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Jun 26, 2009 10:58 PM

Santa Barbara Harbor restaurant..?

I've read and searched here for more info on this place. I'm coming up with real love, or real hate for this place in Santa Barbara.

My mother wants to eat here for her b-day on July 11th. Mainly for the view, as she has very fond memories of eating here with her best friend. My Mom is not a foodie. She likes simple, but good food. (i'm the family weirdo who eats sushi! *gasp!*)

I called the Harbor restaurant today to inquire about "catch of the day" specials, and the hostess told me "We actually don't serve specials like that, but ALL of our fish is fresh"

WHAT? Can anyone confirm this, who has eaten there? I'm not a food snob, but it seems really counter-intuative to eat fish that's not caught locally, while eating on a pier!? As long as the food is decent to good, i'll be great, as this is all about making Mom happy.

I've read horrid things about the service there, and that's making me a bit wary.

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  1. I recently had a very nice lunch at the Harbor and the service was very attentive and the seafood dish quite tasty. The views were superb and the overall ambiance was quite gracious.

    No, this is not a "fish" restaurant, but a nice dining establishment with an variety of very adequate food. You will find simple and good food here, or at any other harbor restaurant. You are right, there is nothing gourmet at any of these places. They do cater more to the transient tourist crowd who choose it for the setting, not necessarily the food. The Harbor is the nicest setting of the bunch. Others are more casual and noisy.

    Only Seagrass claims to specialize in seafood dining, but no views. The best seafood allegedly on the wharf is at SB Shellfish Company but it is very casual dining there and more counter self-serve, so at least you won't have to worry about the service. (!)

    Here is a link to our local dining website about "view" restaurants:

    I'd say, give the Harbor another try and let them know it is a special occasion for your mother. I think they will go the extra mile.

    7 Replies
    1. re: glbtrtr

      I am a fan of Santa Barbara Shellfish- and there is outdoor seating there along the side- but it is in no way fancy. But it is the best restaurant on the Wharf.

      As far as the Harbor goes- the chef and chef de cuisine both hail from the Wine Cask- and they do run some very interesting specials.

      Go and take your Mother to the best lunch she has had this year- whether or not YOU like it should be besides the point. Go get some sushi afterwards!

      1. re: JalamaMama

        Thanks for this update on who is running the Harbor now -- no wonder there was such a nice improvement. Wonder what will happen now that the WineCask looks like it will be re-born by the former owners after its disasterous interim period recently by the ham-handed out of towner who destroyed the place in short order.

        1. re: glbtrtr

          Not sure what is now going on at Wine Cask- I had heard Mitchell from bouchon and Doug Margerum were working together to bring a much reduced Wine Cask back- and by reduced I mean no catering, no wine store- more of a single venue restaurant that brings back the heart of what the Wine Cask was....a fine place to get a meal.

      2. re: glbtrtr

        Thanks so much for the news, and link. I'd looked at it before, but not seen that part of the site. Very very helpful!

        Most important: It made me remember that SB has the one and ONLY Sambos!! I loved going there as a kid so much in the 1970's. I bet the minute we see it, that's where we're having lunch! *LOL* Dinner will be at The Harbor

        I'm glad to hear good things about the Harbor Restaurant. My fears have been quelled, thanks to all of your feedback. I'll post my report when I get back on July 12.

        1. re: Honeychan

          Happy Birthday to your Mother ! Looking forward to your report!

          1. re: Honeychan

            Re: Sambo's -- April 2006 was in town for a family wedding, and one of the family "had" to go to the only remaining Sambo's. On a Saturday morning the place was slammed and the wait was about an hour. We (a group of 8) elected to stay because all of the area was jammed with out-of-towners, and we wanted to demonstrate family solidarity with an in-law who hasn't ever ask for accommodation. He had hoped for the old kitschy ambience; unfortunately, that had all been removed.

            Food was long in coming, but as I mentioned, the place was slammed and the staff tried to compensate (I remember having 2-3 rounds of juice and coffee before breakfast fare arrived). Don't recall how the food was so must have been okay for what was ordered.

            Bro-in-law was apologetic for putting us all through the long 2+ hours, but we didn't have anything else to do before the wedding, so why not?.

            1. re: Stephanie Wong

              Ahhhh, for pancakes in SB I still like my favorite chain IHOP and in Santa Barbara that means its highly unique setting on State Street (1700 block) with the huge, towering fig tree growing up in the very middle of the restaurant and lots of nice outdoor seating.

              Lots of memories for those growing up in SB associated with this place too with its successive prior names and owners - of late "Frimples" and the gooey baked goodie called the Frimple. And used to be the Blue Onion. Nothing beats IHOP Swedish pancakes with lignonberry jam and whipped butter. Yum!

              Found a description on the net of the infamous Frimple:

              OUR FAMOUS SWEET FRIMPLE with our homemade

              Cream Puff, specially made Vanilla Cream Pudding and

              delectable coverings: Boysenberry Frimple, Strawberry

              Frimple, Hot Fudge Frimple, Chocolate

              Syrupy Frimple,

        2. I've eaten there a few times and would call the quality and service average but the location above average. It is a memorable spot for a birthday - my mom wanted to go there too. I'd say it is a good choice for a birthday dinner.

          1. Just wanted to let eveyone know how the birthday dinner was this past weekend. We'd suggested to Mom about eating at Brophy Brothers, and so we headed on over to check it out. BUSY BUSY BUSY on Saturday at 5:30pm or thereabouts. Wait-time was at about 35-40 minutes, and we were all quite hungry. Menu looked good, if not a bit simple. (definately nothing wrong with that! I saw their fish and chips, and it looked fantastic)

            The atmosphere was loud and crowded, not what my Mom wished for her b-day meal, so we went off to The Harbor restaurant. LOVE the feel of this place, and the views were perfect. The food? Of the 3 meals ordered, one was great, one was decent, and one was tolarable. They -do- have fresh fish specials, for whatever reason that hostess told me on the phone they didn't, will remain a mystery. DH ordered the seared Ahi tuna, with what seemd to be a fancy twice-baked potato with parmisian cheese. The potato was really good, crusty and very flavorful. He said the tuna had very little flavor. I ordered the fresh halibut wrapped in a bannana leaf, with purple potatoes and asparagus. I loved my food; all parts were spot-on, and delicious. Fish was mild and juicy, i'd give my dinner a 8 out of 10.
            Mom ordered the prime rib (*sigh* Mom, why did you order that in a fishhouse??) and it was ordered medium rare, but was more on the medium-well side of things. My mother would -never- send her food back, and would never ever complain about her food. (she's painfully shy, and refuses to have any kind of confrontation) I told her that i'd tell the waitstaff it wasen't to her liking, but she refused. In the end, she still said her food was great, even if it was a bit too well-done.

            My 2 issues were: Their prices seemed a bit too high for what they were doing, food-wise. $7.00 for a bowl of clam chowder? It wasen't good, in fact my bowl had ONE CLAM in it! I only realized when I had nearly finished it. It also had a very odd addition of raw celery. I thought white clam chowder had it, but cooked down with onions, and even carrots in some. Nope, totally raw.
            Other issue? Parking on that damn pier! Had we known about it..Well, I think we would have still wanted to pull out our hair in frustration. Both of my 2 issues come back to this: It's a tourist-trap. Price is higher, parking sucked.

            Mom was happy, and that's all that mattered!

            3 Replies
            1. re: Honeychan

              All in all, I think you made the right choice and we locals appreciate getting the update on the Harbor and its new management. They will work hard to keep getting it right because the improvements have been vast already.

              Can't understand why we even try to sell (or order) a clam chowder in this city -- I can't think of any place it was worth getting. It is just not part of our tradition here. That is an item I would have complained about because you deserved a lot more than a single clam. If that is all they are offering, they should take it off the menu. I suspect they keep it on because people expect clam chowder at a sea food harbor restaurant, but clearly their heart is not into it.

              Thank you so much for your follow-up and glad it was a special time for Mom.

              1. re: glbtrtr

                So true, glbtrtr. The chowder on the left coast is usually just passable, at best. We did find one little place on a remote little stretch of the coastal road up in Washington a couple of years ago that rivaled the best we ever found in New England. Would go back in a heartbeat. I posted about it on the PNW board, but the search function doesn't at the moment.

                Find the same problem locating decent crab cakes, sigh!

                1. re: PolarBear

                  Hey, don't even get me started on crab cakes. Even Sea Grass fails totally and should take them off the menu, along with their cioppino, another very poorly executed classic out west. It is hard to get good fish. My standard is Iceland, and freshly caught Midwest lake fish.

                  And I can't even talk about how good the herring was in Sweden. I shall try Andersons Bakery and Cafe on State Street as they present herring as one of their several fish options. Can they even come close enough after having the real thing in the real place? Hope it is close.