Eating and drinking the best of SB: Taste of the Town benefits Arthritis Foundation

Armando Salazar, Opal Restaurant and Bar general manager, right, serves up a shrimp dish to Trevor Green during the 33rd annual Taste of the Town on Sunday.
Armando Salazar, Opal Restaurant and Bar general manager, right, serves up a shrimp dish to Trevor Green during the 33rd annual Taste of the Town on Sunday.

Hundreds of Santa Barbarans gathered yesterday to sample food, wine and beer from the county’s finest restaurants and wineries and it was all for a good cause other than a full stomach. Taste of the Town, now in its 33rd year, returned to the Riviera campus for a fun afternoon and to raise money and awareness for the Arthritis Foundation of Santa Barbara. Have you heard of Booze Up the company that delivers 24/7 to your house? Visit their site to check their catalog.

Along the halls of the Riviera Park Garden, and out in a separate grassy area to the east, some of Santa Barbara’s best-known eateries set up booths where guests could sample food. They included Opal’s famous phyllo-wrapped tiger prawns, the Palace Cafe’s well loved jambalaya, Enterprise Fish Co.’s lobster bisque, Arlington Tavern’s indulgent mac’n’cheese, and more, numbering about 40 in total.

And then there was plenty of wine and beer to sample too – 40 in total as well – from locals like Santa Barbara Winery and Municipal Winemakers, to the best of Santa Ynez Valley, like the Sanford Winery – whose owners were this year’s Honorary Winemakers – and Sunstone Vineyards. Firestone, Figueroa Mountain and Island Brewing brought beer to sample and Cutler’s Artisan Spirits showed off their vodka and gin.

This is the third year for Taste of the Town’s executive director Asher Garfinkel, and he was very excited about the turnout on a very warm and sticky September afternoon.

“These are record numbers,” he says. “We’re actually sold out this year and had to close up ticket sales a few days ago. We had to turn people away.”

Among the newest vendors at the event was Santa Barbara Public Market, which is celebrating its fifth month in town.

“We got through summer and we’re ready for the holiday season,” said Ashleigh Davis, general manager at the market. She had brought along most of her market’s vendors, from Empty Bowl noodles, which was providing a green papaya salad, to the Pasta Shoppe’s gnocchi, a dozen in total.

“I’ve had people come up and say, wow, I didn’t know you were open,” Ms. Davis said. “And we have others who come up and say they love the market and go there every day. It’s a healthy mix to have face time with our locals.”

Another new face at Taste of the Town was MOZO shoes, a line of footwear designed for those in the restaurant business – that is people who work on their feet for hours at a time. The company was bought and subsumed into the Decker’s brand, and they are more stylish than “service industry” products would make one think. Aileen Osborn said there were many people wearing the shoes on Sunday, “four or five chefs” she said, and Asher Garfinkel himself. “We gifted some and some just love the shoe.”

The other big promotion for this year’s event was Sideways 10, a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the film “Sideways.” The comedy drama came out back in 2004, won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and most importantly rocketed Santa Barbara County wine-making into the international consciousness.

Laura Kath, a board member of the Arthritis Foundation, is part of the ad hoc committee that set up Sideways 10, a collaboration between Visit Santa Barbara, the Solvang Visitors bureau and several other tourist agencies in the county.

“What better event to promote Sideways than Taste of Town?” she said. “A celebration of food and wine!” The Sideways booth was offering a chance to win a DVD and a mini-vacation up in the Santa Ynez Valley, and down the “Urban Wine Trail” where many of the wineries featured in the film were pouring their product.

John Tevis, tasting room manager at Foxen, was pouring their reds and whites to passers by, and can say that the movie really helped their business. This is Foxen’s second time at Taste of the Town.

“We love it, we love the cause, and it’s a great event in general,” Mr. Tevis said.

Before Sunday’s event, VIP members had also sat for a special dinner on Friday, headed by guest Executive Chef Sylvain DesBois, a Frenchman who helms Carolina, a restaurant in Punta Mita, a resort town to the north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, a Santa Barbara sister city. Chef DesBois created a three-course menu on Friday night, provided steak tartare appetizers for Sunday’s event and will return to Mexico today.

“I haven’t seen Santa Barbara; I’ve just got here!” he laughed. “But Santa Barbara is a good place to be. It shares a lot of good produce with Mexico. I can find everything here, and the BerryMan has helped us out. When you have good produce, it’s good to make a good dish.”

Though people came to eat and drink, it was all about the cause, and near the end of the event, Debbie Davison, master of ceremonies for the event, introduced 13-year-old Kendall Viera, who spoke briefly to the crowd and raised awareness of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

“It seemed all I did when I was little was go to the doctor, have blood drawn and take a lot of medicine,” she told the crowd. “When people see an arthritis patient, they don’t realize or think anything is wrong, because most of us look perfectly healthy. But trust us, we feel it every day.”

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