Friday, December 20, 2013

Two Gentlemen of Verona


Mixologist Alberto Battaglini hadn’t seen Chef Luca Crestanelli in nearly a decade, since back when they attended the same culinary school in Verona, Italy, where they both are from. “It was my second night in Los Angeles, and I walked in to a new job at Bar Toscana, and there was Luca,” Battaglini recalls. “We were like, ‘Whoa!’ Somehow we both ended up there at the same time.”

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bijoux, Beaute, Legume

If you want to take people to a place where every cliche that Los Angelenos are too damn beautiful for their own good comes true, take them to Gjelina.

If you want to take people to a place where you can eat only vegetables and not for a second bridle at the seemingly limiting fact that you're eating vegetarian, take them to Gjelina.

That's a really nice double whammy. It's been open for five years, which means just yesterday if you're visiting from Santa Barbara, and is an easy strike from LAX as it's on Abbot Kinney in Venice. (Easy to get to, less easy to park near, that is.) Yes, you're a bit in the heart of the heart of hipsterville, but they sure do clean up and dress nice. It's easy to imagine casting agents try to apply to work as the hostesses here, as it would make their job super easy--just sign up all the customers.

Luckily, as with real estate where you want to have the least expensive house in a ritzy neighborhood, I have no problem being the least good looking person amidst the beauty. None at all. And that's just the start, as you really need to go check out the Gjelina (it's named for the owner's mom and it's pronounced, of course, jewel-lina) menu and then nothing I write will matter. It's super clean, clear direct food made with topnotch ingredients, the kind of thing that's become bestselling cookbook porn thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi. Note there are 12 plates listed under vegetable for $8 a pop--three of us ordered 4 of those and had a perfectly pleasingly lunch sharing. Not that we wouldn't have eaten more--it all tasted so good--but we had a modicum of self-control.

Consider, for example, purple Peruvian potatoes, horseradish aioli, pickled red onions, and dill. That color is crucial, the violet potato almost adding flavor via sight, but they are sliced and cooked to just enough, cirspy on the outside, soft on the in, and then they get zipped three ways with the horseradish heat, the pickled onion acid, the dill's sharp floral lift. Simple and exquisite. It's just the same for crispy Brussels sprouts, jalapeno-lime, cilantro and walnut (the crunchy cabbage on their way to a border town if not quite Mexico, a clever unusual approach) and charred romanesco, Fresno chili, sofrito, anchovy, capers, and mint. Each dish allows its ingredients to sounds its own notes while adding to an exquisite multi-layered song.

And then there were the grilled king oyster mushroom, tarragon butter, lemon, and sea salt, the shrooms so meaty they had to be cut with a knife like some new exquisite cut of meat. You knew they came from the grill and the butter lemon and salt just enhanced their flavor more.

That's all we had, plus some beers, and it was everything we could want. Except for another visit, soon.

Bubbles for Your New Year's Eve


It's time to crack a bottle across the bow of 2014, as we launch another year into the heavy seas of the world. There are more embedded historical and cultural reasons that we drink Champagne for celebrations than there are bubbles in a large format bottle, but basically most of us strive and emulate, and while we might not be able to be rich or royal, at the least we can tipple what they do. Winemakers, that is the good marketers amongst them, figured that out, and soon sold us the lovely lifestyle of the sparkling wined and famous. For instance, they have hidden sparkling wine's beginnings in England, as France is a better vinous home to hail from. Few know of the actual creator, Christopher Merret, meanwhile Dom Pérignon got his name on a bottle and a whole lot of fame.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's blog.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

We 3 Wines of Christmas Are

You don't have to be Scrooge to think Jacob Marley is a terrible Christmas spirit. Indeed, one of the great joys of the holiday is there are so many appropriate tipples to savor this time of year, as there are so many traditions to celebrate. Here's a peek at just three ideas for some right time, right place pairing for the holidays.

Want to read the rest, then do so at the KCET blog.

A Toast to André Cold Duck, and That First Sip of Wine

This is about the first New Year's Eve I remember as NEW YEAR'S EVE, and no doubt this was a late revelation, say when I was 12 or 13, but I'm just that way -- slow to what matters most. For this is a memory of first buzzes, and in a lifetime of them, that means something. What's lovely (and yes, there was childhood lovely, not that it ever felt that way while actually being a child, of course) is so much of childhood gets wrapped up in this neat little bow that lets loose an arrow that pierces the Sears catalog, André Cold Duck, and Pong, not to mention my neighborhood friend Dennis Puglia, as it was at his house this happened. It was his parents' largesse that plopped the world's first home video game and two glasses of infernal bubbly in our barely teen laps, as if barely teen laps didn't have enough to deal with, suddenly recognizing what they were for and having no way to do anything about it.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

I Could Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death

In a whole new approach to a start and a nudge, here's your chance to listen to me yammer for a half an hour like I know something about writing. I got to be the honored guest of the show "Writers' Cafe" on KCSB, hosted by the omni-talented Chryss Yost. If you want to hear about my life as an educator, a food and wine writer, a press release pro and more, you can listen to the podcast of our show, originally broadcast December 10, on the KCSB website.

Friday, December 13, 2013

When Batali's in Your Eye Like a Big Food Mall, That's Eataly!

The worst thing about Eataly--beyond, of course, it's merely at best first blush clever name--is its muchness. It's sort of a Costco of Italian gustatory greatness. The best thing about Eataly--it's sort of a Costco of Italian gustatory greatness. There's no way you could eat it all, even if you were as big as Mario Batali himself, so mostly you walk through with your eyes agog and your salivary glands mimicking Niagara. For it all looks good--it's Italian food, after all. Even just the marbled swirls of perfect prosciutto is enough to make you want to pen prose poems.

In case you've never been, it goes like this--New York City, whole block, extra glam points for being across the street from the Flatiron Building. Walk in and it's a bit of a maze of a market, arranged around topics like kitchen goods or cheese or the wine store that has its own separate entrance, plus 11 restaurants/prepared food stops. For instance, you can get lattes that had some fancier name than latte that will be some of the best coffee you've ever had, very rich and, yes, European. Plus pretty.


After that, the ogle is on. More dried pasta than there are ways to misspell strozzapreti, more gorgeous Alessi-designed gadgets than guesses as to what the gadgets actually do, more imported artisanal beers that you've never seen imported before, more more more. It's impressive and at a certain point almost frightening, to live in a world so rich of things you never before knew you needed to want.

And we're not talking about a watering down of things--this isn't Disney does Italy featuring your host Pinocchio (be sure to buy your wooden dummy on the way out the gift shop). It's all fine quality stuff, often at the price too match. At least the restaurants aren't too dear, and we can vouch for the pasta at La Pizza & Pasta, as well as the good service, and that it is enough separated from the market floor you don't feel to hustled or rushed. I savored my Gnocchi al Ragu di Agnello, the gnocchi tasty and substantial but not too doughy, the lamb ragu just what you want of anything long-stewed, flavor left to sit in itself and become more if itself. (There's that more theme again.)

We also had to take the elevator ride to the rooftop Birreria, even though we had already lunched. It's probably even more pleasant when the roof's glass can be cracked open on a warm day (we were there on a chilly, if clear, November one), but it's a charming space with some good Manhattan tower views. And beer. The house brews have been dreamt up by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Teo Musso of Baladin, and Leonardo Di Vincenzo of Birra Del Borgo (alas Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River dropped out, despite having clearly an Italian enough name), and on cask they are truly unique. We had the chestnut mild ale Wanda and the thyme pale ale Gina and preferred Gina, liking the herb attack more than being nuts for the nuts. Even better, the bartender was one of those teasingly-insulting types you sort of hope you get in NYC, even if he was too young and handsome to fill out the stereotype of the crotchety old bar keep perfectly. This, I guess, is a sign of progress.


Then, just before we left, to give us one last "this might be some sort of set for a reality show of a life you aren't worthy enough to live" vibe, we walked by cheftestant Travis Masar from the current season of Top Chef. Ah, New York.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Make Mine Mulled

It's that time of year, even in southern California, when if you get up pre-dawn, you have to scrape ice off your windshield with a credit card. That's just one reason one's alcohol thoughts (if, perhaps, not pre-dawn thoughts) might turn to warmed wine. There are numerous benefits to mulled wine: it puts you in touch with a centuries-old tradition; it makes the house smell like a spice shop; it gives you an excuse to use those bottles of wine you can't believe your friends brought over (you can heat up plonk with less fear you're hurting good wine); it allows you to use more of the citrus growing in your yard; it actually does taste delicious.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's blog.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Plate with a View

I've discovered there actually is a way that New Jersey is similar to Santa Barbara. Both suffer from being so close to a true power player--New York City in NJ's case, LA in SB's--so it's easy to remain the provincial cousin, the country mouse, the place with too many Italian restaurants and not enough creativity. If you've got a bit of chefly gumption in Jersey or Santa Barbara, you just move to where the real action is.

So it's great to run into some truly fine dining in NJ, as we did on a recent trip back east. What's even more surprising is the spot was the Highlawn Pavilion, nestled atop a ridge of the Watchung Mountains in the Eagle Rock Reservation about 15 miles out of Manhattan; it's the last tallest thing around. So, yes, the views are stunning (even if it's surprising how much a November day can smog up in NY--or maybe they were just trying to make us Californians feel at home). Somehow Highlawn Pavilion beats that old saw "the better the view the more meh the food."

We opted to do it for lunch as it costs a bit less--you do pay for that fine food and view--plus there's that trade-off: the glamor of glittery skyline at night or the day's cool clear views. We did keep largely focused on our plates, though, all put together with an artisan's skill of pretty precision. For example, here's the tuna tartare we shared:


On the menu it's listed simply as Yellowfin Tuna Tartare, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Fleur de Sel, but as you can see Chef Mitchell Altholz does a bit more, pushing it towards salad Nicoise with the perfect haricots vert, a few olive halves, the bus-colored pear tomatoes (that equally popped with sweet-acidity), There's also the finest slice of cucumber helping the fish hold its shape, both functional and delicious and something you'd never bother to do at home.

I'm going to skip the entrees, although they were delicious too--a mushroom risotto, a perfectly turned piece of Arctic char. Because I want to write about the dessert we didn't want but had to have. It's this:


Which is New Jersey Blueberry Crunch: Crunchy Blueberry Cake, Popcorn Ice Cream, Fresh Blueberry Sauce, and Hazelnut Tuile. That I had never had let alone heard of popcorn ice cream is a tragedy--of course something that's salty and buttery makes for perfect creaming. Then that cake, almost more fruit than dough, but it held together and had just enough crisp to it to make it crunch. Oh, and the ice cream was perfectly smooth, so having that tuile, aka gussied-up brittle, atop, with those three perfectly popped kernels attached....a kind of simple, thought-through brilliance, both fancy and not at all all at once. Now that's fine dining.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reborn at the Red Barn: The Nichols Brothers Unleash Their Classic Cuisine

Despite how delicious and welcoming Los Olivos restaurant Sides Hardware and Shoes is — and it’s a 2013 Foodie Award Winner, so you know what The Indy thinks — it’s possible it’s sort of a, well, side project. For when you talk to Jeff Nichols, who, along with Matt, are the owners/chefs/brothers behind Brothers Restaurant projects, it’s clear their latest project is the one. “We’re really excited about our future; it’s what we’ve been dreaming about and working toward,” he enthuses.

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Santa Barbara's Wine Industry Changes Course

Morgen McLaughlin should have one of the best jobs in the world. As the executive director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association (SBCVA), it's officially part of her job to visit the over 100 wineries and tasting rooms the association represents. It's like being named mayor of Grape Town. As she says she tells her staff, "If you're having a bad day, remember you're in the wine business."

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Evening SB Dining Got Goin

It hurts even more now, that Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s restaurant project rumored to be coming to Montecito isn’t. That’s because Goin and Styne brought their acclaimed Los Angeles hotspot a.o.c. to Santa Barbara for an evening on December 2 and that dinner was a total delight. Of her many going concerns now, from Lucques to the Tavern to the Larder, a.o.c. is where she helped birth the small plates revolution. I like to think of Goin as an ascetic sensualist with enough talent to make that seeming contradiction not just work, but illuminate, refreshing a diner’s jaded mind and palate. There’s never an ingredient wasted on a plate, but what is there adds up to a whole beyond her always market-driven ingredients.

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

Blend Your Own Wine with a Kit

Perhaps you've never given much thought to the percentages listed on the back of a bottle of wine. Enter the Wine Apothecary, a new kit that lets you play with wine. You get a box filled with bottles of syrah, grenache, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot, some cool tools like a flask and pipette, and you get to go to work, trying to make a mix that pleases you. After you do, you mail your percentages in and order bottles of your blend, accompanied by a label of your design. Think of it as the ultimate adult chemistry set.

Want ot read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

4 Wines for Thanksgiving

It finally hit me that Thanksgiving happens on a Thursday, so you have three days to lose the weight you put on before having to go back to work. After all, in America "thanks" often is a synonym for "more" -- we love to put the fat-itude in gratitude. And that means we have to pick the right wines to enjoy as we eat our way through more dishes than we generally cook in a month in just one afternoon.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Certification Beyond Organic

Ever buy a bottle of wine that featured a little red circle that looked like it was left from a wine glass with the words "SIP Certified" written inside, and then wondered what that logo meant? SIP is short for Sustainability in Practice, and it's the brainchild of a group called the Vineyard Team, based in Atascadero.

What began as a self-assessment system in 1996 turned into third-party certification in 2008. Kris Beal, executive director of the Vineyard Team, puts it this way, "There was definitely a sense of wanting to have an independent, trustworthy, and verifiable certification. Buyers, that is both consumers and retailers, were asking about a company's sustainable practices and wanted a way to back up that claim."

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wesley Stace’s World of Wonders

Wesley Stace, who is curating his Cabinet of Wonders “vaudeville” event at UCSB Arts & Lectures on November 13, says people have no problem watching a show featuring musicians, comedians, and authors. “People know what a variety show is,” he said in a recent phone interview from his home near Philadelphia. “I think genre is really dead. People’s iPods are on shuffle all the time.” In Santa Barbara, that shuffle will feature Stace’s own catchily erudite music stylings (he’s got a new album out called Self-Titled), plus his usual co-host comedian Eugene Mirman (who also plays theremin!); comedians Bobcat Goldthwait and Kurt Braunohler; musicians Dean & Britta, Ned Doheny, Alec Ounsworth from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and John Roderick from The Long Winters. Matthew Specktor gets to hold down the writer’s chair (although Stace is also a novelist).

Yep, I returned to my music writing roots for this one story. Go read the rest at the Indy's site.

Stolpman's Solution to the CA Wine Labor Problem


Next time you look deep into your glass of wine to marvel at its light and color, try to see the workers who picked its grapes. And they are hard to see, as so many are part of the migrant and often non-documented work force at the dark heart of the California wine industry. We're talking about people whose annual wage never breaks $20K, as if they worked annually, as if the Bureau of Labor Statistics can capture all their salaries.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET Food Blog.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The International King of Cab Comes to Montecito

Opus One is the powerfully elegant marriage of Old World and New, reflecting the philosophy of founders Baron Philippine de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi. Now it’s coming to Santa Barbara, in the form of winemaker Michael Silacci, who will be giving an introduction to his globally acclaimed wines and pouring a vertical of 2007-2010 Opus One at a dinner for a mere 35 lucky people at the Four Seasons The Biltmore. Independent Foodie Award-winning chef Alessandro Cartumini has crafted a four-course menu plus reception appetizers to match these wines, featuring everything from hamachi crudo on rye crostino with poppy-seed dressing, to whole-roasted rib eye and short-rib duo with parsnip puree and apple slaw.

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Los Alamos Lands Global Gardens Café

“I’m trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up,” jokes Theo Stephan, who has just opened Global Gardens’ Caliterranean Café in Los Alamos. She started her olive-oil and gourmet-food business in 1998, opened a storefront in Los Olivos in 2006, and says of her latest venture, “I always told the kids I’d never open a restaurant, so I’m calling this a culinary and tasting experience. It’s my excuse to get the commercial kitchen and the baker’s oven I always wanted.”

Want to read the rest, then do so at the Indy's site. (And yes, I have been writing about Global Gardens a lot lately.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pinot Noir: The Other White Wine


I'm not the first to say it, but it really is time to defeat that tired old belief that you should only serve white wine with fish. Pinot noir, a red, can have a subtlety that plays well with seafood, especially if you opt to play up some pinot flavors in your fish dish. For instance, often people note a mushroom essence in pinot -- so if you cook with some mushrooms, that will help your dish and your wine work well together. Note: you don't have to pair wines with food so they harmonize; sometimes it's good to have different songs singing at your table for a fuller chorus of flavor. That said, pinot and mushrooms are a match made in culinary heaven.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

A Shell of a Good Time

I never thought I'd get to say, "I've eaten enough oysters," but I did just that this past Saturday, October 19 at the Central Coast Oyster Festival in Morro Bay. If you're a fan of the bivalve it's an event you shouldn't miss, held on the lovely Morro Bay Golf Course.

There's no better way to kick off than at the Morro Bay Oyster Company booth, both to support local and because their oysters are briny delights.We shared a half dozen that were practically quivering fresh, 3 in a cucumber-melon mignonette, 3 in a smoked chipotle vinaigrette. It would have been easy to just stay there, getting more trays of those, and people were also ordering a ceviche/guacamole combo plate I'm still kicking myself for not getting.

For there were more oysters in more guises waiting for our gullets. High Street Deli ha a cute little set up in the middle of the fairway and although we got there only 3 hours into an 8 hour event, they had already sold out all their lobster roll. Rumor has it that was because it was lobster roll. Not ones to cry over missed crustacean, we opted to split an oyster po'boy. Wonderfully flash-fried, without a hint of grease, and lavished with a piquant remoulade.

When in doubt at an oyster festival, keep eating oysters. The options were so good and varied, from oysters in puff pastry to oyster chowder to an oyster flatbread--and, yes, the event had so many enticing options we actually passed on getting to have Full of Life Flatbread--that choosing was no simple task, only a bit easier than stopping eating. So we also shared a oyster banh mi sandwich from Thomas Hill Organics that was nearly the size of a Frisbee (we were very glad we shared). Again, all the flavors were spot-on, the vinegar and chili and the oyster as a very clever star, if not so traditional.

What did we wash it all down with? We actually skipped the wine area and stuck to beer, primarily Tap It, which brought a good 6 of their beers along. Their IPA is a fine West Coast example that's plenty hoppy without actually hurting your tongue and for oysters the Full Blown Stout was a glass of creamy loveliness cut by a necessary and balancing last blast of bitter and smoke.

And there were bands, too--this is a music festival, to boot--like Diego's Umbrella, a band that rocked out "Hava Nagila" featuring a mohawked drummer (imagine the dream punk Bar Mitzvahs!) and the pleasantly poppy, KCRW-radio-ready Smallpools and the engagingly hippie (and I don't say that easily) He's My Brother She's My Sister. 

How rock solid of me. I got through this whole post without making one Morro Bay Rock...oh, fiddlesticks.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gorging at Global Gardens


I didn't bother taking any photos of the food from the very fine 3rd Saturday prix fixe dinner at Global Gardens in Los Alamos because it was too good to stop and admire with a lens between me and the food. This wasn't a surprise, of course, since Theo Stephan has been devising brilliant ways to get more olive oil into our menus for years now. And it doesn't hurt she makes so many good ones herself, teaching us how olive varietals matter as much as grape varietals do, bringing us the freshest product. Sure, you can learn much of this from her cookbook Olive Oil And Vinegar For Life: Introducing the Healthy Caliterranean Lifestyle (and what a fine author photo on page 4!), but to have her make it for you in her charming new spot on Bell Street in Los Alamos is even better--all the taste, no work for you, and you get her personal warmth to make it feel as if you've just stopped to visit a very talented-in-the-kitchen friend.

The meal kicked off with a roasted pumpkin-pasilla soup. Roasting both the squash and pepper first deepened the flavors, perfect for a fall meal when the fog eventually drifted in like John Carpenter was directing special effects. This (the soup, but the fog, too, actually) was very thick, with just the right amount of build-and-build heat, and proved we need to do more with pumpkins than carve them into jack o'lanterns.

The main course for us meat eaters was Dey Dey's beef shortribs Caliterranean style with a pumpkin/pomegranate glaze. We're talking ribs that have been slow-braised so they're falling off the bone, with even fat striations you can't help but enjoy. (Admit it, that's one of the best parts about eating ribs.)  The pumpkin's sweetness was cut a bit by the pomegranate's tart, and then a healthy peppercorn zing pulled the flavors into another dimension. Sides of charred Brussels sprouts cooked with sauteed shallots and lemon rind and "homeland spuds" (that is, large cut fries) were perfect accompaniment.

Vegetarians far from suffered--indeed, much of what Global Gardens prepares is veggie-oriented. (Of course, since good olive oil, pretty much any farmers' market veggie, and a hot oven guarantees goodness.) They had Saigon savory tempeh stir fry, organic peanuts, peppers, and squash. Carnivorous I could have had that and almost, I repeat, almost, not missed the shortribs.

Dessert was a crazy large portion of--can you guess what flavor?--that's right, pumpkin ice cream with ginger cookies. An ice cream made with olive oil like this one has a very interesting texture, almost more creamy than one with even more cream in it. But, it's better for you. Not that you'll care one way or another, given your taste buds will be doing their happy dance as long as they like all the baking flavors you want in a fall kitchen.

Along with all this, there's plenty of Casa Dumetz wine from next door to enjoy (viognier with soup, syrah with ribs). You owe it to yourself to check Global Gardens out, Thursday - Sunday. Los Alamos becomes more and more of a food destination.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wines for the Zombie Apocalypse



Maybe it's just with Halloween creeping around the calendar's corner and Walking Dead stumbling back on to AMC, but I've been wondering what winery might be the best to make zombie-fighting central if it ever comes to that. High on the list would be Pali Wine Co., partially because you get another winery to boot -- Tower 15 -- but mostly because winemaker Aaron Walker and his team make such a wide range of deliciousness, centered on pinot noir. If it's the apocalypse, I'm still going to want to be able to drink red, but a cabernet would probably be too heavy. Pinot seems perfect.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's blog.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Here Goes My Hipster Cred (If I Had Any)

Einstein on the Beach is so empty that you get to fill it, and that must be one of its greatest attractions. It's a test of the emergency art lover system--can you put up with/analyze/go into a mystic state watching Robert Wilson's supremely glacial staging (even the things that move quickly, like one poor actor who must shake his head as if afflicted, or a bobblehead, continuously for a good twenty minute scene, are about repetition, and therefore collapse into sameness), listening to Philip Glass's early score that tends to a maximalist minimalism that can turn semi-pummeling, and taking in ideas as huge as "it's all relative," which means a bit of everything and nothing? If so, this is the anti-opera for you.

What saddens me is I thought it was for me, too. When I bought tickets to see the current version of the opera, I was a bit giddy, as I never thought I'd get to see it. And what an it it is; here's the LA Times' Mark Swed: "When the original Einstein was given at the sold-out Metropolitan Opera in New York for two special performances 36 years ago, many of us walked out of the theater into a changed world. The street sounds were newly charged. Neon lights looked like living art."

How often does art do that to you? Does Hass's "Meditation at Lagunitas"? Rauschenberg's Coca-Cola Plan? Bausch's Rites of Spring? Phair's Exile in Guyville? Wenders's Wings of Desire? Colson's John Henry Days? Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek?

OK, even those major works don't do that. So maybe I wanted too much. But I really like Glass. In fact, I pretty much only connect with modern classical (unless Glenn Gould is at the piano)--Glass and Reich are favorites of mine. And given what totally sold me on Glass was seeing Twyla Tharp create dance to his music for In the Upper Room, I was even excited about the extended modern dance by Lucinda Childs that is featured in two of Einstein's scenes.

Alas, I need something to get me through 4 and half hours. (Would it have helped if I were high? Discuss.) I can give up on narrative quicker than most, liking both modernism and post-modernism and not being able to craft story myself so therefore being more willing to forgive that in others. But in Einstein that mostly means you get, you hope, to anticipate scene-length by cues like, "This will end when that light, that's supposed to be the bed from the two trial scenes but is just, well, a bar of light, rises from horizontal to perpendicular." When it gets there, it doesn't seem like such a victory; of course, it then has to take off like a rocket. A slow rocket. (I am a child of the Saturn V, and I like rockets, but this didn't awaken the nascent NASA-lover in me one bit.)

For spaceships are big in Einstein, even if the exteriors of ones tend to look cheap and cheesy like something Ed Wood crafted for Plan 9 from Outerspace. I find heading into the mystical while giggling is hard. And then when one person actually takes harness-aided flight across the stage, it almost made me guffaw, especially when he came back the other way. It almost seemed like some tv show's joke of a high school play gone wrong. Which is also a hint of another major fault of this work--nothing this long should take itself so damn seriously. A few laughs wouldn't hurt, at least the audience, even if they might disrupt the steely machine on stage.

Indeed, most of the allusions in the opera, whether intended (I assume the trial scenes have to make us think of Kafka, that the interior of the spaceship with people toiling at lighted stations has to refer to Metropolis) or non-intended ( the second train scene, with the two characters on the back of the train, is done way better, imagistically and metaphorically in Days of Heaven as a five second throw-away, and of course they couldn't be referring to Malick's film as it came after the opera, but if time is relative, and more importantly, if I've got 20 minutes to think about it, my mind's going everywhere) led to blind alleys worse than this run-on sentence.

After all, if the point of the whole thing is "time is an isn't" or "talk about your ironies, Einstein was a pacifist but his work led to the atom bomb," well, I know that and don't need an afternoon in a theater to point it out, if elegantly artily. And I have to say, all the performers did do an amazing job--in some ways the biggest lesson is there are very talented people who can pull off insistently stressful things (those singers turned to instruments in Glass's arpeggiated score!).

That it all ends with the bus driver telling us a cliched story of great love, while two characters sit on a bench not acting out what he's telling us, well, either I have to take that as a refutation of the mushy dialogue exchange we get to hear or that suddenly we're supposed to believe love conquers all, because we've been told so. ("Everything," one lover says to the other, "must have an ending, except my love for you." Oh, jeez.) And that's despite how four hours of this opera reduces its humans, even Childs' spectacular whirling dancers, into atoms, into at best bit parts in the universe's cruelly casual stage. Where are the people in Einstein on the Beach? Washed away in references to dystopias like The Trial or Metropolis; bowled over by Glass's surging score.

A few moments break through, as they finally vary the machine's either steady drill-press or frenetic beat-the-clock speed. There's "Knee Play 3"--Wilson calls the little entr'actes knee plays, and if only there was more such conjunctive material--when the chorus gets closest to something religious and maybe by suggesting god they suggest the humans who made him. And there's Act IV, Scene C, "The Building," when Andrew Sterman gets to wail a sax solo, perhaps the most "I am here moment" of the afternoon. He probably feels horribly guilty after each performance.

So here's a group doing "Knee Play 3." Enjoy how human they are, how we see them sing, how there's hope in that. It does more for me than all 260 minutes of the full production:



Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Skinny on Captain Fatty's

“The free beer market is booming,” jokes Preston Angell, the main beer maker for the new Captain Fatty’s Craft Brewery in Goleta. That’s because as Captain Fatty’s finds its way, they’ve been showing up at events like Figueroa Mountain’s Figtoberfests to give free tastes of the early batches. That’s going to end soon, as they’ll have their distribution and microbrewery licenses by then end of October, which will open the way for tastings at their warehouse at 6868 Cortona Drive.

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

5 for $6 at TJ's



Some days you just need a bottle of wine and change back from your ten dollar bill. You know that means the goal is simple pleasure -- no hopes for gustatory greatness. To help you with such a search, I convened a small group of amateur drinkers and eaters (OK, and one very talented chef, too) and we sampled what I've billed "five for six at TJ's" -- that's five chardonnays, purchased at $5.99 each at Trader Joe's. You could do this, too, if you were very thirsty or had enough like-minded friends.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Toma Raises the Dining Tide on Cabrillo

Toma sets its tone immediately, and not just from the warm welcome from the staff, led by owners Tom and Vicki Dolan, or from the glimmering room, a casually elegant touch of the Mediterranean. It does so with the simplest and cleverest of opening bites — you can’t really call them amuse-bouches as that would be too pretentious — blue-cheese-stuffed green olives, flash-fried after a dip in semolina so the soft fruit gets a bit of crunch. This little treat really wakes up the palate and gets you set for a meal that will walk a fine line between comfortable and notable that few attempt, let alone pull off. Not bad for a spot open only since April.

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hilliard Bruce Tells a Story


"Sommeliers are like singers who buy their songs from someone, so they have to find new stories to sell," says John Hilliard, proprietor, along with his wife Christine Bruce, of Hilliard Bruce, a 21-acre picture perfect winery on an 101 acre property in the Santa Rita Hills. Currently making pinot noir, chardonnay, and occasionally rosé ("when we have extra barrels," Bruce lets on), they released a mere 1800 cases in 2011. "We want to keep our project small," Hilliard admits, "for if it gets too big it will be too commercial a business. There'd be too much selling and marketing and conning people you have some sort of story."

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Foodies Podcast: Food Talk

Want to hear how we came up with the Foodies this year for the Independent? You can! Senior Editor Matt Kettmann, Food Editor Shannon Kelley, and your truly chat about how it all went down. It's so wonderfully multi-media!

The Foodies Podcast.

Thanks for hosting and engineering and posting, Jake Blair!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Drinking Gingerly

It seems like it's been awhile since I posted a new cocktail (and have you been reading the Drinkable Landscape column in the last two Edible Santa Barbara's? they are in the print issues only) so thought it was time. We were having curried garbanzo beans last night with cucumber raita, so that meant coming up with something that could stand up to and complement all that flavor and spice (it's not too hot a curry, at least). That led to....

The Salty Star

4 oz. Russell Henry Hawaiian White Ginger Gin
2 oz. Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka
1 oz. Cointreau
3 star anise, whole
4 thin strips of preserved lemon (rinsed)
a few cilantro sprigs

Lightly muddle the cilantro and preserved lemon in the gin in a shaker. Add the vodka and Cointreau and one of the whole anise. Add ice. Shake to chill. Strain into up cocktail glasses. Add one star anise per glass for garnish.

makes 2

Note: The gin can be ordered from Caddell & Williams. It adds a lovely floral but not overdone touch of ginger. Preserved lemon is just too fun to play with in drinks and food. Even rinsed, it adds a nifty saltiness to whatever you use it for, and that salt helps the cocktail work with food.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The 2013 Foodies

When we started the Foodie Awards as an annual celebration of Santa Barbara’s culinary scene back in 2009, there was hope that the momentum would continue to blossom into even more interesting eating opportunities around town. Four years later, we’re happy to report that the region’s collective kitchen is more exciting than ever, with an increasing number of both homegrown and imported “culinarians” deciding to stake their claims on our shores.

Want to read the rest, and find out who the winners of the 2013 Foodies are, go to the Indy's site.

Note: Starting this year with the Foodies, we've got a new eligibility rule--a place has to have been open for a year to get a Foodie. Call it the Up in Smoke Award for Anchor Woodfire Grill. This also means the 2104 Foodies are really going to be something, with all the fine openings so far in 2013.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Santa Maria's New Wine Island



There's no better time to visit wine country than harvest as you get to witness the magical shift of grape into wine. Right now there might be no better place to do so than Presqu'ile, which just opened its new winemaking facility and visitors' center this June and therefore is celebrating its first harvest there, making a lovely mess of its sparkling 11,000 sq-ft. winery. This multi-year, multi-story, no doubt many multi-million dollar project (the Murphy family that runs the operation won't publicize the cost) makes the typically blue collar Santa Maria downright sexy. There's no other facility in Santa Barbara like it, and it's in the least likely place in the county for something so modern and elegant.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's blog.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Out of Sight



It's easy to imagine that the ritual of wine tasting is more theater than necessity. We often exaggeratedly swirl and stare, sometimes hold the glass up to the light, make jokes about legs or inkiness, sniff a bit, and then, at last, slurp, for we call it wine tasting, after all, and taste is about getting it into your mouth. Henry "Hoby" Wedler would beg to disagree. He leads a program called Tasting in the Dark at the Coppola Winery in Geyserville, where groups sample blindfolded. "Without the distraction of vision, your other senses do become more enhanced," he says, "you focus on them more."

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Saying Hi Again to Ahi

Deep in my accordion folder of recipes that I use far too infrequently is a browned tear out from the pages of the Independent that has to be at least 18 years old now. It's for Seared Ahi Tuna with Black Sesame Risotto and Ponzu Sauce and comes from the David Cecchini years at the Wine Cask. Now such a recipe might seem mere shorthand to say mid '90s, but it really seemed like something to me then, a gustatory definition of my move to California from Pennsylvania, where I lived previously. (Note: the culinary revelation of Central PA is the grilled sticky bun at Ye Olde College Diner.) I grew up thinking risotto was a fluorescent yellow and couldn't eat it without humming "the San Francisco treat." I certainly had had a lot of sushi--I wasn't a complete food philistine prior to turning 30--but the idea of seared fish, that is fish cooked, but sort of not, was pretty novel. This dish was something else, light on its feet, bright in its flavors, surprisingly meaty, especially as I was still pescatarian at the time.

I bring all this up since Brandon Hughes, the current chef at the gloriously resurrected Wine Cask (the Bernard Rosenson era now seems like a sort of bad dream, the way Ava Gardner must have recalled her mirage marriage to Mickey Rooney) has dusted off this menu classic in thrilling fashion and you can (really, should) eat it right now. He's offering rosemary-crusted ahi tuna (seared rare) with sunflower seed "risotto," grilled asparagus, and cherry tomato confit. First, note, this is a seasonal dish, now, as everything must be if you want to be a restaurant of note (the food revolution has been won in many ways, you know), what with the grilled asparagus and the tomatoes shouting summer. But then the sunflower seeds do that, too, but let's leave them for a bit.

For we have to talk about rosemary-crusted tuna. Certainly rosemary is a different taste than the usual cracked black pepper backed with lots of salt (and sometimes sesame seed). In its evergreen-ness, it can be overpowering; in its needle-ness it can poke the heck out of the soft palate. Somehow Hughes avoids both these dangerous fates. This is seriously chopped rosemary, and somehow mellowed too--I'm not quite sure what he does. But it provides just enough of a grilled pine to go with the ahi's brine to make the dish new. (Of course the fish is cooked exactly as you'd want, bright red still at its interior and charred on the edges, and it melts on your tongue.)

As a decided classicist, I have to admit food in air quotes sends a series of emotions through me, tripping my BS meter while worrying me about whether it might be food at all. Luckily in this case "risotto" simply means in place of rice Hughes uses sunflower seeds--otherwise the preparation is largely the same. This is a brilliant idea, the seeds of course nutty but mellow both because that's just their flavor and of their minute size. Still, cook them in enough butter and stock and wine and they are both tender and whatever the word is before crunch becomes onomatopoetic. That's even better than rice, especially with the oh-so-perfect fish, that could use this chewier foil.

Then the rest of the plate is about all the balance you want, visually with the green and red for some drama, and for taste, especially the bit of acid the tomatoes bring. Add it all up and it's like discovering California again.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

To-MAY-to, To-MAH-to, Let's Call the Whole Thing Wine

If you try to match your wine with your food, and you've got a tomato on your plate, then you might have a big question in your mind. A vegetable and a fruit, a star and a supporting player, subtly sweet and puckeringly acidic, the tomato is a food of a thousand faces. All of its glory is extolled in the Boutique Hotel Collection's annual Ode to the Tomatoes in SLO County, where the Apple Farm Inn, The Cliffs Resort, SeaVenture Resort, and Sycamore Mineral Springs celebrate tomatoes with special menus and dinners during the month of September. They even know enough to quote Neruda, and such a poetic bent suggest it's worth asking them for what to drink when delighting in tomatoes.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Night with the Museum Chef

Our irregular feature “Make Me Dinner!” is back, with another story of a pro doing the cooking in the humble home kitchens of regular folks, while keeping costs low, technique not too tricky, and end results tasty. And there will be wine — this is Santa Barbara, after all.

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

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Send in the Clones


You know it's gone past drinking to deep thinking when a winemaker on a panel says, "It's actually a cultivar, not a clone," and you don't hear a single snore. Of course, this serious moment came after an introduction by wild wit Peter Cargasacchi to the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance Wine and Fire Symposium's Pinot Noir Panel on Clone 115M that began, "Now that Area 51 has been declassified, we can tell you a little bit about Clone 115," and ended, "If I told you any more I'd have to kill you."

Want to read the rest then do at the KCET blog. (Which recently won the award for Best Food Blog in LA--thanks LA Weekly!)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Santa Barbara's Oldest Foodie Fundraiser

In Santa Barbara there’s a fundraiser as old as Beyoncé and Natalie Portman. That’s Taste of the Town, heading into its 32nd year for the event this September 8, as it keeps raising money for the Arthritis Foundation. If you ask honorary cochair Tina Takaya from Opal Restaurant what makes this, of all the noble Santa Barbara fundraisers, special, she says, “It’s the very first one. We’ve had 32 years to shore it up. For instance, this year I got them to change to really good wine glasses. Great wines deserve great vessels to drink them from. These are glasses you’ll want to take home.” Indeed, the great wines will be poured from more than 40 local wineries, including stars like Au Bon Climat, Beckmen, Cargasacchi, Dragonette, Foxen, Jaffurs, Margerum, Presqu’ile, Qupé, and Whitcraft.

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

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Wine & Time



It's tempting to write about Chateau Montelena just for the pretty pictures. It's one of the most gorgeous wineries in Napa, centered around an actual chateau from the 1880s, nestled into the foothills of Mount Saint Helena (hence the winery's name). In the 1950s then-owners Yort and Jeanie Frank refurbished the property and added Jade Lake, complete with pagoda-ed islands (on which you can picnic if you're a club member). If you ever wondered what it might be like if you stapled the pages of an atlas so Japan, France, and northern California all became contiguous, you can get your answer visiting the winery.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's blog. (Yes, you've read some of this if you've been reading George Eats, for when I think about myself I quote myself.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Urge in Splurge



Gourmets (not mere, trendy foodies) dream of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry the obsessive way the starstruck dream of George Clooney or Marion Cotillard, except all the gourmets need to attain their dream is to be quick on Open Table or the phone, at exactly 10 a.m. two months prior to the day they care to dine… and to be able to pay $270 per person, for nine courses and service, with tax and alcohol additional. But you don’t quibble cost with Keller (I can’t say for Clooney or Cotillard), for you’re in for the culinary experience of your life.

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

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ferment Revolution

I’m tasting fermented raw coconut sap, and I like it. Co-organizers of the 3rd Annual Santa Barbara Fermentation Festival Katie Falbo, daughter, and Lynn Hartman, mom, are offering me a variety of foods that have been naturally “processed” by yeast or bacteria, the stars of their event. That ginger beer is refreshing and zippy; that sauerkraut is crunchy, salty, sour, and yummy; and as for that coconut sap — well, imagine the depth of soy sauce mixed with coconut milk, yet not as heavy as either, and there you go. Even better, it’s quite low on the glycemic index (not too many blood sugars), and it’s good for your microbiome — all the species that live inside you and help keep you a happy you. If it’s interesting enough for Michael Pollan to get excited, as he does in the fermentation section of his recent bestseller Cooked, we should all pay attention.

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Lot to Say about Chardonnay



While the AVA of Sta. Rita Hills might only be a decade recognized, it seems like a center of the winemaking world when longtime giants Ken Brown and Richard Sanford are sitting next to each other on a panel about chardonnay from the area. Brown, Zaca Mesa's first winemaker in 1977, and founder of Byron Wines (which he sold to Mondavi), is talking about one of the AVA's newest vineyards, Rita's Peak. Sanford, planter of the ur-area vineyard Sanford Benedict in 1971 and now owner of Alma Rosa, is dropping tidbits like "it was called pinot chardonnay at that time" and extolling the virtues of his Rancho El Jabali. (Not surprisingly their wines, to my palate, are the two best of a very high quality tasting.)

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wine Keeps On Sipping, Sipping, Sipping into the Futures

Generally speaking, artists don't want you to peek while they're working. Sure, sometimes playwrights offer workshop versions of what they're cooking up, but most writers would rather eat glass than share their early, what they believe are no doubt embarrassing, drafts. Painters don't mind sharing their sketches ... once they're famous and can sell them for a pretty penny.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's blog.

And sign up for their new weekly Food News email, too

Beer Prudence


A kid in a candy shop isn't just a cliche, it's pretty much meaningless. Kids have no sense, after all, and if one was let loose at some confectioner he'd probably eat himself sick in the first ten minutes, indiscriminately stuffing his ever-slickening gob with whatever solidified sugar he lay his hands on. It wouldn't be a pretty sight, and it wouldn't be in the dictionary next to restraint.

So a beer festival isn't anything like that, especially one like Blue Palms Brew House's 5th Anniversary, held this past Sunday in Hollywood (so much in Hollywood you had a perfect shot up Gower to the famed hillside sign itself). It was one of those "you get a wristband with little attached tickets, and with each 5 oz. taste, you lose one of them, from 10 to 0" dealies, which might not sound like a lot, but when most of the beers are of the hearty variety in both hopiness and alcohol (this was not a session ale fest in the slightest), you end up not minding too to much. Since Chryss and I were both drinking, that gave us tastes at 20 beers, so that helped, for here's the 20 we did down (in alpha order):
 
Alesmith Speedway Stout with Vietnamese Coffee on cask
Almanac Farmer's Reserve #2 American Wild Ale
Alpine Nelson (Golden Rye IPA)
Alpine 19/10 O'Brien's Anniversary IPA
Avery Uncle Jacob's Stout
Ballast Point Lenzo Lollipop (Oak Aged Sculpin IPA)
Bell's Two Hearted Ale (IPA)
Bruery White Chocolate
Craftsman Curiosity Red Saison
Drake's What She's Having (American Strong Ale)
Founder's Double Trouble DIPA
Founder's Devil Dancer DIPA
Golden Road Buffalo Trace Barrel Aged 2012
Great Lakes Lake Erie Monster DIPA
Monkey's Paw Oatmeal Pale with Lychee Fruit on cask
Rhinegeist Cool Truth IPA
Russian River Sanctification (Sour Brown Ale Aged in Pinot Noir Barrels with Sour Cherries)
Stone 17th Anniversary Gotterdammerung IPA
Stone Pale Ale with Ginger
Strand Black Sand DIPA

That's one crazy good list. If we had to pick favorites, I'd say that Alesmith Speedway Stout, partially because the unusual Vietnamese coffee made it even more exotic/caffeinated than usual and partially because having it on cask upped its creaminess (it didn't need to be too cold or too carbonated). That Bruery White Chocolate I almost didn't get back from Chryss when she got her sip of it. Here's what the Bruery says about it, to which I can only add, "How balanced!" and "Cowabunga!"--"The primary component of our White Oak ale is a 100% barrel aged wheat wine that we affectionately refer to as White Oak Sap. Essentially a 'summer' barley-wine style ale, but made with a wheat heavy grain base, White Oak Sap is aged in used bourbon barrels for nearly a year and comes out rich in flavors of coconut, honey, caramel and vanilla. To compliment the already rich flavors of the beer, we've added cacao nibs and vanilla beans to give this beer the delicate flavor of white chocolate...hence the name."

As for all those IPAs ans DIPAs--choosing among them is like picking a favorite child and then drinking it and smacking your lips, and no one wants to see that. This is a food blog, mostly, after all.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the great band at the event, The Firkins, who, as their name might suggest, know a thing or two about drinking. We're talking songs like "Angel's Share" and "Pliny the Younger." Smart, talented, fun!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Up the Downey's Showcase


So that's a bad iPhone photo of a very good dish, round one at Downey's recent Celebration of Summer dinner.The rest of the meal was magnificent too--this is Downey's after all--and I'll jump to dessert in a bit, but right now I'd like to linger with this scallop. Yep, just one, but round as a Kennedy dollar (remember those?), and perfectly cooked--this is Downey's after all--translucent but done in the center and completely, evenly seared tan on the outside, but then cleverly sliced across its middle to make two perfect discs and divvy up that delicious sear into more bites. You will bite small, as you want it to last, as you want to taste, as you want to get a bit of the watercress, exactly dressed so each leaf is moist not dripping, and perhaps a sliver of endive too. The sprinkling of pine nuts, and how do they get each one toasted so similarly?, adds something crunchier plus that lovely, wispy forest floor flavor. And then there are the peaches--what a summer for peaches it's been here in Santa Barbara, and these, semi-dried, fight back a bit more with their chewiness, and therefore last more. Wash all that down with some Dragonette rose and you could go home after one dish sated with the essence of edible summer.


Let's then skip ahead to dessert, and the joy that is Persian mulberries. I've had some mulberries that seem, well, muddled--a bit more about the taste of the land than bursting fruity goodness. That's not the case with any John Downey ever serves, though. Here's they are made into an ice cream that's part of the world's most elegant ice cream sandwich, with the cookie part an almond dacquoise, surprisingly firm yet flaky and pleasingly crunchy. More crushed almonds are toasted around the circumference of this puck-a-licious blast of not-too-sweetness. I want another.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dragonette Cellars Makes Wines that Rock



It's a sure sign his wines will be good when a winemaker says, "It's hard to distill that down into a quick answer," when you pose a question. Such is the case for Brandon Sparks-Gillis, who along with brothers John and Steve Dragonette, makes the wine at Dragonette Cellars, which has just moved into a new facility in Buellton. One of their tag phrases is "considered minimalism," and the emphasis is definitely on the considered. "We're more or less hands-off, quote-unquote, in the cellar, but that's a misnomer, like you're letting the wines go," Sparks-Gillis asserts. "We're not manipulating the wines much, but there's a great level of care. What's necessary is to preserve the quality of the fruit."

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rock Out with Your Taco Out

In Southern California, it’s easy to take the taco for granted, but not all tacos are worth gulping down. An actual street taco is a minimalist, delicious work of folk art. You need those perfect tortillas, moist but not mushy, tasting of the grill, and then you need the perfect topping. That’s it. Some salsa, perhaps, but not always.

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Quixote Wines: To Drink the Undrinkable Bar


Nobody quite knows who put the petite in Petite Sirah/Syrah, since it's anything but; sometimes I like to think of it as the bastard love child of cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel after a night they both imbibed too much of each other. (I know it's probably related to the grape Durif, but that's a less interesting story.) Big, bold, dark, delicious, it's easy to see why it's often used for blends as it's almost too much: a true teeth-stainer and a testament to tannins and the vintners who tame them. For when you drink one like Quixote's 2005 Petite Sirah, you realize some wine has to exist to take on the deepest BBQ of summer.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's blog.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Beer-Waiting Is the Hardest Part

I'm pretty sure it's not just since dining at the French Laundry that all service has seemed to go to pot. At the French Laundry, it's clear every possible moment has been considered; how that moment could go absolutely the best has been chosen (always accurately); that way is taught to every last person on staff; said staff manages to do that exact right thing every single time. That leaves plenty of places for service to go wrong in lesser establishments: most places just seem mindless; when they do figure out the right thing, it's often not part of training; if there is training it's inconsistent; and then the waitstaff might just not be able to, or care to be able to, pull it off.

For instance, it's been a thing lately--if two data points count as a thing--that servers fail to bring the second drink I've ordered in a timely manner. Now this might just seem like whining, but if the server asks when he or she leaves the food, "Do you want anything else?" and you say, "Yes, I'd like another beer please," you're sort of hopping that beer shows up to go with the meal just brought to you. And it's only been a draft--it's not like the drink involved muddling or flamed citrus or anything in the slightest time-intensive. I didn't order that second beer for dessert--the point is it will go well with my burger. Get that Ninkasi over here! This failure smarted even more at a place that usually has great service--well, at least your favorite server in town--and when you don't get her (she doesn't work every hour of every shift, sadly), things fall apart. At a place that makes its own beer, so you think would like to get you to drink it. Oh well.

These issues pale to the disaster that is the spot I called Mike Harkey in my complaint/rant about it two years ago. I guess you have to give it credit--it's consistent. Consistently infuriating. I met two people already there last night, hoping I, too, could get a cocktail, since, after all, that's what they do. Upon arriving another table empties, so we are the only three people in the bar (at about 7 pm, so no one should be too exhausted from a long evening of exercising their cocktail shaking muscles). There's no recognition that a new person has joined the table and might be curious to order. Then again, one of the people at the table has an empty glass, too, and for a good 20 minutes no one asks if she might like another cocktail. Finally we do get a waitress's attention and order. My drink comes without its signature candied ginger garnish. But why should I expect attention to detail when they can't even bother to do that "let's ask customers if they want to buy something" part of the business.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

California Wine: Piggin Out



I'm trying not to think about the tender and scrumptious whole roast pig not too far from the undeniably adorable piggie petting zoo, and somehow that's possible as there are so many things from the barrel -- wine, spirits, beer -- to dull my thoughts, plus I'm insatiable when it comes to porky goodness. That's what life is like at Bacon & Barrels, a fundraiser for the Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Association held at Saarloos & Sons Field in Los Olivos on July 20th. Under the summer sun it's toasty, so one piece of advice might be to hold this shindig next year in the fall, when wine will sound even better than beer, although it's easier to make a bacon-y porter, like Stone did, than a bacon-esque wine no matter the weather. Still, there's plenty of delicious vinous goodness to be had, from favorites I've already blogged about here like Tercero and Press Gang, to others ...

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Shuck ’n Swallow on Canary Rooftop

If you’ve ever wondered how much shuck could a swallower swallow if a swallower could swallow shucks, you need to get to the rooftop of the Canary Hotel on July 28 for Finch & Fork’s first Shuck ’n Swallow competition. “Basically one person shucks oysters, and the other eats them — and the goal is to shuck and eat as many as you can,” explains the hotel’s general manager Reagan Corbett. “Typical winners in the other competitions [at other Kimpton-owned properties] have eaten upwards of 140-150 oysters in 10 minutes. There is a 10-minute qualifying after eating the oysters — if you get what I mean — gotta keep ’em down to win!”

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Baeball Wine: The Bags Are Loaded


 It's July and the pennant races are heating up, players like Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, and Yasiel Puig are wow-ing us with their amazing feats, and the All-Star Game is upon us. And baseball fans are thinking of wine. OK, that last part doesn't sound correct, as beer, even if it's $10 per commemorative plastic cup beer, is the drink most associated with not just the national pastime but pretty much every sport (is polo a sport? discuss). That said, some folks want you to think not just of Bobby Wine but wine itself when you think of baseball.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's blog.

A New, Yet Classic, Take on Mattei's



“We see this as an homage to the history of this area,” says Chef Robbie Wilson, one of the partners reopening the historic Mattei’s Tavern this month. “Like with a great rib eye, all you want to do is put a little salt on it; that’s what we’re doing here.” His wife and business partner, Emily Perry Wilson, adds that they’ve been doing a lot of research on Felix Mattei, the original man with a plan in the mid-1880s who leveraged the end of the stagecoach and dawn of the iron horse eras to make his name as a Los Olivos restaurateur and innkeeper. When Emily points out they painted the bar “a green color,” she quickly adds, “It’s a historic green.” So if people grumble about changes, it might just mean they aren’t old enough to know what the original Mattei’s was like.

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

Domaine Degher Proves Paso Wine Rocks



Here's a bar bet to challenge your friend who knows everything about music: What do No Doubt, Danny Federici, LA Guns, Santana, Kenny Loggins, and Tupac Shakur all have in common? Answer: Engineer-producer Denis Degher worked on recordings from these crazily diverse artists. After gloating, be sure that your friend pays up with some of Degher's wines -- for he's now making some of the best small production Bordeaux and Rhone varietals in Paso Robles.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Far from Frozen in the Past

We’re wearing dorky hairnets, standing in a historic building that once housed the Santa Barbara Live Oak Dairy, circa 1936. The spoons just out of our mouths, we’re enjoying our first tastes of fresh Mint Chip ice cream, straight from “The Spigot.” It’s America’s favorite family food. And what comes out of McConnell’s new owner Michael Palmer’s mouth is a delightedly enthusiastic, un-family-friendly “holy fuck!”

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

Masters of the Grilling Universe

More than 100 food-loving folks gathered around the picnic benches of Oak Park last month to witness The Santa Barbara Independent’s fourth annual Sizzling Summer BBQ Contest, which was easily our most exciting and cutthroat cooking competition yet. The June 13 event featured 13 chefs, both professional and amateur, eager to impress with a wide range of 15 delectable dishes in the three official categories: Professional BBQ Plate, Amateur BBQ Plate, and Pro-Am Vegetarian BBQ Plate.

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Under the Oaks



"The festival is limited to fifty wineries this year, so if you see more than that listed on the website I've cheated," says Meridith Moore, Events Manager at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. "What's important is there's no wine I wouldn't drink." That's quite an endorsement from Moore, who has been the wrangler for the museum's Santa Barbara Wine Festival the past several years. (As for how they scored the primo name, it's because they were there first, kicking the event off in 1983; yes, you could have sung "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" to your hangover after the first one and been au courant.)

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In the Court of the Master Sommelier Kings



Earning the title Master Sommelier isn't merely some puffed-up honorific -- it's kind of like passing the bar (no pun intended), as fewer than 200 candidates have aced the three-part exam in 40 years. The documentary SOMM, which hits theaters June 21st after a handful of festival and sneak preview screenings, follows a cohort of men (more on that in a bit) prepping for and taking the arduous exam. In the tradition of Spellbound and Kings of Pastry and Air Guitar Nation, SOMM has the thrill of a built-in "who will succeed amongst the obsessive?" narrative thrust that's undeniably gripping. But it's equally fascinating to consider what it reveals about the world of wine and those expert enough to serve it to us at the ritziest of places. You're not going to find a Master Sommelier breaking out his latest value play at the Fish-Meat Village down the block, let's put it that way. No, they end up with titles like United States Ambassador to Krug Champagne.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sausage on State

A business meeting at the Starbucks across from Paseo Nuevo led to one of downtown’s newest eateries, Hoffmann Brat Haus. John Mullen, one of seven partners in the business, noticed the Snack Shack had already closed after only two months — turned out its owner had planned to move to Santa Barbara from Napa, and despite investing much money, his wife decided she didn’t want to leave Napa. “I think this is one of the best properties in Santa Barbara,” Mullen, former owner of Northstar Coffee, claims. “So within 10 days, I had an offer accepted.”

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

Failla Wines: The Anti-Napa



Sitting on the pleasant porch of a venerable old farmhouse along Napa's famed Silverado Trail this May, it seemed a bit of a surprise that the red wine I swirled in my tasting glass wasn't Cabernet Sauvignon, the valley's king grape. Nope, this was Pinot Noir, and a very Burgundian one at that. But I was tasting at Failla Wines (pronounced FAY-la, and it's Italian, or more accurately, Sicilian), and the wine was made by Ehren Jordan, who has made a habit of not being habitual. For 18 years he was the winemaker at Turley Wine Cellars, best known for their bodacious yet beautiful Zinfandels -- my friends and I used to joke the Turley Moore-Earthquake Vineyard got its name because it pushed almost 17% alcohol in some vintages, and was sure to register seismically upon you the day after (especially since it tasted so balanced you'd drink plenty of it). Jordan was also a partner and winemaker at Neyers Vineyards, but has been slowly building up his own winery -- named after his wife Anne-Marie Failla, who runs the business end -- and as of February is devoting himself totally to it, even if that it means less than 5,000 cases a newsletter (the best way to get the wines).

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Beasts At Tablas Creek



A sheep's bleat is no mere mild-mannered "Baa." It's insistent, full of needy vibrato. Imagine a few dozen of them at it, and the din almost turns into a horror movie soundtrack, but that doesn't seem to faze Levi Glenn, viticulturist at Tablas Creek Vineyard, who is standing amidst the flock, plus a couple of donkeys, and a few more aloof alpacas. As part of a recent Meet the Vineyard Animals event at the Paso Robles winery, Glenn led the tour, and got into the pen to fed the eager ruminants, who were up on their hind legs trying to jam their heads into his feed bucket. "If we get to a hundred sheep, then 50% of the mowing will be done by them," he explains. That helps keep the vineyard organic -- no need for Round-up when the sheep chomp the weeds -- and saves on hand-mowing, too.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Drinking the Laundry: Wine, iPads, and Thomas Keller



An evening at a restaurant usually doesn't go like this for me, but my wife and I are just two glasses of bubbly into dinner and have already added $48 to our wine bill. Then again, this is an once-in-a-lifetime dinner, as we're at the French Laundry, Chef Thomas Keller's original masterpiece, and to suddenly get too cheap when you're already $270 a person in for dinner (nine courses plus) and service makes you seem like the guy who doesn't get pot odds at the poker game. If you want to win big, at a certain point you've got nothing to lose. So you order that Schramsberg, "Cuvée French Laundry," Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs, California 2008. It's creamy, bright, an evening's kick in the tuxedoed pants even if you're not that dressed up yourself.

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's blog.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Margerum Amaro -- When Bitter Is Better


There's the old saw "It takes a lot of beer to make good wine," but Doug Margerum, owner of and winemaker at Margerum Wines, suggests, perhaps, a new saying: "It takes a lot of Amaro to recover from prodigious good wine consumption." Margerum first got interested in Amaro -- the bitter yet beloved Italian digestif -- at wine events. "A lot of sommeliers drink a lot of Amaro, especially Fernet-Branca," he says. "But my interest in Amaro really peaked visiting Italy and tasting homemade Amari. After a huge meal and staying up all night and indulging, the evening always ended with Amari." He knows he is on shaky medical grounds, but wants to insist the Amaro helps settle one's system. If nothing else it shows the insight of the Italian culture with their words for love (amore) and bitter (amaro) so close in sound they're practically a slip of the tongue.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Intuitive Wines of Gavin Chanin

It's no surprise that the delicious Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that Gavin Chanin makes for the Chanin Wine Company get called art. It turns out art is what Chanin studied at UCLA. "I do big abstract paintings, and for me painting is very physical and intuitive," Chanin says. "Wine is very similar. It's obviously very different tools, but it's not like you're sitting down and writing a question and answering it. You're taking a very basic material -- grapes or paint or some medium -- and turning it into something greater than it was before. You're transforming something without altering it or taking something away. It's a great and amazing process in some degree."

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's blog.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wine Mentors, and Coming to Grace



Indeed, there are fortunates who developed their wine knowledge traveling with their families in Europe, their tastebuds sensing the circumflex in Côte de Beaune by the time they turned seventeen. More likely there are more families like mine, where I can't remember my dad drinking wine at all (perfect Rob Roys were his potent potable), and my mom, a Manhattan gal, had some large format generic Chardonnay opened for ages in the fridge for fish dinners.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Putting the Variety in Varietals

Forget declaring ABC (that is Anything but Chardonnay or Anything but Cabernet), when you order your next glass of wine, try NBT (Nothing but Trousseau) or AIFA (All in for Aglianico) or PPTP (Please Pour the Picpoul). At least that's what a wine event in Healdsburg this weekend is hoping to convince people, as they make a push for what they call the 7% Solution. No, they aren't Sherlock Holmes or Nicholas Meyer fans. That figure attests to the fact that roughly 93% of North Coast Appellation vineyard acreage is planted to eight major grape varietals. The event on Saturday, May 11th at Bergamot Alley aims to point out many other wonderful, if far less known, varietals. Don't be afraid; for every Tinta Cao or Ribolla Gialla there's a less out-there Mourvedre or Albarino into which you may tip your tasting toe.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET blog.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Make Mine a Margarita


A should-be-classic, there might not be a cocktail as maligned as the margarita. Instead of existing as a bracing and bright accompaniment to serious Mexican food, it’s become a by-the-pitcher fuel for sweet-sippin’ inebriation, often in frozen and be-berried forms. So this year, celebrate Cinco de Mayo properly; put away that Jimmy Buffett CD, pour those pre-concocted mixes down the drain (do you really want high-fructose corn syrup in your cocktails?), and take off that sombrero that makes you look like an idiot anyway. It’s time for a dignified drink, up, that allows for some variations but is all built from a standard base.

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Passel of Pinks



Come spring an oenophile's fancy turns to rosés. They definitely got a bad rap for years thanks to the proliferation of sickeningly sweet white zinfandels that began with Sutter Home in 1975. But even that wine was a mistake, a stuck fermentation that meant the yeast didn't eat up the sugars as it should -- the winemakers found the result interesting and when consumers went gaga for it, a new trend was born. Once again we learned that trends and taste aren't the same thing.

Want to read the rest then do so on KCET's blog.