Monday, October 26, 2009

Root 246 - 07/28/2009

420 Alisal Road
Solvang, CA 93463
(805) 688-9003

I somehow ended up in Solvang during a wine tasting trip to Santa Barbara. For those who know, Solvang is a small town in Santa Barbara heavily influenced by Danish culture. The town of 5300 people sits on 2.5 sq miles and would be unremarkable except for the heavy Danish influence. Many of the town's buildings are decorated in traditional Danish style and offer a taste of Danish culture.

After pickling my liver in wine tasting rooms for a few hours, someone mentioned the fantastic cucumber martinis at Root 246, a play on the famous Route 246. Naturally being a sucker for anything involving alcohol and cucumber I had to try it. After walking around the town we finally stumbled on the restaurant which to our surprise was created by none other than Bradley Ogden. Chef Ogden first made a name for himself in San Francisco but today is probably best known for his eponymous restaurant in Las Vegas. Ironically Bradley Ogden's burger was one of the topics of discussion during our afternoon bender and it seemed providential to stumble upon his restaurant out in the middle of nowhere; drinks had just turned into dinner. As the hostess took us to our seats we mentioned our surprise at finding a Bradley Ogden restaurant ostensibly out in the middle of nowhere. She mentioned Chef Ogden was actually at the restaurant then proceeded to invite us to dine at the Kitchen Table. Naturally sitting the kitchen table experience would only be complete if the chef decided what to serve us. So we decided to leave ourselves in the capable hands of Chef Ogden and have him serve us whatever he saw fit.

Amuse 01: Raspberry Sorbet
The meal started with a spoonful raspberry sorbet. Admittedly a bit odd for a starter, but the bracing cold was an effective way to refresh the palate after a days worth of drinking.

Amuse 02: Creamless Corn Soup - with Corn Foam, Croqueta, Crème Fraîche and Lemon Zest
We were presented with a second amuse of scalding hot corn soup, a nice mix of sweet and savory resplendent with the essence of fresh corn. A satisfying soup reminiscent of home cooking but with a panache I certainly wouldn't expect from my home.

01: Watermelon - with Heirloom Tomato, Tomato Membrane, and Tomato Water with Watermelon Ice
Combining watermelon and tomato in a myriad of forms, this dish immediately reminded me of the Watermelon and Sexy Tomato Seeds at Bazaar. However the focus here was more on the theme ingredients, the dish possessing a clean herbaciousness and succulence, pleasing in its very simplicity.

02: Sous Vide Pork Belly - Roasted Pineapple, Corn Frijole
The two previous dishes I could conceivably see a very skilled cook making at home, but I don't know many people who have their own sous vide machines. Still this was easily one of the best dishes of the night. Utterly tender and rich, I believe the term "pork belly puree" was bandied about when describing this course. So delicious I couldn't bear to taint the pork by mixing it with the pineapple or frijole.

03: Pan Seared Halibut - with Corn Succotash, Vegetable Fritter
Probably the weakest course of the night. The halibut was nicely browned on one side, giving a touch of savoriness though on the whole the fish was somewhat dry. The corn and vegetable fritter were a bit blunt giving the dish a heavy sweetness.

04: Oak Grilled Prime Rib Eye - "New Style" Panzanella with Summer Garden Vegetables
The steak was served with traditional sides of fresh vegetables and mashed potatoes as well as panzanella, a bread salad including tomatoes basil olive oil, as well as any other suitable leftovers. A very simply cooked steak, but for the quality of the meat, I wouldn't be surprised to find this at a family barbecue. As with the pork belly, the quality of the beef was superb and it felt like an injustice mixing the beef with any of the accompaniments.

05: Butterscotch Pudding - with Vanilla Cream, and Cookie
A straightforward dessert with a note of pure butterscotch. Think butterscotch jello pudding but subtly better in a myriad of ways.

06: Dessert Sampler
Not sure that this was on the menu, but it looked like a combination of several other desserts including a roasted summer peach with a caramel peach ice cream sandwich and peach iced tea, a six layer devils food cake, and house made chocolate ice cream with chocolate ganache. My favorite was the ice cream sandwich, blending a sweet & sour ice cream with sticky chewy dark chocolate cookies.

Of course the biggest draw of dinner at Root 246 was the ability to see the kitchen at work. The night we were there Chef Ogden was overseeing everything before it goes out and making sure the kitchen is up to his standards. Chef Ogden runs a very efficient kitchen, for most of the night the kitchen ran smoothly and quietly. Even when things got hectic there wasn't any screaming, rather a sternness creeps into Chef Ogden's and the staff seems to move with just a bit more alacrity.

It still seems a bit odd to find a celebrity chef opening a restaurant in a sleepy little burg like Solvang but after hearing the philosophy of the restaurant it makes sense. Espousing the "Farm-to-Table" philosophy, the restaurant sources most of its ingredients from the surrounding farms. While admirable, I don't put much stock into the whole sustainable farming and local sourcing that seems to be so en vogue these days. I am of the opinion that restaurants should make the best food possible and if they can do so in an environmentally responsible fashion so much the better. Happily Root 246 combines the two effectively into a little oasis of elegant yet homey food in the middle of wine country. I don't know that I'd ever make a trip specifically to dine at Root 246 but if I am ever out in wine country again I know where I'll be going for dinner.


Charlie Fu said...

the pork belly looks delicious. I'll have to put this on my list next time I go visit the area! I've heard good things from my friends

Chris said...

I fell in love with Bradley Ogden's creations at his restaurant in Caesar's Palace years ago. Needless to say I was thrilled to find out he was opening an establishment closer to me, I have a home in Santa Barbara. I haven't dined there yet, but judging by your review it is just what I expected. I believe his theory is to establish himself as the predominant restaurant in our burgeoning wine country. Kudos to Mr. Ogden and I appreciate your words.


Tangbro1 said...


The belly was quite good, looks like they have changed the preparation a bit since I went. Let me know what you think when you go.


You are probably right that Chef Ogden is getting a jump on the competition in SB. I have heard nothing but great things from others who have been and I am curious what you think.