A cozy spot that feels like home is exactly what Bell’s owners, Daisy and Greg Ryan, wanted in their first restaurant. And for Chef Daisy, who is from the Santa Ynez Valley, it was also about family, community, and coming home. It was great timing, as the building that used to house Bell Street Farm in Los Alamos was up for sale, with a kitchen, dining room and back patio that was perfect for a French bistro.
Why French cuisine in this new home? Looking around the valley, Chef Daisy realized there were plenty of Italian restaurants—her favorite food to eat—but not many French ones. Also, French cooking is the basis of all culinary training, as well as that of Per Se, the Michelin-starred Thomas Keller restaurant where she worked, and met her husband Greg, in New York.
The duo’s vision was an all-day cafe where you can hang out and read or work on your laptop. A place where you come back again and again…you know the other patrons. This means the food isn’t fancy, but simple and delicious, and it goes well with a good glass of wine.
“This area is a lot like wine regions in France, where the farmers and winemakers drive from their fields and wineries into small local towns to have a simple, delicious lunch,” said Chef Daisy. “It’s the food of the people: local, familiar and interesting.” This means fresh soups, salads, and sandwiches (the egg salad is her favorite) plus classic French dishes like escargot, steak tartare and moules frites (mussels with fries).
Sourcing locally is a must for the Ryans. Chef Daisy estimates that 95% of everything they cook is from Santa Barbara County. The mussels come from Hope Ranch in Santa Barbara, which means they have a 50-minute ride from the sea to the restaurant. For Chef Daisy, seafood is always better when it’s fresh, not frozen or transported long distances, and Hope Ranch mussels are small and flavorful. She says mussels are great for celebrating, as they are always impressive, and also pretty easy to make.
The first step is sourcing good mussels. If you can go to a fish market, that is the best, but high-end organic grocery stores also have great shellfish. Look for ones that are closed tight and smell fresh, like the ocean. You’ll need 1 pound of mussels per person. Clean them by pulling the beard away and scrub with a hard brush. For two servings, set a large sauce pan on medium heat and bring to a simmer: 1 cup dry white wine, 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 clove of garlic, 4 tablespoons butter, small pinch of saffron, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper. Add 2 lbs of cold, live mussels, increase heat and cover tightly with lid. Steam for 5 minutes, just until all mussels are open. Remove from heat and discard any mussels that didn’t open. Divide mussels and broth into 2 bowls, top with freshly chopped parsley and serve immediately with double-fried potatoes, crusty bread or your favorite potato chips