There is a big part of Santa Barbara that is all about family style, and it was good for me. I went up there last weekend to visit some old family friends that I had not seen in far too long. At dinner both restaurants we went to recommended that we order a variety of items and share everything. But family style both gastronomic and otherwise has never been my greatest strength. Although, for a lot of reasons that is starting to change. In regard to the actual food on my plate, I have always been a little like Joseph Francis Tribbiani Jr. Not because I can’t stand for anyone to touch my food, but if I get lucky and order the best thing on the menu I had a hard time sharing.
I spent the week prior to the trip researching Santa Barbara restaurants, and decided to have the pork belly at The Lark. It was the one menu item at the all restaurants in the area that really stood out: 1) first they cured the pork with a recipe that included chili flake and clove: 2) then they smoked it with apple wood: 3) and for the confit they used duck fat: 4) after that a light-fry with some other fancy ingredients I forgot to write down; 5) then they rolled it in a blackberry sauce, sprinkled on almond brittle, pickled jimmy nardello chile, and chicharron. Either this thing was going to be a mess or one of the best things you’ve ever tasted.
Of course it turned out to be the best thing on the menu, making it a meal potentially difficult to share. But this time was different. Coming into the dinner already somewhat more open to experience life uninhibited for various reasons, when someone suggested the octopus I got on board. We had the pineapple & habanero glazed Spanish octopus with zucchini, fingerling potato, coriander-lime yogurt, pickled carrot, mezcal. Generally not something I would have order for myself. But you have to be reasonable when going family style. Because when you are part of a family that’s what you do. And the second best part was that the octopus was outstanding. When it came time for the pork, I no longer felt like I had to eat the whole thing by myself. I could have, but I wanted to share.