Sunday, May 01, 2005


Originally uploaded by S'mee.

The host of the conference gave each attendee a list of personal local favorites. He has been a resident of Santa Barbara all his life and so you'd think he would know a little about the town.

Going back in time before I tackle the present. About 15 years ago, Thor and I went to Santa Barbara on a small trip. I had done some research and the best advice I could come up with in regard to dining out in an unfamiliar area was "stick to your chain favorites. If you like Jason's Smokehouse #17, chances are you'll like Jason's Smokehouse #6. Or check the parking lot for local license plate frames; such as Santa Barbara - Harrison Ford (I have waited a very long time to do that joke you better be laughing right now.) We followed that advice and yes, the old time favorites were fine, but we're someplace new! Let's be adventurous! We went in search of local license plate frames. We came upon a steak house with nothing but Santa Barbara plates. Turned out we got food poisoning and it ruined our trip - for three most miserable days.

So with some trepidation we looked at the list provided. As stated in the previous post, we ran into Arnoldi's quite by accident. According to the list Arnoldi's is such a locals only establishment that it isn't even listed in the phone book. The list provided only phone numbers and so finding it by chance was just that. Especially given the neighborhood we were in. Neighborhood is the exact word. There were nothing but houses around this tiny little brick building. A school down the block and a church. (We'll in fairness, S.B. is somewhat like Utah. Throw a rock and hit a church.) We drove around the corner and parked with ease. Not a car in sight. (That's always a good sign of a great restaraunt right?)

The hostess greeted us right off with a huge smile and sat us down by the window. I noticed that a sign across the room stated "MAXIMUM SEATING 55". We're talking intimate dining. The place was dimly lit with tiny candles on each table. A white cloth covered the wood and a little vase of fresh flowers were at the side next to the salt and pepper. Rolled linen napkins with flatware. Almost immediately our server came by with water and wine glasses. Asked if we wanted a wine list or a suggestion for the evening and went in search of Thor's Pepsi and S'mee's 7-up. (hey the sign out front pretty much demanded that someone drink 7-up) As we waited for the drinks I took a look around. Several small tables comfortably apart, and a bar that ran about 3/4 length on the opposite side of the entrance. Above the bar were two t.v.s on each end. A Sci-Fi channel re-run on crop circles was playing and the gal from Scotland seemed sure they were from alien creatures who were trying to communicate with us. Above the bar were assorted deer head and fish (think Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, "I use antlers in all of my decorating"). A terrific sign, vintage I believe, was still in motion. A picturesque tranquil scene of the mountains at night, ahh, with the stars twinkling over the lake and eventually coming together to read Hamm's Beer! All I could think of was the gingle from my childhood: "From the land of sky blue waters..." and that goofy bear wandering, staggering? into the woods. Around the room are other photos. Black and white renderings of the original owners, the original paperwork for the building permit hangs over my right shoulder. Black and white photos of sailors going to war over the left and around the windows. There they are, giving hugs and smiling for the camera while standing in front of Arnoldi's. Plenty of these memories, framed and taken care of over the years hang as a memorial all around the room. There is an invitation placard on the far end of the bar welcoming all to join in the co-ed bocci ball team. Go Arnoldi's!

We decided this place was full of character(s). It was a schizophrenic atmosphere! On the one side we felt we had dropped back into the sixties and into a family bar and deli. On the other hand we were in a quaint Italian bistro with terrific attentive wait staff. Speaking of our waiter, he takes our order and scurries off to the kitchen. Thor decided on the Lasagna and I took the suggestion of the waiter and went with the Penne Pomendoro with mushrooms and sausage.

Each meal came with soup and salad. Our bread bowl had already arrived (and would keep arriving at the slightest look off being emptied) filled with the perfect baguette, thickly sliced, warm and overflowing the small basket. The bread was aromatic, chewy, full of large holes and had the perfect crust. It was served with butter, lots of butter. I would have preferred oil and balsamic vinegar, but the butter was fine and the bread delicious. Our soup came almost immediately from the kitchen; hot and with an aroma that hit the table five steps before the bowl. About a cup of thick vegetable soup, chunky tender vegetables with a puree of veggies in the broth. Broccoli was the star of the soup, but the carrots took a fine second billing. The salad was served in the icy-est bowl I have ever felt. Perfect for the European greens and balsamic vinaigrette. Probably the best I have ever had. Almost raspberry in flavor, very tasty! After inquiring about the recipe I was told there was a hint of garlic and also some grated cheese. It was incredible!

The pasta dishes arrived on steaming flat bowls overflowing with food. Thor's lasagna was out of this world. The layers of fresh cheese and meats were blended to perfection and the sauce was made strictly for this dish. (don't you hate it when your dish's sauce is the exact same sauce as your partners - and they had something "completely" different?) The sauce was a wonderful red, spiced well and thick enough that when Thor was done, it puddled but didn't bleed apart like some sauces do. The meats were so blended you couldn't really define them, and the layers were thin, but packed with ricotta, mozzarella, and meat.

The penne pomendoro was also spectacular. The pasta was al dente and flavorful standing on it's own without sauce. The sauce however was indeed terrific. A deep rich sauce, full of ripe tomatoes and spices that stood up to but not against the flavors of the portabello mushrooms. It was infused with so much cheese that the sauce had become a deep rosey colour. The sauce had been mixed into the pasto so that every nook and cranny of the penne was coated or filled. YUM! The sausage was also ground into tiny bits that it was more a part of the sauce than chunks here and there. This insured a taste of delicious sausage in every single bite! The portebellos were sliced into 1/2 inch slices and left the length of the original mushroom - can I tell you how good these tasted? Nope, indescribable! We were so full after this meal I don't think we ate breakfast the next day!

Conversation was interesting at Arnoldi's. A very friendly gentleman was quietly chatting about the crop circles with the bartender. He came over and asked us how our soup was. "Really good!" "Great, I think I'm having that later, you never know around here what they'll give me." and walked away. We chuckled a bit and thought he must be the local hang around Arnoldi's guy. Every few minutes someone from the wait staff would inquire if we needed anything and how was the meal. Very attentive. Eventually the gentleman from the bar sat down at the table nearest us and invited the hostess to sit with him. They ordered their meals and then turned to us, again to inquire if we were having a good time. I replied that the meal was a great suggestion from a local man who was the host of our conference. "What's his name?" "Joe." "Oh my goodness! Joe ____? I grew up as his next door neighbor! We have known each other since we were kids. He comes in here all the time. Those folks over there are from the conference also, but they didn't say Joe sent them! Hey you guys! Why didn't you tell me Joe sent you?" Laughter engulfs the entire restaraunt and she turns her attention back to us. A short history lesson follows.

Arnoldi's was built in 1940 (April 2nd, 1940) and hasn't changed a bit since the original owners established it. It has been the local hangout for family and friends. The original idea had to be fought for- hence keeping the building permit up lest anyone contend. The original owners eventually had to sell due to age and that's where DeeDee and Jim (the guy from the bar) come in. They bought it and have run it ever since. They LOVE this place. You can tell it really means something for them to have this place and to serve it up right to those friends who wander in. The place "really jumps" on Fridays and Saturdays and their are often receptions and parties in the back. "Go ahead and leave through the back and look at the girls who are practicing bocci tonight, they love it here!" They are proud of the feel of the "joint". They are eager to please. They are eager to thank Joe for sending over new friends! I tell them I know an amateur food critic, the gal over at Food Chronicles. This sends DeeDee into all kinds of joy! She then tells me how Fess Parker comes in as a regular and what a nice, nice man he is and expounds on his resort and how hard it was for him to get it up and running.... and Oprah! Oprah came in, she loved this place too! How great! A food critic! So Chronicler here's the scoop:

Next time you are in or traveling through Santa Barbara take the 101 to the Milpas exit. Take Milpas up away from the beach to Cota. Hang a left and go to Olive. On the corner of Olive and Cota sits Arnoldi's. And as the sign reads, it is definitely Good Food! (if you don't believe me, just ask Oprah!) While you're there say hello to DeeDee and Jim Nonn and tell them I sent you.

good food!
Originally uploaded by S'mee.

Arnoldi's Cafe 600 Olive Street, Santa Barbara, 93101

tel (805) 962-5394 fax (805) 962-4552

Lasgna Dinner: $15.00

Penne Pomendoro: $19.00

Experience: priceless! Thanks for the tip Joe!

add to sk*rt

No comments: