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The chill of aged, award-winning Chardonnay, the hearty taste of rabbit sausage paired with poached quail egg, braised beans and scallions, and the cozy confines of an intimate, art-splattered space: These accouterments are a fraction of what sets Ca Del Grevino Cafe and Wine Bar apart in Santa Maria Valley’s food scene — if residents and visitors choose to call it that.

And if it’s up to head chef Nicolette Oliphant, they will.

“I’m always looking at what Far Western Tavern is doing and what’s happening at Rooney’s,” said Oliphant, a San Francisco Culinary Academy graduate. “I would love if this became the Santa Maria food scene because there’s potential.”

Oliphant has worked at Ca Del Grevino for nearly a year. Even in that brief time, she has watched it evolve.

Formerly Addamo Wine Bar and Bistro, the establishment was founded by husband and wife winemaking duo David and Liz Addamo in 2000. Addamo Estate Vineyards was their brainchild. The operation came under new ownership in 2011 when Randeep Grewal acquired it.

If there’s one thing Oliphant wants locals to know, it’s that the restaurant’s staff is as strong as ever and has withstood the change in ownership.

“All the same staff works here (from) when we were Addamo,” she said.

The Addamos chiefly created their business as a tasting room.

“It wasn’t meant to be a full-scale restaurant,” Oliphant said. “It was meant to be light appetizers, cheese and crackers, and charcuterie — foods to pair well with wine.”

Liz Addamo’s welcoming demeanor prompted change, according to Oliphant. 

“I guess after all the years, Liz, who has such a big personality, created a local fan base that would just come in here,” she said. “People started asking about dinner. It turned into her getting some entrees she could throw together and it eventually became a full-scale restaurant.”

Today, shrimp and risotto, short ribs and artisan pizzas replete with handmade dough star on the menu. Like many eateries, Grevino maintains separate menus for lunch and dinner, but diners can order from either at any time.

As far as preparation, Oliphant is a major proponent of fresh and local, a push she brings to Grevino.

“I’m one of those people who wants fresh ingredients,” she said. “… I like to make everything from scratch. And we weren’t necessarily doing that, but we are now, which has been a huge step and a huge accomplishment.”

The chef goes the extra mile, literally, to gather fresh and local ingredients for the culinary dishes she brings to life at Grevino. She travels to the Los Olivos Farmers Market weekly for a fresh batch of lettuce, purchases local whole chickens for the restaurant’s poultry dishes and regularly buys beef from Deydeys in Lompoc. She anticipates the day when all of Santa Maria Valley’s farmers markets earn Santa Barbara certification because she foresees it bringing more business to the region.

Ca Del Grevino’s wine selections have garnered several awards from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

The cafe’s spare ribs — a local favorite — have a recipe wide open to interpretation.    

“That kind of recipe is one of those things where it just kind of comes together. It’s not really anything that anybody couldn’t do,” said Oliphant, who doesn’t like to “intimidate people with recipes.”

“It’s one of those dishes that you put in the oven and let it go on a low temperature for three hours and no matter what you do, it’s going to turn out great … that’s the beauty of cooking,” she said.

Here’s a look at some of Ca Del Grevino’s tastiest recipes:

Ciabatta Bread

Ciabatta is made with an Italian starter called Biga. Biga is made a day in advance and left out to develop and ferment.

For Biga

¼ tsp. yeast

1 c. warm water

2¼ c. flour

Mix yeast and water, whisk to dissolve. Add flour and knead until combined. Place in a bowl or plastic container, covered overnight.

1 tsp. yeast

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¼ c. warm milk

1¼ c. warm water

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

17.5 oz. (weight) biga — the above recipe will make this amount

3¾ c. flour

1 Tbsp. salt

In a stand mixer (standard Kitchenaid), add yeast and warm milk. Let sit until yeast develops. Add remaining ingredients and mix with a dough hook attachment for 10 minutes. When done mixing, place on an oiled cookie sheet and cover with plastic, let rise for at least 30 minutes. Press down and shape into a loaf. Cover and let rise again. Lightly dust with flour and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

Butterscotch Pot de Creme

4 Tbsp. butter

1 c. brown sugar

4 c. cream

1 vanilla bean

8 yolks

½ tsp. salt

Cook butter and sugar until bubbly and sugar is dissolved. Add cream one cup at a time (the sugar will seize and overflow, if you do not.) Add vanilla and salt. Whisk yolks in a separate bowl. Temper cream into yolk. Strain through mesh sieve. Portion in mason jar⁄coffee cups. Bake in a water bath at 300 degrees for 50 minutes (cover with foil if baking in a convection oven).

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Eating Central is a bi-weekly dinning column that appears every other Sunday in the Santa Maria Times. You can reach the author for tips, suggestions or just to drop a line at (805) 739-2205 or jharper@santamariatimes.com.

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