While a thirsty kitten and a hungry cat seem ideal companions, adding a small song bird like a lark to the group feels positively reckless, especially if you’re the lark. Yet, that’s exactly what we did recently in Santa Barbara, and I highly recommend it.
My mission on this trip was to bring my parents to visit The Boy, our middle child. My folks have a ritual of visiting each grandchild on his or her own college turf and I gladly volunteered to be their travel planner and chauffeur.
Wanting everything to be just right, I sought restaurant advice from a source that never lets me down: Twitter. The food and wine peeps with whom we tweet are a warm, lovely bunch of human beings with wonderfully astute palates, and are always ready to help. In short order, @SBCWines (Santa Barbara Vintners) and @SBCWineLady (Morgen McLaughlin, Executive Director of Santa Barbara Vintners) sent me recommendations. Voila! The Hungry Cat and The Lark were booked.
The Hungry Cat’s name alone was irresistible; we felt a kinship. On top of that, it had been recommended as one of the best seafood spots in Santa Barbara, high praise for a town with lots of great seafood. Owned by chef David Lentz, the Santa Barbara restaurant is the newest of three Hungry Cat locations, the others being Hollywood and Santa Monica. Lentz and his wife Suzanne Goins, also a highly regarded chef, have been touted as the “culinary power couple” of Los Angeles.
Just off State Street in the busy heart of town, The Hungry Cat is cozy and inviting. Perusing the wine list, we particularly appreciated the option of ordering wines not just by the glass or bottle, but by the carafe, a middle-sized portion that allows flexibility to sample more wines or pair different wines with different courses. We selected the 2011 Holus Bolus Santa Barbara County Syrah (by Black Sheep Finds). A bold but balanced Syrah with classic characteristics of blackberry and pepper, it was crowd pleaser at our table. The Wine Advocate enjoyed it, too, rating it 90 points.
We sampled two specials of the day: roasted beet salad with whipped goat cheese, quinoa, lime and frisee; and bay scallop risotto with serrano chili oil. Both were exquisite. We also enjoyed black cod with farro, baby turnips, sugar snap peas, and miso butter. We could understand how a hungry cat would be very happy at The Hungry Cat.
Our second evening, we dined at The Lark in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, an arts district with great winery tasting rooms and restaurants. As it turns out, The Lark is not named for the bird but for the Southern Pacific Railway line that used to serve Santa Barbara. Housed in the town’s historic, former fish market building, the restaurant’s front patio welcomes diners into a vintage-meets-contemporary interior. Spacious and warm, we felt lucky to be seated at a wood-paneled booth, giving us the sense of having our own private party amidst the restaurant’s hustle and bustle.
The Lark focuses on artisan wines and local produce, with dishes served family-style, creating a fun, shared dining experience. Menu offerings come in three sizes— small (“snacks”), medium (“from farm, ranch and ocean”) and large (“platters”)— giving lots of options for mixing, matching, and tasting. Knowing that Chef Jason Paluska came to The Lark from Michael Mina’s RN47 in San Francisco (and being huge fans of Mina‘s cuisine), I knew we were in for a treat.
With our server astutely supervising us, we chose a tasty line-up of six dishes. Particular favorites were: crispy brussels sprouts with medjool date, sesame and lime; yellowtail hamachi tuna crudo with blood orange aoli, marinated cucumber and pickled fennel; and roasted chicken with smashed yukon gold potatoes, comfort food at a whole new level. Beautiful presentation as well as flavors, the timing and delivery of the dishes was a carefully synchronized and impressive feat in itself.
We chose the 2012 JCR Estate Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir to pair with the meal and savored every sip. Showing off elegant, silky, raspberry and black cherry flavors, the wine was beautifully structured and food friendly. Josh Raynolds at Vinous was similarly impressed, as he rated it 91 points.
Over the course of our dinners with The Boy, I listened as he told my parents about his studies, plans, and projects, and wondered how this industrious young guy learned so many things that I know nothing about. My mother has often said, “You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn from your own children.” I’ve always seen the truth in her comment, but never as fully as now that our own three are all young adults themselves.
The bonus of the trip was that I had the chance to take my parents to their very first wine tasting room ever. As we settled in to swirling and sipping at Kunin Wines, I relished the fact that there’s still something new I can introduce them to, given that they’ve seen and done some pretty cool things in their lifetimes. It dawned on me what a gift it is that they’ve always been open to having me teach them, just as much they’ve sought to teach me.
So this week, we toast to cats, kittens, and larks, of course, but, even more so, to fathers, daughters, mothers and sons and the multitude of ways we all teach and learn from one another. Cheers!
To get a feel for Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, you can read our account of our previous visit, including a profile of Kunin Wines, or watch our one-minute, virtual tour. Better yet, book a flight now and visit for yourself.