This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on September 23, 2022. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at

The last time Full Belly Files landed in your inbox more than two months ago, I was departing for Panama that very night with my 12-year-old son in tow. That was the start to a very busy, occasionally relaxing, and frequently delicious summer of excursions — most with my family, some solo; most around the Central Coast, some further afield.

Here’s a recap, with emphasis on the food and drink highlights.


Just as it was during my honeymoon in 2007, Panama remains an amazingly dynamic place to visit. That goes from the metropolitan buzz of Panama City — whose unrelenting pace of development includes some of the coolest skyscrapers I’ve ever seen — to the tropical wilds of Bocas del Toro, where we spent most of our time riding boats, snorkeling, and exploring the jungle.

A pairing at Maito | Credit: Matt Kettmann

The top food highlight was certainly Maito, which graced the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2021 and came highly recommended by my friend Roger Durling, that native Panamanian who runs our film fest these days. I gorged through a wide-ranging tasting menu that melded Panamanian traditions with modern gastronomy. The geisha coffee pairing was eye-opening, especially for my son, who needed a pick-me-up as he watched me tear through dish and drink after dish and drink.

Most of our Bocas meals were at our varying places of residence: fresh fruit breakfasts and seafood-based dinners at the Turtle Beach House, Eclypse de Mar, and Palmar Beach Lodge. Our permaculture and coffee tour of La Loma Jungle Lodge revealed spiky fruits and garlic-flavored vines that I never knew existed. And the highlight of eating in Bocas Town was recommended by Maito’s owner, Mario Castrellón: the Caribbean grill of Octo.

Tantalo Rooftop Bar in Panama City | Credit: Matt Kettmann

On the last night of our trip back in Panama City, cocktails atop the Tantalo Hotel were only rivaled by our artsy hotel room and the plates we shared with Roger’s sister, Carol Durling, in the restaurant below. A walk through Casco Viejo afterward revealed many more restaurants and hotels to explore on my next visit. See my photo highlights via Instagram here and here.


While Panama was more adventure than trip — we stayed in seven different hotels over eight nights, with countless boat trips, truck rides, plane flights, and Ubers in between — our family trip to Hawai‘i was a lesson in real vacationing. We stayed in a resort-like setting in Wailea on Maui for a few nights, and then in a stilted house on a remote bay of Kauai for a few more.

808 Plates in Maui | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Our first meal just a two-minute drive from the airport was at the 808 Plates Maui food truck, and the expertly fried fish chunks with just-spicy-enough wasabi sauce certainly rivaled all other food we had on the island. Though it’s certainly a busy place these days, with reservations required weeks in advance sometimes, Monkeypod Kitchen never disappoints. Wailea Wine remains a great place to buy affordable yet well-curated bottles. And it was pretty awesome to see my cousin Ashley for the first time in years at her up-country agave farm in Makawao, where she runs Waikulu Distillery with her fiancé. 

Waikulu Agave Farm | Credit: Matt Kettmann

On Kauai, we ate mostly at home after stocking up on sustainably sourced goods from Papaya’s Natural Foods in Kapaa and obscure fruits like mangosteen and longan at the Anaina Hou Farmers’ Market in Kilauea. But we did enjoy a classic dinner beneath the tropical rain at Postcards Café in Hanalei as well as sushi burritos and overloaded miso soups at Sushigirl in Kilauea.

Photo highlights here.

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Wine Trips

Though my day-to-day work at the Independent took a hiatus, my job at Wine Enthusiast magazine remained in full swing, which meant I made a number of visits to wineries around the Central Coast and Los Angeles.

A mid-July family trip to Santa Cruz — which coincides with the annual Big D Memorial Golf Tournament that we host to remember my dad and raise money for First Tee Silicon Valley — resulted in quick visits to Madson Wines and Alfaro Family Vineyards in the Corralitos area. I met Madson’s Cole Thomas as he moved out of a mountaintop shack to a proper warehouse winery in the old Bonny Doon facility on Santa Cruz’s Westside, and popped in without warning to see Ryan Alfaro, who also makes his own Farm Cottage Wines. All three brands produce stunningly mineral-driven yet bright wines from among the redwood trees and apple orchards of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Credit: Matt Kettmann

Upon returning, I spent a day in the Santa Ynez Valley, attending the 10th anniversary celebration of Kimsey Vineyard in the morning, where we toasted the young but already impactful Ballard Canyon estate. Winemaker Matt Dees and viticulturist Ruben Solorzano joined owner Bill Kimsey on the panel to discuss how this property picks up the cool ocean air blowing in from the Sta. Rita Hills as well as that warmth that comes from Ballard Canyon.  

After lunch, I was off to meet up with the owners of Donnachadh Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills. The wines from that property, both those made by the estate and those made by other wineries, have been constantly impressive. Most exciting was the newer plot of gamay noir and the grenache vines planted right in the riverbed.

The next day, having to grab my kids from my mom halfway between here and her Aptos home, I was on the road to Paso Robles to spend some time in the cellars at Barton Family (great lunch!), Union Sacré (awesome Alsatian-inspired whites!), and Adelaida (fascinating past and future!). I ate dinner at In Bloom in downtown Paso with the Adelaida crew. I made a quick stop in with Neil Collins at Lone Madrone the next morning before picking up my kids and heading home. 

Dancers at Daou in Paso Robles | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Three days later, I stopped at Au Bon Climat’s anniversary sale on the way to Paso Robles yet again for Wine Enthusiast‘s annual media conference, when all of our editors, designers, executives, and other magazine employees gather to meet, discuss strategy, and have fun. Paso went over the top to show off their region to the more than 50 of us, from fire dancing at Daou to sauvignon blanc ice luges at Hope Family Wines to mixed drinks at our own private Sensorio viewing. My smaller group also enjoyed mourvèdre tasting with Paix Sur Terre and Alta Colina, a mind-bending pairing of a young chef and older wines at Le Cuvier, and spins in a sidecar before dinner at Cass.

Moon over Sensorio | Credit: Matt Kettmann

On the way home, I took Nils Bernstein, the magazine’s Mexico-based food editor, to try cider at Bristols in Atascadero and lunch at Bar Le Côté in Los Olivos. That weekend, he hosted a Fiesta party at his friend’s house in Santa Barbara, serving up his homemade vegetarian delights like mushroom-pistachio tostadas, carrot quesadillas, hibiscus ancho chiles, and pink mole atop cauliflower and broccoli.

After Hawai‘i at the end of August, I was down in Santa Clarita at Pulchella Winery’s custom crush facility, which is where they make another two dozen brands, including Byron Blatty, whose owner Mark Blatty had invited me down. (He was part of this big Los Angeles wine scene story I did last year.) We tasted about 30 wines and then met up later in the back room of Augustine for more wine and dinner. Let’s just say I needed that Bloody Mary, coffee, and fancy juice the next morning at The Garland, where I slept. 

Mark Blatty in Malibu (left) and AJA’s Amanda Greenbaum | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Then I was off to see Blatty again in the vineyards of Malibu, spending most of our time visiting with Amanda Greenbaum at AJA Vineyards. Upon reaching the coast, I introduced Blatty to Billy Din of Summer Somewhere, which now has a tasting room inside the Fred Segal store in the Malibu Village. Din and I carried on for a bit across the street over mouth-watering Greek food at Taverna Tony before I had to head home.

Billy Din at Taverna Tony | Credit: Matt Kettmann

In between all of these trips, I had lunches in my backyard with Alisa Jacobson of Turning Tide (we had South Coast Deli) and Fred Delivert of Tolosa (Thai food by Meun Fan), plus a lunch with Wynne Solomon and Mike Anderson of Peake Ranch at Convivo. I shouldn’t forget my first ever trip to Oliver’s for my 15th wedding anniversary, an epic Saturday night dinner with Chris Potter and friends at Bell’s in Los Alamos, and an evening supper club that next night at Margerum Wine. Just a few days later, I was back eating alone at the bar of Bar Le Côté after visits to Folded Hills and Stolpman.  

And, if you made it this far, now you know where I was last summer…

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