Full Belly Files | Zooming into Omakase
Learning About New Food Spots Through Digital Experiences
Like so many millions of others, the pandemic threw me immediately into the world of Zoom, where all of my meetings, many interviews, and even conferences went to exist in digital form for so many months. While I regularly participated as part of our teams during editorial and manager meetings — and occasionally got to be an audience member for food, wine, and other informational presentations — I most frequently served as the host of these Zoom affairs. With nowhere else to turn when the world shut down, food & drink professionals needed to stay relevant somehow, and I was happy to help lead their conversations — all, conveniently, from the comfort of my own home.
There were weeks when I’d moderate three or more different sessions in a week: for example, an hour-plus masterclass for other national media on the new Alisos Canyon appellation on a Monday; a 45-minute discussion with Sta. Rita Hills winemaker discussion on Tuesday (I did more than 20 of those); and then a dive into Santa Barbara restaurants for the the Downtown Business Spotlight series, a partnership between the Santa Barbara Independent and Santa Barbara Downtown that’s tallied about five dozen shows so far.
Like so many other Zoom-based broadcasts, those series are either done or, in the case of the latter, winding down. Unless the Omicron variant has dastardly plans, we’re planning to turn the Downtown Business Spotlight into a live series in 2022, and I look forward to showcasing winemakers in person next year as well, especially during the return of World of Pinot Noir at the Bacara in March. There’s already a ton of excitement around that.
But if you’re a restaurant lover and haven’t checked out the Downtown Business Spotlight, I’d highly suggest doing so. In addition to learning the backstories of so many well-known restaurants in Santa Barbara, from Rudy’s Fresh Mexican Food to bouchon and Los Arroyos, we’re still uncovering new stories too. I’ve been using that information, which I sometimes learn in real time while hosting the show, to find new exciting eats.
Case in point: Teru Sushi, the spot opened in November 2020 by Teruhisa Ogue, a longtime sushi chef at Sakana. Along with Wabi Sabi founder Buck Thananaken, Ogue participated in the Downtown Business Spotlight show on November 18. Watch that here.
Five days later, I was eating at Teru, where I ordered, on Ogue’s advice, the omakase menu, which challenges the chef to present his best cuts. From the super-fatty o-toro slice and sultry-sweet scallop to the fried shrimp head and briny uni nigiri, the experience was exactly as advertised: professionally prepared, ultra-fresh, and expertly subtle, putting as much focus on texture as flavor.
When viral pressures ease, I look forward to trying Teru’s omakase again while seated at the sushi bar rather than a table. I’ve always found omakase to be as much about education as about eating, involving a constant conversation with the chef as he prepares your dish and everyone else’s in the restaurant. And in Ogue’s case, he is doing just that — like so many others, he can barely find anyone to work, so his hands are preparing every piece of fish on the menu right now. He did offer to train anyone from the ground up during our Zoom session, which sounded like a great backdoor into learning a coveted culinary tradition for anyone seeking a new path.
My dining companions opted to explore the rolls, which Ogue — who was raised in Japan and came to San Francisco before finding his way down to Santa Barbara — mastered during his nearly two decades at Sakana on Coast Village Road. They were applauded as well, though no one ordered a Sakana-style press box roll, yet another reason to return.
A third charm was the Japanese beer list. While supply chain struggles had delayed the delivery of a matcha IPA, we tried four other beers: Kizakura’s “Flavor of Sake Brewery,” a pilsner fermented with sake years; Kanazawa’s Dark Ale, a lighter stout from Japanese-grown barley; and then two from Japan’s first brewpub Echigo, the Red Ale and the Stout. Having never been to Japan myself, this must have been the most extensive beer tasting from that exalted isle.
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Join Our Holiday Cocktail Class!
Speaking of Zoom sessions, I am co-hosting a Holiday Cocktail Class on Thursday, December 9, with The Good Lion’s Brandon Ristaino and Jonathan Jarrett. As I rouse them with questions about all things mixological, they’ll be showing you how to make Coconut Nog, a reportedly strong concoction that goes well with ugly sweaters.
The $55 ticket includes a cocktail kit with enough for two cocktails, the recipe, and then access to our live session that starts at 6 p.m. You need to buy tickets by Monday, December 6, at 5 p.m. Click here to take part.
From Our Table
Whenever I take a week off from this newsletter, like I did last week during the Thanksgiving holiday, I have more of our previously published articles to share. Here’s what you may have missed:
- The first issue ever of the Santa Barbara Independent was our Local Heroes edition in 1986. We’ve continued the tradition of honoring these special neighbors every year since, releasing the paper one day early on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. In this year’s, I profiled both Erik Talkin for his work leading the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and Joseph and Jacob Mansbach, who have supported the Foodbank through their triathlon fundraisers. But there’s way more people to read about than just them. In this week’s issue, I profiled Carol Vanegas-Schuster and Ben Schuster, who pivoted their S.B. Paella Catering into Got Paella, a new frozen food that turns the onerous traditional dish into a 10-minute affair on your stove. Read about their story, which involved meeting during a drag show brunch, here.
- I’ve gotten deep into tea over the past few years, so I was happy to reconnect with Lauren Danson, the Santa Barbara–raised and –residing founder of Mizuba Tea. Read her farm-to-teapot story here. Legendary L.A. sommelier Matt Kaner was raised in Santa Barbara. He’s a star of this new show on Somm TV called Sparklers. It’s a really great show, friendly while competitive, with tons of wine education, especially for those who love bubbles. Read my report here.
- I wrote about the convergence of beer and wine years ago for Beer Advocate magazine, and the trend continues unabated. My latest sip was the Harvest Swoon, a collab between Topa Topa Brewing and Carhartt Wines. It’s sold out, but you can imagine its tart flavor by reading this!
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