CAL­I­FOR­NIA FOR CON­NOIS­SEURS

Fine wines and fresh flavours await foodie vis­i­tors in the ca­sual but chic en­claves of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Signature Travel & Lifestyle - - Contents - 03

Sip­ping a full-bod­ied syrah at the end of Stearns Wharf, Santa Bar­bara, I re­lax in the au­tum­nal sun and light sea breeze. A young grey whale sur­faces mere me­tres away, its skin mot­tled like mar­ble, be­fore lazily de­scend­ing through the rip­pling wa­ter. It is ut­terly trans­fix­ing, a mo­ment I re­alise may never hap­pen again in my life – at least not with a glass of wine in my hand.

I am pere­gri­nat­ing through some of the gourmet de­lights of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, rel­ish­ing this re­gion rich in wine, food and nat­u­ral won­ders. This is sun-drenched Cal­i­for­nia dream­ing; from the rolling vine­yard-clad hills of Santa Bar­bara and Mal­ibu to the teem­ing buzz of Hol­ly­wood. There is so much to sam­ple, whether on a brief stopover or a more leisurely so­journ.

Drink­ing up Santa Bar­bara

Idyl­lic Santa Bar­bara is here to con­test with force Napa Val­ley’s reign as Cal­i­for­nia’s wine cap­i­tal. Be­yond the white­washed walls and red-tiled roofs of Span­ish Colo­nial Re­vival is a city burst­ing at the seams with delec­ta­tions wor­thy of the dis­cern­ing epi­curean. From our base at Kimp­ton’s Ca­nary Ho­tel we are at the heart of it all and ready to ex­plore this ‘Amer­i­can Riviera’.

We ven­ture down­town to the ur­ban wine trail that lan­guishes un­der the un­usual moniker ‘The Funk Zone’. Once a man­u­fac­tur­ing hub of the 19th cen­tury, it’s now a con­glom­er­a­tion of mi­cro­brew­eries, ware­house-turned-art gal­leries, winer­ies and restau­rants. Over 20 bou­tique wine-tast­ing rooms clus­ter around 12 blocks and we wend our way through the crisp evening to pe­ruse a few.

Wine­maker Seth Kunin was one of the first to open his epony­mous tast­ing room in the area. We swirl and nose a glass of his best­selling ‘Pape Star’, his take on the south­ern Rhone’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as he ex­plains what makes the area so spe­cial.

“Santa Bar­bara is a to­tally unique val­ley,” Kunin says. “From Ne­braska to Mex­ico the val­ley is in­di­vid­ual in that the beaches face south. Be­tween 29

miles [47 kilo­me­tres] across the val­ley the weather is so di­verse that there is up to a de­gree dif­fer­ence a mile, so many styles of wine can be pro­duced.”

Our lus­cious tour con­tin­ues the fol­low­ing day when we ren­dezvous with the head chef of lo­cal restau­rant Wine Cask, David Ros­ner, for the weekly ‘Foodie Stroll’ at the Farm­ers’ Mar­ket. It is a unique op­por­tu­nity to see how a chef thinks when buy­ing pro­duce. Bright veg­eta­bles, flow­ers and fruit are piled atop long ta­bles at the busy mar­ket where we give David food for thought, se­lect­ing a per­sim­mon and a ruby­coloured pome­gran­ate for the shop­ping bas­ket, ea­ger to see how he would mag­i­cally work them into our meals.

That evening we gather at the am­bi­ent Wine Cask to be served per­son­ally by the chef who walks us through each of the ex­quis­ite four cour­ses, one of melt-in-your mouth scal­lops, beau­ti­fully paired with lo­cal wines. Our fruity chal­lenge is served in the en­trée; a plump oys­ter atop a swirl of per­sim­mon purée and dabbed with sev­eral jewelled pome­gran­ate seeds. It is al­most too beau­ti­ful to eat. Al­most.

LA on the palate

Trav­el­ling the cin­e­mas­copic high­way back to LA we stop in at the newly ren­o­vated In­ter-Con­ti­nen­tal Los An­ge­les Cen­tury City at Bev­erly Hills. A quick dip in the heated out­door pool and I am ready for a late din­ner at the hip and crowded Bes­tia, an Ital­ian restau­rant that boasts over 60 dif­fer­ent forms of char­cu­terie and a month-long wait­ing list. The pol­ished con­crete floors and mood light­ing of­fer the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to peo­ple watch as the who’s who flirt over spinach gnoc­chetti and ri­cotta dumplings.

For the bon vi­vant with an aver­sion to dairy, Gra­cias Madre is an el­e­gant go-to as we dis­cover the fol­low­ing evening. Glam­orous pa­trons min­gle in the Mel­rose restau­rant for its ar­ti­sanal ve­gan Mex­i­can fare and or­ganic cock­tails. Like all good mar­gar­i­tas, Gra­cias Madre’s take on the clas­sic is the per­fect aper­i­tif.

The Pacific beck­ons and we set off on a full day of he­do­nis­tic de­gus­ta­tion, start­ing with Swedish pan­cakes at Mal­ibu Farm, a charm­ing, bright café at the end of the 238-me­tre Mal­ibu Pier. For ocean-side din­ing we then linger at Ge­of­frey’s Mal­ibu, which has fed the likes of John F Kennedy and of­fers ev­ery seat in the house a vista of the sea.

“THE PACIFIC BECK­ONS AND WE SET OFF ON A FULL DAY OF HE­DO­NIS­TIC DE­GUS­TA­TION”

A dusk tour of the Mal­ibu Wine Sa­fari is an in­evitable high­light. We are driven around the un­du­lat­ing 405-hectare prop­erty, stop­ping of­ten to feed the menagerie, which ex­ot­i­cally in­cludes a gi­raffe and four ze­bra.

Our Cal­i­for­nia dream­ing ends as it be­gan, with a glass of wine, gaz­ing from the Mal­ibu Fam­ily Wines’ al­fresco tast­ing room as the sun slides down the arid Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains. Here, the wine, weather and culi­nary de­lights are a phi­los­o­phy, and I am a hearty sub­scriber.

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03 01 Start the day on the pier at Mal­ibu Farm 02 A stop along ‘The Funk Zone’ at AVA Santa Bar­bara Tast­ing Room. Im­age by Ciro Coelho/ CiroCoelho.com

Stearns Wharf sun­shine. Im­age by Jay Sin­clair

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Www.sig­na­turemagazine.com.au/recipes

08 04 Wine Cask’s Foodie Stroll 05 Mal­ibu Farm pan­cakes 06 Scal­lops at Wine Cask 07 Wine Cask court­yard din­ing 08 A warm wel­come from owner He­lene Hen­der­son at Mal­ibu Farm Scan here for three of Mal­ibu Farm’s favourite recipes to try for your­self or go to

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