Friday, July 24, 2009
Wandering In Search Of Food, Part 2
I woke up the day after my birthday with a small plan. It involved spending the day mostly away from the coast and eating at a restaurant I'd seen an ad for in a local magazine. Root 246 sounded lovely from what I'd read and I really wanted one sort-of-fancy meal. So in a round-about way, I headed out of Santa Maria to Solvang. Along the way I saw a lot of vineyards and mountainsides of grape vines. Very beautiful country.
I miraculously found street parking with a bit of shade in Solvang, just off the street the restaurant is on. I forgot to look at the street address before I got out of the car, but I didn't have to wander too far before I found it. As I walked up the stairs past the patio seating, I knew that if I looked at the menu and decided to eat at Root 246, I'd be eating outside. I looked, I saw they had perfectly fine veggie options (but not many -- be warned), the prices were within my mental budget, and I stayed.
I did love the sound of any of the vegetarian main courses, so I decided to have a cheese plate and a salad. They brought a separate cheese menu along with their lunch and wine menus, so they seemed fairly serious about their cheeses. All the cheeses sounded good to me; I had a lot of trouble choosing three. In the end, I asked my waiter (very friendly, not hovering, but always there if I needed something) for help. I wanted to try the St. Pat, a raw cow's milk cheese cured in stinging nettles. It was described as having a smoky artichoke flavor. I asked for someone else to choose two cheeses that would complement the St Pat and so ended up with a cow's milk tasting. The two other cheeses were Red Hawk, which was by far my favorite, and Beecher's Flagship, a one-year aged cheese.
The cheese plate, as you can see, was lovely. Nice portions of the three cheeses, with a little dish of local honeycomb, a fresh fig, champagne grapes, and almonds. It came with toasts of a raisin bread, which didn't do anything for me. I hate raisins, but I gave it a try and it just didn't work. I ate most of the cheese by itself or on the crusty bread that was on my bread plate. I enjoyed the whole thing immensely, bought a round of the Red Hawk at a store in Santa Ynez to take home, and served it with honey because the combination is so perfect.
I have a complaint about their cheese menu before I move on to my salad. When a restaurant goes to the trouble of having a separate cheese menu, with a short paragraph describing each cheese, and giving the cheese's origin, it should mention the cheese maker. When I found the Red Hawk in the store, I was very surprised to see that it was a Cowgirl Creamery cheese. It's such a well-known cheese maker and it is not in San Francisco, as stated on the menu, but in Point Reyes, one of my dream vacation spots. I would not have picked the Red Hawk from the description, but I would have picked it first if the menu had stated that it was from Cowgirl Creamery because I've wanted to taste more of their cheeses. (As it happens, I tasted two of their cheeses in this meal because the St. Pat is also one of theirs.)
But anyway, on to the salad.
My salad's name (nickname, really, because there was more to it) is Babe Farms Garden Party. And it was a party on the plate. So many different veggies! Roasted red and golden beets, carrot, summer squash, a radishes, broccoli rabe, and a variety of different greens. I ordered it in part because I loved the sound of the goat cheese croquets, but they were very dry and a little chewy and my least favorite part of the salad. My first bites lacked a little something and I almost considered requesting a salt shaker, but then I discovered two small puddles of creme fraiche hiding under the greens and tossing the salad with that solved my flavor problems. I loved this salad.
Overall, I loved this restaurant. It was a beautiful place to sit and eat. The food was interesting and beautifully presented. I'd love to go back with Husband and Little Girl. When I said that to my waiter, in response to his "I hope we'll see you again sometime", we ended up having a short conversation about child-friendly food. I said that I wasn't sure there was a Little Girl-friendly dish on the menu and he said that the kitchen is always happy to accomodate a child's taste, with a pasta or a sandwich or whatever it takes. That alone makes me hope that we can visit there sometime in the future.
My trip continued after lunch and I wound my way through more winding roads to Ojai. Ojai has a lot of artists and craftspeople and therefore, a lot of interesting stores. I had hoped to find a gift for Little Girl there and found a store with a t-shirt I wanted to buy her, but the sign said, "Closed for Grandpa duty". Can't argue with that.
I think there was an iced coffee somewhere in that day that I missed, but I did actually skip breakfast when I got to Los Olivos and found no little cafe hiding among the 17 (give or take) wine tasting rooms. I had hoped for something there. I made it back to my girl and Husband in time to have some good pizza with them and my in-laws, and then polished off my very last piece of birthday cake.
It was a good birthday.