Friday, April 12, 2024

Crazy for Caruso's

It goes like this (quite officially, as I've cut-and-pasted this from the Rosewood Miramar Beach website: "In honor of Caruso’s five-year anniversary and our 2024 Forbes Five Star award, we welcome the Montecito and Santa Barbara community to savor a special offer. Exclusively available Monday through Thursday, through May 23rd, we welcome our community members to enjoy the taste of Caruso’s with Chef’s three-course menu crafted to delight your senses. Available for a limited time only, explore the taste of the local landscape that has defined our culinary journey and raise a glass to five years of unforgettable moments at Caruso's."

That glass above might be a Pacific Old Fashioned taking in the Pacific views. I'll tl;dr for you right here--Caruso's puts the lie to the old saw that the better a restaurant's view, the poorer its food. Even at a "mere" three-courses (there are also four, seven, and chef's selection options for yet splurgier splurges), it's all wow. There's honeycomb centered in your ice cube's carved divot in that cocktail, sweetening via scent every sip. It's powered with Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky, itself honeyed, caramel, orange peel, and oak, and also features what the menu calls "Mango Pierre Ferrand," which is, I guess, either Ferrand's Dry Curacao with its mango notes, or a Cognac they infuse with some mango? And cardamom bitters, for a bit of a fun spice spin. It's a heck of a drink. 

But here's the danger I'm going to go on too long. That's without even discussing watching the sky drain itself of its range of pinks, and to thrill to hundreds of pelicans, arriving in line after line, dive bombing for food just off the shore. Or to mention the pinpoint, kind, service--both our plates hitting the table at once for each course, each course given a moment of post-plate clearing reflection before the next delight showed up. 

Or that amuse up top, a strawberry gazpacho, a bit punchy from pepper, a tad crunchy from ancient grains, miraculously creamy from its quenelle of mascarpone.

For this special 3-course meal, you order from the "regular" 4-course menu, and everyone at the table has to choose the same courses. We went antipasti, primi, secondi, as our sweet tooth will always lose out to our need to slake the savory itch. Still, that Dolci called Our Bees Stayed at the Miramar of bee pollen gelato, lime sauce, and buttermilk did have some definite appeal. (Plus I want to meet these rich bees....)

So there's Chryss's antipasto, billed simply a minted chilled pea soup, but that's like calling Mookie Betts a beer league softball player. (Photo note/please pardon our appearance--we didn't want to use extra lighting to get these photos and be those Instagramholes, and it got darker and darker, of course, as night is won't to do. Sorry.) What's hard to pick up on that bowl above is the lace-like, sesame seed tuile work atop it. Gorgeous, and functional, as when you break it into soup, you get texture. They love pouring stuff table side, so the cold soup goes in over both a King Crab salad, and a pea and fennel salad. Spring in a brilliant bowl.

I had the Channel Island Snapper Crudo, adorned with Pixie tangerine in precise little segments, radishes, and a poured table side wash of yuzu and verbena tea. The fish might have swum over from Anacapa, it was so fresh, and every bite of the plate was bright delight.

For her primi, Chryss enjoyed a seven-year-old Acquerello Risotto, and we discovered we need to start aging our rice. Nobody would get kicked off Top Chef for this risotto (remember the terror of risotto-shaming?).  This time the scallops came from far, far away--Catalina--and that green is from nettle. Oro Blanco adds acid zip, and jalapeño a mild kick. 

As good as that was, I think I "won" this round with my Dulse Gnochetti ai Frutti di Mare. They call dulse dulse as red algae just doesn't have the same romantic ring to it, but it packs oceanic flavor, especially aided and a-wetted by what they call Hope Ranch Broth (mussel stock?). There's the pleasingly pungent tongue of "Stephanie's Uni," too (how familiar they are with Santa Barbara's most famous fisherwoman), and chewy chop of abalone, and bites of Cardinal Prawns that make you believe why when you Google them they're called the best prawns in the world. All in a surface of the moon bowl.

While it's easy for us to let dessert go, we couldn't not pass on bread service, and are thrilled we didn't. Shows up in a cigar box, popping out like a happy Jack. The sourdough is from a 30-year starter that Chef Massimo Falsini has been feeding for decades. Great crumb, as that blue-eyed judging monster in England might say. Hearty crust. And lovely accouterments--a warmed, local olive oil; a dulse butter; a green garlic butter. Plus the butter arrives in two glass towers, so you get an odd Tolkien moment, even. (I feel as geeky as Stephen Colbert now.)

Chryss's secondi is Santa Barbara Black Cod. The rest of the official description says with green garbanzo, fava, chilled garden herb sauce, and spring pulse salad, but that doesn't quite make clear which of the many green things get to wrap the cod in swaddling clothes. Still, hyper local, super spring, both light yet fulfilling. Such a Santa Barbara dish.

I opted for the surprisingly fancy Poached Santa Barbara Petrale Sole, no mere slab of fish as it comes in a lovely faux sausage with shaved thin asparagus skin, a ring of poached sole, and then some of the sole and asparagus in a sort of mouse in the middle. Technique every which way, but all the ways lead to flavor. Then to the right a single chubby spear of white asparagus, beflowered, some thin crisps of fried shallot (I think), a dollop or two of white sturgeon caviar, a couple of morels that then make a morel-caviar mind meld on your tongue when you get both. This gets a tableside pour of Vin Santo Burro Fuso (that's buerre monte if you cook in French and not Italian), the dessert wine adding just a hint of sweetness and a lot of depth.

What a celebration of what our region has to offer, what a skilled kitchen can craft. I'd swear we left the table more beautiful ourselves, a dinner as delight, as benediction.

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