Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > California >
Aug 9, 2006 07:55 PM

Review Square One Santa Barbara

There is a fairly new place in Santa Barbara called Square One. My friend went and wrote this great reveiw and gave me permission to post it.

Square One got a mixed review from us. The interior was nice, but a bit too stark for me (which means it's probably too stark for most everyone). I liked the light fixtures, and a few pieces of artwork would have solved the problem. There was not much on the menu that sounded great, can't say for sure why. So Mom and I had salmon and my husband had the filet. The presentation was very artsy and they got bonus points for it. Mom especially liked how creative they were. The meals were served on rectagular plates that gave an slight Asian influence. The meals were laid out to make the most of the shape of the plates. Our salmon was in three sections (square shapes) of exactly the same thing: garlic mashed potatoes with salmon on top, with diced pieces of fingerling potatoes (kind of like french fries) and a twig of green between. It didn't look like much food because it was divided up into 3 small sections, but it was more that it looked like and I was stuffed by the time I was done. It was great and tasty, the garlic mashed potatoes added just the right flavor with the salmon. The salmon was done med-rare. Mom and I agreed it was missing a green veggie. Neither of us had ordered a salad.

My husband got the filet. It came pre-sliced thinly and sitting on a brown sauce with three tiny rectangular white square bowls lined up across the top of the rectangular plate. It had a small amount of pureed asparagus, creamed corn and something else like sauteed ham in them. It looked artsy, but he wasn't that crazy about it. I think it was tasty, but he wanted to cut the filet, I guess it was a manly thing. The things in the little bowls didn't look too appetizing to me.

They didn't have a full liquor licsence, so my husband had a beer and mom and I had wine. We both wanted a Merlot, but there was none by the glass on the menu, so we asked about it. The waiter suggested another type of wine (Spanish? I don't remember the type) that he said drank like a Merlot. It was the cheapest on the menu $7 and was excellent. The waiter was great, happy and helpful, but didn't overdo it.

For dessert my husband had the Bananas Foster (we all had bites). It was excellent, the bananas were deep fried in a light batter, not sauteed. It was served on a caramel sauce, but the best part was the coconut ice cream. yum.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. This sounds like a reincarnation of "Dish" in Santa Barbara which quickly went out of business after its initial splash. I always rebel against "artsy" presentations. Food does not have to be tarted with plate "design" up if it is good to start out with. I give it less than a year.

    Santa Barbara is tough on restaurants. Not sure what the winning formula is, but loyalties are earned far more by earnest food and presentation, not "artsy" ones here.

    Thanks for letting me know this is not a place I want to bother with. What were the prices like?

    1 Reply
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Dish is not gone. It has moved to Goleta. Calle Real at Fairview.

    2. I've been to Square One several times and am more charitable about it than shedders. Yes the atmosphere is a bit austere, but the seating (up front in particular) is comfortable and the service has been friendly.

      I disagree with the comment that "there was not much on the menu that sounded great." In my visits there my wife and I and our friends have commented on the difficulty in deciding among many interesting options. We've had superb duck and other rich and satisfying dishes, well executed with fine sauces. I should also note that we have had very good bottles of regional wine there that were offered for reasonable prices compared to some of the outright thievery that goes on elsewhere in town.

      I admit that the food presentation, like the restaurant itself, can be a bit arch and off-putting. I wouldn't let this or the other criticisms stop any local foodie out there from giving it a try.

      I will readily concede that non-locals visiting S.B. should pursue other options for a fine dining experience here. Square One is not on par with the best in town such as Bouchon or Downey's.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Cheese Please

        Just the messenger. As I said in my post, I did not go to Square One, my friend did. She writes vivid reviews so I asked her if I could post her review. She is not one to post herself. This is her response to glbtrtr:
        Although the entree presentation was a artsy, the atmosphere and waiter was not pretentious. It had a very mixed-age crowd, but they were not too "with it" like you might find at Sevilla. It was very comfortable. We gave the restaurant a "plus' for creativity and for trying something a little different because the food was still good. My mom especially liked the presentation. The salmon could have been served in one piece instead of 3 and it wouldn't have been quite as good because the presentation encouraged me to eat the salmon combined with the garlic mashed potatoes rather than one at a time. I suspect they served the filet thinly precut to allow it to absorb some of the sauce. I agree the presentation of sides with the filet was not so successful, but at least they tried something different.

        The prices were a bit on the high side, our meals were $28 and $29. But, the salad was $8, our wine was $7 and desserts were $8. My husband also had a tomato salad that was varities of little tomatoes cut in half with a tasty vinegarette. It was excellent, very fresh tasty tomatoes, no fancy presentation.

        I thought it was a little pricey, but then Montecito Cafe is still our favorite, but it was worth it to try.

      2. I've eaten at Square One previously, and just loved it - albeit it WAS expensive. I now eat there only on the company dime, and I'll be doing so this weekend TWICE! I'll report back.... Another thing, this restaurant is the only place in town to carry all three Telegraph Brewing beers.

        1. Here's my report back on my meal at Square One: I took a group of out of town clients to the restaurant and I had set their expectations high. Square One did not disappoint on any front, and my clients felt they could not have had a more special meal that night in Santa Barbara.
          We started off with a round of Telegraph beer, the California Ale, which SQ1 serves nicely in oversized Pilsner glasses. I ordered a fabulous Santa Rita Hills pinot noir to pair with the meals (can't remember the winery, unfortunately) and it was just right for the meals we all ended up ordering: Kobe beef, lamb loin, ahi tuna and scallops.

          My personal favorite of the evening was the foie gras appetizer. It was a half-dollar sized round of the most perfectly prepared foie gras I have ever had, and topped with a sea salt that was crunchy, salty and a perfect compliment.

          I know I'm gushing here, but really - the chef at SQ1 is a very talented chap and a real perfectionist.

          1. I loved Square One. Being from LA, i have visited Santa Barbara several times and have not been lucky enough to find an impressive dining scene. Square One was not only a pleasant surprise, but one of the better meals I have had.

            I'm not sure what the other posts are referring to in regards to the decor. Yes, it is minimal, but with the cozy lighting and great intimate service, I didn't feel one bit of the "starkness" or "artsy" feel that is described by others.

            We were visiting from LA for a one night stay and wanted good Santa Barbara food. We've been to SB a few times and have been pretty disappointed with the food each time. Finally, we found a spot that has amazing quality food with great preparation.

            This type of food is right up my alley, simple and delicious. We ordered a couple house made charcuterie with accompaniments along with the squash soup, mixed green salad, gnocchi with lamb ragout, and a tagliatelle with boulonnaise. We were also recommended a delicious Aaron Syrah, which was super delicious. The wine list was mostly local Santa Barbara County wines or French varietals. All bottles were priced under $50, which is always a nice and pleasant surprise.

            Not only was each dish executed well, but they were also very delicious and flavorful at the same time simple. The little details were appreciated and noticed and it doesn't hurt to have the menu change frequently to accommodate the bounty of fresh available produce.

            I would highly recommend Square One to any tourist and local. I truly think this place stands up to some of the best restaurants around.

            3 Replies
            1. re: emking1316

              Local reviews remain mixed between the exceedingly enthusiastic and the quite disappointed. Sounds like a lot of money to take a chance:

              1. re: glbtrtr

                I just heard that the opening chef/co-owner Jason has left Square One in the last few months. The new chef is Crystal "Pink" Harris who has been cooking in SB for several years. She received some rave reviews when she was head of the kitchen at Epiphany a while back. Having worked with her I know she really knows what she is doing. I am sure she will build on the positives of what SQ1 has built so far and get the reviews consistantly positive as this one from this week.

                1. re: Got Cake

                  Epiphany is another one of those restaurants that has a lot going for it as for location and ambiance, but keeps getting inconsistent reviews for its food (primary reason for existence) and never comes to mind when the "top" restuarants are listed. And it is located in Restaurant Ground Zero so that really does mean it is off its mark for some reason.

                  Too bad the really talented chefs don't get more stability of location so they can build a reliable clientele. What gives with this? Who knows the chef/restaurant business that leads to this volatility - are their creative differences, work habits, prima donna demands, new ownership, new directions, cost-cutting demands. All of the above? Seems like talent should be nurtured and rewarded. Hope this move at Square One sticks because some of the good reviews sound really good.