Santa Maria Sun / Eats
New chefs in Old Town Orcutt
BY WENDY THIES SELL
As a boy growing up in the Santa Maria Valley, James Gentry fondly remembers looking up and seeing the iconic longhorns and wildlife mounts on the walls at the historic Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe when dining there with his family.
Fast-forward 20 years and Gentry finds himself in charge of the kitchen at the Far Western as its new head chef.
The 25-year-old seems mature beyond his years, with a good head on his shoulders. We sat and talked a couple of weeks ago in the restaurant’s handsome bar.
The young chef began answers to my questions with a very polite, “yes, ma’am,” and “no, ma’am.”
“Growing up in Santa Maria was really nice because it taught me the foundation of what we’re all about here,” Gentry said. “We’re about being really humble, down-to-earth people, who respect our agriculture.”
Gentry is a 2005 graduate of Righetti High School and a 2012 graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena.
He worked for the Patina Group in Los Angeles at Nick and Stef’s Steakhouse and then at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, before returning to the Santa Maria Valley to work at the new Far Western in Old Town Orcutt.
“Once I felt like I had enough experience, I came back to town to benefit my own community with great food,” Gentry said.
The Minetti family and he debuted new lunch and dinner menus this summer. The classic Far Western menu features the restaurant’s most popular dish—The Bull’s-Eye, a 14-ounce, oak-fired rib eye—as well as baby back ribs, and sirloin and shrimp scampi, among other entrees.
“Why fix something that wasn’t broken?” Gentry said. “Steak and potatoes, that’s the way to go.”
The other half of the menu offers a contemporary twist, with fresh, local specialty ingredients, allowing Gentry to use his classic French cuisine techniques.
There is rack of lamb, grilled duck breast, coq au vin, and the scrumptious, towering pinot filet served on grilled polenta, topped with tobacco onions, and drizzled with a delicious mushroom pinot noir demi-glace.
“If you haven’t tried our new menu, you’re in for a real treat,” Gentry said.
A few months ago, the Far Western’s owners also hired a new general manager and sommelier, France native Benjamin Chanler Laurin.
“He has really helped us take our dining experience to the next level,” Far Western co-owner Susan Righetti said. “James [Gentry] was promoted to chef around that same time, and he is doing an amazing job.”
New Asian flavors
Another Santa Maria native recently brought upscale Asian cuisine to Old Town Orcutt.
Chef Eric Huynh opened the new Japanese restaurant and sake bar Omakase on June 29.
The contemporary and comfortable restaurant serves lunch and dinner at 205 E. Clark Ave. after a major renovation to the former Swack’s Pizza spot.
“Old Town Orcutt needed a sushi restaurant, right? We’re the only Asian food here,” Huynh said.
Huynh, 30, was born and raised in Santa Maria. He worked in fine dining restaurants in San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, Nantucket, Massachusetts, and in Solvang at Root 246.
But he prefers to focus on Asian cuisine, and the community seems to want it, too.
“It’s been really good; packed house on Friday and Saturdays,” Huynh told me. “We sell out all of our live uni [sea urchin], live shrimp, live scallops—all sell out. People are looking for that. We’re going to start doing live lobster now, too.”
My whole family really enjoyed sitting in the cozy lounge-like banquette, and eating the fresh, well-portioned, beautifully presented sushi on a busy Saturday night.
On weekends, in a nod to Huynh’s heritage, Omakase also serves Vietnamese pho soup; chicken broth with rice noodles, slices of tri-tip, sweet basil, cilantro, and bean sprouts.
There’s also a spacious sake bar featuring more than 20 different sakes.
Omakase is open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every day but Sunday, and 5 to 10 p.m. nightly for dinner. They’re open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Huynh and business partner Sid Patel are also opening a similar restaurant in Solvang in the next month or so.
Not just meat and potatoes
Over at Rooney’s Irish Pub, there’s a new Irish lass running the kitchen: 39-year-old chef Tiffany Wilson, an Oregon native who moved to the Central Coast in 1996.
She was the sous chef at Steamers of Pismo working under chef Michael Albright, and she worked under chef Evan Treadwell at the former Vigneto Ristorante in Arroyo Grande.
More recently, she was chef and food and beverage manager for five years at the Monarch Dunes Golf Course.
She started at Rooney’s on March 13, four days before St. Patrick’s Day. She proved herself on their biggest day of the year, and won the job of head chef.
Wilson plans to launch Rooney’s new menu in September; it will reflect her style, which includes more than just Irish favorites.
“I am trying to introduce fresh fish, shellfish, and meats to the staff and customers. So far the response seems very positive and welcomed,” Wilson explained. “The one thing you can count on when eating my food is I do everything against the grain. If it’s not supposed to pair together, I will do it!”
You will still see Rooney’s traditional Irish entrees like Shepherd’s Pie, fish-n-chips, and bangers and mash.
And everything—from dressings to desserts—will be made from scratch.
“I think getting customers to understand that we are so much more than just a pub, that is our first priority,” Wilson added.
Wilson wants the community to know that Rooney’s is “the place” in Northern Santa Barbara County for food, drinks, dancing, birthdays, and special events.
“Here we encourage laughter, dancing, and lots of eating and drinking!” she said.
Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell encourages her readers to support locally owned and operated establishments. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.