Four years ago, back when Hans and I started courting (and WAY before the movie Sideways popularized wine tasting in Santa Ynez), we began a tradition of spur of the moment weekend getaways to Santa Barbara. We’d gas up the car, fill the trunk with a stack of New Yorkers and a weekend bag filled with casual clothes, grab a couple of latte’s to-go, and get on the 101 north before 10 AM. Once we make it the 1.5 to 2 hours up north, the specifics of the weekend are usually improvised. One necessary stop, however, never changes.
Named by Julia Child as a required stop in Santa Barbara, Superica is probably one of the best taco stands in America. Simple and unpretentious, this tiny white and sea green shack serves the freshest meat and bean tacos this side of Mexico to lines of dedicated customers that are, more often than not, lined up from the door to halfway down the block. No matter what day of the week or time of day.
Guests sit at picnic tables in a tented “dining room” while they wait for their number to be called. For anyone interested in good food, the wait is worth it. The ingredients are fresh, the combinations classic, and the soft, spongy tacos are made to order by hand.
The kitchen is just large enough to hold the cashier, the tortilla maker that forms each round of dough in her hands and presses them in an ancient looking press, and two grill men that flip fresh onions, chorizo and steak with a huge metal spatula on the flat top.
In some ways, the long line of customers out the door is a good thing. By the time we get to the order window, more than enough time has elapsed for us to discuss our order, memorized our selections (each menu item has a number) and organized by number in descending order. Hans and I definitely have some favorites on the menu, but we always try to order at least one new plate in hopes of finding a new Superica gem.
With our living room floor under the final stages of re-construction, we were forced to leave town for a day in order to allow our newly stained floors 24 hours to dry. Happy to take a trip north, Hans and I left our apartment in the morning and were at Superica by Noon.
the #13: Queso de Cazuela,
a bowl of melted cheese flavored with tomatoes and spices and served with warm tortillas. It’s a warm comforting dish that, despite having nothing to do with artichoke, strangely tastes of one.
The #18 Guacamole:
Another dish I have to fight to get my share of. Straight forward and supremely fresh, this guacamole is all about ripe avocado, a squeeze of lime and a hint of tomato. Perfect on its own, or revelatory when paired with other dishes.
This trip we tried a few new dishes:
The #1 Tacos de Bistec.
Strips of grilled steak served on tacos, this dish was a little disappointing to look at, but once doctored up with a little guacamole and a touch of cheese from the Queso de Cazuela, I was in heaven.
The special of the day: Tamal de Veracruz.
Truly a life-changing tamale. Soft, moist and undeniable elegant, this tamale was unlike any of the dense (almost dry) corn tamales I’ve eaten at the Hollywood and Larchmont farmer’s markets, Superica’s Tamale de Veracruz is a love letter to the delicacy of corn with its juicy corn kernels, zucchini and onion in a fluffy bed of corn masa. I was surprised by how light the cream sauce was and how balanced all the ingredients of this dish was.
After a fully satisfying meal at Superica, we headed north to Santa Ynez for some wine tasting. Big fans of the tasting room at Melville, we decided to mix things up and taste the wines of two unfamiliar producers.
First stop was the tasting room for Longoria.
Longoria Wine Tasting Room
2935 Grand Ave. Los Olivos
Established in 1982, Longoria is a family run wine business located in Santa Barbara county. The tasting room is small and intimate, located in a tiny room in one of the oldest buildings in he
art of the village of Los Olivos. The tasting fee was $10 and unfortunately, the woman helping us had no personality and dribbled something like a half an ounce of wine into our glass–barely enough wine to swirl or to properly taste.
We were impressed by the acidity and complexity of 2004 Syrah (chewy, spicy and had great acidity) and bought a bottle despite hating the woman that sold it to us.
Our next and last stop on our mini-wine tasting tour was Bridlewood Winery.
3555 Roblar Avenue, Santa Ynez
A much more impressive tasting room, we were greeted by a knowledgeable and skilled employee. With a $10 tasting fee we were pleased by the reasonable pour (a generous ounce) and the quality of the wine. Balanced and true to the varietal, the Bridlewood portfolio surprised us both with their delicately nuanced flavors. For someone that tends to stay away from palate punching Zinfandels, I found theirs to be quite pretty and actually surprisingly light–especially for a California producer.
We purchased the 2004 Six Gun Syrah—a silky red with nice tannin, a hint of spice and bright cherry with balanced acidity and minimal oak.
We drove back to Santa Barbara and checked into our favorite cheap motel, The Presidio.
Still under the final stages of a year long remodel, the Presidio has all the charm of a boutique hotel without a high price tag. The young couple that runs the place are charming and for under $100 ($89 to be exact) we stayed in a clean room with charming details.
We promptly hopped into bed, watched an hour’s worth of bad TV and took an epic nap before we headed out to town again for dinner.
The Hungry Cat, is, without a doubt, one of my favorite LA restaurants. Stripped of any fancy details, the Hungry Cat is dedicated to serving East coast inspired dishes (Maryland seafood is where it’s at), amazing wines, and incredible handmade cocktails. Now that Hungry Cat has a location in Santa Barbara, there really isn’t any other place we’ll go to. The cocktails are gorgeous, the food is fresh (we ate sea urchin so fresh and off the boat it practically walked on its spines across the table) and downright inspiring.
Thanks to the friendly staff and passionate kitchen staff, Hans and I had a memorable meal of off-the-boat oysters served with freshly grated horseradish and sea salt, Oyster chowder full of silky oysters and chunky potatoes, Tuscan Monkfish stew, a mind-blowing cheese plate and the I-can’t-believe-I’m-scraping-the-sides-of-this-dish-to-get-at-every-last-morsel chocolate bread pudding.
After a day of gorging and lazy napping, Hans and I return to the buzzing world of Los Angeles. I can’t wait for our next Get Out of Dodge.