GOOD FOOD EVERYWHERE: Excellent eats are to be found everywhere around the state of California, with "everywhere" being defined here as anywhere with a few restaurants, maybe a winery or two, and a visionary chef, or at leas a chef with a lot of pluck, who resides in the area. But finding regions that have distinctive vittles vibes within the Golden State is another matter. While many places do boast excellent eats, fewer offer the header of "distinctive excellent eats." You might look to Bakersfield and up into Gold Country for an array of Basque dishes or some of the oyster-centered entrees of the coast north of San Francisco. And, of course, there is the Santa Ynez Valley, which rocks not just one, not just two, but three local cuisines that pop up, here and there throughout the area, in very memorable, tasty ways.
THEY INCLUDE... what might be called cowboy cuisine -- look to some of the ranches in the area for your roasty meat flavors -- as well as Scandinavian eats -- mmm, butter-moist pastries -- and, of course, wine and beer and anything to do with wine and beer. (This is one of the state's most robust grape-growing stretches, yep, and beer-making is on the rise, too, yep.) Thus when a Restaurant Week happens, as it will again for the Santa Ynez region from Sunday, Jan. 25 through Saturday, Jan. 31, the choices confound. Do you go with excellent eats in general, the kind that might be found in a lot of places, or do you zone in on one of the specific genres of chowing down, SYV-style?
IT'S UP TO YOU... of course. (You'd be pretty sore if it wasn't). But researching the roster of discount- and deal-offering restaurants is a must before road-tripping. Check out the offerings of Solvang's Hadsten House, the wine-nice enjoyments of the famous Hitching Post II, and the Firestone Brewing Company. In fact, do you want to road-trip in your mind, for your taste buds' sake, right now? Turn your car -- er, fingers -- this way, daydreamer.