(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on January 23, 2014)
The upcoming Chinese New Year will shed light on what may be a little known fact at Mattei’s Tavern: Chinese tradition plays a big role here.
When Felix Mattei ran this historic Los Olivos property in the late 1800s – a haven for weary travelers trekking up and down Central California by stagecoach and rail – a Chinese cook by the name of Gin Lung Gin was his right hand man.
|Gin Lung Gin's visage graces the butcher block inside Mattei's kitchen|
“Gin was regarded as part of the Mattei family, and he’s buried on the family plot,” says Emily Perry Wilson, who co-owns and runs Mattei’s Tavern today alongside her husband, Chef Robbie Wilson. “He was the property cook – prepared breakfast, lunch dinner – and was known for his sugar cookies.”
Mr. Gin lived on the restaurant grounds, even, in a small building to the rear of the restaurant, right next to where the Wilsons installed their pizza oven.
In fact, when they took over the property – the Wilsons partnered with entrepreneur Charles Banks to rebrand and relaunch Mattei’s in July – they kept the outpost’s original chef in mind. The butcher station inside the exhibition kitchen, for example, is adorned with a mural depicting his visage. And the menu is sprinkled with Asian-fusion dishes. The “Crunchy Sea Creatures” starter, for example, features tempura seafood served with an uni tartar sauce; the short rib roast entrée comes with heirloom carrots and maitake mushrooms, and is served in a tasty ramen broth; and the rotisserie chicken – cooked long and slow over an open wood-burning pit – features a homemade sweet chili sauce.
|Chef Robbie Wilson|
On January 29th, Chef Wilson is celebrating Mr. Gin’s birthday by cranking up the heat on a Chinese-inspired, one-night-only, seven-course menu; the culinary feast coincides nicely with the Chinese New Year, which, this year, lands on January 31.
“The best way I can pay tribute to the true history and heritage of Mattei’s Tavern is by honoring its first chef with our pristine local product, and a Chinese New Year's-inspired evening,” says Chef Wilson. “Gin would have wanted it that way!”
The chef’s vision: a pickles appetizer gives way to a fried rice course, featuring aged ham. Shrimp toast follows, with ridgeback shrimp and black “sriracha” hot sauce presented on toasted homemade brioche. The third course is a pretzel bun, featuring fried chicken wings, mint and spicy chiles. The beef short ribs that come next are accompanied by traditional noodles, peanuts, Thai chile and an egg served sunny-side up. And the Chinese long beans that follow are treated with rock sugar, plum and soy sauces and cognac. An Arnold Palmer mocha cake brings the birthday dinner to an end.
This special meal – priced at $53 per person – will be served family-style for parties of two, four or six. Drinks are extra, but Mattei’s selection of signature and classic cocktails, and a comprehensive international lineup of wines, should leave no one at the table thirsty.
“We’re looking forward to hosting this event on an annual basis,” says Mrs. Perry Wilson.
For reservations, call Mattei’s Tavern at 805-688-3550.
|This sign outside Mattei's Tavern recounts its early days|