|Croissant and cappuccino, The French Press, Santa Barbara|
Stepping into the place I thought of the Café Chez Panisse: beer-wine bar on one side; open kitchen with hearth and pizza oven on the other; dining room with two seating areas. And the chef-owner, presiding over that kitchen, greeted me by name as I walked in, unannounced and without a reservation (they don't take reservations), because he worked the line in the Café for six years.
The menu is interesting, divided into appetizers, tapas-like share courses, and a few main courses; and the wine list is both interesting and thoughtful though almost entirely restricted to local wines: Central Coast; Santa Ynez Valley; Paso Robles. (What I've come to think of as "Sideways" wines, many of which are very good indeed, and getting better by the year.)
Brian sources his menu from local farmers, ranchers, and winemakers. There was a lot to choose from, and much of it quite enterprising: but it had been a long day, and I was in the mood for comfort food. I began with a cup of soup: chicken broth, cannellini beans, and mirepoix, with some red pepper very discreetly added; and thickened with farro. I thought of pasta e fagioli: this was a California version, but something about the textures and flavors, and the depth of the stock, took me right to Italy.
I was hungry and went on to a beautifully grilled rib-eye, served with Italian-style broccoli and scalloped potatoes — a difficult dish but irresistible when prepared this well. Everything about the dinner was exciting and deeply satisfying. We will certainly return: this is an important place. It is one of my Hundred Restaurants.
|Farro and bean soup…||…and rib-eye at Ember|
•Sweet Pea Bakery, 1200 East Grand Avenue, Arroyo Grande, California; (805)440-3456
Dessert, though, was rather nice: Spumoni ice cream, sliced, revealing chestnuts, pistachios, mild chocolate, and garnished with a pleasant amount of sweetened whipped cream and an irrelevant raspberry.
•Intelligentsia Coffee, 55 East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena; (626) 578-1270 and after the play we drove north.
Still it was pleasant enough after the drive from Pasadena. I settled for a spinach salad with lamb sausage, olives, tomatoes, feta, and red peppers; it seemed vaguely Greek, and was just what I wanted.
•The French Press, 1101 State Street, Santa Barbara; (805) 963-2721
We then set out north on Highway 101, headed for Gavilan College in (or near) Gilroy, there to check out an arboretum we’d heard about. The campus is very pretty, nicely gardened, but the arboretum seemed more a project than an achievement. Hungry, we stepped into the Student Union where I found a nice burrito loaded with beef, black beans, cilantro, tomato, onion, and lettuce, in a decent wheat-flour tortilla. Once home, all we wanted was a bowl of soup, buttered toasted walnut levain from Acme Bakery, and a salad and a glass or two of rosé…