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Aug 4, 2008 09:44 AM

1 week in Santa Barbara- help please

I am going to SB for a week next month and am interested in restaurant recommendations. i have read past posts and have some ideas but i would love anything current. I will be there with my family- everyone is 23 and up- so no children and we love food (obviously)!
I have been to bouchon in napa and that is definitely an option. i have also read about hungry cat on this website, the stonehouse, and some others. what are some great places- ranging from super casual to nice? we will be celebrating a birthday one night and up for all types of cuisine. I would love dinner, lunch and breakfast suggestions! also we are staying near state street so i think we will be fairly central.
thank you so much!

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  1. The Palace Grill on Cota, just east of State.

    Best cajun food, impecable team service, truly an amazing experience.

    I highly recommend the (currently in-season) soft shell crabs, or the blackened redfish if they have it that night.

    Believe me, it's a must try, you won't be sorry!

    1. we were just up there and had a great lunch at stella mares. good wine list also

      1. For what I want in a restaurant, Downey’s is the best in Southern California and among the best in the country. “Amazing,” “awesome,” and other violent but empty adjectives are inappropriate for describing their carefully prepared, visually appealing (but not precious in presentation), real and actual food. The head man in the kitchen, John Downey, uses high-quality local ingredients to create a thoughtful and consistently delicious California menu. (See for more details.) Succulent duck and lamb and clean-tasting, luscious mussels are special favorites of mine at his restaurant, which is a quiet, attractive store-front -- decorated with Liz Downey’s paintings -- that calls irresistibly to the many devotees of this brilliant chef and his clear vision of food and hospitality.

        It might be useful to compare Downey’s to another well-regarded California restaurant, Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I’ve been eating at both for more than 20 years and a few days ago had dinner at the Chez Panisse Cafe. It was quite enjoyable, although some dishes were as bland as last year’s vanilla while others were oversexed, and the produce -- formerly outstanding -- was merely very good. My last umpteen meals at Downey’s were far better. Each was a sophisticated exemplar of the European-influenced California style from first bite to lick-the-plate last, and the half-cup-of-this and two-tablespoons-of-that were all top quality. It’s been years since I felt that way after a Chez Panisse meal, although I’ve lied to myself about it on more than one occasion.

        I honor Alice Waters for creating a new cuisine and respect her devotion to her many causes, but I wish she followed the example of John Downey in Santa Barbara. He was born to cook, and he lives where working chefs live -- at the market and in his kitchen.

        1305 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

        6 Replies
        1. re: sbritchky

          Everybody has a different taste but I couldn't disagree more with the quality of food at Downey's. I have written already a few times about it on CH and don't want to repeat everything but if there was one big, big disappointment over the last few years for an upscale restaurant in LA, SD, SB, Napa etc I have eaten, it was clearly Downeys. Overpriced and mediocre food. There are enough other palces in SB which deliver much, much better food, e.g. Bouchon.

          1. re: honkman

            What a great trip- no kids, a week in SB- and it sounds like you have a budget to indulge- have a great time and hope you make some fun memories!

            The Minnow - at the harbor. Great breakfast burritos, excellent fish and chips, cold beer and people watching galore.

            Sushi a Go Go- at the harbor- great salmon salads, noodles, sushi and whatnot, cold beer, people watching and all around great place to spend a leisurely afternoon.

            bouchon- has no relation to Napa restaurant. Great winelist, excellent food, waitstaff smother a bit- but they are trying to be helpful and guide you thru a great meal. Romantic. Has a private room- the Cork Room, might be able to squeeze in 23 for a party....Mitchell will move the earth for a group to have a great meal.

            Hungry Cat has its fans- it is loud and not at all fancy- but delcious foods prepared in front of you- expensive to me- great drinks!!

            Cold Springs Tavern- rustic, dusty, slightly rigid waitstaff- if you can get past that, and did I mention dust? Great location, darn good food (venison chili, specialty game meats, rib stickin' meals). Great for breakfast on the weekends, Sunday afternoons is music and motorcycles galore and tri tip sandwiches. Nice to drive up the Pass, hit is as the sun is going down and enjoy a great meal. Don't expect a 5 star night, and you might be suprised at how cool it is.

            The Chase is always my favorite for a cocktail, pasta night. Pretty, tons of sparklie lights.

            Coming to the Valley? Why not come over after lunch, hit 2 wineries and then head over the Santa Ynez and enjoy a fine steak dinner at the Red Barn. Local wines, excellent steaks, red checker curtains and red candles- brands of the local ranchers, and all types enjoying dinner. Fireplace, outside seating on a patio. Our favorite place in the Valley- and I have lived here my whole life!

            Panino downtown has excellent sadwiches- number 12. All I need to say. Lots of cold beer to choose from.

            El Bajio on Milpas. YUM. DELICIOUS. If you like mexican, this is your place. La Superica- with a week in town, you should be able to hit both and brag to friends that you did. At El Bajio- the gorditia is worth the 15 minute wait.

            SB Shellfish on the end of Sterns Wharf. Just go here. Just do it. Crab sandwich and a cold beer- what else does one need?

            Kalyra has opened a tasting room on lower State street- great vibe and great wine- choices for all- from sweets to dry and chewy. Stearns Wharf has great views and cheese plates for a afternoon of relaxing tasting.

            Have a great trip!! Hope you enjoy your stay and please report back on the hits and misses!!!

            1. re: JalamaMama

              I can't believe that someone recommended The Chase. Although the sparklie lights are pretty, the food is far from great after the Caliguri family sold it. A few years ago, I took my staff out to lunch, and my assistant ordered a ham and cheese sandwich. What come to the table was a french roll with Swiss cheese and luncheon meat. What?? LUNCHEON MEAT?? I have not been back there since.

              1. re: cookstr

                Its called an opinion, and I am allowed to have one.

                Why are you mad someone served lunch meat on a sandwich??? I didn't say it was gourmet, nor did the person asking for recs ask for gourmet.

                I swear the folks answering for SB rec's need to take a chill, because you give the real folks here a bad name.

                1. re: JalamaMama

                  Au contraire...
                  I appreciate cookstr"s comments.
                  Thats why I go to chowhound, for commentary by
                  serious foodies ONLY. If I wanted pocessed luncheon
                  meats I would be on

                  1. re: ChrisG.PersonalChef

                    The Chase does seem to have a few fans here and even went so far as to claim The Chase was one of Julia Child's local favorites. You go to The Chase for decor gimmack and fill your plate stuff, not for serious dining. And no, I am sure Julia never even went near the place. But sometimes one wants quirky decor and fill-your plate stuff, then The Chase deserves to be on that list and their gloppy piccata sauce what ever they put it on can be hearty and filling. It is small and it is local and that still counts for something. And for ersatz Italian it is a heck of a lot better than another ersatz Italian place - Pascucci's which also has its fan base too. These places are what they are and they have a formula that works because in the world of come and go restaurants in this town, they have found a loyal fan base.

                    729 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

        2. You mention that everyone is 23 and up, which i will take as an indication that someone is 23. as a 23 year old i cannot tell you how uninviting downeys is ( i say this as someone who has lived around the corner for two years, monitors John's posted menus pretty regularly and has passed on several opportunities to eat there while others were footing the bill). The alice waters comparison is an interesting one, and there may be decent paralels in the food served at downey's and CP's signature california cusine, but atmosphere-wise i can honestly say ive never seen anyone in Downeys who would not have looked totally out of place anywhere in berkeley. i think you could spend your dollars in a lot of other places and get an overall more impressive experience (again, i havent eaten their food, and it does sound good).

          by contrast the Hungry Cat is hip (and loud) and does things stodgy old folks get flustered at (like not having a reservation policy). on the other hand, the food is outstanding and perhaps only rivaled by the cocktails - always with awesome farmers market produce in combinations that sometimes sound off but never fail to impress (carrot juice in my vodka drink? yes please.)

          1. Having spent much time in SB with good food loving friends over the past 30 years, the one thing that all 12-15 of them could agree on was forget Downey's, there are so many better options.

            3 Replies
            1. re: PolarBear

              There are so few details that I don't know what to make of these anti-Downey's comments -- especially the negative review from someone who has never eaten there, because he doesn't like the way the customers look.

              I first went to Downey's in 1986 while on a Seattle-to-San Diego bicycle trip and was so ravenous from the road that I ordered three appetizers, a main course, and two desserts. That delicious meal was a marvel of subtlety and craft, and I was drawn to the cuisine immediately. I haven’t ordered so much food again, even on subsequent cross-country rides, but my appreciation for John Downey's work has only grown over the years, for the reasons I described before. It pains me to see that some people don't share my appreciation, but I'll recover quickly the next time I'm in Santa Barbara.

              1. re: sbritchky

                i think i did all i could to make it plenty clear that my view of Downey's was based purely on experiences that did not involve eating the food. You comments dont indicate the last time you ate at Downeys, but i would say that my non-eating view is almost as informative as one that is older than one of the people who asked for recommendations to begin with.

                What details were you missing - the people i consistently see in downeys are in their 60s and 70s (and then some). seem to enjoy having a quiet nice meal out but generally dont contribute to any sort of "vibe" other than nursing home (hey, if there was a nursing home with awesome food thats great, but it doesnt make it a lively spot).

                1. re: sbritchky

                  I like Downey's because it is standard and stuffy in the nicest sort of way. And no one does better desserts than Downey's. Downeys is a nice, casual elegant slow, quiet change of pace from the "buzz" of the other top restaurants just around the corner. When you want this change of pace, quiet and standard well-prepared dinner items, thank goodness there is Downey's.