Saturday, January 19, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 46

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Chef's table dinner at The Bear and Star in Los Olivos was an inviting and exciting experience


Well, lucky me! The restaurant has been open for months, I’ve written a lot about their sustainability practices—and now I finally had a chance to have a big, filling meal at The Bear and Star in Los Olivos.

Avocado toast is the trend everyone loves to hate, and at a private chef’s dinner at The Bear and Star, chefs served up their cheeky take in the form of avocado canelones.

By now, you’ve probably heard the story of how the venue makes sustainability and local sourcing a major priority. Almost all of the food served is sourced right from the Parker family ranch down the road by Fess Parker winery. I’ve been to the restaurant several times, mostly getting tasting samples (or ordering snacks at the bar), but I’ve never been able to sit down and actually order a meal.

All of that changed at the venue’s inaugural chef’s table dinner, which featured Chef Jeff Weiss. Weiss is the author of Charcuteria and a well-known expert on Spanish dry-cured meats. He teamed with The Bear and Star’s head chef John Cox for a six-course dinner in the Chef’s Room, and I was fortunate enough to taste their food.

Up first was an array of amuse-bouches and other tasting bites. The chefs presented a take on the avocado toast trend, which, depending on who you believe, is either a curious passing obsession in restaurants or an abomination that will eventually bring about the apocalypse. This version was avocado canelones, a delicious rolled pastry with avocado in the center.

The tasting samples also included a gazpacho soup, a crispy slice of squash, and a sea cucumber dish served on a chicharone, which was absolutely one of my favorite bites of the night. The contrast of the crunch of the chicharone and the delicate flavor of pork with the light freshness and brightness of the sea cucumber made it pop.

Chef Jeff Weiss brought the ocean to the ranch with this Spanish-influenced seafood dish.

Our first course was foie gras “Mei I Mato,” with honey meringue and stonefruit. There was a lot of foie in this dish, and I was pleasantly surprised by that. The sweetness presented a nice layer to the richness of the taste.

The mushroom tartare that was presented next was absolutely stunning. Topped with a quail egg and finished off with a fragrant and delicious mushroom tea, the dish also had a surprise brown butter sauce underneath the bed of mushrooms. I normally don’t like mushrooms, but this dish made me a true believer. It’s hard to describe how well that dish worked together as one bite. The silky texture of the eggs cut through the meatiness of the mushrooms, which were unctuous and rich. The tea could have stayed on the table all night, especially as a dip for the homemade sour bread Weiss produced toward the end of the meal.

Ravioli all’uovo with country ham, black truffle, and acorns was next. The pork that was served was raised at the Parker family ranch, where the animals were fed acorns. So the dish was topped with a sprinkle of crushed acorns to highlight and honor that.

Chef John Cox’s steak dish with black garlic, carrots, and fennel pollen was made using Charolais beef raised by the Fess Parker family ranch in Santa Ynez.

Every single selection was perfectly seasoned, something I appreciate especially when eating dishes that include products like ham or bacon. It’s easy to forget to be disciplined when seasoning in such instances and then you just wind up with a salty mouthful of food. Blessed is the chef who understands how to season food.

Following the sourdough course was arroz caldoso, a very broth-heavy Spanish rice dish. Weiss’ dish featured local seafood including rock crab and sea urchin. The crab claw in this dish was perfectly cooked, and had just the right texture with the seasoning. Infusing some of Santa Barbara’s famous seafood with elements from Spain, the country whose explorers helped discover and found the community, was a thoughtful and impressive combination. 

Finally, it was time for some beef. The filet dish, delivered in a stunning presentation, included charred shallot, black garlic, carrots, and fennel pollen (which might sound odd but trust me, it added the perfect essence of fennel to that dish). The star on the plate was Charolais beef, raised nearby at the Parker family ranch. It was charred to a beautiful black perfection and inside was a pink medium rare steak.

So for those wondering what all that tireless work to produce a truly farm-to-table meal actually means in terms of flavor, I can tell you without a hint of doubt, it is amazing. It’s worth every bit of effort.

Spill your tea anytime with Eats writer Rebecca Rose. Contact her at


Naughty Oak Brewing Company's taproom in Santa Ynez is now open.

• Naughty Oak Brewing Company is now open in Santa Ynez (pictured). The taproom looks beautiful, and the venue already has a full slate of live music shows booked through October. Things are off to a great start at 3569 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez. Go check it out!

• BBQ Land’s baby back rib platter is to die for. They also have combo plates with chicken, tri-tip, and beef or pork ribs if you want to mix it up. They’re located at 1975 S. Broadway, suite A, Santa Maria. They also deliver, too.

• Congrats to the winners of the annual Tastes of Mexico event, hosted by People for Leisure and Youth (PLAY) Inc. and the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department. The People’s Choice for Best Dish went to Old Town Mexican Café, located at 140 E. Clark Ave. in Orcutt. Old Town Mexican Café was also the winner of the inaugural Tastes of Mexico Salsa Contest. Fruteria Hernandez, a local fruit market located at 1209 West Main St., Santa Maria, was the recipient of the Best-Decorated Booth Award.

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