Santa Barbara is a relatively small town, but you wouldn’t know it from the dining options. The week I spent in Santa Barbara was gastronomically as satisfying as any I’ve spent in the much larger Southern California cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. Santa Barbara restaurants offer cuisine that’s both high in quality and diverse in its variety. On our first night there we went to Bouchon, one of the most highly rated French restaurants in the area. I had “Scallops 3 ways” – with crabmeat, with bacon on a potato pancake, and with basil-vanilla risotto. I’m not completely sold on the idea of vanilla in savory dishes, but overall the dish was quite nice. I tasted my Mom’s duck, which seemed a bit tough and gamey, but my Dad said his pork chop was excellent. Service was first-rate.
On our second evening we opted for a taste of Santa Barbara’s Spanish past at Cadiz, a restaurant known for its tapas. Grilled shrimp and saffron risotto with mussels were both excellent. The calamari salad was a bit disappointing as it turned out to be primarily a potato salad with calamari garnish. We ate outside where we could watch the strolling mariachi bands.
The next day we took a walk to the pier, called Stearn’s Wharf, and stopped for lunch there. We at the most tremendous (and delicious) lobster rolls ever. They were so huge we ended up skipping dinner that night, which for my family is an extremely rare occurrence.
We skipped lunch on the day we had breakfast at the Hyatt. Our hotel, the Santa Barbara Inn, had a pretty fair continental breakfast, but we thought we’d change it up one day and go for a hot meal. My Dad had the lemon-ricotta pancakes (a speciality), but I was in the mood for Eggs Benedict, and they were done perfectly.
We had very nice fish dishes at Mollie’s Trattoria in Montecito (though we found it odd for a restaurant to be out of its only two beef dishes) and Sea Grass downtown. And of course there’s fine Mexican food to be had, both at Los Arroyos downtown, and at La Super Rica, the little shack on the outskirts that was the favorite of Julia Child.
But I think my favorite meal might be the one that was totally unplanned and thus a pleasant surprise: The Santa Barbara Museum Cafe is actually a great restaurant with entrees from all over the world. My Dad had a pasta with sausage ( DaVinci pasta) and I had a beautiful plate of baby back ribs, potatoes au gratin and baked beans. Living in Turkey I don’t get the chance to eat pork ribs, so it was a special treat.