Thursday, June 30, 2016

Goleta's Got a New Chef

That, my hungry friends, is kimchi fries, and yes you want some. It's really not as fussy fusion as it sounds, since there's a classic like chips and malt vinegar lingering in its roots if you think about it. So you get fries down at the bottom but even better some yummy apple and cabbage with just enough zing; in fact, any Korean kimchi aficionado is probably going to bitch the stuff doesn't stink enough. Settle down, though--you're eating in Goleta. Then you get some lime curry aioli, too, for more lift (citrus always lifts--think about that when you choose the cocktail to pair with this, and you'll want one of those too--it's a lovely list of drinks).

This dish is just one of the highlights on the menu at the Outpost at the Goodland Hotel, a spot with a new chef, Nick Bajal, who is whipping up some tasty plates. The menu is slowly shifting under his watchful eye and keen palate to add stuff like bibimap (he does have a bit of a Korean thing going, but overall it's all Pacific Rim, and a big rim that is) with a duck breast cooked to such perfection you'd instantly order duck if it were on the menu. Or something like white bass over a cashew mole, rich with more savories than you can count yet not a bit gloppy or gooey (if you've been scared off by too many more chocolate-based moles). This dish is so good even the red quinoa on it is ok!

Save room for dessert, too, especially the beguilingly exotic Coconut and Hibiscus, which is rum soaked coconut cake, candied cashews, and hibiscus sorbet. The cake is moist but also a bit biscuity, a very satisfying texture, not too rummy (this isn't Little Italy), and than that sorbet gives just the right fruity-flower notes. Lovely.

Sip This: Speyburn Arranta Casks

Speyburn Arranta Casks Single Malt Scotch Whisky: Unless you’re up on your Gaelic, that “arranta” won’t help you; it turns out it means “intrepid and daring,” and, yes, it also means this single malt from Speyburn is a product for the American market. The good news is Speyburn’s 200-plus years of tradition means it’s not overly amped up, despite being aged in American oak bourbon casks.

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Tip of the Cup to Cusp

It would be easy to think that Cusp Dining & Drinks starts off with two strikes. First, it's atop the Hotel La Jolla, and there's that old rule: the better the restaurant's view, the less good they figure the food needs to be. Given this view is La Jolla in all it's San Diegan splendor--it almost looks a bit wild out there!--and, if you time it right, that big ole ball of sun dumping into the Pacific at dinner, they could probably serve you sawdust burgers and you'd still leave with a smile on your face. Second, it's a hotel restaurant, and too often they cater to a captive audience they assume doesn't want anything too adventurous; after all their lazy diners can't even bother to leave the hotel for a meal. (C'mon people, see the sights!) At least they miss the easy third strike and avoided the curse of cutesy alliteration and didn't name the place Cusp Cuisine and Cocktails.

The good news is that if anybody can hit it out of the park when behinds in the count, it's Cusp. (How un-Padre of them!) (Sorry, cheap shot, I know.) That began with Dennis, our very professional server. Just enough smile, just enough polish, just enough knowledge, just perfect timing. That kind of thing. Gracious.

Well, actually, the space itself probably came before even Dennis. The eleventh floor as you descend to La Jolla shores in a room of all windows and a great grate on the opposite wall, and banquets set a bit higher, and music there but not THERE--it's a very pleasing place to be, a tad retro but also a bit timeless, because what else is the best retro but forever?

To save both my time and yours, I'm not going to do a blow-by-blow, so will, alas, not lavish enticing descriptors on the Oaxacan Sunset cocktail (a Mezcal-starring reinvention of the Margarita), or on the appetizers that appetized (a fried calamari that avoided cliche by laying aside a romesco sauce) or the dessert (apple fritter that was more a donut stuffed with a still pretty crunchy apple round--very clever).

No, I want to talk lamb, which you can see above. Usually the "serve it on something other than a plate" bit seems precious to me, but the black slate really worked, especially since that salsa verde was so blissfully thick. The meat was juicy yet coated with a good crunch and redolent with fresh rosemary and tarragon and lots of black pepper. The vegetables were more than an afterthought, a sprinkle of grilled corn to make it all the more summer (the seasonal menu had just kicked in the weekend we were there) and the squash a fine counter-point in flavor and texture. And if you're wondering, I sure did use my fingers to get each last nibble to the bone.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sip This: Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur

Ancho Reyes “Ancho” Chile Liqueur: Too often alcohol products meant to be spicy taste as if they were concocted in a lab, as if something completely synthetic got shot into your vodka or whatever.

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Away from State Street for Solstice

I get bored just posting photos of food and wine, so I figure this image helps capture the sense of fun that awaits at the Santa Barbara Wine Festival happening June 25 from 2-5 pm at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Of course, we're talking an event that had its first run in 1983 (same year GPS was released to the general public--how did anyone get anywhere back then?). This is far from my first run writing about the festival, as it's one of my favorites, an idyllic mix of the best wine and food in an oak grove setting that can't be beat but can beat the heat. (You can go read previous stories here, if you want.)

There's more, though, as I learned by talking to the ever-delightful Meridith Moore, events manager at SBMNH. "Since it's the hundredth anniversary of the museum--which is a huge time here in Santa Barbara if not a long time in the rest of the world--we will have one-hundred booths of food and wine," she informs. The festival also has a rep for the actual winemakers showing up to pour, and that tradition isn't ending soon. In fact, in the newly created VIP area, those who arrive for early entrance will have wine poured by Paul Lato (his first time at the festival) and Morgan Clendenen (pouring her Cold Heaven). With upscale munchies by C'est Cheese and Chef Pete Clement, it's going to be quite the spot...sorry that those tickets are already sold out.

The other great innovation for the 100th anniversary will be a Sparkling Way featuring many of the county's best bubbles--think Flying Goat, Fiddlehead, Alma Rosa. What's more, this spot will be home to food by Industrial Eats, too. Sure beats a ride to Buellton.

And then there's the ever-popular Cork Pull raffle: for $30 a pop (cash only!), you get a cork, it has a number, the number has a prize of at least $50 value. I've scored a dinner for two at Barbareno pulling a cork, just saying.

Finally, the big news that will be no surprise to anyone used to attending: the day after this year's event, it gets a new trademarked name that captures its tasty balance--The Santa Barbara Wine & Food Festival.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Several Sips at South Africa

To be brutally honest, my knowledge of South Africa going in to a recent trade tasting if its wines mostly came from Breaker Morant, Peter Gabriel's "Biko," and that monumental world music highlight of the '80s, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto. And despite its Boer War setting, Breaker Morant is an Australian film, anyway. So, to put it bluntly, I had a lot to learn.

Luckily, as the billing went, "Jim Clarke [pictured above], former Wine Director at Megu and Armani Ristorante in New York, will put the wines in context, discussing terroir, traditions, and current trends." That was a lot to do in a bit under 2 hours, but at least now I've got a better sense of what's up in South Africa (it seems unfair they got beat to the moniker down under, in a way), plus the photos and discussion made me realize many of their wine regions are quite like Santa Barbara's, so that's fascinating too.

There's no point in running you through the whole story here, as it would be secondhand and more than you need. So the accelerated version: early fine wines, Napoleon thumbs up, phylloxera bugs down, WWI kills too many people to make anyone care about wine, apartheid means embargoes of everything. In the middle of all that, there's KWV, a business that controlled wine and led to a generally down to price not up to quality approach.

Since the end of apartheid everything has improved though--the magic of markets. Winemakers discovered you could grow fine cold climate grapes closer to the ocean (it's a place with cross-wind currents and diurnal temperature shift--hi, Santa Barbara!). Old vines started getting some care, but not too much, because you want to stress those vines and lower yield to concentrate goodness.

And you have a lot of Chenin Blanc--it's the most commonly grown grape there. (I won't make a joke they grow more white, I won't make a joke they grow more white.) Some of it is fascinating stuff; I can't say enough about the Luddite Chenin Blanc we tasted: think white peach and apricot, but more importantly some ethereal quality that makes it dance across the tongue and linger. A kind of perfume, in the best of ways, one that seems to want to unlock your best memories.

Some pretty unpleasant memories are often associated with South Africa's trademark red varietal, Pinotage. This cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut got a bad rap in the 1980s-90s as its low acids made it any easy home to all sorts of nasties, especially before all South African wineries kicked up their hygiene regimens. At the time Pinotage often had a nose of rusty nails or Band-aids, not exactly smells conducive to yumminess.

But times, and methods, have changed. Try, for instance, especially at $15 a bottle, Painted Wolf Guillermo Pinotage, with a bit of soul added with some new oak. Plum, red berries, a bit of pipe tobacco. Grown in the Swartland (the grasses there turn black in summer), so with a bit more heat in the growing season, and a bit more acid than most of its varietal. Plus sales go to help the endangered African wild dog and if you follow this link you'll want to save them, too.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sip This: Tarantas Tempranillo

Tarantas Tempranillo 2012: Heavily marketing its organic grapes and vegan winemaking, Tarantas is a fine value play from Spain for mid-week drinking.

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Drink That Stirs the Straw

Growing up there was one, just one thing I could do faster than all the other kids--turn the page. I could read like nobody's business. So while pretty much anyone could go home-to-first or basket-to-basket or a quarter mile quicker than I could, I didn't care. I'd be busy reading them under the table. Perhaps hiding under one. But that's not the point.

That didn't stop me from loving baseball. Or helped me love losers at baseball, the Mets. While a year older than I am, they've only won two World Series in my lifetime, one I don't really remember (hey, what did you do when you were six?). But I got obsessed and it's still my favorite sport to the point I sort of tolerate that there are other sports in inverse relationship to how much good writing there is about them.

Not longer after the baseball bug bit, I discovered the joys of drinking. Which, of course, sounds wrong, but I've been always interested in a cut above my station and the drinking age was still 18 then. Living up in New Jersey my family would do things like occasionally go to a New York City dinner at the Rainbow Room, so maybe I got Art Deco and Fred and Ginger (who I didn't learn about really until grad school) and martini glasses all confused with my first beef Wellington and Manhattan (the island and not the cocktail) twinkling below. Who knows. But I was into import beer when that merely meant Heineken and Bass (remember those pre-adventurous days?), and somehow, well, no doubt a how aping my dad, into Scotch at 15. Not like every weekend, but I can remember one New Year's Eve with a bottle of Black & White and those cute doggies on the label and discovering for the first time in my life the perfect pitch of buzzed not sloshed. That's a halcyon spot I've hankered for more than I've cared to admit since.

So, look at this. There's a distillery in Cooperstown. (Why not, what town now doesn't have one?) But you can get a sampler called "The Triple Play" and it's got bourbon, vodka, and whiskey in 50 mL bottles shaped like little baseballs. This is a halcyon spot of Tom Seaver's knee dirty with full extension as his slider strikes a bum like Pete Rose out, of Darryl Strawberry's amazing Stretch Armstrong limbs knocking the snot out of a pitch, of Johan Santana, his arm basically a rubber band wearing down, finally tossing the club's first no hitter after 8000 games. And craft liquor.

Sure I'm going to review this stuff, but more than anything I want to praise its brilliance as marketing genius to at least one middle aged man. And when I empty a bottle I only wish I still had my Pitchback and try to pretend I could drop a curve on the outside corner just like fellow lefty Jon Matlack could, back in 1973 when I learned the fun of comebacks, underdogs, hope that wasn't mere smoke. When I also learned never to give up, and to lose (damn A's!), and to cry, and then there's tomorrow. To think I did all that without whiskey, even.