Whether the fall season means back to school or not, it’s the perfect time to get educated about a slew of exciting new restaurants in town. Explore hot spots from cozy gastropubs to rustic Italian fine dining… and we won’t even pop a quiz later.
The ever-evolving Funk Zone, home to the Urban Wine Trail, eclectic shops, art studios, bars and micro-breweries, has upped its culinary ante with the opening of The Lark and Lucky Penny. The two restaurants, along with a wine bar/shop, occupy a completely revamped historic warehouse. The menu at The Lark (131 Anacapa St., 805/284-0370, thelarksb.com) spotlights local, seasonal ingredients in innovative dishes that executive chef Jason Paluska has designed for sharing. You can even drink hyper-local at The Lark’s full bar, with a classic or craft cocktail made from Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, distilled just feet away. Outdoors is Lucky Penny (805/284-0370, luckypennysb.com), a freestanding restaurant that sends irresistible aromas wafting through the air from its wood-burning pizza oven. You’ll also find take-away artisan bakery goods and coffees, fresh-pressed juices, snacks and an inviting open courtyard. Living up to its name, Lucky Penny sports tiles with inlaid sun-catching pennies, part of a project to benefit local nonprofit groups. Les Marchands (805/284-0380, lesmarchandswine.com) is a wine bar with outdoor patio and shop stocked with a well-curated retail selection of wines from small and interesting producers in Santa Barbara County and Europe. Co-owners Brian McClintic and Eric Railsback know their stuff: McClintic holds the distinction of being the only master sommelier in Santa Barbara County (he’s featured in the documentary film SOMM that chronicles the rigorous master sommelier exam process), and Railsback is an award-winning sommelier with stints at A-list restaurants throughout the state. In keeping with the collaborative spirit of the Funk Zone, the Les Marchands team developed the wine list for The Lark. Les Marchands also shares kitchen space with The Lark and offers small plates such as oysters on the half shell, salads, cheese platters and charcuterie plates.
Sip some suds at the urban, unstuffy downtown brewpub American Ale (14 E. Cota St., 805/845-6226, americanale.net), a second location for the Union Ale folks. Nosh on juicy burgers made with a signature fresh-ground-daily blend of chuck beef and pork, or try the chicken or lentil burgers. Hearty soups are paired with gooey grilled cheese sandwiches. Don’t miss the addictive garlic fries. Imbibe from a list of 24 American craft beers and ciders on draft, along with vintage cocktails in the warm and welcoming inside space—think aged-wood paneling, distressed brick and high ceilings—or on the back patio. Toma (324 W. Cabrillo Blvd., 805/962-0777, tomarestaurant.com) is a new romantic bistro in the former location of Emilio’s at the waterfront. Owners Tom Dolan (head waiter and general manager at Emilio’s for almost 20 years) and his wife Vicki oversee the clock-like running of the place. Soak up the harbor views while digging into Italian- and Mediterranean-inspired dishes from seared sea bass with fresh herbs to braised short ribs with mushroom ragout and house-made pastas. Quaff from the full bar and excellent list of Italian and Central Coast wines. Birds of a feather are flocking to Finch & Fork (31 W. Carrillo St., 805/879-9100, finchandforkrestaurant.com), the new incarnation of Canary Hotel’s Coast Restaurant & Bar. A new entrance at the corner of Carrillo and Chapala streets welcomes the public. Menu-wise, you’ll find your old faves with some fresh changes. Look for Monday night rooftop wine tastings through October, with the grand finale on October 14. Then break out your costume for a rooftop Halloween bash on October 31. Making a splash in the valley is S.Y. Kitchen (1110 Faraday St., Santa Ynez, 805/691-9794, sykitchen.com), owned by Kathie and Mike Gordon, proprietors of West L.A.’s wildly popular Toscana. Chef-partner Luca Crestanelli focuses on unfussy rustic Italian food made from fresh local ingredients. Expect inventive salads and house-made pastas with everything from seasonal seafood to duck ragu. An outdoor red-oak grill is fired up year round, turning out juicy steaks and chops.
The chefs at Sama Sama Kitchen (1208 State St., 805/965-4566, samasamakitchen.com)—Ryan Simorangkir, Tyler Peek, Ricardo Aguilar and Kevin Hoover, seasoned cooking pals—craft dishes inspired by authentic Indonesian street food with a tasty twist, using locally sourced and organic ingredients in a nontraditional fashion. Don’t miss the chicken satay, gado gado, corn fritters and seafood broth, as well as the cocktail menu, with piquant concoctions such as the Starry Southside, made with star fruit-infused gin, Angostura bitters, simple syrup and soda, or the Mule Kick, with Thai chili and ginger-infused vodka, lime and ginger beer.
Originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.