What we did last Saturday was a bit over the top: we drove 200 miles to have dinner. We’re bound to have eaten too little on Friday night as we woke up the following morning wondering where to have dinner. We ruled out our default solution, the zero degree of our imagination, Gladstone’s in Pacific Palisades (1): it’s close, it’s simple, it’s good and it has the beachy atmosphere. But I guess we wanted to move away from that zero degree. For just one second we envisaged two of our other favorite hang-outs before pushing them aside for being too easy as each in only a five minute drive away: Ocean (2): excellent seafood and cozy surroundings and the akin I Cugini (3) where we spent our most recent and most enjoyable (fine band) New Year’s Eve. Then one of us felt like cracking a joke: Grasing’s in Carmel (4). Carmel, the pearl of the Central Coast was fine when we lived in San Francisco but would be a crazy five hour drive from Santa Monica. But Carmel had set the tone: on that particular Saturday we meant to be adventuresome. Then we concurred: “Chad’s” in Santa Barbara!
Santa Barbara meant staying overnight. So I started looking for a hotel room. We gave a couple of unsuccessful phone calls before searching the web. I found a room at a spa resort for a mere $1,199 but the wallpaper on the room’s website picture didn’t strike my fancy. So we were back to square one, looking for a place where to dine in LA. So we said to ourselves “Why not Café Pierre in Manhattan Beach (5)?” And that was also a great idea (as long as you don’t take too much in earnest the “beach” in “Manhattan Beach” as one person in our party once realized when his shorts and sandals were sneered at). Last time we were there I had sweetbreads in an Atkins-compatible melted butter sauce, which – believe it or not – is not so commonly found on an LA restaurant menu.
But lo! Five minutes later we sank back into our adventuresome mood and ten minutes later we were driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, heading for Malibu, then Ventura County and at the end of the road, glowing in the West: Santa Barbara.
For some reason (depressing school years’ memories?), we dislike restaurants reminiscent of cafeterias. Being located within the precincts of a proper house helps a lot, like with Jeanty (6) in San Francisco, charming with its confined but multiple floors or the stately MacCallum House in Mendocino (7). Chad’s (8) is in a Victorian house and you eat according to your taste in the dining room or in the lounge, or in the drawing room or even in the courtyard.
We sampled Syrahs and quickly settled for a velvety Beckmen 2000. In my line of business, none of the things you call “half-baked” are very good at all but the oysters Rockefeller we shared as a starter were so to perfection: not chewy in any way, basking in a decadently Pernod-enhanced hollandaise. (Did you know that oysters Rockefeller were initially a simple transpose, with snails replaced by oysters, and that the spinach is a pure misconception – based on color only – by some inept counterfeiter, about the parsley in the original French recipe?)
Adriana chose the braised boar shank, an audacious adaptation of Chad’s renowned eight-hour braised lamb shank, and did not live to regret it. I went for the “baseball,” a 16 ounce piece of sirloin shaped as the referred-to sport appliance and coated with a brandy-peppercorn reduction. Words are failing me!
Before being given any opportunity for reflecting upon the subject of desserts we were offered a complimentary chocolate Jack Daniel’s soufflé. We were unsure whether the house had run out of any other desserts and was determined to pre-empt our choosing or whether some patron who had initially ordered it (twenty minutes wait) had a last-minute change of heart and had rushed to get instead scrumptious seafood at Brophy’s (9) on the pier – who could blame them? Whatever the case, we didn’t mind at all.
We drove back into the night, replete, content and fully satisfied.
(1) Gladstone’s, 17300 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272; (310) 459-9734
(2) Ocean Avenue Seafood, 1401 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401; (310) 394-5669
(3) I Cugini, 1501 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401; (310) 451-4595
(4) Grasing’s, 6th St & Mission, Carmel CA; (831) 624-6562
(5) Café Pierre, 317 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266; (310) 545-5252
(6) Jeanty At Jack’s, 615 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94111, (415) 693-0941
(7) MacCallum House, 45020 Albion Street, Mendocino, CA 95460, 800-609-0492
(8) Chad’s, 625 Chapala St, Santa Barbara CA 93101, (805) 568-1876
(9) Brophy Brothers, 119 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93109; (805) 966-4418