Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Htiching the SB Wine Wagon to Some Amazing Pioneers

I'm going to try to tell the story of an event in a single bottle. Last Saturday (11/23) was the Third Annual Heritage Tasting held by the Pioneers of Santa Barbara County, a fantastically temperate fall day at Pico in Los Alamos. (Quick digression--do you want Chef Drew's praline bacon with some Lindquist syrah? Well, do you want the taste equivalent of a millionaire dollar lotto card on your tongue?) And sure, the winemaking starpower was there, with Richard Sanford and Fred Brander and Karen Steinwachs and Doug Margerum, for instance, along one row of tables so tight they couldn't swing a wine bottle without conking one of their compatriots.

And that's just the start of all the goodness that Morgan Clendenen, organizer, cheerleader, wrangler, planner, rogue viral video content maker, promoter, brought together for this spectacular shindig to remind us of them that got us here. You can go read the list at the website, but we're talking back in the days before our AVAs were subdividing like mops for Mickey Mouse to fight.

What anyone there most learned, however, is pioneers don't just get encased in amber. Nope, this group just keeps pioneering--messing with hops in their Sauv Blanc, making one of the first Amaros in the U.S., figuring out how to tame, but only enough, the wildness of an extreme vineyard site like Radian.

That pioneering knows enough, though, not to forget. (Wise winemakers watch paralleling the folly of the tyro creative writer who ignorantly declares, "I don't need to read what's come before--I am new!") So look above at what Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley are doing now--a Chenin Blanc. Frank is quick to point across the tasting at Louis Lucas pouring his own Lucas & Lewellen Wines, saying he was smart enough to hang on to some 40 year old Chenin vines amidst the more profitable chardonnay (because, you know, give the people what they white want). And now Hitching Post is making Forerunner (a lovely forwards and backwards cap-tipping name, no?), a snappy blast of pear, persimmon and a zip of lime zest. Pioneering indeed.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Pearl Social: Jewel of a Cocktail Lounge

It’s hard not to be won over by a barman who describes his process as “Mr. Potato Head style — you end up with all these parts and try to figure out where they go.”

That’s how Gavin Koehn, who runs the cocktail program at the new Pearl Social, talks about creating a drink list that splits into such categories as Timeless, Rule Breakers, Come Back Kids, and Susan B. Anthony — the latter being non-alcoholic delights even a temperance leader could love. Those cocktails, along with a small but expertly curated menu of food from The Lark’s Chef Jason Paluska, are making Pearl Social the latest fetching Funk Zone creation from Acme Hospitality, who’s brought us The Lark, Loquita, Tyger Tyger, and so forth.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Embermill’s Creative Caribbean Cuisine Comes to State Street

Yes, Chef Harold Welch is from Barbados, and the menu at his just-opened Embermill features plenty of Caribbean fare, from fried plantains to a pepper pot of octopus, scallops, shrimp, and crab. But Welch has the whole world on his mind, too — there’s Korean gochujang sauce on the wings, for instance, as well as an Ethiopian chicken stew called doro wat to order.

In fact, the restaurant is opening a whole new world for Welch professionally. He still owns the Hummingbird Restaurant & Café in Solvang, which is rather hummingbird-sized and currently being revamped. By opening Embermill in the historic Copper Pot location on State Street, last occupied by Aldo’s, he’s pleased to have more room. However, Welch quickly admitted, “I’ve filled this space up already. I’ve got so much equipment at home I can’t even park my car in the garage.”

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Only the Dough Is Sour at a Bettina Bread Class

How hungry were our ancient ancestors, who looked at wheat waving in the wind and thought, “Yum, delicious!” I mean, the stuff looks like weeds. And to get the germ out you’ve got to mill it—quick, call, Thomas Alva Breadison to invent a machine to crush the stuff just enough! And then something invisible in the air has to make it ferment. Yeasts are the hungry magical Houdinis of the story. Finally, you have to learn to bake all of that glop you slop together—quick, call Bready Crocker!

OK, that’s a bit playful (and maybe overwrought), but so is breadmaking. So if you dare to wander into that deep water, it's best to have a very good guide, and there's none better than Brendan Smith, co-owner of Bettina with his wife Rachel Greenspan (that's them up top). The couple, who just celebrated the one-year anniversary of their fine pizza (and much more) shop, are offering sourdough bread baking classes every couple of months. If the ins and outs of bread interest you, there's no better way to spend a Sunday morning. Plus the event ends with a pizza and wine lunch included.

My front-and-back instruction sheet is so covered with scribbled notes I can barely read them all--that's a small hint at all the wisdom Brendan shares in the three hours you get to watch him discuss how to feed a starter and then turn that into a luscious loaf. You get a starter too, and by the end it's easy to feel it's like high school health class and you've been given a doll you have to pretend is your baby for the weekend (what a great course in birth control that lesson was, no?). It's a living thing, and you hope not to kill it, even if you keep dumping some of it to feed it (hey, friends, who wants starter? or who wants pancakes?).

Brendan certainly knows his dough. He couldn't even begin to come up with an estimate of how many loaves of bread he's baked since he gave up studying for law school, and inspired by Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, made his first loaf for stress relief and instead found a new calling. After a year apprenticeship at Orchard Hill in New Hampshire he ended up at famed Roberta's pizzeria in Bushwick Brooklyn, where he met Rachel, then a fancy-food specialist, and the two decided to load up their lives and move to Montecito-y. (OK, they ran the mobile pizza delight Autostrada first.) Add it up, and Brendan guesses he's made 60,000 pizzas, at least. Which means if you ate one of the pizzas he's made a day, you would have had to start before the Civil War broke out. I mean, who forgets the Lincoln-Douglas debate that argues over pineapple on pizza....

Despite the class's length of three hours, he's actually condensing the process that would take eight hours in your own home--there's a lot of resting downtime so you can let proteins build necessary chains. Lots of proofing. And then there's all the new words you get to learn, like banneton (the wood/reed basket you proof in) and lame (the device that holds the razor blade so you can score the bread before it bakes). And while Brendan gets to use a pizza oven that cranks the red oak fired heat at a temperature higher than Ray Bradbury ever considered, he explains how you can cook at home in your own oven, using a Dutch oven to hold the initial steam (don't let that crust dry out at first bake!).

When you finish, you could end up with something like this lovely loaf Rachel is showing off. Or maybe you won't, but it's bread--even the "failures" taste pretty good. And teach you more for when you make that next loaf.