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.