Friday, June 3, 2011

Santa Barbara Food & Drink Guerilla Style

We planned one day for a guerilla visit to an area of downtown Santa Barbara near the hotel where stayed and the site of the WineMaker Magazine Conference later in the week. We packed in a nice walk down State Street from Stearns Wharf, a visit to Santa Barbara Roasting Company, lunch at Santa Barbara Brewing, wine tastings at the Santa Barbara Winery, Oreana, Kunin and Municipal Winemakers, and dinner at the Fish House.

We grabbed the Harbor-Zoo shuttle shortly after 10 AM and got off at Stearns Wharf. The opposition of the mountains and the ocean under the spring sun was a great way to start our short vacation. State Street is a very commercialized area with an incredible diversity of shops, restaurants, bars and services. Like most areas of its type these days there are plenty of spaces in transition and not currently active. We took a stroll through a store named World Market that contained an eclectic mix of seasonal, lifestyle and food/beverage products. I don’t know how far we walked up from the wharf. We turned around at some point and made our way through a cute open air galleria with shops on multiple floors winding through a series of brick lined “side streets”.

We made our way to Santa Barbara Roasting Company to share an iced mocha. We’ve always used simple measures of a place, and a good mocha is a strong vote! The coffee was intense and strong, but the chocolate wasn’t overwhelmed and it wasn’t heavy on the cream. I felt at home checking the work iPad with along all the other very connected coffee house guests.
A few blocks off State in several different directions you can find portions of the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail. We started our journey at Santa Barbara Winery at 202 Anacapa St. and ended up visiting 4 places on that same street by the time we were done.

The tasting room staff were friendly and set us up right away to taste 8 styles of wine. As we went the source of the fruit, fermentation process and aging characteristics were presented. The Santa Barbara Winery is the oldest in the county and has been operating since 1962. We learned that all of their bottling occurs at the facility attached to the tasting room (thus the larger AVA level designation for the wines instead of a sub-region) and that their white wines are processed an aged on site as well. The processing and aging of the reds is done up at the LaFond winery facility located in the Santa Rita Hills to the north.

We both loved the all-stainless Sauvignon Blanc and the beautifully oaked Reserve Chardonnay of the 3 whites we tried. The Chard has dried fruits in the middle with easily accessible spice and a little residual sugar. We tasted a Pinot, Nebbiolo, Grenache/Syrah Blend and a varietal Syrah. The Grenache/Syrah Blend was the mutual favorite, and hugely reminiscent of the aroma and flavor combinations we found in the Cotes du Rhones we enjoyed in France in February. We ended up buying some of each of our favorites and sprung for some of the LaFond (a boutique label run by the same person) Syrah and Pinot to have in our cellar.


Next up was Oreana. I picked this one off the trail because it was newer and was a single facility operation. All of the wines are processed, fermented and aged on site. The space was decorated eclectically and there was bottling active when we arrived. We were greeted warmly and I dipped right into my 6 tastings. I enjoyed the two un-oaked whites and picked out some watermelon on the Sauvingon Blanc which made me think of summer parties. My favorite was the Pinot which was designated as Central Coast because of the 3 sources of fruit from that area that went into it. It was very fruity and dry with mild but working tannins. I also tried a Syrah and Zin and remarked that the Zin was quite austere in comparison to many of its relatives. I took a bottle of the Malbec Rose with me to share at lunch on one of the conference days.

With that it was lunch time and we headed back up to State street and to Santa Barbra Brewing Company. I keyed right in to the beer sampler and got one ordered, with tasting glasses of 8 different styles to look forward to. To eat I ordered a French Dip sandwich and Margot ordered a Blue Cheese Chicken Wrap, both with the Garlic/Parmesan French Fries.

The beer came before the food and I got to work. The selections were Harbor Light, Marzen, Orange Wit, IPA, Red, Old Town Brown, XX IPA and a Stout.
  • The Harbor Light is a typical lighter pale ale and not something I usually dig. It was made well and was refreshing so I can’t say anything bad.
  • The Marzen had honey and black tea flavors, almost no aroma with a bitter finish. I could see this being a good Spring beer.
  • The Orange Wit is one of the best beers I have ever had! So much orange wrapped in malt an grains. The finish was clean with citrus riding down the back of the throat. We immediately thought of trying to amp up our upcoming Wit like this, which we are in fact already underway with.
  • The IPA was super fruity and hoppy with a piney finish and a clean exit. Definitely a solid example of a well made IPA.
  • The Red ale was slightly sweet in the middle with hops in the finish. This is another style I am not too keen on, but again there was nothing wrong at all with it.
  • The Old Town Brown was superbly nutty and malty with hops coming in late and lingering through the finish. It was lighter brown in color than I expected, but clearly enjoyable nonetheless.
  • The XX IPA is a bad-ass beer. It has the clout of a big beer with hops, fruit, malt, sweetness, a clean bitter finish that is smile inducing. I suggested I wanted to swim in this beer!
  • The Stout was disappointing as it was way too light. Margot is the Stout expert and put it down right away. I didn’t finish it because I felt it wasn’t balanced between the body and flavors. Can’t win ‘em all!

Lunch was very tasty and the Garlic/Parmesan fries really did live up to the hype. They were cooked perfectly and had tons of real flavor. (Look at the picture, how could they not?) My French Dip contained thin sliced beef that had been cooked with care on a crusty French roll. The au jus was flavorful and not too salty. The XX IPA killed it with the fries and the regular IPA and brown ale were good matches with the sandwich.

At this point we took a break and headed back to the hotel for a swim and some quite time in the sun. The Santa Barbara weather was beating the rain and cool temps at home so we couldn’t pass up the chance!

Back on the wine trail later in the afternoon we first stopped at Kunin. Kunin’s space was full of windows and bright sun which complimented the restrained décor very well. I tasted 5 wines, including my first Viognier from the area. I found it to be floral and fruity in the nose with more fruity and minerality in the palate. I got hints of creaminess in the body of the wine which were interesting to ponder. The Pape Star is a riff on a Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blend that definitely lives up to the name. The balance between the fruit, space, earth and oak was spot on. Their Grenache, Syrah and Zin were all solid representations of the style with more of that classic jammy southern California character. We got to talking Tour of California (bicycle racing & Lance Armstrong) with some other tasting room guests. We had no idea it would be right nearby on Friday. You see what kind of priorities we had!

Our last stop of the wine trail was to Municipal Winemakers. I picked this one because of their very offbeat presentation on the web and for the fact that offered 1 liter refillable bottles filled from kegged wine. I had to try that! Right away we knew we were in for a treat. The name of their wine club is Club Awesome! I tasted 6 wines most of which focus on Rhone grapes and blends. The rose was a remarkable pink color and as primarily made from Grenache. My favorite was their Dark Red, a blend of Cab, Syrah and Petit Verdot. It had this little hit of sweetness in the center that resonated well with me. I did get a to-go bottle of Syrah which I shared with a group later in the week. The concept of the refillable bottle and wine on tap was new to many folks and something I bet won’t be so new in years to come.

We again made our way back to the hotel, this time walking along the beach. The scenery was really beautiful and with almost nobody around it was peaceful.

We finished our guerilla mission on Santa Barbara food with dinner at the Fish House. I was growing tired and didn’t bring my notebook along so I don’t have a full report here. Spending some QT with Margot without the camera going off scored some points so you’ll just have to take it. I had an appetizer of wonton wrapped deep fried prawns that performed well beyond expectations. The prawns were crispy and served with a medium hot chili infused sauced. My dinner consisted of one of the best pieces of Mahi I have ever had that had been breaded with sesame and crushed wontons and cooked just until done. The sauce that sat around it was creamy with some killer savory flavors. We enjoyed our meal with the Dry Creek Vineyard 2008 Chenin Blanc. It was dry with melon and island fruits which coordinated well with our meal.

Clearly you can do a lot in one day if you are willing to be on the go. We enjoyed this city crawl and would recommend Santa Barbara to other who are looking to find a place with enough diversity to do several different things all in close proximity.




Shane said...

I love wine tasting in Santa Barbara! So many varieties to choose from, and each vineyard has a lot to offer. Santa Barbara Winery is my favorite in town! Great pictures by the way-Looks delicious. I was there a few months ago and it was a delicious experience. Can't wait to go back! I loved that it was right by my hotel as well-the Sandman Inn ( Budget friendly and leaves me money to spend on wine!

Servando said...

Santa Barbara Roasting Company is one of the best coffee places in town. So local and the brew is out of this world yummy. Bound to be your new favorite coffee shop. Right next to backyard bowls in downtown, it makes for a good place to stop off. Their pastries are also really good! Love that it is so close to my hotel-the South Coast Inn ( Right out of the way and a great place to stay if you are looking for someone nice to stay on a budget.

Unknown said... .
santa barbara wine tours original fun and educational wine tour—is the best way to learn about the wines of the Santa Ynez Valley. Enjoy tasting the valley’s exceptional wines while taking part in tasting demonstrations, learning the basics of production and the viticulture of the area. Our guides are extremely knowledgeable and are well trained to teach our customers about our local wines and viticulture! We make sure the day is a lot of fun, but we also make sure you learn something to increase your appreciation of wine!