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...From "The Golden Dish Awards of 1995: Our Insatiable Epicure Savors the Year's Most Memorable Morsels," by Alan Richman. GQ, January, 1996

"Carpenter Ranch Squab with Braised Mustard Greens"

"DOWNEY'S, Santa Barbara, California"

Wild game has always been treasured for its appealing leanness, robust flavor and compact texture. But what of its opposite, the farm-raised bird or beast? A delicacy of quite another ilk, the farm-raised creature -- I'm not talking cows or pigs here -- makes for a different sort of dish.


At John Downey's restaurant in Santa Barbara, I just finished a laudable salad of Tom Shepherd's greens (you know you're in California when the food is named for the people who grow it) when the squab entree was set before me. It looked fine: slices of squab breast, plus two little squab wings and two little squab legs, all arranged around a few greens. There were even a few small flowers (did I mention I was in California?) sprinkled on top.


The first bite was a revelation. I've eaten squab infused with foie gras that wasn't as sumptuous as this. This squab was no toughened, pellet-ridden veteran of forest or field. This was a bird bred and raised to do nothing but taste good.


Rancher Gary Carpenter doesn't deserve all the credit. John Downey is one of America's best chefs, and if there is one particular talent that all English-born chefs seem to possess, it's an aptitude for cooking birds.


Downey roasts the big-breasted squab with garlic cloves, then prepares an unconscionably rich jus using squab stock, fresh thyme and pan drippings deglazed with cider. After carving the meat from the bones he squeezes the carcass to extract every bit of flavor, much as French chefs do when they prepare pressed duck. He adds that to the jus, which is poured over the bird. I don't think I've ever had a sauce so luxurious that contained no cream.


When I asked Downey how he became acquainted with the pressing technique, I expected him to give credit to some wizened mentor in a three-star restaurant in France. He said he learned it at the movies watching Philippe Noiret get squashed to death in a duck press in the film Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

I'm just happy he never saw Arsenic and Old Lace.


Last Updated on Thursday, 30 December 2010 05:48


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Downey's Restaurant

1305 State Street

Santa Barbara, CA 93101