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Jul 11, 2008 08:59 PM

Santa Barbara next Friday?

Next weekend, I'll be in Santa Barbara for a Saturday night wedding. I haven't been there in several years.

For Saturday lunch, I'm going to La Super Rica because I've been reading about it for a very long time. Need to sample this place.

I'm open Friday night (dinner for 2 with my wife) and have received recommendations for:

Happy Cat

Any chowhound comments for or against these 4 places? I'm looking for delicious food in a fun and not too formal environment.

Thanks for your thoughts.

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  1. Make that the Hungry Cat, not the Happy Cat or else you might find it hard to get directions or phone number - great hamburger there that is worth a dinner night out. Really an elevated art form. I would put this on the top of "fun and not too formal", particularly if you sit at their bar and watch the chef in action and meet the very friendly bar tenders.

    Your other choices are among the standard top dining spots in Santa Barbara, with buchon ususally taking top honors. Downey's is more sedate - no dazzle, just solid well prepared food with excellent desserts in a low-key elegant setting (for Santa Barbara - everything is a few notches down here compared to larger metropolitian areas). buchon and seagrass have a nice buzz, but are still a bit more on the formal side, but less so than Downey's.

    You will do well at any of them, though they are all different in menu and style. All of them have their highpoints and occasional lowpoints. None are perfect and there are plenty of other second tier restaurants in this town where one still dines well, and often far cheaper. One will eat reasonably well almost anywhere in Santa Barbara. We locals often find some of our under $15 places as welcome as that special night out where the entrees don't even start that low.

    I love the number #15 "Tocino Special" at La Superica - and consensus here is the cheese combos are the better choices than the straight meat ones. This is a humble little place that has a special niche, #15 is melted cheese with bacon in a serving dish which you spoon on heavenly fresh tortillas and then smother with fresh pico de gallo salsa and then you find out what heaven tastes like. Others are deeply loyal to other menu items, but hands down this is mine and I order nothing else. Enjoy what you order with some horchata to complete the meal.

    Enjoy, we are having a bit of fog which is welcome since our hills are again on fire this year. And be sure to visit the French Festival this weekend in Oak Park.

    1. Opal is casual and fun, has a wide and interesting menu, a local's favorite. The Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch has great food, and their bar restaurant, Plow & Angel, is a more casual spot to eat. Bouchon is always good, and we had a great meal, albeit lackluster service, at Square One recently.

      Don't waste your time or money at Downey's.

      1. While it isnt indigenous (its a second location of a hollywood restaurant) Hungry Cat is the epitome of delicious food in a fun, not too formal, atmosphere. It never ceases to amuse me that people rave about the burger (not because i doubt its great but because it is probably the only item on the menu that doesnt incorporate seafood in some was - it reads as a concession to non-sea eaters and yet it is, apparently, one of the most popular items. Literally everything ive had there has been delicious, with the raw bar items taking top billing (also had a fabulous flatbread app thing there once).

        the cocktails are unparalleled in their creativity, commitment to (mostly local) organic inclusions and all around deliciousness (my dad had something with carrot juice in it the last time we went that sounded weird - think carrot cocktail - but was absolutely eye opening in its execution.

        the only downside i could see is that they dont take reservations, but as a party of two, if you are willing to be slightly flexible or try to hit less busy hours (early or late) you shouldnt have too many problems. also, if you call ahead and tell them youre coming they will put you on the list before you arrive (its almost like having a reservation policy, almost).

        1. From the four restaurants I have tried Bouchon and Downey's. I liked Bouchon a lot and would definitely recommend it. Try the tasting menu.
          One of the biggest disappointments over the last years (not only in SB but anywhere) was Downey. Food was below average.

          4 Replies
          1. re: honkman

            Thanks so much for everyone's advice. Next Friday, I have a reservation at Bouchon. Very much looking forward to it!

            1. re: cortez

              Cortez, I hope you give us a report when you get back. I think you will have a very nice time.

              1. re: glbtrtr

                My report from last night at Bouchon: on a 5 star scale

                * ambiance: 4 1/2 cozy, beautiful on the front terrace.
                * food: 3 1/2 split the fois gras on brioche toast. Good start. My wife had the short ribs while I had the rack of lamb. All very solid but not exceptional.
                * service: 4 friendly, enthusiastic waiter who described the menu items very well. Good bus service throughout the meal. Attentive host and and manager.
                * wine service: 2 good list of local offerings. We wanted a recommendation for a Santa Rita Hills pinot noir. Waiter (no sommelier) recommended one which was good but way overpriced at $70 (it's $26 retail, said the waiter). Also, the wine was room temperature rather than cellared.

                Overall: 3 1/2 Would go again but would bring my own wine ($25 corkage. Again, too steep but better than their markup).

                1. re: cortez

                  You got the top dining experience in SB - 3 star, solid but not exceptional. Yup, that about says it in this town which is why we foodies here find little modest restaurants, or single items at several different modest restaurants our local picks when we dine out.

                  Glad you enjoyed your time in our town, but really fine dining is not one of our strongest suits.We do get to eat with a lot of variety for a town our size, but when dining well stick to LA or SF or EU. Thanks for taking the time to report back.