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Archive for July, 2013

Disappointment at Mattei’s Tavern

As a Santa Ynez Valley native, I’ve been eating at Mattei’s Tavern for my entire life. It’s gone through many versions as a restaurant, and had many owners and chefs. At one point it was a Chart House, with a memorably terrific salad bar. The most recent iteration, Brother’s at Mattei’s Tavern, left a very high standard to live up to. By the way, you can still find the Brothers Nichols and their fine cuisine at Sides Hardware and Shoes just down the street in Los Olivos, and I would recommend you take your business there as opposed to the “new” Mattei’s Tavern. Brothers will also be opening up the Red Barn in Santa Ynez come November, and that should be a welcome addition to the local steakhouse scene. Unfortunately, the Hitching Post has fallen off the preferred local dining list, since it’s constantly packed with tourists having their own Sideways experience.

The moment we walked in the front door at Matteis this Saturday night, I knew things had changed. The bar/foyer area was once my favorite part of the restaurant, especially in the winter when the fireplace is burning. It’s  now been revamped in such a way that feels a bit like a processing area. The day we were there, two weeks after opening, it still reeked of fresh green paint, which was quite unpleasant. The bench seating along the right wall is far removed from the cozy feel that this room always had in the past. Gone are the paintings of the Matteis, by their son, noted portrait painter Clarence Mattei, that once hung over the fireplace. Also absent was the big host’s podium that used to be directly to the right of the front door. The room was lighter and brighter, but it felt too bright to me.

Though the restaurant was less than half full, we were seated at a table directly across from the kitchen, basically alongside the restaurant’s main thoroughfare. The temperature was extremely warm due to being so close to the stoves. With heavy foot traffic of the staff passing to and from the kitchen, and the warmth, we knew we would not be able to enjoy our meal at this table and had to ask to be moved. The staff was happy to accommodate our request and we were reseated in a table on the enclosed porch, formerly known as the wicker room. Gone are the comfy wicker chairs that were once here, replaced by modern cloth chairs that weren’t all that comfortable. I also noted the lack of table cloths – it felt a bit too casual without them.

The wine list is fabulous. I would expect nothing less from a restaurant owned by Charles Banks, former owner of Screaming Eagle, and now involved in many winery ventures including Jonata on the Central Coast, Sandhi Wines and Mayacamas Vineyards. There are options for every price point. I don’t know that they’ll be moving many $1,400 bottles of Bordeaux, but it’s certainly possible if they attract the kind of clientele that Mr. Banks will hope to have come to his boutique hotel. That will be developed on the Mattei’s property in the coming months/years, so the historic character of this place will be quite altered in the very near future. You can read more about the development planned for the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern in this Lompoc Record article.

You can read more about the meal we had and why we were so disappointed in the food in my review on Yelp. Suffice to say it was disappointing. You might argue that we came in with a bias and were predisposed to dislike everything, but I would argue that I was very excited to visit somewhere that is so important to me. I hoped we’d have an absolutely amazing meal and be telling all our friends how great it was. In the past, I have been lucky enough to have not just great meals at Mattei’s, but made memories. At the price point now, it would have to be an extremely special occasion for me to ever dine there in the future. Based on this poor first experience, I don’t think I’ll ever go back.

Even before our appetizers arrived we struck up a conversation with an older local couple one table over from ours. The woman said: “I hope you have better luck with your food than we did.” With a look of disappointment, she told me how sad she would be to tell her 10 children that the restaurant they had enjoyed so much over the years wouldn’t be somewhere they’d be able to eat as a family anymore. I agreed, and unfortunately I suspect many other locals will as well. I know many of us had hoped that we’d still be able to enjoy this restaurant and historic space as we had in the past. Alas.


Ugly running shoes: This is something America cares about

A few months ago I wrote a blog post that bemoaned an unfortunate truth: A lot of high end running shoes are really ugly.

Much to my surprise, this post got a lot of attention out there on the interweb. Strangers commented. People search for the term “why are running shoes so ugly” on a daily basis. It’s one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written, and it keeps getting traffic week in and week out.

It’s time for me to buy another pair of running shoes, so naturally this ugly shoe issue has been on my mind again. Right now I’m leaning toward a pair of Asics Kayanos that are gray and pink. Yes, pink, a color I despise. But it’s one of the only Kayano models available right now that doesn’t look like it was designed for a disco clown going to a Palm Springs rave.

I started searching around online to see if I could find any models of shoes that I found truly attractive. But my search couldn’t be limited to aesthetics. Performance of the shoe should be every runners’ priority, even if you make that final purchase decision based on the fact that you like the way you look. (Sidebar: I don’t understand how Men’s Wearhouse could get rid of George Zimmer. And I feel like his ouster means I have to stop saying “I guarantee it” all the time.)

Just this week I finished reading the fantastic “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. I was late to the party on this book, which was mostly as good as everyone said. I was more interested in the culture of the Tarahumara Indians, though, and McDougall spends a lot of time delving into the evolutionary science that allows us to run and the pros and cons of conventional running shoes.

Based partially on the immense popularity of McDougall’s book and the high number of people who adopted minimalist running footwear in its wake, you’ll now find minimalist shoes everywhere you go. I own a couple pairs, and when I first bought them I made a stupid mistake: I went running in them. Keep in mind that I am a six-foot-tall, 150-pound woman who mostly runs on asphalt and tackles a lot of hills. I quickly discovered, thanks to horrible shooting pain in my legs, that minimalist shoes were not going to work for me as running footwear. Then a few months later I got serious plantar fasciitis, which took months to recover from. I’m sure that some of the assertions of McDougall’s text are accurate – our running form is often unnatural, and our feet are not conditioned to run without shoes, and shoe companies make a lot of money. But I’m not running to hunt down an antelope for dinner, a practice that he devotes great time to in his book. I’m running to be healthy, ease stress, enjoy the city where I live, and impress my friends. I’ll continue wearing shoes to do so for the foreseeable future. (Occasional beach runs excluded.)

Back at square one: I need to buy shoes and I don’t like the way they look. I scrolled through a slideshow of the “25 Best Running Shoes of 2013” and found most to be away from my taste. There were two I found acceptable, but both were for trail running. I tend to stay away from trails, as they are  great places to sprain my ankles.

Next I navigated over to Runner’s World. They’re known for their expertise at shoe selection, and the midpack runner listens to their footwear recommendations as gospel. I follow their hilarious editor at large Mark Remy on Facebook. To my delight, I found that he had just written about a new REMY shoe, the Gimmùk. It’s a game changer, according to a news release he got. He writes: “Gimmùk is a Tarahumaran word meaning, roughly, ‘product differentiation.'”

At this point I was laughing so hard that I had trouble getting back to my original mission. Focus, Etling! I scrolled through the 2013 Summer Shoe Guide. Overwhelming shades of lime green, neon yellow and orange sherbert made me crave margaritas and frozen yogurt. How about some simple blues, reds and grays, shoe companies? Is that really too much to ask? I jumped over to the Spring Shoe Guide. Here I found something that didn’t totally offend me – the Asics Gel Lyte 33 2. Classic Asics design with a deep blue hue. Hmmm. I might have to give these babies a try. If I was still a fast runner, I’d even venture to the Newton Gravity Neutral Performance Trainer. Their flashy red blue and yellow combo is Olympic-caliber, though, and my mile splits aren’t speedy enough to pull that off, especially at a $175 price point.

For now, I am still running in the Kayanos I purchased six months ago. The heels are completely worn out and they smell like a dead animal. Maybe the Tarahumara were right. Sandals made out of old tires might be a better way to go.

At my most recent 15K, Semana Nautica in Goleta on July 4.

At my most recent 15K, Semana Nautica in Goleta on July 4.