Monday, January 25, 2010

The Hitching Post, Casmalia

The Hitching Post
3325 Point Sal Road
Casmalia, CA 93429

Telephone: 805.937.6151

4:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Monday - Saturday:
4:30 pm - 9:30 pm

I know, I've been away from my blog for what feels like an eternity and all I have is a restaurant review. A restaurant review that I've been writing for four days because I can only get a couple words typed before I have to go run around and work.

The past few weeks, spent in picturesque Santa Maria, amid vineyards, fields, horses, and more fields, have been the most stressful of my life. I think half of my hair has fallen out, my skin has broken out into what looks like hives, and I have never tossed and turned more.

The end of a movie has never been so painful, so arduous. I'm in Santa Maria with several of my co-workers, of which there are three that I spend most of my time with. We all leave the hotel together, have lunch together, complain together, have dinner together, and go back to the hotel together, complaining some more. It's a bonding experience, I suppose, in the trenches of what feels like warfare.

(Ah, overly dramatic blogging whilst stuck in the boondocks of central California!)

One night .... Friday, I think (the days all blend together), we decided that we were going to leave at 8:00 and go to dinner at the Hitching Post, a pretty famous place.

There are two locations, one in Casmalia and one in Buellton. Buellton's HP is famous because of "Sideways," which was partially filmed there. The one in Casmalia is famous because it's the original.

I wish I had had the energy to take photos of the place, because it's pretty amazing. Taxidermy, mismatched plates, cowhides on the walls, all the paraphernalia that I connect to cowboys and country cookin' were represented. There were antique metal tractor seats and giant rusty saws on the walls. What could be more cowboy than that?

The drive from Santa Maria to Casmalia isn't long, but it's terrifying. It's been getting dark here around 6:00 or earlier, so by the time we trekked out, it was pitch black. Once we got outside Santa Maria, in all of four minutes, there was a single long winding road that we had to take. Not one streetlight for about five miles, with deep ditches on either side of the road. And, most horrifyingly, no cell reception. At all.

I think this is where serial killers dump bodies.

I was never so happy to see a restaurant in my life, dilapidated or no.

Once we were settled in, away from the 40 degree temperature outside (that's COLD), I felt better. Then I saw the awesome grill that they use, and I felt even better still. After a glass of Syrah, all was right with the world.

The Hitching Post makes their own wines, and we ended up splitting two bottles between four people (I drank less than the boys). We had the Syrah first and then a Pinot Noir, and sadly, the Syrah was better. The Pinot wasn't bad, just not great.

When we were seated, there was a large basket of crackers (literally, like saltines and buttery Club crackers), a bowl full of butter, and a little platter of vegetables (olives, green onions, sliced pickles, carrot sticks, radishes, and pepperoncinis) on the table. The vegetables had ice cubes on them. I don't know why, and no one else could tell me.

Being in cow country, we expected local grass-fed beef. Nope, all their beef is from the Midwest. Strange, but whatever. We all ordered some form of steak (I had top sirloin) with grilled vegetables and salad.

It's down home country cooking, comforting and good and very unpretentious. I liked the grilled vegetables a lot- red onions, yellow and red bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms were skewered before grilling with their house seasoning, then unskewered before serving. They weren't overcooked and retained a great bite. Vegetables in California, even during winter (er, "winter") are generally quite good and don't merit overly long cooking times, particularly on the grill.

The steak, though. The steak was amazing. AMAZING.

Between the four of us, we had two top sirloins, one New York, and one rib-eye. Not a single complaint to be found anywhere. The oak, the grill, the seasonings, the cook ... some sort of alchemy made it an amazing steak, cooked very well. The only slight quibble I had was that it was a bit overcooked- I like a little more red and a little less pink- but it was still gorgeously yummy.

Dessert, very fitting of our surroundings, was ice cream. There were four options- vanilla, vanilla with chocolate sauce, rocky road, and orange sherbet. Simple, simple, simple. No fanfare, no fancy silver or china, but really good food.

It almost made the anxiety of the day melt away. Almost. I think it would have been more successful if I hadn't gone back to the hotel and worked afterward, with a rosy glow from too much food.

The only redeeming thing about Santa Maria, it seems, would be particular places made famous for their barbecued steaks. I'll have to find a few more places to go back to the Hitching Post to make my time here seem well spent. (One of the supervisors here with me said, "That rib-eye at Hitching Post kicked my ass. It was the best steak I ever had.")

Hopefully this post wasn't too incoherent. I don't have time for spell check or for proofreading right now.

Back when I'm back!