The Hitching Post II

(Buellton, CA) — Back in May, we had the unique opportunity to attend the Montana Master Grillers event. We met Chef Frank Ostini (of SIDEWAYS fame) and really loved his cooking, as well as his good-natured vivacity. So, when we found ourselves enroute from Los Angeles to San Francisco by car, there was no debate about whether we’d stop at The Hitching Post II for dinner...

He Fed:

I’ve really enjoyed this trip to the west coast, particularly because after the energetic activities in Los Angeles, our drive has allowed us to take things much slower. In fact, this is the most I’ve been relaxed on a vacation since...ever. (Well, except maybe Jamaica.)

We check in to a cheap hotel room in Buellton. While Juliet rests up, I decide to hoof it a quarter mile to nearby Firestone Walker Brewing and sample their beer. Although I generally really like California microbrew, Firestone just doesn’t scratch that itch for me. I head back after an hour to get ready for dinner.

The Hitching Post is less than a mile away. It’s a 70's roadhouse straight out of the movies. I imagine Robert Mitchum hanging outside, smoking a cigarette between courses, maybe chatting up Doris Day or Clint Eastwood. Indeed, some folks are waiting outside, presumably for a table. We find a parking spot and go in.

Inside, it’s pure retro charm: low ceilings, underlit bar, faded floral wallpaper, photographs of celebrities and vineyards. Our table will be ready in 20 minutes, we’re told. Even though the bar is packed, I still manage to snag some sparkling wine. We stand back to people watch. Even though we don’t expect Frank to be in attendance tonight, there he is, pitching in behind the bar and saying hello to the regulars. Not long after, we are summoned to a table in the dining room.

We begin with a bottle of 2012 Hartley Ostini (Chef’s son) Pink rosé, which we tried in Montana. The dry wine goes well with my simple but delicious salad starter—mixed greens, bleu cheese dressing, shreds of cheddar, red onion, croutons. I sneak a forkful of Juliet’s shrimp cocktail, savoring the sweet, crunchy seafood.

For my main, I select the “turf & turf” combo of cornfed midwestern Prime Top Sirloin with duck. Yep, you read that right...a side of duck. Both cuts of meat have been seasoned with Ostini’s famous “Magic Dust”, then barbecued to medium-rare perfection, smelling of the grill and oakwood smoke. The juicy beef is no surprise, since we had plenty of his Santa Maria grill preparation in Montana. The duck, however, is delicate, juicy, not at all tough or dry, with not a whit of “gamey” flavor. As far as straight up duck preparation goes, without anything fancy, this tops my list. I barely touch the garlic bread or baked potato sides.

We settle back to finish a bottle of 2011 Pinot Noir Highliner about the same time Chef graciously pulls up a chair at our table to chat. He is affable, genuinely curious about our adventures, and we’re grateful for the few minutes he’s spared us from his heavy workload at the restaurant. By the time we settle up the bill, we’re both walking on air, smiles on our faces, glad this adventure lived up to its promise.

She Fed:

After sampling Chef Frank Ostini’s amazing grill work at Montana Master Grillers, I’ve been dreaming of ordering a ginormous steak at the Hitching Post. As soon as we enter the parking lot, we smell it...the air is perfumed with the unmistakable scent of grilled beef. Wowie! No matter how tempted I ever get to go 100% vegetarian or vegan, this smell gets me every time.

We arrive a few minutes early, but the hostess informs us they’re running 20 minutes late so we’ll be waiting 20 minutes for our table. Problem is, the place is packed and there’s really nowhere handy to wait. Jeremy grabs two glasses of bubbles at the bar and we linger in a doorway trying to stay out of the hurried waitstaff’s way. After 30 minutes, he reminds the hostess we’re still waiting and we’re seated immediately. And lucky for us—at a four top so we can sit next to each other on the banquette. (Yes, we’re THAT couple.)

Waiting on the table is a fresh relish tray filled with carrot and celery sticks, peperoncini, pickles, nicoise olives, and green onions. I love an old-timey relish tray and dive into the pickles immediately. I would swear they were housemade. The carrots and celery are incredibly fresh, more flavorful than what I get at the grocery store. I have to remind myself I’m here for beef, not celery, and stop nibbling. After all, who goes to a steakhouse and raves about the relish tray?

Each entree comes with two “preliminary courses” or your choice of an organic mixed green salad, soup of the day, or the bay shrimp cocktail. In addition, entrees are served with the relish tray, garlic bread, and your choice of rice pilaf, baked potato or French fries. This kitschiness is comforting and reminds me of a few places my Grandpa Armond would take me when I was a kid. I ditch my plan for a massive steak and go with a filet and grilled shrimp, salad, shrimp cocktail (because you can never have too many shrimp when on vacation), and a baked potato.

Given the retro vibe of the place, we both opt for the blue cheese dressing. After all the vegan food we’ve been eating at home this summer, a salad coated in rich blue cheese dressing is a decadent treat. The shrimp are tiny, but so much more flavorful than any bay shrimp I’ve ever had. Our steaks arrive, smelling amazing and cooked perfectly over red oak on Chef’s Santa Maria grills. The grilled shrimp are tasty too, but the beef is the star of this show. With every bite I become increasingly intent on owning a Santa Maria grill in our next home.

Our waitress is spot-on and actually recommends a less pricey wine with our steaks than what we originally ordered; don’t you love that? Chef visits our table, taking time to sit down for a few. I can tell already this will be a highlight of the trip.

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