Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Brews Meet Their Match

The surprising thing isn’t that the Wine Cask is having a beer dinner on May 31 — they did one back in October, after all; it’s that the five-course menu kicks off with Korean chicken-skin tacos with kimchi and Asian slaw. “We’d never serve that in the dining room,” admitted Chef Brandon Hughes. “But when you think about it, everybody’s favorite part of the chicken is the skin.” It’s a bit of crispy evidence that this meal is really a chance for the Wine Cask team to think out of the fine-dining box.

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

UPDATE (6/3/12): Matt Kettmann, senior editor at the Indy, wrote up the dinner itself perfectly, and not just because he quoted me as we were seated at the same table. I'd write something, but when someone else has done it so well, I will just point you there instead.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Full of Change Flatbread

More than a mecca for all-natural pizza, Full of Life Flatbread (225 Bell St., Los Alamos, [805] 344-4400, is the dining nerve center for Santa Barbara wine country. You can’t throw one of their famous homemade s’mores without hitting a talented winemaker most evenings. But this weekends-only restaurant has been shaking things up of late.

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

Friday, May 18, 2012

Odds Are You Need the Edge Off for Vacation Eve

There's not much choice on a vacation eve, as you run screaming into it, hoping to get all your jobs done so you can enjoy yourself some, but that never quite happens to your satisfaction (you like a job done well), and tomorrow is vacation. You don't want to go into that feeling like you have to work at taking it easy and having a good time.

So what else could you have on a Friday evening but a Corpse Reviver #2? You see the ingredients before you, except for the lemon already drained of its juice, since the finished cocktails are there, too. That mason jar is filled with the real cherries we're still running on from last year (and it's just about season for the next round of cherries--homemade are so much better than the bright red store-bought ones that taste like food coloring).

This drink is a favorite of Dr. Cocktail's (Ted Haigh, before he earned his Ph.D. the hard way, by not passing out at the bar), and if you want to buy some odd ingredients, it will be yours, too. To make one (this is Dr. Cocktail's recipe):

1 oz. gin (oh my have we been loving Death's Door, which even got an LA Times shoutout today)
1 oz. Cointreau (that means Citronge in our house)
1 oz. Lillet Blanc (you need this for Vespers, too, and you want Vespers if you like martinis*)
1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice (it's good to live in CA)
1-3 drops (not dashes) Pernod

Shake all of that in a lot of ice. Strain into up glass. Add that stemless cherry.

This is a sum-of-its-parts cocktail--you'd never guess at how the flavors play with each other, creating something that's easy to drink to the point you'll want a second. And two Corpse Reviver #2's are Corpse Reviver 4 whether you're adding our multiplying, so you're ok. Now go have a vacation.

*Notice I did not say gin martini, for that's like saying chef Suzanne Goin or poet James Wright or pitcher Tom Seaver--some things just are what they are so don't want useless syllables.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Deep in the Fart of Texas

I won't make a stupid dick joke. I won't make a stupid dick joke. I won't make a stupid dick joke.

OK, now that I have that out of the way, I have to inform you that the size of food is getting out of hand, especially in Texas, and of course since it's Texas I can't say they should know better. But if you go to a Texas Ranger's game, which is well worth doing since their team is very very good, you can purchase either a Boomstick or a Bratbino, each two-feet long and a pound of meat, the former a hotdog, the latter a brat.

People, we aren't supposed to eat that much. Evidently the Rangers' food service Delaware North Companies (who are all over--they run the concessions in Yosemite, for instance) says the sausage serves four, but who the heck wants three other mouths on his wiener? (Excuse me, I have to go read my opening again.) Seriously, this is just a road map to a mess at the ballpark, especially when that Bratbino comes standard with sauerkraut but can be topped with chili, nacho cheese, grilled onions, and jalapenos. After all, this is Texas, so you need to Mex-up your German food, even if "nacho cheese" just means "yellow not found in nature cheese-esque glop."

There better be a concession that sells Tums the size of Stetsons.

Read more here:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Lines Have Sour Grapes

This is how (not that you asked) my mind works. A friend sent this article from Slate--"Brewing the Best: Pliny the Younger is supposedly the best beer in the world. What does that even mean?"--and so I began considering the differences between the culture of beer and that of wine. How it's easier to be a wine snob, partially due to the money (as with everything, the best almost always costs the most and therefore excludes), partially due to America's wines still fighting newcomer status (even all these years after the 1976 Judgment of Paris) and therefore leaving us provincial, opening the door to snobbery, partially due to beer making you burp, and it's hard to hold your nose high mid-belch.

I also wanted to agree with Brian Palmer's claim that there seems to be less of a mystery in the making of beer as opposed to wine. I've known many a homebrewer (pleased to meet me), but very few home winemakers. Plus even the process seems more straightforwardly work-person-like: you boil your beer, it's just like cooking, and then when you add the yeast stuff happens in the carboy--you get to see it a-swirling and a-foaming, and sometimes even get to clean it up if it blows the bubbler. Wine seems to involve sitting and waiting and hoping--those barrels don't permit us to see much, and then some evaporates and that gets called the angel's share, as if you need the gods on your side to do it proper.

But I knew people did make wine at home, and how that happened piqued my curiosity. So I Googled, and ended up at the Artful Winemaker, and they kindly offered me a video about how the magic (art?) happens. You really need to go watch, or else my critique won't make much sense. You're still reading, go watch. I mean it. OK, thanks.

First, it appears only white folks can make wine at home. Second, when you're selling a plastic device to make wine, be sure to put it amidst as many real wine-signifying sets as possible--roll out those barrels and shoot amidst the vines. Third, get somebody who looks like Mitt Romney to be your pitchman, as that's about all someone who looks like Mitt is good for.

This video also offers a textbook of wine-talk for dummies, starting with the woman describing that Cab-Shiraz blend as "spicy, warm"--just like my Mexican hot chocolate. Later wine expert Dave LaRocque (I looked him up and he has had a long career, mostly in the wine industry of Niagara--good grapes, now with more honeymooners!)* claims you can make "approachable wine that is soft, fruit-forward, and easy to drink," which, beyond sounding like a personal ad from the Key West Blade, certainly sounds better than saying "you might as well slurp this plonk down for there's nothing to taste or savor."

But back to our Mitt-a-like, let's not ignore how he describes the process of winemaking. We know he's no snob, for he says, "I especially like white wine, so I ordered the Chardonnay," which is sort of like saying, "I especially like movies, so I watch Titanic weekly...oh, my blue-lipped Leo." If you're waiting for how the wine gets its, oh, let's call it grapiness, you have to wait till 1:40 into the video, after we hear about "everything you need" (labels are held up) and after, for that Chardonnay, there's "oak for that oaky, buttery flavor many people love in the best Chardonnays." The acorn doesn't fall far from the vine, I guess. If you like mangling language as much as you like making wine at home, this is the kit for you; after two weeks you get to add "a stabilizer and clarifier to make sure the wine completes the fermentation process." That certainly makes things clear to me, especially since I've thrown my dictionary away.

Best of all, you can be an Artful Winemaker, no muss no fuss. Our expert pal Dave LaRocque shrewdly points out, "You don't have to do the crushing of the grapes with your own feet." So, evidently in the Niagara wine region, they still make wine like this. LaRocque sums things up by claiming the Artful Winemaker is "even for those people who don't know anything about wine." The good news is I can fix that sentence for him. All he needs to do is edit out the "even."

Think I'll go drink me a beer.

*Yes, I am a California wine snob.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Grazing Acres

I'm one of those people not good at planning menus day in advance (no, that's not a missing "s" typo), so that means I tend to end up at a store each evening prior to dinner. I like to flatter myself and pretend this is some European way of living, stopping at the market for whatever's fresh, but I know it's just bad foresight on my part. As a westsider, this means I end up on the Mesa most evenings at Lazy Acres (sometimes we even walk, which is uphill both ways and makes you feel very worthy of a second drink with dinner).

Now, this isn't going to be a review of the store, but I do want to focus on one thing they do, sort of, and that's the issue--cheese samples. I'm all for them of course, for if I were offered the choice of never breathing again or never consuming cheese, I'd take a moment to think that through and perhaps sigh with my very last breath happily scented of fromage. The problem is their teasing nature, at least at Lazy Acres. For often by even 7 pm, which doesn't seem too too late to me (but then again I keep flattering myself to be Europeanish), the pickings are completely picked over. There are a couple ways to solve this dilemma: the one I prefer is, keep stocking up that cheese. The second, get the set up for the samples put away the minute they're finished. I don't want my time in the store to be the equivalent of a teasing peep show.

Alas, it's not just the store that could do things differently when it comes to the samples. The Felix Ungar in me (and does that name even signify for 50% of the population any more? who is this generation's televisual neat-freak?) frets that people might not understand the unspoken toothpick code, and confuse the pick-up and discard spots, even with the discard looking like a mini-garbage pail. But I tend to get over that qualm but thinking, "Yum, free cheese!" The other part is the public might not be worthy of samples for they don't understand that "sample" doesn't mean "how many cubes can I shish-kebob onto my toothpick?" No wonder the samples run out so quickly--it's possible some people build a whole cheese course from the options each evening.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Gold and the Doughnut Factory

You really don't need me to point out what a talented writer Jonathan Gold is--the Pulitzer committee has already done that for you. His appetite seems voracious; his desire to share infectious; his ability to be pals-y without being pushy helps create an "us" of folks serious about food high and low--the only necessary commonality is for everything to be delicious.

As, for instance, in the closing of his LA Times article on Saturday about Umamicatessen, a new downtown spot that features several different vendors in one space, not the least of which is the twee-ly named "& a [drawing of a donut]." The review's finish goes like this:

You should try the foie gras* doughnut at least once: round, hot and crisp, dusted with ground peanuts. One end leaks jam — "forest berry"' from the cult jelly man Robert Lambert in the Bay Area, which tastes like what the Wine Spectator means when they describe the jammy notes in a $150 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon — and the other a loose, mild foie gras mousse.

A cynical man might insist that the foie gras was put into the doughnut mostly to justify the cost of the jam: Nobody is going to pay $8 for a jelly doughnut, no matter how life-changing. But there is that sweet spot in the middle of the doughnut where foie meets jam, the peanut dust comes into play and you are essentially dealing with the most luxurious peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the world. It is an extraordinarily good bite. Then you're left with the rest of what is merely an extremely good doughnut, but somehow that's OK too.

There is a bemusement that's utterly delightful in these two paragraphs, a sense Gold is both in on a joke but willing to laugh at himself, too. (He's anything but pretentious, even if it often seems he's not just tasted but studied the peasant cuisines of countries that haven't even been founded yet, not to mention all those of countries forgotten, too.) He is both that cynical man (a useful trait for a critic) and one who is ever on the search for enjoyment (the most important trait for a critic). His sentences are wonderfully rhythmic--voiced, which is no surprise if you've heard him on KCRW with Evan Kleiman--and note how the short sentence in paragraph two gets to deliver the punchline, punchy as it is. But think of all the other things he does for you here--makes Wine Spectator-speak make sense, helps you taste a $150 cab for a mere $8, gives you an excuse to purchase a doughnut for $8 (remember when you used to get a cocktail for that much?), leaves you wanting that extraordinarily good bite, teaches you to bite petitely and taste slowly, even makes you pleased with an OK world that's not just filled with extraordinary, if fleeting and rare, mouthfuls of doughnut. That's probably most of our lives.

I have a sneaking suspicion it's not Jonathan Gold's, though.

*And I'll be getting back to the foie gras issue and the ban soon on this blog, as long as I don't choke on the foie, as one commenter to Gold's article, who clearly loves all living things, suggested.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A True Vision for Something New

Ron True, owner of the new Arlington Tavern, is a man of many influences. Some of those come from his amazing résumé, with time at Zuni Café in San Francisco, Gramercy Tavern in New York, and LaVarenne, Anne Willan’s famed cooking school in France. Others come from simply liking Guinness, for as he tells the tale: “A bunch of us were throwing color ideas around for the remodel and weren’t feeling it. I put my head down and saw the Guinness bottle I was holding and thought, ‘The cream and stout brown colors would be perfect.’”

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

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Louder Chowder and More

Yeah, yeah, we all know the dangers of Yelp--let people vote on things and you can easily end up in a heap of Bush (especially if the Supreme Court helps out, so that might not be the best example). But it's sort of fascinating when a restaurant can average 4 stars but then you read the ratings and it's a mish-mash of 2s and 5s. Sometimes it's an obvious thing--people go in with the wrong expectations, and then blame the place for their own ignorance of what the place does ("well, sure, I heard Father's Office insists no substitutions, but I was sure they didn't mean that for me" writes the addled 1-star reviewer). But sometimes everyone simply disagrees, as the very same dish veers from delish to disaster in back-to-back write-ups. Perhaps this means the place isn't consistent. Perhaps it means some people have no idea what good food is.

That's all preparation for a discussion of Arch Rock Fish, where we dined last night using a TravelZoo voucher. And it was good. Not everything blew us away, but it certainly wasn't the occasional pan it's received on Yelp. The fish was certainly fresh--it better have been as Chryss went with the seared Ahi, the center of the cut red-going-to-purple. That was just what you want seared ahi to be--a bit of a cliched dish at this point, but it's earned its cliche-ness by being so rewarding and straightforward and fish on its way to steakhood. I had a grilled wild bass that truly tasted grilled (ah, some smokiness to the fish's fat) and what probably was some coriander salt that played well with the salsa fresco spiked with plenty of fresh cilantro. There was also a bit of green olive almost a hummus that I wanted more of--the dab needed to be more of a dollop as its earthy brine complemented the fish's sea brine well. But it was one tasty dish.

Most of all, I want to praise the clam chowder that if it had any flour in it it hid it well. This was super rich with clam chunks but also lots of bacon, and it was hard to distinguish the two by sight, but the stomach didn't care. Think of it as pork of the sea. In a cup!

I've been a bit slow to embrace Arch Rock Fish as it felt, to me, caught amongst being corporate and chic and comfortable and therefore never quite doing any of the three, but it won't take a TravelZoo deal to get me in next time. Even better, I won't be locked into the Walnut Crest Pinot Grigio (which was surprisingly ok) as my wine choice (the Deep Sea Viognier at $36 is a pretty good deal).

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gin and Bear It

It's hit me that in the closing in on 2 years that I've been blogging here, despite numerous calls out to numerous cocktails, I have yet to write about the plain old martini. As martini fans know, what makes them wonderful is they're plain and old--it's all about the bracing dip into icy waters that a sip of mostly high grade gin provides. My method didn't originate with me--at this point I don't remember where I borrowed it from, perhaps Luis Bunuel's fine memoir My Last Sigh, but its origin might as well be as murky as the cocktail's itself--but the sneaky part is simple. Get a lot of ice into your shaker. Wet that well with some dry vermouth (you can't go wrong with Noilly Prat), give that a good shake, and then drain. Yep, pour most of the vermouth out. Enough will stay a-glistening to your cubes and coat the shaker. Then add the gin and shake again. Strain into cocktail glasses, and do the good classic touch and dash once or twice with orange bitters (suddenly they are everywhere after decades hard to find). Add your olives and drink fast--there's no drink that loses its charm more quickly than a martini, as lukewarm gin is for bathtubs, not happy hour. When in doubt make them smaller and have a couple. That even gives you an excuse (as if you need one) to hunt for some vintage smaller up-glasses.

As for the gin, taste around to find the flavors that most please you, for this is really the one-person play in the cocktail drama book and you don't want Adam Sandler in Krapp's Last Tape, do you? If you like something milder with a whiff of cucumber, there's Hendrick's. If you like it clean and clear, but with a subtle complexity, there's Bombay Sapphire. If you want the equivalent of a double IPA of gin, go with my usual favorite, Anchor Junipero. And now I've got another fun variation, pictured above, Death's Door, one of the few all organic gins available. While Anchor uses "more than a dozen" (how cryptic, or how sneaky a way not to say 13 and avoid freaking out the triskaidekaphobes?) botanicals, Death's Door keeps it simple and uses only three--juniper berries (of course), coriander, and fennel seeds. That gives this gin a laser focus on the juniper, smelling like a field of Christmas trees when you open the bottle. It finishes refreshingly citrusy, too. 

Simply put, place of origin tells you most of what you need to know--want an extravagant San Francisco gin, go Anchor, want the salt of the earth Midwest (Wisconsin) gin, go Death's Door.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Enter The Independent's Third Annual Grilling Showdown

Hey good lookin’ Santa Barbarans, what ya got cookin?

It’s that time of year again for The Santa Barbara Independent‘s third annual Sizzling Summer BBQ & Cocktail Contest, where the region’s best grillers and mixologists battle for fame and fun prizes. So we are seeking both professional and amateur chefs and bartenders to enter from today through the end of May.

We’ve streamlined the showdowns this year a bit. Since entrants kept sneaking more and more condiments, accoutrements, and sides onto their main plate, we’ve just cut to the chase and got more inclusive by calling for entire “plates” of barbecued food that can feature entrees as well as side dishes.

So this this year, we are seeking entries for:

- Professional BBQ Plate
- Amateur BBQ Plate (amateur means that you do not work in a commercial kitchen)
- Pro-Am Vegetarian BBQ Plate
- Pro-Am Cocktail Contest

To enter, we need to see a recipe or detailed description of your proposed dish/drink. We promise to keep it a secret, but without one, we can’t tell what you are going to make, which means that you will not be named a finalist. From there, our judges will winnow down the list to the most interesting proposed recipes, and then the finalists will be called to cook their food and make their drinks at two upcoming public events. There, they will be judged by experts, with the best chef/mixologist emerging as the supreme victor.

Submit recipes to by Tuesday, May 29, 5 p.m. And stay tuned to for more updates in the weeks to come.

[Cross-posted with the Independent.]

Monday, May 7, 2012

Like It Black for Breakfast

If risking the crazies, drunks, and DUI stops on Santa Barbara weekend late nights has been keeping you from the great eats at the Foodie-award-winning Blue Owl at Zen Yai, there's really good news--the windows are papered up at what used to be Bitterman's Deli at 5 W. Canon Perdido. Cindy Black is taking over and soon the Blue Owl on Canon Perdido will hatch and no doubt become one of this town's best breakfast and brunch spots. Yep, instead of staying up late, you'll have to get up early this time.

Black's full of notions for the spot that won't be open for a few weeks, and then will open soft before a more serious grand opening. She likes the idea of family style, of starter courses everyone gets (her fruit salad might include passion fruit creme and mint, say), of a big long table down the middle of the space that everyone will share. A March trip to Vietnam has inspired some possible dishes--get ready for rice congee, called cháo. But there will be breakfast entrees to choose from, too, like either a pan cake (she's intentionally splitting the word) or waffle that will come brûléed, or a perfectly poached egg that will get a clever spin that won't be your usual Benedict, but don't call her a traitor to tradition. After all, as the original Blue Owl proves, this is one chef who you want to let follow her culinary muse. And then we just get to say, "Thanks" and "Yum."

Friday, May 4, 2012

Celebrating the Long in Longoria

There’s that idea that one human year is seven in the life of a dog, and the equation has to be nearly the same for a winemaker, as each vintage creates its own unique and innumerable challenges. That’s why it’s important to recognize that Rick Longoria is celebrating his 120th year, er, 30th year as a winemaker. To celebrate, he and his wife Diana are hosting a winemaker dinner at bouchon (9 W. Victoria St., 805-730-1160, ) on Friday, May 11.

“This is a special opportunity for me to design a menu around Rick’s wines, highlighting some really interesting seasonal flavors,” says bouchon’s executive chef Greg Murphy. “Rick is a legend in Santa Barbara wine country, and I don’t think there's a more perfect fit than the cuisine here at bouchon to complement the wines. The way Rick talks about ‘his’ grapes and how important his vineyard sites are to his wine making is how I look at sourcing my ingredients for the restaurant. The process of creating this menu with Rick reminded me of how much affinity wine makers and chefs have in their respective crafts.”

The five-course menu features: Dungeness crab and melon salad with a 2011 Pinot Grigio, Santa Barbara County; a diver sea scallop, set off with a Longoria-inspired Cuvée Diana beurre blanc, and paired with the 2010 Chardonnay, Cuvee Diana, Sta. Rita Hills; a confit leg of duck with ricotta gnocchi, spring peas, and wild morels alongside a nicely aged 1996 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard; a Duo of Beef comprised of a braised shortrib and Wagyu flat iron with a 1996 Merlot, Santa Ynez Valley (Longoria was one of the first winemakers in the County to nail Bordeaux varietals); and a chocolate molten lava cake with a 2009 Syrah ‘Vino Dulce.’ The cost is $125 per person, tax and gratuity included.

“From the very beginning of my career I felt that the Santa Barbara wine region had the potential to produce world class wines, and it’s been very gratifying to see that belief realized over the last 30 years I’ve been here,” Longoria claims. He modestly adds, “It’s also been very rewarding to have had the good fortune over the years to have some of my wines contribute to the acclaim of our wine region.”

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Taste of the Nation Celebrates the SB Foodbank's 30 Years

That the Foodbank of Santa Barbara is celebrating its 30th anniversary is both a great thing and a horrible thing — after all, in the best of all possible worlds, it wouldn’t need to exist. But this isn’t that best of worlds, as one in four people in our county are helped by the Foodbank, and 45 percent of those served are children.

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Un-Natch with Yatch

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Artisanal Foods
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Hard to argue with Mr. Black here, and not just because he could outshout you easily. There is nothing worse than when a word that actually does mean something eventually gets turned into marketing mush. Then again, the co-opting of a word like "artisan" is simply what big business has always done in all its forms--tried to come off like the person you want to have a beer with. But we know how that turns out with presidents, don't we, and, dammit, businesses aren't people (I personally say poo on everything from Dartmouth College v. Woodward to Buckley v. Valeo). Plus, and I hate to say this, but that art part in artisan means you gotta pay more for it, and nobody goes to Dunkin' Donuts for that, no matter how much East Coasters want to vouch for their coffee (it's to good java what Charles Shaw is to wine). Then again, I'm the kind of person who thinks words matter as much as food.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Iron Efficiency

As you might guess, everything is bigger in Texas, from political disasters (howdy, Dubya!) to cast iron pans molded into the shape of the Lone Star State. That's 30 pounds of pan, outweighing California 3-1 and costing $2,500 compared to $1,500. Seeing that price you might feel as if you just got hit in the head by one of these beauties, but they aren't just functional, they're art, and they can teach you some geography to boot (plus depress you if you live in Colorado or Wyoming and therefore merely rate a rectangle). These are the work of artist Alisa Toninato of FeLion Studios, and you can go look at the rest, even if you're not up for cooking that 4-egg upper and lower peninsula Michigan omelet quite yet.

Alas, it's only a set of the Continental 48 states--Hawaii and Alaska didn't pan out.

A Dish for Every Day

One doesn’t have to be a fan of Vivaldi or Frankie Valli to admire Pascale Beale’s release of the beautifully presented box set of all four A Menu for All Seasons cookbooks. Beale finished the cycle with the rerelease of Spring: Actually, all but three recipes in the collection are different from the now out-of-print 2004 edition that she co-wrote with Ann Marie Martorano-Powers, and even those are revised. But don’t ask her if that feels odd, for she explained, “People go, ‘Oh, you’re done,’ and I say, ‘What do you mean I’m done? I haven’t finished writing.’”

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