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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Trattoria Mollie

     Montecito, a suburb of Santa Barbara, California, is arguably one of the most affluent communities in the United States. It caters to the rich and the famous who own palatial homes in a paradisal environment and weather. Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres are the only names I'll drop here, but you get the picture. Trattoria Mollie is very subdued both in decor and decorum, and it comes highly recommended by Miss Winfrey herself, who waxes poetic about their Polpette alla Mollie or turkey meatballs.

     I didn't try the meatballs because I'd been warned they were spicy, and that's a deal-breaker for me, so I went for one of my favorites, Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, except I asked for pink sauce instead of tomato. I waited with excited anticipation expecting some kind of masterful execution of the dish considering where I was and the prices on the menu. No such magic was delivered, and the pink sauce had an overwhelming tomato quality and none of the required creaminess. The few drops of Buffalo mozzarella were delicious, though.
     John ordered the Tagliata al Martini, grilled filet mignon in a red martini sauce with Belgian endive. He wasn't impressed in any specific way, but was thoroughly unimpressed with the portion. And he didn't even touch the endive!
      Main courses are followed by a dainty dish of different Italian biscotti on a doily to prepare your palate for the transition from savory to sweet. Now I was left with a conundrum: If I followed my own rule, dessert would not be an option after such a disappointing meal. On the other hand, I knew this kitchen and its workers were of exceptional quality, so from a purely emotional standpoint, I couldn't leave without trying their sweets. We shared a Tiramisu and the fog finally lifted. I'm not a Tiramisu fan, but this one left me aching for more. Without a doubt, it had to be the lightest, most delicately flavor-balanced, satisfying version of this Italian favorite I have ever had. It could make a convert out of me.
     I left this lovely establishment with two points for reflection: First, you may hold certain personalities in high esteem, but you can't expect to share their tastes, and second, I have to rethink my dessert rule!

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Bit O' Denmark

    It's June again and John and I are once again celebrating our birthday month like it's a jubilee! We decided to spend a week in Southern California driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. Our first stop was at a quaint town in the Santa Ynez valley called Solvang established around a century ago by Danish immigrants. The particular building that houses Bit O' Denmark has been there since 1911, and originally served as a folk school, a sort of community center. Later, it served as a Lutheran church, and since 1929, as a friendly eatery serving authentic Danish dishes.

     The interior is exactly what I would expect to find in any given establishment on a small Scandinavian city street. The space is divided into sections of differing sizes, all cozy and dimly lit. The furniture is rustic and surrounded by exposed brick. Paintings depicting Danish landscapes and scenes adorn the walls.   
     For lunch, John ordered the Bit O' Denmark burger with Havarti cheese and sauteed mushrooms and onions. The patty was thick, seared on the outside, juicy on the inside and the perfect shade of medium-cooked. I asked him how he liked the Havarti and he said it didn't add or subtract from the flavor, but it did add a pleasant creamy texture. The fries it came with were served freshly fried.
     I went Danish. I ordered the Frikadeller, Danish meatballs in brown sauce served with sweet and sour cabbage and mashed potatoes. I was apprehensive, I won't lie, but as I've heard it said before, when you're bold, unseen forces come to your aid. The meatballs were delicate and spongy and well complemented by the savory brown sauce. The cabbage was a delightful surprise. It was a brilliant shade of magenta, and the marinade added a refreshing balance of sweet and tangy. I found the potatoes buttery and a warm contrast to the light cabbage. That was a relief because I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to mashed potatoes. Not to boast, but I have a secret recipe that has yet to find a match.
     One element on my plate that wasn't advertised on the menu deserves special mention. Cucumber shavings marinated in vinegar, lemon juice and sugar sat unassumingly to the side, almost as a garnish. I'm having a hard time describing the flavor experience. They were like vegetable candy but delicately sweet. This could definitely make it on my 'bottomless snack bowl' list.
     I must confess I wasn't expecting the sophistication I found in my Danish meal, but every component complemented each other and combined to make a well-coordinated and surprisingly subtle dish. I'm ready to try some more Scandinavian fare!

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