Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How The Wurst Was Won

“I wanted to go back to my roots,” says Blue Agave owner Gabi Barysch-Crosbie, originally of Bremen, Germany, so she’s opened a little window down the alley from her Cota Street restaurant at lunch and on weekend nights and christened it The Wurst. It’s an ode to the sausage stand–lined public squares of her homeland, where “everyone grabs one street-side and eats it in three minutes,” but also to her youth, when her relatives from Poland would send greasy packages of smoky-smelling kielbasa during Christmas. “I couldn’t wait to have those,” explained Barysch-Crosbie, who’s now bringing those experiences to Santa Barbarans.

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Writing without a Nyet

I've written a bit about how both here and in the Indy I tend to Pollyanna more than is my natural wont for a host of reasons, not the least of which is I'm a food writer and not a restaurant critic, no matter how I usually get addressed. Nobody is paying me to eat at these places (I work for the Indy, after all), let alone the several times I would have to to be objective, and I don't do the Ruth Reichl disguise thing to prevent privileged treatment. So I figure my job is to write the story of the place, describing the hopes and aspirations of the people who run it, and oddly enough, I usually get to like people when I ask them things and let them talk. Most humans are pretty pleasant and engaging, at least in short doses, when they know impressing you is a good thing for them.

Then there's the fact that this is a mighty small town, and the restaurant business is merciless--there's no such thing as being too big too fail (just ask Ruth's Chris). People figure out what's no good pretty quick, and those that don't can keep lamenting we don't have an Olive Garden or Spaghetti Factory over on John Dickson's blog. When in doubt, I try not to write about places where I don't like the food. The good news is most food in town is at least competent, and much is much better than that, and those are the places I write about a lot, that win Foodies.

This is a long long intro to explain why it would be so much fun to write this review of Novikov that Jay Rayner let loose in The Observer, a veritable Chernobyling. To get a bit of its ill-flavor, here's a morsel; "This is generally very, very bad: prices that knock the wind out of you and moments of cooking so cack-handed, so foul, so astoundingly grim you want to congratulate the kitchen on its incompetence." I do worry for Rayner, though, since the restaurant's owner is a buddy of Putin's--they play for keeps, those Russkies, and how hard could it be to poison a food critic?

So, I think I'll keep making nice.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Something ’Wichy This Way Wins

We’ve been into competition since Abel and Cain, but, fortunately, not all face-offs end so finally. Sometimes it just means we get great sandwiches, as was the case at the Santa Barbara Sandwich Showdown, held at Whole Foods Market on February 3. The trio of contestants was as follows: Clay Lovejoy, co-owner of Three Pickles; Paul Shields, owner of Savoy Café & Deli; and our amateur entrant, L.J. Washington, an ICU nurse by trade but a fine cook by way of New Orleans, too. Their job was to create a sandwich that would wow our judges: Roman Baratiak from UCSB Arts & Lectures, Joanie Hudson from The Santa Barbara Independent, and Monika Sowizral from Whole Foods. And wow they did, for as judge Baratiak put it, “The creativity and eclecticism of Santa Barbara’s food artisans never ceases to amaze. Each of the sandwiches was a winner!”

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

P.S. Somehow we had a sandwich contest in which not one contestant used avocado and we didn't get permanently banned from California.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

T.C. Boils*

In its nine seasons, Top Chef has become infamous for the devilishness of some of the challenges cheftestants have to endure — they must be called cheftestants, for one, and they’ve had to build kitchens inside Target stores, ride bicycles around the Alamo in search of a Pee Wee Herman-friendly restaurant, and even cook off only the body heat of pulchritudinous Padma Lakshmi (okay, I made that one up). Turns out, if you ask head judge Tom Colicchio about having to do things outside of his comfort zone, he replies with a chuckle, “I’ll be doing it in Santa Barbara.”

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

For "out-takes" from this story, see this blog entry.

*And I admit, this is the sort of headline you come up with at 1 a.m., but in Santa Barbara, where our most famous author is T.C. Boyle, and TC can equal both Tom Colicchio and Top Chef, well, I couldn't resist.

Monday, February 13, 2012

When Life Gives You Cherimoya

You know how it is when you've got already sliced cherimoya in your fridge--that quickly sliming fruit is just calling to be muddled. That was the case last evening, so I figured, "It tastes like a citrusy pear, and has that pear mouthfeel, so let's see what we can do." And those thoughts begat:

Cherimoya of the Board

(makes two)

cherimoya, seeded, peeled (enough to cover the bottom of a standard shaker about an inch deep)
4 oz. Hangar 1 mandarin orange vodka
1.5 oz. Grand Marnier
1.5 oz. fresh lime juice
2 dashes orange bitters (per drink)
1 drop high quality extra virgin olive oil (per drink)
1/2 lime wheel garnish (per drink)

Muddle that cherimoya--if it's tough going, add that lime juice to help slosh it all along. Add the vodka, Grand Marnier, ice, and shake. Pour into two chilled up glasses, which will be hard as that cherimoya, even muddled, will clog up the works. Add a couple of dashes of orange bitters per drink; then pour a drop of olive oil atop each--with a knife tip, swirl that across the drink's surface. Add the lime wheels.

The olive oil is really for a contrasting texture to the pulpier cherimoya. Here's a drink that leaves you going--is that sweet? sour? can I have another?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bonus Beats: Colicchio on Risotto and Rock and Roll

My feech on Tom Colicchio, who will be presented by UCSB A&L on February 22, is in print today (not yet online, so no link yet, sorry), and even at 700 words, I ran out of space to include all the juicy tidbits he offered. For instance, did you know that the costume designers have a bet with each other as to which one can get Padma in the ugliest outfit? OK, he didn't say that (he didn't have to). But I did ask him, what's more dangerous to prepare on Top Chef, dessert or risotto? And he said: "None of that should be hard. Food often has a tendency to continue to cook off the heat, which is why you let a steak rest before serving it, and I think a lot of contestants know that and count on it. For risotto that doesn't carry over--lentils are like that, sometimes potatoes--and then the contestants undercook it, thinking it will finish cooking. Also since you start tasting it when it's really raw and then keep tasting, it fools you into thinking it's done. I've had times when I made it and it comes up to the line and I taste it again and I realize it's not done enough and I send it back."

And one thing you might not know about Colicchio, especially since he's never taken the opportunity to step onstage with any of the bands that have played at any of the rocking events where the contestants have to each make a meal for 200 all by themselves while blindfolded and dangling over a shark tank (you saw that episode, no?). He plays guitar, calling it a "serious hobby." "I play everyday up with the kids between 6 and 7, and then in the evening watching the news," he says, refusing to say what riffs best block out Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum or New Gingrich (rock and rollers all). "At home I usually play finger-picking blues, but out, that's too difficult," he says, "Fortunately I have friends who are good musicians and they'll let me front the band. We'll do Dylan, Neil Young, stuff like that."

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Sky’s the Limit for Cielito

If you ever wondered if there was more to Mexican food than burritos the size of sombreros, the recently opened Cielito is for you. It’s certainly for Chef Ramon Velazquez, who has been planning this menu in his head through years of travel, tasting, and a 12-year stint at Arigato. “I loved the idea of small plates,” he said. “Around the world, this is how people are eating these days. In Mexico it’s called antojitos. That’s the food I crave — it translates as ‘small cravings.’ But I couldn’t find antojitos in town, so I wanted someday to open a place that would have those in a more refined setting.”

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

Friday, February 3, 2012

Come Witness the S.B. Sandwich Showdown

On Friday, February 3 from 4-5 p.m. the public is invited to Whole Foods Market (3761 State St., 837-6959) to watch a bit of live Top Chef-ry right here in Santa Barbara at the SB Sandwich Showdown. Held in honor of Tom Colicchio, who happens to own a chain of ’wichcraft sandwich shops, and who will be at UCSB Campbell Hall on February 22, the Showdown will see who is the best thing since sliced bread with some sliced bread.

The contestants will be Clay Lovejoy, a co-owner of Three Pickles (126 E. Canon Perdido St., 965-1015, 420 S. Fairview Ave., 964-4585,, Paul Shields, owner of Savoy Cafe & Deli (24 West Figueroa St., 962-6611, the, and brave amateur contestant LJ Washington, who already jumped one hurdle by being chosen as the amateur entrant over a slew of fine sandwich makers, based on some delish recipes. (LJ’s victorious semi-finalist entry was for a New Orleans Meatloaf Po Boy.) Emceeing the event will be yours truly, the Independent Food Editor, and one of the judges will be regular food writer Joanie Hudson.

The winner of the final contest — whether pro or amateur —will receive a Whole Foods Market shopping spree (value $250), a pair of tickets to see Colicchio at UCSB, the chance to meet him backstage after his talk, and a copy of ’wichcraft (Colicchio’s acclaimed book on the art of sandwich-making). Plus a lot of bragging rights.

Which ‘wich will reign supreme? Come and see it all happen - live!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Good Morning Aztlan

I'm not going to say what local market posted this signage, but if you're from Santa Barbara you'll no doubt recognize the style.

I do want to know who is doing the certifying, though. I'm not sure they should be certified.