Thursday, May 29, 2014

Spoon Up Brunch at Finch & Fork

That's just a photo of the creative and refreshing iced lattes Finch & Fork is serving, made with Earl Grey and orange and a salute to summer in a Mason jar glass, as I ate the fine food too quickly to be able to take photos. But it's simple as this--if you're looking for a wonderful brunch any weekend, go enjoy what chef James Siao is serving at the corner of Carrillo and Chapala. My bet is you won't stop to take photos, either.

One of the lures for the brunch is a bottomless mimosa for $12 (that might be too well enjoyed by that table-full of 20-year-olds, but at least they have good taste while they're too loud), but the obvious reason to come is for the food, that's both comfort food and made with a bit more care than you could or would in your own kitchen. Part of that is they do a bunch of things from scratch at F&F, and part of that is a pleasing precision, especially in plating that is festive yet never fussy. This is good simple food that looks simply good.

For instance, there's the short rib and sweet potato hash, eggs done to your liking, horseradish, chimichurri, and a sprinkling of frisee. The sweet potatoes are served in bite-sized cubes, just the right tenderness but far from mushy, and soaked through with some of that long-braised short rib juice. The meat, as a short rib should be, is fork tender and full of flavor. It all gets just enough zip from the horseradish, some zing from the chimichurri, and then the eggs pour their yolky goodness in, too. We're talking a very rich dish, but a perfect ballast for your day. And the frisee adds just enough of a lettuce palate cleanser effect, some neutral crunch the plate needed. Have that with a bloody Mary from the bar (you call your vodka and can make your own with all sorts of sauces and accoutrements, including bacon) and your day couldn't be off to a better start.

Or you can try the F&F's elegant take on a benedict, with Dungeness crab and asparagus over brioche. (There's that level that makes it more than you'd do at home.) It comes out almost looking like a salad, with a handful of greens atop the chopped asparagus and the eggs and brioche, but that again lightens the rest of the heavier, fuller flavors. Pretty clever and totally delicious.

Salad At Its Savory Best

People generally think of a salad as a lighter bite, but if they consider Pascale Beale’s new cookbook, Salade, they’ll have to think heavy — the book weighs almost three pounds.

Want to read the rest--plus get one of Beale's recipes--go to the Indy site.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A White Wine in Red Clothing

It's that time of year when deciding what wine to drink can be climatically tricky. Heat spikes for a few days, making one wish for the freshness of a chilled rosé; then some pre-June gloom rolls in, and that seems to ask for something a bit heartier, like a warming, spicy syrah. That those two things can often happen in one day only confuses the matter more.

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Chardonnay's Bad Reputation

Perhaps it's so easy to be snobby about chardonnay as it's ubiquitous as air. There are more acres of it planted in California than any other grape, red or white -- imagine the 142 square mile Bakersfield totally as a chardonnay vineyard, say. (Now quit laughing.) That makes the need for a Chardonnay Symposium, like the one held May 16-17 at the Dolphin Bay Resort in Pismo Beach, a bit clearer.

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dive into the Downtown Art & Wine Tour

If you like the fruit of the vine and the creativity of the mind, hop onto Santa Barbara Downtown Organization’s annual Art & Wine Tour this Thursday, May 22. Combining the pleasures of 12 galleries/venues, 19 restaurants/food purveyors, and 13 wineries/distilleries, the event helps raise funds for the Downtown Holiday Parade in December. “As a downtown merchant, I love the energy and participation,” said George Merino of Chase Bar & Grill, which will be serving chicken piccata and penne alfredo at Churchill Jewelers. “It brings together a unique, diverse, and fun crowd that fits the spirit of our beautiful city.”

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

Monday, May 19, 2014

Rah Rah Black Sheep

It's obviously with tongue firmly in cheek--perhaps one of the delicious braised beef cheeks they serve--that Ruben Perez and his co-conspirator Nate Curteman called their new venture The Black Sheep. Perez's dad is chef Robert Perez, who owns the next door and more upscale and ever fighting its just-off-State Street location Seagrass, so to do what the Black Sheep is trying to do--elegant bistro food in a comfortable (think beer as important as wine, servers in hipster hats) atmosphere at a fair price--seems like a sort of, well, comedown isn't the right word. Come around to where more and more of dining is, anymore, for good or ill, is more like it. After all, we all want to go out, have stuff we won't make at home (start with a little gem salad, but then char it, serve it with a house ranch, some kumquat relish...and a perfectly fried sweetbread), and not feel like we can't do that again until next month's paycheck rolls in. So, welcome Black Sheep.

It's in the spot where the wine bar Taste was, briefly (also Perez family owned), a surprisingly bright and airy room at 26 E. Ortega Street--a fine combo of one large window on one side, one long bar on the other. (I could easily imagine it becoming a place to be, and be seen.) Most of the menu is built around small plates, so bring friends and an appetite and taste away. It's a menu where the grace is in the details--a bracing plate of pickled vegetables comes with a stunning swirl of beet juice, the amuse house-fired potato chips flecked with fiery togarashi. It might be a bit more of a meat-eater's delight then the place to bring your vegetarian partner, for even the roasted heirloom carrots get their depth from duck fat, but carnivores will rejoice with offerings like roasted bone marrow.

In our quick visit we didn't have time to sample any of the big plates, but they looked enticing, from sautéed seabass with Spanish chorizo (ah, there's the meat again), fingerling potatoes, onions and tomatoes to those grass-fed beef cheeks, braised in banana leaves with ancho chili, annatto seed, tequila, lime, and tomatoes. And while I don't eat chicken much, especially since we've got five named hens in our backyard making us eggs (it's so hard to eat things with names that also feed you), the re-constructed chicken, with garlic-rubbed roasted bread, house-made mustard, and shallot roasted garlic marmalade sounds even more fascinating when described. It's a galantine (or ballotine--didn't see if it was cylindrical), the kind of thing you think only exists in your Larousse Gastronomique that no one makes anymore. So, of course, someday I'll have to try it. Robert Perez is still making the food for both restaurants as they share a kitchen, so you know everything is going to be amazing with a twist or two you might not expect, things like burrata, that creamy cheese stuffed with creamy cheese that is the essence of a modern Italian summer plate, with, of all things, a mango chutney.

Add in a not-too-long but well curated beer and wine list--think Great Divide and Lost Abbey for ales, Refugio Ranch and Bonaccorsi for vino--and you're going to have a lovely evening.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Lament for Things No Longer Rosie

Santa Barbara is getting a little less sweet now that pastry chef Rosie Moot is moving on from the Wine Cask and Intermezzo, eventually heading back east where she's originally from. This was her last weekend. She had been at Wine Cask long enough to make me crave desserts when I usually don't, as I don't have a sweet tooth that needs a 12-step program. Then again, as sweet as she is as a person, she knows enough to make her desserts hew to the savory line as much as possible. The classic example of that might be her butterscotch pudding so snowed with fleur de sel it could almost seem a pretzel, the sweet and salty edging each others' pleasures further and further up. It was seemingly simple and complexly delicious.

And then there was the miracle of what she could do frying things, which generally sounds like a dessert disaster--that risk of dropping a little cannonball of dough into your gullet atop a fine meal. Rosie never did that, somehow frying to perfect crispiness and not beyond, her dough ever feathery, yet substantial enough to please. There where those pumpkin beignets that were a dream place where New Orleans and Dia de los Muertos met in a culinary tango on your tongue. On the menu now there are lemon-lavender beignets, crisp pocket pillows full of zippy citrus cream with just a hint of lavender lift--they're not perfumy in the least--sitting atop a bit more of the lemon cream, some miracle of the market halved blackberries, and aside a black currant sorbet that adds yet a whole nother palette to your palate. Never fussy in the least, it's something you feel you should be able to do at home, but you know you never could.

Like, say, a market crisp, currently with the first of the season nectarines (which perhaps bake even better as they're a bit firmer than those who get more heat on the tree). Something this simple shouldn't be this good, but it is, both crunchy from the dough and ripe from the stone fruit, and then topped with a honey gelato that sounds much more sweet than it is.

Rosie Moot, you will be missed. My one consolation is I will have to run a bit less without your end of the meal temptations beckoning.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Reverse Wine Pairing Dinner

Which came first, the roasted asparagus, lardo, cured egg, and Meyer lemon or the two rosés? In the case of the Food & Wine Safari event held recently at the Four Seasons Resort, The Biltmore in Montecito, it was actually the wine. Hosted by Elizabeth Reed and Ken Fitzpatrick, the pair behind the Safari, the event was one of six per year they've held the past four years, a "reverse wine pairing dinner."

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

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Tasting at 95+ Points

One thousand five hundred and ninety-two dollars and ninety-two cents of wine sits on a bar in front of me. I don't get to drink all of it (thank god), but at an ounce and a half per taste, I know I'm going to leave happy and with crimson-stained teeth, as seven of the eight are the reddest of reds.

I'm fortunate to be at a proclaimed "Stunning Rhones (and One Chardonnay)" tasting presented by the Winehound in Santa Barbara with fourteen other people willing to fork over $95 to sample 772 points of wine. That's an average of 96.5 points (as awarded by Wine Advocate) per bottle, the kind of wine writers' praise that would lead to some "My Honor Student Wine Kicked Your Plonk's Tuchas" bumper stickers. It was a terrific opportunity to learn a host of things, like, "How much should a good wine cost?" and "How different are French and Californian expressions of syrah-based blends?" and "If you can get the teacher's prize pupil's product for a third of the price, should you?"

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

Friday, May 2, 2014

Blessed Are The Veggies

It takes something, still, to make people not miss meat. When I talked to some folks about the nearly all-vegetarian family style feast the Community Environmental Council put on Saturday night of Earth Day Weekend (I know, I know), they’d ask, “And it was good without, you know, food?” So, despite it being 2014 and people realizing all the ways a meat-heavy diet might not be best for either themselves or the planet, it turns out you can’t proselytize enough for the Great Veggie Way.

Enter chef Jeff Olsson, from New West Catering and the recently opened, much lauded Industrial Eats. Yes, the Jeff Olsson who teaches a class in hog butchery. Yes, the Jeff Olsson who is known and loved for his handmade bacon. He was the lead in the kitchen for this spectacular, mostly meat free meal. (Note: there was supposed to be pancetta on the side with the little gems salad. Our table never got any. No one complained too loudly.) Afterward no one could complain about not getting enough, not having a wide enough range of flavors (admit it, my fellow carnivores, at a certain point even the best steak suddenly seems sadly samey), not sensing they’d had lovely products of the local land presented about as best as they could be.

It didn’t hurt that Buttonwood Farm was pouring three of its wines to match the meal. You could argue each of the wines got a bit better (or is that the way of all wine drinking?) – the first course’s 2012 Signature Sauvignon Blanc was bright and racy, perfect for the soothing minestrone it accompanied. And how lucky did they get with the weather for this dinner under the strings of lights luckily not blowing as badly as they had all day. (It was like the wind gods gave the dinner a bit of reprieve.) Still, it was just chill enough that opening with a soup warmed as a good soup should, especially since he broth was vivid yet clear and the white beans and kale in it didn’t suffer from being soaked to a softening mush.

Course two you could think of as salad two ways, fresh and braised. Those little gems prove how amazingly flavorful just a green can be, especially when set off with just the right amount of shallot-thyme vinaigrette. Alongside that was braised mustard greens with all their spice, set in a lovely charred tomato, fennel, basil “sauce” to layer flavors and kick in some acid, some sweet. The 2013 Syrah Rosé worked pretty well with the dishes that covered the salad gamut, so you have to give it lots of credit for versatility.

Course 3 had the evening’s star, a curry roasted cauliflower that made clear why that vegetable is a current chef fave. It offers enough texture and depth to soak up whatever you want to dish it with, and the hot chile, sweet onion, and mint all did the trick. That’s not to say the second dish of the course, a root-i-licious beets with not enough fresh favas, Drake Farms goat cheese and burnt-honey (yep, that’s fancy for caramel)-cayenne vinaigrette was any slouch, but it was more the ballast part compared to the flashy cauliflower (and has cauliflower ever followed that adjective before?). Here, the 2010 Cab Franc was just enough of a red to make it clear you can drink reds and not eat meat, but still not too much to overpower the dishes.

There was dessert, and it too was lovely, fruit with an olive oil cake so moist it didn’t get served with any dairy and didn’t need it, proving whipped cream is often just a sugary crutch for chefs who can’t make things good to begin with.

Add in the fine company – this was partially about break bread, and not just any but New Vineland, with all sorts of old and just new friends who care about the earth, what and how it provides for us, and how we can take that and make something satisfying and on its way to sacred.

This Farm-to-Table Dinner better happen again next Earth Day.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Some Music for You: Heavenly Haden Harmony

The Haden Triplets’ — yes, that’s jazz legend Charlie Haden’s daughters — take on the old-time Americana songbook on their eponymous new CD, mining every ounce of pretty/purty out of songs whose core ore is just sad, sad, sad. God might seem far, but one’s love tends to be even farther in chestnuts like “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?” and “Tiny Broken Heart.”

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