Saturday, October 27, 2007

California BBQ

"Oh, no, you don't want to eat barbecue in California," my brother's West Coast friends told me. "You'll just be disappointed."

I tried to explain to them that I was no barbecue bigot, that just because the Carolinas are home to innumerable world-class pulled pork joints didn't mean I wasn't receptive to slow-smoked brisket and beef ribs and sausage links and any number of other barbecue variations. I even tried to explain to them that barbecue had a long history in California, that in the 1930s and 1940s no upper-middle class ranch home was complete without a custom brick barbecue pit in the backyard.

They were unswayed. "Stick to fish in California," I was told. "There's no good barbecue here."

This was about two weeks ago, and I was in Los Angeles for my brother's wedding, which was taking place at a ranch in the hills near Malibu (not far from where some of the big wildfires have been burning, but this was a week before those started). On the opposite side of the 101 freeway from our motel in Agoura Hills was a fairly frumpy looking building with a green, pagoda-like roof and a plain sign saying "Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill."

The exterior looked like something out the late 1970s, the kind of building that might house a Ponderosa or some sort of buffet cafeteria. But, a continuous plume of smoke churned from a brick chimney, and when the wind was blowing the right way the entire motel parking lot was awash in the fabulous aroma of roasting meat. The cautions of my brother's friends were still fresh in my mind, but my barbecue ecumenicalism won out. How bad could it be?

The answer is: not bad at all. Wood Ranch surprised me. I was expecting the interior to be bare-bones and a bit run down. Instead, I found a very modern, upscale restaurant with young, perky servers wearing buttondown shirts and ties. Now, this might bode ill for a barbecue joint in some parts of America, but in California it must not, for the Wood Ranch had a true item of glory on its menu: barbecued tri-tip.

I had never seen tri-tip on a barbecue restaurant menu before, so I bypassed the pork and beef ribs and the slow-roasted chicken and went with the specialty of the house. This was a big two-inch slab of beef that had been slow-roasted overnight then finished just before serving on a mesquite-fired grill. I had mine medium rare (which is as rare as it comes), and it was juicy, tender, and utterly delicious.

The Tri-tip roast is a cut from the bottom sirloin and, though obscure just about everywhere else, it's apparently a popular choice for barbecuing in California. So, to those naysayers who claim California doesn't have a distinctive barbecue style or, even worse, doesn't have any good barbecue at all, I say, try the tri-tip.


Rev. Biggles said...

Oh, your friends are just misinformed. Stick to fish in California? Egads!


The Wife said...

Let's not forget the other wonderful discovery at Wood Ranch that more restauants need to pick up on: The Toddler Plate. It was offered to us when we were seated (with an 18 month old). I said yes but wasn't sure what we would get. It was wonderful! A little bowl of Cheerios, a mini banana and baby carrots. It was wonderful and kept the baby busy. Why doesn't everyone do this???

adrian cretu said...

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