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Oct 15, 2009 10:09 AM

Solvang/Santa Barbara restaurant suggestions for east coast foodie couple

My husband and I are Boston Chowhounds and we'll be visiting this area for 3 nights in early November (We're staying in Solvang at Hadsten House for 2 nights & in SB at The Harbor House Inn for 1 night).

We'll have a car -- and while we often enjoy the busier, more happening restaurant/nightlife areas in a town (sounds like State Street is SB's "mecca"), we also don't mind driving off the beaten path for hidden gems!

We enjoy all types of cuisine -- Our favorite restaurants tend to be those that practice a farm-to-table philosophy...utilizing local ingredients whenever possible -- for fresh, in-season, simple, yet innovative flavors & dishes.

Your board has been tremendously helpful so far. I think I've narrowed down the list of places we're interested in based on some of the posts I've read and now, I would really appreciate any additional feedback or thoughts you all might be willing to share!

For the 2 nights that we're staying in Solvang, I'm thinking about the Ballard Inn and Root 246 at Hotel Corque. My only concern is that both of those seem relatively high-end, and we'd prefer to do 1 dinner at a mid-tier place (unless these are both 'must-tries' then we'll splurge!) Any thoughts on substituting one of these for the Los Olivios Cafe or some place else? Would driving down to SB for dinner and then back up to Solvang be a pain?

For the 1 night in SB I'm having a harder time narrowing down....
Bouchon, SeaGrass & Downey's all sound fantastic for a higher-price point...
Tupelo Junction sounds unique and intriguing....
Jade, Stella Mares, Julienne, Blush, Opal & Jane all sound good....some inventive/creative, others more standard, but all good?!?!

For pastries, looks like we'll be trying Renauds and we are huge ice cream lovers so I guess we need to try McConnell's? And for lunch sounds like La Superica Tacquiera is a fan fave?

Any help with these dinner spots would be much appreciated! We're looking forward to our visit!! Thanks so much!

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  1. I will second your choices of McConnell's and La Superica (have not been to Renauds yet). If they have the tamale with chicken and mole at Superica the day you are there, get it. Oh, and the chicken sopes. Those 2 items are both specials, so they are not always available. Also Superica is closed on Wednesdays. The rajas is my other must have.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Enorah

      We hit up Renaud's for the first time today.

      OMGosh! Yum! Pain au chocolate - my favorite all time sweet.

      So, apparently Renaud is connected to 3 locations, the 2 on State Street, and they have recently acquired Cafe Luna in Summerland. We are going to check that out soon for lunch.

      1. re: Enorah

        Happy to your your Renaud's feedback and news about opening in Summerland too. Biggest concern, will success spoil Renaud's? Can he continue to make the same quality when volume of demand grows? Sure hope so because this is one of the most authentic food treats we have in this area.

    2. The 246 restaurant is very good, but expensive- Ballard Inn is moderate. Having eaten at both, I'd go to Ballard Inn, if only for the smaller environment. Delicious food- small menu but all the right things. Always have to push my favorite steak joint- the Red Barn in Santa Ynez- fantastic steaks-clams- soups- all served with a smile and local wines.

      Going to SB from Solvang requires a 45 minute drive- that if you aren't against driving a well marked mountain road- it should be a breeze. You might consider Cold Spring Tavern- on the mountain road 1/2 way to SB. Not for everyone- but game meat and good cocktails. Its on the dusty side, you might find a hurried waitress, but great food- and atmosphere!!!!

      In Solvang- great breakfast 3 miles to the West at either Mother Hubbards or Ellens pancake house. Located in the town of Buellton. Also in Buellton- my favorite fish tacos are at Taco Roco.

      In SB, I vote for Jade and as always bouchon, and though I LOVE me some La Super-rica- please try El Bajio instead- 100 block of Milpas. The BEST tamales, fish stew, gorditas and aqua frescas

      Hope you have a wonderful trip- please do report back and tell us what you chose and how everything was- have a safe trip!

      4 Replies
      1. re: JalamaMama

        JalamaMamma, take thee ASAP to Renauds.

        At least for their croissant and then pick and choose any other indulgence in their display cases. Even their fruit jells are spectacular and who would have ever elevated that mundane industrial confection until you taste them at Renaud's.

        More selections and space at the Las Positas branch than the downtown, but if you are in the area and content with just a drop in or takeaway, this is a place to put at the top of your extensive restaurant/foodie list.

        1. re: JalamaMama

          I just found out the restaurant at Ballard Inn is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and those were the 2 nights we have booked for our stay in Solvang :( I'm considering adjusting our plans so that we're in SB Monday and Solvang Tuesday/Wednesday just so that we can go to Ballard for dinner!! The chef there has worked with Ming Tsai from Blue Ginger here on the east coast, which happens to be one of our all-time favorite restaurants.

          The reason I've shied away from Grappolo (althought it sounds great!) is because our family has an Italian restaurant and we cook Italian predominantly so when we go out to eat we tend not to go to Italian restaurants as much. I guess I should've mentioned that in my original post - sorry about that.

          I just also came across Pierre Lafond's Wine Bistro as a possibility. They happen to be doing a wine dinner the night we had planned to be in SB -- "Passport to the World of Wine" featuring Pinot Noirs from CA, New Zealand, France & Austria. $25 for tastes of 5 wines paired with a small bite. I thought it sounded kind of nice, but haven't heard much about that particular restaurant on your board?? Plus if I change our travel plans so that we can go to the Ballard Inn on Wednesday then it wouldn't work to go to this place for the event.

          1. re: keknight

            I agree with you- that owning a Italian restaurant cancels any need to go to Grappolo...thought the stuffed calamari and the truffled halibut are worth walking for miles...Ballard Inn worth re-arranging a stay in Solvang/- yes it is worth it....though once you start fiddling with the plans- it is easier for dissapointment to creep in.

            Budi is a fantastic chef- and where I see his Ming Tsai training come out is in his sauces. Lick the plate good. Like I mentioned- their menu is small- maybe 4 apps, 6 entrees and 2 desserts to choose from- all well worth trying. There is no showing off here, no patting oneself on the back...just a sweet Inn with a small dining room and a great chef and staff.

            Pierre LaFond isn't on my list- but they are one of the oldest vineyards in the Valley- they have their own organic farm on the vineyard- and they do run some interesting series of foodie events...they make some fantastic wines!!!

            Tuesday evenings is the Santa Barbara Farmers Market on the street, in front of Pierre Lafond- that might make it even more fun....

            1. re: JalamaMama

              Pierre LaFond was an early taste-setter in this town which was pretty much meat and potatoes back in the 1970's, when PLF came and introduced international deli items and more Euro flair to our choices. I stopped going to their deli in Montecito when there were a lot more (and better) choices closer by, but it would be great if you gave them a try to see if they played catch up with their later competition. They deserve credit for being early style setters in this town, both for Wendy's clothing and Pierre's culinary contributions.

              For whatever it is worth it could be fun to be an Italian restaurant person visiting this particular Italian restaurant out here, Grappolo, because they are foodie people and I think they would love to swap talk with an east coast professional. I Though I can appreciate this might not be your idea of a vacation to shop talk.

        2. I think you are off to a great start - just stick with your list. I would add Grappolo (N. Italian) in Santa Ynez to come down a bit off the high-end and I'll second our wonderful historic Cold Springs Tavern (check out their website) on San Marcos Pass which is between the two cities on a lovely designated scenic highway (Calif 154), since you have a car.

          Recent report says Cold Springs Tavern has the longest wait on a Saturday night so you might want to try it for lunch or be sure to get reservations. It has a funky cowboy bar where you can wait if you want to take a chance and wait it out and get to see and be in an often lively crowd. With live music.

          1. The Harbor House Inn on Bath is a great little find in a residential area near the Pier.
            Around the corner on Carrillo is a small, local Italian restaurant called Emilio's.
            It's the owner of the Inn's favorite restaurant.
            The food is excellent with a great wine list and it's located across the street from the ocean.

            1 Reply
            1. re: latindancer

              Oh and BTW McConnell's is one of the many reasons we Angelenos drive to Santa Barbara:)...
              Enjoy one of the most beautiful spots in the world!

            2. Not so sure Blush should be on this list as it is getting some ambiguous reports lately about it being a noisy bar where one can eat or a noisy restaurant where one can drink. You can be our first report here, if you decide you like either/or.

              It was a very stylish makeover but in a neighborhood not known for attracting the fine dining or foodie crowd. It is more the high volume party-hardy crowd and a lot of college students out for a good time. Blush looks decidedly adult which is why it seems to be neither fish nor fowl at this time.