Summer in Santa Barbara sizzles with a slew of exciting new restaurants. Look for creative dishes made with farmers’ market fresh fruits and veggies, al fresco dining with ocean breezes and accents from Italian to Peruvian.
Located in downtown’s stylish Hotel Indigo, Blue Tavern (119 State St., 805/845-0989, bluetavernsb.com) has become an instant hit with visitors and locals alike. Just two blocks from the beach, the tavern makes a great stop for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Chef Ricardo Zarate updates classic Californian dishes with ingredients from his native Peru, fresh-off-the-boat seafood and farmers’ market produce. The classic beet, tomato and burrata salad is reimagined with a huacatay-pesto dressing; seafood medley risotto gets a zippy Peruvian makeover with a tomato-aji panca base and salsa verde; and the traditional dish lomo saltado is recast as housemade tagliatelle with filet of beef, tomato-onion stew and pecorino. Don’t-miss dishes include steamed mussels and chorizo with aji amarillo butter and lime juice, and anticucho-marinated grilled rib eye steak with potato tarte tatin. The creative cocktail menu shakes and stirs the two cultures—cheers to classic drinks made with housemade tinctures and small-batch spirits. The Old Fashioned takes a jaunt to South America, swapping bourbon for mezcal. Blue Tavern’s wine list shines a spotlight on local vintners, many of whom have tasting rooms just blocks from the restaurant on the Urban Wine Trail.
Global Gardens owner Theo Stephan is known for her award-winning organic California-made extra-virgin olive oils and balsamic fruit vinegars, which she sells along with other gourmet products both online and at her charming store/tasting bar. She recently made the move from Los Olivos to Los Alamos and launched Caliterranean Café (380 Bell St., Los Alamos, 805/344-2222, globalgardensonline.com). Browse the store, taste olive oils at the tasting bar and linger for a glass of Santa Barbara County wine, lunch, dinner or dessert on the patio. Stephan notes that ingredients are “hyper-seasonal, local and non-GMO.” All we know is that her food is delicious. The menu changes often, but expect summer salads made with local organic greens and fruit drizzled with EVOO and fruit balsamics, soups, grilled cheese sliders, dishes made from DeyDey’s local organic beef and Diestel turkey, and Thai-inspired creations. Stephan converted her mom’s Greek recipes to incorporate olive oil instead of butter. So treat yourself to baklava, Greek walnut cake or mini almond pies with chocolate swirl. Oh, and the beer float with EVOO ice cream is divine.
Relax and unwind at Apero Bar (532 State St., 805/560-7333, aperosb.com), where glasses clink and plates are shared in the European spirit of “apero,” with a toast to the end of the day—it’s the French equivalent of cocktail hour, the delightful pause between the workday and the dinner hour. We’re all for it. Slow down and savor a craft cocktail, wine or beer and share fresh tapas such as garlic flatbread topped with fresh arugula, shaved parmesan and olives, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic glaze. Or nosh on charcuterie and cheese plates sourced from blocks-away C’est Cheese. Tartines are grilled farm bread or baguette slices served as open-faced sandwiches—try Brie cheese with apricot jam and walnuts. A hearty hit is the butcher burger, made with pork, beef, Parmesan and bacon, topped with garlic aioli, arugula and a poached egg. Add warm, friendly staff and comedy upstairs on Friday nights and your pause might become a regular stop.
Olio Crudo Bar (11 W. Victoria St., Suite 17, 805/899-2699, oliocrudobar.com), the latest addition to the Olio group, takes you on a culinary swing through towns along the Italian coast. Sophisticated, intimate and unstuffy, it’s the perfect spot for a fresh, light summer meal—sip a cocktail, aperitivo or glass of wine (Spumanti, anyone?) and nibble crudo (raw) Italian seafood and meats, as well as cotto (cooked) bar menu items. You might find thinly sliced fish dressed simply with a little sea salt and a drizzle of olio e limone. Think sashimi with an Italian accent. The menu takes seasonal ingredients and lets them shine in such dishes as Tonno Rosso, Atlantic bluefin tuna belly with ginger vinaigrette and wasabi shoots; Polipo, Mediterranean octopus with sliced new potatoes, frisée lettuce and spicy hot pepper; and Maiale, pressed Kurobuta pork belly with shaved Brussels sprouts and Fuji apple chutney.
New to the downtown theater and arts area this summer, Benchmark Eatery (1201 State St., 805/729-5883, benchmarkeatery.com) will occupy the corner of State and Anapamu streets. The casual eatery, owned by the Bennett family of Brophy Bros. fame, is poised to dish out American fare made with local ingredients, along with generous drinks. The spacious patio is perfect for summer sitting.
Originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.