The 2013 Foodie Awards
Our Fourth Annual Celebration of Santa Barbara’s Culinary Scene
Thursday, September 26, 2013
When we started the Foodie Awards as an annual celebration of Santa Barbara’s culinary scene back in 2009, there was hope that the momentum would continue to blossom into even more interesting eating opportunities around town. Four years later, we’re happy to report that the region’s collective kitchen is more exciting than ever, with an increasing number of both homegrown and imported “culinarians” deciding to stake their claims on our shores.
In this 2013 edition of the Foodie Awards, we honor nine establishments for the special sauce they bring to our eclectic menu, shining some deserved light on everything from authentic tacos and beachside ambiance to edgy sushi, philosophical cocktails, and painstakingly produced pasta.
By Paul Wellman
Jeff (left) and Matt Nichols own Sides Hardware and Shoes in Los Olivos.
Worth the Drive Award: Sides Hardware and Shoes Los Olivos
If pork is important to you, put this paper down right now and drive to Los Olivos — because no one is doing pig better than Jeff and Matt Nichols at Sides Hardware and Shoes (the name is a nod to the historic building’s earlier life). They opted to cure their own bacon, with brother Matt claiming, “It took about seven or eight batches to get it where we liked it. We wanted it to be unique, and I think we did a good job of accomplishing that.” If their extra-thick bacon steak isn’t enough for you, then there’s the Hammered Pig: fried pork loin gussied up with red cabbage, apple, and mustard-seed slaw. There’s more than pork: In summer their chilled soups include ultra-elegant ice-cream-like savory centers to swirl plus fish tacos that will make you think you’re closer to the Pacific than you are. There’s even quinoa with seasonal vegetables for the non-carnivorous. And, yes, grander things are still to come: The Nicholses will be opening at the refurbished Red Barn before next year’s Foodies.
(2375 Alamo Pintado Ave., Los Olivos, 688-4820, brothersrestaurant.com)
Fist of Fin and Feather Award: Arigato Sushi “Gold Shot” Sea-Urchin-with-Quail-Egg Shooter
Paul Wellman (file)
Arigato Sushi’s inventive cuisine includes this mango ahi nigiri.
If decadence itself could be served in a shot glass, the place to get it would be Arigato Sushi” is how this paper’s food editor Shannon Kelley recently described the esteemed sushi spot’s uni-and-quail-egg shooter. “The Gold Shot is a mouthful of silken, oceanic indulgence whose flavor hits you like a wallop to the face.” Sure, it’s not for the faint of palate, but Arigato has been pushing our boundaries since 1983, in the days when it existed in a large closet facing the Victoria Court parking lot. It’s just as hard if not harder to get a table these days (reservations, please!?), but it’s not just about some big-city buzz. The fish doesn’t get fresher in town or more artfully and creatively presented: the Pretty in Pink — smoked salmon, crab, avocado, burdock root, daikon sprouts, smelt roe, and cucumber — in its roseate soybean paper wrapper has aged much better than works of Molly Ringwald, John Hughes, and the Psychedelic Furs combined. You can’t hide with sushi, and Arigato’s stunning success has been an open secret for decades.
(1225 State St., 965-6074, arigatosantabarbara.com)
By Paul Wellman
Alvaro Rojas (left) and Weston Richards are the team behind Spare Parts.
Santa Barbara is notoriously slow to bend to food fashion, which is both a blessing — we don’t suffer ridiculous trends like foams — and a curse, in that our culinary scene can seem pinched and provincial. Somehow Weston Richards, chef de cuisine, and Alvaro Rojas, production manager, brought food up to the moment and still made sure it was just a good dinner party at heart with their pop-up dinners known as Spare Parts Bistro. Each week, it’s five market-driven courses led by one of Rojas’s fine cocktails (you might know him from his other establishments Alcazar, Milk & Honey, or the Bourbon Room). You BYOB; eat dishes like baked sardines, tomato sauce, fennel, garbanzo beans, lemon zest, olive oil, and oregano; and leave feeling that you made a dozen fast friends. “The main ingredient is the love for our craft with a good helping of tenacity and sprinkled with a bit of crazy” is how Rojas explains their modus operandi. “I would say that I have been successful because of my commitment to making great, innovative food, and never compromising my vision of what Spare Parts should be,” adds Richards. “I’ve always said I would rather go down in flames than compromise my vision. However, the support for what we are doing has been tremendous!”