Solvang, CA & the Santa Barbara wine country Print
We hadn't been to Solvang in—well, ages. We actually couldn't remember when we were there last, and we're pretty sure that we've never stayed there. Sue's parents had a home in Lompoc for a time, and lived in Morro Bay for a while, and my parents had a home in Cambria for some time, so Buellton was a frequent stopping point for us on trips to those areas, but we'd never really spent any time in Buellton or Solvang, even though they're next door to each other. Thus, it was a new—and delightful—experience for us to spend a long weekend in Solvang with our good friends Tony and Sam Rubino.

Of course, the fact that a primary purpose of the trip was to visit Santa Barbara area wineries helped. This, and staying in the Hotel Corque, made for a lovely weekend. The Hotel Corque is owned by the Chumash tribe, which also owns the casino close by and a fabulous restaurant called root 246 next door to the hotel. The hotel is a great place to stay and the food at root 246 was excellent—but more about that later.

Immediately after arrival at the hotel Friday afternoon, Sue and Sam departed for the casino on the hotel's shuttle to make friends with a number of slot machines. Tony and I departed shortly thereafter for a few wine tasting rooms in Solvang—there is no shortage of them. We tasted at two rooms, bought a bottle of wine each, and bought a bottle of sparkling wine for our wives. Following drinks in Tony and Sam's room, we left for dinner at The Hitching Post in Buellton.

I've been reading about The Hitching Post, its steaks and its wine for ages. It has an excellent reputation for both and I have wanted to have dinner there for at least ten years. Having never spent the night nearby, we haven't had the opportunity until now and so it was that Tony and Sam made reservations for us. The menu is old-fashioned steakhouse—you get a cold "relish tray" to start, which means some celery, carrots and radishes. You also get a salad with dinner and a choice of soup or a shrimp cocktail. We ate all that and also shared a grilled artichoke (quite good) and some mushrooms (also quite good) and awaited arrival of our steaks.

The Hitching Post cooks its steaks over oak log fires and the smoke flavor is purely smoke from the fire. If you're looking for a perfectly cooked, excellent quality steak cooked over an open log fire, I highly recommend The Hitching Post. We drank a bottle of my Buoncristiani 2001 cab with it and enjoyed a heck of a meal.

We ate breakfast the next morning at Paula's Pancake House, which enjoys good ratings on Yelp and from the hotel. Sue and I had the Danish pancake combination and after enjoying a lovely breakfast, we departed for wine tastings.

Tony remembered tasting a pinot noir from Tantara Winery at the Wine & Food Society's Ladies Dinner last year and it was good enough that visiting Tantara was at the top of his list of things to do. Visits to Tantara are by appointment only and Tony had made an appointment for our visit. After a comedy of direction errors and a personal escort to the winery by Jeff Fink (one of the owners and wine makers) we enjoyed a seriously fabulous barrel tasting of numerous pinots. We tasted several clones from several vineyards and learned a lot about the making of fine pinot. It was a special experience for us and we each bought five different pinots to bring back home.

We went to Rancho Sisquoc Winery next, tasted six of its wines and bought six bottles of various types to bring home. We stopped at Foxen's old tasting room and its new one, sampling three wines at each location, and bought a bottle of syrah to bring home (it's excellent).

We ate a late lunch at the Los Olivos Café and we were all very impressed. We had excellent food from an interesting and varied menu that left us wishing we had a few more days for more lunches there.

Following a brief rest, we walked next door for a late dinner at root 246. Bradley Ogden runs the restaurant for the Chumash and does it quite well. The booths at the edges of the dining room are secluded and quiet—a great feature for someone with hearing as bad as mine—and the menu, while somewhat limited, was very interesting. Sue had a prix fixe dinner that was an incredible bargain—only $20.11 for an arugula salad with sous vide fennel, followed by fresh papperdelle with short ribs and mushrooms, and a dessert of orange pudding with foam. I had a pork belly appetizer and a two-rib pork loin chop that was to die for; the pork was good quality marbled pork that had been perfectly cooked and was very tender.

Between courses our waitress, noting that we were foodies, asked whether we'd like to tour the kitchen. YES!!  We were out of the booth in about two seconds and took great pleasure in touring the kitchen with her, meeting Bradley Ogden, and checking out the facilities.

The whole evening was delightful, from the very personal attention of the staff to the wonderful food. I would stay at the Hotel Corque again and have dinner at root 246 again, no questions asked.

On the way home, we drove over to Sue's parents' former home in Lompoc to see how it looked and then stopped at Babcock Winery for a taste. We headed for home then and stopped at the Cold Spring Tavern for lunch. It's famous for its oak fire grilled tri-tip sandwiches served au jus as well as its several types of chili. The tavern was established in 1865 to serve stagecoach travelers on the new "turnpike" over the San Marcos from Santa Barbara into the Santa Maria area. The travel was uncomfortable and dangerous and the tavern prospered as a romantic, welcome respite with good food. The same buildings are still in use—dark, lit by oil lamps and warmed by fireplaces, with comfort food served in a casual atmosphere. I enjoyed my tri-tip sandwich au jus and shared an order of chili fries with everyone. I'd stop there for lunch again.

All in all, it was a great trip, with the excellent company of good friends. We think we should do it again.

Click the thumbnail below to see the photos I captured—understanding that there aren't all that many of them, given the good time we were having.