I often eat dinner late at night. A combination of my teaching schedule, work obligations and my regular dinner partner’s work schedule make for frequent forays to Santa Barbara restaurants after 9:30 p.m. The later the hour – particularly as the clock climbs towards 10 p.m. – the fewer locations are still serving dinner. We’ve been ushered out of even some of our regular dining spots if we arrive too close to 10, or even at 9:30.
If we were in Spain, Italy, or several other foreign locales, the restaurants wouldn’t even be open before 7 or 8. On a jaunt to Rome, my traveling companion and I tried to eat dinner at 8, and the only other diners were also Americans. But here in Santa Barbara, after years of late-night meals, I’ve patronized several choice locations. Some of my preferred locations to satisfy odd hour dining include Edomasa, Blue Agave, the Paradise Cafe, and the Sojourner, affectionately referred to as the “Soj.”
Trips to the Soj have become strategic in their timing. Although they serve their regular menu until 11p.m., you have to order specials before the cut-off time of 10. My dining partner’s favorite meal is one of the frequently seen choices on the specials menu, the bouillabaisse, complete with a plethora of shellfish still within their shells, a spicy tomato-based sauce, and buttery crisp garlic toast for dipping.
My preferred dish is the Mayan vegetable stew, another special choice, literally. I like the mix of hominy and vegetables topped with a dollop of cilantro pesto that I scoop up with the corn tortilla. This Saturday night we ducked into the Soj after seeing Two Rooms at the Lobero, just in time to hurriedly order bouillabaisse and the salmon cakes with kimchi. (An excellent Soj side, the kimchi also comes with the gingered tofu wonton pillows, only served until 10). I chose the salmon cakes since the posole wasn’t on the menu that night, and the fish came with a recommendation from our waitress Alicia. The salmon cakes were just the right amount of flaky and moist, perfect mixed with the mango salsa, while the kimchi enticingly spiced.
Other than a trip down the specials list, I tend to order the low rent special, a combination of soup and salad, depending on the soup of the day selection. My favorites are the somewhat unusual choices that include pumpkin or spinach and coconut milk. The tomato basil is one of the Soj’s best, and I’m always partial whatever lentil offering is available, particularly the lentil mint. Anyone who eats with me regularly knows I favor the tahini dressing – just the right mix of creamy, salty, and healthy.
I can drink a pot of yogi tea on my own and sometimes dream about the warmth and spice, the rice milk providing a suitable alternative to heavy milk at 10 p.m. No matter whether it is caffeinated – we get different answers, depending on who we ask – but it’s never kept me up. Although late nights and early mornings make my wine drinking habits sporadic, my dining companions have never had a complaint about the wine list. As far as dessert, I passed this Saturday, but indulge often. I’ll ask for the homemade hot fudge sauce on just about anything, to top off a healthy meal with a decadent dessert. The pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, baked on Friday and Sunday, are not to be missed. But I have to stop by early in the day; at 10 p.m., they’re long gone.