Santa Rita Hills is located just 30 miles north of Santa Barbara in Lompoc, CA. The region is rich is pinot noir grapes and many of you are familiar with it from the movie “Sideways”. The area has grown in recent years due to it’s popularity and there are many new restaurants and events occurring during the week for locals and visitors alike.
During August, the Wine & Fire event takes place in the Santa Rita Hills at the La Purisima Mission in Lompoc. The mission sets back in a large open tree-filled lot in a park like setting. Many Santa Rita Hills wineries attend and are pouring their special reserve selections, not just the standard wines they pour at their tasting rooms. Also, local restaurants cook small bites to pair with the wines as well as local farmers display their fresh produce and create salads to taste. The event is one of the most pleasant wine events around because it is not over crowded and it is held in the early evening, outdoors, when the weather starts to get cooler.
During the same weekend many wineries hold special events for their “club members” to attend. Flying Goat Cellars, a favorite, was having a barrel tasting and luncheon at their winery. It was the perfect opportunity to try some new wine and get a little more educated about the process of making wine.
The tasting was paired with cheeses, flatbreads and salami that was provided by a local caterer followed by a sit down luncheon with chicken and beef kebabs and an array of fresh salads. The most interesting part of the tasting was that Norm, the winemaker, sampled the same clones of wine but, changed different variables such as the vineyard and barrel type which created many different flavors in the wine.
For dinner, Hitching Post II has been in Buellton for many years but, during the week they create the most awesome hamburgers for locals and visitors who dine in the bar. The patty of beef is ground scraps from the steaks they cook up nightly and the size, well see for yourself!
For a little exercise, Lompoc has a nice place to golf – La Purisima Golf Course. This course is a great place to take your time and play while enjoying the local rolling hills in the background. La Purisima has discounts after twelve noon daily.
The Ballard Inn is a boutique inn in the city of Ballard just beyond Solvang. The dining room at the Inn serves dinner Wednesdays through Sundays and you don’t need to stay at the Inn to dine there. The setting is fine dining and they have changed the cuisine to Asian Fusion since the last time I visited. The food felt a little outdated but, there were many dishes prepared nicely. Some old favorites are still on the menu like the Pork Belly with Napa Valley Fondue and I did enjoyed the fresh Shrimp Salad with Tarragon Viniagrette. The flavors were very light and refreshing, especially after the pork.
The Rack of Lamb with Sweet and Sour Eggplant and Teriyaki Balsamic was cooked nicely but, the sauce overpowered the meat a tad.
Los Alamos, the city just above Lompoc, has some of the best restaurants in the area. Full of Life Flatbread, formerly American Flatbread, has been creating wood fired rustic pies for years now and their appetizers should not be missed.
The Roasted Squid with Arugula and White Beans was the best dish I have tasted in a while. The flavors were fresh from the seafood and the combination of sauces, white beans and greens made it over the top delicious. Chef Brian was very kind to answer any wood burning cooking questions and invite me to go in the kitchen to watch the chefs at work.
The Pork Belly appetizer was braised, then wood fired with bleu cheese, roasted garlic and broccolini. The pork melted in your mouth with the creamy and smokiness of the cheese. Delicious!
Now for our flatbread which was half fresh fig, prosciutto and cheeses and half housemade sausage, tomato and mozzarella. The crust was made with a special blend of flour and you could really taste the chew in the dough. The wood fire made the flavors lightly smoky and meld together.
River Bench Winery, which is actually in Santa Maria County, makes great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Wines and sells grapes to many other wineries in Santa Rita Hills. River Bench was conducting a wood burning bread class with Bob from Bob’s Well Bread Bakery (Soon to open in the spring in Los Alamos). Bob is from Los Angeles and used to make bread out of his wood oven in Hancock Park for local friends and clients until he wanted to make it his career and moved up to Los Alamos full time.
Bob’s class was very informative and fun and we sampled the hot fresh bread at the end of the session with cheeses and wines from River Bench Winery. I can’t wait to make it at home, what a great experience.
Bell Street Farms in Los Alamos is a new cafe, only open on the weekends and they are serving farm fresh salads and sandwiches as well as rotisserie chicken and pork. Once a month they serve dinner which includes all you can eat chicken with a buffet of spreads and sides as well as dessert. The food here is very fresh and the employees are over the top friendly.