Local Dish: Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Week

Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Week returns Jan. 21-27 to showcase wine country restaurants at once-a-year prices.  Back for the eighth consecutive year, Restaurant Week features three-course meals prepared by the Valley’s most creative chefs for just $20.18 Foodies can savor a rare value to celebrate the food and wine pairings that have made this region a gem in California Wine Country.

Representing each of the Santa Ynez Valley’s six distinct communities, 26 restaurants—ranging from the region’s emerging establishments to long-time favorites—will participate in Restaurant Week this year. The list includes a Puerto Rican-inspired menu at Industrial Eats in Buellton, which is donating 100% of the proceeds to hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

This year’s list of participating restaurants includes:

RESTAURANTS
Ballard

The Ballard Inn & Gathering Table, 2436 Baseline Ave., 800/638-2466

Buellton

 

Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro, Bottle Branding photo.

Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro, Bottle Branding photo.

Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro, 35 Industrial Way, 805/686-4742

Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.,45 Industrial Way, 805/694-2252

Firestone Walker Brewing Co., 620 McMurray Rd., 805/697-4777

Hitching Post II, 406 E. Hwy 246, 805/688-0676

Industrial Eats, 181 Industrial Way, 805/688-8807

Los Alamos

Bob’s Well Bread Bakery, 550 Bell St., 805/344-3000

Plenty on Bell, 508 Bell St., 805/344-3020

Valle Fresh, 380 Bell St., 805/865-2282

The Bear and Star, photo by Grey Crawford.

The Bear and Star, photo by Grey Crawford.

Los Olivos

The Bear and Star, 2860 Grand Ave., 805/6861359

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café, 2879 Grand Ave., 805/688-7265

The romantic S.Y. Kitchen Firepit at Night , Photo by Rocco Ceselin.

The romantic S.Y. Kitchen Firepit at Night , Photo by Rocco Ceselin.

Santa Ynez

The Lucky Hen Larder, 1095 Meadowvale Rd., 805/691-9448

S.Y. Kitchen, 1110 Faraday St., 805/691-9794

The Vineyard House, 3631 Sagunto St., 805/688-2886

Trattoria Grappolo, 3687 Sagunto St., 805/688-6899

Solvang

Cecco Ristorante, 475 1st St., 805/688-8880

First & Oak, 409 1st St., 805/688-1703

Fresco Valley Café, 442 Atterdag Rd., 805/688-8857

Leonardo’s Ristorante, 632 Alamo Pintado Rd., 805/686-0846

Mad & Vin at The Landsby, 1576 Mission Dr., 805/688-3121

Petros Kafe, 487 Atterdag Rd., 805/686-5455

Root 246, 420 Alisal Rd., 805/686-8681

Santa Ynez Café, 606 Alamo Pintado Rd. #1, Solvang, 805/688-3543

Solvang Brewing Co., 1547 Mission Dr., 805/688-2337

Succulent Café Wine Charcuterie, 1555 Mission Dr., 805/691-9444

The Ridge, 1618 Copenhagen Dr., 805/325-9820

For the latest updates on Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Week, including menus and dining hours, visit www.DineSYV.com.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on January 20, 2018.

Local Dish: The Bear and Star Chef’s Table

Guest Chef Vartan Abgaryan of critically acclaimed restaurant 71 Above in Los Angeles (left) joins the Bear and Star Chef John Cox on Tuesday, January 16 for a special Chef's Table dinner. Courtesy photos.

Guest Chef Vartan Abgaryan of critically acclaimed restaurant 71 Above in Los Angeles (left) joins the Bear and Star Chef John Cox on Tuesday, January 16 for a special Chef’s Table dinner. Courtesy photos.

The Bear and Star‘s next installment in their popular Chef’s Table Dinner series features Guest Chef Vartan Abgaryan of critically acclaimed restaurant 71 Above in downtown Los Angeles and takes place on Tuesday, January 16, with two seatings at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Dinner begins with an Amuse – Oyster with Uni, Caviar, Tarragon, Champagne and Parsnip Crème Brûlée; followed by a First of Beet with Tofu, Huckleberry and Black Walnut; then a Second of Sturgeon with Soy Pearls, Black Garlic, Crispy Skin and Finger Lime; Third course of Lasagna with Porcini, Pistachio and White Truffle; Fourth of Turbo with Potato, Leek, Vin Jaune, Meyer Lemon and Smoked Clams; followed by a Fifth of Oxtail with Bone Marrow, Horseradish and Red Sorrel. To finish for a Sixth and final course, guests will enjoy Chocolate with Coffee, Caramel and Pecan. Wine pairings are available for the dinner by The Bear and Star’s General Manager Robert Williams.

The Bear and Star’s Chef Room, photo by Kodiak Greenwood.

The Bear and Star’s Chef Room, photo by Kodiak Greenwood.

Chef Abgaryan, a native Angeleno, was formally trained at Le Cordon Bleu, mentoring at the iconic André Soltner restaurant, Lutèce. He returned to Los Angeles to lead the kitchens of acclaimed restaurateur Tim Goodell’s Red Pearl Kitchen, ‘A’ Restaurant, and Public Kitchen. For the next three years, Abgaryan served as executive chef at Cliff’s Edge Restaurant to great critical acclaim. LA Weekly’s restaurant critic Besha Rodell wrote, “Abgaryan’s food is composed above all else—the chef focuses as much on visual beauty as on taste.”

In 2015, Chef Abgaryan joined forces with Emil Eyvazoff to debut a new, world-class dining destination on the 71st floor of the US Bank Tower. At 950 feet above ground level, 71Above is the highest restaurant west of the Mississippi. Offering elevated modern American cuisine, 71Above boasts breathtaking ocean views from Malibu to Laguna Hills, along with spectacular views of the Los Angeles basin and the surrounding mountain ranges. In addition to the magnificent views, 71Above was designed to provide a number of varying dining experiences. Guests may choose to dine within the buzz of the bar or in our adjacent lively main dining room. The Chef’s tables offer views of the open kitchen and transition into a semi-private dining area, offering a quieter and more intimate dining environment.

For reservations, call 805/686-1359 to prepay by credit card or visit Eventbrite for tickets.

Mark your calendars for upcoming guest chef collaborations:

February 25—Chef Neal Fraser, Redbird, Los Angeles

March 21—Chef Josiah Citrin, Melisse, Santa Monica

The Bear and Star is located at 2860 Grand Ave., Los Olivos.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on January 9, 2018.

Local Dish: Pacale Beale Launches Les Légumes

From Les Légumes by Pascale Beale, photo by Media 27.

From Les Légumes by Pascale Beale, photo by Media 27.

Popular local chef and cookbook author Pascale Beale has a new book out, the third in the Market Table series (after Salade and Les Fruits) and this one is all about vegetables, titled Les Légumes: Vegetable Recipes from The Market Table.

Filled, as we’ve come to except from Chef Beale, with gorgeous photography and easy to follow recipes, the book can be purchased at  www.pascalekitchen.com, as well as in major retailers and book stores.

From Les Légumes by Pascale Beale, photo by Media 27.

From Les Légumes by Pascale Beale, photo by Media 27.

Some local events and signings are also scheduled, including:

On Saturday, November 4 from 12:30-3 p.m. Beale will have a Cooking Class, Book Signing & Tasting at Buttonwood Farm and Winery (1500 Alamo Pintado Rd., Solvang). Beale will be making dishes from Les Légumes and sharing the delights of cooking with participants. Each dish will be paired with one of Buttonwood’s fabulous wines. Cost: $50

On Thursday, November 16 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. is a Book Signing, Food and Tasting at Santa Barbara Gift Baskets (230 Magnolia Ave., Goleta). Join the owner of Santa Barbara Gift Baskets, Anne Paizier, for a special evening of delicious nibbles from Les Legumes, with a wine tasting and book signing too! FREE.

From Les Légumes by Pascale Beale, photo by Media 27.

From Les Légumes by Pascale Beale, photo by Media 27.

Porch (3823 Santa Claus Ln., Carpinteria) hosts a Book Signing & Tasting from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, November 18.  Join Beale and the team from Porch for their special TA DA holiday event. Beale will be sampling dishes from her new book, Les Légumes, as she signs copies for you! FREE.

On Sunday, November 19 from noon to 3 p.m. is a Book Signing & Tasting at Riverbench Winery (147 Anacapa St.). Beale returns to Riverbench Winery for an autmnal tasting at the winery. She will be signing copies of her latest book, Les Legumes, as well as offering a tastes from the book. Cost: $20.

On Saturday, November 25 from noon to 3 p.m. join Beale at Zaca Mesa Winery‘s (6905 Foxen Canyon Rd., Los Olivos) Thanksgiving Weekend Event for a book signing and tasting with the great tasting-room crew. FREE.

Les Légumes Book Launch Party on Thursday, November 30 at 6 p.m. at C’est Cheese (825 Santa Barbara St.),  where Beale will be signing copies and sampling a dish (or two) from the book. FREE.

For more information and additional book-related events, visit pascaleskitchen.com.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on October 15, 2017.

Local Dish: A Flavorful Feast at Finch & Fork

Finch & Fork's Kanpachi Crudo, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s Kanpachi Crudo, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Some good news for Goleta: longtime Finch & Fork Executive Chef James Siao has taken on the dual role as Executive Chef of the Canary Hotel‘s sister property, Outpost at the Goodland. For the past five years, Siao has done an excellent job creating elevated comfort food at Finch & Fork. Our recent meal was no exception. 

Executive Chef James Siao, courtesy photo.

Executive Chef James Siao, courtesy photo.

Leaving our menu in Siao’s very capable hands, we started the evening off with the beautifully bright Kanpachi Crudo, made with avocado and cilantro crema, pickled pearl onions, jicama, yuzu and jalapeño. This was followed by a seasonal salad of Burrata & Heirloom Tomatoes, complimented with stonefruit, kale & pistachio pesto and outstanding grilled bread.

Finch and Fork Burrata and Heirloom Tomatoes, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch and Fork Burrata and Heirloom Tomatoes, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

I could have died and gone to heaven quite happily right there, but Siao continued to bring out wonderful dishes, including a creamy Fresh Ricotta Cavatelli made with spinach, peas, preserved lemon and pecorino; and an incredibly flavorful Cauliflower, with romesco, hazelnut dukkah (an Egyptian nut and spice mix) and lemon.

Finch & Fork's Fresh Ricotta Cavatelli, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s Fresh Ricotta Cavatelli, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

The entrees (yes … there was still more!) were also terrific. A colorful Duck Breast with carrot cardamom puree, farro, onions and blackberry gastrique and perfectly prepared Sea Scallops with gold beet relish, grapefruit, chorizo vinaigrette and sliced avocado.

Finch & Fork's Cauliflower, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s Cauliflower, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

I can’t wait to see what Siao does with the Outpost menu. According to Spokeswoman Nicole Lazar, “Siao looks to add dishes that fit perfectly into the laid-back and sociable setting, including playful interpretations of classics. At Outpost, expect to see more sharable plates that highlight the season’s best, and focus on vibrant, flavorful ingredients. He and the culinary team at Outpost are currently working on new menus, starting with dinner, so stay tuned for exciting new creations.” 

Finch & Fork's Sea Scallops, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s Sea Scallops, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

For more information on Finch & Fork (31 West Carrillo St. at the Canary Hotel in downtown Santa Barbara), visit www.finchandforkrestaurant.com. For more information on Outpost (5650 Calle Real at the Goodland hotel in Goleta), visit www.outpostsb.com

Finch & Fork's Duck Breast, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s Duck Breast, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

—Leslie Dinaberg

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

Local Dish: Santa Barbara Author Pens “A Visitor’s Guide to Mexico City Street Food”

Courtesy photo.

Richard Lambert, the local chef behind the beloved (and now gone) Santa Barbara Tamales To Go, has turned his culinary talents toward Mexico City’s colorful street food scene with a new book, A Visitor’s Guide to Mexico City Street Food, that turns the spotlight on the world’s number one travel destination (New York Times).

Lambert lived in Mexico City for much of last year with his daughter Juliet, who owns a restaurant and catering business there, and says he “grabbed the opportunity to eat my way across the city, finding something new on every street. The options are endless when there are an estimated half million street food vendors in the city.”

Cleverly written, with tongue-in-cheek chapter titles like “Tacos are King of the Night” and “The Salsa Tells You Who is Cooking,” Lambert’s 37-page guide provides street food recommendations, descriptive photos, food and health safety tips, and on-the-street videoclips. The ebook also comes with a separate 40-page Spanish-English glossary of food terms, which is particularly useful, as Lambert describes Mexico’s pambazos, tlayudas, arrachera, costras and huitlacoche as “some of the best street foods you’ve probably never heard of, and will have fun discovering.”

Courtesy photo.

For the record, pambazos are a Torta (sandwich) that takes its name from the bread it is traditionally made with, pan basso. Lambert writes, “This peasant roll is chewy-tough and able to hold up well when it is split and fully dipped in guajillo chile sauce and briefly fried. The roll is then filled with potatoes, chorizo, refried beans, lettuce, crema, and garnished with queso fresco. This torta originated in Mexico City.”

He describes tlayudas as “large, thin crusted, fried or toasted tortilla covered with a variety of meats, cheeses, vegetables and salsas. It is often called a Mexican pizza because it looks similar. The tlayuda originated in the state of Oaxaca.”

Arrachera is “thin sliced, grilled hanger steak with spice and cilantro marinade. (A) popular taco filling.” Costras are a “popular late night Mexico City street food item that is like a taco, but the ‘tortilla’ is made of cheese that is melted on a grill and then wrapped around the filling of your choice.”

Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo.

Huitlacoche, (pronounced “wheet-lah-KOH-cheh”) is “a fungus that invades growing corn kernels and changes them into soft blackish lumps,” writes Lambert. “In the United States, it is called corn smut or devil’s corn, and is treated as a disease. In México, however, it is prized as a culinary delicacy and is even referred to as a Mexican truffle by gourmet chefs. Huitlacoche is used to flavor quesadillas, tamales, burritos, soups, as well as other dishes.”

If those descriptions don’t make you hungry, flipping through the ebook’s colorful photos certainly will.  A Visitor’s Guide to Mexico City Street Food is $12.95, and may be ordered online here.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on July 12, 2017.

 

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 Lowdown: The Dish on Santa Ynez Valley’s New Eateries

Bacon & Brine burger by Tenley Fohl Photography.

Bacon & Brine burger by Tenley Fohl Photography.

From refined ranch cooking to gourmet burgers and creative couplings of unexpected ingredients to upscale wine country cuisine, the Santa Ynez Valley has a host of terrific new places to dine out and indulge in this summer.

By Leslie Dinaberg

Beer & (Big) Bites in Buellton

“The Kitchen” at FigMtnBrew is now open and, as Executive Chef Brian Champlin vows, this place definitely has, as he modestly states, “under-promised and over-delivered!” The eatery now offers a full menu of beer-friendly gastropub fare such as creative burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, tacos, salads and more. Our group particularly loved the 21+ and over grilled cheese, Davy Brown nachos and chorizo cheese fries—but honestly, everything that came out of the kitchen was delicious, especially paired with craft beers like Fig Mtn Mosaic and Paradise Rd. Pilsner.

Jeff Hawxhurst, left, and Brian Champlin of The Kitchen at FigMtnBrew, courtesy photo.

Jeff Hawxhurst, left, and Brian Champlin of The Kitchen at FigMtnBrew, courtesy photo.

“We wanted to provide top-notch food with great prices,” says General Manager Jeff Hawxhurst, a longtime local chef who started his career as a teenager working at the original Habit in Goleta and most recently worked with the Chumash Casino Resort. “The casual environment helps us keep prices affordable while offering fresh farm-to-table cuisine.”

Champlin also has impressive foodie credentials, most recently as co-owner and executive chef of Succulent Café in Solvang. Taking the farm-to-table concept up a notch, “Our brewery actually gives our spent grain to a local farm who then feeds it to their cattle. We are then able to serve the local beef on our menu. It’s a sustainable cycle that ensures we know what’s in our food and where it is coming from. We call it ‘brewery-to-farm-to-table’ cuisine.” The Kitchen, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company, 45 Industrial Way, Buellton,
FigMtnBrew.com.
 

Refining Ranch Cuisine at The Bear and Star

The Bear and Star (a nod to patriarch Fess Parker’s California and Texas roots) gets its culinary inspiration from the 714-acre Fess Parker Home Ranch located seven miles away, where 75 head of Wagyu cattle are raised and finished with the spent grains and pomace from the family brewery and winery, along with chickens, quail, rabbits, pigs, bees and a number of heirloom fruits and organic vegetables.

The Bear and Star by Kodiak Greenwood.

The Bear and Star by Kodiak Greenwood.

This impressive ecosystem was developed under Chef/Partner John Cox’s passion and vision. Also integral to the restaurant is a 30’ custom reverse-flow Texas smoker that he specially designed for slow smoking and barbecuing many of the dishes. Cox, formerly with Sierra Mar at Big Sur’s renowned Post Ranch Inn, has created an inventive ranch-inspired menu offering lunch and dinner items like Wagyu Fries with garden herb aioli; deviled ranch eggs with Santa Barbara urchin and espelette; fried green tomatoes with “cheese wiz” and BBQ spice; Parker Ranch Wagyu burger with smoked cheddar, tomato jam and butter pickles; crispy catfish with re-fried black-eyed-peas and “blackened” smoked tomato sauce; Wagyu meat loaf with potato puree, garden vegetables and pan jus; Parker Ranch chile with cheddar, chives and cornbread crouton; local stuffed quail with farro risotto, bay laurel and red wine demi glace; and an array of steaks, ribeyes and filets, among other items.

Highlights for breakfast are dishes of cheddar biscuit and country gravy; steel cut oatmeal brûlée with local blueberries and caramelized palm sugar; and smoked Wagyu hash with farm eggs, root vegetables and lemon-thyme hollandaise.

The Parker family’s acclaimed wines are prominently featured and the offerings also showcase expressive small-production wines from Santa Barbara County’s most sought-after wineries, and beyond, as well as a stunning
wine-walled private dining room. The Bear and Star, Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn, 2860 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, 805/686-1359, thebearandstar.com.

Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro

Already offering one of the most unique wine-tasting experiences in California—with its expansive “Wine Wall” of 52 constantly changing wines available by the taste, half glass or full glass—the new Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro has stepped up its cuisine tremendously, with a new restaurant concept from Executive Chef Owen Hanavan, the former Head Chef of Barbareño, whose culinary résumé includes time spent at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara and the Michelin-starred COI Restaurant in San Francisco.

Utilizing a bounty of locally sourced organic produce, meats and fish, a recent sampling of Chef Owen’s creations was so delicious that it’s hard to name a favorite dish. Definitely high on my list are the beautifully plated “Sixteen Spiced Pork Shoulder” (with almond rice pilaf, date glaze, romanesco broccoli and lemon oil), melt-in-your-mouth New York strip (with sousbise, duck fat potato, chimichurri and crispy leeks) and yellowtail (with poached tuna, rice cracker, nori vinaigrette and micro cilantro). In addition to the elevated evening cuisine, the lunch and midday menus include a variety of small plates (the lamb meatballs on housemade potato chips are divine), as well as sandwiches, salads and pizzas sure to please every palate.

Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro, photo by Bottle Branding.

Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro, photo by Bottle Branding.

Also a crowd pleaser is the view of Terravant Winery’s popular custom-crush facility, which shares the space with Bottlest Bistro and the soon-to-be-launched bottlest.com online wine experience, where you can craft your own wine (and labels) from start to finish, based on a sliding scale of personal preferences. For more information, visit bottlest.com. Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro, 35 Industrial Way, Buellton, 805/686-4742,
bottlest.com/bistro.

Blissful Bellies at Bacon & Brine

Hyper local culinary entrepreneurs Chef Pink and Courtney Rae DeLongpré’s Bacon & Brine sits at the top of the ever-evolving Santa Ynez Valley food chain. This delicious addition to the Solvang scene opened last summer to eager fans and customers of the duo’s previous sandwich shop. With guidance from Chef Pink, we ate our way through much of the menu, an impressive gastronomic collection of delights that evidence the couple’s full commitment to utilizing local organic vegetables and organic grass-fed pasture-raised animals. In fact, none of their food items come from more than 10 miles away, except spices and seasonings, which are all fair-trade.

Bacon & Brine by Tenley Fohl Photography.

Bacon & Brine by Tenley Fohl Photography.

Beef, chicken and vegetarian options mingle with the pork menu items (all of the cattle and poultry come from Shadow Creek Ranch, a small Santa Ynez Valley farm), but the flavors are even more impressive than the menu’s provenance. Our favorites include Korean Fried Chicken (KFC), “The Hipster” sandwich (buttermilk fried chicken, shredded lettuce, pickle and aioli on a doughnut bun), the kimchi burger (wagyu beef, bacon, housemade “legit” kimchi, farm egg, chives and bacon aioli), fried Brussels sprouts, roasted beets and the to-die-for salted caramel bacon doughnuts.

Chef Pink, the “bacon” half of this business, is a 17-year food and restaurant industry veteran who has worked with California chefs and restaurants stretching from Los Angeles to San Francisco, as well as in New York and Paris kitchens. She’s also a bit of TV food celebrity, appearing on Spike TV’s Bar Rescue, Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen and FYI’s Man vs. Child.

The “brine” half of “Bacon & Brine” is Courtney Rae DeLongpré, a proponent of healthy eating with a passion for food, nutrition and small-scale homesteading, which led to her studies of traditional old-world food preparations, segueing to her fermentation craft.

“We want to share with the surrounding community our personal mix: fine dining techniques using local ingredients and our use of fermentation to create flavor profiles, which let those ingredients shine,” says Chef Pink. “I’m meshing my years of training as a proper chef, with our philosophies of hyper-local organic, whole, sustainable food systems…and my love of, and allegiance to, a great food experience that’s accessible to everyone.” Bacon & Brine, 1618 Copenhagen Dr., Solvang, 805/688-8809, baconandbrine.com. Hours vary by season.  

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

Local Dish: Finch & Fork’s New Flavors of the Season

Finch & Fork’s new Secret Garden, left, and Blood Brother are the latest additions to their craft cocktail menu. Photo courtesy Finch & Fork Instagram.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Finch & Fork Chef James Siao and his culinary team have added new items to the dinner menu, and diners are in for a treat.

Finch & Fork's Asparagus & Mascarpone Toast, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s Asparagus & Mascarpone Toast, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

We started our meal with a bright and flavorful new appetizer, Asparagus & Mascarpone Toast with marinated asparagus, whipped lemon mascarpone, mint pesto, and radicchio. Pair it with the Secret Garden—lavender-infused Tanqueray Gin, Luxardo Maraschino, lemon and honey—to make your taste buds sing a happy chorus of ode to spring!

Finch & Fork's Smoked Fish & Onion Dip with housemade kennebec chips, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s Smoked Fish & Onion Dip with housemade kennebec chips, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

We also tried another delicious appetizer, Smoked Fish & Onion Dip served with housemade potato chips, which was a clever reinterpretation of the old standby onion dip and paired quite nicely with another new cocktail, the Paper Plane, made with Maker’s Mark bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino and lemon.

Finch & Fork's new Secret Garden, left, and Paper Plane cocktails, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s new Secret Garden, left, and Paper Plane cocktails, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Next up were the superbly delicious Sugar Snap Peas served with miso butter, radish and crispy garlic. I could eat that miso butter with everything, it was so yummy!

Finch & Fork's Sugar Snap Peas with citrus miso butter, radish and crispy garlic, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s Sugar Snap Peas with citrus miso butter, radish and crispy garlic, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

I’m not usually a fan of duck, but our server Chef Siao’s perfectly prepared Duck Breast with carrot cardamom puree, farro, spring onions and blackberry gastrique was amazing, as was his newest take on Salmon with pork belly and potato hash, pea greens, tarragon aioli and peperonata.

Finch & Fork's Duck Breast with carrot cardamon puree, farro, spring onions and blackberry gastrique, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s Duck Breast with carrot cardamon puree, farro, spring onions and blackberry gastrique, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

I also tried another delicious new cocktail, the London Holiday with Aviation Gin, blueberry, egg white, lime, simple syrup and absinthe mist. 

Finch & Fork's Salmon with pork belly & potato hash, pea greens and tarragon aioli peperonata, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s Salmon with pork belly & potato hash, pea greens and tarragon aioli peperonata, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

If you’re not up for a whole dinner, Finch & Fork has a great Happy Hour every Monday through Friday from 4-7 p.m. Finch & Fork is located in the Canary Hotel at 31 W. Carrillo St. For more information, visit http://www.finchandforkrestaurant.com.

Finch & Fork's London Holiday cocktail, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Finch & Fork’s London Holiday cocktail, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on May 26, 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. 

Her Kitchen Rules

Iron Chef and Santa Barbara local Cat Cora is certainly on a roll! Her new burger joint, Mesa Burger, is constantly packed with locals craving the award-winning chef’s crave-worthy burger creations.

So far, my favorites are the Montecito (made with griddled goat cheese/bourbon glazed mushrooms/house onion ring/truffle aioli/arugula/grilled onions) and the Goodland (with double cheddar/sliced & grilled 805 beer brat/crispy onion strings/applewood smoked bacon/smoked bbq sauce), but we’re slowly working our way through the entire menu.

It’s all good, and a welcome addition to the Mesa neighborhood.

Mesa Burger'sFunk Zone: sunny side up fried egg/applewood bacon/bourbon glazed mushrooms/bbq sauce/cheddar cheese/roasted tomato . Paired with their original sweet potato waffle fries. Courtesy photo.

Mesa Burger’s Funk Zone: sunny side up fried egg/applewood bacon/bourbon glazed mushrooms/bbq sauce/cheddar cheese/roasted tomato. Paired with their original sweet potato waffle fries. Courtesy photo.

That’s not all the busy Cat has been up to. She also has a new Fox television show, My Kitchen Rules, which she co-hosts with Curtis Stone.

At last week’s premiere party (at Mesa Burger) it was a little hard to follow with the lively crowd of friends, but from what I can gather it’s a celebrity dinner party contest, with different celebs entertaining each other each week. Cat and Curtis provide the culinary expertise and the cast—which includes Andrew Dice Clay, Naomi Judd and Lance Bass, among others—provides the comedy. It’s definitely worth checking out on Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on January 18, 2017.