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La Tour Wine Bar
updated: Jan 14, 2012, 10:00 AM

By Marc Liberts

New Year's Eve in Santa Barbara - Food & Wine Review La Tour Wine Bar & Julienne Restaurant

My wife and I are New Year's eve duds. Every year we search the Independent and internet looking for fun and interesting things to do for New Year's Eve, and we usually end up with an empty bottle of champagne on our sofa snoozing during the Times Square ball drop replay.

This year, our friends from Upstate New York were in Santa Barbara visiting, so I had to come up with something. My first choice was the New Year's Eve party being thrown at the Biltmore. But, my guests didn't want to get that fancy or dressed up, so I had to reconsider. Luckily, I received an email that day from Julienne Restaurant in Santa Barbara announcing the fact that they were having a New Year's Eve dinner. They had an early 3 course seating and a later 5 course dinner seating. We opted for the later 5 course affair. Being that our reservations were for 8:30PM, I had to come up with something to do before that.

My New York friends are wine lovers, so after consulting with a friend, I was able to make an informal reservation for all of us to do a wine tasting at La Tour @ the pub in Santa Barbara. La Tour is a wine bar/wine store owned and operated by Graham, who guided us through a wonderful old world wine tasting that included sparkling wine, whites, and reds from Europe. All the wines were excellent, and Graham's knowledge of the wines and regions is unparalleled. Most of the wines he poured for us were very reasonably priced, and Graham also has an excellent selection of ultra-premium old world wines as well. Overall, an excellent wine experience that I highly recommend if you are interested. La Tour shares space with ‘the pub' at 224 Helena St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101. Their website is: http://www.latourwinemerchants.com/Home_Page.html.

After La Tour, we drove up to Julienne Restaurant in Santa Barbara. I've been to Julienne a number of times, and have always enjoyed it. Their philosophy about food revolves around sustainability and freshness. You can read more about it and them on their website here: http://restaurantjulienne.com/home.php.

After I booked the reservations I was torn between doing their wine pairing, or bringing my own wines to try and pair. As it turned out, 4 out of the 5 courses seemed to need white wine, and only the last course demanded red wine. I've spent most of the last few years collecting rare and interesting red wines, so this pairing was a challenge.

The first course was Local Blue Fin Tuna Tartar, Uni, Sesame, Mint, and Soda Crackers. The Blue Fin Tuna was rich and velvety, with the sesame notes shining through. The Uni was fresh, briny and unctuous. Overall - delicious. I tried to pair this course with a 2009 Jonata Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley (33% Semillon), and a 2009 Foxen Vogelzang Sauvignon Blanc, Happy Canyon (15% Viognier). Everyone preferred the Jonata, but the Foxen was very good also.

The second course was Foie Gras, Chanterelle Mushroom Soup, Watercress Salad. My wife had little experience with Foie Gras and from what she could remember, she didn't like it. However, this was an exceptional dish, and the Foie Gras which was sandwiched on a miniature brioche was rich, buttery, salty, and hedonistic. My wife loved it. In addition the Chanterelle Mushroom Soup which was served smartly in a small tea cup was outrageously delicious - rich, earthy and creamy. At a wine tasting I attended a few weeks ago, my food and wine guru suggested that the 2009 Domaine Huët Vouvray Moelleux Clos du Bourg Première Trie would pair perfectly with Foie Gras. When I discovered that Foie Gras was on the menu, and considering the fact that I brought my food and wine guru to this dinner, I searched the internet and found two bottles of this sweet French wine in Washington State. I ordered two bottles and served one with this course. The wine was again delicious, and paired perfectly with the course. I had refrigerated the wine a few hours before, and it was a bit too chilly when it was served with dinner. If you ever have this wine, or another similar, make sure you allow it to warm up to room temperature or just a bit chillier.

The third course was Fettuccine, English Peas, Snap Pea Emulsion, Mascarpone Cheese. The course was delicious, but was very difficult to pair with wine. Bob Wesley's Winehound sends me an email every year around Christmas time offering rare and premium wines, and I usually take the bait and grab a bottle or two of hard to get local wines. For the past two years, I've bought one bottle each year of Manfred Krankl's famous Sine Qua Non wines. For this course, I picked the 2008 Sine Qua Non Kolibri (70% Roussane 30% Viognier) to pair with. The wine paired ok with the course, but I found the wine to be very severe and over-bearing. It is delicious, and I would describe it like drinking liquid perfume. However, I think the powerful Roussane overwhelmed the Viognier, and the heavy oak treatment overwhelmed the wine in general.

The fourth course was Seared Diver Scallop, Truffled Potato, Crispy Sweetbreads. The scallop was seared to perfection, the truffled potato was delicious, and the crispy sweetbreads were absolutely gamy and divine. This was my second favorite course of the night. I decided to pull out my other special wine from the Winehound, the 2009 Sine Qua Non On The Lam (50% Roussanne, 23% Viognier, and 27% Chardonnay). However, I again mis- understood the fact that the Roussanne and oak would dominate the wine, and not pair perfectly with the course. A good Chardonnay would probably have been a better option, but I was excited to try this Sine Qua Non. Overall, the wine was interesting, but again dominated by overwhelming oak and Roussanne. This wine was slightly more silky than the previous wine, and the Chardonnay helped it be more palatable and food friendly. But, overall, it wasn't the pairing that I had hoped for. Luckily, the food was so great that the wine didn't interfere with it too much.

The fifth course was Duck Confit, Pickled Winter Squash, Potatoes, Cilantro, XO Sauce. Again, the course was delicious, with the Duck cooked to crispy outside, tender inside perfection. I figured that this course needed either Grenache or Pinot Noir wine to pair with, and I decided on the latter. The first bottle of wine was a 2006 Brewer-Clifton Rancho Santa Rosa, Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, and the second bottle was a 2009 Evening Land Occidental Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. Both wines were delicious and outstanding. I gave the edge to the Brewer-Clifton because the extra years of bottle age had mellowed it and made it pair better with the food than the overtly fruity young Evening Land wine. Both were great, but the older Pinot Noir paired better with the food in my opinion.

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Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 248912 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-01-14 02:23 PM

Whew...Marc lives the SB life people from out of the city think we all can afford...


 COMMENT 248918 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-01-14 03:45 PM

Jeez, hope you took a taxicab home :p


 COMMENT 248971P agree helpful negative off topic

2012-01-14 10:56 PM

As a gourmand, or just someone who likes food, from this type to BrewHouse burger or enchilada, I much appreciated your post! Bourdain ate there the penultimate time he spoke at the Arlington, whatever year that was. He was quite appreciative. (The audience only found out because someone asked him in the Q&A.)
I too hope you cabbed home.
And I did wonder how much it cost. I gotta eat there. Maybe. Someday. Last "gourmet" meal I had was Square One. (Yeah, it's been a few years. Yeah, we cabbed.)


 COMMENT 248972P agree helpful negative off topic

2012-01-14 11:11 PM

Regarding affordability: How much do you spend on *your* hobby?

Eating IS a hobby; a passion; an interest. It's my favorite.

Downey's is running a four-course $50 prix fixe -- I *know* it's worth it. No, I may not pay it at this time, but -- there are people out there renting boats, gliders/paragliders or horses. Owning horses or sail or power boats. Paying for massages and spa days. All are expensive -- as is good food, whether you buy and cook it or go out for it. (And this was a special occasion with special guests. NO, I do NOT know the OP! lol)

The wine discussed in this thread? I have no idea. I've heard of a few of them. I was once treated to a similar wine dinner, with a larger group, at Paradise Cafe -- it was heavenly and an experience I still appreciate and remember. Wine is not my passion or pastime, but -- To each their own. And: There's no accounting for taste.


 FROGGY3 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-01-15 09:44 AM

Re: 248912 - This was New Year's Eve, not Marc's daily dinner. I'm sure he works hard for his money & is certainly entitled to celebrate end of year with friends in this manner. I too considered going to Julienne, & it was reasonably priced compared to other high-end restaurants -- the 5-course was $75/person, with an extra $35 for wine. Sounds like I missed a fabulous meal with interesting wines.


 COMMENT 249409 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-01-17 03:06 PM


Ironic that you complain about a generalization while wildly generalizing.


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