This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on January 13, 2023. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
I’m embarrassed to admit that last Saturday was my first time enjoying the dim sum menu at China Pavilion, and I have no good excuse.
It’s not the food: I’ve long loved dim sum, and have experienced the classic big-room, cart-powered versions in both Hong Kong and Los Angeles over the years. My family orders dim sum–esque dishes like xiaolongbao at other restaurants, and we’re also fans of the various dumpling-type frozen treats that cycle through the Trader Joe’s shelves.
It’s not the place, as I’ve been a fan of China Pavilion for years. The Independent’s office bobbed and weaved around that neck of the downtown woods for years, so I used to eat lunch there every week or so. It was a highlight of my day to be left alone over my hot-and-sour soup and plate of kung pao chicken, or dry sauteed string beans, or Szechuan shredded pork, always boosted by their house chili sauce and endless cups of tea.
And it’s not the lack of knowledge that this beloved place served that beloved food: I’ve known that China Pavilion served dim sum every weekend since DJ Palladino wrote about the November 1, 2008, start of the tradition 15 years ago. DJ, who now owns the Mesa Bookstore, went even longer in this dumpling think piece/profile of restaurant owner Peter Suy Chen, in which Chen explained that they started the service because weekends were slow.
They don’t seem to be anymore. When we showed up on Saturday at about 2 p.m., which is at the tail end of the 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. service, China Pavilion was still packed with tables big and small, all slurping noodles and popping shumai. The eight of us in our group followed suit, scratching down our orders on the pad with some advice from our hilarious server. Checking out the photo menu didn’t hurt either, especially for the three kids with us.
Taking advantage of the fair $20 corkage fee — although the restaurant offers a solid wine list as well — I asked her to pop the two bottles I’d brought from home: a slightly cloudy gewürztraminer by Union Sacré, the Alsatian-inspired winery of Xavier Arnaudin and Philip Muzzy in Paso Robles, and a slightly cloudy trousseau by Adroît in Marina, where sommelier-turned-winemaker Chris Miller produces that brand as well as the Seabold Cellars.
While there are no carts to snag dishes off of at China Pavilion, the food comes out so steadily that it doesn’t matter. Our first dish, the lotus-wrapped chicken, turned out to be one of our favorites, though it was hard to decipher in the blur of dumplings, duck, and buns that ensued.
Upon leaving, my dumpling-loving daughter proclaimed it to be her new favorite restaurant. “Why haven’t we gone here before?” she wondered. I didn’t have an answer, but it won’t be long before we’re back.
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On the Town
It felt good to stretch my legs a bit after the slightly stationary holidays and get back to visiting businesses around downtown Santa Barbara.
My first stop was to see Valley to the Sea Winery owner Jamie Savellano, who makes his wines with Matt Brady at Samsara, which is where we first met, and sells them via a tasting bar in the Santa Barbara Public Market. He just started pairing flights of his wines with food flights from Corazón Cocina, Fala Bar, and Ca’Dario Pizzeria Veloce, which seems like a brilliant use of neighboring resources. I went home and wrote about it right away. Here’s the story.
The next day, I stopped by Augie’s of Santa Barbara to meet bar manager Ryan Linden and get the scoop on current operations there. Quite a bit has changed since I reported this story, so I updated that story with as much information as I could into this new version of the Augie’s creation tale. They’re making things a little more casual, streamlining the menu some, and trying to be more approachable. While we talked, Ryan made me his Chi-Chi Pom cocktail, which is some real pomegranate-mezcal magic.
On Friday night, I met up with Ted and Greer Ellis, owners of the recently opened We Want the Funk in the Funk Zone to hear their story and taste their food. I’ll report on the details in a future article, but my immediate takeaway was that the colorful space is great for both quick bites and long chill-outs, with lots of shareable food on the menu and a varied drink list. They’ll be adding much more in the weeks to come — spritzes being on top of that list — and are still figuring out where exactly to park their food-truck-as-commercial-kitchen, home to a Forno Classico wood-fired oven, made in Goleta.
Ham’s Last Stand and Chanterelle Fairy
The Motley Crew Ranch ham that I bought for Christmas and wrote about last week made one final appearance over the weekend. I tossed the remaining bits in the frying pan with heaps of sugar, Aleppo pepper flakes, and cracked black pepper, then put the sweet, spiced bits in between tortillas and cheese. These “Candied Peppa Pig Quesadillas” (get it?) were perfect for watching the last Sunday of NFL football.
But while watching games at a friend’s house — being from Texas, he made us red beers, a k a “red draws,” and can’t-stop-eating queso — the chanterelle fairy dropped off a big paper bag of golden mushrooms on my porch. That night, with just butter, garlic, and a little parsley, they became the topping for goat cheese toasts.
On mushroom night two — amid the big storm warning — I hit up the Nikka Japanese Market for frozen udon and red miso paste (plus much more; that place is a gem). That combination became the base for a DIY noodle soup on our table, with soy-splashed chanterelle, fried tofu, bok choy, and nanami togarashi as the add-on choices.
What I’m Watching
When contributor George Yatchisin wrote this profile of Sergei Simonov, the Loquita chef mentioned taping a reality cooking show. The other night, I turned on the new series Pressure Cooker on Netflix, and there he was, one of 11 chefs living under the same roof while judging each other in various culinary battles. I’ve only watched the first episode so far, and Sergei was cast as a bit of a villain by a few of his competitors, so it will be fun to see how that all plays out.
After hearing so much about it, I finally watched The Menu over the weekend and loved its satirical but piercingly astute commentary on the modern state of chef and cuisine worship. That the production relied on the expertise of both famous San Francisco restaurateur Dominique Crenn and the food documentarian David Gelb of Chef’s Table fame only brought more credence to the experience.Those seeking further insight can read this article from Bon Appetit, but it’s full of spoilers. Just go watch it ASAP.
A few weeks ago, when I had that thankfully mild case of COVID, I watched a 2021 French film called Delicious. Set just before the French Revolution, it concerns a chef who’s kicked out of a noble’s castle and then sets off to open what’s portrayed as one of the first restaurants ever. For those who love food, history, or redemption — I’m big on all three! — it’s a treat.