Monday, January 26, 2009

I left my heart and tastebuds on the streets of Santa Barbara!

This morning on NRP I listened to a story about people "vacationing" closer to home; because of the economy, Americans are staying put, but still taking their vacation time, and indulging in more modest luxuries like extra yoga classes, facials and massages, still saving lots of money by cutting out things like, say, expensive air travel and hotel accommodations. Which made me feel better, actually. For years, when I had a higher paying job and the economy didn't feel so, well, scary, I traveled as often as I could. Now, for the most part, I am always, always, always in LA, which can feel somewhat oppressive to me; staying anywhere for months on end, with no break, feels oppressive to me.

Which made my day getaway to Santa Barbara so amazes me that just a quick drive out of LA brings miles of coastline not clogged with traffic and lush, green hills. I've been pining for a trip to Italy, my new culinary fantasy land, but it just doesn't seem to be in the cards this year, so imagine my thrill at dining at Ca Dario ( , a fabulous Italian restaurant in the heart of this enchanting little town.

St., my most frequent (and definitely most appreciative and enthusiastic) dining companion, had been raving about this place that she had frequented with her family. She had not been in several years, but was pleased to find the menu still boasts her favorite dishes. I "almost" ordered everything on the menu, which is not to say I nearly ordered it all, but at one point or another I considered every single item offered. Every appetizer, every pasta, every meat dish looked so was very difficult to decide.

After hearing "I'm ordering the ciotola di mare and I'm NOT sharing" I decided that I had better order this, too, to see what it was all about. Ciotola (pronounced shee-uh-tola) means "bowl", and this "bowl of the sea" was something I will probably die trying to recreate. Our eyes were as big as anime characters as the waitress brought our ciotolas to us: a giant prawn (still in its body), mussels, jumbo shrimp and clams all in the most velvety tomato and saffron sauce. The mussels were the biggest and freshest I've ever eaten, and that broth...oh that broth...I will probably be calling its name in my sleep for years to come. velvety Italian lover! I asked st. if it would embarrass her if I got naked and just swam in the broth, but we both decided I wouldn't fit in the bowl.

I would have been content to stop after the ciotola, but oh no, that was not to be. St. ordered her favorite main course, the rack of lamb with slices of roasted garlic and sides of roasted beets and potatoes. This dish melted in my mouth and the roasted garlic still haunts me. I ordered the rib eye steak with white beans and sage, which was the most exquisitely spiced steak I've ever eaten. At one point I actually just wanted to lick the slab of meat, but decided that would look weird, though next time I am sitting with my back to the general population so if I have any more weird urges like that I can just indulge them without upsetting the other tables.

But...they would probably understand.

The wine I had was a Morellini, and I can't really tell you much about it other than a. it was great with red meat, b. it was reasonably priced, and c. I'm going to look to buy some here in LA.

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