Santa Barbara is a beautiful city in California. Nestled between the mountains and the ocean, the restaurants we went offered amazing gourmet experience. Here are my recommendations:
1) Stonehouse Restaurant, San Ysidro Ranch, Montecito --- What to order: For my birthday, my husband took me to the Stonehouse Restaurant and treated me a Three Course Market Menu. I was so happy to visit the San Ysidro Ranch, their herb garden, and to see all the premises. It is one of the most prestigious hotels in the country and we were able to sit on the terrace and enjoy the beautiful Californian weather. My first course was a Salad of Farmer's Market Lettuces. It came with grilled asparagus, local tear drop tomatoes, feta cheese crumbles, and stone ground mustard vinaigrette.
|Farmer's Market Lettuces Salad|
My second course was a Local Pan Seared Halibut, served on a bed of purple potato puree, roasted asparagus, and Sweet Carrot Nage. It was so elegant and light. I loved it!!! The fish was perfectly cooked and all the flavors combined really well.
|Pan Seared Local Halibut|
My husband ordered the Grilled Natural Angus Beef Burger. It was assembled with white cheddar, caramelized onions, and French fries. The portion was a little bit big, but the meat was delicious!
|Classic Grilled Natural Angus Burger|
My third course was the San Ysidro Ranch Meyer Lemon Tart. It had a Garden Infused lavender and Local Orange Blossom Honey Cream. It was served on a black slate and they wrote on it "Happy Birthday". For an alfresco lunch, it was the perfect ending: sweet and tart, pretty and small, elegant and special!!!
|Meyer Lemon Tart|
2) Seagrass, Santa Barbara ---What to order: Seagrass is a real fine-dining restaurant. If you are looking for a sophisticated meal, look no further. We shared a beautiful Tama Farm slow roasted beet salad. It was served with Valdehon blue cheese, candied walnuts, croutons, and mandarins. The whole plate was perfumed with curry and black pepper and drizzled with emulsified oil and beet syrup. It was like an art: so pretty and delicate!
|Tama Farm Slow Roasted Beet Salad|
My husband had the Mi-cuit Tasmanian Ora King Salmon. It was sashimi style (almost raw), served with potato "mousseline", roasted cauliflower, and salmon roe caviar. He loved it!!! He requested more raw salmon in the next dinners at home.
|Mi-cuit Tasmanian Ora King Salmon|
My main dish was a Slop baked Loup de Mar, which is the Mediterranean Sea Bass. It was on top of artichoke barigole, fingerling potatoes, veal jus, and truffle sauce. I like the flavor of the dish, but I hated the raw skins. I much better prefer crispy skin or no skin at all, when enjoying fish filets.
|Slow baked Loup de mar|
For dessert, we had the Cocoa Barry 66% Concorde Chocolate Torte, which came with a candle, since that weekend we were celebrating my birthday. The tart was similar to a flourless chocolate tart, but more like a mousse. It was accompanied with berries and candied blood orange zest. The crust was vanilla bean. We liked it a lot!!!
|Concorde Chocolate Torte|
3) Trattoria Mollie, Montecito --- What to order: Chef Mollie has been featured on the Oprah's Show and in "O" magazine. Her Trattoria, located in Montecito is a lovely place to try authentic Italian food. We went there for a lunch and started with a lovely Caprese Salad. Three thick slices of ripe tomatoes, freshly sliced basil, and a ball of fresh buffalo mozzarella. A drizzle of EVOO and we were in heaven!
|La Caprese: fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, EVOO|
My husband ordered the Salmone ai Porri (fresh salmon sautéed with leeks, white wine, cognac and EVOO). On the side, there was a mixture of cooked green beans and broccoli. He loved this dish and soaked up the delicious sauce with few pieces of bread.
|Salmone ai Porri|
I ordered the Branzino alla Griglia. This was a fresh grilled Atlantic striped sea bass served with spinach and sautéed vegetables (broccoli and green beans) on the side. The lemon juice gave it more refreshing touch and added some citrus notes to the simple, yet great dish.
|Branzino alla Griglia with sautéed vegetables and spinach|
The Torta al Formaggio was the Italian version of the famous Cheesecake. It was very light and airy, served on a bed of Strawberry sauce. A simple dusting of powder sugar added some contrast and more flavor to the cake. We liked the simple presentation and the great aftertaste!
|Torta al Formaggio on a Strawberry-sauce bed|
4) Downey's by John and Liz Downey --- What to order: This restaurant is very romantic, cozy, and great for special occasions. We celebrated my birthday there and we were treated very nicely by the owner Liz and their staff members. On the walls, you will find the artistic paintings of Liz Downey on sale. She is a great painter!!! We started with Santa Barbara Smoked House Salmon with Avocado, Chiles, Lime, and Cilantro. It was not enough for sharing, but it was delicious. We expected more salmon, but the salad only came with few pieces of it.
|Smoked House Salmon with Avocado, Chiles, Lime, and Cilantro|
My main dish was the Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon with Mustard-Chives Sauce, Artichoke Hearts, and Parsley Potatoes. It was beautifully served and prepared. The salmon was medium-rare and the sauce under it, kept it moist and flavorful. I loved the artichokes: they were slightly acidic, but at the same time very meaty and satisfying. The potatoes were a little but flavorless, but not bad at all.
|Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon with Mustard-Chives Sauce, Artichoke Hearts|
My husband ordered the Local Halibut with Meyer Lemon-Basil Cream Sauce, Baby Leafy Greens, and Parsley Potatoes. The flavor of the halibut was very mild and the fish was so fresh and luxurious. The sauce was a nice addition to the plate and the greens provided a lot of vibrant color.
|Local Halibut with Meyer Lemon-Basil Sauce, greens, and potatoes|
All the desserts were displayed on a moving table, but the one that caught my eye was the Chocolate Covered cheesecake with fresh raspberries. It looked so good, so we ordered a piece to share.
|The desserts on a display|
Our slice of Ricotta Cheesecake came with a candle, since we were celebrating my birthday. The Raspberry Sauce underneath added such a refreshing touch to the dessert. It was creamy, tasty, and heavenly. We had a great time and we are looking forward to go back again.
|Cheesecake with Ricotta, Chocolate Ganache, and Raspberry Sauce|
The truffles came after dinner and as always, they were very welcome. Dusted with cocoa powder and filled with creamy chocolate, they represented the end of a special dinner and the beginning of more foodie adventures.
|The post-dinner chocolate truffles|
5) Olio Pizzeria, Santa Barbara --- What to order: This is a great pizzeria for people who appreciate Italian style wood-fired pizza. The ambiance is informal, relaxed, and family friendly. We started with the Insalata di polipo (Mediterranean octopus, celery, and parsley vinaigrette). The seafood was generously served, but the dressing was a little bit too acidic and the garlic flavor was predominant. My husband liked it, but I expected a different seasoning.
|Insalata di Polipo|
The pizza was out-of-this-world good! We tried the Mare Chiaro: it was served with calamari, shrimp, clams, mozzarella, garlic, and parsley. The crust was thin and the edges nicely browned and puffed. There were enough seafood, but the main flavor was the garlicky-tomato sauce. Yummy!
|Mare Chiaro Pizza|
The dessert was Panna Cotta alla Nocciola, which is a custard made with the Italian hazelnut-chocolate spread (similar to Nutella). It was simply decorated with powder sugar and hazelnuts. The texture was like a mousse, but it was a little bit too sweet for me.
|Panna Cotta alla Nocciola|