Driving Demand: In Santa Barbara Wine Country, a Lunch Spot on Wheels

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/10/17

The hottest new spot for lunch in Los Olivos is actually on four wheels.

The First & Oak Food Truck rolled into town in May. It’s an extension of the culinary offering by Chef Steven Snook and his team at First & Oak, the Solvang restaurant that’s easily become one of the most buzzed about places for dinner in the Santa Ynez Valley. Chef Snook, who worked under celeb chef Gordon Ramsay in London and New York before moving to the West Coast, is celebrating two years at First & Oak next month.
 
“The ingredients, the processing, the methodology are foundationally the same,” says Chef Snook, comparing his food truck fare against the fine dining experience at First & Oak. “The final product on the truck, though, is more approachable and simple.”
 
The food truck is all about crepes right now. The savory selections are most popular with the lunchtime crowds, Chef Snook says, with options like braised beef short rib and fried chicken with gravy. “We treat the crepe as a vessel rather than a standalone item,” says the chef, acknowledging that the French culinary staple is a far newer concept to many wine country visitors. A First & Oak crepe is perforated and shaped like a cone, which allows it to be stuffed with myriad ingredients. “We’re taking the basic crepe concept and expanding it to make it more fun and engaging."
 
Chef Steven Nook (credit: Tenley Fohl)
Sweet selections include ice cream, caramelized bananas with candied hazelnuts and roasted peanut butter with dulce de leche and chocolate “We’ve also got our take on the great American cherry pie,” says the chef, an English native. “Cherry pie filling with crushed graham crackers and a white wine reduction.”
 
The focus on crepes is a tip of the hat to Bernard Rosenson, the Southern California restaurateur who owns First & Oak and the Mirabelle Hotel in Solvang where it’s housed, along with popular Sky Room restaurant in Long Beach. “He grew up in France, and crepes were one of his favorite childhood foods,” says his son, Jonathan, who helps manage all of the family businesses.
 
The Rosensons also own the Coquelicot wine tasting room in Los Olivos, which serendipitously, if not cleverly, allows them to circumvent some of the famously restrictive county rules about where food trucks can set up shop that have already driven other eateries-on-wheels out of town. The truck is parked on the Coquelicot patio, which is private property.
 
“In fact, we encourage folks to come enjoy their crepes at the tasting room, and we give them 20% off wine flights or bottles,” says the younger Rosenson. Coquelicot features organic estate wines, from Riesling to cabernet sauvignon and a variety of blends; its sister label, the smartly dubbed Rose & Son, is a project by Jonathan Rosenson that features fresh, approachable, more affordable wines.
 
The truck serves guests on weekends – Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from about 11am to about 4pm. It’s equipped to do more, though. This is a converted 25-passenger bus that was gutted, reframed with steel and outfitted with brand new restaurant equipment: two crepe wheels, a grill, ovens, burners, a deep fryer, a salamander broiler and refrigeration and freezer space. That means the truck is available during the week for catering, and Chef Snook and his team have already cooked at rehearsal dinners, concerts, festivals and a bevy of winery and estate events from Santa Barbara to Santa Maria.
 
One of Chef Snook's savory crepes
With the success of crepes – the truck can dole out up to 150 on a good day – Chef Snook is already working on expanding the food truck menu – French boulangerie-style items, like salads and croc monsieurs. All the while, he’s conscientious about his gastronomic neighbors. “I don’t want to step on anyone else’s toes,” says the chef. “We’re not introducing direct competition but, rather, expanding the variety available to visitors.”
 
The unique appeal of the First & Oak truck, though, the only semi-permanent food truck in the Santa Ynez Valley, is undeniable. “It’s an easy walk-up and within minutes you have lunch in your hands and you’re off again,” says Chef Snook. “It’s quick and easy, and it’s pretty filling.”
 
First & Oak Food Truck at the Coquelicot Estate Vineyard tasting room, 2884 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos. 805-688-1500. firstandoak.com.
 
 
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