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!