Monday, March 23, 2009

Road Trip: Santa Barbara Shell Fish Co. (Santa Barbara, CA)

After an exhausting couple of days barrel tastings in Santa Maria/Lompac (read below about the visits) with my buddy Frank we decided on our way back to Los Angeles to grab a bite to eat in Santa Barbara.
  • Larry Schaffer at Tercero Wines: excellent Rhone varietals, the 07's are going to be killer.. big and structured with great acidity and mouth gripping tannins.. lay em down for years.. drink now.. whatever you want. His whites are filled with piercing acidity with bright stone fruit and citrus. Only his 2nd release coming up and it's killer juice. The nose on the syrah's are KILLER. His 06 Cuvee Christies is still one of my favorite $30 wines in CA.
  • Dave Corey @ Core Wines:volumptious, sexy wines with copious amounts of fruit. Dave is making and blending stuff no one else is doing in CA. He's got a bunch of value priced wines, but all across the board from his cheapest to most expensive they are racy and exciting to drink.
  • Barry Rossum @ Tantara Wines : the variety of pinots and syrah is staggering, if you like them big and bold with pepper, ripe juicy red fruit this will be your type of place.
  • Colin Murphy @ Foley Estate wines :Colin and Kris Curran (of Seasmoke fame) make up the new winemaking team of the 07/08 Pinots/chards at Foley. The 08's are incredible, they shine right through the barrel and it's only been 4 months since barreled. You have racy reds to beautiful earthy pinots with incredibly acidity, forest floor, bright cherries.
  • Ryan @ Arcadian Winery : Ryan's the Assistant winemaker there with Joe Davis and they make "throw back" pinots. Pinots you don't find too often in CA these days with the boom of higher alcohol % and bigger more powerfully flavored wines. What you have here is amazing length and acidity with the potential to age wonderfully. Their 05 Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay is without a doubt one of my favorite white wines in CA.
After a quick stop at Jaffur's wines we went to the local favorite Santa Barbara Shell Fish Co at the end of the historic Stearns Wharf for some fresh seafood. The restaurant has been located at the end of the pier for over 25 years and offers a variety of seafood options. Located on the front of the restaurant is a chalk board sign with whatever is the fresh speciality of the day.

You can do "take out" at the restaurant at a side window and have a bottle of wine (no corkage if you sit outside!) with whatever seafood tickles your fancy. They have your standard seafood pastas, crab cake, and fish stews but absolutely LOADED with seafood. The man next to us ordered the Cioppino and it was STUFFED to the gills with clams, mussels, crab legs, and shrimp. There were crab legs poking out of the bread bowl and the broth was steaming hot.. man I was gonna attack the man and eat his stew.

The best part of the meal is pretty much everything is made in the center of the restaurant (except for the stews and crab cakes). They are making pasta at the center stove, steaming your crustaceans on the side, frying up their crack sprinkled onions rings, and scooping up some ambrosia clam chowda while watch. There are no "tables" inside the restaurant, it's all essentially one big bar area. We sat front and center (apparently no one eats at 6:30 on a sunday in Santa Barbara) at the bar and watched and people streamed non stop. When we first got there there was one family there, but the time we left... all the stools were taken (about 20), 6-7 tables of 4 were taken outside and there was a line outside the door for seats.

To start our meal off, my boy Frank and I ordered a lb of local shrimp steamed in beer.

Now I know you're looking at these shrimp and you're thinking to yourself "what's so special about these lil size disadvantaged crustaceans?" I know, they are small. But I want you to take a look at the shell, you see how it's not the standard clear/orange color we see at most restaurants? This is because THIS IS NOT YOUR AVERAGE MEDIUM SIZED SHRIMP.

This is the greatest shrimp (for the size) that I have ever, ever, ever ,ever, ever, ever, ever had. If you're chinese you probably know those fresh water prawns the family always gets at Chinese seafood restaurants? Imagine those but smaller, so you get a very concentrated intense meaty flavor. The body of the shrimp is thick and meaty with no rubbery characteristics that you'd find on lesser shrimp. I don't even know what that sauce was for on the side, the meat was sweet and had a hint of dark ale on the finish... it didn't need a sauce. Freaking remarkable. I am actually getting visibly worked up right now thinking about it.

The best indication of it's freshness was how easily the meat popped out of the shell. The meat was barely attached to its shell, we bit off the head, pushed the tail and POP came the meat. (If you've had frozen shrimp you know how much of a hassle it is to peel shrimp. You might as well pay someone to do it for you cause it's not worth the whole one minute it takes you to peel ONE freaking shrimp.)

The great part of this place is that they just have TANKS AND TANKS of live crabs and lobster lining the restaurant. You tell them which type of crab you want, the size and they'll bring it out and show it to you. We decided to get a 7lb Spider Crab from the Ocean of Darkness located on the Planet Neubla in a galaxy far far away.

Seriously, is that not the ugliest looking thing in the world? (not the waiter, he was a nice guy... their service is quite spectacular here, always cleaning out your shell bowls, refilling your drinks, I give the service a very hearty A.) That thing looks like it's going to jump at me, latch on my face, and impregnate me with it's alien embryo. Then as I'm driving back to LA it'll burst out of my stomach, eat Frank for food, and most likely take over the world with its spawns unless a strong willed woman, all alone with nothing but her wits, some high tech guns, and a giant moving robot, save the Earth.

They told me to touch it, but I suggested the 4 year old boy behind me gawking at the crab do it instead. Try to impregnate me with your alien embryo... I THINK NOT.

I think they knew that no normal person could each that monstrosity alone so they tossed in two bowls of soup (great clam chowder, nice chunks of clam with a lofting smell of freshly fried bacon), two Caesar salads (yuck I hate these salads), and some onion rings (which are the 2nd best onion rings I've ever had. Flash fried for about 2 minutes, cut extra extra thin, just dip these puppies in the soup and you're golden like tolden).

After your crab is sacrificed into the boiling vat of water (DIE ALIEN SCUM!) the man behind the counter works his magic. Years of intense training from the greatest knife wielding ninjas in the far east on the highest peaks of the Himalayas result in precision chopping filled with speed and finesse.

I watched them clean the crab and a single tear dropped from my eye as I saw him throw away the brain. (Can you imagine the brain on this crab? It's gotta be HUGE! Like a piece of Foie!) After a few minutes of chopping and dicing they dropped two plates in front of us.

First the monster's head. Underneath the shell was it's very very succulent middle carapace.

The meat below it's shell was delicate, tender, and sweet with a hint of ocean water. The biggest problem with this crab was how hard the shell was. We really had to work to get the meat out. Luckily, the cook didn't clean out ALL the brain and we were treated to the rich soft sweetness of crab innards. *drool*. No seriously, it's sweet, creamy, and rich.. like Foie. But everyone just throws it away. Geez.

Next up, the legs

The flavor of the legs vary as you get closer to the claw. Actually, it just gets rougher. Since the legs of the crab are thin it dries out quicker than the rest of the body. So some of the pieces are chalky and dry, nothing you really write home about. Probably the only time I actually used the sauce provided. The non-dry pieces were lines of thick meat, meatier and not as tender and sweet as the body of the crab.

The meat was nigh impossible to get to. I thought the body was hard enough, the thickness of the leg shell was a good 1-2cms.

It's absolutely ridiculous how thick the shell is on the legs. These crabs could take mortar fire and still be crawling around. In fact they'd give you a big "F U" with their claws.

Speaking of claws... the claws were.. interesting to say the least. The meat in the claw isn't chunky like the other parts, it's very small and granulated. The first thing that came to my mind was tapioca balls (small ones). The meat just kind of falls apart into little pieces when you bite into it. The flavor of the sea is strong in this one. It's salty and oddly textured.

Maybe you can ask for one of these crabs with none of it's legs/claws ... find a scraper that's on his last leg (hehe) and just eat it's delicious body.

I really enjoyed this place. This is the 2nd time I've come here and I've been impressed both times. I've always gotten the crab just cause it's the freshest thing they've had and it has never dissappointed for the price. ($8.95 a lb for the spider crab! BAM I just dropped that on you).

My one suggestion tho, is to drive onto the wharf and park near the restaurant. It looks like you have to pay but they validate. I've made that mistake twice... I parked once in a PAY parking lot and another time at the other end of the street. Both times I cursed myself.

And I'm out! Todes Magodes!

Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
230 Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara, CA 93101


Barefoot Plumies said...

Hoo boy, the food looks awesome! The only time I've been to SB, we ate at the Enterprise Fish Co., and the live Maine lobster was delicious (and rather cheap at $24.95 at the time). I'm adding this place to my list since we're suppose to go back this Fall for a short road trip.

Charlie Fu said...

BP: The food is very fresh, I really enjoy how quickly it goes from the pot to your plate then to your mouth. =)

You should also check out SquareOne if you're going to do some fine dining, their food is very well done... creative!

Matt Mason said...

Hey -
While you are in town please be sure to check out the local news, weather and cheapest gas at the Santa Barbara Local News website:

Go there and you will find information on activities, family, schools and even religion.

Check it out! And don't forget to sign up for the newsletter!

Matt Mason

Melissa Good Taste said...


Clint Moore said...

It's a fun experience to eat at those place, since they serve their food on the cheap without even sacrificing quality and flavor. Once every few months, I and my friends go through Burlington and the surrounding areas to find a good place to eat, and usually, it was done after getting my car out of the repair shop. One time, we got ourselves a huge servings of poutine that is totally delicious with beer!

Anonymous said...

people generally dont eat crab innards cause crabs are bottom feeders and eat absolute trash. so the guts are half digested trash. but yummy.