Monday, September 11, 2017

Bullish on the Bear and Star

It takes courage to serve your charred shallot-coated filet on a black plate, or maybe it's secretly slimming--that's a big lovely hunk o' beef. But you're celebrating California if you're at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn's Bear and Star, and the Golden State is all about two things: how about our heritage/how quick can we get to the future? Turns out you do both if you eat at a Chef's Table Dinner at Bear and Star. (Oh, and notice, no +, no &. See, tradition.)

On Labor Day we got to enjoy their roll out of what's going to become a regular chef's dinner, and if the debut is a true predictor, these events are going to become some of Santa Barbara's must-book culinary events. The evening opened with a nearly furious blizzard of so-called "snacks," including a dry-farmed tomato gazpacho I could have made a meal of (lovely shooter, though) and a sea cucumber chicharrone--that's lightly pickled, fried, and sure, a bit of a challenge food. The future is calling.

There were six courses to come, and for your sake and mine I won't run through each one, although no doubt each deserves its own mini-essay as the thought and technique on each is attention-worthy. The Bear and Star's chef John Cox teamed with guest chef (also from Monterey-wards--they've got some food culture happening there, I guess, or did, since all these fine people are cooking down SB-way now) Jeff Weiss, author of Charcurtería: The Soul of Spain, which makes sense as the theme for the evening was Spanish influence. All the wines, besides the Fesstivity bubbly to kick off and the Qupe 2006 Grenache, showing incredibly well with the beef, were from Spain, too.

That's Spain via the Parker Ranch and The Bear and Star Farm, where the majority of the  meats, fowl and produce came from. So think global, pick local. I have to admit I'm not sure of the provenance of the foie gras, lovingly hidden amidst some summer-perfect stone fruit and under a lozenge of honey meringue, about as delightful a sweet cap you could have on the earthy, unctuous liver.

Or that one ravioli the size of a coaster, such lovely lively pasta in its brown butter enriched to the nth degree with some black truffle, country ham, and acorn crumble.

Or that filet, redolent with the charred shallot--such an outrageously wise rub--yet cooked to a perfect medium rare beneath its black exterior. A bit of that with some of the black garlic paste dotted about the plate was a bit of meaty heaven.

Also be ready for machines, as the Chef's Room at Bear and Star is half library and half mad scientist's lab, books on one side, machinery silently a-whir on the other. One was busy separating/emulsifying the carrot puree that set the beef filet singing, another I want to call a speed distiller (sorry, precise science ain't my thing) that the staff claimed could age moonshine to bourbon in an evening (I'm doubtful, but curious). This night they opted to make a digestif for us in it, first passing around a nose-ful of aromatics that would go into making the drink (everything from herbs to pink peppercorns) which then got macerated with plum brandy as an alcoholic base. Think clear insta-amaro. It had a bit of an absinthe edge to it, which was only fitting given both Chryss and I had some of the most vivid dreams that evening we'd had in months.

What's more, the next Chef's Table Dinner is on the books: Tuesday, September 19,  Chef/Partner John Cox of The Bear and Star will welcome special guest Chef Julio Aguilera of El Destilado, Oaxaca, Mexico and Jason Cox of Cinco Sentidos agave spirits. You can just do the mezcal tasting, if you want, even.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Feasts Fit for a (Vi)King

Despite prepping for its 81st Annual Danish Days on September 15-17, Solvang isn’t just going to roll out the aebleskivers. Not that it’s vanquishing all things Viking (heck, there are even weaponry demos), but the hamlet also knows enough to tip its horned helmet at the 21st century and its location amid the Santa Ynez Valley vineyards. That means free concerts by groups like the Ruben Lee Dalton Band, which is more SoCal than Scandinavian, but even more, it means fabulous food and drink.

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

That Terrific Taste of the Town



This Sunday, September 10 (12pm-3pm) is the annual return of one of Santa Barbara's finest fundraisers--Taste of the Town. (Tickets still available--go to that link.) Now in its 36th year (for some perspective, 1981 was the year Ronnie Reagan was inaugurated, for the first time), TotT supports the Arthritis Foundation, and there's no better way to help raise money to fight chronic pain than eating and drinking well. I had the opportunity to email interview Laura Kath, local PR maven (and arthritis sufferer), who offered the lowdown on this year's event.

Kath calls it "the incredible opportunity to meet area chefs, vintners, culinary, wine and food legends and legends in the making—in a one-of-a-kind magical setting AND raise needed funds to help find the cause, cure and provide hope for more than 50,000 people in Santa Barbara County with an arthritis diagnosis. Best blend ever!" 

Turns out Kath has been volunteering for AF since year 5 (1986), and she points out, "When I first started, there were more restaurants/caterers than wineries and we didn’t have any craft breweries or distillers at all, for example! The culinary and wine scene has evolved so much over the last 36 years here in Santa Barbara County and Taste of the Town really reflects all those changes including the emphasis on locavore, farm-to-fork and certainly more great wines."

That adds up to 19 restaurant partners and 37 beverage partners for 2017. And it's an incredible mix of veterans and fresh faces, too: think the likes of  Chef Brenda Simon and Ca'Dario and Michael's Catering and Renaud's and The Nook on the food side with the likes of Brander and Cutler Artisan Spirits and Potek and Press Gang and Refugio Ranch and Third Window on the drink side. We are very lucky to live in Santa Barbara.

The event also features honorees, from medical and youth honorees from the community to foodie folk, even with a lead vintner honoree. This year that's Doug Margerum of Margerum Wines. "The Taste of the Town selects an area vintner who not only has made a significant impact on the local wine industry but whose leadership has helped establish Santa Barbara as one of the world’s premier wine regions," Kath explains. "In addition to being recognized as one of the top vintners, Doug has been recognized for his excellence in the restaurant business." (Of course he's owned the Wine Cask twice now.)

It turns out Doug and his wife Marni were also crucial help in finding this year's culinary honoree, Mark Strausman. Their recommendation earlier this year led the TotT committee to discover "Strausman's outstanding culinary career AND that he also has an arthritis diagnosis and is very committed to the cause of being a champion of YES for the Arthritis Foundation!" says Kath. Strausman has led a storied career as one of New York's most heralded Italian-focused chefs, turning the restaurant at Barney's into one of Manhattan's top party spots.

Of course one of the greatest charms of the event is its location in Riviera Park, the home of UCSB way back when. The entire 2017 event is in the late philanthropist Michael Towbes' memory, and Kath stresses, "Michael Towbes and his family’s support of the AF has been outstanding over four decades and crucial to the success of Taste of the Town event since he has donated use of Riviera Park venue since the beginning. No other charity event has been granted the gift of this extraordinary setting—it makes Taste of the Town Santa Barbara spectacular!"