Smokin’! (Wood Smoked BBQ) is Smokin Good!!
This past evening saw us driving south through the pouring rain to LA. The rain is great for California, but it is horrible to drive through. Once we got through the rain showers, we hopped off I5 and jumped on the CA-170 for a short trek, before we got off it and quickly found Craig Winchell’s restaurant – Smokin’!. Once we entered the restaurant, I went straight for the counter to get Craig’s attention – one of my old friends from California. Craig owned Gan Eden Winery, until he had to close it, because there were no good options for Jewish education in the Sebastopol area. It was a shame, because the winery produced some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon wines in the 80s and early 90s, along with his famous Black Muscat wines. Remember that Gan Eden was one of the early kosher wineries along with Hagafen (the earliest American kosher winery), and Herzog Winery.
So after talking a bit and discussing what we should taste, we agreed that we will try a bit of everything. So we washed our hands and sat down to enjoy a wonderful world of barbecued meats. We need to stress that barbecuing is NOT grilling. Say barbeque to people and they really think about what is called grilling. Grilling is cooking by direct heat, where the flames touch the food. Barbecuing is cooking via indirect heat, and mostly via smoke, but not always. Smokin is a restaurant that cooks all its food by indirect heat, uses smoke from wood, a rub, and a basting to cook the food and keep it moist.
The meal started with smoked turkey breast, which is not a cut of meat that one would normally associate with slow, low, and long cooking. But the meat was far from dry and exploding with flavor. To steal a colloquialism – it was finger licking good, which was a theme throughout the meal. The breast meat was sliced a quarter inch thick, and was moist in the mouth, yet still firm to the fork. It was served with a white sauce that Craig calls Alabama White Sauce. The sauce adds a very nice pungent aroma and a mouth that is packed with flavor, and a nice amount of heat, that is still balanced by the sauce’s vinegar and sugar.
Next we were served some smoked chicken. It comes in quarter, half, and whole sizes. We had half a chicken and both the dark and white meat were moist and quite tasty. The skin on the chicken was crunchy, while the meat was moist and tender. The chicken’s flavor profile was infused with a smoky flavor that was accentuated by the rub that was placed liberally all over the skin. The spicy rub did not overpower the chicken flavor, but still added enough punch to the dish, quite nice.
We were next served the best part of the meal by far – Smokin’! signature dish – barbecued ribs. The ribs were these huge hunks of meat that almost laughed at your sensibilities and formality, screaming at you to grab them and eat up. Well, who am I to argue with a slab of ribs. We happily ate them all up, and what a joy they were. The ribs were encased in this rub that almost extruded from the ribs. The rub was crispy and crunchy, while the meat inside was crazy moist, almost – too moist. I have never had such an experience with meat before. I have had crispy steaks and soft and extra moist meat — brisket and braised meats. But the combination of a crunchy and crispy exterior whose inside was moist and yet firm, is more than I can explain. The flavor of the rub again melded perfectly with the rib’s meaty flavor and was once again accentuated by the smoke’s tanginess. They were quite a treat, the rub flavor explodes in your mouth first, followed by a backbone of meat and highlighted by a bright smoky flavor. The whole flavor profile is off the charts, and well worth the trip to LA by itself.
After that, almost anything would be a letdown. Well, we were not let down too much. The next dish was a Smoked “Pastrami” cut. The meat was not brisket (which is normally the meat that pastrami is made from), but rather plate that was cut like pastrami. The meat was a bit fatty and the flavor was more muted than the other cuts of meat we had up to that moment, but it was nice. The rub did not permeate through the meat as much, but it was still OK.
The next course was barbequed brisket. If there was a letdown, this one was it. It was a bit too dry for me, which was a shame, as I have long wanted to try to smoke a whole brisket for some time. This course turned me off of that idea, unless it was done by someone with a bit more experience than I. That said, the flavors were nice, but the whole package was off.
The final meat course was Barbequed lamb breast – WOW! I am not a fan of the intense lamb flavor, but the meat was moist and intense with flavors that boggled my mind. The lamb flavors melded nicely with the rub flavors and the intense smokiness. If I could get past the intense lamb flavor I would have eaten the whole lamb breast. If you like lamb, this is for you, no questions asked.
We finished the evening with a nice slice of sweet potato pie. It hit the spot quite nicely. The pie’s crust was firm and yet moist. The pie filling had a clear sweet potato flavor that was spotted with flavors of cinnamon, allspice, and clean bright acidity. The pie was quite nice, and it was a great compliment to all the spicy flavors up to that point.
We hung around until closing and met many of Smokin’! patrons and were sad to leave Craig, but the night called and we had a long drive ahead of us still. I hope that if you are in the LA or Burbank area, that you look up this wonderful establishment and get some of its smokin’ hot entrees.