went!).

And if you act now--and by now I mean for the rest of August--all the wines on tap, and all the wines are on tap, are 15% off per glass for the 15th anniversary. The wines on tap program is sort of brilliant, as it means local wines, very fresh, and a program that's very green, as the kegs are reusable and there's no need for bottles or corks. Of course, this could only work with all the fine wineries in Intermezzo's backyard of Santa Barbara County, from Doug Margerum's own wines (his blend M5 is the default let's not think but just drink and be very very pleased order, isn't it?) to a very special Cargasacchi Pinot Noir that I not only want to drink, I want to wear as cologne.

*Forgive this Jersey boy his baseball inspired title that probably makes sense only to him.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Underground L.A. Restaurant Pops Up in Santa Barbara

It’s not every day a restaurant serves you something as wonderful as hiramasa crudo, a delightfully rich yellowtail, coolly elegant and Eastern, sitting in a shallow pool of smoked gazpacho, zesty and Western. But this clever commingling of cuisines was featured at no everyday restaurant: It was the first Santa Barbara pop-up of the Los Angeles underground restaurant Paladar, started by friends at USC out of their own apartment. Front-of-the-house man Robert Kronfli and Chef Alex Chang would do two 30-person seatings a night, and, said Chang, “It was getting kind of crazy, and the kitchen was taking a beating. Plus we were living in the same place.”

Want to read the rest, then go do so at the Indy site.

(that's the beef hearts picture, btw)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

But What If I Do It Every Day Anyway?

In case you didn't know, it's #IPA Day, so, at last, Twitter has served some useful function.

Georgeeats is particularly fond of IPAs, and not really just the hoppier the better, although I positively swill in the ale of the big boys. But balance, my friends, balance. You need that malt, the depth, the sweet, to make the bitter sing its terrifically trebly part. Plus hops is half as fun on the nose--forest of pine, groves of citrus. So if you want to make quick work of #IPA Day and opt for a double, you can never beat the best Russian River Brewing's Pliny the Elder. Not that Alpine's Pure Hoppiness or even, if you want to go local, Firestone's Double Jack, are anything to sneeze at (they are something to sniff at, though--breathe deep before you quaff).

As for single IPAs, it's hard to beat Hollister's Hippie Kicker, as fresh as its playful name.

On a side note, does anyone else find it funny that Wikipedia illustrates its IPA page with a photo of Fuller's IPA, when Fuller's flagship ale is its ESB? Oh well. Drink while we can, as the economy is only going to go further and further into the shitter thanks to dirty deeds done debt deal deep.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

At Least from Behind You Can't Tell If It's a Grande or a Venti

Tell me this isn't a new trend, but a couple of weeks ago, when getting coffee at one of the spots one can do so on the UCSB campus, the barista, who I realize is actually a college student probably not majoring in Caffeine Delivery, was doing that youthful thing and wearing his shorts so they exposed most of his shorts. Now, beyond not even understanding the physics of such fashion-downward design, as it were--how do the pants stay up when they're halfway off?--who thinks it's a good idea to make consumable things for people and flash them most of your boxers at the same time? I mean, he's a college student--is that even sanitary? 

Sorry, just had to get that off my chest, but I promise I'm staying fully dressed while doing so.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Long Away Whine

Sorry, but I just got back from Maui, and boy are my fins tired.

There will be lots of blogging soon, promise, once I figure out if this sign means "don't serve martinis in a wine glass"--to which I say, but of course--or if it means "don't put olives in your wine," which I can only hope no one needs to hear.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Chef, My Friends, Is Blowing to Los Alamos

It's called George Eats, not George Writes, but you know that, of late. After all, it's not George Monetizes (and has there ever been an uglier word for an uglier thing? it's practically onomatopoetic), so all the stuff I need to do to make some money has sort of taken up the time that I'd love to use instead to be doing this. But there is a lot of news, isn't there....

Starting with the big changes at two of my favorite places (just ask Visa) to eat in the county--Hollister Brewing Company and Full of Life Flatbreads. As you might have read elsewhere, after a couple of years making HBC not just a beer mecca both a food one, too, Dylan Fultineer has moved on to Full of Life Flatbreads, and the weekend meals there are as luscious as ever, with flatbreads combining the best of the market (a recent one with grilled to perfection peaches, grilled chicken, and arugula knocked me out) and special apps and a main course the table next to us gushed about. So, the rich just get richer. There's just two too bads: 1) Los Alamos can seem far away, especially given the wine list is so fine, and 2) it's only a restaurant on weekends. But here's to all the best success for Dylan up in Wine Country, especially as he and his wife start a family.

We don't need to be too sad here at Hollister, though, for Dylan's trusty aide-de-camp Mike Coan is now executive chef. Coan moved west with Fultineer from Blackbird in Chicago to open the SB Hungry Cat, went up to San Francisco for seasoning at ace places like A16 and Delfina, but he's been back at HBC for awhile and ready to step into the lead position. Based on some recent HBC visits, we've all got nothing to worry about, and not just because the glories of the latest delicious batch of Eric's Hippie Kicker IPA smooth out the edges of anything wrong in one's day.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How Now, Hearst Cow?

Although Casa Grande, the main building of San Simeon’s sprawling Hearst Castle, boasts 38 bedrooms, 41 bathrooms, and countless pieces of valuable art and antiquities, William Randolph Hearst never stopped calling his extravagant spot “The Ranch.” Since 1865 when his father, George Hearst, bought the property, the rolling hills above the Pacific Ocean have been prime cattle country. That tradition continues today, as Hearst Ranch Beef (HRB) is one of the country’s premier meat producers, offering sustainable, grass-fed beef grown on the property’s 82,000 acres and at the 73,000-acre Jack Ranch inland.

Want to read the rest then go do so at the Indy site.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Westside Is the Best Side...for Food Trucks and Markets and E-Waste

It's pretty simple--the Westside Farmers' Market needs you. The market is sort of caught, if you've never been, in all sorts of ways. The only one in an actual neighborhood--it's held on the grounds of the Harding University Partnership School at the corner of Valerio and Mountain--, it's attempting to attract customers from a very diverse neighborhood, and perhaps underlines the issues not talked about enough, namely that the current food revolution is a bit bourgeois. Still, everyone needs to get the message that organic local food from small suppliers is best for a whole host of reasons, from personal health to the planet's well-being. And keeping a market like the Westside one going is key to helping make that point. The past few weeks the market has had an added attraction no other market does--the school district's Mobile Cafe has been serving up meals on the cheap. You really need to come on down, enjoy a great grilled veggie salad (for $5) or a double burger (for $6) or some Mexican food specialty (those have varied from week to week). It makes the market a much livelier, friendlier place. Then go support the farmers, so they can tell other farmers the Harding Market is in its way back, and they need to start selling again (it was in one of those bad spirals, where fewer people shop, so fewer come to sell, so fewer come to shop, so...yikes). Be there from 4 - 7 pm (yep, the hours are longer now to accommodate people who just get back from the work day). There's a bonus, too, just today--free E-waste recycling! So bring some broke down electronics, and leave with a full stomach and grocery basket.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Toasting Toast

First, I have to apologize, for I've now posted a photo taken inside a men's room, and it's not even of an infamous raging urinal up the coast. (Second, you have no idea how weird it is to be in a men's room and see an entire tour of Japanese come in--luckily I was at the hand-washing stages, but those are the joys of the Madonna Inn.) Third, one feels odd taking photos in a public restroom, at least I do. Fourth, we're a long way from my intended topic, which is the fabulous Kaya Toast at Susan Feninger's Street (they might want it typed all caps, and Feninger is sort of an all caps persona, but I refuse to shout, despite my enthusiasm for the place).

Feninger, originally famous as one of the Two Hot Tamales with co-Border Grill and Ciudad owner Mary Sue Milliken, struck out on her own with this spot that ranges round the globe doing variations of street food gussied up a bit (it's not street food prices, but the odds are way better than the 50/50 crap shoot that you might not be uh, shooting crap from food poisoning afterward, so if you saves your money you takes your chances).

One of the signature dishes there is Kaya Toast, noted as a hangover cure in Singapore (heck, read Feninger's own history of it, and gaze at the recipe). It's not something you'd dream up on your own, but the combo of toastiness, coconut jam sweetness, yolky gooeyness, and soy sauce saltiness (with a bit of bonus arugula pepper) is totally addictive, if nothing else.

The funniest thing, of course, is Fenninger got booted from Top Chef Masters last season (#2) for this dish, her restaurant's most popular. The judges weren't happy as it was too simple for a master to cook up. As if masterful cooking isn't often simplest--there's nowhere to hide that way.

Alas, she wasn't the only chef to get the boot for a signature dish. Jonathan Waxman, who has arguably made the most talked about chicken of the past 30 years, got kicked off the show for serving....Waxman's roast chicken. These judges, they've got no respect for the classics.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rattled by the Roussanne

Late afternoon light, home, backyard, lovely company, a glass of 2008 Stolpman L'Avion. It tasted exactly that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

When Taste Is Out of Sight

Here's a lesson in what doesn't necessarily look good (or photograph well) might actually be quite tasty. And that's not just because this was dish #2 at a beer dinner recently on June 17 as the opening salvo of Salute! in Ojai. But what you see here is sort of an exploded tamale (torpedoed tamale?), or, as it was billed, "sauteed lobster and sweet corn, with truffle oil, mandarin oranges, chive butter, and a curry cream sauce." Now chunks of stuff in a somewhat shockingly yellow sauce might not appear to be appealing, but sometimes you've got to let other senses but sight take the lead when you eat, you know. For the smell was lovely--somehow not too much of truffle oil, which usually seems to me like the Axe cologne mushrooms must wear when they want to seem all upscale--but more of that curry sauce, all those good Indian spices, turmeric-ally bound. Somehow that worked with the mandarins, that could seem to sweet for the dish, but weren't, but did offer orange's more open citrus taste (lemon and lime seem to close down to me at times, if that makes sense). And then lobster and corn work well, somehow elegant and homey all at once. Wash it down with the Dr. Bill chosen Ommegang Gnomegang and you're a happy camper, promise.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Grill, Makes Me Feel Fine

We didn’t really think this could happen — that someone could dominate our 2nd Annual Sizzling Summer BBQ Contest like Barry Bonds winning MVP Awards in his drug-buffed prime — but we were wrong. For on June 15, the O Street Truck and Liz Bradley drove out of the Whole Foods parking lot doubly victorious, taking the crown for both best professional entrée and best professional side dish over five very talented competitors. But perhaps it’s fitting for an age when so much of the hottest food gets served from a truck.

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hot Meals on Hot Wheels

If the produce at a Farmers’ Market doesn’t inspire you to cook, you either have vegetable-phobia or as many kids as the Duggars and have no time. But while that perfect late spring fava bean might suggest a lovely meal (amazing aside king salmon, say), it’s also a ton of work you might not be able to do — first a de-podding, then a boil, then a peel! — in a given night. So perhaps you want to buy produce one night for the next, and just get a quick meal pronto.

The Wednesday Farmers’ Market at Harding University Partnership School, 1625 Robbins Street, will now be the first of the markets to feature a food truck — and not just any, but one of the Santa Barbara School District’s Mobile Cafés that were the hit of Earth Day this year, and are obviously allowed onto school property. We’re talking organic food, often Mexican cuisine, made to keep schoolkids not just healthy, but happy, too (and you, parents, know how hard that is). So it’s going to be good in more ways than good usually knows how to be.

The Mobile Café will be at Harding from 5 to 7 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, June 29, while the market runs from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Check it out so it keeps coming!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Go to Cádiz, If You Please

Most menu readers know this, but you can’t always believe what you read in a restaurant. Even in this age where it seems necessary to tell us the provenance for every blasted ingredient right down to the four types of salt, some people are still leaving a bit of mystery. For instance, if you ordered the heirloom tomato salad currently on the Cádiz menu, you’d see it’s coming with Piave cheese, spring greens, and Banyuls vinaigrette. What it doesn’t tell you is there’ll be a lovely little swath of caramelized shallot purée on that plate, and it will be something you crave afterward.

Want to read the rest, then go do so at the Indy site.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Things I Wouldn't Dough

There are things you're just not supposed to do with an ice cream scooper, like, say, gouge out a person's eyeballs or drop globoids of Kool-Aid-and-flour into boiling oil. That didn't stop Charlie Boghosian, though. From doing the second thing, that is--I assume he's safe around people's peepers, and if you watch the video at the link the good news is he probably can't outrun you, unless you too live for the moment each summer when the San Diego County Fair opens the latest fried-thing booth. And it seems people do just that, as a sort of ever-escalating thrill ride (Big Artery-Bust Mountain?), dropping anything they can think of into oil--Twinkies and Snickers are just child's play.

Perhaps there is a point when adventurousness just becomes silliness. But then I haven't ate the Kool-Aid, so what do I know.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hot Diggity Dog (Ziggity Boom)

Since there's a new pup in Georgeeatsvania, we've been spending a lot of time tracking down places with patios that allow dogs so our four-legged friend can come with and we don't have to be worried that he's home figuring out which parts of the house taste best mouthful by pointy little puppy teeth mouthful (he's even tried to chew on cast iron lawn furniture, so you just never know). Turns out more and more places are being nice about doggie diners, so here's a quick round up of three recently stopped at spots.

Cafe Nouveau, 1497 E. Thompson Blvd, Ventura
It was a quiet Wednesday night and my wonderful companion (MWC) and the boy and I were the only customers on the patio, which is actually pretty much walled in from the street-corner. That's a plus, and I have to hope it's not the usual, as the place was really really nice to us--even brought a water bowl for junior. The menu is a bit all over in that California way ("we appropriate all your foods, fools!"), sort of natural, sort of cafe, sort of Mexican. Things come out a bit of a mish-mash, but tasty; I liked a seafood stuffed relleno, but they seemed a bit hopeful to make the seafood feel still at home, as it was asea in the voluminous amount of sauce. Not delicate food, this. Still, filling, pleasing if far from gourmet, and they sell Green Flash IPA in bottles for $5 per. And, again, the waiter was a total sweetie about our pup. No doubt we'll be back. (And they don't have a website, although Yelp does list a URL--sloppiness, or a sign of bad things?)

Churchill's Pub & Grill, 887 West San Marcos Blvd., San Marcos
This spot now has a 48-tap beer engine pouring all sorts of hoppy goodness, so discovering they had a tiny bit of bricked in, concrete floored garden where we could sit with the dog was great. Unfortunately, being dog friendly also means they turns their back on patio-smokers, as if one gets cancer from second-hand-dog, but a canine-companion life often leaves one in a second-class world. That said, again the help was great, and our waitress even chatted about what he was and the dogs she had (who weren't well-behaved enough for going to pubs). Of course MWC and I had Plinys, how could we not. And we asked about the Craftsman Aurora Borealis, supposedly featuring mint and persimmon, which we figured could either be a delicious summer refresher or a pound cake in a glass. Our fine waitress warned us they can't give the stuff away and brought us tasters, and we learned why. Beer shouldn't taste like it's brushing your teeth for you. Oh, and as for the food, we split fish and chips for a late lunch. Some of the best, crispest chips we've had, and the fish was solid--great coating, but the fish itself ok, nothing to get worked up about either way. I'm sure we would have liked it more if we had more time to have more beer. Go check out the website and the beerlist here.

Pizza Port Carlsbad, 571 Carlsbad Village Dr., Carlsbad
I've been here many a time, most frequently because its the site of some amazing beer fests, like this Belgian one I extolled the glories of long ago. All the Pizza Port's make great beers--all on site and in what seems to me a friendly competition--and serve up puffy-crusted pizzas that do a fine job soaking up the usually high alcohol suds you can get to drink. This time the patio was abuzz (it was Father's Day) with families and silly people with human babies and not doggie ones, but our boy was well-behaved and met people of all ages (the youngest ones' hands taste best, you know)(or so he tells me--I don't lick the young kids' hands myself). Guest beers included some rarities like a Green Flash Le Freak aged in grenache barrels (and you certainly could taste that wine), but then their own Wipe Out IPA, which isn't an Imperial and is still over 9%, so take that, hopheads! Get the full scoop at their website.

Oh, and if you don't know the song the title of this entry comes from, Perry Como's going to croon for you.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Necessity Is the Mother of Inebriation

That photo is a bit blurry, sure, but so would you be after a cocktail contest. Still, if you want to read about that, you have to wait till the June 30 issue of the Independent, when all the BBQ & cocktail contest dirt goes down (actually, it was pretty cleanly delicious, but you'll see).

So, after drinking 5 cocktails (that is, tasting 5) in a little over an hour, and then commingling and co-drink-ling with winners and non-winners (can there be a loser at a cocktail contest?) alike for a bit, as cocktails are nothing if not the grease for society's wheels, I came home with my sweet companion who did not drink and therefore did drive, and hunger followed. We opted to play that game "what can we make with what's in the house?" and luckily our house was filled with raw goods goodness, so soon Farmers' Market cherry tomatoes were slow roasting, pasta water was boiling, pesto was grinding in the blender, and it was left to me to put my shaker to tasty use. And, after a cocktail contest, what else could I do but try something new?

Soon I had my muddler out, as sudden-kitchen-ers like me don't have time to infuse. We choose, we chop, we drop, we muddle the heck out of yummy items, expressing essential oils. Tonight I thought something with zing would be fun, but we lacked fresh peppers. We did have a dried one, so I cut off half of that, chopped that half into four, zipped the seeds. That sat at shaker's bottom with some fresh lemon peels and a couple of rips of cilantro. Soon it bathed in 1.5 oz. of fresh lemon juice and .5 oz. of lime juice. Why both? Cause I didn't have enough lemon. But sometimes you go to cocktailing with the citrus you have, not the citrus you wish you had. (If only Donald Rumsfeld didn't give up his nascent career behind the bar to be Defense Secretary.)

After the therapy of muddling (how often do you get to pummel things and then drink them afterwards? even Muhammad Ali didn't get to do that, and yes, now I'm thinking of really perverse Thrilla in Manilla fan fiction, sorry), I added 4 oz. Absolut Citron, 1 oz. Citronge, and then as a bit of a wild card, 1 oz. Blonde Lillet (figured some depth, acid, sweetness, but not that sweetness)(plus I always want to work Lillet in drinks, at least till I figure out of it's pronounced li-let or li-lay). Ice. Shake. Pour into two glasses. (Never drink alone, and if you are, you might as well have two, no?)

That got garnished--and you have to garnish, people, or it's simply not a cocktail, it would be like going outside without a natty hat in the 1950s, and you wouldn't have been one of those philistines, would you?--with a sprig of cilantro and a wide lemon rind. Name of the drink: Thai'd and True.

Something Sizzling This Way Contests

In which Georgeeats gets all multi-media, as my mellifluous tones are a mere couple of clicks away. For, you see (and hear), I was a guest on the fine radio broadcast "Poodle Radio" last Thursday, and that segment went a little bit like this.

As it's described on the Indy site: "Colin Marshall talks to Indy food editor (and fellow KCSB host) George Yatchisin about the second Second Sizzling Summer BBQ Contest, which will feature dishes with countless culinary implications like coke-injected tri-tip; chorizo picante-stuffed, bacon-wrapped date with nora chile-infused honey; and slow-smoked pork shoulder, jalapeño and green chili corn waffle, horseradish cole slaw, and homemade barbecue sauce."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New Used Cocktail and Plate of Bar-B-Que

Sorry posting has been slim of late, but it's been a crazy time trying to get together the components of the Independent's Second Sizzling Summer BBQ and Cocktail Contest. You are, however, more than welcome to come watch this year's judging go down:

Wednesday, June 15, 5:30 - 7:30: BBQ Contest, Whole Foods, 3761 State Street
(details here)

Thursday, June 16, 5:30 - 7:30 pm, Cocktail Contest, Harry's,  3313 State Street
(details here)

Now don't say I never invited you to anything.

P.S. Extra special prize for anyone who gets the odd reference in the title of this post (without Googling).

Monday, June 6, 2011

One A-List Bistro

I know I perhaps seem too kind to places, too fortunate in my eating life, as if the meals I enjoy bore the imprimatur of Escoffier himself. Truth is, I tend to avoid the places I don't like, so then I don't eat much bad food. And while some of my Indy features are about places that suggest the quit in adequate, well there, dear readers, I hope you realize I write as a reporter, talk to folks about their story creating their restaurant, and hope that's an interesting read.

But today I come to praise to high heavens, to try to pay homage to one of the best meals in my recent memory. A few weeks ago in Boston we got to dine at Hamersley's Bistro, a place I've wondered about for years thanks to Gordon Hamersley's great cookbook Bistro Cooking at Home, which I've raved about before and is still one of my go-to books in the kitchen. It's a lovely warm room that manages to call out to several architectural styles without seeming confused--warm yellow-cream walls that are somewhat Provence; wood beamed ceiling that might be Provence, might be Paul Revere's house (this is Boston, after all), chandeliers that are simple and somewhat Mission style, but maybe that was just the Californian in me. It all ends up both homey and glowy at once, special but comfortable. And despite some large parties (clearly it's a place for special occasions), there's enough space between tables and the ceiling is high enough the room is a-buzz without turning into buzzkill.

Then the help, well, it's gracious and attentive, and lord I love people who get paid well enough to make a career as waiters, so they bother to learn their jobs and care. They suggest wines with aplomb and knowledge (for spring there was a clutch of pinks to choose from, and the very moderately priced 2010 Commanderie de la Bargemone Coteaux d'Aix en Provence Rosé was brilliant, flavorful despite its very pale pink rose hue); they instantly notice the cream might be low for the second coffee serving; and I swear the guy just sort of had eyes that twinkled. But of course, as he's serve Hamersley's stunning food.

The photo you see above, taken from my iPhone, does little justice to one of the best plates of food I've ever eaten, and it was a goddam sandwich. Or at least that's how it's billed--Mushroom and Garlic Sandwich on Toasted Country Bread--but that's like calling Neko Case a warbler or Willie Mays an adult at a child's game or Flaubert a teller of tales. Those mushrooms, well, the quality of them and their nifty mix of wildness certainly helped. But then he gets them to do that stick to the pan trick, too, so parts have crunch, but then other parts retain that shroomy-chewiness. Who knew a funghi could be so varied in texture? The bread was also wonderful, toasted just so, assertive just enough (for after all it's about the filling, not the bread here, and you eat it with knife and fork--it's not even a conveyance mechanism). Finally, the garlic. It's clearly roasted loooong and sloooow. Mellower than a mess of Quaalude popping clubbers in the 1970s. Yet still the essence of garlic without the harm. Better than butter, this.

As for the rest of the meal, it, too, was wonderful. My companion's Crispy Vegetable Lasagna with Ricotta, Soft Poached Egg, Leeks, Peas and Asparagus … White Truffle and Parmesan was both rich and light, if that makes sense, lasagna dressed up for an elegant bash. My Spicy Halibut and Clam Roast with Bacon Braised Greens, White Beans and Black Trumpet Mushrooms, beyond having practically every food I love in one dish, was a masterpiece of execution. That spicy part a brilliant rethinking of blackening fish, for instead of a muddled, burnt crust, it was just the right amount of herb and spice with a quick pan sear, rich in coriander seed, too. The clams cooked exactly--not overdone as they often are when supporting players on a plate.

Then dessert was another stunner, Slow Roasted Pineapple with Lime Gelato, Roasted Coconut and Cumin Shortbread. What that doesn't tell you is the thinly sliced rectangles of pineapple are not only roasted, they get brûléed at the very end, too, so become a sour-sweet sensation. Pair that with the zippy lime gelato, getting its sweet from: 1) being, uh, gelato, and 2) the roasted coconut. Triple it with the cumin shortbread, again, the savory and sweet doing a tantalizing tango across your tongue.

Ok ok, that was a totally over-the-top metaphor, but it's the kind of thing Hamersley's leads to. If you're ever in Boston, go.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Beer Dinner Is What the Doctor Ordered

“Dr.” Bill Sysak, who is currently Beverage Coordinator at Stone Brewing’s wonderful World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido, a man who has tasted more than 30,000 beers, was quick to admit, “Actually, we are living in the best time ever for beer. We have the widest range of styles available to us right now. Living in America, we have it even better, as we’ve incorporated all the beer traditions in the world. Twenty years ago, we were basically brewing beers after English ales and German lagers, but now we even have beers like gruit, that don’t even have hops in them.”

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Truffle in Mind

Kraft korrupts, we all know that. Poor college students, lured in by the call of a twenty-nine cent a serving meal, can't help but mac 'n' cheese out. But m'n'c, like wine, should not come from a box. And in some of us, the quest for the perfect m'n'c might continue as a lifelong mission....

and there was Marliave. So if you're in Boston, wind your way about the down-at-its-heels Downtown Crossing, in a place where nothing this simple yet sophisticated might be, to a place that has been around since 1885, sort of--it's very refreshed, now, but has that air of having been around a bit that gives the place some gravitas.

The important thing is to order the mac 'n' cheese. It's listed as an app, but it makes a perfect lunch even for me with an appetite. It comes out in a white porcelain pot so you have to pop open the lid and then let the scent hit you, a warmth of homecomings. Yes, it's got what's listed as black truffle, and perhaps they actually do some grating magic, for it doesn't have that perfume you tend to get when places just use truffle oil; you know what I mean, as if the meal put on truffle perfume to hide it ain't really truffly at all.

But even better, it's the mac that's the star here. It's house cut ziti, something substantial, and they let it stay that way, as it's all al dente. Too often this dish can be mush-a-roni and cheese, but not at Marliave. And then, it's unclear what the cheese combo is (the menu mentions a vague "farmhouse cheeses"), but they, too, are rich and full and turned into a velvety sauce that covers every bite of the ziti.

I want some right now.

The Green Monster of Jealousy over a Boston Brunch

Be prepared for me to bat all out of order for the next few entries as Georgeeats is on the road, and part of that road winds through Boston, where I hadn't been in over a decade but my has the food and drink been good there. I might do an east coast beer wrap up separately to do proper justice to everything from Smuttynose to Pretty Things to Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp in-between, but just the names should be enough for now.

But if you're near Fenway and you need good eats and drinks, don't hesitate to visit Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar. Indeed, you can sit right at the bar, but in a booth, too, if you're lucky, as the one end gives you the best seats in the house, it seems. We were there for a wonderful Sunday brunch, Adrian Gonzalez good, not Carl Crawford good. You can get bloody Marys two ways, veggie or carnivorous, so as I become more and more a beefy sort, I said, sure, lay your bouillon on me, and fortunately they were out of Slim Jims, which are the usual stirrers, but not out of the candied bacon that got sprinkled on top, a delight of brown sugar and pig. (This is a place that takes pig very seriously, as it will cook up an entire pig roast for 10 if you order ahead--way better than Peking duck, if you ask me.)
Now, since we're in Boston we have to sample things from the sea (the other sea, that is, given we partake heartily of the Pacific at home), and for me that means mainly Maine lobster. It might just be my east coast growing up bias, but they still seem to be the best, and Citizen served them up well in a Maine lobster benedict that got to be richness of all sorts, what with the fresh crustacean in glorious chunks (they didn't gyp me), the eggs poached to runny loveliness (where once chefs put that last pat of butter on a dish to enrichen it, now everything gets this yolk trick, doesn't it?)(of course a benedict does, I know that, but you know what I mean), and a Hollandaise that perhaps had a bit extra lemon zip, as everything else needed a balancing acid badly.

Those potatoes were wonderful, too, and made for a great sauce sopping material. Meanwhile my lovely companion went for the Atlantic fried oyster po-boy, and in addition to frying mighty well, Citizen also knows the super secret to one of these sandwiches--that bread only the best po-boys and lobster rolls ride astride, something seemingly so soaked in butter you wonder how it's still a solid.

This was one rewarding, filling, fulfilling meal. Makes you proud to be a citizen.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Three Pickles Relishes Historic New Location

The closing of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens in 2006 no doubt left many crying in the beer they couldn’t have anymore at their favorite watering hole. But Jimmy’s was greater than a sophisticated souse’s favorite non-divey dive bar, as it had been a Chinese restaurant, run by the same family, no less, for half a century, a last remnant of Santa Barbara’s long-gone Chinatown.

Just less than five years since the closing, you can once again get a beer or some wine in Jimmy’s. For deli Three Pickles, a neighbor, has moved into the restaurant side of the building, spiffed the space up, and hopes to carry on the Jimmy’s vibe a bit, even handing out fortune cookies with orders.

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

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Four More Beers, Uh, Years!

You have to click on that menu to make it bigger, but you know you want to, and trust me, the menu made me bigger as it was wonderful through and through. But what else might one expect from the dynamic duo of brewer Eric Rose and Chef Dylan Fultineer at HBC? I won't take you through it course by course simply because I don't have the time, but I did want to point out a few things:

1) I could get very used to eating local ridgeback shrimp whole, like little softshell crabs, especially if I had Dylan's killer peanut sauce to drizzle atop.

2) I never order salmon out because it's one dish I nail at home, so why pay someone to do what I can do? This salmon, however, well, I would order it again. The slow poaching keeps it moist with all its lovely fattiness (admit it, that's why salmon is everyone's favorite fish--you get the good fat you want from a steak but get to feel virtuous eating it) but the real secret is getting a bite of everything on the extremely well-conceived plate at once, so the zip of the Meyer lemon, shaved just thin enough, cuts that fat a bit, and then the tabbouleh, made from actual malted wheat (it's a brewery after all), is a comforting sweet (that's what malt in your beer does, after all, besides process the alcohol), but then there's the parsley and Persian mint doing the great countering, centering things herbal greens do, and it's all in your mouth. At once. Which you get to follow with a healthy swig of the 4th anniversary ale, which is billed as an "American style sour ale brewed with Brettanomyces and lactobacillus," that reminds you of the old aphorism "Brett in wine, say nein, Brett in beer is the sour you'll find dear." Or something like that.

3) If a version of the red rock crab chowder doesn't end up on the menu someday, I'll be the crab. OK, having lived in Baltimore for awhile and doing my time with a bushel of crabs, I understand picking out the meat from the shell is a chore, and I only had to pick it out and feed myself, and drink lots of beer while doing it. So the kitchen prep is a bitch. But surely some other fish might work in a chowder that good. Red curry. Yum. And vegetables still with a bit of bite in them, tasting like potato and carrot and whatever they actually were, not just soup ballast. The giant hunks of crabmeat didn't hurt none neither, of course.

And then there's the one new beer of the evening, and a delightful surprise it was, the cask conditioned Pocket Full o' Green.  An India Pale Wheat, it makes me say junk all those Belgian-IPA crosses that sort of seem the platypi of brewing, and go for the wheat-IPA combo instead. Rich and full in the mouth (the cask helped that, of course, and Eric warned it will be a different beer off cask), but still, so so good.