As the longtime center of Santa Barbara’s gourmet culture, no one expected anything less than epicurean awesomeness on Monday night at the Wine Cask, where the restaurant’s owners, staff, alumni, and most ardent fans celebrated the Anacapa Street institution’s 30th anniversary. So the lavish treats and aged wines weren’t any surprise, but the resulting frenzy of genuine, child-like excitement and wide-smiling glee that ensued throughout the evening was somewhat unexpected for what one might have predicted to be a reserved, even uppity clientele. Even in the most austere of settings, it seems, true foodies just can’t quite contain themselves.
The affair, which had to turn away more than 100 people after quickly selling out, started in the courtyard, with chefs who made their way through the Wine Cask’s kitchen at some point putting out a couple dishes — one a historic Wine Cask favorite, the other a new creation from their current lives — that were paired with wines made by former sommeliers of the restaurant. Steven Giles of Sage & Onion, for instance, put out bangers and mash and caviar-topped deviled eggs alongside a viognier and Pape Star red blend made by Seth Kunin. Meanwhile, Greg Murphy, of bouchon, sizzled up big scallops and a spicy calamari to go with Aaron Watty’s Big Tar sauvignon blanc; Cynthia Miranda, of Succulent Cafe, unleashed a charcuterie board next to Steve Clifton’s sparkling nebbiolo from Palmina and Mount Carmel pinot from Brewer-Clifton; and Jeremy Tummel, of Pebble Beach’s Stillwater Grill, served up miso black cod and hamachi shiso tacos with Graham Tatomer’s gruner veltliner and riesling.
Prior to moving inside the restaurant’s Gold Room for the sit-down portion, Hugh Margerum — who co-founded the restaurant with his brother Doug and support of their parents more than three decades ago — moved us into the adjacent tasting room for a video toast from Doug, whose busy travel schedule related to his Margerum Wine Company responsibilties did not align with the Monday celebration. Standing in front of palm trees and pretending to be on vacation in the tropics, Doug wished his best, and then moved away from the backdrop to reveal the empty airport of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he really was on a sales trip. We toasted with his 2008 rose.
Once inside the Gold Room, the older wines began flowing, including a number of magnums that co-owner Mitchell Sjerven was pouring from table to table. The three-course entree menu, made by the Wine Cask’s current chef Brandon Hughes, kept the culinary bar extremely high: the heirloom tomato salad with purslane, sweet red onion, Humboldt fog cheese, and aged balsalmic, served with the 2005 Margerum sauv blanc from Vogelzang Vineyard; the pork belly “tarte tartin,” with celery root puree, cider reduction, and apple-celery salad, served with the 2006 Margerum M5 Rhône blend; and the melt-in-your-mouth braised kobe beef cheek with butternut squash gnocchi, charred rapiini, pickled shallots, and pomegranate relish, served with the 2006 Margerum syrah from Great Oaks Ranch. For dessert, pastry chef Rosie Moot hit us with her bruleed fig tart, with mascarpone mousse and port reductions, served with the 2005 Margerum late harvest sauv blanc.
Along the way, we toasted the Margerum family, a couple celebrating their first wedding anniversary, and the various alumni in attendance, which Sjerven said were examples of how the Wine Cask is contributing to the food culture far beyond Santa Barbara by creating these “ambassadors at large.”
“It was a fantastic show of support for those who worked previously at Wine Cask that have since gone on to do great things on their own,” said Sjerven after the event. “Their success opens the possibility for others in our profession to stay not only in their chosen field but remain here in the area. I am increasingly hopeful we can stem the talent outflows from Santa Barbara and continue to improve on the burgeoning wine and culinary landscape in our own backyard.”