By Carl J. Kanowsky Signal Contributor
So, I‘m interested in your opinion. For too long, Santa Clarita, the third largest city in Los Angeles County (it’s bigger than Santa Monica, Pasadena or Beverly Hills) has been the bastion (outside of a few notable exceptions like Salt Creek Grille) of chain restaurants: Olive Garden, Black Angus, Mimi’s, Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, just to name a few.
A few brave souls have ventured into challenging our comfortable reliance on large national or regional brands.
Josiah Citrin, the two-star Michelin chef/owner of Melisse, dared tempt us with a more informal version of his acclaimed Santa Monica establishment, calling the SCV version Café Melisse. It barely survived two years here (it may not even have been that long).
Juan Alonso, beloved proprietor of Le Chene, couldn’t make a go of it with City Club.
Those of us with more than 20 years in this valley remember Hi Chic, the fast food restaurant on San Fernando Road whose burgers were at least as good as In-N-Out (blasphemy, I know).
The only reminder of them is the sometimes deadly Hi Chic Curve on what is now Railroad Avenue.
My query to you: Do you think Santa Clarita has matured enough where it can support a restaurant willing to experiment, to risk offering cuisine that you won’t find at BJ’s? With a menu featuring pig cheek or sprouted rye bread served with yeasted butter?
Well, I am pleased to tell you that, surprisingly, Newhall Refinery did just that on Sept. 6.
I say surprisingly because when I think of a beer pub restaurant, I don’t envision fine dining. More burgers, fries, and things with a lot of cheese or garlic.
But Simon Mee, the Refinery’s owner, has a broader vision – I guess that’s why he runs successful eating establishments (Egg Plantation in addition to the Refinery) and I don’t.
Terry and I had a great time at the California edition of his Wine Around the World Dinner Series. A six-course (yes, six) meal, featuring homemade bread, farm-to-table salad and other delightful treats. Accompanying this repast at each stage were wines that Guy Lelarge, Newhall Refinery’s resident wine expert, selected to marry with the food.
Two of our favorite courses were the Market Salad and “L.A.”
You know you’ve got something special when a farmer offers some vegetables just for your event.
Executive Chef Dustin Boole must have a great relationship with Gutierrez Farms because they grew the outstanding tomatoes used in the salad just for that night.
Topped with a dehydrated vinaigrette and what Dustin termed “soil” (a concoction of basil seeds and basil oils), this was amazing.
“L.A.” was actually wagyu short ribs and tendon in a mole sauce.
While the sauce was not particularly strong, the meat was outstanding. Cut like butter with a delectable texture, this is what you expect in a cutting edge, expensive meal. Poured with the beef was the 2015 Sinegal cabernet sauvignon. What a great pairing!
Heavy berry flavors with notes of chocolate, the Cab did what great wines do – it enhanced the food while allowing the food to add dimensions to the wine.
Of special note was the dessert, created by pastry chef Iris Sifuentes.
Entitled “Oxnard Fields,” this dream of a dessert was a strawberry cake with strawberry sorbet inside.
My issue with cakes is that too often the icing overwhelms the batter. But not here.
Excellent and strong strawberry notes, just the right touch of sweetness, with a complex sorbet made with the right touch of tartness.
The place was packed, so maybe Santa Clarita is ready for something more than simply chain fare.
Good luck to Simon, Guy, Dustin, and Iris on their adventure in challenging SCV’s collective tastebuds.
By the way, be sure to get tickets to Sunset In The Vineyard, the fun benefit for the Assistance League. It’s 1-4 p.,m. Sunday. Get tickets online at https://assistanceleaguesantaclarita.org/sunset-in-the-vineyard/. Hope to see you there.