A Break From the Routine -- Or, Get on Your Boots

A little departure from the ordinary this week: no secrets, in food nor wine. It's spring break, and the resulting general upheaval in routine has turned all things slightly topsy-turvy.

I'm writing this from the Central Coast, where we'll spend this weekend helping friends from Tantara Winery pour during today's Santa Barbara County Vintners' Festival; and at Sunday's Open House at the winery. Stop on by if you're around!


Antlers & Wood (Spurs Optional)

Last night found us dining at the original Hitching Post restaurant in Casmalia, a glorious throwback originally opened in 1952, which one friend recently described as "The French Laundry before its time."

While the antler-heavy atmosphere is nothing like the heralded Healdsburg nirvana (where we dined in 2007), the courses do just keep coming. "Oysters and Pearls," well, no ... more like mini-shrimp cocktail in a tin cup, complete with tiny fork; salad drenched in homemade blue-cheese dressing; the best red-oak BBQ in possibly the whole wide world; a baked potato; garlic bread (with salsa on the side); and finally, if you can handle it, a scoop of ice cream at the end.

I had the outrageously delicious combination of the 5-oz. filet mignon and a 4-oz. quail. Jody had a 10-oz. top sirloin. We paired it with a bottle of Santa Barbara County's ampelos winery 2005 syrah-grenache blend, which had lots of nice fruit -- and an oak profile I just could not figure out. (If you read the winemaking notes, you'll see why. I don't think I've ever seen anything like this oak program.) It was a great match with the less-than-light, enormously flavorsome meal.

Next week's back to the grill again... until then, cheers! Have a Hitching Post or French Laundry story to share? What do you think about hybrid barrels? Leave a comment and we'll keep the party going.