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The Hitching Post 2 in Buellton (near Solvang) California

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Solvang is a little bit of Danish kitsch located in the Santa Ynez Valley which itself is near the southern end of California's Central Coast Appellation wine country. If you're driving the west coast, Solvang is worth a stop on its own merits and this restaurant makes the argument for stopping there all the stronger.

I should say that I spent a few of my very early years around there; Lompoc actually, where my dad was stationed at the Army DB as a prison psychiatrist during the Korean war. Yes, our family left and moved to Los Angeles but we returned many times over the years and eventually made the Alisal -- a dude ranch in Solvang -- our place for annual family reunions every Fourth of July week for decades.

Over the years, I came back on my own many times both as tourist (hey, I like it!), and also for a few equestrian events during my college years. So, I'm no stranger.

Going back to the Korean war years, my mom and dad loved the original incarnation of the Hitching Post, located not too far away from Buellton (home of the Hitching Post 2), in Casmalia; a place so famous that no one on CT other than me probably has the foggiest idea concerning. Let it be said, that there's not much difference between the original Hitching Post, the Hitching Post 1 (also in Casmalia), and the Hitching Post 2 in Buellton.

Now that we're talking about Buellton and Casmalia, you may wonder why I mentioned Solvang. You'll just have to trust me that there's a lot more in Solvang than Buellton and Casmalia by a long shot, and it's probably where you'll spend the night unless you opt for the flesh pots of Ballard or Los Olivos.

For what it's worth the HP2 was featured in Sidewise, the film by Alexander Payne; and what you saw in the film is pretty much what you get now, what you got in 1986, and what you got at the original Hitching Post when it opened in 1952. Perhaps the biggest difference is the way the modern Hitching Post reflects the way the business of the valley has gone from beef to wine.

It's not fair to say that the HP2 is all about beef; but it is all about California Beef Barbecue -- that is to say darn near everything is cooked over an open pit with a live, red oak fire at the magic mix of temperature, direct and indirect heat that makes California Barbecue its own special, wonderful thing.

I'm not sure that I'm an expert when it comes to California Barbecue, but I'm not sure that I'm not. Close call. Let's leave at this: It's something I do fairly often, do well, and its inherent simplicity and heavily reliance on using the right equipment, good ingredients and not screwing the ingredients up with over complication, carelessness or inattention to detail has a lot to do with forming my overall culinary viewpoint.

Again, it's not fair to say that the HP2 is really a steak house (but not fair to say that it isn't) because it's such a throwback to an earlier time. On the other hand, it's fair to say that it's a fifties' steak house pretty much with some menu updates and a very well constructed and sensitive wine list. It should also be mentioned that the HP bottles its own wines.

The beef is mid-western, corn-fed, aged and Prime.Dress is casual, and the clientele is a good mix of locals and tourists -- emphasis on locals. Prices are fair for the type of food and the wine country locale. Good value, but not cheap.

Linda and I ate there twice in the last three months. This review will fall very flat if I keep describing each dish as excellent, so just figure everything was excellent unless I say otherwise, which ain't happenin'.

On our both visits we shared two starters, the grilled artichoke and the mushrooms. On the first visit, Linda didn't have an alcoholic cocktail; but I had a couple of very good martinis and they were served exactly as specified. Linda had the filet mignon, I had the (huge) beef rib chop. We had the 2005 Cork Dancer Pinot Noir with our meat.

The artichoke is trimmed so that the points are removed but most of the tender leaves are left on the heart, the heart is de-choked, and the globe is barely cooked in water heavily seasoned with garlic, then finished on the grill with garlic scented oil and the house dry rub, "magic dust." It's served with a chipotle mayonnaise.

The mushrooms are left whole, cooked on the oak grill with magic dust, and finished in a red wine reduction. A couple of surprises compared to ordinary "steak house mushrooms. The first is far less garlic than you'd ordinarily expect, and the second is the wine itself. I'm not sure what they use, and forgot to ask both times, but whatever it is, it's fruity as all get out.

In addition the special "starters," complete meals come with the usual app suspects such as soup, salad, bay shrimp cocktail, etc., all of which are well prepared but none worthy of loving description here. You won't be disappointed but you won't interrupt your meal to email your BFF either.

The steak, on the other hand... well, this is what's "Santa Maria Barbecue" is all about. If you want instructions we can talk. In the meantime... tastes exactly like well-seasoned, excellent beef, cooked over oak should taste like. It's served without sauce, but with a salsa cruda very typical of the area and which most of you would think of a finely chopped "pico de gallo." Linda had her filet rare, I had my rib chop medium rare (because I think rare rib is a little greasy). Both were perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned and in all respects sublime.

On our second trip, Linda did have a cocktail, a Pina Colada which was made with some interesting bartending but not exceptional. I had whiskey. Linda didn't drink wine with dinner, I had a pretty good Syrah, the 2005 Big Circle.

Linda had the single, pork, bone-in rib chop while I had the large (15 oz) top sirloin. Pork chops were meant to be cooked over oak. Top Sirloin is the quintessential California Barbecue cut, even more so than tri-tip although you'd hardly believe it considering the run tri-tip gets these days.

Meanwhile, back at the subject... Linda's pork chop was medium/medium-well, cooked just the way she likes, not "crunchy" in any way -- she didn't specify doneness, apparently that's just the way they come. I ordered my sirloin rare and it game perfectly, gloriously, not quite mooing rare. While not as tender as a filet, a New York or a rib-eye, the true taste of beef exploded with every chew. What was that word? Ah, yes. Sublime. And yes, I used the salsa.

The desserts are steak house typical -- cheesecake with fruit puree, brulee, and so on. Very good, but no run to text your other bff. Frankly, if you've got room for dessert you did something wrong.

We took ours "to go" and had them the next morning with coffee in the jacuzzi.

Jealous yet?

The Hitching Post is not inexpensive but not as expensive as a "brand name," top flight urban steak place either. Dinner for two including appetizers, premium call cocktails, first class wine, dessert and tip will fall well south of the $200 plus you'd spend at Morton's or even at a Ruth's Chris. Each of our evenings at the HP2 was around $160 inclusive.

I love the Hitching Post. To my mind, it's on the very short list of America's great steak houses. If and when you ever get to the area, I hope you try and love it too.

BDL
Edited by boar_d_laze - 5/15/12 at 10:09pm
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post #2 of 7

Thanks for the write-up, if we ever get to that area, I'll be sure to drop in there with my partner.

Quote:
The steak, on the other hand... well, this is what's "Santa Maria Barbecue" is all about. If you want instructions we can talk.

 

Go!

 

I do a lot of cooking over Oak, we have the woods full of it actually on our property.  I did a pig roast like that, 75 lbs dressed, butterflied, overnight in Cuban Mojo and then racked (made it out of rebar).  I dug a pit and used rocks to complete the structure.  I got the fire going with charcoal (then collected into the 4 corners indirect method) and then fed it Oak chunks for the cooking period.  It was excellent. 

post #3 of 7

ooh, i smell a field trip...ok,.everyone in the bus!

joey

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 
From a technical and equipment standpoint, whether you call it California Barbecue or "Santa Maria Barbecue" (drives me nuts), it's open pit, over oak and of a fairly particular sort.

It's a combination of things which make this style of barbecue so special. Simple rubs dominated by salt, pepper and garlic, and not applied too soon. Little to no marinating. Appropriate cuts -- especially when we're talking beef. NO well done. Live oak fire (fire, mind you; not just coals). Maintaining the appropriate temperature and the appropriate balance between radiant and convection by varying the distance between the fire and food grates.

If you're a good grill cook -- which is mostly a matter of fire management and paying attention, you can fool around with the formula a little and still get great results. For instance you can do a great tri-tip over mesquite charcoal in a Weber kettle by judiciously fooling around with direct searing and a covered, indirect cook, but if it's not oak and not open pit, it's not going to be quite the same. I should know, I am a good grill man and have tried and tried for decades with all sorts of excellent covered grills including a Weber Kettle, a CB 940X, and a Bar-B-Chef Texas, not to mention all kinds of charcoal, and could only approach what I wanted; not to say the results weren't excellent. But when I bought the "Santa Maria" style Klose and started cooking entirely open-face over oak sticks I hit my goal on the first cook, and it just keeps getting better.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying other grilling/barbecue methods aren't wonderful or even as wonderful. Just that those other methods are to one degree or another sufficiently different as to be... well... different.

The California Barbecue method is certainly open to lots of possibilities other than beef. But whether you're cooking beef, pork, lamb, fish or fowl, you're always looking for things that will do best over a medium-hot fire with a grill temp of around 350-400F. While I think of this as barbecue as much as grilling, it's certainly not "low and slow," nor a blindingly hot sear. For that matter, neither is low and slow -- no matter how good the results -- the sort of "California" or "Santa Maria style" barbecue," that's been prevalent in the valleys for so long. When I want to do low and slow, I use my dedicated smoker. If I want a super-hot sear, I lower the cooking grate on the Klose and go with either almond wood or mesquite charcoal for the heat.

I've talked about my prep techniques in other posts, and for the record, I'm not as pure as the HP. For instance I marinate meat (but not fish) while I temp it in a few drops of an appropriate wine and Worcestershire. My rubs are very slightly more complex and meat specific than their one size fits all "magic dust." Also, the HP seasons only after the meat is on the fire, but I rub the seasoning in a couple of minutes before cooking.

BDL
Edited by boar_d_laze - 5/18/12 at 10:23am
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post #5 of 7

Dang sounds like I'd be right at home.  People often thought I was nuts for going through the "trouble" of making oak staves and creating a grill space out of rocks and a rack with a fire going underneath.  I probably am normally running a little hotter when I open grill like that and don't typically rub at all, just salt.  Good information to know, and I know exactly what you mean by "just different". 

post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 
Zoe (or are you Bisch?),

wink.gif

BDL
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post #7 of 7

Both together :D

 

(surname actually)

 

Kind of funny we were at a bonfire this weekend, beautiful spot on a hilltop with a 360 view of the Alleghenies.  Started with a fire ring with a big grate grill, oak logs rolling.  Wicked hot though, waaay hotter than I would ever make to cook on.  Of course I gravitated there and wiggled my way into running the grill.  Something about seeing somebody keep flipping a chop over and over just bothers my soul. Beautiful evening though, stars came out and we had tons of food.

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