Monday, January 31, 2011

Are They Leftovers If I Never Served Them Once?

Hi, anybody home? That's probably what you've been thinking if you've wandered by (if so, thanks--send friends), and I am here and have a ton to get to, promise, but here are some topics I really need to write about in the next few days/weeks:

Figueroa Mountain Brewing
A-Ru Sushi
Edible Institute (which could be several entries depending how I split the baby--why stop in half, is my early notion?)
Mikeller 1000 IBU

I'll be back, at some length, I hope. In the meantime, check out the Santa Barbara Film Feast Restaurant Week deals still going on through Sunday, February 6. I'll be at one, and need to report about that, too.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Web in Front

I've really been enjoying one website of late, as it helps point out how much I don't enjoy some others. That site is "Never Said about Restaurant Websites" and it offers gems like:

When an Italian restaurant’s website misspells “minestrone” as “ministrone,” it gives me hope that they might also serve a “maxistrone” for the hearty eaters like me.


I love the sexy background music. That way people think I’m on a porn site, when little do they know I’m checking out tapas.

For as a lover of both food and the web (there are times I even eat while websurfing!), it's mighty easy to be depressed at the state of most restaurant's internet presence. First, it's shocking how many places have none at all, given the least one can do is get a free Blogger or Word Press or Tumblr account and set up a homepage with your joint's name, address, hours, location, type of food. That's just marketing 101, but I guess some places like the exclusivity.  

But then there's the opposite problem, folks who thought their site needed to be a circus of all the web can do. I really don't need a virtual tour of your gorgeously tiled restroom. I don't need music playing (and even worse, as one semi-local and very fancy spot does to you, don't make me turn off the sound on each page separately, as if I might have changed my mind about not wanting to hear your jazzy-muzak). I don't need the sound of hubbub to show how lively your place is. 

But I do need the phone number, and address, and to know if you're on Open Table (which I love, of course, but that's another day's discussion). If I want a map, I've got a phone for that. Or my computer has Mapquest. It's also great if that info can be actual text and not embedded in an image, because cut and paste just doesn't work then, and it means I can't just click on the phone number and have my handy phone call you. You do want me to book a reservation, don't you?

And, then, the menu issue. It's great you're all high-falutin and farmers' market fresh and change your menu daily. Then at least give me a current seasonal sample menu. (One fine dining spot in SB kindly still offers me its menu from Winter 2007--three chefs ago.) If possible, don't make it a PDF, especially since I'm using my iPhone and many others are looking things up mobile too. And, unless you have one of those menus with 300 items (so I guess New Jersey diners and Chinese places are off the hook here), please put it all on one page, if you can. That cocktail list of yours is no doubt precious with its five fine libations, but don't make me open up another page for it on the web. And if a brewpub can post its daily specials every day (hence that daily part), why the heck can't you? Again, it's marketing--if a day's offering sounds delicious, you might attract diners you wouldn't have otherwise.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Vegetar...Au Contraire

Leave it to me to go to a place helmed by a chef famous for her vegetarian chops and order a steak, but there was a meatiness to my madness. I figured thusly--if Akasha Richmond is so acclaimed for her vegetarian skills, she probably isn't going to mess with meat unless it would surely be a treat. Especially if she's going to feature a Kobe rib eye crusted in a chili-coffee glaze as a daily special. And guess what? I was right. The steak was succulent all on its medium rare own, but that glaze really set it off, just enough sweet and spice to give the steak a wider palette for the palate--no monochrome meat this. And it came atop rappini roasted to nearly melted goodness, redolent of fine olive oil and garlic.

Of course I'm ahead of myself a bit, diving right into the beefy portion of the program, for Akasha knows what it's doing all around, right down to a fine by-the-glass and cocktail program. In that latter category, we've been trying to perfect our own version if its Emerald City, namely tru organic gin, housemade basil elixir, and fresh lime. (So far our most successful riff is this per drink: muddle a healthy handful of basil in 1 oz. lime juice and .5 oz simple syrup, add 3 oz. Hendrick's gin--the cucumber taste is a fine addition--muddle a bit more carefully for it's easy to make a mess, add ice, shake, pour into chilled martini glass and adorn with lime wedge.) Akasha also offers a bunch of flatbreads that truly aren't just pizza-tizers; the crust is almost pita-like in its pocketness, and a bit crunchy, too, especially since it's got a good dusting of cornmeal for texture. We split a daily special called the Punjabi, which featured saag, a sneaky riff on a spinach topping, but then there was a vinegary vegetable chutney to add, too. A wonderful first course.

While I steaked (but far from mistaked), my partner enjoyed another small plate as her main, a gorgeous looking albacore carpaccio topped with just enough shaved fennel, arugula pesto, basil, and smoked sea salt to zip the fine fish up a few notches.

We didn't mean to have a dessert, but you tell me how to refuse a salty chocolate peanut bar with candied peanuts, peanut butter gelato, sea salt, and caramel. We're both suckers for that delish mix of salt and sweet, and this dish totally delivered, if it surprised in looks--the plate actually comes with little rectangular chocolates, the rest of the ingredients strewn pleasantly about.Which we only wished we could have, perhaps sipping an Emerald City or two, but we needed to take that yellow brick 101 back to Santa Barbara.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Salume, Salami … Let’s Call the Whole Thing App

Michael Graham knows cheese, if you please, but it turns out he knows his salumi and Apples pretty well, too. That’s why, while most people in town are familiar with him as the co-owner with his wife, Kathryn, of the indispensable C’est Cheese (825 Santa Barbara St., 965-0318,, people might not know that this October he launched an Apple iPhone app for Salumi, the Italian word for any cured meat. So if you don’t know your salami from your salumi, you might want to purchase this handy guide to more than 100 cured meats and some other related gourmet items.

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

And be sure to get a load of commenter number 1....egads, sorry I am willing to trumpet something from our provincial burg....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Eating Up the Edible Institute

Sometimes it’s easy for a foodie to think it’s an Edible world, and we’re all just lucky to chow down in it. That’s because Edible Communities—-with more than 60 now in North America—helped to lead us into a more local, sustainable, delicious life. Here in town we’ve got Edible Santa Barbara, ably edited by Krista Harris and gorgeously designed by Steve Brown. But that’s not all: For January 29 and 30, we also will be the home to the second annual Edible Institute, a weekend jam-packed with panels, esteemed guests, writerly wisdom, hands-on workshops, and, of course, a food and drink gala.

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

Monday, January 3, 2011

Certainly Yes at Serrano

Our baby Batali experience at Otto wasn't our only attempt to sup supremely at Vegas' ample chef-ly teat (more tasty than any showgirl's, plus there's no rhinestones in the way and you don't get pummeled by a bouncer); we also skipped Picasso at the Bellagio and its at cheapest $113 per person, no liquor, tax, or tip prix fixe and instead visited Picasso chef Julian Serrano's new spot in the new Aria, named after his old self--Julian Serrano. (Note on that website that while Serrano is the star of two videos, the chef is Jose Picazo--no man is ever really in two kitchens at once.) Sure enough, it's a mid-priced bargain, for we feasted--shared 3 tapas, 1 paella for two, both had cappucinos, and then shared a churros and chocolate dessert, oh, plus a bottle of Vina Nora Albarino--for $134 pre-tip. Not cheap, but totally luxurious.

For, after all, two tickets to Spain are expensive. This wasn't Spain, but had a lively urban hip vibe, just off the humming Aria lobby and filled with bold colors that might seem either tacky or dated but somehow stayed firmly festive without going confetti-riotous. The service did that magic trick of being highly professional and still warm enough--eager to advise, when asked, willing to downsell on the wine list when our first request wasn't available. (Yes, in Vegas.) That Vina Nora was priced at $31, about a 100% markup, but for Vegas, a bargain that would leave Bugsy spinning in his grave, especially given it has a recent Wine Spectator 80th best wine of the year cache. (Do believe the hype, btw.)

As for the food, it was a wonderful mix of the straightforward/traditional--a Spanish tortilla of potato, egg, and onion that was a marvel of full flavor and simplicity--to a tempura Ahi sat alongside a magnificent fine dice avocado salad that was sort of reconstructed guacamole and then a wasabi foam that is the first foam I've eaten that both made sense and didn't seem like drool on the plate.

The avocado rooted the meal in a Spanish/Mexican tradition, the wasabi pulled the flavors to Asia, and then the super fresh Ahi tied it all in a rich fishy bow. A lovely dish. Even those tamari streaks made delicious sense for tempura brushing.

As for the paella, it was particularly striking as the one we ordered was solely fish-filled. My pescatarian partner often has to eschew paella with its traditional chicken and chorizo, but this one was fair game, as it was gameless, you might say. And completely scrumptious to the last grain crusted to the paella pan. Of course those slightly crunchy, crusty pieces are the best to score, as they attest to the transformations rice can go through to become something more than mush. Not that we did anything to avoid the seafood, a perfectly done melange of calamari, shrimp, mussels, monkish, all set off in some roasted vegetables and that saffron seductiveness that is the bright yellow hallmark of paella.

Finally, despite being full, I could not resist the temptation of churros and a chocolate that promised some chili heat. This photo should explain the brilliance of the dish...

Yep, the chocolate comes with a chili in it, a clever hint as to the slow warmth that built from the luscious chocolate (of course a bunch of it got eaten just with a spoon) and then those looped churros, as you might be able to tell, are a bit thinner than most, meaning they're more crisp fried yumminess than most too. So while the dish starts with humble roots, it steps up without showing off or going to inedible places for art's sake.

Julian Serrano is a place for fun and pleasure, what every kind of hot spot could only wish to be.