Posted by: Hil | January 26, 2009

Santa Barbara

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Hello all!  We just got back from a wonderful weekend away in Santa Barbara.   I’d never been to Santa Barbara except to pass through before, and it was absolutely gorgeous:  green hills, beautiful beaches, mild weather and lots of gorgeous Spanish-style architecture.   We had a great time walking around, visiting historic sites and eating lots of good food. 

Jane

On Friday night, we ate at a restaurant called Jane, which served lots of upscale burgers and the like.  I had a burger with pepper jack, smoked pepper, tomato and avocado.  The husband ordered a marinated skirt steak entree.  Both were tasty, came with very generous portions and were pretty reasonably priced.  The restaurant had nice Spanish-style decor.  My only real complaint was that the space was a bit too noisy for my preferences.  On the upside, as we were walking in we saw Kate Winslet(!) arriving for a ceremony held in her honor.  Of course this was the one night I didn’t have my camera with me!

Cheshire Cat

We stayed at a cute bed and breakfast called the Cheshire Cat, so on Saturday morning, we had a complimentary breakfast brought to our room:  stuffed french toast, grapefruit, orange juice, and coffee.

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The French toast was stuffed with a cream cheese and orange zest mixture and topped with a maple-pecan mixture and garnished with banana slices and blueberries.  It was tasty and the presentation was nice.  It was a bit sweeter than I prefer for breakfast.

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I love grapefruit.  I traded the Lemonator my orange juice for his grapefruit half.  They came with a dollop of some type of yogurt topping and a little bit of mint.  Very good.

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Cafe Buenos Aires

For lunch on Saturday, we headed to Cafe Buenos Aires, an Argentinean restaurant.  The restaurant has a nice spacious patio to sit at.  Given that Santa Barbara has beautiful weather even in January, I love restaurants that have lots of good outdoor seating.

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To start, we ordered Cava, which was fun and festive and suited our food.

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For an appetizer, we ordered beef empanadas.  These were good.  The pastry was light and not too greasy, and the beef was very well spiced.

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I ate mine with some of the chimichurri sauce that came with our bread.  It was a mixture of red wine vinegar, olive oil, parsley, garlic, oregano, bay leaves and chili flakes.  So.  Amazingly.  Good.  We raved over the stuff to our server, who informed us that they sell it by the bottle.  Naturally, we brought some home.  It is our goal to figure out how to replicate their recipe before the bottle runs out!

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I ordered grilled marinated chicken with grilled portobello mushroom, wilted spinach, asparagus, mango salsa, and balsamic-juniper reduction.  This was a great lunch: light, but varied and with plenty of food.  The portions were very generous–I could easily have split this with someone else and been completely satisfied.  The asparagus, which is extremely out of season, was just okay, but the rest of the dish was very good.

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The husband’s dish was pretty much the complete opposite:  Beef Milanesa smothered in tomato sauce and cheese with french fries and sauteed vegetables.  (The veggies are hiding beneath the meat.  I don’t like chicken fried steak much, but I tried a bite of his, and it was surprisingly tasty.  I do appreciate that the menu seemed to have lots of options for all types of people:  lots of vegetarian options, lots of healthy items, lots of rich fare–it seemed that there was something for everyone.  And the lunch prices were quite reasonable for Santa Barbara:  most of the lunch entrees (which were very generously portioned) were between $10-$15.  We liked this place and would definitely come back.

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Seagrass

For Saturday night, we decided to have our big splurge of the weekend:  a trip to Seagrass, which is an upscale “coastal cuisine” restaurant.  As far as I can gather, “coastal cuisine” pretty much means food focused on local, sustainable foods, with a significant focus on seafood, which Santa Barbara has in abundance.  The restaurant had great service and a nice ambiance, with lots of jazz music playing in the background.  Overall the food was great.  The preparations are simple and light and they aren’t afraid to really let the ingredients shine through.

We both ordered soups to start.  Mine was a creamy cauliflower soup.  This soup was simple, but set apart by its amazingly creamy texture.  Cauliflower can be a little bit grainy when pureed, and I have no idea how they got this stuff so velvety.

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The husband ordered scallop chowder garnished with lobster oil.  The minute I tasted it, I wished I had ordered his!  It wasn’t nearly as heavy as chowders I’m used to.  It was creamy, but very heavy on vegetables, which gave the chowder a real depth of flavor.  This chowder really seemed designed to compliment the seafood and veggies with a little cream, rather than hiding mediocre ingredients with lots of fat and starch.

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For my entree, I had seared Pacific sea bass over black lentils with some greens and roasted beets, served with a little bit of whole grain mustard crema.  The fish was good, but a little bit less melt-in-your-mouth than I like for a piece of sea bass, which I only get to eat once in a very great while.  It was very nicely cooked and the skin was very crispy and good.  I never knew that fish skin was edible before this weekend, but apparently it is!  This shouldn’t be possible, but those black lentils made a very good attempt at upstaging the fish.  They were perfectly cooked, firm and flavorful, and they had the advantage of sitting in the mustard crema, which was the most delicious thing I tasted all weekend, hands down.  It was highly flavorful, so you only needed a little with each bite. 

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When the Lemonator ordered a seafood pasta dish with cream sauce, I was not expecting the light, vegetable laden dish that came out.  There was a little bit of cream coating the pasta, but only a very little.  The main focus of the dish was the seafood:  two giant prawns that were fresh, slightly smoky and delicious.  The vegetables were all very nice, and the pasta was clearly house made.  I would have eaten a dish of that pasta plain.  Again, the preparation was light and clearly designed to show off the amazing prawns and homemade pasta.  In this case, the Lemonator reported that he wished there had been just a bit more seasoning and flavor going on in the sauce, but he was still quite satisfied with his dish.

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For dessert, I ordered lemongrass creme brulee, which sounded exciting.  Honestly, it wasn’t that different from other creme brulee. Don’t get me wrong: it was very good creme brulee, but the lemongrass flavor didn’t come through as much as I was hoping.  Part of that was due to the fact that the brunt sugar topping was very generous and that flavor overwhelmed everything else.  But as I adore cracking through a nice layer of burnt sugar, I wasn’t complaining.

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We were very happy with our dining experience and we would definitely come back the next time we feel like having a  fancy, splurge dinner out.  I would particularly love to come back here during summer when more fish are in season.

Elements Cafe

Sunday, we grabbed brunch at the Elements Cafe before visiting the Old Mission.  I had very mixed feelings about this place.  What I had was very good.  (I’ll explain more about that in a minute).  The cooks were clearly very good, as everything was prepared perfectly.  But I want to shake the executive chef, because the menu suffered from an extreme lack of care and imagination.  Don’t get me wrong:  I don’t mind a menu that focuses on the classics.  What I mind is a menu that seems to be running on autopilot.  For example, every sandwich and wrap that they offered came with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles.  Even the ones where those flavors wouldn’t particularly compliment the sandwich.  Even though tomatoes are massively out of season and flavorless and pink right now.  And the veggies offered in their scrambles just didn’t make sense: they didn’t seem to have any awareness that some veggies (such as those out of season tomatoes) have lots of liquid and will wreck the texture of eggs in a scramble.

I only rant so much because 1) this place charges way too much for brunch and I expect better and 2) the place clearly has so much potential.  The Lemonator ordered a scrambled egg croissant sandwich, and once he picked out the aforementioned lifeless tomato and lettuce, it was very good:  the eggs were fluffy and well-seasoned and the croissant was fresh, buttery and flaky.  I ordered the one unusual item on the menu in a fit of frustration, figuring that if it was awful, I would at least have a story for the blog, and it was delicious.  If everything on the menu were like that (and if they knocked down their prices a hair!), I would love to come back here.  As it is, I don’t see much reason to.

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So what was my crazy breakfast dish?  Waffle topped with duck confit, eggs over easy, and sweet pecan butter, with a side of maple syrup.  I thought this sounded utterly bizarre when I first saw it, and I’m generally not a fan of sweet-savory dishes, but complete lack of inspiration with the rest of the menu and a desire to try duck confit drove me to it.  It was so, so good.  The waffle may have been the best I’ve ever tasted:  it was crispy and light and tasty.  The compound butter was very good, and there was little enough of it that the dish didn’t taste overwhelmingly sweet.  And the crispy duck and egg yolks just made the dish.  This may be one of those things that you have to taste to understand, but it was delicious and it held me all afternoon.

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To go with it, I ordered a side of fruit.  They charged far too much for this little cup, and there were big chunks of honeydew that were clearly not ripe, but the berries and cantaloupe were all very flavorful and good.

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Overall, our vacation was just what I needed.  It’s pretty much my ideal vacation to lounge around a pretty place, take walks, visit a few historic sites and eat lots of good food.  I got to do all of those things this weekend, and I am a happy camper.

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Responses

  1. FAAAAANTASTIC eats and trip!!

  2. what a great trip! and santa barbara is so gorgeous!!! i’m glad you had a great time and such wonderful eats!

  3. What a trip – everything looks lovely. Can’t believe you saw K. Winslet!

  4. WOW! What a beautiful weekend!

  5. WOW – this is my first visit to your blog… these pictures and eats are amazing. SO great. I will be back

    zesty

  6. What an amazing trip! My ideal vacation also has the same qualifications as yours =]

    All the eats look amazing and I love bed and breakfasts! Glad you had a great time!

  7. mmm fun eats!!!

  8. Sounds great! That french toast looks divine… can’t believe you got to see Kate Winslet; that’s awesome.

  9. Wow, everything is amazingly delicious! Wow!

    And I’ve never tried stuffed french toast before! It looks tasty tasty tasty!

  10. What a lovely weekend! I am jealous you saw Kate Winslet for sure.

    I love your treatment of the Elements Cafe. I love that you noticed the boring lettuce and tomato atop every item – it shows you truly appreciate thoughtul food!

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Wow, Hil! What an amazing trip. All of your food looks fantastic and I can tell from the tone of the post that you truly enjoyed yourself, which is of course the most important thing! I’m glad you got a much needed getaway!

  12. […] was the Lemonator’s birthday.  I brought him breakfast, inspired by something I ate on a recent trip to Santa Barbara.  Earlier in the week, we went out to dinner at a neighborhood French restaurant where I […]


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