THE WHITE KNIGHT, WHITE TEA AND THE ‘WHITE ALBUM’

Remember the Beatles’ “White Album” and a song by George Harrison entitled “Savoy Truffle?” The lyrics were written by Harrison, who usurped words off a box of chocolates to make fun of band member Paul McCartney’s simplistic style of song writing:

Cool cherry cream and a nice apple tart

I feel your taste all the time we’re apart

Coconut fudge-really blows down those blues

But you’ll have to have them all pulled out

After the savoy truffle

Beatles fan and restaurateur Paul Shields not only named his new restaurant (formerly Azuma) after the song, but he also proudly displays a limited edition of the album on his wall.

Shields grew up in Goleta and attended Dos Pueblo High, where he first caught site of his wife, Kathy (they would later meet and fall in love in Hawaii). During these years, he worked in various restaurants gaining experience and desire that, eventually, lead him to opening his own place. Shields spent nine years in Hawaii working his way to chef status at the Marriott and, finally, as executive chef at the Kaanapali Hotel.

When he returned to the mainland, the Ojai Valley Inn offered him a job as executive sous chef. Not quite settled, he and Kathy moved to Oregon where he became executive chef at the Sunriver Lodge and Resort (15 miles south of Bend). A year later, he was offered a job as sous chef under Gerard Thompson at San Ysidro Ranch (Thompson, for those fans, lives in Glen Rose, Texas where he’s the executive chef at the Rough Creek Lodge). If you hadn’t figured it out yet, chefs get antsy and seem to change kitchens quite often.

It was Lazy Acres that hooked him with a position as director of prepared food and a promise of creative freedom that piqued his interest for the next 10 years. “How did you last that long?” I asked incredulously.

Shields chuckled, “with patience and listening.”

In 2004, Shields quit intent on finding his own establishment. It took a year before Savoy Truffles opened. “Can you believe I was unemployed for twelve months?” he says (a little risky for a family of six). Shields explains that it took six months to find the right spot and another six months to remodel.

The finished product is an unpretentious and inviting combination of fountain, wooden tables and chairs and stained concrete floor in earthen colors that creates a European atmosphere.

Shields says he wants Savoy Truffles to be “a great place for people to get excited about food.”

His concept spins off the deli and salad bar at Lazy Acres. “The system worked so well,” he explains, “I thought I’d bring it downtown.” As one enters the front door, there’s an enormous salad bar on your left where the array of vegetables – roasted eggplant, asparagus, hearts of palm and bulgur – meat (top round), salmon and soups activate the salivary glands.

Pick and choose; no one is around to tell you how much to put on your plate and in what combinations (salad bar is $9 per pound). As you move toward the back of the restaurant, two large deli cases (one hot, one cold) are filled with elegantly displayed platters of seared salmon, grilled tri tip, stuffed chicken breast, mashed potatoes, oven-roasted vegetables and pasilla chili turkey fritters. A two-combination plate is $8.95; a three is $9.95.

Careful with what you select, because there’s still the cold case full of wonder salads such as green bean with pesto, curried chicken, strawberry spinach with walnuts, fresh Greek with Bulgarian feta, tuna and cranberry, and many more.

Being a kitchen person, I asked for the tour. Many staff members are also employees at Lazy Acres. Oscar Garcia is the hot food chef (14 years at Emilio’s) and Miguel Brito is in charge of cold foods and pastries (12 years at Lazy Acres).

Though it’s a small space, every inch is utilized. I spotted roasted beets cooling down and Kathy’s famous carrot cake waiting to be cut.

The Personal Challenge

After an initial visit, I returned the next evening for dinner with a friend, whose plate was overflowing with bites of everything. “Are you serious?” I asked. He casually commented, “I can pick and choose exactly what I want; isn’t that the point?” OK, fair enough.

I moved on to the hot deli case selecting salmon topped with fresh fruit salsa, curried chicken and vegetables, portabella mushroom, and the pasilla chili turkey fritter ($8.99 per pound). At Savoy Truffles, there’s a magnificently crafted bar top made from Monterey pine and cypress woods that Shields brought in from the Hammond estate; it was built and designed by John Bircham. It’s a comfortable place to sip wine, espresso (organic) and specialty teas – served at Savoy in 45 varieties of blacks, whites and oolong, and 80% of which are organic.

One of Kathy’s loves is collecting vintage teacups and saucers (eBay is a great source). My tea was a green peony flower, hand-sewn by Rishi Tea to look like a sea urchin and served in a delicate white cup with pink flowers and a lemon tart, chocolate chip cookie and Kathy’s carrot cake.

As a way of finishing a meal, that’s my cup of tea.

Savoy Truffles (966-2139) is located at 24 West Figueroa Street. It is open Monday through Saturday, serving breakfast from 8 am to 11 am (table service during this meal), lunch from 11:30 am and dinner through 8 pm. For more info visit www.savoytruffles.com.