Believe it or not, but the Indy doesn't provide me a huge expense budget given that they could quadruple my current one and it will still be the same (hope that wasn't too tricky a word problem). Plus, as you might have noticed of late, the Indy rarely runs food at all--go buy some ads and make that paper fatter for me, will ya? For some reason food gets cut before news, like news is more important (I mean, it's a weekly).
But enough of my problems, what you want to know is how a semi-pro like me saves money eating out as he's plunking down his own. One way is to take advantage of every deal, and therefore Living Social has been one place to save a buck. Now, I'm not a business person (I'm not a bit full of Mitt), but I assume one reason you'd sign up for a loss leader deal is to get a whole bunch of people into your establishment and get them to say, "Yippee! Cool!" Then they share that message with friends who come pay full price, they come back and pay full price, and that original bit where you lost money is a long forgotten memory.
Last night we redeemed a Living Social and ended up saying "Yippee! Too Cool!" but let's discuss the yippee first. We finally got to La Tour Wine Merchants down in the Funk Zone and you have to hand it to them as the place is nothing but ballsy. Focusing on European wines within a spit-bucket distance of the ever-growing Santa Barbara wine industry takes guts (plus, yes, it's clever counter-programming, giving a wine lover more directions to love). Not listing the names of the wines open for tasting is also ballsy simply as it's not what people do, and people in business tend to do only what others have done before. Yet, La Tour is on to something--letting most people see a French wine name generally just makes them flashback to the terrors of high school French rather than the glories of terroir, plus so often the grape or grapes used to make the wine aren't even listed on the label. Instead, a quick descriptor like "fruity, bright" does tell us something, even better, without leading us into a lengthy suggestion game, you know the ones when you, too, can't help but notice the whiff of "Chittidar guava, grown on the shady side of the valley" in the nose after it's been so snootily mentioned.
Beyond the ballsiness, they served fascinating wines in a great batting order, so both the 5-wine white and red tastings were mighty yummy. I'd love to tell you what they all were, but the one big problem was you never got a good reveal--we had to keep reminding our server to give us a glimpse of the labels, and while the subdued lighting (from mighty cool old-timey light fixtures with elements aglow in the bulbs) was the right mood-setter, it wasn't so great for reading labels in foreign languages. How nice it would have been to end the tasting by being presented with a list of all the wines you'd tried, with their names, appellations, grapes, alcohol, and sure, why not, price. (Not knowing the cost is, again, a ballsy if good thing, as you don't get obsessed trying to convince yourself that $50 bottle is better than the $38. But still, at the end of the day, you got to pay, so it's nice to know that, too. Eventually.)
Speaking of paying, perhaps it was because we had the set Living Social deal--a flight each for two followed by a glass each of your favorite--and they labelled us cheap-o visitors, but there was no sense they could have offered us more. Yelp La Tour and they get 12 five-star reviews, many of which mention the glories of the charcuterie from Spare Parts or the cheese plate from C'est Cheese. We heard nothing about either. Yes, they weren't included in our deal, but how hard would it be to go "So, your deal is just for wine, but we also have some great things to munch on if you're interested--care to see the list?" La Tour also shares its space with The Pub, so there's even more food to be had, from salads to flatbreads to handhelds (no, not your phone, but sandwiches). We asked about whether there was food and at first our server just said yes, so we had to ask, "Can we see a menu, just to look?" It was almost as if they were ashamed to begin to try to sell us anything beyond our pre-paid Living Social deal.
All that said, the vibe was mellow, the wines fine, and the actual prices (I think, again, from Yelp and not from what you could see on the blackboards with info) quite good--that 5 wine flight was a mere $10. We will be back. But that hook could have been so much deeper.