Zaca Creek Ranch's Dennis Patrick explains regenerative ranching to the inaugural tour for Heritage Farmland Touring Company.

With or without the sun, summertime is in full swing, at least by my standards. My kids are out of school, the barbecues are being fired up, and the beach is beckoning more and more every day.

Like so many others last week, my family endured a series of graduation ceremonies, though I was reminded that most of what I attended were called “promotions.” That’s the official term for end-of-term honors when it involves a 6th-grader like my daughter (who’s now done with Foothill School, en route to La Colina Junior High) or an 8th-grader like my son (done with La Colina Junior High, on the way to Dos Pueblos High’s Engineering Academy).

Only high school and college exits count as graduations now, apparently. I understand the distinction — everything through high school graduation is actually mandatory — but I must have missed that vocabulary memo. Do we call these lesser non-grads “promotees”?

Grilled chicken at Shalhoob’s Magnolia

Our post-6th-grade promotion celebration included an evening stop at the Santa Barbara Public Market, where our cocktails by Cooney’s washed down salad and noodles from Empty Bowl as well as sushi from Wabi Sabi, which must be some of the better-priced raw fish in town. For lunch after the La Colina promotion, a bunch of us went down to Shalhoob’s Magnolia, where I’ve been steadily impressed with most everything I order: street corn, grilled chicken, fried chicken, tacos, fries, chicken wings, rib tips, poppyseed slaw, etc., etc. Just yesterday, I was back again to watch the Italy/Spain EuroCup match, and found that $10 for four St. Louis–style ribs might be the best deal on the menu.  

On Saturday, we co-hosted a party for my son and two of his since-birth friends in our backyard. That gave me a great excuse to dust off the Santa Maria grill, buy some oak from the Elks Lodge in Goleta, and smoke my eyeballs out for hours over hot links, chicken, and flap steak that became the base of tacos for our crowd of about 60.

Uni-scallop bites by Chef Peter McNee of Convivo

There was plenty of other food, too — salads by Local Harvest Delivery, cookies with our kids’ faces on them — but the bonus was Convivo chef-owner Peter McNee’s scallop and uni bites that got passed around as people waited on tacos.

I’ve been eating leftovers all week, from the chilaquiles that I made out of Neighbor Steve’s salsa verde on Sunday morning to the beef-and-beans dish I made for multiple lunches this week. That was just chopped up beef, onions, and serranos fried up, mixed with the brothy pinquito beans from Rancho Gordo, and then topped with more onions, queso fresco, cilantro, and tortilla chips, My son asked what I called it, which is always a good sign, even if I didn’t have an answer. I think “cowboy beans” is taken in multiple languages.

My truck’s broken air conditioner — diagnosed back in November — is finally becoming a problem, at least during trips to the Santa Ynez Valley. I’ve made a couple of those in the past week.

The first was to experience the inaugural expedition of the Heritage Farmland Touring Company, which will begin offering farm visits in July. The brainchild of Mary Maranville, who’s run the annual farm days in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties for years, the business takes guests to places like the Ballard Walnut Grove, where we learned about growing nuts; Zaca Creek Ranch, where we met alpacas and listen to an explanation of regenerative ranching; and Zaca Mesa Winery, where we tasted wine and ate lunch. Stay tuned for a longer story soon.

Then this week, I drove up to meet Jesse Cloutier of Sea Creatures Wine. He took me to the Dark Star Vineyard, which is about two acres of small blocks that surrounded the log cabin homes across from Folded Hills on Highway 101. Then we went back to his winery in Buellton, which will be opening for other visitors soon. I’ll be writing a story on him soon too.

And last on this week’s story-to-come list of Cote of Paint, the brand-new brand by Kristin and Nick Luis, longtime members of the Dragonette Cellars staff. We met at their home in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, and tasted rose, sauv blanc, pinot noir, grenache, and an electric sangiovese in the warm sun. They’re the centerpiece of a brunch at Clean Slate in Solvang on June 29, and there are only a few tickets left. Expect to see much more of them in the months to come.  

Sunny afternoons mean that it’s warm down on the waterfront, which is where I found myself on back-to-back days this week.

On Monday, I went down to Brophy’s to track down well-known bartender Ara Ayrassian and get him involved with a forthcoming bartender story we are doing at the paper. I wound up ordering a couple of drinks and a plate of steamed clams with broth, which I soaked up with their always-satisfying sourdough. I was bummed the next morning to receive an email from Ara declining participation, without any reason to note, but oh well. He suggested another, and there are plenty of other bartenders who will appreciate the recognition.

Then on Tuesday, we took Celebration Cruises up on their very kind offer to host the late artist Chris Potter’s family and friends on a sunset cruise onboard the Azure Seas. We started with loads of shellfish, wine, and beer at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, where I slurped an oyster shooter and then stuffed a calamari sandwich in my face. Both excellent. Then we hopped on the Azure Seas, sipped on cocktails, and cruised the coast until the early summer sun dripped into the mountains.

Smuggler’s Cove at Test Pilot

In quite a cocktail coup, San Francisco’s tiki tropical tipple house Smuggler’s Cove is taking over the bar at Test Pilot in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone this Saturday, June 23, 5 p.m.-midnight. Smuggler’s owners Martin and Rebecca Cate will be on hand to sell merch, including their book, and they’re bringing two of their best bartenders, Timmy and Gabe, to share highlights from the menu. Reservations are recommended, so email

From Our Table

Matt works the grill.

Here are some stories you may have missed:

  • When I was asked by Wine Enthusiast to do a story on tasting rooms in Arizona, I had no clue that I’d be so tempted to hop on a plane to Phoenix and check them out for myself. I didn’t do that yet, but I did talk to a bunch of tastemakers in the state to write this report on the hottest Arizona tasting rooms right now. I’ll be using that as my guide if I ever hop on that plane.
  • Rebecca Horrigan headed into the reopened Augie’s to figure out what’s new. Cheaper prices, for one, it appears. Read her report here.
  • It’s always a bummer to see longtime places close, like Derf’s, which Angel Corzo covered here. I haven’t been to Derf’s in a couple of years, but I used to visit with some regularity when I lived nearby. It was even on my list of “best Monte Cristos” when I was hunting them down in years past. Most, I’ll miss drinking in that slightly dark bar, and watching the cars roll by on weekend mornings.  

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