Santa Ynez Valley – Part Two

After landing in Santa Barbara, and before taking the 101 to the 154 to Los Olivos (have you seen the SNL skit, The Californians?), we dashed downtown for a light seafood lunch at Hungry Cat, specifically to nosh on Santa Barbara sea urchin.

Maryland native David Lentz has three locations: Hollywood, Santa Monica and SB

The confluence of warm and cold water currents off the Channel Islands makes the Santa Barbara area an ideal location to harvest sea urchin.  This delectable sea creature, that is also known by the Japanese name of uni, is served at Hungry Cat over ice with crackers and lemons…oh, and very long spoons.
Spreadable goodness
A bottle (or two) of Chablis later, and a tummy full of everything from uni to Bald Point oysters and peel ‘n’ eat shrimp, we were off to the wine country of Santa Ynez.  Our first meal was at Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos.  I had been looking forward to our dinner at Mattei’s Tavern for months.  It reopened this summer after a change of ownership.  Brothers Matt and Jeff Nichols had been running Mattei’s for many years, but after they lost their lease, they moved around the corner to open Sides Hardware and Shoes (our lunch destination for the next day).  Former Screaming Eagles owners, Charles and Ali Banks, took over the lease and hired a chef out of Nashville by the name of Robbie Wilson.

In 1861, the Overland Stage Coach
Line first traveled to the small settlement of Los Olivos.  In 1886, a
Swiss by the name of Felix Mattei built Mattei’s Tavern to comfort
traveling stage coach passengers.  The stage coach ran until 1914, when
it was replaced by the Ford Model T.

Entering Mattei’s through a wisteria-covered porch

Two dinner menus are offered, one called 1886, which includes inspirations from Felix Mattei, and the other labeled 2013, which are inspirations from Los Olivos.  We had fabulous selections from both menus, the highlights included:
Grilled Avocado with Ponzu and Fresh Wasabi
Grilled Artichoke with Green Harissa Dip
Crunchy Sea Creatures with Uni Tartar Sauce
Wagyu Skirt Steak with Fried Egg and Sauce Criolla
Halibut with Blueberries and Chanterelles (my fave shroom)
Tandoori-Spiced Cauliflower
Sweet Potatoes with Grilled Figs and Fresno Chiles (these will make you see heaven)

Crunchy Sea Creatures with Uni Tartar…love the presentation

Grilled Artichokes with a sauce of cilantro, jalapeños and harissa…also, great presentation

My brother-in-law, who owns a restaurant supply business, was very impressed by the kitchen

The spray bottle is a dead give-away that we were the last ones to leave…whoops!

We were fortunate enough to be in the capable hands of the house sommelier, Stephane Colling, the Alsacian native who was wine director at The Modern at MOMA in NYC.  What a win for Santa Ynez to have him around!  One dish we did not order, was “Morro Bay’s Greatest Hits”, a platter of oysters, shrimp and hamachi served on a vintage turntable.  However, it leaves me with something to look forward to this summer.

Sides Hardware and Shoes

Lunch on Day 2 found us at Sides Hardware and Shoes.  As previously mentioned, brothers Matt and Jeff Nichols opened this spot when they lost the lease on Mattei’s, which they had been running for years.  I love this place for lunch.  I would call the cuisine “Wine Tasting Comfort Food”.  I ordered the special of the day, Lamb Shank and Grilled Cheese Sourdough Sandwich with Toma Cheese and Carmelized Onions.  If that does not blow your mind, I don’t know what will.  Hubby ordered the Fried Chicken Sandwich with Brothers Bacon, Pickled Onions and Brothers Ranch Dressing.  Wes Hagen from Clos Pepe (see Part One of this series) loves to pair this sandwich with the Clos Pepe Barrel Fermented Chardonnay.  They also have a mouth-watering selection of hamburgers made from Snake River Farms American kobe beef.   

Fried Brussels Sprouts with Sherry Vinegar and Capers, probably the healthiest item on the menu


A pic from the summer, I just had to show you what the Brothers Bacon looks like

Grab a latté before returning to wine tasting

Pumpkin Panna Cotta…if it were not for the latté, I would have then taken a nap

For dinner on Day 2, we actually left the cozy hamlet of Los Olivos and drove (hired driver, just in case you were wondering) to Santa Ynez to check out S.Y. Kitchen, which opened in April of 2013 to rave reviews.  Located in a charming farmhouse-style restaurant, S.Y. Kitchen serves modern Italian dishes under the watchful eye of Verona native, Chef Luca Crestanelli.  Yowza, he is cute!  Oh…and the food is pretty spectacular as well.  It was hopping on a Friday night, and a bit too dark for some pics.  I guess that just means I will have to go back to take some photos in the summer light (I also would love a pic with Chef Luca).  Meanwhile, I will remember the House Burrata, the Fresh Pea Salad with Arugula and Ricotta, the Fusilli with Rabbit Ragú (all pastas are made in-house), the Lamb Shank served over Polenta, and the Wood Fired Pizzas.  Absolutely charming…go check it out.

For Day 3, we decided to pack a picnic for lunch at a winery.  There is no better place to shop than at El Rancho Market in Solvang.  They have a burrito and taco bar (fill your tummy for breakfast), a selection of specialty sandwiches (check out the Ballard Canyon Delight with hot ham, spicy mustard, brie, tomato, arugula and vinaigrette on sourdough), fresh sushi, and not to be missed, across from the butcher you will find the Mississippi Caviar.  This is a dip with black-eyed peas, white beans, bell peppers, green onions, jalapeños and avocado in Italian dressing.  We also took some wine-infused cupcakes with us from Enjoy! in Los Olivos.  We were set for a wonderful day.



All good things must come to an end, they say.  We chose to end our wine and culinary extravaganza with an evening picnic at Jalama Cañon Ranch, which, lucky for us, is owned and operated by some lovely friends of ours from Santa Barbara.  We received a recommendation to hire John Aspra from Epicurean Cowboy Catering, and, can you believe, Chef Aspra grew up in the Texas Hill Country town of Hunt!  Done deal for this crowd.  Enjoy these last few pics, and I wish you a weekend filled with fun times and good eats.  

Jalama Cañon Ranch

Our dinner table

Quesadillas served on Saltillo…how great is that?

Yo y Chef John Aspra

Thank you Santa Ynez!!  You sure showed these Texans a great time!


Hungry Cat
1134 Chapala Street, Santa Barbara 

Mattei’s Tavern
2350 Railway Ave, Los Olivos 

Sides Hardware and Shoes
2375 Alamo Pintado Ave, Los Olivos 

S.Y. Kitchen
1110 Faraday St, Santa Ynez 

El Rancho Market
2886 Mission Dr, Solvang 

Jalama Cañon Ranch 

Epicurean Cowboy

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