Though wine is the historic go-to beverage when it comes to serving fine food, the modern craft-cocktail movement is opening up a new universe of possibilities for pairing liquid excellence with creative cuisine. Here’s a look at many of the cuisine-and-cocktail pairings around Santa Barbara, plus some suggestions from our tastemaking friends around town — and we let a few wine-and-food suggestions slip in too, just for old time’s sake.
The Dish: Pan-Roasted Duck with Israeli Couscous and Squash
A Palos Verdes native who graduated from SBCC’s School of Culinary Arts in 1999, executive chef Brandon Cogan believes simplicity and comfort-focused cooking produce food that people crave. He serves the pan-roasted Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with harissa-laced couscous; oven-baked squash stuffed with prosciutto, spinach, and garlic, and jus from duck stock; mirepoix; garlic; onion; and finished Banyuls vinegar.
The Drink: Paso Peach
After serving in the U.S. military and spending two years in European kitchens, beverage director Matt Pickett enrolled in the United States Bartenders’ Guild in San Francisco, where he became passionate about cocktail history and marrying farmers’ market ingredients with spirits. He likes Re:Find’s “[e]” barrel vodka because it’s aged in both new and used rye whiskey barrels, giving it both the distinct aromatic and flavor profile of bourbon while maintaining the delicate and refined fruity notes of a grape-based vodka.
Why It Works:
“The Re:Find ‘[e]’ vodka’s spicy and distinct flavors of caramel, vanilla, and toast added to the delicate molasses notes derived from the demerara simple syrup pair with the caramelized sugars found in the Banyuls vinegar and duck jus,” said Pickett. “The natural fruity sweetness from the peach purée adds nice contrast to the earthiness found in the squash and zucchini while the lemon juice’s acidity helps add lift to the textural component of the Israeli couscous.”
2 oz. Re:Find Barrel Finished Vodka [e]
1 oz. fresh peach purée
1 oz. demerara simple syrup
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Shake and strain up into a chilled martini glass.
‘At cozy Via Maestra, I like to pop in for tasty pasta on the patio before the dinner crowd arrives. Montepulciano wine, dark crimson and smooth, invites slow sipping. My taste buds prepared, a plate of hot, buttery Ravioli Tartufo arrives from the kitchen, sending off aromas of portobello mushrooms and black truffle sauce.’
—Barney Brantingham, columnist, S.B. Independent
Olio Crudo Bar
The Dish: Costatine d’Agnello
Chef Alberto Morello, a native of Sicily, started working at the Excelsior Hotel in Florence at age 18. He met his wife-to-be and UCSB grad Elaine Andersen at at Celestino Ristorante in Beverly Hills, and they opened Olio e Limone in Santa Barbara in 1999. Today, their mini-empire includes Olio Pizzeria and the Olio Crudo Bar. They serve these braised lamb chops with fingerling potatoes and ginger-spiked aioli.
The Drink: Il Maiale Piccante (The Spicy Pig)
Bar manager Scott Sampila, who came to Olio in 2015 after stints at The Marquee on State Street and Boardners in Los Angeles, creates seasonal cocktail menus and also teaches craft cocktailing through S.B. Mixology. This drink is a spin on the classic pisco sour, with undercurrents of bacon and spice.
Why It Works:
Though more commonly paired with ceviche, this richer pisco sour works with meats and is great for cool weather. “The ginger in the aioli complements the flavors of the house-infused bacon-serrano pisco, and the mild acidity cuts through the creaminess of the aioli perfectly,” said Sampila. “The rich flavors of the lamb and ginger aioli accent the richness of the pisco quite well.”
House-infused bacon-serrano pisco
Fresh lemon juice
Serve up in a stemmed cocktail glass.
Bonus Pairing! Ravioli del Plin al Tartufo & The Gingerbread Man:
This mini veal ravioli with speck, black truffles, and light cream sauce collides with the French Caribbean rum and gingerbread syrup. “The slightly sweet-sour element of the lime, gingerbread syrup, and apple cider cut through the heaviness of the cream sauce well,” said Sampila.
‘Thresher Shark Skewers with Strawberry Sriracha Sauce paired with Blood Orange/Raspberry Imperial Gose from Brass Bear. Slightly smoky yet amazingly fresh, this sabered sea creature is the best sweet, spicy, savory bite I’ve had in a while, and the sour, berry-filled brew is as clean and refreshing as its skewered counterpart.’
—Patrick Reynolds, events coordinator, Lotusland, and founder, Farm to Bar
The Dish: Spiced Lamb Ribs, Beluga Lentils, Roasted Eggplant, Tzatziki, and Herb Salad
Originally from the suburbs of L.A., executive chef Lauren Herman helped to launch Somerset after five years as chef de cuisine at Suzanne Goin’s AOC. “I cook soulful food that I love,” said Herman, whose ribs are marinated overnight in turmeric, paprika, Aleppo pepper, cumin, coriander, garlic, rosemary, and thyme. She brightens them with the tzatziki (cucumber, yogurt, crème fraiche, mint) and a salad of dill, mint, and parsley leaves.
The Drink: The San Ysidro
Visalia native and California Culinary Academy grad George Piperis worked at top spots in San Francisco (Bambuddha Lounge) and Los Angeles (Otium, The Fiscal Agent, Miro) before coming back to Santa Barbara to open Somerset’s stunning bar. He loves obscure ingredients like this drink’s Byrhh (a French aperitif of red wine, mistelle, and quinine invented in 1866) and Sibona Amaro, based on an ancient Piedmontese recipe of 34 herbs and aromatic plants.
Why It Works:
“The simplicity in this cocktail lets the ingredients speak for themselves,” said Piperis. “As in the lamb dish, there is little to no complication. It’s bold without trying to be, and balanced as it should be. The rich and smooth texture of the San Ysidro lends to the dish with [its] balance of sweet and bitter, [with] the Mediterranean notes from the Amaro [and] the richness from the bourbon.”
0.75 oz. Byrhh
1 oz. Amaro Sibona
1.5 oz. Old Grand-Dad 100prf bonded Bourbon
Expressed orange peel
Combine and stir with ice in mixing glass until the drink blooms.
Pour over ice block in a double old-fashioned glass.
Express orange zest and garnish.
The Dish: Flat Iron Lettuce Wraps
An SBCC grad who previously worked at Sama Sama Kitchen and Toma, chef Joey Lucero loves Italian flavors but goes more Asian with this báhn-mì-like wrap, with soy-marinated flatiron steak, rice-wine-soaked matchstick veggies, and spicy peanut sauce wrapped in a lettuce cup.
The Drink: Fire Starter
General manager Cecily Barrie, most recently at Cielito, is proud to be known as a heavy pour, which her customers love. She goes sweet, spicy, smoky, and bright pink with a beautiful lime garnish on this drink.
Why It Works:
“The charbroiled wraps complement the smokiness of the mescal nicely,” said Barrie. “They have matching levels of sweet/spicy/sour from ingredients like citrus, honey, and vinegar and are so exciting to eat that you just keep going back for more.”
1.5 oz. cachaça
0.5 oz. mescal
1 oz. lemon
1 oz. honey syrup
.5 oz. strawberry purée
.25 oz. ginger juice
‘Sunday, micheladas, bacon-and-egg
burrito, and no winery work. ’
—Karen Steinwachs, winemaker, Buttonwood Farm
Finch and Fork
The Dish: Grilled Pork Chop with Apple Bacon Chutney, Butternut Squash Purée, and Mustard Ginger Crumble
After learning the ropes at his father’s Chinese restaurant in Ohio, executive chef James Siao went to culinary school in Pittsburgh, worked at Kimpton’s FireSky Resort in Scottsdale, and helped open a restaurant in Italy before coming to Finch & Fork in 2012. His thick-cut pork chop comes with naturally sweet squash; a rich, salty chutney of caramelized apples and applewood-smoked bacon; and a spicy, textural kick from the mustard crumble.
The Drink: House Barrel-Aged Manhattan
Assistant general manager Marc Simonetti blends Buellton-distilled Breaker Bourbon with sweet vermouth, ages it in American oak, and serves over ice with bitters in a stemmed coupe glass.
Why It Works:
“The barrel-aging process adds sweet vanilla notes to the cocktail, which pair extraordinarily well with the bacon chutney that dresses the chop,” said Siao. “It takes a full-bodied beverage to stand up to a bone-in, 10 oz. pork chop, and the barrel-aged Manhattan stands alongside this dish prominently.”
2 oz. Breaker Bourbon & 1 oz. sweet vermouth, aged in oak barrel for one month
2 dashes Fee Brothers Cherry Bitters
Add ice; stir until well chilled and slightly diluted.
Strain into chilled cocktail glass and serve straight up.
Garnish with Amarena cherry.
‘Spicy Blood Orange Margarita with the Ahi Club at Boathouse. The salty rim goes well with the ocean views, and the drink’s spicy jalapeño kick (make sure to request it!) matches perfectly with the sweetness of the grilled pineapple and island slaw on this sourdough-wrapped sandwich. It’s great for a happy-hour dinner, but works for brunch too!’
—Matt Kettmann, senior editor, S.B. Independent
Milk and Honey
The Dish: Date with a Pig
Chef Alvaro Castellanos Rojas and kitchen manager Jesus Velez use applewood-smoked bacon; sweet, tender dates; wildflower honey; and sharp blue cheese for their spin on a classic Basque tapa, which they recommend at the end of the meal, since its sweetness is offset by the savory bacon and the sharpness of the cheese.
The Drink: Ginspiration Point
Richard Wood has worked with Rojas since Milk & Honey began, and the two worked together to create this cocktail, which uses Funk Zone distiller Ian Cutler’s gin and the Santa Barbara–born Nostrum line of shrubs. It was named the “Official Drink of Santa Barbara” earlier this year.
Why It Works:
“The drink was engineered as homage to this year’s lush spring aromas due to our much-needed rainfall,” said Rojas. “The cocktail, and the close-to-200 botanicals that [it] comprise[s], works effortlessly together with the dates, bacon, and blue cheese — fresh herbal notes help to cleanse the palate from the richness of the bacon, but still echo the creaminess inherent to an egg-white cocktail.”
1.5 oz. Cutler’s Gin
0.5 oz. Nostrum Pineapple Turmeric Ginger Shrub
0.5 oz. chartreuse
0.25 oz. Bénédictine
1 egg white
Garnish with lime zest and seasonal edible flower.
Combine gin, shrub, chartreuse, Bénédictine, and ice; shake well.
Strain, add egg white, and shake vigorously again without ice.
Strain again and garnish.
‘Belvedere Martini straight-up with three blue-cheese olives and Huevos Rancheros at Lucky’s in Montecito for brunch. It’s a stiff drink to have for brunch but well balanced by the guacamole, bean, eggs, cheese, and salsa on top of the corn tortilla. If you’ve partied the night before, this will definitely help you out.’
—Roger Durling, executive director, S.B. International Film Fest
Alcazar Tapas Bar
The Dish: Dressed to Kale
Chef Alvaro Castellanos Rojas and kitchen manager Rene Martinez have worked together for almost a decade, and they were inspired by chef Justin West (of Wildwood and formerly Julienne) to create this dish. It features black kale from Santa Barbara Aquaponics, house-pickled carrots, grated manchego, and house-made dressing with olive oil, fresh lemon, and garlic.
The Drink: Summer Gimlet
The newly formed cocktail collaboration team of Rojas, Devyn Lion, and Johanna Dwyer continues to up the Alcazar ante, even after 17 years of success. They use cilantro from Santa Barbara Aquaponics and Nostrum’s Pineapple Turmeric Ginger Shrub to give an herbaceous complexity to the classic gimlet, with muddled jalapeño for a hint of heat.
Why It Works:
“Both embody Alcazar’s longtime approach to honoring and taking full advantage of Santa Barbara’s natural abundance,” said Rojas. “A light sprinkling of grated manchego balances the tartness of house-pickled carrots, while the Summer Gimlet provides just the right kick of spice and citrus.”
1.5 oz. Cutler’s Gin
0.5 oz. fresh lime juice
0.25 oz. Nostrum Pineapple Turmeric Ginger Shrub
0.25 oz. simple syrup
Muddle cilantro and jalapeño in a shaker tin and add the remaining ingredients.
Shake with ice until chilled.
Double strain into a small coupe and garnish with a jalapeño wheel.
‘Tequila uni shooters with lime ponzu and finger lime, or uni spritz with Hoxie Spritzer, which Satellite on State Street is starting to do.’
—Stephanie Mutz, urchin diver
The Dish: Pulpo
Done “à la gallega” (or “the Galician way”), chef Peter Lee’s octopus is braised in white wine, then grilled over red oak, tossed in a lemon vinaigrette with parsley and thinly sliced pickled red onion, served over an ultra-smooth potato purée, and garnished with spicy paprika and black garlic aioli.
The Drink: Maravilloso G+T
The Spaniards have transformed the gin and tonic from a simple highball with a lime garnish to an endless possibility of flavor combinations, often flamboyant and lavish drinks served in large wine glasses with tons of ice and garnishes. Every bar in Spain has its own “maravilloso” G&T, and this one combines the classic ingredients with sangria. At first, the two drinks are a bit shy, but after getting to know each other, they relax, and the sangria foam melts into the drink, turning the whole thing from crystal clear to a rosy pink.
Why It Works:
“Gin Mare’s core botanicals actually hit a lot of the same notes that are in the octopus,” said bar manager Gavin Koehn. “The notes of thyme hint at the aromatics used to braise the octopus, while the arbequina olives stand [out] from and center the olive oil drizzled over the tentacles and potatoes. The sangria foam, with its hint of fruity strawberry shrub, strikes a chord with the soft tang of the pickled red onions. The differences lie in the subtleties of the two. At the end of the night, this pairing is like watching a beautiful flamenco dance. It is power and raw energy expressed with a sense of elegance, grace, and the ever-present Spanish flamboyance.”
1.5 oz. Gin Mare
4.5 oz. Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water
6 gelatin sheets, 1.5 L cold Indian tonic, 300 ml orange juice,
75 ml Campari, 75 ml London Gin, 450 ml
Tempranillo, 400 ml strawberry shrub
Drop gelatin sheets into liquid and bloom for five minutes. Pull gelatin out and dissolve, using as little hot water from the water machine as possible. Strain sangria mixture. Pour dissolved gelatin back into liquid and stir to combine. Chill in fridge. To top cocktail, charge foam with nitrous oxide using an ISI gun, then dispense carefully on top of cocktail.
‘The barrel-aged negroni with cheese and charcuterie at The Bear and Star in Los Olivos. [The negroni] offset the saltiness in the cured meats, leaving some great complexity, freshness, and just the right amount of bitterness that complemented the dish. The cheese also was a nice match to the negroni, balancing its bitterness.’
—Tara Gomez, winemaker, Kitá Wines
The Dish: Lemon-Brined Fried Chicken with Crispy Potatoes, Roasted Corn, Peppers, and Sausage Gravy
While growing up in Hemet, Riverside County, chef Weston Richards caught the cooking bug from his best friend’s dad, a professional chef, and then trained at the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. Upon moving to Santa Barbara, he worked at Sage & Onion and Julienne before launching the Spare Parts Bistro pop-up. At Les Marchands, he creates seasonal menus of wine-friendly foods, including these free-range chicken thighs brined in water, salt, sugar, garlic, lemon juice and zest, rosemary, and fennel pollen. He soaks them in butter, coats in flour and cornstarch, and fries to golden brown.
The Drink: The Bramble
Originally from Ventspils, Latvia, beverage director Anda Zvingule began her career at Kimpton resorts in San Francisco before landing in Santa Barbara. This spirit-forward cocktail, both slightly tart and lightly sweet, was originally crafted by Dick Bradsell in the 1980s.
Why It Works:
“The tartness from the blackberry offsets the richness of the fried chicken,” said Richards. Added Zvingule, “The amazing flavors created by the blackberry-and-gin combination pairs well with the full flavors of the chicken, and the brightness of the cocktail visually enhances the colors of the plate.”
2 oz. gin
0.5 oz. crème de mûre (blackberry)
1 oz. lemon juice
0.25 oz. sugar (simple syrup)
Collins glass; mint-leaf garnish
‘The Pickle Room’s signature Old Fashioned teamed up with the Smitty burger. The subtle sweetness of the cocktail will open up your taste buds to enjoy this perfectly sized hamburger on a brioche bun.’
—Willy Gilbert, bartender, The Pickle Room and Arnoldi’s Café
Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill
The Dish: Grilled Wild-Caught Mahi Mahi Tacos
A food-industry brand expert for 35-plus years, Steve Goldstein, who joined the company as chief marketing officer in 2016, oversees menu evolution as the chain expands from Southern California to NorCal, Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona. He likes the mesquite-grilled fish, which is served on a corn tortilla with shredded cabbage, achiote and white sauces, and pico de gallo.
The Drink: Sharky’s Red Sangria
This classic combination of red wine and fruit includes some Madeira wine for richness and depth.
Why It Works:
“Refreshing and flavorful, this sangria pairs well with full-flavored, casual, and handheld menu items such as tacos,” said Goldstein. “Slightly sweet and fruit-forward beverages are great with spicy foods.”
Not everyone prefers mixed drinks with their food, so here are some wine pairings being served right now around town, from the avant garde to the familiar.
Grilled Avocado with Donkey & Goat’s The Gadabout
Chef Justin Snyder’s grilled avocado, topped with Bragg’s liquid amino and apple cider vinaigrette marinade, pickled avocado mousse, fresh horseradish, and micro cilantro, works well with this chardonnay-based white wine that’s bolstered by skin-fermented vermentino, grenache blanc, marsanne, and roussanne. “In the end, our brains pair umami and sweet flavors in very similar ways,” said wine director Lenka Davis, a native of Slovakia whose list highlights winemakers focused on lesser-known vineyards and minimalist techniques. “We are complementing the micro cilantro on the avocado dish with the notes of black tea, freshly shaved lemon zest, and coastal scrub of the wine.”
Chipotle Blackened Swordfish with Babcock Winery S.B. County Pinot Noir
When the restaurant opens in November, chef Chanel Ducharme, formerly of The Hungry Cat on Chapala Street, will be serving this dish — harpooned from the restaurant’s own fishing boat, Pilikia — with roasted corn and avocado relish alongside this classically fruity and spicy red wine. “The dish’s popularity has allowed us to spotlight harpooning as the most humane and sustainable method of harvest that supports Bluewater’s longtime commitment to sustainable seafood,” said Bluewater’s executive chef, Jason Mazur.
Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar
Hangover Noodle with Malat Riesling
“High-mineral and medium-acidity riesling wines always perfectly pair with spicy foods,” said co-owner and beverage director Emre Balli of this wine from Austria. It’s matched with this traditional Thai street dish with fat flat rice noodles, chicken, white button mushrooms, Thai basil, green beans, tomatoes, white onions, fresh garlic, Thai chili, red jalapeños, mushroom soy sauce, and fish sauce by co-owner and chef Nui Pannak, who learned to cook from her father on the outskirts of Bangkok. “It’s like a drop of green peach freshness to match the bright herbs and green Thai chilis,” said Balli.
Enterprise Fish Co.
Mixed Seafood Grill Skewer with Sanford Flor de Campo Chardonnay
Chef Pedro Gonzalez prefers this salmon, swordfish, shrimp, scallop, and vegetable skewer with garlic-sautéed rainbow carrots and ginger-infused brown rice. Wine experts Cori Arnold and Erin Rossow believe it’s best with this chardonnay full of pineapple and citrus, with hints of vanilla and cream, and bolstered by vibrant acidity.