Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How my weekend went a little "Sideways"

Got a chance to miss all the rain in Seattle last week by heading down to the Santa Barbara area for a few days. I've never been there, and it was quite a nice break. Great food and some fun wine tasting, as well as a sunburn (yes, I know, the sunscreen goes on *before* you go out in the sun, not after!). I'll apologize in advance for no pictures, don't quite know how that happened but we didn't take many. When I found out we were headed south, I went into research mode to see what restaurants they had down there. I wanted to be sure to try "Santa Maria" style barbecue, had heard a lot about it. Steaks grilled over red oak on a hanging grill. So I made reservations at the Hitching Post. No, I had forgotten they were the restaurant in "Sideways." And I felt like a silly tourist when I discovered that. But I was assured by locals that it really was a great place to eat. And it was. We enjoyed our duck, ribs, and filet quite a bit, thank you very much. I really wanted to try the Almond Joy tart but restrained myself. (An aside here -- yes, we did break some diet rules this week. But it wasn't bad, and we survived. And we did it fully knowing what we were doing, and didn't do silly things like eat all the bread in the basket!) Ah, but the highlight was Mexican food. At El Super-Rica, praised by the late great Julia Child, I had an amazing tamal de verduras, a vegetarian tamale that had chayote, corn, squash, and other goodies. And a taco with a homemade tortilla, zucchini, and pork that was heavenly. Everything there confirmed that the long line to eat at a bit of a "hole in the wall" was completely worth the wait. I still drool thinking about it. Then there was El Paseo. Normally I steer clear of places that do a lot of advertising in the local tourist guides, but I have a weakness for anyplace that makes their own tortillas. And on our first visit, for lunch on Friday, I didn't even eat any tortillas! Fridays are the one day a week that they serve lunch there, and it turned out to be a buffet. Oh, but not just any buffet. This one was good! There was an ethereal chicken tamale, rich pork carnitas, handmade guacamole, fresh beans, chile verde with fish (halibut I think), chile colorado -- all of it incredibly great. In fact we loved it so much that we went back for Sunday brunch, also normally a no-no. But not at El Paseo. On Sunday I did try two tortillas -- corn and flour. They were both great. Another very good meal: Emilio's, for Italian (they had a mash of artichokes and potatoes that was silky and just irresistable, chef says it was one part artichoke puree to three parts potatoes). So-so was Brophy's, where the chowder was great but the fish was uniformly overcooked. At the Harbor House, it took three prime rib portions to finally get one that was medium-rare, but their calamari strips were very good and the manager did come out to apologize for the problems with the prime rib. Wine tasting was fun, too. Went to Solvang, where you probably know a lot of "Sideways" took place. Cute little town, might have to go back and stay there sometime. Winery just west of town, Shoestring, was probably our favorite. We liked everything we tasted there. My biggest problem with tasting was that every winery charged quite a bit, and included a tasting glass. We did learn the strategy of sharing one tasting, and in the end did end up with six crystal tasting glasses and got them home successfully. I just chalked it up to buying Riedel glasses at $10 a pop.


Anonymous said...

Hello there! I'm wondering if anyone has some advice about finding a good place for taking cooking lessons in Tuscany! I suppose we might go a little "Sideways" while enjoying the meal we would cook. Us 4 girls are planning to be in Siena in Mid November, and "when in Tuscany do as the Tuscans do...?". Shelley, I heard from the folks as 94 Stewart that you might be just the person who would know--or you would know who would know! :) Thanks!
Helen & friends

ShellyJ said...

I don't know of one off the top of my head, but this weekend am taking classes from the chef I went to France with and will talk to him about it...back to you soon.


ShellyJ said...

Turns out I haven't found any specifics on cooking schools in Tuscany -- so very sorry. I know that Chef Gabriel at Culinary Communion is considering Tuscany for one of his trips with students, but it sure won't be this year (he and his wife have a baby due this fall).