Holiday Cooking Help: Chef at Santa Barbara's The Lark to Offer First Culinary Class

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Macduff Everton
story published in the Santa Barbara News Press on 12/9/18

Chef Jason Paluska thinks a few expert tips can make holiday meal making a lot less intimidating.

The culinary whiz behind the huge success of Santa Barbara’s popular restaurant, The Lark, is leading his very first cooking class. The intimate, 90-minute gathering of budding cooks will take place Wednesday, December 19th at The Lark’s sister spot next door, the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. Tickets are $100.

The Lark's signature Brussels Sprouts w/Medjool Dates are on the cooking class menu on Dec. 19
“I’m going to try hard to make sure they don’t feel any distance between us,” says Chef Paluska of his pupils-to-be. Recalling his own start in the restaurant business, when pro chefs intimidated him, Mr. Paluska admits that “there’s a weird hierarchy between people who dine and people in the kitchen. When someone finally just shows you how it’s done, you’re more confident and comfortable.”

So the goal of his class is to make holiday cooking “more simple and more approachable.”

Much of the class’ appeal, though, is the chef’s own celebrity, thanks to the following The Lark has reaped in its five short years as a culinary cornerstone in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. Mr. Paluska transitioned from a thriving career in the San Francisco food scene -- Town Hall, Salt House and RN74 are on the Texas native’s résumé – to help design and launch The Lark in August of 2013. The story of the restaurant’s success ever since, as well as the story behind its deliberate homage to Santa Barbara in the food it sources and purveyors it partners with, is chronicled in a 400-page cookbook published by the Lark late last year. In fact, Around The Table: Recipes and Stories from The Lark in Santa Barbara,” inspires all of the culinary components on the menu during Chef Paluska’s upcoming class.

“The book represents the Santa Barbara region and who I am and what I do every day in the kitchen really well,” says the chef.

Students will learn Lark classics like Crispy Brussels Sprouts, prepared with Medjool dates, garum, serrano chile, sesame and lime and Butternut Squash ad Candied Apples, made with fromage blanc, beets, black walnuts and pomegranate.  The lesson on Grilled Spanish Octopus will aim to “demystify the myth that it’s going to suck,” says Chef Paluska, “because everyone’s had crappy octopus.”  Mr. Paluska preps his with a vadouvan curry glaze, roasted pistachios, creamy cauliflower, missions figs and cilantro, then cooks it for 10 hours over a super low heat of 180 degrees.

The class, which will feature several hands-on demos, including a lesson on octopus butchery, includes food, wine-paired tastings and a copy of the cookbook signed by the chef.

Tickets can be purchased through Nightout.com or by calling The Lark to reserve at 805.284.0370.

Find out more at thelark.com.

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'Tis the Season in Santa Barbara: Three Christmas Wine Happenings Not to Miss

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/6/18

I’m like you – considering how fleeting they are, I want to maximize my experience of the holidays! The Santa Barbara wine industry is here to help, hosting a bevy of events sure to get you in the Christmas mood. Here are three holiday get-togethers for you and the ones you love. 

·         5th Annual Pop Clink Fizz, Saturday, Dec. 8th, 7-10pm
o   The effervescence of the holiday season may well begin here, where bubbles will rule the night. Wine + Beer, the impressive imbibers’ shop at the Santa Barbara Public Market, will feature nine high-end Champagnes, from favorites you know and love to rare, tough-to-find bottles.  This is the perfect way to taste through hand-selected bubblies before you pick the perfect ones for your holiday partying. The popular food outlets at the Market will offer gourmet pairings at this intimate event – space is limited. $95 includes tax and tip, and parking is free. For tickets, call 805-770-7701. Wine + Beer, 38 W. Victoria St., Santa Barbara.
 
·         7th Annual Grassini Gives Back Wien Charity Event, Sunday, Dec. 9th, 12-6pm
o   Grassini Family Vineyards both donates and matches 100% of all revenues generated at this downtown Santa Barbara event, with funds earmarked this year for the Storyteller Children’s Center. Admission is free, but the $20 you splurge on the special wine tasting flight becomes $40 for Storyteller, the nonprofit that helps homeless and at-risk children achieve kindergarten readiness. All proceeds from the silent auction, raffle ticket sales and donations go straight to Storyteller, too. The all-afternoon affair takes place at Grassini’s El Paseo location. This event has raised $142,000 since it premiered in 2012. Grassini Family Vineyards, 24 El Paseo, Santa Barbara.
 
·         Solvang Julefest Wine & Beer Walk “Skål Stroll,” Dec. 15th-16th, 11am-4pm
o   Strolling Solvang, with its festive décor and pervasive charm, is a holiday no-brainer, especially when you get to sip along the way. Follow the map to 18 tasting rooms and breweries – Lucas & Lewellen, Sanger Family of Wines and Lucky Dogg Winery, among them. Seven of these locales are also participating in the second annual Gløgg Contest, pouring their own version of the popular Scandinavian mulled wine that’s often flavored with spices like cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Shop for holiday gifts along the way and, on Saturday, stick around for the two free performances of the Live Nativity Pageant at 5pm and 7pm. Tickets usually sell out, so buy them in advance at solvangusa.com. $45.
Merry Christmas!

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Brunch at The Ranch: Famous Montecito Property to Open for Holidays

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/27/18

“It’s been a long year,” admits Maxine Rutledge, resort manager at the San Ysidro Ranch. The doors at the famous resort hideaway have been shuttered ever since January 9th, when a deadly post-storm debris flow devoured large portions of Montecito. Damage at the 500-acre Ranch was relegated to creekside cottages, mainly, steering clear of the most of the property’s 41 rooms and suites and the two-story building that houses its Stonehouse and Plow & Angel restaurants.

But the community has been anxiously awaiting its reopening ever since.

The Christmas season will offer the public’s first opportunity to return to the San Ysidro Ranch, as the resort brings back its popular Champagne Brunch for a very limited run. The themed gourmet events were announced via social media this week, on the Ranch’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, and are scheduled for four days only: December 22, 23, 29 and 30, from 10:30am to 2pm. Reservations are a must, as “there is still some construction going on and we need to control the number of people who are coming and going,” says Ms. Rutledge, who was named resort manager just a few weeks before the mudflow. “But this way, we can open up so that the locals get a chance to see it first."

The holiday Champagne Brunches will offer a combination of both traditional and new dishes; the menu should be finalized this week by Chef Matt Johnson, who’s helmed the Ranch kitchen for 10 years. The three-course brunch costs $125 per person and comes with free-flowing bubbly. For reservations, call 805-565-1720.

The Stonehouse, considered one of the best restaurants in the country, and the Plow & Angel lounge should be back up and running by the second week in January, a full year after the Montecito mudslides. Upgrades to both eateries are subtle: refreshed wood finishes and new awnings and umbrellas, mainly. Cottages are expected to begin welcoming guests come March.

“Employees have slowly started moving back into our offices,” adds Ms. Rutledge, “and it feels so good."

Find out more at sanysidroranch.com.


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Liquid Leftovers: 10 Tips For Preserving Your Thanksgiving Wine

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/22/18


If you do Thanksgiving right, it’s not just edible leftovers you’ll be enjoying the days after. The cavalcade of flavors om your table means you’ll popping a lot of corks, too – a wide range of wines to match a wide range of foods. And while Tupperware and aluminum foil works well when it comes to saving turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce for Friday’s overstuffed sandwiches, keeping your wines alive requires a bit more planning. Here are 10 easy ways to help preserve a few splashes for the foraging that’s just hours away...

1)Go Young: “Many older wines will lose their freshness, delicacy, and nuances overnight,” Riverbench GM Laura Booras once told me, “so it’s best to finish them the night you open them.” So if you’re choosing between which wine to finish tonight and which one to save for tomorrow, save the younger one for Friday’s lunch.

2)Go Big: Finish off lower-alcohol wines first; alcohol’s preservative qualities mean higher-alcohol wines have a better chance of surviving through tomorrow. Same goes for higher-tannins wines, like cabernets, malbecs and nebbiolos. Late harvest, fortified and port wines are good overnight bets, too.

3)Decant, Then Drink: Booras also told me that decanted wines have a shorter shelf life. “The surface area has been more exposed, so it’s going to oxidize and age much more quickly,” she said. So finish the wines you decant first and put the cork (or screw the cap) back on the ones you didn’t.

4)Don’t Go To Extremes: Temperature will have an even greater effect on wines that have been opened, so avoid sunlight through the window or the trunk of your car in the middle of the day. Avoiding temperature changes will do your wine good.

5)Take a Stand: Keep tomorrow’s wines standing up, rather than on their side. Remember that lesson from high school chemistry? A bottle on its side will result in maximum wine exposure to oxygen, wine’s great nemesis.

6)Screw it: If you’re not good at re-corking a bottle of wine, buy screwcapped wines. instead. A well-sealed screwcap is a very effective way of preserving wine for 24 hours.

7)No Off Sides: Saving your wine by sticking the cork back in? “Put in the same end that was touching the wine first,” says sommelier Jon McDaniel. And he knows what he’s talking about: McDaniel, who managed the Wine Merchant at the Los Olivos Café before he took the Chicago dining scene by storm, made Wine Enthusiast’s “40 Under 40 Tastemaker” list last year. “I have seen corks that didn't taint the wine with TCA (a bacteria that will 'cork' the wine) initially.  But when you put in the other end of the cork first, you can come back the next day and have a corked or spoiled wine.  So even though the cork will expand a bit, try and put the wet end of the cork back in first.”

8)Blend It: A bottle that’s full is least likely to spoil, since you’re minimizing the wine’s contact with oxygen. So don’t be coy about filling a bottle or two with your wine leftovers and create your own special Thanksgiving blend for the next day. You’re not a winemaker. You’re not trying to win an award. You’re just being prudent.

9)Chill Out: My friend Stephanie Varner, who manages the tasting room at Rusack Vineyards once gave me the most creative advice for giving your Thanksgiving leftover wine a new lease on life: “Make ice cubes!” The possibilities tomorrow and beyond are endless.

10)Be Done With It: This is the only advice we heed at our house. Don’t want to deal with preserving leftovers? Don’t have any to begin with! Drink up. Drink responsibly. But drink up!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Hilliard Bruce Goes on the Market: State-of-the-Art Winery Listed for $15 Million

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Brady Spear, Spearhead Media
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/16/18


Hilliard Bruce, a state of the art winery in the heart in Santa Barbara County’s celebrated Sta. Rita Hills region, has just been put on the market. The property, which spans 101 acres and features one of the most state-of-the-art wineries on the Central Coast, is listed at $14.95 million.

“It’s an extraordinary place,” says production manager Sonja Magdevski, the locally renowned winemaker who joined Hilliard Bruce in 2017 to oversee the 21 planted acres of pinot noir and chardonnay and annual production of about 15,000 cases of wine.

“The potential for growth for whoever buys it is huge,” she continues. “Do you want to plant more grapes? There’s space for it. Do you want to build another home? There’s space for it. There’s plenty of room to personalize it.”

The property is very much turnkey, though, especially for a buyer seeking a ranch and vineyard lifestyle. The estate, nestled just off State Route 246 near Lompoc and neighboring other celebrated vineyards like Babcock and Melville, features a stunning 15,000-square-foot gravity flow winery designed by BJC, the same architecture firm behind the aesthetic for the Apple stores and Bill Gates’ residence on Lake Washington. There’s a luxe equestrian complex with eight stalls, indoor/outdoor entertainment kitchen, bocce ball court and elegant owner’s living quarters. The manicured landscaping throughout includes a 10-acre pasture, a reservoir with floating islands and various oak, redwood, Italian pine and palm trees.

The sale also includes all existing wine inventory, including the 2018 harvest wines, which Ms. Magdevski put in barrel this past Monday.


Hilliard Bruce was founded in 2002 by the husband-and-wife team of, and Texas natives, John Hilliard and Christine Bruce. Sustainability was a focus from day one, which led to two innovative milestones for the Sta. Rita Hills area: SIP (Sustainability in Practice) certification of the vineyard and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification of the winery. Since the Hilliard Bruce wine label launched in 2014, the winery keeps about a third of its annual 60- to 70-ton harvest, creating wines that consistently garner 90+ scores; the remainder of the yearly grape inventory is earmarked for a lengthy list of longtime client wineries in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Napa and Sonoma Counties.

Hilliard Bruce is listed by Kerry Mormann & Associates and shared with Joe Ramos of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

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Fill Your Calendar: Why Fall is the Best Time to Attend a Wine Event

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 9/13/18


When California Wine Month rolls around each September, it’s a reminder that the best time of the year for wining has arrived. With the summer crowds gone, fall ushers in more elbow room in the tasting rooms and in the vineyards, and travel affordability goes up. Throw in California’s enviable autumn weather and the peak of the grape harvest season, and fall wine events become a must.

You’ll notice an uptick in wine event promotions during California Wine Month, now in its 14th year. A coordinated effort by wine regions throughout the Golden State – from Temecula to Lodi and Paso Robles to Sonoma – it aims to celebrate the nearly 11,000 growers and winemakers who produce 80% of the wine in the U.S. California is also the fourth largest producer of wine in the world.

Santa Barbara, of course, is special. Our easy access, our buzzy food scene, our gorgeous scenery – they all converge to make a wine country visit here almost magical. And events, both large and small, that allow you to connect with local viticultural treasures, abound. Consider these fall happenings:

Hey, it's Bob Oswaks!
Thursday, September 20: Usher in the season with the “Autumn Equinox Wine Dinner” at Les Marchands in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. Chef Weston Richards will dole out a four-course meal of smoked local mussels, duck confit and grilled quail. Enjoy a local fig tart with homemade ricotta and honey for dessert. Featured wines, which are paired with each course, hail from Sardinia, Abruzzo, the Southern Rhone Valley and the Loire Valley. Dinner only ($50), or with wine pairings ($90), are served from 5:30pm, so you can make a reservation at the time that works best for you. This is part of Les Marchands’ ongoing Seasonal Dinner Series. lesmarchandswine.com.

Saturday, October 6: Los Alamos baker phenom Bob Oswaks hosts Central Coast winemakers the first Saturday of every month. The tastings, and the bevy of breads and hors d’ouevres prepped by the Bob’s Well Bread kitchen, are complementary and available from 1-3pm. These gatherings are super intimate, with plenty of one-on-one with the wine team, which makes them a great way to discover something new. Pence Ranch is the featured winery for October, one of the premier producers in the Sta. Rita Hills of pinot noir and chardonnay. And don’t leave without doing what I always do when I visit Bob: grab a few baguettes for the road. bobswellbread.com

Wednesday, October 10: Many Santa Barbara winemakers have told me many times – making wine requires a lot of beer. The Tap & Pour Beer Fest at the Canary Hotel downtown will give your taste buds a break from merlot and reason to celebrate Oktoberfest. A bevy of locally crafted brews will be poured, and you’ll nosh on lots of German-inspired fare by Executive Chef Peter Cham – yup, housemade sausages and soft pretzels! The highlight at any of these Canary events, including upcoming next Sip & Swirl parties on November 23 and December 11, is the 360-degree view of beautiful Santa Barbara from the rooftop. Tap & Pour Beer Fest.

My wife & I enjoyed an awesome stay & dinner at The Ballard Inn
Saturday, October 13: Events-a-plenty during the Celebration of Harvest, the annual weekend fete thrown by Santa Barbara County vintners throughout the Santa Ynez Valley. After a recent stay and meal at the Ballard Inn – a magical time and superlative food – Chef Budi Kazali’s Saturday night dinner is the one event not to miss. He welcomes the Bien Nacido Vineyards team for an intimate meal at his Gathering Table Restaurant, and the pairings will surely wow. Seating is very limited, so I’d lock this one down now. The night begins at 6pm and costs $125 per person. ballardinn.com/events.

Saturday, October 20: I submit this: Los Olivos is the most charming town on the Central Coast. The annual Los Olivos Day in the Country is the quintessential community event, complete with family fun run (even dogs are allowed), parade, tractor show and a bevy of arts-&-crafts and food purveyors. Saunter in and out of the village’s dozens of tasting rooms, without missing Bien Nacido, Carhartt and Epiphany. This event is free and held rain or shine. Meet me at the flagpole! losolivosca.com/day-in-the-country.


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Opening Its Doors, 40 Years Later: Santa Barbara's Hitching Post Wines Launches First Ever Tasting Room

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/24/18

Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley had kicked around the idea of opening up a tasting room for several years. The men behind Santa Barbara’s Hitching Post Wines eyed the market, even contemplated building out a tasting nook in Mr. Ostini’s popular Buellton steakhouse, The Hitching Post II.
 
But it wasn’t until a tasting room suddenly became available right next door to the restaurant a few months ago that the timing finally seemed right, if not auspicious. And so, earlier this week, and close to 40 years after the Hartley-Ostini venture was born, Hitching Post Wines opened the doors to its first ever tasting room.
 
Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley at the new Buellton tasting room for Hitching Post Wines
“We’ve fallen in love with this property,” Frank Ostini told me this week, as the tasting room’s very first visitors came and went. The location along Highway 246, which was previously shared by the Cargasacchi and Loring labels and which Mr. Ostini and Mr. Hartley lease, expands the Hitching Post’s real estate from one acre to a sweeping 12. The lot has undergone a fair share of cosmetic upgrades, including new fencing to buffer the hums of traffic, the repurposed use of trellising to shade outdoor seating and the substantial clearing of brush to reveal vistas of the nearby Santa Ynez Mountains.
 
Most of the property, some eight acres, is untouched terrain that neighbors Ostrich Land and that stretches south across the Santa Ynez River. “This was an area the Chumash once used to fish steelhead [trout],” Mr. Ostini says. It’s a potential site for future farming, he adds, but no grapevines.
 
The crowning jewel here, though, is the tasting room, which the duo has transformed into a bright, breezy space. Light wood floors and plenty of natural light abound. Two tasting areas feature bars made from reclaimed barn wood found out back. A cellar of older vintages takes over an entire wall. And a lounge room with rustic wooden tables connects to a small retail space with an array of Hitching Post merch; the pith helmet famously donned by Frank Ostini in pretty much any picture that comes back when you Google him sells for $36.
 
An artsy gallery is a nod to the history of this renowned wine project, which saw Mr. Ostini and Mr. Hartley harvesting wine grapes for the first time in 1979. The display features the first wine they ever made under a joint label: a 1981 pinot noir “made at home in Sisquoc,” as is written right on the bottle. Dozens of photographs capture Hitching Post milestones as well as moments with industry colleagues who’ve passed away, like Chris Whitcraft, Seth Kunin and Mike Bonaccorsi. Guests will also find the last photo taken of Mr. Ostini without his signature mustache, snapped in 1986. And there are photos of the Sideways cast, too, who spent many nights in the Hitching Post dining room while filming the 2004 Oscar winner.

Chris Burroughs pours at Hitching Post Wines
In an interesting turn of irony, the tasting room staff at Hitching Post Wines includes Chris Burroughs, a longtime tasting room presence throughout the Santa Ynez Valley. Mr. Burroughs makes a memorable cameo in Sideways, pouring for Myles and Jack on their first stop during their wine-fueled bachelor adventure through Santa Barbara wine country. On opening day this week, he was taking visitors through the Traditional Tasting Menu ($15), which includes five Hitching Post classics; currently, they include the 2015 Cork Dancer Pinot Noir and the 2016 Gen Red blend. The $20 Reserve Tasting gives access to top-line, vineyard-specific wines, like pinot noirs from the famous Bien Nacido and Sanford & Benedict Vineyards. All wines, which are made at Buellton’s Terravant Wine Co., can be bought by the glass (from $6) and the bottle ($18-$55), with discounts for four- and 12-packs.
 
Outdoor seating at Hitching Post Wines
A tasty perk to the experience here is the cook-to-order lunch menu, which is grilled up by the Hitching Post crew next door, long renowned for its mastery of authentic Santa Maria BBQ. Served from 11am-2pm, “HP To You” includes a Grilled Corn Quesadilla ($6); a Grilled Artichoke with smoked tomato mayo ($10); a Steak Salad ($11); a Cheese Burger ($11); and the Steak & Caramelized Onion Sandwich ($12). The Meat & Cheese Plate costs $14. A classic Air Stream-turned-kitchen has already been brought onsite to take over the brunt of lunch service in the near future from the Hitching Post, which starts dinner service daily at 4pm.
 
The wine and lunch crowd has plenty of outdoor seating options, including cozy, shaded benches and a handful of secluded Adirondack chair pairs shaded by red umbrellas and fronted by valley views as far as they eye can see.
 
Hitching Post Wines, 420 E. Highway 246, Buellton. Sun.-Thu. 11am-5pm, Fri.-Sat. 11am-9pm. 805-688-0676. HPWines.com, @hitchingpost2.
 
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Skip the Cabernet: Pair Bourbon with Your Steak

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published by the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/16/18

Chef Kyle Johnson & me inside the Bourbon Steak LA kitchen
My quest to grill the perfect steak took me to Glendale a few days ago. Bourbon Steak LA is a Michael Mina restaurant and one of a handful of Bourbon Steak outlets across the country, in cities like Washington DC, Nashville and Las Vegas. At any one of these culinary havens, steak reigns supreme.
 
I spent the afternoon with Chef Kyle Johnson, a Vegas native and New York City transplant who’s been helming the kitchen at Bourbon Steak LA for four years. The restaurant is located at Americana at Brand, an elegantly cozy shopping complex designed by mogul Rick Caruso (the same man behind the construction – finally! – of the Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort in Montecito) and features a menu of 14-oz New York Strips, 20-oz Cowboy Ribeyes and 32-oz. Porterhouses for two. I came to explore the world of filet mignon.
 
 
I learned a lot about this cut, a part of the cow that’s rarely used, which makes it super tender and soft by nature. It’s bright red when freshest, with intermittent veins of fat, and it doesn’t need a whole lot of seasoning beyond cracked pepper and sea salt on all sides to enhance flavors. Chef Johnson sets his filets in a warm butter-and-herbs bath for 20 minutes before setting them on the grill. “It’ll start to warm the steak through and it’ll start to disperse the fats… and really start to melt those down.”
 
On a really hot grill, he bastes the filet continually with a house-made red wine butter and allows smoke from hickory wood chips to swathe the filet. Two minutes per side for medium rare, and then “let it rest, let it rest, let it rest.” Suffice it to say, this filet mignon (an eight-ounce center cut, accompanied by a seasonal trio set of vegetables, sells for $50 on the Bourbon Steak LA menu) was delectable.
 
One eye-opener for me during this visit was Chef’s Johnson liquid match for my filet: bourbon. Sure, the name on the marquis should have clued me in to the fact that this restaurant makes more than 50 whiskeys available by the glass. But as a pair for a beautiful steak?
 
“The high acidity form the alcohol and the heat from the alcohol cuts through a lot of the fat,” says the chef. “There’s a lot of butter, a lot of ample fats… and it helps cut a lot of that.”
 
And he was right. The bourbon almost acted like a palate cleanser between bites, prepping my tastes buds for the next soft, supple bite of filet. And the subtle sweetness of some of the bourbons we tasted, as well as the fruit-driven aromatics, also added structure and a fair share of nuance to the filet experience.
 
Sipping bourbon between bites will be different than if you were drinking a big, beautiful red wine, which would have been my knee-jerk reaction choice. With an alcohol content about three times that of wine, you’ll want to taste bourbon slowly and carefully. But the extra bite to each sip actually inspires you to slow your meal down and, in a surprisingly wonderful way, savor even the most delicious cut of meat just a little bit more.
 
 
The whiskeys Chef Johnson shared as “three of my favorites,” included Whistle Pig Straight Rye, aged 10 years, made in Vermont and distilled in Canada; Angel’s Envy from Louisville, Kentucky, which is aged in port casks for more depth and complexity; and Eagle Rare, also from Kentucky and perfect for “everyday drinking,” according to the chef, with bold but approachable citrus and honey flavors.
 
When I pressed him for a red wine match, Chef Johnson turned to Santa Barbara County: the Bordeaux-inspired Habit Red Blend by winemaker Jeff Fischer. The wine is supple and structured, with elegant tannins and integrated flavors of oak and red fruits. A blend of cabernet franc (43%), merlot (27%), petit verdot (14%) and cabernet sauvignon (13%), it’s sourced from the McGinley, Curtis and Grassini Vineyards in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley.
 
What I learned: red wine or bourbon, if the filet mignon is done well (and when I say “well”, I mean “medium rare”), it all works.
 
By the way, Bourbon Steak LA features Happy Hour daily from 4-7pm, with many plates discounted 50%, and half-off select bottles of wine every Monday night.

Travelzoo has negotiated an exclusive op with Chef Johnson for dinner for two at Bourbon Steak LA, for visits through October 31, check it out!
 
Bourbon Steak LA, 237 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. 818-839-4130.
 
 
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Driven by Beauty: Babcock Winery Event Aimed at Enthusiasts of All Things "Vintage"

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/13/18

At Babcock Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills, near Lompoc, the wine is the main attraction. Bryan Babcock, who’s been growing wine here since the early 1980s, is easily considered one of the top winemakers in Santa Barbara County. The wines he produces, wines like pinot noir and chardonnay, are lauded by consumers and colleagues alike.
 
Some of the vintage attractions in the Babcock tasting room
Something interesting happens, though, when visitors step up to the tasting bar. What surrounds them, wows them. And if it’s the wine that brought them here, it’s often the décor that inspires them to stay.
 
The look and feel of the Babcock Winery tasting room is an ever-evolving canvas for Lisa Boisset, Mr. Babcock’s wife for more than 26 years. It’s a menagerie of vintage finds, antique treasures and special, iconic, fascinating pieces that, each one, tells a story and strike a chord.
 
The tasting room is, actually, a warehouse. Mr. Babcock stacked his fermentation barrels here, floor to ceiling, until the notion struck his wife that this vast, cavernous space had way more potential. That was eight years ago. Today, the floors that embrace the tasting bar are as much a space for retail as a showroom for special acquisitions.
 
“I don’t have a design or a plan for every nook and cranny – there’s no recipe,” says Ms. Boisset. “And, because of that, it feels authentic.”
 
Truth be told, the winemaker’s wife has professional pedigree that totally ligitimizes her knack for design. Her formative years were spent traveling all over the world, thanks to a father who worked in the airline industry. “Few distractions, almost no TV and lots of adventures,” she says, are what helped fuel creativity, curiosity and an open mind.
 
She says, “I learned to appreciate other cultures and art and music in a free-spirited way. I think that’s why I’m a pretty fearless person. I’d rather be creative and go for things – not hastily, but with purpose. If you have great intuition and creativity and see an opportunity… there’s no harm in trying it.”
 
After college, Ms. Boisset delved into fashion and into retail, going on to spend more than 30 years as a buyer of contemporary fashions for Bullock’s, the once-mighty department store chain. Merchandising for a bevy of other companies followed, Forever 21 most recently.
 
“So I understand retail,” she declares, “and I like being creative and I like creating experiences.”
 
Much of that, these days, is channeled into the Babcock tasting room, which she outfits with random yet wonderful finds made on the road, at estate sales, specialty shows, bazaars and flea markets all over the world. “I’ll go anywhere and everywhere,” she says.
 
The tasting room treasures change all the time and range from cards, books and jewelry to furniture, works of art and collectibles from myriad eras. “They’re things that resonate with me,” says Ms. Boisset. “And I also have a good sense of what our customers will appreciate.”
 
For Ms. Boisset, these unique pieces mean a whole lot more than the price tag they don, of course. They represent a potential for discovery – “People find things here they never thought existed!” – and for an emotional connection.
 
“There’s a soulful quality to the acquisition of objects that mean something to us personally,” she says, adding with emphasis, “and, there’s also something meaningful about purchasing from an individual who is also colorful and interesting to you."
 
The latter point – the point about the people who sell interesting items – that’s what inspired Ms. Boisset to host a special event this weekend that’ll feature more than 20 antiques and collectibles vendors. Some are local, some are flying in from far away – all people Ms. Boisset has met during her own personal experiences curating relics and mementos.
 
“Taste + Savor + Relish” takes place this Saturday and Sunday (August 18 & 19, 2018) from 10am to 5pm. The event is free and open to all ages, though there will be an assortment of Babcock wines and fare from the popular Scratch Kitchen in Lompoc for sale. The celebrated band, Tina Schileske & The Graceland Exiles, performs a grand finale concert Sunday at 3pm. And, of course, there will be hundreds of treasures for the finding – furniture, clothing, artwork, photography, lighting, textiles and ceramics, all in styles ranging from mid-century modern and industrial to Farmhouse and Bohemian.

“Just like wine tasting is sensual – you taste, you talk about it, you think about it – this is also,” says Ms. Boisset. “People get caught up with routine. This is about experiencing something new. Fun music, good food, interesting people, seeing amazing things – it’s going to be a feast for the senses, an opportunity to be open and to appreciate beauty.”
 
To view some of the items that'll be for sale, check our Ms. Boisset's new Instagram venture for all things vintage, @soulstruckvintage.
 
When friends & I visited Babcock to celebrate my wife Renee's birthday, we loved the wine... and the décor!
And for those prone to wandering – for those who find themselves venturing toward a different kind of "vintage" – they’ll likely notice that Ms. Boisset has had quite the effect on her husband’s vineyard, too.  “Agristhetics,” Mr. Babcock says. It’s a word he coined to describe his own agricultural push away from what is routinely practical and towards what is aesthetically pleasing.
 
“I cut grape production in half a few years ago,” he says. “I planted 65 oak trees and I’m using one of my hillsides to plant milkweeds and different flower species for butterflies.”
 
Dovetailing from his wife’s own penchant for what’s attractive to the eye, and calling it an endeavor that’ll last “the rest of my life,” Mr. Babcock aims to “wow guests as soon as they enter the property.”
 
And he adds, with an enthusiasm that would make Ms. Boisset smile, “it’s all driven by beauty.”
 
Babcock Winery & Vineyards, 5175 E. Highway 246, Lompoc. 805-736-1455. babcockwinery.com.
 
 
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