WINING AND DINING IN ST. YNEZ

THE ST. YNEZ VALLEY IS AN EASY TWO AND A HALF HOURS FROM HOLLYWOOD, LYING JUST NORTH OF SANTA BARBARA.  THE FINAL THIRTY-MINUTE LEG ALONG ROUTE 154 TAKES YOU THROUGH ROLLING HILLS, DOTTED WITH LIVE OAK WHERE HORSES AND CATTLE GRAZE.  LAKE CHUMASH APPEARS ON YOUR RIGHT, FILLED TO ITS BANKS FROM THE WINTER RAINS.  TRAVELING EAST TO WEST ALONG ITS SOUTHERN BORDER ARE THE TOWNS OF ST. YNEZ, THE SWEDISH DISNEYLAND OF SOLVANG, BUELTON, AND LOMPOC.  DUE NORTH ARE MISSION HILLS, VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, AND SANTA MARIA. 

OUR DESTINATION WAS THE FESS PARKER INN IN LOS OLIVOS.  FESS PARKER ISN'T CHEAP, BUT THE ROOMS ARE SPACIOUS AND COMFORTABLE WITH HIGH CEILINGS, A ROOMY BATHROOM AND A GAS FIREPLACE.  THERE IS A SPA, A RESTAURANT AND A SWIMMING POOL.  THE STAFF IS FRIENDLY AND HELPFUL, MUCH AS IS EVERYONE WE ENCOUNTERED ON OUR THREE-DAY VACATION. 

UNLIKE NAPA AND SONOMA, WHICH BOASTS WORLD-FAMOUS WINERIES WITH BARONIAL TASTING ROOMS, MOST OF THE WINE PRODUCED IN THE AREA CAN BE SAMPLED IN STOREFRONT TASTING ROOMS WHICH LINE THE MAIN STREET IN ST. OLIVOS, A MODEST TWO-BLOCK STRETCH, WHICH LOOKS LIKE A WESTERN TOWN DESIGNED BY MARTHA STEWART. 

WE'D PLANNED TO EAT OUR FIRST MEAL AT THE INN BUT AFTER PERUSING THE WAGYU-BEEF-CENTRIC MENU, WE CROSSED MAIN STREET TO THE WINE MERCHANT CAFE, A WINE STORE-CUM-RESTAURANT SUBDIVIDED BY A BAR WITH FLOOR TO CEILING WINES BOTH LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL.  THE CHOICES HERE WERE MORE ECLECTIC.  LYNN FOUND A VEGETABLE PASTA WITH HOUSE-MADE TAGLIATELLE.  MY HALF A ROAST CHICKEN WAS JUICY AND DELICIOUS. 

ALTHOUGH WE HAD RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PLACES TO EAT IN THE AREA, WHEN IN DOUBT ASK YOUR WAITER.  SHE SUGGESTED GRAPPOLO, AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT IN ST. YNEZ AND INDUSTRIAL EATS IN BUELTON WHICH WAS ALREADY ON OUR LIST. 

AFTER A HEARTY OATMEAL BREAKFAST AT THE INN, WE HEADED FOR THE FESS PARKER WINERY TO CASH IN OUR COMPLIMENTARY TASTING VOUCHER.  TEN MINUTES NORTH OF THE TOWN IS FOXEN ROAD, HOME TO SEVERAL WINERIES INCLUDING FOXEN, CURTIS, ZACA MESA, FESS PARKER, AND ANDREW MURRAY. 

WINERIES ARE ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO VISIT AND NOT JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE ENCOURAGED TO DRINK.  WHETHER MODERN OR TRADITIONAL, THEY ARE STATELY WITH BEAUTIFUL GROUNDS USUALLY SET IN THE SURROUNDING VINEYARDS.  FESS PARKER, WHICH FALLS INTO THE SECOND CATEGORY, IS NO EXCEPTION.  THEY'VE BEEN MAKING WINES SINCE THE 70S AND THE WINES REFLECT TRADITION -- BIG, OAKY CHARDONNAYS AND ELEGANT PINOTS, THE PRIMO GRAPE OF THE AREA.  WE PICKED UP A FEW RIESLINGS AND CONTINUED ON TO ANDREW MURRAY, WHERE THE WINES, PARTICULARLY A GRENACHE-MOURVEDRE-SYRAH BLEND AND A WHITE GRENACHE WE FOUND MORE COMPLEX AND INTERESTING.  

THE NICE THING ABOUT THE ST. YNEZ VALLEY IS THAT THE DISTANCES ARE SO CLOSE.  IN FIFTEEN MINUTES WE WERE IN BUELTON ORDERING A LITTLE GEM AND GORGONZOLA SALAD WITH A CUBAN SANDWICH AT INDUSTRIAL EATS, A SPRAWLING RAW SPACE WITH CROWDED COMMUNAL TABLES, A MASSIVE PIZZA OVEN, AND A WATER BUFFALO HEAD ON THE WALL.  THERE WAS MUCH ON THE MENU TO CHOOSE FROM INCLUDING MUSSELS, LOCAL CHANTERELLES AND A BEEF TONGUE PASTRAMI REUBEN.

BACK IN LOS OLIVOS WE WALKED THE TWO-STREET TOWN AND TOOK OUR SENIOR NAP.

TRATTORIA GRAPPOLO, TUCKED AT THE END OF A STREET IN THE TOWN OF ST. YNEZ, IS A ONE-ROOM RESTAURANT WITH WESTERN SCENES ON THE WALLS AND A COZY VIBE.  ALTHOUGH THE STAFF IS ENTIRELY MEXICAN, THE FOOD IS ASSERTIVELY ITALIAN WITH AN IMPRESSIVE PARADE OF PASTAS, SALADS AND SECONDI.  I COULD HAVE MADE A MEAL OF MY OCTOPUS AND ARUGULA SALAD, BUT THE TAGLIATELLE WITH SCAMPI AND ZUCCHINI WAS PERFECTLY COOKED AND I ATE IT ALL.  LYNN'S VEAL SCALLOPINI WITH PORICINI WAS TENDER AND FLAVORFUL.  WE DRANK HALF A BOTTLE OF ARNEIS FROM THE EXTENSIVE WINE LIST AND GAVE THE REST TO A WINE-TASTING PARTY AT THE NEXT TABLE. 

LOU AMDUR AND GEORGE COSSETTE HAD RECOMMENDED I HUNT DOWN LO-FI, RANDY ROARK AND A TRIBUTE TO GRACE, THREE BIODYNAMIC WINERIES IN THE AREA, BUT TWO OF THEM ONLY HAD TASTINGS STARTING THURSDAY, THE DAY WE WERE LEAVING.  SO I TROTTED ACROSS TO THE WINE MERCHANT CAFE AND SPOKE WITH JACOB WHO INFORMED ME THAT THEY COULD GET THOSE WINES FOR ME AND SHIP THEM TO L.A. AT NO EXTRA COST.  DONE! 

ALTHOUGH WE HAD VISITED PRESQU'ILE ON A PREVIOUS TRIP, THEIRS IS A TRULY BEAUTIFUL TASTING ROOM.  THE WINERY IS LOCATED ON THE CREST OF A HILL IN SANTA MARIA, FROM WHICH, ON A CLEAR DAY, YOU CAN SEE THE PACIFIC.  THE WINERY AND TASTING ROOM ARE CONSTRUCTED OF STAGGERED ROWS OF LIMESTONE SLABS, IRREGULAR IN SHAPE.  THE TASTING BAR IS GENTLY CURVED.  THROUGH A SET OF GLASS DOORS YOU CAN SEE ROWS OF OAK BARRELS IN THE CELLAR.  THE WINES ARE PRICIER THAN SOME WE'D TASTED BUT THE WHITES HAVE A CLEAN MINERALITY, WITH TRACES OF PEAR AND WHITE PEACH.  WE FILLED OUT OUR CASE. 

LUNCH IN ORCUTT AT THE FAR WESTERN TAVERN, WHICH REALLY DOES LOOK LIKE IT'S BEEN THERE SINCE THE GOLD RUSH.  FRENCH DIP SANDWICH FOR ME.  LYNN HAD A WEDGE OF ICEBERG WITH BLUE CHEESE DRESSING. 

OUR BEST MEAL ON OUR PREVIOUS TRIP HAD BEEN LUNCH AT THE BELL STREET CAFE IN LOS ALAMOS, ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE ONE-STREET WESTERN TOWNS, HALFWAY BETWEEN SANTA MARIA AND LOS OLIVOS.  BELL STREET HAD CLOSED, BUT I'D HEARD THAT IT'S REPLACEMENT WAS EQUALLY GOOD.  I ASKED A LOUNGING WAITER, WHO TOLD ME THAT BELL WAS CLOSED AT NIGHT BUT THAT HIS RESTAURANT, PICO, IS ONE OF THE TOP 100 RESTAURANTS IN THE WORLD.  I POPPED INSIDE AND CHECKED OUT THE MENU WHICH LOOKED IMPRESSIVE. 

SO FOR OUR FINAL DINNER WE BOOKED A TABLE AT PICO, HARDLY NECESSARY SINCE THE PLACE WAS PRACTICALLY EMPTY.  THE UPSTAIRS GALLERY LOOKED COZIEST AND THERE WE SAT ORDERING A MUSHROOM MEDLEY:  MUSHROOM SALAD, GNUDI WITH WHITE ASPARAGUS AND LOCAL CHANTERELLES AND A SPAGHETTI CARBONARA WITH DUCK CONFIT.  PICO IS ALSO A WINE STORE WITH AN ENCYCLOPEDIC LIST WHICH INCLUDES VERTICAL YEARS OF CALIFORNIA GREATS SUCH AS SELYEM AND "UNICORNS" (RARE AND UNUSUAL WINES FROM CALIFORNIA, ITALY, FRANCE, AND GERMANY).  WE SAMPLED THREE WINES BY THE GLASS INCLUDING A SELBACH RIESLING, A PINOT GRIS AND A CALIFORNIA GUWERTZTRAMINER.  DREW TERP, THE CHEF WHO'S WORKED AT ALAIN DUCASSE AND UNDER JOSÉ ANDRÉS AT JALEO, STOPPED BY TO EXPLAIN HOW HE MAKES HIS DUCK CARBONARA. 

SATED AND WINED OUT, WE RETURNED TO FESS PARKER FOR A FINAL NIGHT OF DREAMLESS SLEEP, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD.  IF YOU'RE LOOKING FOR A RESTFUL AND SATISFYING FEW DAYS AWAY FROM THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE OF L.A., HEAD UP TO ST. YNEZ. 

PICTURED BELOW: TRATTORIA GRAPPOLO IN ST. YNEZ
                                        PICO IN LOS ALAMOS

 

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WINING AND DINING IN ST. YNEZ
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