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.