Lunch with Louie at the Pharmacy Coffee Shop
Santa Barbara food reviews with Louie the pessimist food critic
May 5, 2:01 PM (PT)
For more than thirty years, the Pharmacy Coffee Shop has been an institution in the Montecito area. Located next to the San Ysidro Pharmacy at the corner of East Valley Road and San Ysidro Road, the place is surrounded by such heavies in the food industry as Pane e Vino, Piatti and Via Vai. And somehow, it has not only survived but it has prospered. Based on the size of the lunch crowd, it’s doing just great. The place was packed when we arrived.
You can sit outside - they have a lovely patio, but you don’t go to the neighborhood diner and sit outside - too preppie. It was a wonderful day, but you would miss out on the feeling the dining room has to offer; the lovely Formica tables, the linoleum floors, the wall heater, the color of which matches the acoustic ceiling. Absolute perfect harmony reigns in the place. Also, if you want a little nostalgia, inside is where you sit.
Considering the ‘hood where the place is located, don’t expect any truckers to make it a favorite lunch stop. The clientele is strictly Montecito. The mix included a mix of a young couple with a newborn baby, some secretaries, older folks, pretty girls, and of course, Ed and Me. Our waiter was Antonio, a nice caballero who responded to my question regarding the quality of the turkey by going into a dissertation of its innumerable merits, superb taste and freshness. Actually, he proclaimed that this turkey was the best turkey in Santa Barbara and not only that; there was no better lunch in the whole town. He was effervescent and boiling with enthusiasm and conviction. He could have sold me a Buick on the spot.
We ordered a barbecued chicken salad, a tuna salad, and a turkey sandwich - heavy on the mayo, with nothing else on it. Antonio was right. The turkey was outstanding, and probably cooked on the premises. Ed ruined the barbecued chicken salad by putting a balsamic dressing on it, but the tuna salad was great. Good basic comfort food without complication. The tomatoes were red, the lettuce green, the cucumbers pale green and plentiful and the avocado must have been on a special, judging by the quantity they put in the salads. Prices are moderate, service and friendliness are a priority. As we were getting ready to leave, the baby was getting sleepy so mom put a chupete (pacifier) in his mouth, and the baby went to sleep. He was so beautiful and peace was all around him. I sometimes wish I still had my chupete.
The place is known for being an occasional stop-by for such celebrities as Jonathan Winters, Michael Douglas and Oprah; but no luck for us this lovely afternoon. I saw a bookie I know, and we got to see my favorite Danish lady who works just around the corner at Pitts and Bachmann. Betty is such a delight and so proud of her Danish ancestry. Just before we left, she produced a book that stated that the Danish had discovered the benefits of red wine on your heart - that overall it reduces your chance of dying by 40%, and - Hear Ye! - this was stated more than fifty years ago. We each gave her a kiss and promised to be back to see her, and to have another great turkey sandwich at the Pharmacy. Next time, my ‘lookie loo’ ambitions will be rewarded - I know, maybe Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Dinner with Louie
My good friend John came to spend a weekend with us here in paradise.
He has been my dearest friend for 33 years and our times together are always a guarantee of happiness and laughter. I feel blessed for having such a great friend. The fact that he is a degenerate gambler of tremendous proportions does not really matter. The fact that he once took his girlfriend’s check, falsified her signature and had me cash it - knowing that the check was no good - matters little, also. What matters, is that the horse he put that money on to win - well, lost. I love you, John.
As the years began to accumulate, John changed. He is more mature in his actions and in his life in general. His job is steady, and he is respected by his friends, his co-workers and, more than anyone, by his daughter. Being an Argentine by birth, he has become more aware of his roots and at the same time nostalgic for Argentine music and food. As a consequence, he only listens to tangos, and goes only to Argentine restaurants. He has become a foremost authority in those subjects. So, he wanted to taste what we have to offer in Santa Barbara as far as Argentine food is concerned in order to compare it with Los Angeles Restaurants. I tried to convince him that maybe Italian was a better choice, but to no avail. Argentine it had to be. I told him that maybe our restaurant would not compare favorably with what he was used to in LA. His answer: how could you ruin an empanada?
I have been to Café Buenos Aires before and was never really satisfied, but what can you do. I figured maybe a few glasses of wine prior to and during the meal would ease the pain. Café Buenos Aires, located on State Street across from the Arlington Theater, is probably one of the most beautiful eating establishments here in town. An incredibly beautiful patio and an equally stunning and elegant indoor area make it a tasteful and classy marvel. So, there. But the food - I don’t know what happened with the food; it’s consistent but consistently mediocre. When we got to our table, a young lady asked us if we were just three - yes, just three. There was service for three at the table, so what did she do? She took one service away. Hello! It took ten minutes to get another fork and knife. For appetizers, we had an order of chicken empanadas, and an order of hearts of palms with proscuitto. To drink, we ordered Martinis and Mojitos and a bottle of Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon. Excellent - the booze was great. For our main courses, we selected a chicken Milanese and the most traditional Argentine dish (and usually the house specialty), a Parrillada, a combination of many meats and chicken, barbecued and served in a portable black ceramic grill.
The hearts of palm must have been marinated in a concoction of Viagra and lemon juice. They were hard as rocks, and impossible to cut with a knife; you had to use your fingers or risk cracking the plate, or worse yet, have the stupid thing take flight from the table. Three miniscule pieces of proscuitto, or maybe Serrano ham, were rolled to the size of a Vienna sausage and hidden underneath a mountain of arugula. A total abomination.
The empanadas looked good, until you took a bite. Then, the next five minutes were spent in amazement that such an error could actually be offered for consumption - and for a price! It was unanimous - the worst empanadas we had ever had - and John, at 63 years of age, has had his share. They were left on the table in dismay.
But my idea was basically good - drink and enjoy. Not much about the food to enjoy, but we were having a great time just being there. A beautiful lady sitting next to us also agreed, she was enjoying the laughter and in a way, being part of it all.
The parrillada came along with great fanfare. Our waiter had apologized for it being so delayed but said that the reason was they were having some troubles in the kitchen. That is an understatement. We’re talking about major troubles. He was actually a nice kid, trying very hard and being very charming. However, there was nothing on that grill that had any redeeming value to it. The meat was hard to separate from the color of the grill, as everything was charcoal black;
from short ribs, to sweetbreads, to lamb chops, to sausage. The chicken from which that breast was taken must have suffered a terrible death. It sat there in the center of this disaster, waiting to be recognized. How can you ruin a chicken cutlet? It’s like desecrating the Argentine flag. This cutlet was not only puny but also flat and full of gristle, pounded unmercifully until the last breath was taken out of it. Surrounded by round slices of soft potatoes with ridges, it must have been wondering why it had come to such an undignified end. Hey John, you were warned.
We didn’t eat much, but we sure drank some excellent Cabernet from Argentina, and laughed a whole lot.
Three good things about the place; it’s pretty to look at, the wine is good, and the desserts are great. Of course, none of these are produced while you are there. Can you believe we had a great time? We sure did. When you are with someone you love nothing else matters. When you are with someone who loves you, it is even better. And when you get to laugh out loud in the process, it’s nirvana.
How do you end a night like that; well you look for something comparable to our meal, so we went to the movies and saw “Mean Girls”, the American answer to Francois Truffaut’s “Les Quatre Cents Coups”. Not!
The next morning we had coffee at Gelson’s, and afterwards John left.
I will miss my friend. I promised to find a better place to eat next time. Does it really matter?
I missed you all last week. See you next week.
None at this time
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