STORY and PHOTOS by BRETT LEIGH DICKS
(This is a reprint from May 8, 2014)
EMPTY BOWL GOURMET NOODLE BAR
Finding the Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar at the new Santa Barbara Public Market is easy — all you need to do is follow the line of patiently waiting customers.
While Santa Barbara doesn’t want for much in terms of cuisine, a good noodle bar has been noticeably absent. As satisfied customers reluctantly depart the noodle bar’s dining counter and the vacated stools are immediately filled by patrons peeling off the line, it is obvious that Empty Bowl has filled the void. The demand has been so great, in fact, that on one occasion, the eatery ran out of noodles!
Co-owner Jerry Lee and his partners, Nui Pannak and Emre Balli, have gathered a collection of authentic noodle bowl recipes from Thailand that they have complemented with a select offering of small plate appetizers from that country and Taiwan. The menu reflects both chef Ms. Pannak and Mr. Lee’s heritages, respectively; working your way through it is like taking your taste buds on an Asian adventure.
The appetizers and salads are the first items that grab your attention. The Lab Lettuce Tacos, a mix of ground chicken, diced red onions, roasted rice powder, dried chili, cilantro, mint and lime juice served over crisp lettuce leaves, has proved a popular starter while the Green Papaya Salad, comprised of shredded green papaya, chilies, cherry tomatoes, green beans and crushed nuts, all enticingly mixed with lime juice and palm sugar, has also caught the attention of diners.
Then there’s the noodle menu — featuring items like the traditional Pad Thai Khao San Road, consisting of stir-fried thin rice noodles, chicken, egg, garlic, chives, bean sprouts and a side of crushed peanuts, and Pan Fried Pancit Noodles, with chicken, exotic mushrooms, Chinese broccoli, carrots and bean sprouts. On the soup menu, the Soy Duck Soup, with round egg noodles, Chinese broccoli, bean sprouts, green onions and fried garlic in a spiced duck broth, has proved beyond addictive.
Ms. Pannak, 41, helms the kitchen. Born and raised in Thailand, she honed her cooking skills at home as a youngster preparing meals with her family. She was introduced to a variety of traditional Thai dishes by her father and sister before moving from Bangkok to Santa Barbara 14 years ago after a friend told her about the area.
Her love of Thai street dishes shines though in items like Khao Soi, a soup-like entree made with a mix of deep-fried crispy egg noodles and wet, flat egg noodles in a curry-base broth that is popular in northern Thailand, and Long Tail Boat Noodles, a beef rice noodle soup that got its name from being served from the long-tail boats in the rivers and canals of Thailand. The open-top row boats are a culinary tradition in Bangkok, where vendors sell “street” food to locals and tourists alike.
All of the dishes are made from scratch at Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar and prepared with fresh, locally sourced produce. The noodles are sourced from a supplier in Los Angeles.
“I wanted to bring some of these popular street food dishes to Santa Barbara,” Ms. Pannak said. “I wanted people to come here and taste the food that people eat from the street vendors in Thailand.”
Guests can also choose from the wine and beer list, which Mr. Balli, who’s from Turkey, oversees.
Born in Taiwan, Mr. Lee immigrated to the United States at the age of 7. He grew up in San Luis Obispo, where his parents owned a Chinese restaurant. The recipe for the Empty Bowl’s Pot Stickers, which consistently receive rave reviews from diners, comes courtesy of Mr. Lee’s mother, Shailing Lee.
After working for nine years at the now-defunct Michel Richard Citronelle, Mr. Lee, 40, joined San Ysidro Ranch in 2006 and worked as wine collection manager, restaurant manager and sommelier. After spending a year as director of restaurants at El Encanto by Orient-Express, he said when a previously confirmed tenant of the Santa Barbara Public Market dropped out last year, he and his partners jumped at the chance to join the fold.
The noodle bar is admittedly a different culinary experience for Mr. Lee, who previously worked in fine dining. The open kitchen is surrounded by countertop dining, where customers watch the organized frenzy of the preparation.
“It’s really fun for us,” Mr. Lee, of Santa Barbara, said. “We can see how much people are enjoying the food. They’re slurping the noodles, drinking every last drop of the broth and leaving their bowls empty. That’s great for us to see and it’s a huge compliment.”
Which raises the obvious question: When something tastes this good, why hasn’t Santa Barbara had a noodle bar until now?
“I have had a place like this in mind for a long time, but there was never the location for it until now,” Mr. Lee said. “The location is very important for a noodle bar, and when we heard about the market, we knew it would be the right place. It’s street food, Santa Barbara style.”
Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; 335-2426 or www.facebook.com/emptybowlsb
RORI’S ARTISANAL CREAMERY
Few things in life can put a smile on a face the way ice cream does. And Rori’s Artisanal Creamery makes sure the smile stretches from ear to ear. Which is why when developer Marge Cafarelli was recruiting tenants for the Santa Barbara Public Market, Rori Trovato was the second call she made.
“What I want to know is who was the first person she called,” Mrs. Trovato, 55, told the News-Press with a laugh. “I loved the idea of having a marketplace with all artisanal vendors where they could showcase their craft. I knew right away it would be something Santa Barbara would fall in love with and immediately wanted to be a part of it.”
Like its counterpart in the Montecito Country Mart, the new ice creamery in the market is a convention of old and new. While the shop has an old-fashioned feel, decked out with repurposed wood and featuring old-school metal chest freezers where server chilled ice cream, the flavors that emerge are anything but conventional.
Among the smile-inducing options are the ever-popular Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter Chocolate Candy Swirl, Fresh Mint Patty, Malted Milk Ball and Root Beer Float.
And what would spring be without a sprig of freshly cut lavender? Mrs. Trovato was quick to note that Honey Lavender is also back in stock.
Rori’s Artisanal Creamery was originally established as a line of take-home organic ice cream, with the all-natural pints being sold in stores such as Gelson’s, Lazy Acres Market, Whole Foods Market and Bristol Farms. At the end of 2012, Mrs. Trovato decided to branch out into retail by opening a store in the Montecito Country Mart. Part of the motivation was the chance to give the company a public face.
“We’re offering people a complete experience,” Mrs. Trovato said. “I have no control over how the ice cream is presented in a supermarket or the experiences people have when they take it home, but I do at our stores. Our product is only half of who we are; the other half is the service we offer.”
That experience is one of the reasons you won’t be seeing servers scooping ice cream from barrels housed in a glass-fronted freezer case. Rori’s keeps its ice cream hidden in retro-looking top-door chest freezers; the idea is to pique customers’ curiosity and let them lead with their taste buds rather than their eyes. It is an approach that instantly wins hearts, young and old.
As Kelly Ratton, 33, of Goleta cast her eyes across the menu, she rattled off flavors to the server who obliged with tastings. Unable to decide which flavor she liked most, she decided a triple scoop was the only solution.
“This is seriously good ice cream,” Ms. Ratton said as she began devouring a combination of John Martin Coconut, Milk Chocolate Chunk and Malted Milk Ball. “But now I’m regretting not getting the Raspberry Chocolate Honey Swirl. You can tell I’m a chocolate person, right?” Mrs. Trovato, of Santa Barbara, is thrilled with the success her retail outlets have generated so far. It has, surprisingly, allowed her to keep the business small.
“To grow the wholesale side of the business any more would require us to go into much larger production,” Mrs. Trovato explained.
“I don’t want to use large machines and find investors to help me pay for them. I love being small and hands-on. I develop all the flavors and make the ice cream. I’m very happy with where we are right now.”
The shop offers 17 flavors, plus four specials.
With the Arlington Theatre just around the corner, the store also carries a handful of movie-friendly treats like bags of Monkey Balls, small scoops of banana ice cream dipped in dark chocolate; Chocolate Raspberry Fudge Globs, an individual scoop of raspberry ice cream dipped in dark chocolate with a chocolate chip on top; and Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla and Chocolate-Dipped Chocolate Fudge Bars.
“People come to the market to walk around and explore,” Mrs. Trovato said. “It’s all passing traffic, and some of the people have just eaten a big meal and might not feel like indulging in a regular ice cream. So we have made these delicious little sweet things that people can eat on the go.”
Sharing their smiles through the entire market, no doubt.
Rori’s Artisanal Creamery: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. toll p.m. Friday through Sunday; 845-2223 or www.rorisartisanalcreamery.com
JUICEWELL FRESH PRESSED REMEDIES
There are few places like a marketplace early in the morning. As vendors pack their display cases and shelves with fresh offerings, the market quietly awakens before springing to life.
It is a ritual that the staff of JuiceWell Fresh Pressed Remedies observes on a daily basis. As other vendors are readying their stores for the day’s trading, the JuiceWell employees have already been doing a brisk business with their pressed juices, smoothies and nut milks, helping Santa Barbarans put a spring into their early-morning step.
“Which is what fresh juice is meant to do for you,” said Sharon Egan, 55, one of JuiceWell’s two c;o-owners. “I got into juice when I was caring for my dad, who was dying. He had lost his appetite and was losing weight like crazy. What did give him energy, though, was juice and smoothies.
“I would pack the smoothies with a ton of calories and give him juice for nutrition. When I gave him the juices, he would go from not wanting to get out of bed to wanting to get up and do a hundred steps. It was fantastic.”
It was four years ago that Ms. Egan started concocting juice and smoothie remedies for her ailing father. Two years ago, the Santa Barbara resident decided to start a company to share the benefits of freshly pressed juices and smoothies with the entire community.
“I wanted to call the company JuiceWell, but the (domain name) was already taken,” Ms. Egan said. “But in my research, I came across a company called JuiceWellNYC. I had seen a number of juicing sites, but I was really drawn to that one and the woman behind it. It had a very non-dogmatic approach to it, which I liked very much.”
Ms. Egan telephoned the owner, New York City-based Manya Williams, to seek advice about starting a fresh juice business; Ms. Williams was selling her products to clients directly. One thing led to another and Ms. Egan was soon on a flight to New York City.
While sitting on a bench at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, the two started talking about a partnership.
At the end of 2012, Ms. Williams brought her recipes to Santa Barbara and the pair started to work on a juicing facility in Carpinteria, which went into operation last
September. Having opened retail outlets together in New York City, New Jersey and Carpinteria, the new Santa Barbara location is the company’s fourth store.
The juices come in four categories: detox, energy, defense and balance. The detox line includes Soothe, which contains pineapple, kale, apple and parsley, while Green Clean is packed with cucumber, celery, kale, parsley, chard, dandelion, ginger and lemon. At the other end of the spectrum, Sweet Tart, with grapefruit, apple, lemon, ginger, cinnamon and maca, offers balance.
The menu also contains smoothies like Blissful Blueberry, with coconut water, coconut meat, blueberries and vanilla, and Caramel, which contains coconut water, coconut meat, apricot and vanilla. There are also Cashew Hemp, Almond, Cold-Brew Coffee Latte nut milks; Pineapple, Mint, Vanilla, and Ginger Coconut Waters; and
various shots, including both ginger and wheatgrass. Because none of the juices are pasteurized, all of the pressing for the store is done in a sterile environment at the Carpinteria plant, although Ms. Egan said she will soon be establishing a smaller pressing operation in the market’s on-site commercial kitchen, where visitors can observe the process.
The majority of the organic produce used in JuiceWell’s products is sourced locally ? the pulp is even recycled.
“About 90 percent of our produce comes from local farms,” Ms. Egan said. “And even the organic pulp stays here.
(Reprint from May 8, 2014)
We give it to locals who have chickens and the excess goes into the composting program at E.J. Harrison & Sons (refuse service) in Ventura.”
With the majority of ingredients in each juice having been grown in the fields only a few days prior to being pressed and bottled, Ms. Egan feels that the JuiceWell range has something to offer for everyone.
“I came across a quote the other day that perfectly sums up our philosophy,” she said. “Medicine is sick care, food is health care. I just want to see people stay vibrant until the end of their life. You don’t have to be sick and go into the penalty box.”