SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA - I'm a little leery, normally, of absurd platitudes about such and such being the best coffee in the world or the best hotel or what have you.
I mean, it's a fairly large world out there last time I checked, and it's pretty tough to say. But in this case, I'm making an exception to my own rule and proclaiming that YOU WILL NEVER IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE find a steak as
good as the ones they rustle up at the Hitching Post II in Solvang, California.
They get great cuts of beef, but the secret is cooking the meat on an open fire on a large, metal rack that's suspended directly over fiery red oak from these parts. It's a way of cooking that the old Spanish rancheros used to practice in California, and it's been perfected out here and a little ways north in the town of Santa Maria, where it's called Santa Maria barbeque.
The Hitching Post II uses a little bag of seasoning they call Magic Dust, which you luckily can buy to take home, not to mention taking home some of their own bottles of local magic wine.
I guess there are steaks that are just as tender or moist, but you won't find with a better, smoky flavour than these.
Fans of the movie Sideways, still for my money one of the funniest movies ever made, will know the place for sure as the restaurant Miles (Paul Giamatti in a brilliant performance) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church, who's hilarious) frequent on their trip up to the glorious Santa Barbara wine region.
The bar has a big whack of photos from the film taken at the restaurant, which is the spot where the Virginia Madsen works in the movie, playing the role of a waitress named Maya.
They serve their own branded wines, including some absolutely stunning Pinot Noirs (Miles' favourite), and there's a big TV in the bar that you can use to watch a football game or what have you.
If you like the movie, you'll love the Hitching Post II. If you've never heard of the movie, go anyway. Your steak will come with a baked potato or fries, and you also get soup or salad, plus garlic bread and a starting tray with pickles, local olives, carrots and celery. All for about $25, and a terrific wine list with many great bottles under $30.
Just for fun, and to save a little money, I stayed at the Days Inn in next-door Buellton; maybe five blocks away. It's where Miles and Jack stay during their trip, and it's featured in some great scenes, including one where Sandra Oh, who plays Jack's love interest (even though he's about to get married), gets off her motorcycle and beats the heck out of him with her purse.
It's an okay chain spot best known for the movie and for a giant windmill out front, Solvang being known as a place with a large Danish population and a whole slew of faux Danish architecture that some find charming and that, I personally, find kinda stupid.
The hotel isn't much. My room was non-smoking but there was a large cigarette burn mark and a hole in my blanket.
But it's okay, and it' s convenient for exploring the great wineries in and around the Santa Ynez Valley, just inland from the beautiful coastline of Santa Barbara.
More to come later this week from Santa Barbara proper, which might be one of the great towns of the entire United States.