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.