Guide to Drinking (& Eating) in Santa Barbara, CA Vol. 1

Distillerista-Guide-Santa-Barbara

Drink:

  • First thing’s first… The Lark | Stellar craft cocktail program that is not to be missed. If you can, you should definitely enjoy a full meal here but if a full sit-down dinner isn’t the cards, grab a drink and some of their orange zest & rosemary popcorn at the bar!
  • For a near perfect pre-prohibition/speakeasy-style cocktail experience… The Good Lion | Decor, atmosphere, location, authenticity, aaaaand amazing drinks?! This State St. establishment is a always a good idea.
  • Intimate setting for a glass of wine… Les Marchands | A quaint and charming wine bar in the Funk Zone. Buy a bottle to take home or enjoy amidst their adorable bistro-style setting. P.S. They also sell local craft spirits!

Good-Lion-Distillerista{ The Good Lion }

Eat:

  • For the Perfect Date Night… The Lark | If you’re familiar with the Central Coast, chances are you’ve heard of this place and I’m here to tell you: Yes, it is worth the hype. Dishes rotate but I’m always a fan of their scallops and pork belly.
  • Casual but blow-your-mind pizza… Olio Pizzeria | The Umbra, with robiola cheese, criminis and black truffles is a favorite.
  • Coffee Break… Lucky Penny | The Lark isn’t open for lunch so if you’re wandering the Funk Zone during the day, stop here for a cappuccino (or a slice of wood-fired pizza!). They also have scrumptious baked egg dishes in the morning to go with that almond milk latte.
  • Picnic Provisions… C’est Cheese |  A sweet husband and wife team run this cheese shop, bakery and cafe. Pick up a basket of goodies on your way out to Santa Ynez. Don’t forget to wash it all down with a bottle of wine! My favorite picnic spots in the valley (i.e. picnic tables, live music, gorgeous vineyard views, etc.) are the Dierberg, Foxen, or Melville tasting rooms.

Distillerista-Guide-Santa-Barbara-Cest-Cheese

{ Wine tasting essentials from C’est Cheese }

Sleep:

  • Boutique… The Canary Hotel | This adorable Kimpton property has complimentary bikes (check out the urban wine trail on lower state street upon arrival), a charging station for electric vehicles and (most importantly) a wine & cheese happy hour!
  • Charming… The Upham Hotel & Country House |  A darling historic hotel and B&B. I like to stay across the street at the “Country House,” where the innkeeper makes the fluffiest scrambled eggs and fresh bakes pastries and breads each morning. A perk worth mentioning is being woken up from your inevitable wine-induced slumber by the smell of coffee and baking spice!
  • Luxe… The Belmond El Encanto | This property is such a treat. Cruise up the hill to an upscale residential neighborhood and boom! – a luxury resort and spa surprises you, nestled right into the trees. A huge outdoor patio boasts incredible ocean views and the lobby bar will make you never want to leave property. Plus a stunning pool deck, killer restaurant and award-winning spa. This is that splurge weekend you’ve been dreaming of, trust me.

El-Encanto-Santa-Barbara-Distillerista{ Pool at El Encanto }

Play:

Cutlers-Artisan-Spirits-Distillerista{ Tasting Room @ Cutler’s Artisan }

Ascendant-Spirits-Distillerista

{ Custom Vendome situation @ Ascendant Spirits }

The-Lark-Distillerista

{ The Lark Restaurant + Bar }

{ The Umbra at Olio Pizzeria! }

What are your favorite Santa Barbara + Central Coast spots? I’d love to know!

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José Andrés’ Mexican Gin & Tonic

Mexican-G-and-T-Cover

I have a somewhat mandatory tradition upon landing in Las Vegas of heading immediately to Chef José Andrés’ epic Chinese & Mexican food mecca China Poblano at the Cosmopolitan. A big boozy lunch with friends before hitting the pools is my idea of a perfect start to the weekend. On one recent trip, I was introduced to the cocktail perfection that is José Andrés’ Mexican Gin & Tonic. It seems simple enough on paper: Bombay Sapphire, some tonic water, a few garnishes and a splash of St. Germain. But don’t be fooled by the seemingly basic ingredient list… this is without a doubt the best G & T I’ve ever had. Not only is the drink impossibly beautiful and delicate, it has an intoxicating aroma – thanks to those gorgeous botanical garnishes – that grabs you as soon as the drink hits the table. Served in a gorgeous stemless wine tumbler, each sip is perfectly cool and effervescent, with just the right amount of sweet floral kick from the elderflower liqueur. Next time you’re in Vegas, it’s an absolute must. Until then, here’s my take on recreating the drink at home.

China-Poblano-Mexican-Gin-Tonic

Makes 1 drink.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin  – Although any citrusy Western-style Gin would be wonderful as well
  • 1 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 4 oz Fever Tree Tonic Water
  • fresh Orange Peel
  • small Sprig of Cilantro
  • 1 whole Coriander Seed
  • 1 fresh marigold (Calendula) edible flower – special thanks to Specialty Produce for these beauties!
  • 1 large whiskey cube – or sphere-shaped ice mold – I like keep a couple of these in my freezer for such occasions.

Mexican-Gin-Tonic-Distillerista-Flowers

Directions:

  1. Place ice cube/sphere in a large stemless wine glass or DOF
  2. Gently pour in Gin, St. Germain and top with tonic water
  3. Quickly and carefully arrange botanicals – orange twist, cilantro, coriander seed, and marigold – in the drink, giving the orange twist and cilantro a little smack in your hands beforehand to release the oils.
  4. Give it a gentle swirl and enjoy!

Distillerista-Mexican-Gin-Tonic-Cocktail DSC_0268 Mexican-Gin-Tonic-MarigoldMexican-Gin-Tonic

P.S. The ‘When Pigs Fly’ steamed buns, Cochinita Taco and Twenty-Vegetable Fried Rice are also not to be missed! 😉

P.P.S. Photos by Megan of Shortography!

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A Gringa’s Guide to Baja

Guide To Baja HeaderWhen I first heard about a supposedly world class wine region lurking less than a couple hours’ drive from my home, I knew I had to get there and see for myself. All it took was one trip down to Valle de Guadalupe (A village and wine region located in the Ensenada municipality of Baja California, Mexico) and I knew I’d found my new go-to weekend getaway locale. Incredible wines, insanely talented chefs, plenty of affordable beach front accommodation nearby and mere minutes in the car… what more can you ask for? The following is my guide to a perfect 48 hours in Baja.

Baja Map Guide{ Map of Baja | Refinery 29 }

A few essentials…

Good to know:

  • Don’t bring Pesos. Everywhere takes USD.
  • It goes without saying, but don’t forget your Passports.

Good to bring:

  • We like to bring groceries for dinner one night and breakfast each day. This is obviously only applicable if you rent a place. See accommodation suggestions below.
  • iPod/iPhone speakers and games.

Good to buy once you’re across the border:

  • Booze & produce. We like to stop at a MEGA super store (there’s one just off the highway on your left, as you come up on Rosarito) and pick up tequila and beer for the weekend. We also get things like limes and other citrus for making drinks. There’s just something about those cute little Mexican limes.

Gaviotas Daylight Baja{ View from our rental }

First thing’s, first. Accommodation. I like to rent a house with friends in this super-secure gated community just south of Rosarito, but I’ve also heard great things about this resort nearby if you’re not hyped on the rental thing. Alternatively, you can stay in the Valle – there are tons of cool glamping and yurt/pod options, but my crew prefers to be by the ocean so they can take advantage of the pretty consistent surf around that area.

pouring tequila{ Luke’s Margaritas… Lime + Honey + Tequila + Splash of OJ + Tajin rim }

Friday: We usually leave the San Diego area around 3pm. This ensures minimal traffic (beware, minimal is a relative term when crossing an international border) and plenty of time for settling in and making a round of margaritas (or two) before the sun sets. It can be as few as 45 minutes “door to door”, from downtown SD to our rental community in Las Gaviotas. Seriously, it’s just too easy. But if you do run into gridlock, the good news is you can always stop by Misión 19 in Tijuana for killer apps and craft cocktails to break up the trip.

Margs Cheers{ Cheers! Off to the beach. }

Since we’ve just arrived, we usually take a walk through the grounds, as Gaviotas has a great community pool deck and jacuzzi down by the beach, and then cook a big dinner at the house. Most of the rentals have outdoor grills, and there’s a convenience store/mini market just across the street if you need to pick up charcoal, a missing ingredient or more beer.

grill at sunset{ Grill going at sunset }

From there we settle in, open a few good bottles of wine, and usually end up on the couch playing Heads Up or Cards Against Humanity.

sunset clouds baja{ Gorgeous clouds over Ensenada}

Saturday: The guys wake early to surf, and the girls get to work on breakfast at a leisurely hour. After a long breakfast, we crack a few beers and head back down to the common areas. There’s always a good dose of LA hipster cats running around, so you’re sure to have some interesting, if not entertaining, poolside conversation.

I know what you’re thinking… It’s already well into Saturday and we haven’t really done anything yet. Take my word for it, once you’re down there soaking up the sun and salt water, you won’t want to do anything that involves more effort than walking back to the house to make another round of margaritas. However, we do like to get out and about a bit so we usually end up hopping in a taxi for lunch or drinks at one of the nearby beach clubs. Ask the gate staff/resort staff or cab drivers for the go-to spots that time of year.

baja cheese board{ Sunset spread: Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, Meat + Cheese, Modelos }

At some point there’s a nap involved, then maybe a bottle of white on the patio. From there we venture in town (Rosarito) for tacos at Tacos El Yaqui. This is my happy place. There are two options – carne asada or carne asada (see what I did there), so don’t bring your unfortunate vegan friends. Also, prepare to wait in line for a decent 20-25 minutes. Don’t worry, it’s worth it. Side note: I’d love to be able to tell you there’s a whole slew of fabulous places for a nice dinner in Rosarito but unfortunately I haven’t found one yet that I’d ever dream of recommending, let alone mentioning here. They seem to be keeping all the good food in the Valle these days. If I’m missing out on a diamond in the rough, please tell me!

If your crew is game, keep it going at one of the spring break-esque bars on the main strip. A certain someone in my circle (you know who you are) is partial to a semi-sketchy spot called Papas & Beer. The time I’ve spent at this establishment is very fuzzy in retrospect, so take this morsel of advice at your own risk.

Grapes{ Baby grapes at El Mogor }

Sunday: My favorite part of the weekend. We wake up early, pack our bags, eat a quick breakfast and get picked up by a friend of ours who lives and works in Tijuana. She knows her way around the Valle and by ten AM we’re well on our way to a blissful day full of incredible food, stellar wines and the inevitable shot (or two) of mezcal. P.S. This is my current fave.

Las Nubes{ Incredible views from Las Nubes‘ outdoor patio }

Another great thing about the Valle is that it’s increasing popularity means most locals – cab drivers in particular – know exactly how to get there and get around. You can haggle a seriously affordable deal the day of if you lead the conversation with exactly where you want to go and how many hours you want to spend. Walk up to a taxi line and give the driver the names of the wineries you want to visit, how many people you have and at what time you want to get dropped back off at your hotel/rental. With any luck, you’ll score a van for up to 6 people, for the whole day, for no more than $200 total. If you’re not feeling that aggressive, these people do great tours of the Valle you can book in advance.

deckmans floating flowers baja{ Cozy barn setting at Deckman’s en El Mogor }

food table baja{ Just a few of the incredible dishes by Chef Drew Deckman }

Deckman's el mogor{ Al fresco kitchen & dining | Deckman’s }

Lunch at Deckmans{ A sweet private table overlooking the vineyards | Deckman’s }

Flowers Glasses Mezcal{ Sunflowers, empty glasses and a Mezcal shot for the road }

Our girl switches up the wineries we visit each trip, but here’s a list of my favorites.

  • La Lomita. Beautiful tasting room with great atmosphere. It’s worth pointing out, however, that you can somehow buy their wines for cheaper at any Southern California Whole Foods.
  • Mogor Badan. Gorgeous setting and the chef in residence at the moment, Drew Deckman, is legendary. Plan to hit this place around lunch time.
  • El Cielo. Picturesque vineyards with a luxury B&B on property. 
  • Tres Mujeres. The wines here are super affordable and over-deliver on quality. Like the name suggests, three women act as co-winemakers.
  • Adobe Guadalupe. Also features an Inn on property.
  • Sol de Media Noche. This place is a MUST. You get to try a whole tray of different cheeses from their creamery, as well as several wines. Also be sure to pick up one of their spicy tapenades or salad dressings!
  • Las Nubes. Incredible views of the Valle. Grab a bottle of their white blend and spend some time on the patio. 
  • Finca Altozano. Another lunch spot and a must for any first-timers. Baja’s current darling, Chef Javier Plascencia, heads up this al fresco establishment. Make sure to try the pulpo!

We head back toward the border, sleepy and satisfied, around 5:30 PM. Make sure someone in your party plans to stay sober to drive back that evening. The last thing you want topping off the perfect weekend is a border patrol officer on a power trip sending you to secondary for smelling like white wine. Not that that’s ever happened or anything.

Have any other Baja travel tips for me? Please share in the comments!

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