As I’ve written about a million times before — and plan to one day memorialize in a fictionalized autobiography called The Green & Yellow House — I once lived in the old green and yellow house at 828 Santa Barbara Street, located on the old Presidio grounds, next door to Panino, and across the street from what was once Thrasher Books and Our Daily Bread. It was an ideal spot for a recent college graduate — Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens was my living room, our only neighbors were musicians and artists, and no one cared if we partied late — and it was where I built my journalism career and laid the foundation for my current life from 2000 to 2007.
We’d sit on the front porch, drinking beer, or playing horseshoes in the driveway, drinking beer, and watch as a young couple named Michael and Kathryn Graham developed the storefront across the street into what became C’est Cheese. They eventually took over much of the block — which came with some issues down the road — and rebranded as Cheese Shop Santa Barbara in 2020.
For a few years, about a third of the Cheese Shop was leased by Zachary Wasserman of Frequency Wine Co., who I first wrote about way back in 2015. But this past March, Kunin Wines moved in, having been abruptly booted from the Funk Zone, the neighborhood that the late Seth Kunin and his wife, Magan Kunin, pioneered as a tasting mecca back in 2009. Ever since Seth died, Magan has been raising their daughter, Phoebe, and running the brand as well as The Valley Project, another concept that still exists in the Funk Zone.
She invited me down to the Santa Barbara Street spot, where her team is now pouring wine alongside cheese and charcuterie plates from the Cheese Shop. “Seth lived for food and wine together,” said Magan last Friday, as we sipped on bubbly grenache and a couple vintages of the Pape Star Blonde, a blend of grenache blanc and roussanne. “Wine is great, but it’s meant to be had with food, and we make our wine that way.”
It was nostalgic to sit at her bar, chomp on cheese and seasoned nuts, and enjoy crisp “Phoebe 2” rosé, earthy counoise that I could drink all day, and her last vintage of Alisos Vineyard syrah, the 2019. (Long, kinda sad story about those vines.) I was also reminded that, while Kunin is mostly Rhône-inspired, they dabble in Loire Valley varieties such as sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc. The latter, when made true to the Loire’s peppery, zesty style, really does fit in line with the savory, also peppery character of Rhône wines. I could see why Seth added it to the lineup back in 2014.
Though she didn’t really want to leave her hut in the Funk Zone, Magan is happy to have found the Presidio Neighborhood, the few blocks around Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Canon Perdido, and De la Guerra streets that was branded as such by Hugh Margerum in 2014. (I almost just choked when I realized that story was from eight years ago!)
Frequency is now pouring around the corner in a courtyard on Anacapa Street, right across from El Paseo, where Au Bon Climat, Grassini, Happy Canyon Vineyard, and Jamie Slone all serve their wines. Wine Cask’s Intermezzo is right there too, with the Pickle Room, Three Pickles, Handlebar Coffee, Rudy’s, and Alessa Patisserie all around the corner. And, of course, the Cheese Shop remains a critical component, where I spent nearly $150 on various cheeses, meats, bread, and more after my Kunin visit.
“This neighborhood feels real,” said Magan. I agree, and it may even be cooler than when I lived there. But you’ll have to wait for my book to be the judge of that.
Go taste at Kunin and look at my old house when you get a chance: 831 Santa Barbara St.; (805) 963-9633; kuninwines.com.
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Sip from Chinola
Tart yet sweet, tropical yet citrusy, passionfruit is one of the more complex fruit flavors out there — and let’s not mention debates about how best to enjoy one. (Personally, I bite the end off like a hand grenade and suck out the innards.)
Launched less than a year ago, Chinola captures that complexity in a sippable liqueur, excellent just over ice or in a splash of bubbly for a “chismosa.” Over the weekend, I learned that it’s also a great spike for beer, à la a fruity michelada.
I salted the rim of a pint glass with Tajín, cracked open a Topa Topa Dos Topas Lager, poured it over ice, tossed in a shot or so of Chinola, and stirred. It went down a little too fast. That’s my only Chinola complaint — it should come in a bigger bottle.
Recently, in my kitchen:
- I took the pork shanks sold to me in my driveway by Justin West of Market Forager and braised an osso buco for my mom while she visited before taking my son on a New York City trip to celebrate his 6th-grade graduation. The meat was deliciously tender after a few hours of cooking, and I only wish I’d made one more shank.
- Over the past month or so, I collected cheese rinds and nubs to use in soup: a bright-pink one from Carmel Cheese Shop; parmesan, gouda, and Ewephoria from Cheese Shop Santa Barbara; and a black pepper hard cheese from Albertsons that mostly survived my backpacking trip. I finally did it this week, putting the cheesy chunks in a cheesecloth and tossing it into a pot of boiling potatoes, mirepoix, garlic, salt, and pepper. As the cheese infused, I hand-blended the mixture into a creamy chowder. After a couple hours, the result was a fairly mellow potato flavor with some umami kick. Then I boiled it for another couple hours more and put it in the fridge. I haven’t tasted that version yet, but I assume it’s even more cheesy. No matter what, the rinds weren’t wasted!