Saturday, July 9, 2022

It's a Cinch to Want to Go to Finch & Fork

Many restaurants are taking the opportunity to come out of COVID (ok, let's pretend we are) with a reset, and no one has done that more seriously than Finch & Fork at the Canary Hotel. They've redone the room--say goodbye to the previous darker, wood, shuttered club feel and welcome lots of white, and sun, and video screens that run different modernist art prints. It's all very beach resort appropriate, if a bit generic, not that a dark, come-dine-in-my-library look is particularly novel, either.

The key is, you're going to be paying attention to the food and drink anyway. For as part of the reset, F&F has a new executive chef, Craig Riker, with a varied and storied resume (including Rustic Canyon, Patina, bassist for Deadsy) who locals will know from his time at plant-based Oliver's in Montecito. Now getting to play once again with any foodstuff he finds fascinating, Riker and his kitchen are hitting on all cylinders, doing what he claims is mom and grandma food, as read through his worldly travels as a touring musician. It's elevated comfort food, both because of his access to so much great produce and because of his skills. So imagine a deviled egg, and then a little raft of perfectly rendered pork belly atop, riding the wave of the creamy yolk. Now that's a bacon and egg bite.

We had the wonderful opportunity to taste through a good 60% of the dinner menu this week, and I'm not going to do a dish-by-dish recounting but do want to focus in on two items as exemplars of why you need to get yourself to F&F. And that's without talking about the three fine desserts (nothing like a banana cream pie style shake to awaken and appease your inner child), or the fine service that the charming Tim Thomas, Director of Food and Beverage, oversees, or the locally-focused beverage and cocktails list, put together by Santa Barbaran Jazz Moralez (how deliciously clever to come up with a Francesco Franceschi cocktail, of course botanical-forward, featuring green chartreuse, Fernet Branca, pineapple, lime, and chili threads for quite a kick). 

But then there's the hamachi crudo you get to see in the photo above (stolen from the F&F website, as lousy Blogger won't let me post my video) bathed in cucumber aquachile. A lesson in balance, this is. As flavorful as hamachi is, it's pretty darn delicate, so it's easy to have the amberjack swim away in a too powerful sauce or accompaniment. Not here. First, there's an itsy scoop of avo inside each swirled slice of sushi, its fat pushing the fat of the fish into yet more flavor. And that aquachile brings warmth more than heat, extending all the flavors with each taste. Those flavors include citrus to give the acid zip any dish needs, and then some jicama for just as much cooling sweetness as required. This could be a meal for me and I'd be happy.

Not that I wouldn't be happier with this scallop dish, too. Again, it's a dish--the components are meant to play well with each other (perhaps food is the only place anything does this anymore, alas). The scallops are scintillatingly seared so almost crispy, and just cooked to the center as you would hope. Then there's the Roman artichoke, shaved to only the tastiest parts, like a little thistle cone of delight. Or consider it the ice cream, as the cone is actually a wrap of Serrano ham, all porky-salty goodness. Add it up for a truly imaginative surf and turf. 

But then there's that risotto I would order all on its own. Calling out Acquerello as the brand of risotto isn't just for the mellifluous name--F&F serves you seven-year old rice because it cares and wants you to, too. And how bright and green it is, redolent of shallot and basil and Grana Padano and no doubt a bunch of great stock and sea salt. Fancy without any shmancy, homey without being homely.