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Finding Our City's Flavor at Taste of the Town

On September 12, I visited the Arthritis Foundation's 29th annual "Taste of the Town." And although The Indy's very own George Yatchisin wrote a really nice piece about it last week, I hardly had an idea what I was getting myself into. However, I am immensely proud to report that we Santa Barbarans live in quite an epicurean city.

First and foremost, I was really pleased to see so many phenomenal local restaurants and wineries come together for a charity event; every penny spent by "Taste of the Town" event goers goes to the Arthritis Foundation. Second, I think I had enough fantastic food and wine to be satisfied consuming only wonder bread and water for two weeks (although, for nutritional purposes, I won't).

And because there were a whopping 80 restaurants and wineries pleasing the crowd, I can really only list my favorits of the ones I managed to get around to.

For wine, I sipped gorgeous pinot noirs at Dragonette, Rancho Sisquoc, and Melville.

Drake Whitcraft poured some memorable chardonnay, Beckman wooed me with grenache, and I swooned over Demetria's Cuvee Papou (a heavenly blend of the white Rhone varietals marsanne, grenache blanc, rousanne, and viognier).

I was reunited with the one of the first syrahs I've ever loved at LaFond, followed by some of my all-time favorite rhone varietals in general at Jaffurs. Meanwhile, Babcock's reserve cabernet sauvignon grabbed my attention.

Though, as much as I had wine on my mind, the food cleansed my palate in a manner more pleasant than I could have hoped for in my most vividly delicious dreams.

Marmalade Cafe served wonton chips topped with ahi tuna tartar mixed with diced avocado and seaweed salad in a sesame-ginger dressing with a drop of sriracha chili sauce.

Spiritland Bistro made raw, vegan foodies happy with pistachio-pine nut paté and citrus-marinated crudités in cucumber cups alongside arugula-wrapped figs with an orange-scented cashew-pine nut paté.

Beside a Burrata con Caponatina-- fresh burrata cheese with Sicilian ratatouille topped with chopped pistachios, Olio e Limone Ristorante handed out a glorious hazelnut custard (Nocciola Panna Cotta) that made me wonder why I didn't stay in Italy when I had the chance.

The Palace Grill got me to love something I never thought I would willingly eat with their crawfish crab cakes, and I delighted in Los Arroyos' pleasantly filling chicken tinga tostaditas with fresh, homemade tortilla chips and guacamole. Thai-style calamari salad thrilled my taste buds thanks to The Ballard Inn.

Via Maestra 42 set up a very popular (and rightly so) gelato and sorbetto bar, Cafe Shell offered fresh strawberries to dip in gooey chocolate ganache, while Renaud's pastel display of strawberry passion fruit pate de fruit (a fancier word for jelly candy) and lemon drops--spruced up by lemon curd with a meringue topping-- made me feel like a kid in a candy shop (please excuse the cliché, I think it's appropriate here).

The crazy thing about all of this is that I didn't even begin to cover the scope of restaurants and wineries that showed up with their very best. Likewise, I failed to mention the fabulous people I had the chance to meet, the many locals I ran into, and the raffles, prizes (somebody won a Vespa!), and good times galore. Or what a beautiful day it was at Riviera Park.

Lucky for us, this event happens yearly and thus should definitely be on every Santa Barbaran's annual agenda. Not only will the food and wine keep you up-to-date on our city's fetching fare, but it's all for a great cause.

For more information about Santa Barbara's chapter of the Arthritis Foundation (www.arthritis.org), call (805) 563-4685.

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