Earlier this summer, the respected Michelin Guide to high-quality restaurants around the world announced its first-ever dining awards for California’s Central Coast. The coveted Michelin stars proved elusive, but 11 Santa Barbara spots earned the “Plate” designation, one of which is First & Oak at the Mirabelle Inn in Solvang, making it the first and only Michelin named restaurant in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Executive Chef JJ Guerrero heads the kitchen, where he first experimented with haute cuisine and hyper-local, creative dishes with previous Michelin-starred Chef Steven Snook for several years before taking over the kitchen in 2018.
Guerrero loved the collaborative environment of that early kitchen, and has kept that freedom to create firmly planted. Every member of the kitchen staff is encouraged to create new dishes; it’s a total team effort. Guerrero remembers his first dish that made it on the menu when he was new, a melon and basil gazpacho, which was actually mentioned in the Michelin review.
Today, everyone in the kitchen has a dish on the menu—some are legacies from Chef Snook—with Guerrero balancing the offerings so that guests can create their own unique, tasting menu from each of the menu’s categories.
Guerrero says, ”We are trying to do something different here. We are very emotional about our cooking, and we are super-motivated and hyped up about it. We’re having fun!”
For each dish, Guerrero makes sure every mouthful works. For this dish, yellow oyster mushrooms are the perfect complement to the beef—really meaty, an earthy element—and the onion and sauce bring acid, so that each bite feels complete. And Guerrero thinks the best local mushrooms are from Gold Coast Mushrooms, “These yellow oyster mushrooms are carefully grown in wood chips and controlled temperature, with lots of thought and love put into it. The quality and taste are amazing.”
To make this dish, use your favorite braised short rib recipe the day before, cooking it low and slow for 3-4 hours, and letting it cool in its own liquid (to keep it moist) before pressing it in the fridge overnight (to make its compact shape).
Then, combine water, melted butter, peppercorns, coriander, garlic and thyme in a sauce pan and drop in some pearl onions. Heat the cold pan to a boil, then let it cool.
Boil peeled russet potatoes in salted water until soft. Push potatoes through a tamis or food mill instead of mashing. Heat heavy cream with butter and salt, then whisk into potatoes.
Hand-tear several oyster mushrooms so they keep some of their shape, then heat cooking oil in a non-stick skillet to very hot. Just when the oil starts to smoke, drop mushrooms in and cook for 1-2 minutes. Toss to the other side for 1 minute and remove from heat. Salt the mushrooms now (this helps them not wilt) and toss with a small amount of vinaigrette: 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar.
Re-heat the short rib and its sauce (Guerrero uses a traditional mirepoix base plus bonito flakes) and place on plate. Squeeze mashed potatoes from an espuma gun or pasty bag onto plate. Top with mushrooms and pearl onions, garnish with fresh parsley.