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Fine Dining in Santa Barbara in July

My wife and I are going to be in Santa Barbara at the end of July on business. It coincides with my birthday too, so we are looking for several restaurant recommendations. I’ve poured over the archives of CH, and most of the SB posts are over two years old. I did follow a few more recent threads, but many were for casual-dining, vegetarian, or similar limitations.

We enjoy fine-dining and great wine lists. The price does not have to be “over-the-top,” but the entire operation should be top-notch. With the exception of my wife’s inability to handle bi-valves (most chefs can easily make a substitution), we are omnivores - so long as the wine goes well with the meal. We have no special cuisines in mind and are totally open. Any great tasting menus with sommelier’s pairings are a big plus, or a spot with great half-bottle selections would earn points too.

We will be staying in Santa Barbara, will have a car, but, as we both enjoy fine wine, would like to not have a trip to and from the restaurants.

To give an idea of the restaurants that we have enjoyed in CA (mostly SF-area):
Michael Mina’s
Restaurant Gary Danko
Viognier (San Mateo)
French Laundry (Yountville)

Thank you for the time and the thoughts.


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  1. Give San Ysidro Ranch or Sage and Onion a try, if you found French Laundry prices okay.

    Jade has owners and staff that are very into food and wine and show a flair for service, though the restaurant is down a few notches from elegant - it is nice, local and stylish place where they like to talk about food and wine with their customers.

    And there have been lots of recents posts about SB in the past several months - often with the same recs over and over again so you should get a feel for what's what. Latest posts have been for the more casual, but you will find many good recs within the past six months.

    1 Reply
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Thank you for the recs. As for the recent Santa Barbara posts, I must need to do Boolean 101 over, as all I found were quite old, or very casual-value meals articles. Duh?!?

      I'll check out Jade, Sage & Onion and San Ysidro Ranch.


    2. Bill,

      As I read your post and list of favorite restaurants, I kept thinking The Stonehouse (what glbtrtr refers to below as San Ysidro Ranch) would be perfect. The whole place was recently redone and is very nice. The Stonehouse satisfies all of your requirements above EXCEPT the drive part. It is nestled up in Montecito (a few winding roads), but not too far up. Probably less than a 7 minute drive from downtown. Cabs are pretty abundant from any downtown hotel and the folks at Stonehouse would be more than capable of fetching a cab for you for the return. OR... maybe you can even stay at SYR. Hey, business expense, right? If not, Montecito Inn is reasonably priced and puts you striking distance to the Stonehouse. Sorry, I dont think you were looking for a travel agent.

      I would steer clear of Sage & Onion. It strikes me as a place that wishes it was what it once was.

      Santa Barbara has a lot of great restaurants, but not too many that I would consider "fine dining". Taking into consideration your "fine dining/great wine list/birthday/top notch operation" requirements, here is the list that comes to mind:

      Wine Cask - downtown
      Downey's - downtown
      Olio e Limone - downtown

      I may be leaving off a couple, but the coffee is not working yet.

      BTW...it is great to see a fellow Alan Wong believer.

      Have fun.


      2 Replies
      1. re: MunkeeCIAO

        I had a fantastic birthday dinner at Downey's last year. I think they put their seasonal menu online if you want to check it out.

        1. re: MunkeeCIAO

          Oh gosh, I've been "outed!" Yes, I'm a big subscriber to the AW restaurants.

          I will check out the other mentioned restaurants, and thanks for the clarification on the Stonehouse. If cabs are an option, that might be the way to go. My wife is my designated driver, but only because she's not the wine-geek, that I am. While she's good on twisty mountain roads, we always took a limo to The Flagstaff House, in Boulder, just because of the drive down.


        2. Someone was not too impressed with Downey's just recently.

          Your list for consideration should include...
          San Ysidro Ranch- Stonehouse
          Square One
          Wine Cask

          Maybe the restaurant at Bacara- Miro, I haven't been so can't officially recommend

          Places with mixed reviews, maybe look at past posts for some guidance
          Sage and Onion
          The Four Seasons Biltmore- Bella Vista

          2 Replies
          1. re: Got Cake

            Got Cake, please tell us more about Epihphany since it almost never gets mentioned when Ground Zero West Victoria Street restaurants get all the attention and it sits right in the middle of it.

            My own experience was poor when it first opened - stupidly small portions, overly pretentious choices and high prices. What has changed?

            1. re: glbtrtr


              I agree with your take on Epiphany. Great place for a cocktail or even after dinner drink, but I would not suggest this for what this guy is looking for.


          2. The Biltmore four seasons is real nice, and the food is outstanding.

            1. OK, here's the deal. We're driving in from PHX, and have a cocktail party at the Andalucia that evening, so I decided to not drive and chose 31 West @ the hotel. I was looking closely at Bella Vista/4 Season, but decided that, since we will have driven all day, and then will have had a few glasses of wine with the folk from the meeting, we'd be better off taking a culinary hit, but keeping it close to home.

              Next evening, there is a dinner meeting at the hotel, so it will probably be a rehash of 31 West, from the previous night.

              Saturday, we're taking six to the Winecask.

              Sunday, the b'day, we'll be doing the Stonehouse @ San Ysidro Ranch.

              I'll probably hate myself for not doing Bouchon, or Bella Vista on Thursday, but considerations for safety and fatique made me lazy. I hope that the catered meal at the hotel is not a copy of the night before, but will live with it.

              I'll do my best to give reviews of these, when we're back in the desert.

              Again, thank you all for your time and your recs.


              7 Replies
              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Bouchon is only 3 blocks from the Andalucia, so you could stroll there on Thursday for dinner. Either way you will have a great time during your visit.

                1. re: majmaj4

                  yep, the Andalucia is in the heart of downtown, so you have a lot to choose from down there. (and its all a very easy and pretty walk!) Don't feel like you are limited to the hotel as the downtown area really isn't very large.
                  I hear the rooftop bar at the Andalucia is very fun. Hope you have a great time!

                  1. re: Jeters

                    The bar on the roof did well by us, even though it was an "event." I have to say that SB does a far better job with "event wines," than is likely to be found at the resorts in PHX. While we do have some wonderful fine-dining (though some of the best are going more "happening," than true "fine-dining"), the "house wines," are rather poor choices. We really enjoyed SB and the wines. The food, and the service were all good, with only slight hangups. We were really pleased. We'd go back, and not just for the wines.

                    Though not food-related, the staff at the Andalucia were right on, and we've stayed at R-Cs and 4-Seasons around the globe, plus boutique hotels in top cities.


                  2. re: majmaj4

                    I wish that we had had a bit more time, as I have gotten great reviews of Bouchon elsewhere. Heck, even my wife's jeweler in PHX loves it!


                  3. re: Bill Hunt

                    Looking forward to your report on Hotel Andalucia dining - only had one rather poor catered lunch there - but the setting was plush and lovely. Please give us the full report, even what the rooms are like too if you can. Thanks

                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      If it were me, I would do anything but 31 West. I have been and am not impressed. Even Roy, a short block from the hotel, would be better. Bacon wrapped filet...MMMM.


                      1. re: MunkeeCIAO

                        I was going to go easy on myself and dine "in house," but then found that we were doing 31W as part of the meeting. Substituted Bella Vista instead, and actually 31W was good, for an "event" dinner. See my partial review.


                    2. We went to Downys for our big dinner in SB last year. John Downy is a very talented chef serving up fresh seasonal fare. Lovely dining room and his wife runs the front of house. She knows her wines and matched them very nicely to our preferences. Excellent experience and cant wait to go back.

                      2 Replies
                        1. re: honkman

                          WOW. I read your link. What a let down. It was such a high point of our trip and had planned on going back someday. Thank you for the info and advice.

                      1. OK, where do I start? Well first, I need to thank all of the C’Hounds, who gave me recs. for dining in Santa Barbara during my wife’s recent board meeting. I really appreciate the thought that went into them and to the suggestions. Unfortunately, we could not do them all.

                        I had planned to do it simple on the night of our arrival, as we were driving from PHX. I made reservations a week out at 31W at the Hotel Andalucia, where we were staying. Next night my wife informed me, that we were dining there the next night with the board. Quick calls canceled my reservations and I opted for Bella Vista, which was close to our hotel and had come highly recommended. Bella Vista: http://www.fourseasons.com/santabarba...

                        We were hosting another couple and opted for al fresco dining. It was a perfect night and the setting was excellent, overlooking the Pacific. From the valet to the hostess, we were warmly welcomed. Because I was hosting and a lot of business was being conducted, I was not able to make notes of the dishes that were ordered, but can attest that all plates were cleaned and there were oh-h’s and ah-h’s all around. The mains were: Chilean Sea Bass, Salmon, Lamb and a Peppercorn Kobe Tenderloin. I do know that I started the evening off with Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, followed by Brewer-Clifton Sea Smoke Vineyards, Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay and ended with the Melville, Carrie Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills, Pinot Noir. I would normally have gone to Burgundy for both the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir, but I was in Santa Barbara after all. I added a b-t-g selection of Babcock Cabernet Sauvignon for my beef. The vineyard was not listed, so I do not believe that it was Fathom, the Nucleus, or the Lion. We shared a cheese plate and had all kept some of the Chard, the PN, and I, my Cab to sample. Great. Service was excellent for both the food and the wine. The setting was world-class and, though a bit expensive, was worth the $. I’d typify this as a real “special occasion,” restaurant.

                        Next night found us at the hotel, http://www.andaluciasb.com/ at their 31W restaurant, dining at the event. The meal was rather standard fare of a Petite Filet & Salmon, but well done. The wines were: the Tantara Chardonnay and the Babcock Pinot Noir. While nice, I went beyond and had the server bring the Brewer-Clifton, Mount Carmel, Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay and the Calera, Selleck Vineyard, Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir. This often throws a “monkey wrench” into a server’s night, but these folk did not miss a beat. I also had additional bottles opened and poured for select recipients at other tables. The servers were like ghosts, floating about the room and sliding a glass in front of the specific people. When asked, they pointed discretely at me, and knowing nods were exchanged. At similar events in Phoenix, I have had major problems just getting select wines for my table and have NEVER been able to get some poured for specific folk at other tables. Once, it cost me for about 6 btls. of Bdx. as the server just started pouring for everyone at any table near mine! Extra points to 31W. The meal was good, considering that it was really banquet fare. Better than most, that I have encountered, but the service stood out. They even upgraded the wine glasses, without having to be asked, for my “premium” wines. I’d like to try them for a real dinner sometimes.

                        We were planning on taking two other couples to the Winecask, http://www.winecask.com/ but the number kept growing. We ended up with 13 and the restaurant did not miss a lick. My only concern was that my group did become a bit loud - something that I do not like, when dining. I felt that I owed an apology to the Winecask, though they claimed to have not heard us - very professional. Still, I felt very bad, because I hate loud diners and restaurants and now was part of the “problem.” The meals were across the board and it seemed that all plates were clean, upon return to the kitchen. I can only comment on the wines: Again with the Brewer-Clifton, Sea Smoke Chard, which was followed by the Calera, Jensen Mt Harlan Vineyard Pinot Noir, and finally with Justin Isosceles, Paso Robles Bdx. blend.

                        On our last night, we made reservations at The Stonehouse @ San Ysidro Ranch, http://www.sanysidroranch.com/dine1.cfm
                        It took us longer to drive the 7.2 miles, mostly on 101, than we had anticipated, so I called to let them know that we were possibly going to be late - no problem. Then, it took us a bit to actually find it, even with the address plugged-into my wife’s nav. system, which is almost always 99.9%. Finally, we made it, and just in time. We were seated on the outside patio, by request, even though some ash from the forest fire was falling. Since we’ve played tennis and golf in West Mau`i, in October, we are used to Mau`i Snow, when the sugarcane fields are burned. Service was great, with one little glitch. I had started us out with the Brewer-Clifton (do you see a pattern here?) Ashley’s, Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay and a glass of Sauternes to accompany my Foie Gras. The Sauternes showed up during our main course. Oh well, the B-C almost carried it, and it worked for my wife’s Dungeness and Blue Crab Cakes. Wife went with the Parmesan Crusted Halibut and I, the Tomato Herb Crusted Filet of Beef. Both were excellent. We did a half-bottle each of: Au Bon Climat, La Bauge Au dessus, Pinot Noir, Santa Ynez Valley and the Shafer, One Point Five, Stag’s Leap, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Other than the Sauternes mishap, everything was great.

                        In all, great dining, thanks to the C’Hounds on this board. This was my first trip to the Cental Coast in about five years. While I thought that I knew the wineries in the area, I was blown away by the proliferation of great wines in such a short time. It appears that “Sideways” has done some very good things for the area. While I thought that it was an interesting little film, other than some wine aspects, did not pay that much attention to it. Talking to the tasting room personnel, it seems that it attracted a lot of good attention. I was half-expecting to see the Buelton Area looking more like Branson, MO, that what I remembered. Not to be. It was still nice, quiet, somewhat sleepy, but with many more very good wineries, than I remembered. I am always glad to see good things happen to great places!

                        On one of the days in Santa Barbara, we had signed up for a “wine tour,” with the board. I did not expect much from a commercial endeavor, and it started, just as I had expected - Firestone Winery. Nothing there, but I did not expect it. Next, we stopped at Curtis, which is a family project of Firestone. Great wines, fun place - the antitheses of Firestone and a very pleasant surprise for me. Next, we were to go to Fess Parker, just as I had called it, however, they had a wedding, so the tasting room was closed. At this point, I hijacked the bus, and we headed to Los Olivos and did an hour of tasting. It was there possible to sample dozens of wines from the region (AVA), and from many wineries without formal tasting rooms. The group applauded, as some had sampled from Fess Parker Winery before. Now, things may have changed, since I last did a portfolio tasting from FP, or I could have missed some hidden gems, but I do not think so.

                        Last day, wife and I drove to some old favorites, and found some new wineries along the way: Beckman, Blackjack and Babcock. Blackjack was one that we had enjoyed, but had just never visited. We also had time to do brunch in Solvang, which was a little break from the fine-dining, that we had experienced most of the week.

                        I now have got to go back, with the Landcruiser, instead of the Mercedes, so I can bring back wine (in decent quantities) to PHX. I found that it holds 19 styro-shippers, so a few days should fill it to the brim. Also discovered the East Bay Wine Shop (hope that is the correct name, as I do not have the card handy at the moment), in SB. Great little shop with a good compliment of local wines, very informative and helpful staff, though they could use a bit more parking.

                        Last, my thoughts and prayers are with the residents of the Santa Barbara Area, especially above Cachuma Reservoir. Living in Colorado and Arizona, I fully understand the devastation of a wildfire. I hope that the weather and the brave firefighters will soon get control of it.

                        Again, thanks to all. I could not have had such a wonderful dining experience, without you. I also apologize for not being able to do more complete reviews of the dishes, but work takes precedence over pleasure, and this was, after all, a working trip.


                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          Thank you for writting up you visit.

                          I think the wine shop you are referring to is East Beach Wine Company.

                          1. re: majmaj4

                            You are correct. Once I found the card, I confirmed your correction. Thank you. Nice shop with a good general selection, plus pretty heavy coverage of local wines. Prices were good, by PHX standards.