Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Terravant Winery opens new eatery, Bottlest, at their Buellton location
At 29, Owen Hanavan has managed to create a menu of dishes that many chefs twice his age would kill for.
“I look at my brain like a tackle box,” Hanavan said. “There’s all sorts of different baits and tackles a fisherman has for his day of fishing. In my brain, there is this tackle box. And from each one spawns off 10 or 15 more boxes. Every box is an ingredient.”
Hanavan, former head chef at Barbareño, recently left the tourist-lined beaches of Santa Barbara to help open a new restaurant in Buellton. Terravant Winery, a mainstay at the end of Industrial Way, closed its eatery Avant and underwent two full weeks of renovations and training. On April 20, the venue will open as Bottlest, a brand new restaurant with an entirely new concept.
At a preview dinner for the restaurant, Hanavan debuted his tightly composed and well-planned dishes to a small group of Santa Barbara food writers and others, the gatekeepers of local cuisine who keep their eye out for interlopers wanting to cash in on the region’s growing food landscape. From bite one it was clear Hanavan wasn’t there to get his face on the cover of a glossy magazine or a reality cooking show.
“I’ve been cooking long enough that I’m just playing with flavors,” he said. “When you can balance it you can find ways to elevate it again and again.”
The family-style meal started off with an assortment of appetizers, including lamb meatballs served on potato chips and garnished with mint. The beef short ribs, plated in an almost flowery fashion, were served alongside a carrot puree, roasted carrots, and preserved Meyer lemon. The lamb meatballs had a restrained gameyness, offset by the crunchy saltiness of the potato chip.
“I always paid attention to one thing my chef mentors taught me in culinary school: season in layers,” Hanavan said. “It stuck with me. We’re always tasting, we’re always seasoning. And if it isn’t seasoned properly, we try to adjust that, to do what we can to elevate it.”
Salmon and chicken are two dishes that can be tricky to plate with originality, with diners’ palates tainted by dried-out versions served alongside brutally overcooked vegetables and soggy rice pilafs at weddings or banquets. But Hanavan throws expectations to the wayside, serving tender roasted Jidori chicken with kohlrabi noodles and whipped mashed potatoes, and salmon with lentils and Meyer lemons.
Kohlrabi, a biennial vegetable also known as the German turnip, seems right at home on the table of a restaurant just outside Solvang. My Austrian mother used to cook it with bacon fat, onions, and sugar, serving it alongside schnitzel. I don’t think she would have ever thought to turn it into a noodle and serve it alongside sous-vide chicken.
But Bottlest is all about thinking outside the box, but not so far outside that diners feel alienated by complicated dishes that look like you need a degree in nuclear fusion to eat them. These are, at their core, simple dishes elevated by carefully thought-out components and techniques.
“I’m different,” Hanavan said. “I’m definitely not ever content with just something basic.”
Picking a best or favorite dish would be like asking Hugh Hefner to pick his favorite blonde. It’s simply not possible. But I will say that the moonfish we were presented with that night was one of the most surprisingly delicious dishes I’ve had in a long time.
The quality of the moonfish at the fish market prompted Hanavan to switch the planned halibut dish to the Hawaiian fish (also called opah). It’s smooth and creamy, closer to the texture of slowly braised pork than fish.
“It’s a fish that’s really nice,” he said. “You want to cook it almost medium, so it’s nice and flaky all the way through.”
A plate of contrasts, the white fish was served against a portion of black squid ink potatoes.
In addition, the dish also had a mushroom puree, bay leaf, and lemon gel for acidity. They cured the fish for about an hour to build flavors and change the texture before searing it in grape seed oil.
“We’re really looking for a contrast there,” Hanavan explained. “With the white silky celery root, a nice creamy black potato ties into that. We wanted to take some root vegetables to tie them in with some spring vegetables like a baby leek or smoked leek.”
All of the dishes we sampled that night are currently on Bottlest’s menu. The restaurant will be open Sundays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose thinks putting salt on the table is an insult to the chef. She can be reached at email@example.com.
• In the mood for something old school? Try the chocolate malt and french fries at Charlie’s in Los Alamos. Charlie’s sticks to tradition with a malt that tastes like it came right out of a ’50s diner and fries that are hot, crispy, and delicious (pictured). Charlie’s is located at 185 Bell St., Los Alamos.
• If it’s too early in the season to drag the grill out of storage, I have you covered. Central Coast Specialty Foods hosts barbecues every Saturday from noon until they run out. Central Coast Specialty Foods fires up the grill at 115 E. College Ave., Lompoc.
• Costa de Oro Winery is a great place to hang out on Friday nights. Their wines are some of the first I made friends with when I moved here, and I especially love their laid-back tasting room and live music. Join them Friday nights for free live music and dinner plates for $12, located at 1331 Nicholson Ave., Santa Maria.
Snubbing Uncle Sam: Local resident touts tax resistance as protest The funding game: After decades of work, the Bob Jones Trail needs a little more money to get it ready for construction Offshore energy: A state task force is in the preliminary stages of creating a wind farm off the Central Coast Trump directives target the Carrizo Plain, offshore drilling Solar farm at Paso Robles airport gets approval Anti-rental inspection petitioners seek compromise with SLO city Clarifications