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January 30, 2003
Leisure and lament in Santa Barbara

By Alex Dominguez
From the No looking back dept.

Meanwhile back at the ranch in Orange County, the days fall into an easy rhythm now that the future has been decided.
Wake early, take a walk on the nearby nature trail _ where a stone marker commemorates the 1768 Viaje de Portola, the first overland expedition into California by Europeans. Maybe a swim at the neighborhood pool, or a stroll to the golf course, where it costs $100 to play a round, but just $6 to drive a bucket of golf balls.

Lunch is a mixture of Spanish, American, Mexican, Italian and barbecue. More fish tacos, sometimes made with scolpin (a reddish blowfish with poisonous fins that tastes like monkfish) and perch, both caught on a party boat outing. Osso buco one night, and the next afternoon we create bucadillas _ quesadillas made on the grill with the left over veal from the osso buco.
Guacamole is a fun sidedish and the subject of heated debate – how much lime? Do we add garlic?, cheese?, jalapeno?
We break the routine with a trip to Santa Barbara _ a Spanish colonial jewel 100 miles north of Los Angeles. The carpool lane on ``the 5’’ is a lifesaver until it ends in LA.
In Santa Barbara, we find shellfish reminiscent of Galicia, and a sense of community _ albeit a bit patchouli laden _ that seems lacking in hyper-suburban Orange County.
A 6 lb. spider crab ($50), similar to Alaskan king crab or the Galician centola, is selected for lunch at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. on Stearman Wharf. The same crab would be $15 at the market in Galicia, but not prepared and cracked for us. The crab is fresh and delicious and more than enough for the two of us.
And what does it matter with the endorsements rolling in?
We stroll through the farmer’s market, which is held every Tuesday on State St., the heart of the downtown shopping district, inspecting the local produce _ organic oranges, enormous strawberries, and an irregular shaped green vegetable called a cherimoy.
We also stroll into an interesting store, oddly named Cost Plus World Market, where couches and other furniture, wine, housewares, oils, condiments, kitchen supplies, and barbecue equipment are sold under one roof. Back out onto State St., we stroll past what appears to be an immense tile-roofed church that has been converted into a Macy’s, and then head back to our hotel, the Mason Beach Inn (324 W. Mason St., $59 double) to rest for dinner.
Shellfish reminiscent of Galicia appear again that night at a Piranha, a trendy sushi restaurant, where sea urchin, erizo in Spanish, is served in cups made from lemons ($12.95 for two heaping tablespoons). Scallops, vieiras in Gallego, are also on the menu.
``But no navajas (razor clams)’’ the Count thinks.
All such thoughts, however, evaporate like the smoke used to make the succulent smoked scallop nigiri that ends the meal.
The next morning, it’s off to the Santa Barbara mission, where we learn that two distinct forces drove the colonization of California by the Spanish, evangelization and concerns over the encroachment of Russian settlements further north.
The Spanish, needing citizens to fuel growth of the empire, gave the native Indians citizenship and deeded them their land, hoping to make them Christian contributors to the empire.
The missionaries were successful on both fronts, most of the native Chumas Indians converted and the the Franciscans oversaw the construction of a dam and aqueduct system to irrigate fields of wheat, barley, corn, beans and peas, as well as citrus and olive orchards and vineyards. In 1803, 11,121 sheep were counted, and in 1809, 5,200 head of cattle.
All of that ended when Mexico broke from Spain after Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula. The missions were confiscated, and after the U.S. took over the territory, Indians were allowed to be shot on sight because they were considered hostile.
In the mission cemetery, we find a marker commemorating Don Jose Franciso de Ortega (1734-1798), chief scout for Gaspar de Portola, who established the Presidio at Santa Barbara, where he was commandant from 1781-1784. Inside, the tools used by the missionaries and Indians are on display _ my father notes the horse-drawn plow, or arado, which he used in his youth, is assembled incorrectly.
Inspired by the adventurous spirit of the missionaries, we lunch at the Taqueria la Gloria, 336 N. Milpas St., where $1.89 tacos are served on the white styrofoam trays that meat is packaged in at the supermarket.
We order tacos with carnitas (a roasted and fried port), carne asada (roasted beef) and buche (pan fried pork stomach). Also available was cow tongue, and birria de chivo (marinated goat). Non-tacos include huarache (fried corn meal dough topped with your choice of toppings), mojarra (a fried fish), and ceviche.

FYI: If you want to stay someplace fancier, try the Hotel Santa Barbara, 533 State St., which is right on the heart of the shopping district. Rooms were running between $119 and $199 when we checked, but run higher at peak times. There are also a number of nice hotels along the beach.

Posted by Alex at January 30, 2003 06:34 PM
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