Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wednesday Dinner of the Blogs Blogging

We aren't just brilliant with bytes, we're brilliant with bites here in Santa Barbara so last night Esau, Big Table, What Is a Blog Anyway?, and yours truly sat down and chowed down at the brand new, really just barely a kitten Hungry Cat. Yep, we broke that time-honored rule about not attending a restaurant's opening night because we just couldn't wait. The good news is the time-honored rule didn't apply. David Lentz and crew have themselves a total winner straight out of the gate, and I'm not just talking about the Pimlico cocktail (bourbon, orange juice, lime juice, mint) one of us enjoyed.

We were surprised to find the joint jumping when we arrived for our 8:30 reservation. (Indeed, when we left and chatted a bit with Lentz he said he was over-joyed at the turnout, given the original Hollywood location took a few weeks to catch on.) We had to wait, but the hostess was quite polite and apologetic about it, and you have to admit dealing with a 45-seat restaurant and figuring out how long people might linger won't be easy, especially since there's so many fine drinking options to keep people in their seats post-dinner (have Tim recommend the Armagnac--you'll see). As for the space, it's got a fine copper-topped bar and another bar along the back window, but mostly when it's full, it's deocrated with people. Of course, this is Santa Barbara, so the people are more decorative than in many other locales, so that's far from bad. The Cat's buzz will just build its buzz, in a way, if it stays packed with attractive folks.

As long as those attractive folks have any taste, that won't be a problem. We started with cocktails, and a hint they take things seriously is that only 1 of the 8 specialty cocktails feature vodka (no point in being a painter who only paints in white, right?). I particularly recommend the Howling Wolf--rye, blood orange, and lemon juice, so it's kind of a variation on the New York Cocktail, but it gets its wolf on with a dash of chili-infused tequila. That sneaky heat at a sip's end is a pleasant surprise, and really works with the raw bar oysters, sort of like liquid cocktail sauce with an alcohol kick. The oysters were good but the peel and eat shrimp were better, as you'd expect from a chef who grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Lentz knows what goes in a boil, and the kitchen cooks the shrimp just to the right doneness.

The wine list features some of INOTBB's home cellar faves, including Cold Heaven Viognier (it's got that exotic fruit thing you want, but none of the cheap-o viognier froot loops taste you don't want) and Kunin Pape Star (as in, like Chateauneuf du, but at a fraction of the cost and from right in the Santa Ynez Valley), but we went with the Spanish tempranillo I didn't know because it's good to try things you don't know you know. Do watch on the menu that everything listed on the menu under "dinner" isn't created equally--some are more small plates, so when in doubt, ask about how much you'll be getting. That doesn't mean the quick-cured hamachi isn't delicious, but it does mean it will also be quick-eaten. Everyone seemed content with his or her dish, for in addition to the hamachi we had the crabcake, frisee, pancetta with two over easy quail eggs atop; the grilled scallops, braised oxtail, cauliflower, and curry (which looked like a clever surf and turf--mollusk and tail?--variation, but none of us shared nothing cause we're ornery and liked our stuff too much); and my housemade chorizo, braised clams, sofrito and grilled bread that was so good people longed for the bread, even.

Service was fine given it was opening night and waiting on our 4-top meant taking two different routes to our table around other tables. At times things seemed to come a bit jumbled--the wine arrived after the main course was placed down, say--but our waiter was genial and the occasional visits from beverage director Tim were highlights because he just knows his stuff so well and is so enthusiastic about it. (Indeed, I'm thinking I missed the career boat: what could be better than to have your job be deciding what beer, wine, and cocktails go with good food?)

Don't believe the website (as of now), for the SB Cat, like the Hollywood Cat before it, only has one dessert, a chocolate bread and butter pudding that gets bruleed on top and I have to stop thinking about as I want one RIGHT NOW. Sorry.

Also, the Hungry Cat is one of those places were nothing seems too expensive but you like things so much all the cocktails and food adds very quickly to over $50 per person (with tip, and do so, generously). Still, it's worth that to have a place that's both comfortable and hip at the same time, and incredibly welcoming. Even Lentz's wife Suzanne Goin of AOC and Lucques fame was around for much of the night, with the double stroller and their newborn twins.

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Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

Hungry. Oh so hungry...

Thanks for the report! Looking forward to reading reviews from Esau, Big Table, Tessitura.

When did the internets get so fattening?

1:32 PM  
Blogger artuzi said...

How can you NOT SHARE your meals?

Especially at a new restaurant?

What is the point of sitting with others at a 4 top if you cannot taste what they ordered?

Remind me not to dine with you and your wife because at our table everything must be shared.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

George caught all the valences of our evening. I'd emphasize the ambience of the Hungry Cat. We have a lot of fine dining choices in Santa Barbara, and now one with a relaxed hipness, more SF than LA.

(And some sharing was going on.)

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

Actually, I did share, or at least offered -- not my fault if there were few takers. But if folks don't want to share, it shouldn't be a requirment. The point of dining with friends is the company and the shared experience, not eating everyone else's food.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous amy said...

and one more thing, Artuzi, you'd be hard pressed to find a more generous host than George.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Sounds excellent. You've been talking about this joint for a while. Glad to hear it lived up to it.

3:51 AM  
Blogger artuzi said...

Amy, My apologies if you or George were offended. The comments were more tongue in cheek than anything else and it has nothing to do with generosity; Yours, George’s or otherwise.

We always find sharing all the dishes served to our table a great way to enjoy more tastes at a restaurant so we make a point of not ordering the same things and sharing "bites".

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Grace said...

We went last evening to the Hungry Kat and without a doubt it was the best meal I've had in Santa Barbara on a "bistro" level. George has written the truth! Oh...the burger is the best I've had anywhere. The fish and chips were... the way they should be, flawless. Can't recommend it enough.

9:51 AM  
Blogger skippy said...

off topic george but i added inotb to skippy's blogroll...

11:21 AM  
Blogger Tessitura said...

George nailed it perfectly...the food was great, the drinks outstanding (especially the Armagnac) fantastic atmosphere very laid back...not too loud like you get at other small joints in town. There was sharing but as for my meal it just seemed awkward to share (little quail eggs running everywhere). And my personal opinion is that George is THE best host.

WV: try#1)fadrq...the word to describe me after my delcious single grape after dinner drink!

11:25 AM  
Blogger George said...

Hey, Artuzi, my comment was tongue in cheek, too, so with both of us speaking with our tongues in cheek, no wonder neither of us heard well.

Patrick, thanks for reminding me we also ordered the "valences." The tastiest ones I've had in months.

Thanks for the kind words Tessitura and Amy. The checks are in the mail.

Skippy, thanks for the link. You are a man among kangaroos!

11:50 AM  
Anonymous curious cat said...

I went to the Hungry Cat this past Sunday, for a little open house party. I had the Greyhound Proper cocktail, which I quite liked, and a Cucumber Martini. I preferred the Greyhound over the martini - the taste of the latter seemed reminiscent of wheatgrass juice. I'm not knocking wheatgrass juice, it just wasn't the moment for it.
The oysters were really fabulous, and the raw clams were okay. Crabcakes were very very good and the most interesting appetizer I had that night was a warm fava bean and olive tapenade puree, served on bruscetta.
Meeting the general manager and head chef was very inspiring - their excitment for the new restaurant was obvious. Good times!

6:30 PM  
Anonymous kusala said...

OK, George, I'm caving even though I sounded curmudgeonly in response to the Cat in my previous comments: I have plans to go to dinner there tonight. A friend of mine has gotten word that the burgers are not to be missed, so that's what we'll be supping on... but I may surely have to throw in an appetizer or salad, cocktail or Craftsman lager (I actually am a lager fan), and probably that yummy bread pudding/brulee you raved about.

[by the way, you might want to update blogger settings so that comment date shows up along with the time...]

10:42 AM  

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