Wednesday Saturday Night Date Blogging
OK, now that that any snickeryness is out of the way, let's talk about the dinner and drinks Amy and I had last Saturday, and what it portends for Santa Barbara area dining. We opted to eat at the Montecito Cafe for the first time in months, and as we were hungry and went early, we even got in at 6 without a wait (for you out of towners, this is like getting to secondbase with a nun in fifteen minutes, but more rewarding). Generally we like to wait for a table in the cocktail lounge--it's really much nicer than a bar, after all, it's in a location that used to be a high-end jewelry store--so even without having to wait, decided to have pre-dinner drinks anyway. I'm a sucker for their blue martini, made with Bombay Sapphire and truly delicious blue cheese-stuffed olives, wisely made with real cheese, daily (so many blue cheese olives seem to be made with pasty cheesesque stuff unworthy of good gin or the drinkers that appreciate it). Amy had a Mandarin-tini based on Hangar 1's mandarin vodka, so you know that was also delicious.
Alas, things would sort of good downhill from there, if buoyed at the end by the as usual terrific coconut cake, a moist delight. Our appetizers were solid enough, both carrying on the blue cheese theme, as I got broiled oysters with a blue cheese sauce (that Amy insisted overpowered the bivalve, and as always there's the argument doing anything to a good oyster is a crime, let alone laving dairy on one) and Amy got the iceberg wedge with, yes, you guessed it, blue cheese dressing. Both plates featured tomatoes that were mistakes--a pale tomato makes the whole day a bit wan. Several slices on two plates is wan too many. So the first course gets a passing grade, but not really high marks.
The main courses didn't quite even get to that level. To be honest, my roast duck had good flavor, but the waitress didn't ask how I wanted it cooked and that's exactly how it came--not how I wanted it cooked. Duck really needs to be medium rare, and this duck was well done, which is not done well. Amy ordered Linguini, Lamb Sausage, Roasted Garlic & Onions, Tomatoes, Oregano & Olive Oil, and wasn't pleased, complaining the dish never really came together, the lamb was just like little pucks on the pasta, and the sauce merely runny. We did have a nice half bottle of Qupe Syrah, ever an old standby, but as usual the Cafe wine list perturbed me, as they refuse to include years, as if they assume no one knows anything about vintages. What's more, on the actually solid half bottle list they offered a "Rosenblum Zinfandel," and all I could think was which one? Currently Rosenblum offers 22 zins on its website. Now, perhaps not all of them come in a 375ml bottle, but still, this is sloppy wine-selling at best, disregard for the customer at worst.
You add it up and it brought us down, for the Montecito Cafe is generally one of our favorite places to dine in the area. You get a bit of the chic buzz of Montecito without the attitude, you get an interesting if small selection of wines, you get very good if rarely knock-you-out food, and you get out the door at about $100 total for two people. But if the food slips, not paying a ridiculous amount of money won't be enough to keep us coming. Here's hoping it was just a bad night in the kitchen and not a trend.
After dinner we decided to check out the recently re-opened Quantum, which now bears the moniker Quantum Kitchen & Cocktails. The previous incarnation of the spot just seemed to try too hard--it wanted to be AOC or some other sophisticated yet fun big city small plate hot spot, but mostly came off like Santa Barbara straining, which defeats the whole purpose of Santa Barbara. Plus, the food back then was hit and miss. And they didn't have a full liquor license, and saketinis just seem silly to me, leaving me an image of someone on Laugh-In making "sock it to me" jokes.
So, we didn't eat, of course, but we did cocktail up. Amy tried a special pear cosmo (check that spelling, she only had one), that was a clever variation on the tasty drink Sex & the City ruined (really, ladies, drinking them won't make you a size 0 like Sarah Jessica Parker). All the joy of pear without any of the fruit's graininess. I had to stick with gin, because gin insists (you gin drinkers know exactly what I mean). Quantum serves a bracing Hendrick's martini, a gin I've grown to appreciate as it's cool as a cucumber, or at least tastes a bit like one.
While we drank we also drank-in the menu, which seems simpler and wanting to comfort and is especially heavy on the burgers they serve in a box (no, not like Mickey D's, but a little wood tray-like contraption). That certainly helps knock the pretension out of a joint. The Happy Hour (and a Halfs) from 5-6:30 also looked like good deals, especially the food and a draught pairings. We plan to try the fish and chips one of these days, at least. And order Dr. Loosen's Riesling by the glass.
So, it's a tenuous ecosystem, and maybe there are only so many good restaurant vibes that can go around. We shall see, or I guess I should say we shall taste. Although any good