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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Confections, Asian-inspired cuisine, and reserve wine tasting in Santa Barbara, California

As a new day dawned in Oxnard, CA, the aroma of brewed coffee began to awaken the senses. Time for breakfast! A favorite is the make-your-own waffle station. The Hampton Inn Channel Islands Harbor had cute little quotes on blackboards, like “A waffle is like a pancake with a syrup trap” from Mitch Hedberg. They also have dessert toppings like caramel and chocolate sauces, mini M&M’s, chocolate chips, mixed berries and whipped cream for a sweet treat. They also have a hot item section that changes daily. On this morning, it was scrambled eggs and sausage. Other breakfast favorites like yogurt, bakery items, and fruit are also available.

After breakfast, it was time to get on the road to explore Santa Barbara. Our first stop was Lazy Acres Market  to meet with Jessica Foster Confections. Jessica learned the culinary art of confections from the “school of kitchens”. In 2003, she decided to open her own business and has been busy ever since, supplying Lazy Acres with chocolate truffles, bars, and caramels to entice the sweet tooth of locals. She also creates custom favors for weddings and other celebrations. Sea Salt Caramels are to die for! The caramel is luscious and velvety smooth.  It immediately starts to melt on your tongue with buttery, creamy caramel flavor. She adds just the right amount of salt to balance the sweetness of the caramel. If you’re in Santa Barbara, this is a must stop or you can order it online.

It was time to explore Santa Barbara along the coast. Shoreline Park is situated on the bluffs off of Shoreline Drive and has beautiful views of the Santa Barbara coastline and the Santa Ynez Mountains. If traveling with your pets, this is a great place for a walk while enjoying the views and fresh sea air. They also have picnic tables, barbeques, clean restrooms, benches, and stairway access to the beach. In the mornings, you can see surfers and paddleboarders riding the waves. If you like to watch wildlife, there is a huge scurry of squirrels who call this park home. You can watch them foraging in the mornings.

A little further south along the coastline is Stearns Wharf. It is located in the Santa Barbara harbor and named after its builder, John P. Stearns, a local lumberman. After its completion in 1872, it became the longest deep-water wharf between San Pedro and San Francisco and was a passenger and freight shipping point for over 25 years. A dolphin sculpture marks the entrance to the wharf from Shoreline Drive. You can park on the wharf or across the street. Beautiful views of the beach and marina abound. The wharf is also home to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center and many restaurants and shops. Santa Barbara Shellfish Company will be stored in memory for a return visit as they have fresh, live seafood like crabs and abalone. There is nothing like eating fresh seafood on the wharf!

Across the street from the wharf is Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. It is a mix of art, music, restaurants, bakeries, bars, hotels, wine tasting rooms, breweries, and shops galore. You’ll probably need a few hours here to walk around, peruse shops, do some wine tastings, and stop for a bite.

The tummies were starting to growl which meant it was time for lunch. The Blue Owl is the creation of Chef Cindy Black. Her Asian-inspired concept started as a pop-up in 2010 to feed the night owls of Santa Barbara. It became so popular, the Blue Owl found a permanent home on Canon Perdido with a complete lunch menu. Expansion is underway with the adjoining space to add more seating and a bar. Here’s a glimpse of what you can find on the menu:

Peach, Strawberry, Thai Basil, Candied Nuts, and Chévre Salad is refreshing like summer in a bowl. The Thai basil pairs well with peach and strawberry. The dressing is light yet lets the fresh summer produce shine through. The chévre adds a creamy flavor and texture. Rating: 4.8/5

Wake N’ Bacon is a house-made waffle sandwich filled with poached egg, bacon, and topped with bruléed maple pastry cream. The waffle is fluffy, and makes the perfect blank canvas for the rich poached egg; crispy, salty bacon; and sweet, creamy maple crème brulée. It is bruléed perfectly and shatters like glass. Rating: 5/5

Banh Mi is stuffed with pork, cilantro, pickled veggies, and topped with oyster-chili mayo. Chef Cindy’s banh mi is a reimagined Asian-style pulled pork sandwich. The pork is melt-in-your-mouth tender. The acidity in the pickled veggies balances out with the rich, fatty flavor of the pork. The cilantro lends a refreshing green flavor to the palate. The French bread is splendidly crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside. The oyster-chili mayo adds just the right amount of spicy kick. Rating: 4.8/5

If you want to just kick back, head back to the hotel and enjoy the harbor air. There is a park next to the Hampton Inn Channel Islands Harbor where you can relax at a picnic table or walk around and see the marina. They also have a pool where you can lounge around the patio. A quick nap was in order to re-energize for the evening’s festivities.

California Wine Festival’s Sunset Rare & Reserve Tasting was held at Chase Palm Park Plaza at the Carousel. The large elliptical-shaped courtyard was lined with wineries serving up a taste of their rare and reserve vintages along with local restaurants serving up delicious bites. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Patxi’s Pizza Santa Barbara served up the Classic Meat Deep Dish Pizza, Vegan Deep Dish Pizza, and Meatballs. The Classic Meat Deep Dish Pizza is layered with Zoe’s pepperoni, all-natural garlic-fennel sausage, and topped with a thin layer of extra dough and homemade tomato sauce. Just like you would get in Chicago, it’s thick, meaty, saucy, and screams with Italian herbs and spices. The vegetarian Deep Dish Pizza is layered with mushrooms, black olives, and homemade tomato sauce. It’s good for the vegetarians, but most would prefer the Classic Meat. The Meatballs are braised in tomato sauce. It’s a juicy, tender meatball, just like grandma would make. Rating: 4.5/5

Enterprise Fish Company Santa Barbara served up Creamy Lobster Bisque with Puff Pastry. The lobster bisque is creamy and rich with a beautiful creamy orange hue. The puff pastry is a buttery, crispy accent that works well with the bisque. Rating: 4.5/5

Gelson’s Santa Barbara provided a huge array of cheeses like boursin, supreme brie, Havarti with dill; fruits like grapes and apples; preserves like fig; sliced French bread, and crackers. The perfect accompaniment for wine tasting.

Coastal Specialty Products, from Ventura, CA, were back again serving up a variety of munchies like cheeses, olives, pickles, French bread slices, and pate terrine (my favorite).

Niner Wine Estates poured 2011 Fog Catcher ($75); a smooth Bordeaux blend with deep, complex with subtle oak and dark cherry notes. Rating: 4/5

Lone Madrone 2012 Martinelli Zinfandel ($60) is dry-farmed and 100% Zinfandel grapes from Martinelli Vineyards in Templeton, CA. Tasting notes: Clean, fresh, and fruity; great wine for any occasion; would pair well with a summer salad and fruits. Rating: 4/5

Kerrygold’s Dubliner Cheese is a robust aged cow’s milk cheese. It has a texture similar to cheddar, but a bit more granular. It’s nutty, sharp, and sweet. This is a great complex cheese to pair with wine.

Cielito Restaurant & Tequila Bar served up Raw Summer Taco with walnut salsa verde, peach salsa, jalapeno, cilantro, red onion, and lime in a radicchio leaf “taco shell”. It was a beautiful presentation of summer colors. The idea of using radicchio as a vehicle was great but failed in the flavor department. Since the radicchio was bitter, the flavors of the interior ingredients needed to be sweeter and more acidic to balance. Unfortunately, every bite was just bitter. Rating: 2/5

Marmalade Café Santa Barbara served up Spicy Ahi Tuna Tartare made with hand chopped ahi blended with sriracha, toasted sesame oil, diced avocado, and wakame salad atop a wonton chip. It is a cross between tartare and poke. It has a nice Japanese flavor profile and makes for a nice bite with wine. They also served chili with cornbread. The chili was a little thin so it was more like chili soup but it had a nice chili flavor. The cornbread was dense and slightly sweet. Rating: 4/5

Tara Bella Winery’s 2008 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon Estate ($85) is a smooth, fruity wine with subtle oak tones. Rating: 4.5/5. 2008Sonoma Country Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($85) is a smooth wine with complexity – earthy and peppery. Rating: 4/5

Cupcakes in Wonderland, from Ventura, CA, presented Double Brown Velvet and Strawberries and Cream cupcakes. Double Brown Velvet is dark chocolate cake with chocolate chips and topped with creamy vanilla frosting. This chocolate cake is to die for! It was moist and had a rich, dark chocolate flavor. The frosting was smooth, creamy, and just sweet enough. Strawberries and Cream is vanilla cake baked with fresh strawberries and topped with strawberry frosting. This is perfect for the summer! The vanilla cake was light and the frosting had a sweet strawberry and cream flavor. Rating: 4.5/5

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines’s 2007 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon is a smooth wine with rich and robust fruity notes. Rating: 4.5/5

As the sunset and disappeared into the horizon of the Pacific Ocean, the strung lights sparkled over the courtyard like fireflies as the Sunset Rare & Reserve Tasting came to a close. It was another wonderful evening in Santa Barbara with another day just a slumber away.

To view more photos from this trip, visit OC Food Diva's Facebook page.

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5 West Canon Perdido
Santa Barbara, California 93101, United States
+1.805.705.0991
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday from 11am to 3pm, Friday from 11am to 3pm and 10pm to 2:30am, Saturday from 10am to 3pm and 10pm to 2:30am
Parking available in the Paso Nuevo Shops

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