Full Belly Files | Looking Back on a Two-Month Blur

Sunrise atop the Santa Lucia Highlands at Cortada Alta Vineyard | Credit: Matt Kettmann

This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on March 10, 2023. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.

As passengers on this Full Belly Files train, you’ve been riding shotgun through the first two months of what’s already been a really busy year of traveling and tasting for me.

This past week was no different: managing to survive last weekend’s World of Pinot Noir (though I pulled the plug and headed home early on Friday afternoon), then up to Paso Robles to moderate a few panels of CAB Camp on Tuesday, and then winery meetings in Shell Beach, the Edna Valley, and Guadalupe on Wednesday, followed by a cellar dinner at San Ysidro Ranch that same night. (More on all that in forthcoming Files.)

This weekend is busy too. I served on the planning subcommittee for The Beer Garden at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, which is on Saturday, and then I’m attending the Women Winemakers Celebration at Mattei’s Tavern on Sunday.

I’ve done a pretty good job of covering the bigger trips and topics in 2023. But these Files tend to run really long, so I usually skip a bunch of other things that I was up to. Below is a rundown of many of the things that I failed to report on so far, many of which will also be longer articles down the road, either by me or others. (And not even mentioned below are great Persian food in Westwood, my snow morning up on Camino Cielo, last week’s visit to Dawn/Dusk at Drift Hotel, a great catchup with Zac Wasserman at Frequency Wines, my Burger Week favorites, and on and on.)

Hand Rolled Ricotta Cavatelli, Pommes Frites, Cassoulet, Compressed Beet Salad (left to bottom clockwise) at Black Sheep Brasserie | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Back to Black Sheep: On a Friday night in early February, legendary Sonoma County–based vintner Adam Lee, who founded the West Coast–spanning winery Siduri and then numerous other brands such as Clarice and Beau Marchais, joined me for dinner at the brand new Black Sheep Brasserie on East Cota Street. Ruben Perez, whom I came to know pretty well during the restaurant’s earlier incarnation on East Ortega Street, rolled out the multi-course carpet for us, showcasing Chef Jake Reimer’s French-leaning bistro fare.

Morganfield Burnett and Adam Lee at The Pickle Room | Credit: Matt Kettmann

We went from raw bar selections of uni, crudo, and tartare to savory stars like braised lamb and cassoulet, with plenty of fresh and crispy bites in between. Adam and I plowed through an impressive array of wine bottles, both ones he brought and others we bought, like the Foxen bottling I once gave 98 points. Somehow, the tiny shot of cauliflower soup we had to open the meal might have stolen the show, but I’ll be back to investigate. They just launched the “Apero” happy hour, Wed.-Sun., 5-6 p.m., with a three-course menu and 30 percent off wine.

Adam and I wound up at The Pickle Room, which was my old haunting ground back when it was Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens. When Larry Edwards, a k a the blues singer Morganfield Burnett, rolled into the bar, I introduced the two men, and Adam found a lot of late-night wisdom in Larry’s words.

The crunchy coca at Gala | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Quick Go at Gala: After the final planning meeting for the the Botanic Garden’s The Beer Garden event, I followed a few folks over to Gala, which had opened a couple of days earlier at 705 Anacapa Street. It’s a long-time-coming concept from Santa Barbara–raised Tara Penke and her Chilean husband, Jaime Riesco, who have owned Picnic Restaurant in Barcelona since 2010. Some of my fellow subcommittee members know Penke from growing up, and one had had almost everything on the menu already, even though it had only been open for three nights.

I only had about an hour to hang, so I settled on a couple cocktails and a few smaller bites, but was instantly impressed by the vibe and the flavors. It’s hard to pigeonhole the type of cuisine, but there’s a definite Spanish vibe that reminds me of pintxo bars in San Sebastian, one of my favorite cities. The gildas with pickled anchovies were brilliantly briny, while the crunchy “coca” flatbread showered in mushrooms was a textural treat. I can’t wait to settle in for a full meal.

The spaghetti nerano (left) and Torta Della Nonna at L’Antica. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Doughy Dreams: I’m quite overdue on my article about the new State Street location of L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, where I first visited two months ago and then interviewed the owner a week or so later. I swear it’s coming soon, but I can report that I’ve returned repeatedly, being so enamored with the super-thin crusts, crunchy salads, and freshly fried apps.

I went once during my one day of SBIFF, right after a solid documentary on MFK Fisher, and then again with winemaker Jeremy Leffert of Tooth & Nail in Paso Robles a couple of weeks later. Stay tuned for a full report, but this is a solid lunch or dinner spot that can be efficiently quick or leisurely long, depending on your needs.

The fried squash blossoms at L’Antica (left) and Oat Bakery’s fancy ham & cheese | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Staying on the dough front, I met for a late lunch one day with Louise and Lou Fontana at Oat Bakery to see their new wholesale production space and café in Old Town Goleta. They’ve got a great origin story, their breads are delicious and dynamic, and their sandwiches now on sale are perfect for a satisfying, ready-to-eat lunch. More on them later as well.

Wine & Swine: I’m always game to catch up with James Ontiveros of Native 9 Wines, and now that Wes Hagen is helping him get the word out, a lunch invite comes with two superstars of Santa Barbara County wine. We met up at Satellite S.B. in early February, enjoying thick grilled cheese with a 2013 pinot noir as we talked about the many corners of wine that Ontiveros touches. I’m planning a deeper dive on how he hits all sides of the wine business for later this year.

Wes Hagen and James Ontiveros shared Native 9 pinot noir from 2013 and grilled cheese at Satellite S.B. (left) and Matt Kettmann joins Daniel and Georges Daou for a video shoot. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

The next day, I was up to Paso Robles to film a commercial project for Wine Enthusiast with Daniel and Georges Daou. I’ve known these founders of Daou Vineyards for about a decade now, watching them grow the brand from a dream to one of the most popular cabernet sauvignon producers in the world. I sent a number of friends and family there for wine tasting over the past few years, for they’ve truly developed an industry-leading level of hospitality atop Daou Mountain.

The Secreto cut of Iberico pork goes well with Daou’s Soul of a Lion cab. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

After our shoot, our team ate lunch off of the newer menu. The highlight was a Secreto” cut of Iberico pork, which was rather life-changing in the realm of pork enjoyment. From the underarm area of a pig, the cut looks and acts like a flank steak, achieving a great sear yet retaining a fatty moisture and beef-like chew. That’s especially true when the chef in question sears it, then sous vides it, and then sears it again.

I emailed Marko Alexandrou at Motley Crew Ranch what he knew about the cut, and he replied, “Secreto is great! Not many butchers know how to extract it. Nutty, fatty, and delicious! It is present in all pigs…just better in the heritage ones.”

Salinas Valley Mexican Food Mission: I’ll save most of the details of this for the forthcoming feature story I’m writing for Wine Enthusiast, but I spent three days in mid-February driving around the smaller towns of the Salinas Valley to explore the region’s buzzing Mexican food scene. Joining me was the magazine’s food editor Nils Bernstein as well as a handful of winemakers, including The Brander Vineyard’s winemaker Fabian Bravo, who grew up in Gonzales.  

The sope and enchilada combo at La Fogata in Greenfield (left) and Paletas galore at the Pacheco Water Store in Gonzales | Credit: Matt Kettmann

We stopped by about a dozen establishments — there are probably three to four times as many in King City, Greenfield, Soledad, and Gonzales — and then spent our nights in a fancy home atop Cortada Alta Vineyard in the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands. You can check out my Instagram story here.

Aguachile verde at Mariscos Camaron de Nayarit in King City (left) and possibly California’s oldest crush pad at Mission San Antonio | Credit: Matt Kettmann

On the way home, Nils and I stopped at Mission San Antonio de Padua, which just underwent a $12.4 million renovation. Hidden in the hills west of 101 south of King City and north of Paso Robles, the mission hosts a rather stunning museum from that era, and is sent in the most pristine of all settings from the Spanish era. Things just haven’t changed all that much in the near vicinity, which is mostly occupied by Fort Hunter Liggett.

We also learned that people can stay there overnight, and that there are a number of annual events, including a winemaker dinner, that occur there. My brain is still spinning with possibilities.

Our last stop was the Sinor-LaVallee tasting room in Avila Beach, both to sample some of Mike Sinor’s wine and to indulge in a dozen or so of Morro Bay Oyster Company’s finest. Sinor smartly partnered with the oyster farm to serve those shells alongside his sips, especially his pink and white pet-nats that do the bivalves proper justice. The Shuck Shack is the official name of this team effort, and it’s very much worth the quick diversion off of 101.

Oysters and pet nat at the Shuck Shack in Avila Beach | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Nils found this stop particularly appropriate, given that he’s about to publish a book called The Joy of Oysters: A Complete Guide to Sourcing, Shucking, Grilling, Broiling, and Frying. He had just one advance copy on hand during our trip, and I could have read the vignettes and recipes all day — if it weren’t for all those sopes, paletas, pinots, and shellfish. I’m urging him to make a book tour stop in Santa Barbara when the time is right this spring or summer.

From Our Table

Thanks to all those folks who sent emails remembering Chef Karim in reaction to last week’s newsletter. It’s always nice to hear from you, and especially meaningful to connect over a cool soul.

SOBER & SERIOUS: Tilden is bringing elegance and nuance to the nonalcoholic cocktail world, using ingredients like lapsang souchong tea, lychee, and Szechuan peppercorn to give depth and texture to each sip. | Credit: Alyssa Fioravanti; @alyssafior

Here are some of the stories you may have otherwise missed in the past week:

Mark Your Calendars

Here are a few upcoming events to watch out for:


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