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Sep 10, 2008 04:27 PM

Santa Barbara Restaurants?

Looking for a couple of good restaurants in the Santa Barbara area. I'm a fairly spoiled diner in that I've eaten fairly extensively in Paris, San Francisco and New York. I don't want elegance but something more heavy on the soul, creativity and point of view. Casual but chic vibe. Or hell I'll eat in someone's garage if they're great. Who are the best chefs in town? Anybody have any recs?

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    1. Check out the prior posts about Santa Barbara and you will find similar comments and recommendations and the advisory that there are no real culinary stars in this town, but some nice places to dine, some nice but inconsistent places to dine, some places that cost more than they should, and some places that cost less and actually deliver some very nice items.

      I would try Hungry Cat on the corner of West Anapamu and Chapala in downtown for a casual bistro environment and some often exceptional simple dishes - their Pug Burger takes a hamburger to heights that may turn even your continental discrimination into a raving fan.

      Sea Grass and buchon are considered the best of the bunch for best chefs and share the same ownership, but these are still not Euro standard superb. Sometimes going down scale for just good food is the best way to enjoy your time in Santa Barbara and not worry about making it a premium dining experience. There is plenty of variety to chose from, few that are down right awful (they don't last long here) and stay away from Epiphany, regardless of its alleged "star": quality owner.

      I like Petit Valentein in La Arcada Court as a simple bistro French - fair prices, nice setting, simple well prepared simple foods and incredible chocolate mousse dessert.

      I liked the new German restaurant - Brummis - 3130 State Street - small, personal, eager to please and nothing like good German food as our days get colder. Gourmet, no. But solid German is a nice change of pace in a land of too much frou frou when it comes to dining.

      Nothing beats the Number 15 Tocino Special at La Super Rica Taquieria slathered in pico de gallo for fresh Mexican food that is wonderful and satisfying and unique - but other menu items are not as wonderful. It is that kind of town - some menu items are fine, many are so so.

      Check out the Gourmet Dining Room at Santa Barbara City College on Thurs and Fri nights for the Culinary Arts Dept student chef dinners. Occasionally, they are inspired and really pull off what you actually are looking for. Other nights are more sympathetic than fine, but always a good experience that is unusual. They love the feedback so if you know and love food as it sounds like you do, you could have a fun evening here, treating the entire experience with kindness knowing that future chefs have to start somewhere.

      Tre Lune in Montecito can put out some fine dishes for again a more bistro experience, rather than a formal dining experience. The most costly and over the top is San Ysidro Ranch also in Montecito, but it is still getting mixed reviews so that could be costly error or a sublime evening worth every penny. If you are a gambling man, put that high on your list of special dining spots. And tell us what you found.

      Best advice is set your expecations a little low and just enjoy the whole experience of being in a small town with a nice variety of nice restaurants for a few pleasant evenings out.
      Bon appetit.

      7 Replies
      1. re: glbtrtr

        Could you give some more details about Brummis which dishes you had etc.? Being German I am always interested in to find good German restaurants. The only good one in SD closed last year and the ones in LA weren't really good so far. I looked on the menu from Brummis and saw that they have Currywurst which I really miss from time to time so I guess I have to drive to SB soon.

        1. re: honkman

          Honkman, are you referring to Chef Axel in SD? He's been at the top of my list for next visit. I've been searching for good German food ever since we returned home over 35 years ago. Only lead so far worth pursuing is Old Vienna in Ventura. I have a short list of some in the SF Bay area but they don't seem to generate much excitement. If you've found any others please start a thread in case any other hounds have run across anything.

          1. re: PolarBear

            PolarBear! Please - who's on your short list in the SF Bay area

            1. re: samse

              Definitely do a search on the SF board to get the latest reviews on these, I haven't had a chance to try any of them yet, nor have my friends for whom I compiled this list. Brummis is on top of the list now for any future trips toward the southland.

              Walzwerk – E. German, - bacon wrapped roast pork loin stuffed with mushrooms, jagerschnitzel, large portions and a wonderful selection of German Beer on tap as well as by the bottle
              381 S Van Ness Ave (415) 551-7181



              Avoid Schnitzelhaus

              Suppenkuche's sister restaurant Speisekammer, in Alameda

              There's a place called Hardy's Bavaria in Sunnyvale.

              Elbe - sauerbraten questionable
              117 University Ave Palo Alto

              CH thread on places for Spaetzle & Kase Spaetzle

            2. re: PolarBear

              Yes, I was referring to Chef Axel. His catering service become so successful that he decided to close this restaurant and focus only on the catering part. If you find more than 15 people to dine with you he is willing to open his restaurant for you.

            3. re: honkman


              Dinner for two: Started with their "russian" soup -hearty, rich and good, almost a meal in itself; salad crisp and plentiful with choice of two light, flavorful dressings. Other appetizers were intriguing, but almost looked too filling so I want to try them at another time with a lesser entree.

              Entrees: "Crackling pork" - roast pork, gravy, wonderful light potato dumplings they call Klosse (or choice of spatzle) and red cabbage - enough for three meals so I took the rest home - a classic, well prepared and wonderful. Owner aplogized they were unable to get the pork with sufficient fatty skin on it to make it "crackling", but it was still very good.

              Other was schintzle with mushroom gravy, (various other preparations available) with exceptional potato salad. Again, very nicely prepared.

              Dessert: a little miscommuication due to language problems (owners speak limited English and it was my thin German that led to the mistake) we ended up with the apple fritters instead of the apple crepes, but no complaint as they sat swimming in a nice custard sauce and were a perfect ending to a very nice German meal.

              Two good german beers in a pleasant, modest cafe surrounding. All entree prices well under $20, portions almost too large and I had leftovers for two more days, and it got even better two days later.

              This is definitely a place for hearty food, comfort food, great filling lunches, large portioned dinners, and especially a cold weather retreat from the storm. And charming service. You get the feeling if you don't like something, they will bend over backwards to make it better. The place is run by a mother and her young daughter who only came to town a short while ago. They know the restaurant business so I wonder what brought them here as German food is a very under-represented food in California towns, especially a beach town with Spanish heritage. But we do have a very sizable local German community and at one time had several German deli's and the quaint old Heidelburg Inn downtown.

              The owner took her grandmother's curry wurst recipe to our local meat purveyor (Shalhoob) to have them custom made and encouraged us to come back for lunch and give them a try. This is sure to happen. The side dishes along with the custom sausages makes Brummis worthy of many repeat visits. And did I say I love pork? Yes, this is the place.

              It all whetted my appetite for an upcoming trip to Munich and the Christmas markets with the cold weather and hot sausages make a culinary marriage made in heaven.

              1. re: glbtrtr

                We had a wonderful dinner at Brummis tonight with absolutely hearty portions of delicious dishes. My crackling pork with BOTH klosse and spatzle hit the spot with ample amounts of that salty, crisp skin. The sweet and sour cabbage and sauerkraut was the best I have ever eaten in my life. It was not gourmet fare, but a great, honest value for your dollar with mouthwatering returns. I would definitely go back there again with friends, and the mom and daughter are there to please your every wish.

          2. Just google "santa barbara julia child mario batali" and you fill find what you are looking for.

            Then just go to Opal. I also like Sojouner but if you are not an old hippie then don't go there.