Sometimes food reminds you of happier times, times when you were care free, and adventurous. I call this vacation food. On a vacation you don’t count calories, or worry about nitrates, or ponder the ramifications of dining upon non-renewable forms of seafood. You simply point to something on a menu, and enjoy. On my last vacation I went up the coast, and on my way back I stopped at a little restaurant in Santa Barbara called The Hungry Cat, where I had some of the best vacation food of my life.
It was on the advice of my boss that I made the reservation, she had gone on and on about how amazing the food was there, and this was a woman who knew her food. So the last day of my vacation I asked my girlfriend, who was coming down with a cold, if she felt up to dinner. Being the amazing woman she is, she dressed warmly, took some cold medication, and asked what time our reservation was for. Yup, she’s a keeper.
Later that night, we walked into a small, intimate, and very trendy restaurant a street away from the main drag. On the wall was a chalkboard with a list of wine, local seafood, and specials (not that you were going to save any money on them, but that didn’t matter to me because I was still on vacation.) Looking around I was happy I had made reservations ahead of time, the place was packed with a fair amount of people, a combination of locals and tourists, usually a sign of good food, or at least a pleasant atmosphere. Very quickly we were greeted by a pretty man with a large smile who showed us to a comfortable seat by the window.
I made a pretense of looking at the menu, but I already knew what I wanted, the chorizo and clams, the perfect combination of spicy and sea food. My girlfriend, who is not a big fan of seafood choose the burger. We passed the time reminiscing on the last few days, and watching the sun set quickly replaced by a light drizzle as the night descended. I stared passionately into her eyes, and then our food arrived, and for a short amount of time I forgot all about her.
My chorizo and clams, with shell beans, sofrito(very small aromatic ingredients braised in cooking oil), black kale (fancy cabbage), and a side of grilled toast was one of the best things I’ve ever put into my mouth. Everything was cooked perfectly, the chorizo was spicy, but not unbearably hot, the clams were soft and not rubbery, even the beans, which I thought I would not like, were full of flavor. I slowly devoured my meal and had just enough room left to taste a bite of the burger. It was cooked medium, with bacon, avocado, and blue cheese, and was one of the better burgers I’d eaten. Still I stopped at a bite, because I did not want to lose the taste of my own meal.
After that we finished our cocktails (don’t ask me to remember them, I’m not a mixologist, but they were good) and went back to our hotel. I fell asleep to the sound of rain hitting the windows, the smell of the sea on my skin, and the sound of the TV on the Food channel, and I dreamt of my beautiful girlfriend and my tasty tasty vacation food. Two things that still bring a smile to my face.
P.S.: For the life of me I can’t find a picture of the front, which is too bad because the Hungry Cat is a bit hard to find by car. We eventually just stumbled onto it.
The Hungry Cat
Santa Barbara, CA