Raise a fork and a glass to four new restaurants in Santa Barbara. Located everywhere from the heart of Montecito to the downtown Santa Barbara arts district, an iconic oceanfront locale and a sleek new luxury hotel … these eateries are worth diving into.
Blackbird is the signature restaurant at Santa Barbara’s newest resort, the Hotel Californian, located less than a block from Stearns Wharf and just steps from both the Pacific Ocean and the Funk Zone. The atmosphere strikes a balance between sleek and elegant yet approachable, and the food follows suit. Dinner menus by Executive Chef Alexander La Motte emphasize Mediterranean cuisine with some North African influences that highlight Santa Barbara-sourced, hyper-seasonal ingredients. Starters include local uni and oysters from Ventura purveyor The Jolly Oyster. Bold flavors abound in entrée standouts: striped bass marries tomato, nettle gnocchi, spring onion and anchovy; and Holstein rib-eye is paired with potato, turnip, hazelnut and smoked romesco. Sips include craft cocktails, tap beers and a varied wine list that spotlights California bottlings. Blackbird is open for dinner daily; Goat Tree is the hotel’s gourmet café with casual all-day dining.
36 State St., Santa Barbara, 805/882-0135, thehotelcalifornian.com
The newest location for mini-chain Bluewater Grill is appropriately enough in a restored lighthouse-themed building across from the beach near Stearns Wharf. Chef Chanel Ducharme, who formerly did a stint at The Hungry Cat, zeroes in on fresh, sustainable seafood and pairs it with produce from local farms. The menu runs the seafood gamut, from classics like Maryland-style crab cakes, rainbow trout amandine, San Francisco cioppino, New England clam chowder and fish and chips to daily specials of fresh fish. There are also meats, chicken and hearty salads for non-seafoodies. The emphasis on local extends to libations, with a Santa Barbara County-centric wine list, draft beers hailing from Ventura to Paso Robles and spirits from nearby distillers including Cutler’s. Views are spectacular, especially from the second floor and the waterfront outdoor patio. Bluewater Grill serves lunch, dinner and happy hour in the lounge.
15 E. Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara, 805/845-5121, Bluewatergrill.com/locations/Santa-Barbara.
The former Peabody’s in Montecito has been transformed by a five-year renovation into the sleek new Oliver’s, a creative plant-based restaurant. The contemporary décor combines elegance and comfort in an atmosphere of unpretentious fine dining—you can even bring Sparky to nosh with you on the large dog-friendly heated patio under lighted trees. Or sit inside the dining room or light, airy bar area with a communal table. Chef Craig Riker’s season-driven menu is divided into small plates, salads, entrees and vegetable sides, and though you won’t find dairy, meat or eggs, you will find inventive, delicious and beautifully presented food. Small plate hits include artichoke “crab” cakes made with hearts of palm, corn, scallions and cherry tomato, with a spicy aioli. Popular entrees include the earthy wild mushroom tostada. Cocktails are made with local organic juicery Juice Ranch products. Free valet parking. Stay tuned for lunch service, slated to begin in June.
1198 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, 805/969-0834, oliversofmontecito.com
SMITHY KITCHEN + BAR
Originally a blacksmith shop, Smithy is located in the thick of the downtown Santa Barbara arts district near Sullivan Goss Gallery, Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Granada Theatre. Designer Steve Hermann has redone the former Somerset space with an invitingly light, modern décor. The outdoor heated patio, with its canopy of 100-year-old olive trees, is one of the loveliest in town. Chef Lauren Herman, who worked under superstar chef Suzanne Goin at Los Angeles’s A.O.C. and Lucques for eight years, combines local, seasonal produce, sustainably raised meats and sustainably caught fish in her approachable dishes. The menu lends itself to sharing, with platters from grilled baby back ribs with ancho chile and slaw to grilled whole fish alongside saffron rice. You’ll also find cheese and charcuterie, salads, house-made pastas, organic whole-grain flatbreads and superb desserts from pastry chef Christina Olufson. Smithy serves Sunday brunch, lunch Monday through Friday, dinner and happy hour at the bar.
7 E. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara, 805/845-7112, smithysb.com.
This story was originally published in the 2018 summer issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.