Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Finding Our Element

My husband and I have been fortunate enough to be doing a respectable amount of traveling lately. This is a perk of being DINK’s (Dual Income, No Kids). The past six months or so have been a bit of a whirlwind, as our suitcases were only unpacked and put away for the first time a few weeks ago (only to be in their resting place until next weekend). Earlier this summer we had an amazing trip to the west coast, with most of our time spent in Northern California. While we had many delicious meals I plan on sharing with you, one that stands out in my mind is a special dinner in Santa Barbara.

We left Napa, California around 8:30 am and drove down Highway 1 (in a convertible, of course!). It was a 400 mile drive with breathtaking views, sharp turns, and steep inclines and declines. There are also very few restaurants along this drive, and time kept passing without us finding a place to stop for lunch. We drove through Cambria, California, around 3:30 pm, and finally saw a few restaurants to choose from. We grabbed some margaritas and quesadillas at a little Mexican hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and got back on our route. We finally arrived at our destination in Santa Barbara in the late evening. Prior to our trip, I had researched several restaurants in Santa Barbara, but as the sun was setting over the Pacific and our hotel was a few blocks from the center of town, we decided to forego the plans and take a stroll through town to see what we could find. (I think we were also looking for a pharmacy for an urgent purchase of aloe to comfort a bad sunburn I had.) We walked by so many hip restaurants of varying cuisines. We seriously could have walked into any one of them and been satisfied.

I told my husband I really wanted to see the Santa Barbara courthouse, as many acquaintances had declared it a must-see site while in Santa Barbara. We really had no idea where it was, but my husband’s trusty Blackberry GPS found us only two blocks away. As we got closer we saw the courthouse all lit up, looking majestic and lively with swarms of people around. We walked up to front to find out that there was an art and wine fundraiser going on. For $30 you gained entrance to the fundraiser, along with unlimited tastes of wine and food from local vendors. It looked like a lot of fun, and sounded like a great deal. Being that we were still stuffed from our late afternoon lunch of quesadillas, we passed and walked around the block to get a better view of the festivities. Low and behold, we stumbled upon Elements. The name of the restaurant had stuck out in my mind, because it was one that Giada visited on her Santa Barbara episode of Giada’s Weekend Getaways. We grabbed a table on the outdoor patio and decided to split a few dishes to sample their food. (This is an uncommon and rather difficult prospect as my husband and I eat completely different things. But he had already been eating his fair share of steaks on our vacation and agreed to order things that I could eat.)

As we sat at Elements, I couldn’t think of anything that could have made this meal more romantic. The courthouse was all lit up in the dark night sky. We could clearly hear the band playing across the street at the fundraiser (with some favorite tunes by the Beatles, Chicago, Tom Petty, etc.) We were sitting underneath a palm tree that was a lit up, and the candle on our table flickered with the cool night ocean breeze. Then we were served our food. I had what was probably my all-time favorite martini, their "Elementini" which was a blueberry martini. The delicious cocktail had muddled fresh blueberries and was rimmed with a lemon zest sugar. I had two, and would have ordered a third, but our meal had ended by then. I actually called the restaurant when we returned home the following week and asked how they made it. We started with their Fire Roasted Tomato Soup with sweet basil bruschetta, chive oil and a grilled cheese finger sandwich. That also came out with our order of the Exotic Mushroom Toban Yaki with shemiji, maiatke, shiitake, white and brown beach mushrooms sautéed with sake, yuzu and soy. We split the Black Sesame Encrusted Seared Ahi Tuna Steak entrée which was served with passionfruit-soy butter sauce, wasabi whipped potatoes and braised asian greens. The fact that these were all dishes similar to ones we had before (tomato soup, sautéed mushrooms, seared tuna), but all had such extremely different tastes and flavor than we had before, made it such an interesting and delicious meal. The presentation was beautiful. The flavors lingered on your tongue. And the candle continued to flicker in the Santa Barbara breeze while the band played on.

The meal was truly magical, and I would return to Santa Barbara in a heartbeat, just to dine at Elements. As I told my husband as we sat there that evening, this is a meal I'll never forget!

Blueberry Lemon Drop
Fresh muddled blueberries
Stoli Blueberi vodka
Triple Sec
Fresh lemon juice
Splash of sprite
Served with a citrus sugar rim

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