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Geoffrey’s Malibu – Malibu, California

Geoffrey’s Malibu, one of the most spectacular restaurants in California

The walls at Geoffrey’s Malibu are festooned with copies of whimsical framed “doodles” created by Hollywood celebrities and movie stars who have dined at the posh seaside restaurant. Most are tongue-in-cheek self-portraits which probably speak volumes about the glitterati themselves–and not just whether they lack or are blessed with an artistic talent beyond their particular medium. Thematically, all the portraits include a heart.  That’s because Harvey Baskin, the restaurant’s previous owner asked the artists to donate originals for publication and sale in support of a charity for children with heart disease. 

Jane Russell’s heart forms her shapely derriere at the terminus of legs which would otherwise go on forever.  George Burns’ bespectacled heart puffs on one of his beloved cigars.  Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but at Geoffrey’s Malibu it reputedly spans the Brooklyn Bridge.  Geoffrey’s neighbor Johnny Carson, obviously knowing his limitations, drew a simple heart and signed his name beneath it.  Woody Allen was clearly in his trademark dispirited disposition when he drew a broken heart

The view from the patio at Geoffrey’s Malibu

The fact that guests can dine at Geoffrey’s Malibu and not even notice the celebrity caricatures is a testament to the spectacular beauty surrounding the cliff-side restaurant which overlooks the churning Pacific.  In essence, Geoffrey’s is a curvilinear patio carved out of a Malibu hillside.  There’s an actual restaurant beyond the patio, but most diners want to imbibe the breathtaking scenery while enveloped in idyllic marine weather.  Virtually every table on the premises has unobstructed views of the ocean (unless it’s obfuscated by fog).  

There’s much credence to the argument that the drive to Malibu is even more jaw-dropping than the destination, especially if your route takes you through the Santa Monica Mountains on Kanan Dume Road. Even while the precipitous, winding road demands caution, you’ll ogle rocky promontories, verdant vineyards on steep angular hillsides and palatial estates rivaling French palaces.  You’ll drive through a series of double tunnels cut into the very rock itself.  You’ll marvel at every turn.

Caricatures of some of the many celebrities who have dined at Geoffrey’s Malibu

While the trek to Geoffrey’s Malibu may call to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote “life is a journey, not a destination,” the destination itself is absolutely magnificent.  Geoffrey’s is located mere feet from the Pacific Coast Highway which traverses the city affectionately nicknamed “the Bu” by locals.  It may as well be miles away from the rest of civilization.  Geoffrey’s has the preternatural ability to transport you away from your cares and toward a better self.  It’s al fresco dining at its very finest, a venue to be shared with loved ones. While our oft-recalcitrant dachshund child Tim dined with us, our good friend Sandy couldn’t make it.   

To ensure you’re not winded by a potentially long walk, you’ll definitely want to avail yourself of the valet parking services.  Geoffrey’s parking lot belies its daily guest list; it’s not nearly big enough to accommodate the fleet of BMWs, Mercedes Benzes, Silver Phantoms and the like driven by guests.  If you don’t want to witness the Jenga-like skill of the valets being played out on your vehicle, you can park instead on the shoulder of the Pacific Coast Highway.  Some diners even park where signs indicate “No Parking.”

Rosemary bread and butter

Seating is in personal space proximity and the crashing waves a hundred feet away don’t muffle conversations very well. It’s easy to distinguish locals from tourists. Tourists gawk at their surroundings with an awestruck reverence while locals schmooze with the wait staff, an amazingly attentive phalanx of servers at your beck and call. Geoffrey’s is known to be a magnet for the well-heeled: celebrities, politicians, executives and the like, some of whom brandish a copy of the day’s Wall Street Journal and deliberate the financial section.

Shortly after you’re seated and menus are gently placed in your anxious hands, a server uses silver tongs to extricate a single bread roll from its warm repository.  Just out of the oven, it’s a rosemary foccacia from which wisps of steam escape when you cut into it.  The steam is redolent of rosemary, just enough to be discernible.  The foccacia is golden brown on the outside with just enough crust to hold in soft, tender and delicious innards.    It’s served with butter that’s easy to spread.

Sauteed Maine Mussels: Nueske’s Bacon, Whole Grain Mustard and Ale Butter Sauce, Grilled Bread

While no menu could possibly match the venue with its million dollar per square foot views, Geoffrey’s menu will elicit a few oohs and aahs–and not just because of the price point.  It’s an extravagant fine-dining menu even during lunchtime.  Segmented like most menus–Appetizers, Soups and Salads, Salad Entrees and Lunch Entrees–it’s rather seafood centric, fitting considering the milieu.   Just as many elements combine to create a classic restaurant, multifarious ingredients hallmarked by freshness, are needed to form an interesting and inviting menu.  Geoffrey’s has done this.

Save for an artisan cheese plate and baked brie in puff pastry, every item on the eight item appetizer menu showcases fresh seafood.  Sauteed Maine mussels are an outstanding option.  The broth is amazing, an ambrosia of Nueske’s bacon, tomatoes, whole grain mustard and ale butter.  If you’ve never had Nueske’s bacon, you’re in for a treat.  Nueske’s bacon is applewood smoked perfection which might just spoil all other bacon for you.  The salty smokiness permeates the broth and impregnates the briny mussels.  Two slices of grilled bread are available for dredging the broth, but a spoon works just as well.

Maine Lobster Cobb Salad

Nueske’s bacon finds its way into another entree, this one from the Salad Entrees section of the menu.  The Maine Lobster Cobb Salad demonstrates the versatility of lobster which is equally delicious steamed and served with melted butter or served cold as in this Geoffrey’s masterpiece.  A full pound (pre-cooked weight) lobster replete with knuckle and claw meat sits atop an otherwise standard Cobb salad with tomatoes, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, blue cheese crumbles and a lettuce mix drizzled with a honey Dijon vinaigrette.  It’s a beautifully composed salad with elegant twists sure to please the most discerning diners. 

Predictably, my entree featured two of my very favorite items-Maine lobster risotto and day boat scallops.  The term “day boat” indicates boats harvesting the scallops return to shore to at the end of each day, rather than spending days at sea.   It translates to much fresher, more delicious scallops.  Three large sizes scallops are perfectly seasoned and prepared, seared on the outside and medium-rare on the inside.  Characteristically sweet and thoroughly delicious, they exemplify freshness.

Sauteed Day Boat Sea Scallops: Maine Lobster Risotto, Pomegranate Reduction

The lobster risotto is perfectly prepared. A basic risotto requires a round, short grain, high starch rice.  From there, it’s a blank canvas for a wide variety of flavors, among them Maine lobster.  To be honest, there wasn’t much lobster in the risotto, nor was there enough risotto for that matter, but then there never is for me.  Geoffrey’s risotto is superb, but it was encircled in a pomegranate reduction that was perhaps too much of a flavor foil.  The pomegranate reduction’s tangy-sweet profile didn’t complement the risotto very well; a savory or cheesy reduction would have worked better. 

The dessert menu lists seven items including the same artisan cheese plate found on the appetizer menu.  In a rare feat of willpower, I eschewed the warm brioche bread pudding with a bourbon sauce and opted instead for chocolate hazelnut crunch bars with creme Anglaise and strawberry coulis.  It’s a very rich dessert showcasing a creamy wafer-like crust topped with a layer of even richer hazelnut (basically Nutella).  The strawberry coulis provides a tangy-sweet contrast to the nutty, crunchy and cloying crunch bars.

Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bars With Crème Anglaise and Strawberry Coulis

Dining at Geoffrey’s Malibu is feasting with your eyes in every sense of the term.  It’s one of the most amazing restaurants in California, a true pot of gold at the end of a truly spectacular rainbow.

Geoffrey’s Malibu
27400 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, California
(310) 457-1519
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 June 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 24
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Maine Lobster Cobb Salad, Sauteed Day Boat Sea Scallops, Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bars, Sauteed Maine Mussels

Geoffrey's Malibu on Urbanspoon

La Super Rica Taqueria – Santa Barbara, California

Two minutes before opening, lines have already formed for the world-famous La Super Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara

Truly legendary restaurants, those which can legitimately be called institutions–and there are very few of them–don’t just inspire return visits; they inspire pilgrimages. Institutions have generally stood the test of time by remaining consistent over time, thriving even against the onslaught of more polished and pristine interlopers.  Institutions are beloved beyond the communities they serve, their fame and acclaim growing with each satisfied visitor, many of whom make pilgrimages from hundreds of miles away. One restaurant which has earned the distinction of being called an institution is La Super Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara, California.

Hungry patrons line up half an hour before the restaurant opens because they know that very shortly the waiting time to place an order will be an hour or longer. While they wait, they swap stories about their favorite dining experiences at La Super Rica Taqueria, usually recounting in epiphany-like loving reverence, their first visit or favorite entree.  They talk about how far they’ve come either to revisit previously experienced deliciousness or to find out for themselves if the experience matches the hype.

The super clean dining room at La Super Rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara

You can’t be in line to place your order without someone mentioning that La Super Rica Taqueria was the favorite Mexican restaurant of chef, author and television personality Julia Child, herself a living institution.  It’s one of the restaurant’s biggest draws as well as one of those inane bits of trivia only someone who’s lived under a rock doesn’t know.  It’s the reason most newcomers visit.  We all want to compare our palates with the very pedantic, very sophisticated palate of the legendary French chef–either to validate that we have comparable tastes or to decry her as a fanatic Francophile who didn’t really know Mexican food.

What is more surprising to me is not that Julia Child loved La Super Rica Taqueria, but that someone of her stature–both literally at 6’2″ and figuratively–would stand in line with dozens of other patrons.  Then again, the grand damme was a true gastronome with an adventurous spirit and willingness to experience foods where they are most respectfully and authentically prepared.  I also suspect that Julia may have received special treatment befitting her celebrity and age (89) when she moved to a retirement community in Santa Barbara in 2001. In any case, she enjoyed La Super Rica Taqueria until just months before her death at 92.

The Super Rica kitchen is a very busy place

A relatively nondescript white with teal trim shack, no more than a proverbial hole-in-the-wall belies the worldwide fame of the taqueria it houses.  There is no signage letting you know you’ve arrived.  In fact, where it not for the perpetually long queues of hungry patrons waiting to place their orders, you might pass it by.  There’s also little parking to be found, save an occasional  open space on the mostly residential street.  La Super Rica Taqueria is most assuredly on the map because Julia Child proclaimed its greatness during a 1985 appearance on Good Morning America.  It begs the analogy “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

The answer is most resoundingly “yes” because of intrepid foodies who boldly go where normal diners don’t to find the best and most authentic cuisine available.  Foodies like my friend Sandy Driscoll who drives from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara (no easy feat in heavy traffic) every year to visit La Super Rica Taqueria have our own networks of fellow gastronomes with whom we share outstanding new finds.  It’s not likely the taqueria would have achieved its fame without the endorsement of a legendary culinary figure, but rest assured, if a restaurant is worth visiting, the world will eventually find out about it.

Aguas Frescas de Sandia (Watermelon Fresh Waters)

You might assume that because the French food Julia Child loved and wrote about so much is so rich, heavily sauced and seasoned, the food at La Super Rica would also explode with rich flavors ameliorated by heavy sauces.  To the contrary, the food is much more subtly flavored though it can be spiced up a bit with the addition of pico de gallo or one of the complimentary salsas.  By the standards of New Mexico’s piquant Mexican cuisine, La Super Rica’s food is comparatively bland.

There are few Mexican restaurants in New Mexico which prepare and serve tortillas nearly as wonderfully fresh and delightfully delicious as La Super Rica.  Through the windows which you pass by while in line, you’ll have the opportunity to observe the well-practiced hands of a tortillera as she deftly makes easy tortilla by hand, lovingly shaping the masa into a ball, shaping it on a tortilla press then grilling them on an archaic stove.  Each tortilla is as tender as your mother’s heart and has a pronounced corn taste.  Pay special attention as the tortillas are engorged with grilled and lightly seasoned meats.  It’s love before first bite.

Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Tomatillo Salsa and Red Chile Salsa

21 July 2012: These tacos are the antithesis of the Taco Bell travesty on a hard-shell.  There’s no crunch to the tortillas nor will you find oodles of cheese, fields of lettuce and a surfeit of sour cream on these tacos.  They’re straight-forward, simple, uncomplicated…pretty basic stuff, but basic can taste pretty darned good.  Cash poor (the taqueria doesn’t accept credit cards) during our inaugural visit, we managed three tacos each: chorizo, grilled steak and pork carnitas.  The temptation to hold up a bank and return for more was pretty strong. 

While the tacos were memorable, my every instinct as a gastronome told me we (actually my Kim ordered while I waited in the car with our four-legged children) ordered far too safely.  The consequences of unadventurous ordering were a disappointing “so what” feeling that tacos may not necessarily be what this legendary taqueria does best.  During our second visit two years later, nary a taco was on our order.

Top: Frijol Super Rica: Cooked pinto beans with chorizo, bacon and chile. Bottom: Super Rica Especial (Roasted pasilla chile stuffed with cheese and marinated pork. Three tortillas.

19 June 2014: Faithful readers recommended the Super Rica Especial, a roasted pasilla chile stuffed with cheese and marinated pork bound together with three tortillas in a Big Mac fashion.  This is more like it–more of what has made La Super Rica Taqueria an institution.  In terms of piquancy, the pasilla ranks just above the Big Jim, Anaheim and New Mexico chiles with a Scoville index of 1500-2500 units, so it’s not especially hot.  Its roasted olfactory-arousing flavor is very reminiscent of New Mexico in autumn, while the pasilla’s flavor is more subtle.  The marinated pork is porcine perfection.  It’s moist, tender, superbly seasoned and marinated in a heavenly sauce that brings out the salty, fatty flavors of an otherwise mild meat.  Gooey globs of queso and tortillas redolent with the aroma of corn complete the explosion of flavors.

19 June 2014: The sense of smell, more than any of our other senses, influences our ability to recall past events and experience. It’s very well established that aroma is one of the most potent mediums for conjuring up a memory and for tugging at the heart strings. The aromas emanating from the  Frijol Super Rica transported me back to my mom’s kitchen in Peñasco where the most magnificent beans in the universe are cooked.  At Super Rica, the beans are cooked with chorizo, bacon and chile and are so good you might just imbibe the bean juice.

Chorizo Especial (melted cheese and chorizo between three tortillas)

19 June 2014:  The menu offers three “con queso” type entrees, all of them showcasing the grandeur and splendor that is the corn tortillas.  The Chorizo Especial features melted cheese and chorizo between three of those corn-flavored orbs.  For New Mexicans, the chorizo isn’t in ground form as we’re used to, instead resembling chopped wieners.  No matter.  They’re smoky, fatty and delicious, a perfect foil for the melted white cheese.  The Chorizo Especial pairs especially well with the guacamole and the pico de gallo.

La Super Rica Taqueria is a humble, but truly wonderful institution worth a pilgrimage or ten from anywhere in America.

La Super Rica Taqueria
622 N Milpas St
Santa Barbara, California
(805) 963-4940
LATEST VISIT: 19 June 2014
1st VISIT: 21 July 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $
BEST BET: Pork Carnitas Taco, Chorizo Taco, Grilled Steak Taco, Frijol Super Rica, Super Rica Especial

La Super-Rica Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli – Santa Barbara, California

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli

“I flew too close to the sun on wings of pastrami.”
~George Costanza

January 14th has been designated “National Hot Pastrami Sandwich day.” The fact that a day has been designated to honor the greatness of the “most sensual of all the salted and cured meats” is wholly unnecessary for many of us.  True pastrami paramours in the mold of Dagwood Bumstead, Shaggy Rogers, Joey Tribbiani and my friend Bill Resnik, don’t need a special reason or designated day to partake of pulchritudinous pastrami.  To us, every day is pastrami sandwich day! 

Now, if your experiences with pastrami have been limited to the packaged Boar’s Head offering or worse, an occasional Subway pastrami sandwich, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is about pastrami.   Offer Boar’s Head or Subway’s version of pastrami to a foodie from the East Coast or the West Coast, however, and you may as well be offering them snake tartare.  If you’ve ever had pastrami from either Coast, you’ll understand why.

Corned Beef on Rye

Pastrami is deli food.  It’s not meant to be extricated from a hermetically sealed package or consumed at a chain sandwich shop.   Nor is it intended to be lean and trim. Pastrami is a rich indulgence of fatty, spicy, smoky deliciousness.  Its addictive properties impact all your brain’s pleasure centers much the way the capsaicin in chile does.

East Coast transplants will argue vociferously that pastrami is not a bi-hemispheric proposition, while residents of the West Coast talk up their own pastrami traditions.  Until the 2006 launch of California Pastrami & More, Duke City diners were pretty much shortchanged when it came to outstanding pastrami.  California Pastrami acquires its pastrami from The Hat, a Los Angeles area pastrami sandwich shop chain, even East Coast transplants agree is absolutely delicious.

Pastrami on Rye

Pittsburgh-born political commentator and Saturday Night alum Dennis Miller spent enough time in New York City to understand the pastrami mystique, yet it was the pastrami from a Santa Barbara deli he recommended to Guy Fieri, the high élan host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  Miller, a Santa Clara resident, describes Norton’s Pastrami and Deli as “very Long Island.”   Norton’s sells about 320 pounds of pastrami per week, serving it up six different ways: pastrami dipped sandwich; pastrami, lettuce and tomato (PLT) with chipotle mayo; pastrami Reuben; the NYC (with coleslaw, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye); pastrami cheese (Jack, Cheddar, tomato on grilled sourdough); and of course, The Classic (pastrami on rye). 

As with Dennis Miller, this pastrami partisan doesn’t need all that “augmentation.”  Pastrami on rye with deli mustard is my ticket.  Interestingly Norton’s doesn’t steam its pastrami as California Pastrami does.  Instead, the pastrami is grilled on the flat top to give it a slightly crisp texture.  Norton’s isn’t chintzy with its portions, engorging each sandwich with a full eight to ten ounces of wonderfully marbled pastrami.  The pastrami is sliced thin and piled high, a perfect combination.  Texturally, the pastrami has an occasional ribbon of fattiness, but for true devotees, that’s just more flavor.  Norton’s pastrami is a bit on the salty side, but its crispiness (courtesy of the flat top grilling) makes up for it.  The light rye is perfectly grilled and has an assertive, but not overly so, personality.

Norton’s Deli is no one-trick pony, offering an extensive sandwich menu that includes corned beef, melts, grilled chicken, Philly steak, Hebrew National hot dogs and even salads (since the salads aren’t constructed with pastrami, I’ll never order one). It’s an ambitious menu considering the deli’s tiny digs with no more than five tables in the dining area and about that many bar seats. The “open kitchen” lets you take in all the action–and all the aromas. You may be drooling by the time your sandwich is ready. 

As with the light beer commercials from the 1960s, I’m the “great taste” guy and my Kim is the “less filling” gal in the way we order at restaurants.  We then tend to split our orders so we can have a bit of both.  Her sandwich of choice at Norton’s is the corned beef on rye.  There’s no doubt it’s a great sandwich, but there’s no way I’d share a pastrami sandwich.  A couple of bites of the corned beef confirmed it’s lean, moist and delicious, but no one I know is lobbying for a “Corned Beef Sandwich” day.

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli
18 West Figueroa Street
Santa Barbara, California
(805) 965-3210
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 June 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 22
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pastrami on Rye, Corned Beef on Rye

Norton's Pastrami and Deli on Urbanspoon