Full Belly Files | The Ellwood Crew’s China King Chowdown | Rusack Week: Part Three Stars DRC (Again)

An Update About Beachside Café While Eating Sichuan Food

The Ellwood Crew joined the author to tackle this lazy-Susan-load of authentic Chinese food at China King earlier this month. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on May 20, 2022. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.

As someone who lives about five minutes from Goleta Beach, I’m extremely excited to see what happens to the former Beachside Café. It’s such an iconic location with so much potential to be a hangout for people of all ages, and the new ownership team seems to have their hearts and minds moving in good directions.  

I wrote the first article about their initial plans for the place back in October 2021 — I actually wrote about it again in that week’s Full Belly Files, giving some personal context to the spot — and I’ve been watching some construction at the location while walking my dog there on the regular. Back in April, having not seen a ton of obvious progress — especially since early predictions were that Sea Legs would open as soon as May — I emailed the project’s mastermind, Omar Khashen, to see what’s up.

He quickly invited me down to see the space and meet with his growing team. That includes operations manager Chris Jow — a well-known veteran of the Boathouse/Fishhouse/Shellfish Co. family, as well as Wine Cask — and chef Marco Cerruti, who’s worked at Noma’s 108 in Copenhagen, Saison in San Francisco, The Charter Oak In Napa, and Beast + Bounty in Sacramento. The trio are working hard on everything from restaurant design to menus, which will lean toward familiar during the day and a bit more creative at night.

To shorten the Goleta Beach part of this story a bit — I’ll do a full-fledged feature when the time is right — they’ve decided to change the name of the restaurant from Sea Legs to The Ellwood, opting for the name of historic Goleta rancher and tree planter Ellwood Cooper. No doubt, purists will assert that the name typically refers to a neighborhood, school, canyon, ranch, and open space about 10 minutes up the coast. But Cooper’s impacts certainly extended across the region, so it works for me. I’m sure the T-shirts will rock.

The opening’s delay, meanwhile, was caused by the usual construction-in-old-building circumstances: Once they started to renovate, they realized that the structure, first built by the military in 1938, needed to be ripped to the studs. They’re now anticipating a fall opening — the basic layout of the place should look very familiar to Beachside fans — though they do hope to open the adjacent beach shack by this summer to serve donuts, coffee, ice cream, and maybe even cocktails.

After the quick tour, our plan was to get lunch, While they were mentioning some sandwich shop ideas, I’d already started talking about other interesting places to eat in Goleta, such as Choi’s for Korean food and China King for Chinese, where there is a long list of standard Chinese-American fare, but also some more authentic Sichuan dishes.

“Can we go there now?” asked Khashen. We did.

Credit: Matt Kettmann

Upon examining the print menu, I realized that my current favorite dish, the dry spicy chicken — addictively crunchy, spicy with chili peppers, and buzzing with Sichuan peppercorns — wasn’t there. I’ve been ordering from the online menu since the pandemic, which has more options, so we asked. Yes, we could order it, but it was on “the Chinese menu,” which many restaurants have for those seeking less Americanized cuisine. That mention opened many more doors.

“Do you have dandan noodles?” asked Khashen. Indeed. Then we just let loose, allowing the proprietor to lead the way into dumplings, boiled beef, a choi, salt-and-pepper spareribs, and, well, an entire lazy-Susan-load of dishes, followed by red bean sesame balls for dessert.    

Some of it reminded me of the dishes I used to get at New Si Chuan Garden, some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had when it existed for a few years on De la Vina Street. The somm-winemaker Rajat Parr — who was raised in Calcutta but came to prominence in San Francisco — recommended that place to me years ago when he lived in town, saying it was the best Chinese food he’d ever had. Back in 2019, I reported a story there over multiple trips, and even recorded a video and did a photo shoot, but then the pandemic came and the place closed. It’s probably the best food story I never wrote.

But now I have China King on Calle Real, which I first wrote about in 2016 when it was under the original owners. They actually posted a blown-up copy of my article on their wall, where it still stands today, overlooking the lazy Susan table. I look forward to exploring China King’s Chinese menu even more.

Khashen, who joked that he’d like to one day be known as Santa Barbara’s best eater no matter what happens with The Ellwood, has been back numerous times. He’s even thinking of hosting a pop-up there in the weeks to come. That will help us all wait a few months more before we’re back at Goleta Beach, enjoying good food, drink, and vibes yet again.

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Rusack Week: Part Three Stars DRC (Again)

Rusack winemaker Steve Gerbac shows off the mutant white zinfandel vines that he’s growing in Ballard Canyon. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

In this third installment of my recent weeks involving the Rusack family and their cellar — part one about wines and history here; part town about tasting four dozen old wines here —  we pick up on a visit to Rusack Vineyards last week, which had been scheduled before I even went out to Santa Cruz Island and returned on their boat.

The 1985 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-St-Vivant was much better than last week’s La Tâche. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

This story, too, will become its own wine feature soon, but the short version is that winemaker Steve Gerbac and Austin Rusack showed me around their new tasting experience, which is quite elevated from the walk-up bar of years past. Steve also showed me his “white zinfandel” vines, a brand-new grape that they’re getting patented and still trying to name. (My suggestion was Colina Blanc, a reference to the ranch where the grapes are planted.)

Then we went to Steve’s office for the prize: a bottle of the 1985 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Saint-Vivant, which Geoff Rusack graciously let us slip from his cellar. Though the 1983 DRC La Tâche from earlier that week was the best old wine we tried that afternoon, it was far from earth-shattering. Honestly, it left us all a tad disappointed for a bottle worth $5,000. Steve hoped that this vintage would perform better.

It very much did. A veritable steal at just $3,800, the 1985 was revelatory, extremely ethereal in layers of fruit, spice, earth, and texture, just utterly delicious.

“Okay,” said Steve. “Now I get it.”

Me too.

From Our Table

Siblings Jody and Todd Boyman founded the plant-based meat company Hungry Planet to help reduce the impacts that the meat industry has on the environment while providing a wide range of delicious alternatives. | Credit: Courtesy

In this week’s print edition:

And The Restaurant Guy reports on the opening of the Carp Moon Café in Carpinteria, among other highlights.

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