HOME > Chowhound > California >
Apr 3, 2009 04:00 PM

Downey or Bouchon in Santa Barbara

Planning a long weekend with the husband in SB. I'm torn between Downey and Bouchon for a nice dinner on Saturday night. Any comments on either or even other recommendations?

We are also planning brunch at the Biltmore on Sunday--is it worth it?
For our less expensive meals: Tupelo Junction Cafe, La Super Rica, and maybe In-n-Out.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Good choices all around. Personally, I think Bouchon is a better value and more reflective of local cuisine and ingredients, but it's hard to say anything bad about Downey's. They're both very good choices.

    Haven't done the Biltmore brunch in years, but it used to be fantastic, even at those prices.

    1. A lot may depend on your age and ambience desires. Downeys is solid, genteel and for an older, quieter patron. It is one of my favorites and the desserts are the best in town. buchon's is more creative, a little more hip and younger crowd, more casual but only in a slight degree. Both are tops in the best we have, which is still down several notches from a really great LA or SF restaurant. I would pick one or the other on the atmosphere: quiet or lively; elegant casual or casual elegant (Santa Barbara style - no really "formal" restaurant in our town as in the grand European genre)

      I think the Biltmore buffet is over-priced because one can only eat so much and one is now paying so much for food they can look at up not reasonably eat. Yet, the whole affair is gorgeous and the setting is spectacular. Again, if you think more about the ambiance and the experience rather than the value of the food, it is a lovely, lovely, expensive experience.

      Sounds like you have quite a weekend planned for yourself. And that you have done your research. By Sunday brunch, you may just want boiled and a slice of pineapple. (!) Naw, there is always room for just one more indulgent meal. This almost sound like a cruise vacation on land. Welcome and we all hope you have the very best weather to top off your wonderful weekend here.

      Never understood the fuss over In-And-Out. Best burger in town which I would recommend is at Hungry Cat, downtown Chapala and West Anapamu - not crazy about their service and their selling up, but hold your ground and tell them you just want their burger because you did hear it here it was the best burger in the world.

      There are so many good second tier restaurants here, that is where the real fun starts dining in Santa Barbara. You are off to a good start. Sometimes just eating is good enough in this town, and each restaurant seems to do at least one dish really well. Don't get me started about my lust for IHOP swedish pancakes in our historic tree growing in the middle of the IHOP restaurant in downtown SB.

      1. We have visited Downey and Bouchon and if you want very good for reasonable prices with very good service you should go to Bouchon. If you want below average food which is very overpriced I would "recommend" Downey.
        One comment about your less expensive meals: We have been to Super Rica now three times and even though it is not horrible I still don't really understand what the hype is all about. Especially sonce your are from LA you have much better options for Mexican food than Super Rica. And In-And-Out is a decent burger for a chain but definitely nothing special.

        6 Replies
        1. re: honkman

          The number 15 Tocino special at La Superica is really special - melted cheese with bacon spooned into three divine fresh tortillas and then slathered with fresh pico de gallo.

          You are right - nothing special about the ordinary ingredients. Anyone could make this at home -- but save the bother and get in line and let Superica put this together for you. Juicy, flavorful, haunting and even this early in the morning my mouth waters.

          I don't feel as severe about Downeys at all - but it is solid, nicely prepared food in a lovely, more classical setting. And no one does desserts better in this town. These are not overkill desserts, they complement the whole dining experience there. But it is far more sedate than buchons.

          No, you will not leave raving you had inspired cuisine, but you will not feel that way about buchon either. They both offer nice, expensive dining experiences. One more predictible, more more creative but not necessarily better.

          I venture the guess there is an age difference between myself and honkman. I am "old school" so the traditional and soild has appeal to me whereas I can see this has no reasonance with others, particularly those younger.

          1. re: glbtrtr

            Thanks for all the information. We are thinking Bouchons sounds more our speed.
            In and Out is actually my favorite hamburger in all of LA but I never get to go because they are inconvenient and BUSY, so I always try to hit one while on vacation (may stop in Ventura on the way up.) Super Rica is definately up for discussion, as I was underwhelmed when I went there once before.

            1. re: danielle7171

              I'm surprised to hear that you were underwhelmed by Super Rica at the same time that INO burger is your "favorite hamburger in all of LA." SR has its problems but careful choosing from the menu can produce a few gems -- the pork, poblanos, and cheese on corn tortillas, e.g. Getting back to burgers, I would much rather have INO than, say, McDonald's, but if you search the LA board you'll find dozens of better sandwiches, even at other chains -- the Baby Burger at Fatburger, e.g.

              1. re: Harry Nile

                I am a fan of the the Baby Fat and I've tried many of the burgers in LA. There is something about that layer of extra pickles and sauce on the animal style cheese burger at INO that is still my favorite.

                1. re: Harry Nile

                  By the way, what else is good at Super Rica?

                  1. re: danielle7171

                    You really have to experiment at SR, some items are plain and boring, others are amazing. Besides the #15 Tocino already mentioned, the #16 La Super Rica Special is the best - marinated pork, grilled pasilla peppers and melted cheese, all gooey and chopped up together on top of fresh corn tortillas.

          2. Stop, do not go to Downey's!!! Awfully disappointing food, boring atmosphere, blah, blah, blah. Had a nice dinner at Bouchon Friday night, esp. the escargot vol au vent. Opal is a great local spot with a very interesting and varied menu. If you want a nice, but no buffet, brunch experience Stella Mares is lovely. Best burger in town is found at the Paradise Cafe.

            2 Replies
            1. re: sbgirl

              Best burger in town is at the snooty Hungry Cat. You may not like Downeys, but it is nothing like you describe. You almost border on the defamatory. Cool it. Your own choices are often very pedestrian.

              1. re: glbtrtr

                I don't know from sbgirl's other choices, but Downey's is the clear best out of all the restaurants I've been to in Santa Barbara over the last 23 years. Yes, as some people invariably point out, the clientele is often (but not always) older than at places enjoying their 15 minutes of fame. Older people usually have more money and more experience at the best restaurants, and in Santa Barbara they frequently choose Downey's. Why? Mainly because the food is delicious! It's beautifully cooked -- and not at all stuffy in conception or execution -- from the freshest local ingredients. The seafood, duck, and lamb dishes are my favorites. But who could pass up Downey's housemade prosciutto? Their seafood sausage? The Persian mulberry specialties during a short season or the rest of those lovely desserts on exhibit as soon as you walk in? If you want a quiet, deeply delicious and satisfying meal cooked and served by people who both care about hospitality and have the talent to deliver it, I recommend Downey's.

            2. I wouldn't make a point of going to the Biltmore unless you just really want to check out the atmosphere. Food is good, but nothing special - all the standard fancy brunch stuff. I've actually had better brunches in San Diego at the Hotel Del and La Valencia. The Hungry Cat is open for brunch, if you want really good food (including raw bar seafood) without the fancy atmosphere I'd go there.