Full Belly Files | Secret Cellars, Speedball Sips, and Is Guadalupe the Next Los Alamos?
This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on March 17, 2023. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
The flow from my food and drink firehose continues at full speed, so this Full Belly Files is yet another roundup edition of recent bottles and bites, most of which will be the subject of longer articles soon.
San Ysidro Ranch’s Secret Cellar: After decades of writing about all sorts of fancy and/or expensive and/or exclusive experiences, it takes something pretty special to make me consider extending an already super-long day into an even longer night for the sake of a story. An invitation into the depths of Montecito’s hyper-posh San Ysidro Ranch for a multicourse dinner by executive chef Matt Johnson paired with top wines of the world selected by superstar sommelier Tristan Pitre? That qualifies.
As I wrote about back in 2018, the ranch was hammered by the 1/9 Debris Flow, which decimated its legendary cellar. Upon the rebuild, they decided to include a “Secret Cellar” that can fit about a dozen people for an intimate dinner. The room finally opened at the end of 2022, and anyone can now book a dinner there. The price can escalate quickly depending on various factors, but you can expect the minimum bill to cost about $500 per person.
It’s not cheap, but it’s not far out of line with what many top-tier restaurants charge for their most exalted meals. (Just across the freeway at Caruso’s, for example, the full-monty chef’s menu plus elite wine pairing is $620.) And the Secret Cellar package isn’t just dinner: It begins with Champagne and caviar in one of the historic adobes, then leads to a guided tour of the cellar itself, where decades of Pétrus — including the 1945, which costs $39,000 — snuggle up against Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Sine Qua Non.
I’ll detail what we ate in my forthcoming article, but the meal was extraordinary: expertly portioned, ranging in textures and tastes, all matched up with Pitre’s selections, from Swartland white blends to Santa Ynez red ones, some of which were decanted hours in advance of our arrival. If you’ve got the dough, it’s worth a go. Learn more here.
Dawn/Dusk @ Drift Hotel: Back in the days when I regularly cruised the downtown bar scene, I recall numerous late nights when we’d stop to peer into the mysterious windows of the Scientology building at 524 State Street. It always struck me as an oddly public place for such a secretive organization, and we’d warn friends not to straggle behind unless they wanted to get snatched into the shadows.
A much friendlier use of that space landed last month when Drift Hotel opened its doors, bringing 45 hotel rooms and two new beverage-focused establishments to the heart of town: Dawn, which serves coffee, tea, and other nonalcoholic drinks from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Dusk, where the bar opens at 3 p.m. to serve agave-based (and other) cocktails as well as simple snacks and seafood plates.
I spent a few hours there recently, getting hyped up on a handful of Alex Werth’s caffeinated drinks at Dawn — orange cardamom latte and an espresso tonic, to name just a couple — before mellowing out over smoke-balloon-topped, colorfully salted drinks by John Hardin at Dusk. Like the drinks, the food takes cues from Baja, meaning zesty catch-of-day ceviche and super fresh oysters with serrano-cilantro mignonette.
Rather than copy my speedball combo — I was up past midnight, despite the cocktails — I’d suggest a morning visit for the coffee and an evening appearance for the booze, ideally as a pre-dinner aperitif or nightcap before heading home. But I wouldn’t fault you for posting up all afternoon, either. That’s what I did. And I’ve already told out-of-town friends that this is the place they should stay next.
Guadalupe Social Club: I’ve been pulling for the northwestern Santa Barbara County community of Guadalupe since I first stumbled into spicy, pillow-soft sopes at El Tapatio almost a quarter-century ago after a sandy romp through the nearby dunes. The small city has endured numerous struggles over the years, even occasionally flirting with bankruptcy.
I’d always heard that was in part because the main drag’s charming brick buildings couldn’t attract tenants or investors because of the retrofitting costs required just to open the doors. That’s one big reason why Far Western Tavern — which I covered in this ghost story for Smithsonian Magazine back in 2011 — moved to Orcutt in 2012. (Read a bit more about that and the tavern here and here.)
So I was elated to hear that there’s new energy in the city with last month’s opening of the Guadalupe Social Club. Featuring small plates, a very affordable wine list, and tons of room for all ages to play in the sprawling backyard, co-owner Brooks Van Wingerden is reporting a steady crowd from across the demographics. She purchased the earthquake-safe building in 2021 with her flower farmer husband, Ivor Van Wingerden, and then renovated it with her Arroyo Grande neighbor, the club’s co-owner Lexie Bell, who, like Brooks, is also a mom to three kids.
I’ve known Brooks to be a savvy business brain for many years due to her job at Margerum Wine Company, and trust her instinct that now may finally be Guadalupe’s time to shine. She credits some recent housing developments with bringing more wine-interested people to the area, and sees the ongoing renovation of the historic Royal Theater (read more on the campaign here) as evidence of further cultural growth.
Could Guadalupe be the next Los Alamos? If so, expect that train stop to get way more popular in the years to come.
CAB Camp in Paso Robles: Last week, I moderated a couple of panels for the CAB Camp in Paso Robles, where about 40 wine buyers and sommeliers from around the country come to learn about the region’s cabernet sauvignon and Bordelaise blends. It’s put on by the Paso Robles CAB Collective, whose inaugural event I attended more than a decade ago. They’ve really elevated the conversation around Paso cab, and this annual camp is a model of how to truly move wines into diverse markets, from Little Rock to South Dakota to Virginia Beach.
My panels were about sustainable vineyard practices — hosted fittingly at Robert Hall Winery, where GM Caine Thompson is running a side-by-side regenerative farming study — and then a workshop of sorts at Riboli Family Wines focused on how to blend the five traditional Bordeaux grapes. The campers even made their own blends, which were then judged by five winemakers and me. All went well, including the requisite belly dancing and Lebanese feast at Daou Vineyards, and ended with a happy surprise: an inventively composed huevos rancheros at the Allegretto Vineyard Resort as my parting breakfast.
From Our Table
In can you missed these reports by my colleagues, check out:
— Hana-Lee Sedgwick’s report on the World of Pinot Noir at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara.
— Leslie Dinaberg slays “The Beast” at Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos.
— Gareth Kelly writes about the new incarnation of Black Sheep Brasserie.
— George Yatchisin heads down to the waterfront to cover the ownership changes at Toma.
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