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May 30, 2007 12:27 AM

Santa Barbara - good food and one big disappointment

After two years we finally had again time for a short weekend trip to Santa Barbara and had a really great time with good food.
We finally made it to Superrica and enjoyed the food (#13 and #16) and will definitely be back.
As every time when we are in SB we went to The Palace. (This time even twice though the second time wasn’t planned.) The Palace is not the best restaurant with the best food you will ever experience but it has good food and service and great ambience.
We had a good lunch at Pacific Crepes, a small french restaurant specialized in Crepes. A good lamb gyros with excellent greek salad at the Greek House Café on W. Haley St.

The only great disappointment was our dinner at Downey’s. It wasn't our first choice but after reading many good reviews on CH we were looking forward and we were very disappointed. There were many issues which make this restaurant below average:

- The bread was old and most likely bought at Ralphs or Vons.

- We only got a reservation after 9pm and we asked them on the phone if this would be too late and they would rush us. They said several times that they would never rush anybody and we would enjoy our meals. Well, three (!) minutes after we ordered our appetizers arrived at the table. They slowed down later but the whole dinner took less than 90 minutes and we felt rushed.

- Now to the worst part – the food: As appetizers we had the angelhair/lobster salad and the crab toast with curried fruits. Even if we are not in an Italian restaurant I expect that they should know when pasta is al dente, but I guess I was wrong and I got mushy pasta. The amount of lobster was very small and the vinaigrette absolutely bland. The crab toast was hard as a rock and more like zwieback but at least the curried fruits were good.

- The lamb loin was an unbelivable boring dish with some pieces of lamb loin, some green beans, shitake mushrooms, two pieces of potatoe and a bland sauce. This is something I could have easily done at home and wouldn’t have to pay $37. I go to upscale restaurants because I expect that a good chef is able to show creativity and imagination to transform a dish to something special but not at this restaurant were blandness is the standard. The second entrée was salmon with leavy greens and a basil-lemon sauce. And again everything was cooked ok but everything was also very bland.

- For dessert we had the passionfruit crème brulee – my first crème brulee without a sugar crust but some soggy sugar coating on the top and very artifical tasting passionfruit crème. The fruit shortcake tasted very bitter and was another disappointment.

I have no problem paying a lot of money for good food but I always expect to get good quality. But the quality at Downey’s doesn’t justify $140 for such a meal. This was one of our biggest disappointment in a long time and I think Downey’s is one of the most overrated restaurant I have ever seen.

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  1. Few here recommend Downey's. It is a restaurant for Santa Barbara's Old Guard who like English food.

    1 Reply
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Hey! English food isn't what it was 30 years ago! I LOVE english food!.

    2. You should have gone to The Wine Cask.

      2 Replies
      1. re: oerdin

        We planned to go to Bouchon but couldn't get a reservation. Based on several post here we had to make a decision between Wine Cask and Downey's and apparently we made the wrong decision.

        1. re: honkman

          Next time alternatives close by: OPAL on State Street, more of a bistro than fine dining, is also right around the corner and does not disappoint. OLIO E LIMONE is right next door to buchon and well worth a try too -- or down the East Victoria block to CA DARIO, across the parking lot on West Anapamu to HUNGRY CAT ....... you were in Restaurant Ground Zero for Santa Barbara and I am sorry it was Downey's that got your ticket. And good review coming in for TRATTORIA VITTORIA also on East Victoria though I have not tried it myself.

      2. Downey's used to be our favorite SB restaurant hands down. Sadly, our last visit in the fall mirrored yours. The restaurant was empty at 7:30 on a Sunday. The next night we ate at Bouchon. It was packed and the food and service were seriously good.

        1. Thanks for the info (and warning) Honkman. We are going in October and will keep these recommendations in mind. I'm definitely planning to try Super Rica and Bouchon.

          1. Downey's was special way back when Santa Barbara was a really, really poor dining town. They got by with a few continental specials and some nice nappery. But never kept up after cuisine and customers became more discerning.

            They were an oasis at one time particularly after Talk of the Town closed and Casa Sevilla became a friendly rut. And they remain a favorite of the blue haired symphony set and this is not all that bad. He was never an inspired chef, only a lucky one who had his moment in time.

            Really wonderful inspired "slow food" dining remains illusive in this town that has money to burn, but palates that too often remain too sun-burned to notice.