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Santa Barbara Review

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My wfie and I spent last weekend (April 20-22, 2007) celebrating our anniversary in Santa Barbara. We stayed at the San Ysidro Ranch and had been looking forward to dinner at the Stonehouse restaurant. We had been there about three times in the fairly distant past and had considered it one of our most favorite restaurants. My wife relished the Vegetarian section of the menu and I, a true chowhound, typically concocted my own multi-course "tasting menu" because I could never decide what to order. The restaurant recently reopened after a very lengthy shut down attributable, I think, to a fire. The "new" version is not worthy of the San Ysidro Ranch. What a disappointment. We had reserved two dinners there, but canceled the second. The food was not "bad," it was very basic and just average. The menu had virtually no creativity. Main courses were two types of steak, two fish, grilled tofu, and some other mundane stuff I can't recall. I'm a prety good cook myself, and we had only one dish that I could not have done as well or better myself. That was a portobello ravioli with duck confit and a beet cream sauce. The ravioli and duck were well done, but the consistency of the sauce was more like spreadable cream cheese than a sauce. Desert was forgettable too. The service was efficient but our waiter was and obsequious ("excellent choice, sir" etc. etc.) and too pushy. Even my wife, who gets restless when our dining time reaches an hour and a half (I prefer three hours for a nice meal) felt rushed. Although we loved our room at the ranch, we will not eat at the restaurant unless/until they make a change.

On a positive note, we had lunch and then breakfast the next day at Tupelo Junction Cafe on State Street. I can't say enough good things about that place. Check out the menu on their website. We had to wait both days but the hostess was right on the mark about how long the wait would be (15 minutes one day; 25 minutes the next), so we wandered around and got seated immediately upon our return. For lunch, I had the lobster and corn chowder which was tasty (although the stock was a little weak) and chocked full of "stuff" (lobster, corn, carrots, potatoes). Then I had the mac and cheese with collard greens/bacon. Tremendous rendition! For breakfast the next day, I had the crab cake "hash." Really good. Not the best crab cakes I've ever had but the combination of crab cakes and hash browns covered with a pretty good guacamole (not spicy enough for me) and two perfectly poached eggs really hit the spot. We started with the apple -cinnamon beignets (top notch!). The service was friendly and efficient. We will definitely go back.

We had dinner on Saturday night at Epiphany which was very good. Way better than Stonehouse. Very creative menu with our dishes executed quite well. Service was "spot on." We also had a direct view of the kitchen where we were able to see the chef expediting all the dishes. It's nice when the chef is in the kitchen doing some actual cooking and looking over every dish before it's sent out. I had an asparagus salad (tasted like the asparagus had come from the day's farmer's market) and the duck dish. My wife had aspargus (obviously in season) soup and the ahi tuna tartar two ways. Everything was quite flavorful. I'm a duck snob and this preparation was a 7 on a scale of 10. The "fois gras" risotto was tasty, although I'm not sure I would have been able to identify it as "fois gras" risotto without the menu. We ate next to a couple who were in their 70s if not older. When the hostess asked them how everything was at the end of their meal, the woman complained that her tarragon chicken was not to her liking. The hostess deducted the cost of that dish from their bill. That tells you something about this place's commitment to customer satisfaction. I'd recommend this place. We paid $108 with tip and one glass of wine. (Our disappointing dinner at Stonehouse was nearly twice that with only one glass of wine there too . ... although I will say our waiter "topped off" my glass with a generous 2nd pour at no charge.)

Interested to hear other views of these places and others in SB.

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  1. Thanks for the review of Epiphany! I'll have to look for that next time I visit the folks.

    I've never been to stonehouse ( looks like I missed out before they closed) but I agree, Tupelo Junction has a wonderful breakfast.

    1. That is so disappointing to hear about your experience at the Stonehouse. I have been a long time fan of theirs and have only been once since the reopening. I have to say, that visit was as good if not better than previous. I did not have any experiences similar to yours above and I too prefer not to be rushed when dining at a place like that. Maybe just an off night? Let's hope so.

      I do love Tupelo for lunch, but not for breakfast. Not sure why. MSO prefers breakfast there over lunch, so I guess its a toss up. Do they still have the pulled pork sandwich with melted cheese?

      M

      1. Thanks for your informative review - both San Ysidro & Tupelo Junction are on my radar, and your case is persuasive. I'm a bit like you in the sense that I cook a lot and really want to find things I don't make or can't make as good.

        1. Chowhounders. I wrote this review two years ago. Am going back to SB for the first time since then. Can anyone chime in with more recent opinions of Stonehouse. I don't want to be disappointed again and am counting on you 'hounds for some informed advice. The reviews I've read on other sites don't cut it with me. Thanks for the help.

          8 Replies
          1. re: lebdog

            Your first review kept me away. Did not want to waste my money there. Have not heard any further local buzz about the place. It will be good to get your own updated comments.

            1. re: glbtrtr

              Well, it's 2 years later. We love the property but, if I can't get any good current intel, i might go somewhere else. Only there for 1 night and don't want to be disappointed again.

              1. re: lebdog

                It would be interesting to know where you'd go if you quit going.
                I love everything about San Ysidro Ranch.
                I've been staying there for many years and I agree....the Stonehouse is not what it used to be. Having said that to me it's a wonderful, relaxing getaway in one of the most beautiful places in Santa Barbara and even if Stonehouse isn't what it used to be....I can't really think of any restaurant that is worth leaving the property, or my room for, so I"ll go for room service. It's always wonderful along with the impeccable service.

                1. re: latindancer

                  I'd go to Carp and try Giannfranco. Modest, but very interesting. Especially, the specials.

                  Agree, don't come to SYR for the food. Come to just get away and dine okay without having to do much effort to get fed. Tre Lune is nice for lunch, coconut cake at Montecito Inn is still great, and I am a Mollie's fan. But not much else would really draw me away in Montecito from the Ranch either.

                  1. re: glbtrtr

                    I used to be a fan of Tre Lune, their pasta dishes are truly wonderful, until the service became unbearable. There are those who apparently could care less about food coming out of the kitchen an hour after ordering. I'm not one of them. The coconut cake at Montecito Inn, while everyone raves about it, is way too sweet for me....I really wanted to love it because of the huge following it has.
                    Thanks for the tip about Giannfranco. I'm going to definately give it a try next week.

                  2. re: latindancer

                    I am so with latindancer on the San Ysidro Ranch...
                    Love this place and can't imagine anyone not enjoying this property and dining there...
                    We were just there in September and what Ty Warner has done in the last several years is very impressive..
                    Plow & Angel was lovely..we had a terrific meal with great service.

                    1. re: latindancer

                      My post was not clear. I would pack a sack lunch and eat it in my room to stay at SYR. When I said, "go somewhere else," I meant for our special birthday dinner. Like I said in my original post, we thought Epiphany was really good. No one, however, has mentioned it. The room service idea sounds like a winner. Either that or go to Plow and Angel or Stonehouse (with diminished expectations). After all, its the difference between expectations (and past performance) and the current reality that I was really bemoaning in my OP.

                      1. re: lebdog

                        I'm in complete agreement with you on this one.
                        I am the first to be disappointed when a restaurant changes...one that I'd learn to love and look forward to.
                        Try the room service. My favorite room service item, in the afternoon, is the "Natural Angus Burger' with carmelized onions and blue cheese. I pair it with whatever Cabernet they suggest.
                        I don't know what it is about the burger but, to me, it's one of the finest meals I can imagine....I attribute it to the property and the overall calm.
                        Pure bliss.

              2. Well, we just returned from spending one night at SYR. Unfortunately, the Stonehouse continues to serve truly average food. We sat outside on the patio (lovely) and had a good waiter but this restaurant is just not "up to snuff" for a hotel that was just voted "American's Best" by Forbes readers (perhaps they do not care about the food). I had lobster fritters, vichycoisse (sp?) - with an addition of cauliflower and served hot - and the filet. My wife had a special ono and a salad. We had the platter of "minis" for dessert (essentially bite-sized pieces of every dessert on the menu). We started with a glass of champagne and I had a glass of Pinot with my steak. Bill w/tip was $310. Way out of line of the quality of the food. Nothing was bad but that certainly should not be the standard. Once again, we loved the property but, if we eat there again we will just order room service or eat at the Plow and Angel. Oh yeah, we went back to Tupelo junction for Saturday "brunch" and loved it again.

                1 Reply
                1. re: lebdog

                  I think Tupelo is one of the best restaurants in SB. I've been craving them all week. Tonight, I feast on ribs.