Tyger Tyger's "Soon-to-Be-World Famous" fried yuba sandwich | Credit: Ali Beck Photography

This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on December 9, 2022. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.

You’ve got to be a little suspicious when a chef drops a dish on your table and declares that it is “soon to be world famous.” But the formula for the fried yuba sandwich at the reenvisioned Tyger Tyger ensures a more than fighting chance of claiming such a lofty crown.

First off, the modern-Asian, street food-inspired restaurant in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone — which closed for staffing issues during the pandemic in late 2021 despite a rabid fan base — is an outpost of Acme Hospitality, whose founder Sherry Villanueva and management team never do anything halfway. Her flagship, The Lark, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary next year, and the portfolio now includes both multiple restaurants — Loquita and La Paloma, to name a couple — and hotels in the Sierra Foothills and Palm Springs.

The staff of the newly reopened Tyger Tyger | Credit: Ali Beck Photography

Secondly, Tyger Tyger’s shift to a mostly plant-based menu was the work of Santa Barbara–raised Chef Jasmine Shimoda, who led recipe development, and Ojai-raised Chef Trevor Laymance, who executes the vision daily. Shimoda previously ran the plant-based Silver Lake hotspot Jewel, and she relies on her Japanese heritage, “hippie parent” upbringing, and extensive Asian travels to inform all of the dishes.

And three, fried chicken sandwiches rule the world right now, so offering one based on fried yuba — which are thin sheets of tofu skin — opens the door to an entirely new diner.

Best of all, it doesn’t leave fried chicken fanatics like myself behind, delivering crispy bite after crispy bite without any fleshy chicken getting in the way. Braised out of its dehydrated origins, soaked in a vegan buttermilk, and then dredged in gluten-free flour, Tyger Tyger’s fried yuba is all about that crunch. Served on vegan brioche bun with pickled fresno chiles, chili-maple sauce, and yuzu ranch dressing, it satisfies on the required comfort-with-spice fronts, whether you’re a meat eater or not.  

I’ll be writing a feature about Tyger Tyger in the weeks to come — the roasted and fried sweet potatoes make a nice pre-yuba appetizer, and their sustainability story is industry-leading — but now’s the time to go snag one of these addictive sandos before the lines run around the corner. L.A. hasn’t tuned in yet, but they can’t be far behind.

Wines to Find

Fennell’s 2019 chardonnay | Credit: Courtesy

 After decades in the wine industry, Steve Fennell, who ran Sanford Winery for more than a dozen years before taking the general manager reins at Rancho Sisquoc, is now making his own line of wines. Called Fennel Family Wines (website coming soon), the inaugural lineup includes chardonnay, pinot noir, and syrah, all from Peake Ranch in the Sta. Rita Hills. He shared them with me in my backyard a couple of weeks ago, and they were all quite impressive, particularly the chard, which really did remind me of white Burgundy when I blind tasted it later. They’re starting to show up in stores and on restaurant wine lists, including by-the-glass at China Pavilion. Dim sum plus racy, mineral-driven chard anyone?

Wines from Condor’s Hope and Allan Hancock College | Credit: Matt Kettmann

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NorCal Bites

Last weekend, I took my son up to see the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium, where my mom has season tickets. (The sad backstory is that my dad bought them but died in 2013 before ever seeing a game.) My son had a $50 gift certificate to Phil’s Fish Market, which just moved from its iconic seaside spot in Moss Landing to new digs in downtown Castroville, the “artichoke center of the world” and one of my favorite one-street towns to cruise through while heading south from Santa Cruz.

Mason prepares to dine into Phil’s cioppino.
| Credit: Matt Kettmann

It’s a famous spot, though I only remember eating there once or twice while growing up, usually on the way back to Capitola after golfing around Monterey. The food didn’t suffer from the relocation at all: We ordered the fried artichoke hearts, an egg roll special, and the famous cioppino, overloaded with shellfish, shrimp, crab claws, and more. It’s worth a special trip for sure, especially when they get their alcohol license again, which is any day now apparently. Like many sports venues these days, Levi’s Stadium prides itself on the wide variety of foods served. I’ve done fried chicken sandos, crab sammies, Indian dishes, and more in years past. This time, my son went for the Super Duper Burger while I hit up Puesto for tacos, the chicken al pastor, and the quesabirria. Solid choices, though, still being a stadium, the football was far more satisfying, despite Jimmy G’s season-ending injury.

Michelin Star for Caruso’s

In case you missed it, I got a fresh interview with Chef Massimo Falsini on Tuesday, the morning after he’d been awarded a Michelin star for Caruso’s at the Rosewood Miramar. He admitted to being a bit slow after a night of well-deserved celebrating, but gave some great comments on what the star means for his team and for Santa Barbara as a whole. I also mention that The Restaurant at Justin in Paso Robles picked up a star. (Not sure what’s become of the winery’s pesky federal sexual harrasment lawsuit there, though.) Here’s my Michelin star story and interview with Falsini. How does one wind up with a star? I always love stories based on interviews with anonymous Michelin tasters that seem to pop up every few years. Here’s the 2022 version, by Steph Rodriguez at SFGate.com.

Chef Massimo Falsini of Caruso’s | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Reader Responses

Vacation indulgence: onion dip and plain Ruffles
| Credit: Gina Fisher

My story last week about French onion dip being my family dish sparked a few responses from readers.

“My vacation indulgence: onion dip and plain Ruffles,” wrote Gina Fisher. (She even sent this pic.) “I’ve scoured the island of Kauai to find Laura Scudder’s Green Onion Dip. You can’t find it and must settle for Lipton’s. I must confess, I travel with a packet now so I don’t turn up disappointed in not getting to enjoy my guiltiest of pleasures. It was our favorite family snack growing up. Is there a better life than sitting on a lanai, overlooking the ocean, with a cup of tea and a bowl of onion dip and Ruffles? I think not.”

“So true!” wrote Bradley Bennett, owner of Pacific Pickle Works. “My wife and I secretly still love to put this out for a gathering here and there. And yes, must be with Ruffles! It just hits so many notes.”

And my mention of the old Mousse Odile dressing prompted another reader to let me know that Laura Knight at Pascucci had purchased the recipe. Apparently, you can find Pascucci dressing at Gelson’s. I emailed Laura to confirm but haven’t heard back yet.

Rori’s Birthday Party

If you haven’t had enough candy from Halloween and pie from Thanksgiving — and aren’t fearing the dessert onslaught of Christmas, Hanukkah, and so forth — this weekend marks Rori’s Artisanal Creamery’s 10th anniversary. To celebrate, they’ll be serving free scoops of the limited-time flavor Sour Cream Coffee Cake at the Montecito Country Mart location until December 11. “Dreamed up by our flavor contest winner Heather Andrew and inspired by Ina Garten’s classic recipe, this is a sour cream ice cream with a cinnamon walnut streusel swirl,” reports Rori’s of the recipe.

Blast from Buffet Past

I was trying to remember the name of a popular buffet chain that I used to frequent in high school, a precursor — at least in my mind — to Hometown Buffet and Souplantation. Then, as if on cue, this SFGate.com story by Katie Dowd about Fresh Choice popped up. Apparently, the Sunnyvale-based chain was a “short-lived Bay Area phenomenon” and “never really a financial sensation.”

Oh well, I’ll take a fried yuba sandwich over the wilted salad bar any day.

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