When I hit adulthood I lost interest in taking vacations to places like dull yet undeniably pleasant Santa Barbara. That was until I had a baby, and I suddenly understood quite clearly why when we were kids my parents tossed us in the car and we'd head up the coast to spend weekends at the beloved Miramar.
(I became, however, alarmed by the number of friends who have recently gone on cruises or to Club Med. But I have no need to worry; one-stop-shopping ease and kid-amenable vacation destinations don't necessarily change people. More often it's about grandparents footing the bill.)
After H's hellacious work schedule finally came to a close we needed to chill, hard. Or so we thought. Vacations in mellow spots with baby aren't relaxing as they once were. Also, on this week's Top Chef Padma Lakshmi's description of Santa Barbara as "probably the most romantic destination in California" doesn't apply in the same way either. Still, we actually enjoyed ourselves a' plenty, and even extended the stay a night to better enjoy the divine historic hotel and have breakfast on the outdoor patio overlooking the ocean and Channel Islands.
In addition to the obligatory stop at La Super Rica, we checked out a couple other well-regarded spots. Lucky's is the place to be seen in the Montecito scene, whatever that is. It was mostly upper crust locals eating incredibly expensive steak hoping Oprah or Ellen would show up that night. Fortunately the New York steak was super seared on the outside with a buttery interior, with a side of chunky winey mushrooms.
Bouchon was recommended as the Lucques of Santa Barabara. The seasonality, local focus, and intensity of the food certainly remind me of it, even if the restaurant 90 mies north could use some tips from Lucques's decorator. At this time of year the menu was filled with root vegetables, mushrooms, and rich proteins. Highlights included the poche chaude, a delicious filo pocket filled with ricotta di bufala and mixed vegetables. Perfect for a chilly December night. We also loved the signature duck breast with awesome sweet succotash, and ocean trout, which I'd never had before. The pinkish orange color looks like salmon, but the flavor wasn't as fishy and texture a bit firmer.
Instead of beach going and hiking, we spent a whole day up in Santa Ynez area. We came back with our max of two cases plus a few bottles. For those interested, here's a quick recap of the wineries we visited.
Zaca Mesa: Rhone style wines abound here, of which Z Cuvee is a favorite versatile blend. The plucky young fellow working the tasting room had an amazing ability to keep track of where all the customers were in their tastings, and plus a shit load of enthusiasm to boot.
Rancho Sisquoc: Further up the Foxen Canyon Trail and not entirely worth the schlep since it felt like we were in the car all damn day. But it's a very picturesque spot, and we wound up with merlot, of all things. The tasting room has a funky rustic vibe, ala Foxen's room, which we'll have to hit next time.
Rusack: We had to get some Rusack pinot having drunk it at Bouchon. Under better weather conditions the tasting room and outdoor benches that are perched above a small valley makes a perfect picnic spot.
Santa Barbara Winery: Nice space and peeps, and fun to be able to keep on tasting the following day with our friend Bo. Yet wines pale in comparison to those bottled under owner Pierre Lafond's eponymous label.
The food at Los Olivos Cafe was unremarkable, but service friendly and wine shop's selection great. If only more restaurants had such a gentle markup on bottles. Cheers to that!
And to S.B. showing us a lovely time and allowing us to relax a bit.