Local Lowdown: Welcome to The House of Clues

Scene from the “Pirate Ghost Ship” at Santa Barbara's House of Clues escape room, courtesy photo.

Scene from the “Pirate Ghost Ship” at Santa Barbara’s House of Clues escape room, courtesy photo.

Escape room games are super-popular, and Santa Barbara finally has its own one-of-a-kind venue: The House of Clues.

Co-owners Assel Abdrakhmanova and Oscar Zevalos (the third partner is Whitman Heining) were designing props and sets for themed events and escape rooms for outside clients when they decided to create their own custom one-of-a-kind attraction. “We knew we could do a better job and make it even better and more challenging,” says Zevalos.

Their goal is eventually to franchise their concepts—Santa Barbara is the first location—and I think they’ve got a winner. Not only was our “Pirate Ghost Ship” game well designed and challenging, it truly was exciting and fun for our all-ages group. Escape rooms combine mental puzzles with physical challenges, and a beat-the-clock element keeps things moving along quickly. With 45 minutes to escape from a given room (which is actually a series of rooms), you are under constant video and audio surveillance and can communicate with the game master at any time, as well as receive clues when needed. Every move counts, and nothing is as it seems.

In addition to the “Pirate Ghost Ship,” The House of Clues also has “Psycho Dentist” and “Alien Spacecraft Invasion” themes on the menu.

For more information, visit TheHouseofClues.net, 629 N. Salsipuedes St., 805/229-9179

Leslie Dinaberg

This story was originally published in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Some Thoughts on #GivingTuesday

 

By Leslie Dinaberg, Managing Editor

Tuesday, November 28 is designated as #GivingTuesday, when those who are able are urged to make donations to support local nonprofits. Now entering its sixth year, #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving—as a counterpoint to Black Friday and Cyber Monday buying—that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy and is fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.

Here’s something to consider when you make those donations: not only is art good for the soul, it’s good for the wallet.

Did you know that Santa Barbara County’s nonprofit arts and cultural organizations comprise a $200 million industry? According to a recent national study—Arts & Economic Prosperity 5, conducted by Americans for the Arts—which collected data from 250 regional partners, including Santa Barbara County, this number supports the equivalent of 5,857 local jobs and generates approximately generates $20 million in local and state tax revenue.

As Randy Cohen, Vice President of Americans for the Arts stated, in a recent presentation at the Santa Barbara County Arts Symposium, “When you invest in the arts you are not investing in a frill, you are investing in a healthier Santa Barbara.”

“Art is not the cherry on top of the split, it’s one of the bananas,” said Keynote Speaker and Mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu, sharing how the arts revitalized New Orleans post-Katrina.

According to the Americans for the Arts study section on Santa Barbara County:

  • Nonprofit arts and cultural event attendees spend an average of $28.25 per person (excluding the cost of admission).
  • Event-related spending by arts and cultural audiences totaled $72.3 million (excluding the cost of admission).

And if those numbers don’t grab you, there are some heartfelt stats that support the arts. According to another Americans for the Arts survey by Ipsos Public Affairs, an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that the arts improve the quality of our personal lives and our communities.

  • 63% believe the arts “lift me up beyond everyday experiences.”
  • 73% say the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world.”
  • 64% feel “pure pleasure to experience and participate in the arts.”
  • 67% percent believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race and ethnicity.”
  • 62% agree that the arts “help me understand other cultures better”

For more information about the Giving Tuesday initiative and to search participating nonprofits in the Santa Barbara area, visit www.givingtuesday.org.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on November 26, 2017.

House of Clues is a Great Escape From the Ordinary

The Escape Room's Pirate Ghost Ship, courtesy photo.

The Escape Room’s Pirate Ghost Ship, courtesy photo.

Escape room games are super popular and Santa Barbara finally has its own one-of-a-kind venue: the House of Clues, 629 N. Salsipuedes St., 805/229-9179, TheHouseofClues.net.

Co-owners Assel Abdrakhmanova and Oscar Zevalos (they also have a third partner, Whitman Heining) were designing props and sets for themed events and escape rooms for outside clients when they decided to create their own, custom, one-of-a-kind attraction.

“We knew we could do a better job and make it even better and more challenging,” says Zevalos.

Their goal is eventually to franchise their concepts, with Santa Barbara as the first location, and I think they’ve got a winner. Not only was our “Pirate Ghost Ship” game well designed and challenging, it truly was exciting and fun for our entire group—which included my college age niece and her boyfriend, as well as my husband and I, and my sister and brother-in-law.

The author and her family, having barely escaped the Pirate Ghost Ship, courtesy photo.

The author and her family, having barely escaped the Pirate Ghost Ship, courtesy photo.

The “fun for all ages” claim seems truly legit as evidenced by the enthusiastic group of 13-year-old boys who went before us. This would also be a great team building activity for companies, students, group of friends, date nights and other group events.

The way that escape rooms work is they combine mental puzzles with physical challenges and a beat-the-clock element keeps things moving along quickly. With 45 minutes to escape from a given room (which is actually a series of rooms), you are under constant video and audio surveillance and can communicate with the game master at any time, as well as receive clues when needed. Every move counts, and nothing is as it seems. The game was much more challenging than any of us were expecting and we needed a few helpful tips from Assel to move us along in places.

In addition to the “Pirate Ghost Ship,” the House of Clues also has a “Psycho Dentist” game on the menu with another theme on the way soon.

Currently operating Mon.-Thurs. from 5-10 p.m., Fri. from noon- 11.30 p.m. and Sat.-Sun. from 10a.m.-11:30 p.m., the House of Clues is a great new addition to the local scene. Cost is $35 per person, children must be at least eight years old to play, and an adult must accompany those under age 15. For more information, visit TheHouseofClues.net.

Leslie Dinaberg                

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on August 28, 2017.                                         

Cocktail Corner: August Ridge Vineyards Opens Tasting Room in La Arcada

Manager Elise Kimball (left) and Hope Riley welcome visitors to the new August Ridge Tasting Room in La Arcada. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Manager Elise Kimball (left) and Hope Riley welcome visitors to the new August Ridge Tasting Room in La Arcada. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic!  By Leslie Dinaberg

A little gem of a tasting room recently opened its doors in La Arcada.  August Ridge Vineyardsa family-owned winery ten miles outside of Paso Robles in Creston, specializes in Italian varietals (Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Pinot Grigio, Primitivo and more).

The winery was started by John Backer and Jill Zamborelli Backer back in 2001, but their shared passions for food and wine have even deeper roots. John’s family has been growing grapes in California since the 1800’s, while Jill’s family brought their Italian food and wine traditions over from a small town just outside of Rome.

The charming new August Ridge Tasting Room in La Arcada. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

The charming new August Ridge Tasting Room in La Arcada. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

I tried both the regular and estate reserve tasting flights (with some assistance from my husband), and was pleased with the offerings from this small production winery. In particular, their flagship wines were delicious. Try the 2012 Jovial, an estate reserve super Tuscan blend with the tasty aromas of red cherry and plum, and the 2012 Ingenious, another estate reserve blend, primarily Nebbiolo-based, with a robust, earthy flavor.

These wines are all lovingly produced in very small quantities, so we are fortunate to be able to taste them right in our own backyard.

August Ridge Tasting Room hours are as follows: 

Charley is on hand to greet visitors at the August Ridge Tasting Room in La Arcada. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Charley is on hand to greet visitors at the August Ridge Tasting Room in La Arcada. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Wednesday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Sunday-Monday: 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Tuesday: closed

The tasting room is located at 5 E. Figueroa St. in La Arcada. Stop by and say hello to Tasting Room Manager Elise Kimball and her adorable doodle dog, Charley. For more information visit augustridge.com.

Cheers! Click here for more Cocktail Corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

 Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on August 4, 2017.

Cocktail Corner: Brave & Maiden Tasting Room Breaks Ground

Brave & Maiden tasting room, courtesy image.

Brave & Maiden tasting room, courtesy image.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic!  By Leslie Dinaberg

Brave & Maiden Estate recently broke ground on its new winery and tasting room, which will be located on the winery’s 60-acre estate along Refugio Road in Santa Ynez. The sustainably farmed vineyard takes its name from the “Legend of Nojoqui” (pronounced Naw-ho-wee), an indigenous incarnation of Romeo & Juliet. Set at the nearby Nojoqui Falls, the legend recounts the story of star-crossed lovers who choose death over separation.

The new facility and tasting room has been in the works for many years. Brave & Maiden Estate was established in 2011 and occupies the land they purchased in 2010. Planted to 46 acres of vineyards—including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, and Sauvignon Blanc—Brave & Maiden’s wine program, led by winemaker Paul Hobbs, has found success in both restaurants and bottle shops throughout Southern and Central California, earning accolades for their single-vineyard estate wines and red blends.

Entrance to Brave & Maiden tasting room, courtesy image.

Entrance to Brave & Maiden tasting room, courtesy image.

The new facility will offer an entirely new tasting experience, along with a production facility for up to 8,000 cases. “We are thrilled to see the project get underway,” says Jason Djang, Managing Director. “The plans have been in the works for some time, so we’re excited to finally see earth moving and our vision coming to fruition.”

The project is designed by renowned wine country architect group Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects, known for projects such as Harlan Estate Winery, Larkmead Winery and Meadowood Napa Valley, among others. The space is Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects’ first project on the Central Coast, and is designed to prominently showcase views of the picturesque vineyard overlooking the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Brave & Maiden winemaker Paul Hobbs, courtesy photo.

Brave & Maiden winemaker Paul Hobbs, courtesy photo.

 “At Brave & Maiden, our goal is to not only be great vintners, but gracious hosts as well,” states Djang. “Hospitality will be central to our DNA as we create a unique and unforgettable experience with our wines, and the estate.” 

The winery and tasting room will open its doors by appointment the second half of 2018—a milestone the Brave & Maiden team feels will expand their goals as a brand.

“Santa Barbara County truly is a world-class wine region and I welcome the opportunity to be involved as the area embraces growth,” says Hobbs.

 “We were humbled by the market’s reception of the brand in 2014, selling out of our first two vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon,” says Djang. “Now, with construction of our new winery underway, we’re eager to open our own doors for guests to experience our wines first-hand. Obviously, we believe in the greatness of Santa Barbara County as a wine region and have invested accordingly.”

Brave & Maiden vineyard, courtesy photo.

Brave & Maiden vineyard, courtesy photo.

For more information, visit braveandmaiden.com.

Cheers! Click here for more Cocktail Corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

 Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on July 28, 2017.

First Person: Sullivan Goss Gallery’s Nathan Vonk

 New Sullivan Goss Gallery owner Nathan Vonk is flanked by his colleagues and fellow curators Jeremy Tessmer and Susan Bush.

New Sullivan Goss Gallery owner Nathan Vonk is flanked by his colleagues and fellow curators Jeremy Tessmer and Susan Bush. Courtesy photo.

Preserving the Legacy, Embracing the Future

By Leslie Dinaberg

The link between Burning Man’s annual bacchanal festivities and Sullivan Goss Gallery’s 30-plus-year legacy of celebrating important 19th-, 20th– and 21st-century American art may seem tenuous, but it was a visit to Burning Man that first sparked Nathan Vonk’s interest in art and the friends he made in the desert that first brought him to Santa Barbara.

Armed with a master’s degree in post-modern literature theory, Vonk taught night school at Ventura College and walked dogs during the day. He eventually bought out the owners of the dog business, ran it for a few years and then sold it for a profit, right before the market crashed in September of 2008.

Now fully enmeshed in the Santa Barbara scene, Vonk contemplated going back to school and getting a doctorate in art history or curatorial sciences and asked Sullivan Goss curator Jeremy Tessmer if he “could volunteer some hours at the gallery, so I could see if it was something that I wanted to do in graduate school.” Vonk laughs, “I came in and volunteered for the week, and on Friday, Frank [Goss] offered me a job. I never went back to school, and I’ve been there ever since.”

He continues, “I was the one guy in the whole country who got a new job in October of 2008. When everyone else was going on unemployment and Bear Stearns was crashing, I was one of the luckiest people in the country. I’ve been at Sullivan Goss ever since, and I couldn’t be happier.”

So happy, in fact, that when Goss told the team (which includes Tessmer and fellow curator Susan Bush) he planned to retire after 2016, Vonk bought the gallery because he wanted to make sure the legacy continued, with its staff intact.

If you think of arts in Santa Barbara as an ecosystem, the part that Sullivan Goss fulfills—if that goes away, the whole ecosystem suffers greatly and it’s not a part that someone is going to step in and fill that void. That was a large part of my motivation to take on the risk of running a commercial gallery,” says Vonk.

He and his wife, Erin Smith, have a son, Lowen, who, Vonk says, “has been to more art shows at age 2-1/2 than I think the average Santa Barbaran probably has.”

Part of what Vonk loves about Santa Barbara is its casual, egalitarian nature. “I think we all understand how lucky we are to work in a gallery like this, in a town like this. Shortly after working for Frank, I had the opportunity to go to New York and visit galleries…the whole vibe there is so different than it is in Santa Barbara. If you don’t look like you can afford it, they don’t give you the time of day.…It kind of left a bad taste in my mouth about the whole situation, and it made me all the more excited to come back and work for Frank, because we don’t operate that way. In part we can’t, because the man or woman who comes into our gallery in shorts and flip-flops could very easily be a billionaire, and I don’t know that. So I have to treat everyone like they are billionaires, and I like that.”

Vonk views part of his art-dealer role as acting like a sort of docent, saying, “What we sell are not just pretty pictures; they are pretty pictures that come with a history and a provenance and some other interesting part of them that, hopefully, people who are interested in buying them will understand that if they buy them, they are only going to be a small portion of that object’s history.”

He also clearly loves the work. “One of the great things about Sullivan Goss is that I was sort of an academic, and I loved studying and writing essays and we do all that.… We’ve written four or five books…all the things I wanted from going back to school I got. Plus I got to stay in Santa Barbara so it was even better.”

Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Cocktail Corner: Local Restaurants Earn Wine Spectator’s Top Honors

The Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch, courtesy photo.

The Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch, courtesy photo.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic!  By Leslie Dinaberg

As if there were any doubt that Santa Barbara County is Wine Country, Wine Spectator recently honored 20 local restaurants with their highest honors for excellence.

“Wine Spectator‘s Restaurant Awards recognize restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to their cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers,” according to the guidelines.

The Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch earned The Grand Award, which is Wine Spectator‘s highest honor, given to only 89 restaurants around the world. According to Wine Spectator, this honor is “given to restaurants that show an uncompromising, passionate devotion to the quality of their wine programs. These wine lists typically feature 1,000 or more selections, and deliver serious breadth of top producers, outstanding depth in mature vintages, a selection of large-format bottles, excellent harmony with the menu, and superior presentation. These restaurants offer the highest level of wine service.”

Angel Oak at the Bacara Resort & Spa, Los Olivos Wine Merchant & CafeOpal Restaurant & Bar and Wine Cask all earned The Best of Award of Excellence. “These wine lists display excellent breadth across multiple winegrowing regions and/or significant vertical depth of top producers, along with superior presentation. Typically offering 350 or more selections, these restaurants are destinations for serious wine lovers, showing a deep commitment to wine, both in the cellar and through their service team,” according to Wine Spectator.

“We are thrilled for the honor in our first year of opening,” says Anne Elcon, Director of Marketing & Communications at Bacara Resort & Spa.

Angel Oak Wine Cellar, LaFemme Photography, courtesy photo.

Angel Oak Wine Cellar, LaFemme Photography, courtesy photo.

Also receiving The Award of Excellence, for “wine lists, which typically offer at least 90 selections, feature a well-chosen assortment of quality producers, along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style,” were several other local restaurants: BarbareñoBella Vista at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, Bouchon Santa Barbara, Chuck’s Steak House Of Hawaii, Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, Olio Pizzeria, Olio e Limone Ristorante, S.Y. Kitchen, Sly’s, The Harbor Restaurant, The Hitching Post II, The Lark, Tre Lune and Willows at Chumash Casino Resort.

Cheers! Click here for more Cocktail Corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

 Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on July 14, 2017.

Local Lowdown: Strolling Santa Claus Lane

A-Frame Surf Shop, photo by Mercedes Lowe.

A-Frame Surf Shop, photo by Mercedes Lowe.

A beachside street dubbed Santa Claus Lane—named after the iconic statue of St. Nick that greeted visitors for more than 50 years, until it was moved in 2002—boasts epicurean delights and local wines, plus a tranquil garden to while away the hours at Garden Market, while Padaro Beach Grill is a great spot for kids and dogs to play while you sit outside, enjoy the ocean view and peruse a tasty menu of burgers, salads, sandwiches and fish specialties.

ZeBird Design, photo by Mercedes Lowe.

ZeBird Design, photo by Mercedes Lowe.

Shopping in the area includes surf-inspired fashions—along with surf lessons and boards for the intrepid consumer—at A-Frame Surf Shop. Original artwork plus a design and consign business make ZeBird Design an ever-evolving treasure trove for the fashionable home, while interior design enthusiasts flock to the contemporary-rustic home furnishings at Porch, “where shelter and nature converge” into distinct art, as well as home accessories and furniture.

Hummingbird, photo by Mercedes Lowe.

Hummingbird, photo by Mercedes Lowe.

Thoughtful gifts, eclectic accessories and bohemian jewelry await lucky treasure seekers a few shops down at Hummingbird, while Rowan Boutique embodies the casual elegance of the Santa Barbara lifestyle with clothing and accessories.

Santa may be gone, but the shopping scene is alive and well on his namesake street in Carpinteria. Tucked just south of Montecito, amid the soothing sounds of the sea—and occasional toots from the train—the eclectic Santa Claus Lane is home to an impressive variety of charming storefronts.

All stores are located between 3765 and 3825 Santa Claus Lane, Carpinteria.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Local Dish: Angel Oak Celebrates its One-Year Anniversary

Angel Oak at Bacara, courtesy photo.

Angel Oak at Bacara, courtesy photo.

Believe it or not, it was about a year that Angel Oak first opened its doors, offering a unique twist on the traditional steak and seafood concept—not to mention that killer ocean view! 

The signature restaurant of Bacara Resort & Spa celebrates its one-year anniversary with a community party on June 25. To showcase Angel Oak’s appreciation to the local community, the restaurant hosts a “One Under the Sun” party on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. The leisurely afternoon includes chef bites, lawn games, live music and dozens of local wine and craft beer tastings. All of the festivities take place on Angel Oak’s expansive outdoor patio and bluff overlooking captivating ocean views.

The bar at Bacara Resort & Spa's new fine dining restaurant, Angel Oak, courtesy photo.

The bar at Bacara Resort & Spa’s new fine dining restaurant, Angel Oak, courtesy photo.

“We’re thrilled to celebrate our first anniversary, which represents a significant milestone for our resort and destination,” says Vincent Lesage, executive chef of Bacara Resort & Spa. “Our goal was to build a restaurant that would stand the test of time. We are honored our local community has embraced us.”

Tickets for One Under the Sun are $50 per person, inclusive of tax and gratuity. A special guest room rate starting at $250 (normally $500) is also available. Space is limited. For tickets and more information, please visit AngelOakSB.com. Angel Oak at Bacara Resort & Spa is located at 8301 Hollister Ave.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on June 20, 2017.

Local Dish: The Gathering Table at Ballard Inn

The new interior of the Gathering Table at Ballard Inn, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

The new interior of the Gathering Table at Ballard Inn, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

The Gathering Table at Ballard Inn is the new restaurant concept from Chef Budi Kazali, who has owned the property with his wife Chris Kazali since 2004.

Ballard Inn has always been highly regarded for its romantic ambiance and award-winning cuisine, but the new restaurant and decor offers a much more fun, casual and inviting experience. Rather than a special occasion place, it feels like a more welcoming spot to gather over incredible food that’s meant to be shared.

“Modern farmhouse ambiance with Colonial influence” is how the team describes the new look—designed by local interior designer Heather Saarloos—and it’s pretty accurate.  As Budi explains, “We’re lucky that Ballard Inn has been a much-loved luxury destination over the years, but we felt it was time to introduce a new level of sophistication to our atmosphere.”

The Gathering Table at Ballard Inn by Tenley Fohl Photography.

The Gathering Table at Ballard Inn photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

The Inn’s 15 guest rooms, which have undergone various updates throughout the years, will also receive a refresh to convey a sense of continuity throughout the entire space.

With a warm and inviting atmosphere, a long communal table and a menu featuring shared plates, The Gathering Table is “meant to be a gathering place for locals and visitors, a fun and inviting place to gather over incredible food,” says Chris.

Chef Budi Kazali, whose cuisine has been featured in such notable publications as Food and Wine and The Wine Spectator, and is also well known for his local TV show, The Inn Crowd, has created a menu that features a large variety of creative shared plates and signature dishes highlighting local, seasonal produce and seafood.

“Our new restaurant’s menu is much more comprehensive than before,” shares Chris. “The concept of The Gathering Table has allowed Budi to be more creative with his food.” Adds Budi, “The food is flavorful, seasonal and unique and there’s truly something for everyone.”  

The Gathering Table at Ballard Inn, photos by Leslie Dinaberg.

The Gathering Table at Ballard Inn, photos by Leslie Dinaberg.

 An artistic melding of Asian, French and California wine country cuisine, the new menu features a delicious selection of seasonal, locally sourced produce, seafood and meats. We sampled a wide array of dishes, all tasty. Particular favorites were Hamachi made with avocado and soy-yuzu vinaigrette; Sesame Caesar Salad; Hope Ranch Mussels with chorizo and garlic toast; Pork & Shrimp Shumai with ginger vinegar sauce and Marinated Hanger Steak with spicy charred Brussels sprouts.

“We look forward to sharing our space with our community in hopes we can offer a place for locals and visitors to gather and enjoy the bounty of the area. We’re happy that our renovations will further enhance Ballard Inn as an exceptional destination in Santa Barbara’s wine country,” says Budi.

Built in 1985, Ballard Inn is located t 2436 Baseline Ave. in the historic township of Ballard, just 35 minutes north of Santa Barbara near Solvang.  To learn more about Ballard Inn & The Gathering Table, please visit ballardinn.com.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on May 23, 2017.