Dear Mr. Gold,
Some friends and I are spending the night in Los Alamos at the end of the month to do some winetasting. Being the hardcore foodie of the group, I have been perusing the Internet for our dining selection. The search is leading to disappointing results: Italian joints with mediocre reviews, tourist spots, such as the Hitching Post, with meat-heavy menus, and overpriced greasy spoons. I am dreaming of a delicious dinner in a charming spot, with local seasonal fare, something fresh and memorable and moderate in price. Impossible?
—Jessica P., Echo Park
Dear Ms. P.,
I must confess: I am in love with the Santa Maria way of grilling steaks over red oak. When I’m in or around the Santa Ynez Valley, I practically eat nothing but steak: the massive, smoky slabs of beef at Jocko’s in Nipomo; the salty, drippy steaks at the Far Western in Guadalupe; the coffee-can-size filets at the original Hitching Post in Casmalia out near the air force base (no Sideways tourists!) and the suaver pleasures of the wine-intensive Hitching Post in Buellton, whose chef, Frank Ostini, is the wood-and-meat equivalent of a sushi master. The primal platters of steak, mild tomato salsa, garlic bread and the local pinquito beans, grown nowhere else in the world, make for the most compelling steak meals in the state.
Steak aside, the food in the Santa Ynez Valley could be better — even now, there is a lot of continental cooking, circa 1983. I resent Brothers for taking over Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, which I used to love, but the cooking isn’t so bad. Ellen’s Danish Pancakes is good for breakfast. But American Flatbread, right in Los Alamos, is a phenomenon, a quasi-pizzeria using local, sustainable, seasonal ingredients. It’s open only Friday and Saturday nights, and there will be a wait, but the flatbreads, über-organic sort of pizzas, are delicious, made almost exclusively from the produce of the local farmers markets. 225 West Bell St., Los Alamos, (805) 344-4400.