Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Secret Garden in Santa Barbara

Wood Thrush cottage at Secret Garden Inn & Cottages in Santa Barbara
When I first visited the Secret Garden Inn & Cottages a few years ago, I arrived to the delicious smell of a cardamom-spiced bread that the owner, Dominique Hannaux, had just pulled out of the oven. Standing in her kitchen, Dominique wore glasses and an apron over a t-shirt and a long, flowing skirt. Wiry tendrils of gray hair had escaped her ponytail and were floating around her face. She spoke with a French accent and looked every bit the part of a slightly eccentric, French painter.

Secret Garden Inn's garden patio and cottages
Dominique broke off a morsel of the bread for me to sample and explained that she hadn’t followed a recipe, that she had just been experimenting. The sample was divine.

Meadowlark guest room at Secret Garden Inn & Cottages
Dominique learned to cook watching her father and her grandmother cook while growing up in France. She loved to read and poured through recipes in her grandmother’s cookbooks. When she was 17, she cooked her first Christmas dinner under the direction of her grandmother, whose health had begun to fail. At 20, when Dominique had a place of her own, she began to cook for friends. “I discovered I loved it,” said Dominique, “It’s a little like painting: a little of this, a little of that.”

Dining room at the Secret Garden Inn & Cottages
She cooked on sailboats for a while and then eventually made her way to Santa Barbara, where she bought the Secret Garden Inn and Cottages in 1999. Secluded behind high hedges and nestled amid lovely gardens and pathways, the inn is located in a residential neighborhood, not far from Old Mission Santa Barbara and State Street. The main house, a simple 1905 farmhouse, consists of a living room, a country dining room, kitchen, and two guest rooms. Six additional guest rooms are scattered among the garden cottages, each with their own private entrance. Named for various birds, the rooms have a homey feel with cheerful colors, floral patterns, and an eclectic assortment of furnishings. All of the rooms offer private baths, televisions with DVD players, and wireless internet. Many of the rooms have clawfoot tubs; five of the cottage rooms also have private decks with small Jacuzzi tubs.

Garden patio beneath the shade of the persimmon tree
Beneath the sprawling branches of a persimmon tree, a garden patio with café tables and chairs is an ideal spot to enjoy breakfast or a glass of wine. One of Dominique’s most popular recipes, her persimmon and orange nut bread, is made with fresh persimmons she picks from the tree when they begin to ripen in the fall.

Dominique's ingredients for French toast
The inn serves wine and hors d’oeuvres on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 6 p.m. Sweets and hot water for tea are set out each evening at 7 p.m. Each morning, Dominique prepares and serves a gourmet breakfast featuring her quiches, crepes, fresh-baked scones, muffins, sweet breads, fresh fruit, coffee, tea and juices. Guests have their choice of enjoying breakfast in their room or private patio, in the dining room, or on the garden patio.

When I last visited, Dominique treated me to French toast and shared with me her easy recipe for making it. “The best things are the easiest things,” she said.

Dominique's French toast
In a bowl, she whisked two eggs with half and half and a generous dash of cinnamon and then dunked day-old slices of Brioche into the mixture. With melted butter sizzling in a pan, she transferred the slices to the hot pan. Once brown, she flipped the slices to brown the other side. To finish, she transferred the French toast to a plate and sprinkled it with powdered sugar.

Secret Garden Inn & Cottages
1908 Bath Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
805-687-2300 / 800-676-1622

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A New Star in the Santa Ynez Valley

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa’s new restaurant, The Bear and Star
Waygu Meat Loaf at The Bear and Star
In Chef John Cox’s hands, a dish as humble as meatloaf takes a gastronomic turn into greatness at Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa’s new restaurant, The Bear and Star. Having earned accolades for his ventures in micro-regional cuisine at Sierra Mar Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, John is now the leading force behind the vision and culinary team for The Bear and Star, which just opened this past spring.

Like the late Fess Parker, John hails from the Lone Star state but also calls California home. In developing The Bear and Star, John sought to combine the techniques of a chef with both the Parker family heritage and his own to create a “refined ranch cuisine” that draws upon California’s bounty.

With the meatloaf, John aimed to create the best possible version of the dish using Waygu beef raised just seven miles away on the 714-acre Fess Parker Home Ranch. The meatloaf is topped with a rich, house-made ketchup using tomatoes grown on the ranch and smoked on-site.

Chef John Cox of The Bear and Star
Sourcing the meats and vegetables almost exclusively from the ranch, John is kicking the concept of farm-to-table dining up a few notches. “We wanted to create a sustainable eco-system on a scale that has meaning,” said John.

Fess Parker Home Ranch
The ranch is raising 120 head of Waygu cattle on the spent grains and pomace from the Parker family brewery and winery. The manure from the cattle in turn feeds the organic vegetable gardens. The ranch is also raising chickens, quail, rabbits, pigs, and bees and tending to over 200 hundreds of acres of orchards and vineyards. Horseback tours of the ranch are available.

The menu is for the restaurant is dictated by the ranch and changes daily. The night my husband and I visited, we were treated to a number of John’s sophisticated riffs on classic Southern fare. The piping hot, cast-iron cornbread featured a delicate honey glaze. The fried green tomatoes were served with watermelon and unexpectedly well-paired cheese sauce. Queso-stuffed jalapenos were wrapped in bacon and served with a smoky chipotle sauce. The brined, double-cut pork chop was perfectly prepared with a slight smoky edge and served with cheesy grits and wine-braised cabbage. We finished the meal with chess pie topped with fresh berries and whipped cream.

The Chef's Room at The Bear and Star
The service is generous, friendly, and unpretentious. The décor is a cozy cowboy chic. Sliding barn doors open to a dining room with oversized, brass tack upholstered chairs and throw pillows with a Southwestern vibe. A longhorn skull hangs above the fireplace. The adjacent Chef’s Room is an inviting, light-filled space lined with bookcases holding the chef’s personal collection of cookbooks, backlit displays of pickled vegetables, and a viewing window into the kitchen. Hidden behind a wall of wine with rolling doors, the restaurant’s Wine Room is a discreet and glamourous venue for intimate gatherings with a grand dining table, tufted red velvet chairs, and state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled wine storage.

Nearly all of the dining implements are locally sourced. The restaurant’s ceramic dinnerware is made by Rolled Oats Pottery a few miles away in Solvang. The water glasses are hand-blown in Santa Barbara. The leather placemats, linen napkins, and star-shaped iron trivets are all locally made. John has even designed a special wooden room-service box with a drawer for holding a bottle of wine and unique ceramic dinnerware that can both stack and cover dishes to be delivered to the room.
Room 8 at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa
Pool at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa

While the restaurant is a star attraction, the accommodations at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa are nothing short of sublime.  Our room was a spacious suite with vaulted ceilings, two gas fireplaces, a luxurious king-size bed, and two separate seating areas with stylish furnishings in red, cream and blue hues. The enormous tiled bath featured a soaking tub, glass shower, and a wide vanity with two vessel sinks. The suite also featured beautiful built-in cabinetry, a wet bar, wide-plank wood floors, white plantation shutters, and framed sepia-toned photographs of the Santa Ynez Valley.

The inn also features a beautiful rimless swimming pool with a shaded arbor and fire pits and an on-site spa offering a variety of esthetic and massage treatments.

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa

2860 Grand Ave
Los Olivos, CA 93441

Second, third, fourth, fifth and seventh photos courtesy of Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa.  Other photos by Ranee Ruble-Dotts for CABBI.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Martine Inn Owner to Race Newly-Restored Vintage MG at Laguna Seca This Week

Don Martine has restored this one-of-kind 1952 Deidt-Bell Special MG and will race the car this week at Laguna Seca
The Martine Inn in Pacific Grove

As a young child, Don Martine watched Johnny Von Neumann drive his #11 1950 MG TD Special to victory at the inaugural Pebble Beach Road Races. For the long-time owner of the Martine Inn in Pacific Grove, that race was one of the earliest sparks to Don’s lifelong fascination with cars and racing.

Johnny went on to win seven out of 14 races in that car before becoming a Porsche distributor and having to sell the MG. After numerous owners and reconfigurations, Don Martine purchased Johnny’s 1950 MG TD Special in 1988. As a racer himself, he restored the car and went on to race it over a 100 times around the country, winning 25 races.
Don Martine racing the 1950 MG TD Special

A second MG race car was built for Johnny in 1952. Known as the Deidt-Bell Special, the aluminum body was built by master Southern California metal fabricator Emil Deidt. Like the first MG, it changed hands many times and even disappeared for a period of time until a physician purchased it in 1980. The physician raced it once and then never raced it again. It sat in a garage for over 30 years until the physician called Don up and offered to sell him the car last February. It was an offer Don couldn’t refuse.

The 1952 Deidt-Bell Special MG sat in a garage for 30 years
The MG was in poor shape. The body was badly dented with gashes so large you could put your hand through them. The faded orange paint was scratched and peeling in places. Old sponsor logos showed through the paint, and it had at least four sets of racing numbers. But car had the original engine and it still ran. And to Don, the car was a work of art. “It’s an absolutely amazing race car,” said Don. I’ve never seen a car this forward-thinking for its time.”

Borrowing from aeronautical design innovations circa 1952, the car was built with thin-walled tubing, which makes the car incredibly light. Emil Deidt’s hammer-shaped aluminum body design was welded into just four pieces that attach to the frame with Dzus fasteners, which allow for quick removal to service the car. It was also the first race car with a belly pan, which keeps air from coming up and interfering with the mechanicals.

The 1952 Deidt-Bell Special has the original engine
Don and his team at Martine Inn Motorsports brought the car back to Pacific Grove and immediately went to work restoring it. They stripped the car to the frame and began their sprint to ready the car for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca August 17-20, 2017. The esteemed race is the largest and oldest vintage racing event in the U.S.

MGs on display at the Martine Inn
Don and his team sandblasted and repainted the frame, replaced a bent front-end suspension and front wheel bearings, rebuilt the shocks, restored the brakes, installed a new rack and pinion assembly, and much more. They ordered a set of original Borranni 72 spoke wire wheels to replace the wheel hubs and retrofitted the driver’s seat with safety equipment since there had been none in the original car. Don asked one of his housekeepers at the inn to clean the inside of the body, and she polished it until it gleamed, showing all of the indentations from Emil Deidt’s hammer marks.

Two weeks out from the race, they re-installed the engine and discovered the distributor had a bent shaft that needed to be replaced. Don has yet to actually drive the car.

“I’m chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel, but I’m also frightened and excited. Unlike the 1950 MG TD, which I drove so many times and knew backwards and forwards, I have no idea how this car with perform. I’m in great wonder of what it will do,” said Don.

Don and the spectators at Laguna Seca will find out this week. Don will take practice runs on the track on Thursday and Friday, August 17-18. He’ll compete in the qualifying rounds on Saturday, August 19, and hopefully the race later that afternoon.

Martine Inn at dusk
The Martine Inn still has a few rooms available for the race weekend and Concours Car Week, which runs August 15-20. In addition to the race festivities, guests can also check out the rotating collection of rare and vintage MG cars on display at the inn. Currently on display is a 1952 Hot Rod MG-TD, a 1953 MG-TD MK II Roadster, a 1955 MG-TF 1500 convertible pickup, a 1949 MG-Y Sedan, and several others. In addition to the MGs, the gallery also features vintage automotive art and equipment, racing trophies, and nearly 100 model cars.

Marie's Room at the Martine Inn
The inn itself is furnished with museum-quality American antiques. Many of the rooms have fireplaces, claw foot tubs, and views of the waves crashing against the rocky coastline overlooking the Monterey Bay.

Martine Inn
255 Ocean View Blvd.
Pacific Grove, CA 93950

All photos courtesy of the Martine Inn