SIMPLE STROKES FOR DINING FOLKS

At Hotel Andalucia, 31 West’s new executive chef Fermin Arias is on his toes, and for those of you who are fans of Café de Sevilla’s Michael Reed, you won’t be disappointed.

According to Arias, good food runs in his veins, beginning with his mom, of course. “She’s the best cook I know,” he brags.

Although both of his parents are from the Dominican Republic, Arias’ East Coast style and flair are noted in his presentation and finesse. Schooled on the job, he learned all aspects of the kitchen during a summer break from high school in Boston. All to soon he says he realized that food was his thing, and was fortunate to work with the likes of Pino Maffeo of Boston’s Restaurant L notoriety and Reed of Sevilla. After traveling through Europe, Arias planted roots in San Francisco’s Campton Place Hotel.

“Hotels understand culinary aspects,” he says. “They have the latest information to keep abreast of trends and better media to spread the word.”

Ten months after that, he got a call from a friend who worked for the exclusive Sutters on the Beach Hotel in Santa Monica who said the chef de cuisine job at 1 Pico was available. Arias accepted. From there he got another promotion, which brought him to 31 West and took former executive chef Michael Reardon to another hotel (within the group) in the Los Angeles area.

Soft spoken, Arias assures me that he runs a tight kitchen; his style can best be described as patient perseverance. “I don’t believe in letting my emotions get in the way,” he says. “This sets a professional tone in the kitchen and leaves a good impression.”

Before dining I wanted to know how his style of cooking set him apart from other chefs. “Simple, bold in flavor leaving an impression and making you crave dinner from me,” he responds with a smile.

This style was something he grew up with. “It took me a long time to find out that complexities get lost in translation,” he explains.

Moving to Santa Barbara, he scouted for local style asking himself why this town is unique. Finding great produce readily available nearly year-round, he says he decided that our style is simple food that someone can eat multiple times a week.

This, he posits, will differentiate him from other chefs in the area.

Muted Colors, Bold Flavors

Although located off the lobby and juxtaposed against the lounge where live music perks up the environment, the dimly lit dining room at 31 West exudes both comfort and elegance, with wicker chairs, tile floors and muted colors of purple and gold allowing diners to focus on the food. Our server Marthine Satris let us know that Arias had prepared an array of courses from his new menu, and that each course would be paired with a wine selected by assistant food and beverage manager Dave Judy, who is also a new addition to Hotel Andalucia.

We began this feast with a trio of raw oysters sprinkled with yuzo vinaigrette, each bite suffused with a citrus flavor of yuzo, the cooling effect of cucumber and a hint of pepper. This was paired with Toso, Argentine champagne that we decided would not, if we chose to drink a bottle, leave us with a headache. Grilled asparagus (peeled, plump and meaty), with Meyer lemon and spring greens, was paired with a 2003 Tamellini Soave, Italy, a balance that gave the asparagus a fresh and mouth-awakening flavor.

When the pan-seared halibut arrived with roasted fingerling potatoes and cipolini onions, my friend excitedly blurted out, “This is a fantastically minimal presentation.”

This style of presentation introduces the delicious simplicity of the food.

I’m not a halibut fan, but I must profess that if anyone could sway my tasted buds, it would be Arias. It was so succulent and tender that I might even try it again. The fish’s wine partner? Dave picked a 2004 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay. No complaints.

We finished up with pan-seared filet mignon with truffle-mashed potatoes and balsamic grilled onions. I’ve been challenged on many occasions to use a dinner knife when cutting my meat, so I thought I’d try, once again, on this occasion. It actually worked quite well… The meat was appropriately paired with a 2002 Chorey, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy.

For dessert, Arias selected chocolate terrine with caramel sauce, pistachios, and a hint of citrus paired with a fine Australian Tawny Port (Baller & Son).

31 West also offers a small plates menu served at the bar between 2:30 pm to 10 pm for those who like to nibble. Also, watch for the Express Lunch aimed at business people who have 45 minutes to eat well (Monday thru Friday entrée, salad and beverage for $22).

Don’t forget about Andalucia’s happy hour from 5 pm to 7 pm Tuesday thru Friday. Picture yourself atop the roof baked by an afternoon of daylight, live piano music, cocktail in hand, a cooling breeze settling and the sun resting on the horizon.