Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sip This: Kings Carey 2016 Rosé of Grenache

This is wine done to bare-bones goodness, from its seemingly hand-drawn, homespun label (courtesy of Philadelphian Hawk Krall) to its direct, refreshing, delicious strawberries washed in light lemon loveliness in the glass. It’s made, in small lots, by James Sparks, whom you should know from Liquid Farm, which produces one of the county’s best chardonnay.

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Downey's to Dish No More

I had the great opportunity to sit down with John Downey a few weeks back and discuss, as he and Liz are shutting Downey's down after 35 years in a matter of weeks. (They're keeping the last night a bit of a secret to avoid a rush.) Alas, it was impossible to include everything we discussed in the Indy article I'm about to link to, but here's some of the extra info that I couldn't work in to that.

What's next?
"At 68 I find this really physically taxing. I know I look 40, say it," and he pauses for his very English joke to land, "but I beat the undertaker. I never wanted to be carried out from behind the line feet first."

Despite his jokes about mortality, one way he has stayed in shape over the years is hiking, including conquering Mt. Whitney. "I definitely have one Whitney left in me," he insists. "One of the retirement goals is to be in the eastern Sierras in the fall. For 35 years I haven't been able to be away from the restaurant that long, especially that time of year."

So here's the start of the Indy article:

“When we knew we were going to close, we thought we’d just disappear into the sunset,” John Downey said about his recent announcement to retire. “Liz [his wife and stalwart in the front of the house] and I thought after a week people would say, ‘Downey’s, didn’t they used to be on State Street?’ Instead the outpouring of support has been overwhelming; we’re honestly touched by it. We take it as a validation of our work the last 35 years.”

If you want to read the rest, you know the drill, go to the Independent's site.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Friend and Dear Friend and a Restaurant's Encouragement

Given my love for Wallace Stevens' "The World as Meditation," how could I not be taken by Odys + Penelope? (And if that isn't the wonkiest beginning of any restaurant write-up, show me its competition.) We had the opportunity to hit the restaurant on the way back from San Diego a couple of weeks back just in time for DineLA. And while I always feel like taking advantage of such promos leaves a bit of a "R" for rube tattooed on your forehead, we'd been wanting to go to O+P since it opened, as we were fans of Hatfield's back in the day when fine dining was still a phrase you could utter and not watch your business model crumble. (Come remember with me now....) That super smart room, the full-view kitchen with so many chefs moving in such precision, the delicious-gorgeous food. We only had it once and missed it ever afterward.

So we looked forward to see what Quin and Karen Hatfield had in store for us at their latest spot. It's somewhat big yet still intimate, partially as the scent of smoke from the big grills in the kitchen hold you in its elemental arms. And right away what seems the least impressive wows you--we haven't had a salad we liked more in ages than their Sugar snap pea “Caesar” with creamy Parmesan slaw and roasted pepitas. Talk about reinventing a wheel that had gone a bit flat. The sliced up snap peas, so bright and crisp and just the right sweet, playing off the right-angled Caesar notes of garlic and anchovy, then the slaw a sort of salve, plus the necessary crunch from the pumpkin seeds. We shared one, wishing we had two. (Not that the grilled Argentinian white prawns with ginger chermoula disappointed, especially with their charcoal depth.)

Fighting FOMO, we went off the DineLA menu as we had to know what the bread-like goodness going out to so many tables was (we've also been to Sycamore Kitchen, and know Karen Hatfield bakes better than nearly anyone). Turns out they were cheese puffs--think gougeres with attitude as they're twice gougere size--and at least four times as yummy, somehow flaky, puffy, and cheesy all at once. What's more, they come with a smoked tomato romesco (that grill is hiding in so many dishes) that was so rich we didn't use the leftover white prawn butter we made them keep on the table for the cheese puffs.

Mains were both also crazy good. Chryss had early summer on a plate, oak grilled salmon, English pea and basil puree, cherry tomato salad, and grilled corn, each element of the dish perfection (it made you want a side of corn, for instance). Grill grill grill. I had the house made pappardelle, pork belly Bolognese, fried sage, supposedly the restaurant's most popular dish. I can see why: that sauce had what seemed like ages of flavor, if that makes sense, rooted in meat generally too good to be reduced like this, and that grill was in there somewhere doing its fiery magic. And someone can make pasta, too, that perfect tension that says fresh.

I could go on about the desserts, like a straightforward yet immaculately prepared chocolate budino with olive oil, sea salt, and a stunning take on the Oreo that should make Nabisco cry (or sue) and a coconut-cashew lime "pie," (it's kind of deconstructed, over the flakiest of tart shells) with local raspberries and toasted coconut ice cream that's all flavor in your face. Or the just inventive enough cocktails, or the helpful, timely, friendly, unobtrusive service. It's a place about comfort edging very close to something like fine dining, but then quick to say, "Servers wear jeans!" or "Smoke is like camping--how casual is that!" You're sure to say, "I need to go back."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sip This: Daniel Cohn 2015 Bellacosa Cabernet Sauvignon

Daniel Cohn’s family sold its B.R. Cohn Winery, famed for its cabs and olive oil, a couple of years back, and instead of just counting his cash, Daniel decided it was time to start anew. Enter this flagship of his own brand, Bellacosa, a cabernet sauvignon sourced from vineyards throughout the North Coast appellation.

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Hawai‘i Meets Isla Vista at HiWi

If you feel like you might get reverse-carded upon entering the collegial crazy paradise that is Isla Vista — “Hey, you’re too old for this burg!” — you’re not alone. In fact, that’s how HiWi Tropical Fusion, a new spot on Pardall Road, came to be. “My cousin [Armand Bagramyan] was on the [UC Santa Barbara] soccer team, and we’d all go to games,” explains Nareh Shanazarian, the operating manager. “They’d end at 11 o’clock, but he’d never want to take us to I.V. afterward because he thought it was too rowdy for the family.”

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Belly Up to Barbareno's BBQ

Your nose, if it's a oak smoke loving schnoz, will no doubt lead you down De La Vina on Thursdays and Fridays around lunch time. That's because Barbareño has just started serving up CA BBQ, but it's telling on their menu they don't abbreviate the words. That's because there's never a sense of a shortcut here, and they aren't going to do that for a casual lunch service that stars one of their popular-from-day-one proteins, red oak smoked tri-tip, here in a sandwich slathered with their bright and flavor-popping pico de gallo. (You can order meats/the veggies by weight, if you want to skip the bread, btw--nice move.)

So it works like this: you go and order at the door, then grab a table on their patio lovelier than it has a right to be smack up against De La Vina. You take in more of the good grill smell, and if you ordered a drink, from iced tea to beer, you'll sip a bit anticipating. (I highly recommend the poorly named but deliciously crafted Ice from Modern Times--those San Diegans make magic with everything they brew, including this pilsner that's just hoppy enough but not too. And it only clocks in at 4.8%.)

You can get that tri-tip or a smoked chicken or grilled veggies with a smoked harissa romesco I'm sorry I didn't try today. (Ah, a reason to go again.) (Wait, I didn't need one.) Or you can get the pulled pork you see above, spiced with a cumin rub, laced with bigger than you think they'd be but it works pickled tomatillos. That's a ciabatta roll that's hefty enough to hold all its contents, and that has avocado BBQ sauce keeping it moist and ridiculously flavorful--GM Jesse Gaddy said it took some tries, but in their never-ending quest to bring the avocado, they had to do it. You will get a little cup extra of the sauce and eat some of it on your fork all by itself, hoping to puzzle out its combo of tasty goodness (of course avo so that good fat and creaminess, but then smoke, too, but citrus, but just the haunt of it...). The pork is ridiculously good, with some crispy bits but mostly meltingly tender, and then occasional a bit of pork fat, for that different texture thing. Plus, fat is yummy, let's face it, as long as there's not too much.

For sides you can get their evening menu pinquito beans (and if you haven't had them why not?), a ranch slaw featuring fennel (what shouldn't?), a mustard potato salad, grilled sourdough--their in-house usual--with garlic butter, or a grilled avocado, the hole where its pit sat awash in some of that garlic butter, perhaps.

Your only regret will be the only serve lunch on Thursdays and Fridays.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sip This: Grgich Hills Estate 40th Anniversary Chardonnay Napa Valley 2014

Think of this as delicious history in a bottle: while famed Napa pioneer Mike Grgich started his namesake winery in 1977 — hence this 40th anniversary chardonnay released this year — he also was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena when it won for its chardonnay at the infamous Judgment of Paris tasting that shocked the wine world in 1976 and established California’s reputation.

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Natural History Never Tasted This Good

I've been writing about the Santa Barbara Wine Festival for ten years, long enough for it to officially change its name to the Santa Barbara Food + Wine Festival to recognize you get as much to eat as drink (more on that in a bit). But that decade really is just a grape in the bucket, so to speak, for the festival--put on by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History--is celebrating its 30th Anniversary.

That edition is happening this Saturday under the oaks behind the Museum. So it seemed appropriate to give a quick course in eight reasons you need to go if you care about southern California wine, local food, and your own satisfaction.

1) It was first. Check out that name. You don't get that by jumping in late to the "oh, Santa Barbara wines are cool" game. They've been doing this since 1983 (they missed a couple years)--that's 21 B.S. (Before Sideways). The Museum deserves huge props for supporting the local industry in its youth.

2) Because they were first, they've earned the respect and affection of the founding winemakers of the region. So not only will you get to taste Alma Rosa and Au Bon Climat and Brander and Fiddlehead and Ken Brown and Longoria and Lumen and Qupe, the odds are pretty good the person pouring that wine will be Richard Sanford or Jim Clendenen or Fred Brander or Kathy Joseph or Ken Brown or Richard Longoria or Lane Tanner or Bob Lindquist. You learn stuff here, just by being near. It's not just some well-meaning but unknowing volunteer telling you, "Yes, the chardonnay is a white!"

3) Oaks. They're really fun to stand under. They keep you cool. And there's a creek bed. Rumor has it, there was even water in it this past winter. (That is, there's no more beautiful setting for a wine event.)

4) Food is important at wine festivals, if for nothing else than to give you ballast. But it's way better than that at SBW+FF. A few years back they even had Michael Hutchings do cooking classes--now he just feeds you directly. But he's only one star, and the festival also knows how to keep track of what's latest and greatest. Highlights include Barbareño, Bob's Well Bread, Pico, Loquita, and the just opened and highly lauded Bear and Star. It's the kind of event where the DD's (who, if they pre-register are free entrants with a paying guest) get to have almost as good a time as the tipplers.

5) This year there will be booze. Santa Barbara's own Ian Cutler will serving up tastes of his deliciously distilled wares.

6) It's run, with a keen sense of everything anyone might want or need, by event consigliere (that might not be her official title) Meridith Moore. There's no wiser, more gracious host, and the museum is very lucky to have her.

7) Just as the food has kept up with what's happening, so have the invited wineries. So it's not just a respect for the long-time players, it's the folks with a strong if not as long track record, like Larry Schaffer at tercero (he will have homemade bread for you too, no doubt, the man knows his yeast) and Tablas Creek from Paso bringing its stable of brilliant Rhone wines (have their rosé, you will be hot, it will be refreshing), and Larner Wines (did you hear they've finally got permission to have a tasting room by appointment!). And then there are newer, at least when it comes to their own wines, folks like Dave Potter and the brilliance he makes as Potek (here's hoping he's pouring his Kimsey Syrah), and Graham Tatomer, making Riesling and Gruner safe for southern CA. (Correction, change safe to delicious.)

8) One hundred percent of the net proceeds from the Wine Festival supports nature and science education for adults and children. So you have a great time and are doing something good. If there's ever a time we need more education and more science, it's now.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bacara Blast

While Santa Barbara might like to show off, it still puts its fancy pants on one leg at a time. On June 25, those festive, fantastic trousers are going to be at the Bacara as it celebrates the first anniversary of the remake/remodel of its main restaurant Angel Oak with a party called One Under the Sun. Guests will get to feast on special dishes, enjoy drinks from local wineries and breweries, and take in our coastline from a gorgeous site.

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

All Ginned Up

Despite the lyrical wisdom of Pink Floyd, we do need an education, especially when it’s a Gin Education Dinner. Just ask craft distiller Ian Cutler of Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, who is willing to be our teacher for the evening on June 12. “As opposed to whiskey, when it comes to gin, it’s still a mystery spirit to many people,” Cutler opines. “They often don’t even know what the key flavor is, let alone there are multiple styles.”

So think of the dinner/tasting that Cutler has developed with Phil Wright at Bar 29 as a way to lose your ginnocence, so speak. After a three-course meal paired with cocktails featuring jenever/London dry, Old Tom/barrel-rested, and New Western/sloe gin, you’ll know all about that key ingredient juniper (the taste gin-o-phobes often call Christmas tree), plus a whole bunch of history. Along the way you’ll have eaten a strawberry goat cheese salad, a Wagyu beef slider with bacon onion jam, lemon aioli and garlic fries, and sesame-ginger flat iron steak lettuce wraps with peanut sauce.

Cutler, always for “getting more knowledge out,” has often had a hand in public events, and when recently talking to Wright mentioned he hoped to do a gin dinner. Before he knew it he was pleased to have a partner, for as he says, “They’ve got some classy cocktails at Bar 29.”

Cutler – who currently only makes a New-Western style gin (that is, not just a slap of juniper, but something a bit more floral with some distinct citrus notes) – sums up the evening this way: “I’m just trying to fill that information gap about gin. It also helps me get out in the community, not just to get people to know my products but to know the more global sense of gin.”

4-1-1: Don’t end up under the host at Cutler’s Artisan Spirits Gin Education Dinner, Monday, June 12, 6:30 p.m. at Bar 29, 1134 Chapala St. Tickets are $65 per person, plus service fee (inclusive of tax and gratuity). For tickets and more information

Monday, June 5, 2017

Bitter and Beautiful

First, we just have to get over that there's a thing called Negroni Week, which simply means some cocktails have crazy good press agents. But hey, it's the Negroni, and to do that horrible thing of quoting myself: "If the martini is the little black dress of drinks, the Negroni is a sequined strapless gown — not for everyone, but for those who can pull it off, a sexy stunner. Sticky, sweet, bitter, beautiful, this cocktail traditionally made from gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth beguiles bartenders as it seems so simple, yet suggests so many variations (the drink itself is a twist on the Americano)."

Just tonight to get myself  prepared for writing this post I whipped up a rye variation, as I felt a hankering for dark liquor as opposed to clear (I love gin, but it can make head hurt when it's in a mean mood, and I never know when that mood is--I refuse to see this metaphorically). Let's call tonight's drink The Rye Amar Republic (the Rye-C-Groni?) and it goes like this (for one cocktail): 1.5 oz. rye, 1.5 oz. Amaro Lucano, 1 oz. Carpano Antica Formula. Ice, stir, up in a coupe, lemon peel. It's a lovely Amaro, smoother than many, and the fancier sweet vermouth ups the viscous quotient too--it's easy to imagine the lemon peel might stand straight up in the drink.

Meanwhile Acme Hospitality is having fun with the Negroni all week, so try to check to what they're doing--some money is going to charity, and if you fill out a passport from all 5 locations, you win valuable prizes (complimentary menu goodies). One of those Negronis is a donut (stuffed with campari cream, lathed in lemon juniper glaze, topped with candied lemon zest). I'll see you at Helena Ave. Bakery tomorrow myself. (Oh, and there's also Campari washed in jamon at Loquita. This little piggie went to Negroni....)

Here's the full deal, as you want the details:


The Lark

(Benefits Santa Barbara Humane Society)
6 Negroni cocktails featuring at least one per day, each day of the week

Negroni Jardin - $14
Dolin Genepy des Alpes, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, Suze Dandelion Liqueur, house fennel bitters, fennel frond garnish

The Bitter End - $14
Venus Aquavit, Tempus Fugit Gran Classico, Punt e Mes Vermouth, lemon twist

Florita - $14
Correlejo Reposado Tequila, Campari, Napoleon Mandarin, lemon twist

Negroni Punsch - $14
Kronan Swedish Punsch, Leopold Bro’s Aperitivo, Botanist Gin, Batavia Arrack, lemon twist

Negroni Alexandre - $14
Ventura Spirits Strawberry Brandy, Campari, heavy cream, Crème de Cacao, dollop of house Campari whip, shaved dark chocolate

California Negroni - $14
Cocchi Americano, Maraschino, Aperol, Botanivore Gin, california laurel bay leaf, citrus-poached Bing cherry, Meyer lemon peel


(Benefits Angels Foster Care of Santa Barbara)
serving the Bellota Negroni every day, all week long

Bellota Negroni - $14
Bellota Jamon-washed Campari, Gin Mare, Vermut Rojo, Amontillado sherry

Les Marchands

(Benefits Food from the Heart of Santa Barbara)
serving the Bruto Brazillian every day, all week long

Bruto Brazilian - $14
St. George Bruto Americano, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, Avua Cachaca Amburana

Lucky Penny

(Benefits YStrive for Youth, Inc.)
serving the frozen Gertoni Frogroni every day, all week long

Gertoni Frogroni - $12
watermelon, gin, Carpano Bianco, Lillet rose, peach bitters

Helena Avenue Bakery

(Benefits Heal the Ocean)
serving Negroni Donuts all week long

Negroni Donut - $5
campari cream, lemon juniper glaze, candied lemon zest

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sip This: Good Bar Special Grapefruit IPA

When tasteful, enterprising people get together, especially over a few drinks, expect good things to happen, like this collaborative effort between M.Special Brewing Company and The Goodland in Goleta. While far from the first or most famous grapefruit IPA (here’s toasting to you, Ballast Point), it’s hard to deny how well citrusy hops and citrusy citrus play together, and the grapefruit is strong in this IPA — timed perfectly as the weather warms up. It was as if they were thinking you should drink it around The Goodland’s pool.

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

No Miss Steak

Here's the danger about waiting six weeks to write about a dinner at a place that really truly is seasonal (yeah, yeah, everyone is seasonal now, which is why people are serving tomatoes like it's summer already)--going through PYT's current menu, only two things we had back in April are still on the menu and one is our dessert. So that's going to make this write-up a bit more impressionistic and less specific, but no less praise-full. For what Josef Centeno is doing at PYT (which might stand for Pretty Young Turnip), the mostly vegetarian restaurant he's carved out of the charming old school, mosaic-tiled Ledlow space downtown, is a delight. It's the kind of place you want to bring those who don't think vegetarian food is compelling; they will leave feeling both full, and very differently about the essential need for animal protein on a plate.

 OK, so that's a salad. The "greens' in this case are bok choy, grilled a bit, but then you can see how much other flavor joins them, from sultanas to what was called a snow of cheese. Fresh herbs. So much life in one dish. But with the bit of cooking on the bok choy, just enough sense of the seasons changing, too, spring warming out of winter.

 This plate might be even harder to read as a photo, but it's favas seriously seasoned and aside feta and dill and bread to scoop it all up, a sort of nod to hummus that's not so much deconstructed as un-constructed, so heartier, each element announcing itself to you as you ate it. You would be a fool not to welcome it back.
Then this, called morels and ramps. We sort of had to get it, given how you can't really buy either as just ingredients in Santa Barbara (why are we such a touch town in which to find interesting mushrooms?). If I recall correctly, there's sesame seed in there--he seems to like to dribble some seeds atop things to bring flavors together--and again, this truly sang spring.

 And those seeds are back for the hand-torn pasta, an exercise in the joys of texture. There's nothing quite like the pull-chew of "live" pasta, and this dish had that down. Centeno also finds wonderfully complementary matches from across the Pacific rim to make unusual, memorable flavors--here it's shisito peppers giving the cream a bit of zip, but then there's yuzu, and cilantro, and brown butter, and mint. Bright, brighter, brightest. Talk about figuring out how to make pasta seem not in the least bit a heavy dish.
That's dessert--peanut pudding, whipped cream, salty caramel. Perhaps the one less pleasing dish of the night, but then again, it didn't have any veggies. (Plus it could have more salty caramel, because what couldn't.)

Still, we'd go back in a sec to see what's the best stuff just fresh from the fields meant to taste even more like its own loveliness.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bar 29 Woos Evening Drinkers

So what do you do for a sequel when you own two of the best beloved dive bars in town? Go a bit upscale. That’s the latest move for Phil and Kourtney Wright, who have owned The Sportsman (hey, Nerf Herder has immortalized it!) and Whiskey Richards and have now opened Bar 29 & Kitchen in the old Hungry Cat space.

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sushi Gets Along Swimmingly with Star Lane

If you're like me, dear reader, when it's 4 o'clock you have this struggle--what in the world do I want for dinner? And when you figure it out, at 4:30, you're all proud of yourself. You have a plan.

Let me introduce you to the world of the Dierbergs, the family behind Dierberg Star Lane. They've got a 250 year plan.

Now, we could all feel embarrassed about our lack of future thought, or we could have a glass of one of the many fine Dierberg/Star Lane wines and contemplate the future in a more pleasant place. I vote for that plan, and would do so for 250 years, if I only could.

The Dierbergs have managed to buy some of the most wonderful wine-growing property Santa Barbara County has to offer, from the Dierberg Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley to the Drum Canyon Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills to the Star Lane Vineyard in Happy Canyon. Add those three prime locations up and even someone with no wine knowledge could stumble upon some good pinot, chard, sauv blanc, and cab. But, of course, you don't kick off a 250 year plan with a someone as your winemaker.

Nope, the Dierbergs hired Tyler Thomas, stealing him from the more famous wine counties up north, which shows a certain sense of commitment. Thomas has one of those stories--French grandmother, wine at the table, college years studying botany and getting into cooking. Then, after marrying young, he and his wife traveled the world, only to land in New Zealand and discover winemakers. It seemed like a cool career.

Fast forward through a Master's from Davis (viticulture and enology) and an ornery mentor, Mark Matthews, author of Terroir, and Other Myths of Winegrowing, with whom he didn't always see eye-to-eye, and that feisty back-and-forth made him a better winemaker. For as Thomas puts it, "In wine school, you tend to learn how to do stuff to wine, and that's not always good."

He got practice learning not to do too much at Hyde de Villaine in Napa and Donelan in Sonoma, but the Dierbergs came wooing, and once he saw the properties, and heard of their desire for a long-range plan, he couldn't say no. So now they get to do things like plant all sorts of clones to see which grow best ("it takes 25 years to see what clones work on your site"), and to experiment with stem inclusion (he's a fan, in moderation), and to age in oak vs. maloactic fermentation to find what creates more "body," and to see what different barrels can do, and to grow grapes at different elevations (thank you, rising Happy Canyon topography), you name it.  If there's a best way to make a wine, Thomas and his team will find it.

In addition to the magnificent sites to grow the grapes in the first place, and that they've even got 15 acres of own-rooted vines in Happy Canyon (did I mention they have 40% of the planted acreage in that Bordeaux-blessed area?) since it's protected enough from phylloxera (plus they have to water less, and the flavor profiles seem more classic, with richer textures), they've got a half acre of caves to age the wines in perfect conditions. There's something nearly religious about a place like this, as if you can feel the growth and change about you amidst the silence of the barrels.

They're also after perfect pairings, so let a bunch of us heathens, uh, journalists, in for a tasting with Chef Kiminari Togawa from Sushi Karaku in Tokyo. Alas, I have not been to Japan, so don't know the culinary highlights, but a family came from Japan to this event as they like Togawa so. That's dedication. (Here I go with my limited knowledge, but they sort of looked like a couple from Tampopo.)

The point was to prove you can have red wine with fish. It helps that Togawa does Edomae sushi, the older version that has been pushed aside by what we now know of as sushi (but that's only 50 years or so old). That means fish that's pickled, marinated, even sometimes slightly quickly cooked, yet still sushi. You don't dip this into soy and wasabi, as it's got all its proper flavor pre-packed, as it were. It looks like simple nigiri, but my god, do those flavors last and last--one way it certainly works with red wine, as it finished as fine and long as a delicious cabernet.

Take the pickled red maduro (tuna red meat) in soy alongside the chu-toro (fatty tuna) sprinkled with wine salt (photo above). The maduro glistens for a reason, hinting at its richness. It almost had red beets depth, and sure enough their handy flavor profile matching chart nailed the fish's iodine and iron core. Then the wine salt on the chu-toro excellently bridged sea and grape in one tasty bite. These two paired so well with the pinots, one from Santa Maria--the 2014 Dierberg Vineyard--and the other from Sta. Rita Hills--the 2014 Drum Canyon. Guess which one had more salt air, to match? You see how this can be, done, don't you.

Of course, there was even more, brilliant non-sushi bites between the courses, like a king crab mille feuille that had no pastry, but lots of crab, plus bonus salmon because why not, and then that rich zip of spinach for both color contrast and earthiness.

Or this modestly named oil marinated salmon with tomato water, that somehow left out the salmon roe atop that gave the dish a crazy series of bright bursts.

So does sushi go with red wine? You bet. And I'm pretty sure it would even not in a stone cellar setting, made by a chef flown in from Tokyo for the event, with wine poured from a producer with a 250 year plan. (How did I not get to the mirin marinated conger eel and the 2011 Star Lane "Astral"? Was it because I gave up on notes and was reduced to grunting with pleasure?)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sip This: Bluecoat Gin

If you’ve been looking for a way in to gin but don’t appreciate the fresh smack of pine many can provide, Bluecoat could be the spirit for you. Of course, its main botanical is juniper — it is a gin, after all — but Philadelphia Distilling has opted to go for a less piney juniper berry....

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Paso Robles Gets Posh

Allegretto Vineyard Resort in Paso Robles is one of those places that packs a lot of surprises upon your arrival. It's really only a hearty stone's throw from the 101/46 interchange (assuming an NFL quarterback is throwing the stone), but is more removed from its busy nearby world than you might imagine. Part of that is the building turns inwards on a magnificent courtyard named, not immodestly but not inaccurately, either, the Piazza Magica. Inside it, or from one of the rooms that have little porches onto it, it's easy to imagine you're in Italy or Spain, statues, stone, already mature plantings. Even better, they wisely didn't put the pool in the courtyard, making it more private in its location behind the hotel on a rise ringed by green, and thereby saving all the guests the happy, if often over gregarious, joy that is a pool in use. (One word: kids.)

Throughout the public areas, expect so much art, from some many different regions and eras, that you might feel a bit overwhelmed (they even hope to offer art tours of the resort soon). At times it seems too inspired by nearby Hearst Castle. So, yes, it's a tad over the top, but that's why we go to resorts and note just mere hotels, no? This is the first resort the Ayres chain has opted to do, and Paso of all places could use it as its wine country grows in number and acclaim. Think rooms with ridiculously high ceiling space (14 feet? more?), very fine linen, lovely wood floors. Walls built to keep the others staying there out, even the slightest whispery hint of them.

It's worth a walk of the grounds, too, especially if you're interested in bocce--there are two courts--or simply the glory of light in a serene place--the Abbaye de Lerins (their names are a bit precious) is no less gorgeous despite that name, as the day's light plays through its stained glass, making magic on the walls opposite. Best of all, you can have it to yourself often for some moments of quiet contemplation.

If you'd rather contemplate grapes, that Vineyard part isn't just for show in the resort's name. The tasting room just off the lobby offers the Allegretto line, from grapes on this property even (it's 20 acres total) and some in the famed Willow Creek district. They even do a Tannat, which wins them wine geek points.

That rustic Tannat is a particularly fine pair with the luscious lamb I got to enjoy at Cello, the farm-to-table focused restaurant on site that's whipping up some impressive dinners. Perfectly cooked and well crusted with herbs, it was a carnivore's delight. Not that the pescatarian won't feast, too, what with a ridiculously rich crab pasta featuring snow crab claws, jalapeno, and Allegretto Viognier butter. (There are even raw vegan zucchini noodles--the place aims to please eaters of all sorts.) Whatever your desire, expect there to be some wine cooked into the meal somehow, which seems more than fitting.

Don't pass on the cocktails, either, complex creations like a then seasonal (it's taken me awhile to write this!) Campfire that begins with the bartender setting a mini-slab of applewood afire and corralling the smoke into your cocktail glass. To that he will add Whistlepig Rye (nice brand call), Averna (way to be on the Amaro bandwagon), plus a housemade vanilla and chai tincture, heavy on the chai. It was something.

As is the whole Allegretto experience. I can only imagine how wonderful it will be once it has some ghosts in it, as it's the kind of place that deserves a happy haunting.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Little Something for Jonathan Demme

I'm still processing Jonathan Demme's death, as he seemed someone so alive, always working, exploring, changing, growing. So in the meantime I dug out this, the essay I did on Something Wild as part of my MA/W nonfiction prose thesis way back in 1988.


            At a recent screening of The Manchurian Candidate, my friends and I were horrified when, at the film’s conclusion, one audience member said, “Gee, that was a well-made film for 1962.” He might as well have said, “Boy, Ulysses was well-written for 1922,” that’s how indignantly angry we became. Having a few weeks to calm down, I now don’t blame the man at all; he had simply, baldly put what is all too much truth--films, even when considered historically, are misread by false codes: say, history as continuous progress. People are all too content to let Hollywood be a dream factory that has no connection to social, political, or economic events in the world. The classic case in point is Oliver!, the big budget, mushy musical of Dickens that won the Best Picture Oscar in 1969. It’s clear what side of the barricades Hollywood felt itself on.
            Film critics of all sorts can’t be excused from this myopia. The infamous Gene Siskel can mildly like Rambo III because, in his words, “It accomplishes what it sets out to do.” Questioning what it sets out to do is beyond his 19 inch mind. Beating up on television critics is about as easy as dismissing tv evangelists--they themselves become the product, while films and God just give them something to talk about. Serious critics have also painted themselves into corners by focusing on two prevalent critical approaches--the auteur theory and genre theory.  The danger is filmmakers, too, approach their art from these angles. It’s fine to want to make a Western in 1990. But it doesn’t mean what making a Western meant in 1956 or 1969--the difference between, say, The Searchers and Once Upon a Time in the West.  John Ford made a fine film by using the image of John Wayne to question our notions of the “real man pioneer”; Sergio Leone made a fine film by turning all the 1950s Western clichés on their ears, and by questioning our very need to mythologize a violent period of colonialism--it’s Henry “Tom Joad” Fonda who is his cold-blooded killer, after all.
            Another genre periodically dusted off is the screwball comedy. The classic update example is What’s Up Doc?, Peter Bogdanovich’s mildly entertaining remake of Bringing Up Baby. Yet what Doc? lacks, not to mention stars as great as Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn (substituting them with Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand is like asking Bret Easton Ellis to rewrite Absalom! Absalom!), is a historical sense. The silly gamboling of the rich had much more of a place in a Depression-mired 1938, just as Hepburn’s dangerous, since reckless, sexuality had more of a place as a threat to the (to shift decade-jargon) unliberated Grant. Instead of ending with Hepburn dangling from Grant in a desperate love-clutch, a pile of prehistoric bones jumbled beneath them, Ryan can only end by debunking his earlier tear-jerker Love Story, thereby denigrating his own work and the people manipulated by it.
            Jonathan Demme attempts to do the screwball comedy genre right with Something Wild. All the usual markers are in place, even if the place is transposed to a very hip 1980s Lower Manhattan.  Charlie, a straight-as-an-arrow businessman, still gets bored with his life, and for a bit of a thrill, runs out on his lunch bills every now and then. We see him at a now, his eyes darting about the coffee shop filled with exotics. He’s out the door but a few steps when a woman stops him. She’s dressed in hip black, covered with multicolored necklaces and bracelets, topped with a Louise Brooks-do. After some gibing, it turns out she simply saw through his little game. She offers him a ride, and his initial attraction gets the best of him.  Before he knows it, they’re in the Holland Tunnel, Jersey bound.
            Charlie, uncomfortably, goes along with the game, particularly after Lulu slops a messy kiss on him; it’s as if her character, along with her lipstick, sticks to Charlie. Of all things, he plunks down his Christmas Club funds for a motel room, where Lulu continues to surprise, handcuffing him to the bed and ripping off his shirt, then hers. All of Charlie’s world disappears, his world of work and plans and preparation. Before sex, Lulu pours out the contents of her voluminous bag: a robot-shaped cassette deck playing reggae music, a witch doctor rattle she shakes over him while forcing a little, “Woo-oo.” She does call up something, a wildness their games cannot touch, for they are privileged to have games: Charlie really can duck out of the office on motel room at a moment’s notice, not that he ever has before.
            Meanwhile, the film is filled with people who have little room to act.  In almost every other scene we see African-Americans, not just an oddity because of Hollywood’s generally white casting. Instead, Demme goes out of his way to make us confront a culture the characters in the movie seem ignorant of. The film also moves to black music; the soundtrack is dominated with songs by Jimmy Cliff, Celia Cruz, UB40; Charlie stops at a gas station where a group of blacks perform an impromptu rap, bouncing about spider-like; and the film ends with Sister Carol, playing the waitress Charlie originally dashed from in the opening (it’s her bill he cannot pay), singing her own version of “Wild Thing” next to the credits. The end suggests that no matter how grungy the Troggs may have been, black music will finally reclaim itself--rock will escape not just the Pat Boones and Julee Cruises, but also the Elvis Presleys.
            The end also suggests that music may be the only escape for the under-privileged. They don’t have the luxury a Lulu or Charlie (or a Grant or Hepburn) has, for just surviving is enough of a worry. Demme lets Something Wild show the shoulders a screwball comedy must stand on.
            Many viewers complain about the film’s severe swing from lighthearted comedy to suddenly serious revenge-play, complete with very graphic and gruesome violence. Yet the movie has no choice. Its interest is to have the screwball genre while debunking it, to devour from within. While the characters never consciously associate the world they dominate to the suffering they cause, they do learn the danger of game-playing, of the great freedoms they possess. Things take a dark turn with the introduction of Ray at Lulu’s (now Audrey--and peroxide blonde and sweet after a visit with her mom) high school reunion. Ray, too, has a role--he’s a rebel with a cause, a smalltime hood fed on dreams of one big score, of the one girl with a slightly black heart who will love you just the same, maybe all the more. We discover Ray and Audrey are married.
            Ray does more than slip out on a bill, he knocks over a convenience store with Charlie and Audrey in tow. But first he talks Charlie into giving a speech to the store’s video protection system; it’s Charlie’s play-acting image (he’s mid-sentence about his recent promotion) that Ray shoots out when he fires into the screen Charlie plays to. It’s the first sign the performing we all do might be dangerous: Ray’s act does Charlie’s in; Ray even gets to cap the hold-up in high hood style, with Demme’s help--he grabs the pack of cigarettes he initially asked for from the counter and gracefully flips them in the air, a move Demme slows down and thereby turns to pure style.
            Charlie and Ray finally have it out in Charlie’s home in suburban Long Island. The climactic battle occurs in the bathroom--stunningly white--a veritable temple to colorlessness, the void, particularly in light of what bathrooms are for. A busted pipe sprays, the two white men battle on a white floor between white walls, the fluorescent lighting brightening their t-shirts to a glow. It’s ugly violence--something entirely separate from acting, from the complementary illusions both have chased--steel-toed boots and handcuffs as garrotes. Finally, Ray’s knife flashes, the two share some embrace, lifting up as if eager to leave the ground, the knife drops. Both seem dead, the only sound the knife clattering on the tile. Ray walks over, stares into the mirror, runs a bloody hand through his hair--it’s not what he should see. The image, the game, has gone wrong.
            It’s the danger of letting play become more, become life, and necessarily death. He dies in a moment of cool--he might be Belmondo in Breathless--but he’s just as dead. He’s learned what it’s like to have only life and death choices, which sounds dramatic, but isn’t if you’re hungry, or homeless, or unemployed.
            It’s telling how in a film filled with cameos by the famous, Demme wisely chooses their roles. John Waters, king of sleazo movies, plays a used car salesman; John Sayles, king of moral, problem pictures, plays a motorcycle cop. Then there’s also Steve Scales, a percussionist most famous for his work with Talking Heads. Scales works at a highway rest area’s gift shop. Scales is black, and busy at his minimum wage work, selling Charlie tons of “Virginia Is For Lovers” goods and telling him how wonderful it all looks on him. It’s the longest cameo--Demme’s way of balancing the scales (no pun intended)--but it’s also the most menial, a perfect emblem for the screwball comedy world. It’s a genre that disregards any race but the white, for it disregards anyone without money, anyone without freedom to pretend.
            The high school reunion slyly reinforces the point. The theme is “Spirit of ‘76,” and the bunting is appropriately red, white, and blue. The tacky band is played by the Feelies, looking as bored and as uncomfortable as they do when performing as themselves. They play only covers, the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” and David Bowie’s “Fame,” which is fitting in this film of trying on others’ roles. These songs say volumes about the Spirit of ‘76, the spirit of America that insists any person can do anything; that any actor can become the president if he has enough self-impetus. It’s the hopeful spirit that damns America from ever becoming truly equal. The Monkees, created from nothing, were tv darlings made stars by our desire for stars; like rock and roll Tinkerbells, they grew on applause. By becoming what they had to they proved exactly how easy role-playing is, and how we must be careful not to take our roles too seriously. The same is true for Bowie, who has developed so many Bowies to be that he only has to change his clothes and hair--from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke--and he’s new again. Fame, and any form of personality, is something willed, as it were. For those with room to be willful.
            Up to this essay I’ve remained critical of Demme’s ending, in which, after much running about, Charlie finally runs into Audrey again, and the world seems righted. But now I feel differently, because of that huge seems. Leaving the theater, I don’t remember their reunion, can’t even recall if we last see them kiss. But I do remember Sister Carol, full of life and what they’ve left behind. They’ve still ignored her world; Audrey even has a classic car, gotten from who knows where, to drive off in.
            Then there’s Ray, the casualty of the film for he plays the wrong role. In the 1930s he’d merely be Ralph Bellamy, and only lose the girl, usually gracefully, sometimes pathetically. In the 1980s the genre has to show more, has to tell on itself.  Where else could we last see him, but at the mirror, attending to his own show, puzzled beyond words, running the blood on his hand up through his hair, staring and waiting, waiting for a change.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Fun Funding the Foodbank

Alas, we’re in an age when it seems we need to donate to everything, as so much seems at risk — women’s rights, the air we breathe, the arts, bear cubs in their den … So it’s great to see that the Foodbank continues a wonderful way to raise some funds with the Fork & Cork Classic, celebrating what’s good to eat and drink in Santa Barbara. This year’s event happens Sunday, May 7, at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort.

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

An Easter Poem

Sirecz Song

In my mind there was a “d” in it
but that might be because it
dangled just like that
from a dowel stick as its whey
dripped dry.

Easter might have meant
resurrection, but in the basement
it was about farmer’s cheese,
part of the Sunday feast after
a fasting since Friday.

My mom would hang it there
and tell me to keep away,
but still I’d never
resist a poke or two
at its settling goo.

Something about Slovaks
always takes the delicious
and dials it down,
as if there’s danger
in that much pleasure.

So imagine milky scrambled eggs
hung to dry. That’s sirecz,
looking like a bland brain
sliced for Easter autopsy.

I’d risk trying to stomach
it again to have my mom
and Baba back, full knowing
the first thing they’d do
is chastise me for the faces
I’d make trying to get it down.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Barbareño Hires New Head Chef Justin Snyder

Chef Justin Snyder’s very tatted arms delicately place down a black bowl with what looks like an exquisite sea creature. But it’s not from the sea at all; it’s a mound of Wagyu tri-tip tartare, with translucent crisps of crostini set in it like fins, sprinkled with delicate sorrel and red mustard greens. His secret, very local ingredient is Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. That, along with his house-made Sriracha sauce, gives the dish length and lift, so the deep beef deliciousness lingers as long as a classic cabernet. “Santa Barbara has such a rich history of food. It’s waiting to boom; it’s going to pop,” he exclaims. “Here I get to have fun and open up my creativity.”

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sip This: Lustau Vermut

Just introduced from Spain to U.S. markets, this isn’t your father’s red vermouth. Those usually begin with a base of neutral grape wine. This product, coming from a longtime winemaking family in the Jerez region, begins with sherry: both an Amontillado (drier) and a Pedro Ximénez (sweeter). That creates a vermut that’s as deep in flavor as it is fun to say. 

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Wide Wide World of Pinot and More

(photo credit: Jeremy Ball)

There's no such thing as a World of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara without the two gentlemen in the photo above, so let's start with them, which is pretty much what I did Friday at WOPN since there they were as I entered the ballroom at the Bacara. How can you not want to visit Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini from Hitching Post? Yeah, Yeah, movie, blah blah blah. We're talking guys who make killer juice and seem to enjoy it more than practically anyone and therefore you better too. They were kindly pairing up 2007s and 2014s of Julia's, Highliner, and Bien Nacido, and what we quickly learned was SB pinot does age well (we learned this again when Rick Longoria poured his 2013 and 2008 Fe Ciega).

OK, so the danger with any review of a WOPN weekend is diving so quickly into the details you forget the broad strokes, plus, simply put, so much great wine! I'm not going to write about every luscious swirl and sip, and frankly I admitted early on Friday in my notes "you're going to run out of adjectives for lovely, George," and late on Friday I wrote, after inhaling deep on a Brewer-Clifton 2008 Sta. Rita Hills, "I want to smell like this--everyone would love me!" That was Friday. I was back Saturday too, and at that point was reduced to pleasured grunting, practically.

One important thing to stress first: if you didn't realize it, we live in a golden age of pinot noir. First, cause people know what they're doing with it now, even in California where we've only had decades and not centuries like those lucky French to practice. But you can even get fascinating stuff from Spain (try Alta Pavina) or Austria (Weingut Wieninger). Second, because the world is one big market until someone messes that up (no tariffs, please). Third, who knows where our climate goes in a world where the EPA is run by someone who doesn't believe in the EPA? (I'm looking forward to that first atheist pope.)
 This year's WOPN was also a stunning showcase for what people are doing with the fruit from Gap's Crown on the Sonoma Coast. Expression, Guarachi, Lutum, Ram's Gate, Black Kite, Saxon Brown--the brilliant wines just kept coming from this spot that hits some magic warm enough yet sea-breeze-cooled calculus. It's never really cheap but it's always luscious.

Then there's these lessons, too--perhaps we're supposed to be looking at chardonnay from Santa Barbara anyway. The folks who were semi-sneaking pours of it delighted (well, Sonoma's Hirsch did too), and part of that was just the break from more cherry and berry; think of the chard as palate cleanser, if better than any sorbet. But winemaker Matt Dees from The Hilt insisted, "The chardonnay is so much better," and he could be right. 

Or it could be all the wine is better in so many fine hands, from old-timers like Lane Tanner, pouring a 1991 Lane Tanner pinot that still held some fruit and fascinating graphite, to Square Peg, dryfarming pinot in Sonoma in the middle of a zinfandel vineyard. Because then there's even something like Dolin's non-WOPN pour, The Blue Note, a Bordeaux blend...from the hills above Malibu. Like I said, it's a wonderful, unbelievable world.

Friday, March 3, 2017

In the Kitchen with Laurie Zalk

Laurie Zalk, the former longtime owner of Our Daily Bread and a brave, brave soul, has her work cut out for her. She’s leading a group of six middle-aged guys in an afternoon she’s billed Men Only: There’s Nothing to Eat in the Fridge.

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ernest's The Artist Pinot Noir

From a very young vineyard (planted in 2012) in the Green Valley of the Russian River Valley, this pinot noir is surprisingly evolved and sophisticated — not hinting at any immaturity. Lovely and fetching, it leads with floral notes of dusty rose echoed in the body along with dried cherry/cranberry fruit. Aging it in 40 percent new French oak for 10 months adds more to the silky texture than the flavor. Pop it with something such as salmon with green harissa and you’ll have a fine evening.

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

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pinot, Pi-yes!

Not one for alternative truths from the get go (I just called it BS in those simpler days),  I have to admit I bridle a bit at anything billing itself The World of anything. It's a big place, you know, the world. Pretty hard to encompass. Mighty ambitious of you.

But then there's the World of Pinot Noir, about to hold its 17th annual event at Bacara Resort & Spa March 3 and 4. It might not capture the whole world - there's probably some pinot growing in Slovenia or some place that doesn't make it past Ptuj - but it also gives you a chance to taste more of the world of pinot than you can get in a couple short days. Especially if you're fond of California pinot noir, as that tends to be the majority of pours. (Not to say I haven't had fine ones at previous iteration of the event from places as odd as the Finger Lakes, NY or Austria.)

And while the photo I led with is from one of the seminars a couple of years back, I want to spend this post discussing how best to navigate the two major tastings as opposed to attending the special events, which I'll get to next week. After all, I figure someone with a budding interest and more than a budding wallet (you sort of need one in full bloom, as tasting tickets start at $85), would want to taste up more than sit and learn. But at 100 wineries a day with 2-4 wines open each, you have to be selective or else you'll end up discovering a word 100x stronger than regret.

Decision 1: wide or deep?

Sure, you can just stumble around from table to table without a plan, and you will still have wonderful wines - it's pinot noir, after all. Or, you can opt for a theme. It's probably easiest to focus, to go with a region - hunt out only the Mendocino/Anderson Valley producers, since you like rose-leaning pinot, say - or if you're from Santa Barbara, stick close to home. (Even though you might choose to specialize and taste only Sta. Rita Hills or Santa Maria Valley.) Or maybe do only the roses, as producers at this event often bring their roses of pinot noir as spring is just around the corner, if that corner is wetter than it's been in years. Luckily the WOPN website let's you sort wineries by location, so you can be all set.

Or, go deep, and try some comparison shopping - perhaps a Sta. Rita Hills vs. Santa Maria Valley taste-off. Some wineries can help by having wines from both locations, even.

Decision 2: what you know or what you don't?

It's also good to decide how adventurous you feel. There's nothing wrong that visiting all your old favorites for on Friday, for instance, that could mean Alma Rosa, Brewer Clifton, Dragonette, and that's just the ABCD and we haven't got into SLO County, even. Or, you could only drink wines you've never drunk before, and you will be able to do that, too. Remember, 100 producers a day.

Part of me wanted to make recs, but there are too many good winemakers at this event. Just enjoy! And be sure to eat some food and drink water, too. Hydration today will be less headache tomorrow.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Club at UCSB Suits the Times

The Club doesn’t serve a club sandwich ​— ​the atavistic, multi-bread-layered favorite of our forefathers ​— ​and that’s a huge hint about what’s up at UCSB’s recently renovated on-campus restaurant/hotel/conference facility.

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

Friday, January 27, 2017

Wine + Food = Two Times Good

What's in a name? Well, if it's both wine and food, that's twice as good, no?

That's what the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum figured, so to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the longest running feast in Santa Barbara County it officially changed the name of the Santa Barbara Wine Festival to the Santa Barbara Food + Wine Festival.

In the photo above you see Meredith Moore, the extraordinary organizer of this fete, showing off the new logo. The name isn't just branding bluster but the lord's honest truth, for no wine festival has as much or as good food as this one, which makes sense since SB has so much fine food to offer. But Moore has always also worked to get food booths close to wines that could suggest spot-on pairings, and her hope for the 2017 edition is to have a food vendor alongside each winery, 50 for 50.That's a perfect score in more ways than one.

Here's some history of my coverage of the Festival in past years, when you had to suffer with only 20 or 30 food booths (of course, you might have got on the line at Chef Michael Hutchings or Renaud's or Ca Dario more than once, but I won't tell).

Away from State Street for Solstice

A Festival from the Winery's Perspective

Under the Oaks

A Museum-Quality Wine Festival

And, in a moment of prescience, we gave the festival a Santa Barbara Independent Foodie Award back in 2012.

So you might want to take advantage of the deal they've got cooking right now:
Member Price: $75, Non-member Price: $100
*LIMITED TIME OFFER* Use promo code "wineandfood" to receive Member pricing on general admission. Hurry – this offer expires on Sunday, 1/29/17, at 10:00 PM! Tickets on sale here.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sip This: Dulce Vida Grapefruit

Flavored tequila might seem a superfluous notion, like gilding a lily or bronzing an orchid. But if you don’t have the time to pour and shake, there’s Dulce Vida. (They’ve got a lime version in addition to the grapefruit.) They infuse with real flavors, so you definitely get your Paloma on as soon as you open the bottle. Just pour over ice, and add club soda depending on how many you will consume.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Marco Fossati Finds Focus at Four Seasons The Biltmore

Talking with Marco Fossati — executive chef at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore since May — is a thrill, as he tosses out ideas, words, and even his hands in a wonderful expression of creativity and passion. That energy is already transforming what’s happening with the food at the hotel, as he leads his team of 82 cooks and seven chefs so that room-service breakfast is as fabulous as the most spectacular wedding feast.

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

Sip This: d'Aristi Xtabentun

If you want something unusual, exotic, sweet, and lovely, this liqueur is worth your attention. Its history goes back to the Mayans, and then the Spaniards whipped a bit of anisette into the mix, a rare time that imperialists actually added something of value. That flavor base gets mixed with rum, and the result is Xtabentún (pronounced shtab-en-TOON, or just point at the elaborately decorated yellow label).

If you want to read the rest do so at the Independent's site.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sip This: Ciù Ciù Bacchus Piceno

Explore outside the better-known regions of Italy and you can find some pleasing values, such as this red blend from Marche (on the Adriatic Coast) made of 50 percent sangiovese and 50 percent montepulciano — that’s the grape, not the village in Tuscany, which makes a red wine from sangio, actually. It does get confusing.

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

You Need a Visit to Loquita

Smoke. A scent, a flavor, a memory. Something calling us home to a home we never had (I'm assuming I have no cave-dwelling readers). Or, perhaps we've evolved into homo ignis in a hope to return to the fire (plus of late it's been really hard to buy we've earned the sapiens, but that's a different kettle of Trump).

Take that first paragraph as a slow burn to the topic of this post--Loquita, the latest restaurant opened by Acme Hospitality, who have already graced Santa Barbara with the likes of The Lark, Les Marchands, Lucky Penny, and Helena Avenue Bakery (surely sad its name also doesn't begin with a "L"). When you walk in you can't not sense the wood-fire that's the heart of the open kitchen, waiting to make your dinner smokily luscious. And we're not talking a pizza oven, but an out-and-out grill, early in the evening's service crammed with halved lemons, their citrus crisping.

For Loquita, taking its cuisine cues from Spain, does things simply, but that word can seem so diminishing. Here it means get to delicious with the fewest amount of flourishes. Much of that is topnotch ingredients--Spain was farm-to-table before we invented hyphens. But it's also not being afraid of flavor; acids are everywhere, bright and beautiful, coming from those grilled lemons, from sherry vinegar, from the salted, preserved sea (ah, white anchovy, bait turned delicacy).

As an eating strategy you're meant to share, so pick several pintxos with your cocktails--and do have cocktails, from the currently in fashion Spanish G&Ts, which means craft gin and celery bitters and peppercorns in one option, say, to the mixed drinks, like one rooted in mezcal (more smoke) and amaro--and then a bunch of tapas, and close with a shared paella. Bring lots of friends, as it's supposed to be social, shared food a currency, a language, a love we can then all have on our tongues. (I don't mean to wax poetic, but those cocktails....)

Don't skip something like a salad, especially as it goes by Hinojo, and that means fennel. Someone plays a mean mandolin in the kitchen, it's shaved so fine, as is apple, so much crunch and vivid flavor. But there's more, if only a bit--radicchio for yet more bite, this shading to pepper. Then some walnuts, not so much candied as once neighbors to something candied--it's hard to believe they could be sweetened so delicately. The dressing is a quick coat of honey mustard vin, all written very lower case, and think how hard that is as you remember every other heavy-handed honey mustard dressing of your life. The last perfect touch, Manchego, Spain's national cheese (if it isn't officially I'm naming it that), but in little blocks, distinctly declaring their fatty cheesiness amidst the rest of the pure, insisting, "Sure, this is a salad, that's healthy, but c'mon! you're out to dinner!"

And please, for the sake of all that's holy and swims in the sea, don't skip Pescado. This is one of the best fish dishes I've had in years, and if you thought the salad was simple.... Mediterranean sea bream, aka dorade, is the star, a perfect filet with crispy skin and all of the ocean in each tasty bite. But under that there are also excellently executed gigante beans, skins solid, interiors creamy. Atop some frisee,  not just the visual curlicue the plate needs but again that pepper and zip, the latter echoed in the lemon no doubt squeezed from more of those wood-roasted fruit. Get a bit of everything in one bite and you might be in Barcelona. (Oh, I haven't meant to ignore the great remodel of the space Loquita's in--I said it was an Acme project, so you know it's going to be designed elegantly. Try to get a seat at the "chef's table" bar right along the kitchen, so you can watch everything else you won't be able to eat get prepared, too.)

I don't mean to pooh-pooh the paella, which was lovely, especially the lowest rice level done to delicious diamonds (ok, eating diamonds would hurt, but you know what I mean). But Pescado! I dream of Pescado! Even with the paella, the vegetarian paella--that's how tough we were on the kitchen, not letting them easily please us with meat or mariscos--a roasted delight, thanks to the wild mushrooms, the Brussel sprouts (what better use of them than on something blasted by an oven for heat), the eggplant melting into unctuous ghosts of itself--I still want to swim with Pescado.

And that didn't stop us from churros, because what do you take us for, penitents?