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May 13, 2011 06:46 PM

Santa Barbara/Montecito: Julienne, Bouchon, where else? Criteria inside...

I'm visiting SB for the first time, and need one more place for dinner. I'm already dining at Bouchon and Julienne.

- Must have good/great service, ambience, and wine
- No hotel restaurants (sorry, Stonehouse)
- No asian, seafood only, or steakhouses
- Prefer Montecito first, SB second
- Adults only, not a place with kids/families
- Prefer California vibe: outdoor seating, cool crowd, fresh local food, local wine
- Don't care about price
- Don't care if a place is crowded and noisy
- Ideally I can wear a jacket and jeans and not look overdressed

Based on research, I'm leaning toward:

Tre Lune - (I'm freaked out they don't have a website, I don't get that. We're not in 1980 anymore.)
Wine Cask - (Seems like the safest bet)
Montecito Cafe - (They have a website with a text menu only, no pics at all. Again, I don't get it.)

Out of the question:

Ca Dario - I read too many user reviews that say they make you wait even with a reservation. That puts me into a rage.

Downey's - Decor looks really old-fashioned.

Any suggestions are appreciated! If you know of a hidden gem, let me know!

Thanks in advance...

Wine Cask
813 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

9 W Victoria St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Tre Lune
1151 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

Stonehouse Restaurant
107 Sacramento St, Nevada City, CA 95959

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  1. Downy's is more formal. Jeans would be out of place, but a lovely , quiet, traditional, more European style dining choice. One of our favorite special occasion places - old world dining atmosphere, care and service. Place where you want to dress up a bit because it is just that kind of a setting, not because you have to.

    Lucky's is classic Montecito "vibe" and is primarily steak in a stylish, casual and outdoor setting I like the menu at Tre Lune, but have only gone there for lunch. Dont 'write it off. Pane et Vino in Montecito is another good choice for N. Italian. I personally have never liked Via Vai in Montecito, across the street from Pane et Vino.

    A sleeper place is in Carpinteria, about 20 miles down Hihgway 101 from Santa Barbara - Gianfranco's on Linden Avenue - Italian with a haunting Sicilian touch - young chef on his way.

    Wine Cask is earning back a good place among the upper tier again along with Olio et Limone, buchon. and SeaGrass is worthy of another look see with the new team. (IMHO - Julienne is in a class by itself here)

    Ca Dario is usually crowded so don't take a chance if you can't wait and your evening would be ruined. Try Hungry Cat also in this same area of restaurants in the 1000-1300 blocks of State Street on West Anapamu and Chapala. More LA type service and attitude place but some very good choices and a lively vibe with allegedly the best freshly made cocktails in town.

    For fresh French bistro -not high end, but a delightful new lighter touch - Petit Valentin in La Arcada Court. And for pleasant French bistro dining in a lovely setting between SB and Montecito - Stella Mares.

    And if you are interested, there are restaurants we locals go to and enjoy that are not top tier, more low key and private to our own choices when we locals go out with friends: Via Maestra 42 (N. Italian), Jade (California/Hawaiian fusion) and Brummi's (German) in the Upper State Street San Roque area.

    Breakfast or lunch - Renaud's is an excellent French bakery - again in a class by itself. If you crave the real thing, just one croissant will export you back to the good old days in France before they too started cutting corners.

    You might need to set your expectations a notch lower in SB so you don't "freak out" - we are in reality only a small town and not very cosmopolitan. We mainly go out to eat; not dine.

    Wine Cask
    813 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

    The Hungry Cat
    1134 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

    Via Maestra 42
    3343 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

    Tre Lune
    1151 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

    Stella Mare's
    50 Los Patos Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

    3 Replies
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Forget to include Trattoria Mollie for Italian in Montecito. I have always had memorable meals there with friendly, attentive service.

      Trattoria Mollie
      1250 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

      1. re: glbtrtr

        I will second my own recommendation for Brummi's (Upper State Street San Roque )as we went last night after too long an absence and can report it has become a Santa Barbara restaurant success story with a full house and happy diners now several years after its remarkable introduction to the dining choices in this town. They picked a simple menu of German classics and deliver them well with earnest, efficient service and no fuss. Great German draft beers as well.

        Very casual, smells like saurkraut when you walk in and the food is delicious. My favorite is the bockwurst, potato salad and saurkraut dinner with superb mustard side, and apple fritters in custard sauce for dessert. I know what I get and I get it just right every time.

        Who knew German food would become so popular in Santa Barbara? I only wish my stomach were large enough to also include the potato pancake appetizer because having had it in the past, it is perfection.

        1. re: glbtrtr

          Who knew that we could even FIND decent Deutsche cuisine in CA anymore. I third your second and second my first, and ..... oh well, you get the point. JUST GO!

      2. 'No hotel restaurants (sorry, Stonehouse)'

        San Ysidro Ranch is hardly considered a 'hotel' type of's the essence of Montecito.
        Since you've never been to Montecito, at least go for drinks and check out what a great job, Ty did..

        As far as stating 'Adults only'..restaurants can't deny kids and though I understand what your saying but it's just not a realistic request.

        Lucky's is a local fave..Chase on State in SB for the calamari picatta..Stella Mares is excellent.
        Biltmore is great for drinks at sunset or brunch.

        Architecturally, San Ysidro Ranch and the Biltmore are what Santa Barbara is all about..

        6 Replies
        1. re: Beach Chick

          Another un-hotel "hotel" restaurant we locals like is Louie's in the very historic Upham Hotel.

          A crawl through the Eastside restaurants, close to Montecito, may reveal some surprises if you are looking for a local vibe. This is where Julia Childs found a lot to love that was fresh and authentic:

          1. re: glbtrtr

            Have they opened the gorgeous El Encanto hotel yet?

            1. re: Beach Chick

              Not even close, but promises are being made. The old building had to be torn down. Economy struck and everything came to a halt and all we got were steel girders glimpsed through a surrounding construction fence. A far cry from the old creaking hulk we used to know as the El Encanto. They are trying to be historically correct in this rehab, so I hope this carries over to the daily offering of Ile Flotant in the dining room.

          2. re: Beach Chick

            Beach Chick: Thanks! Regarding kids, I just meant that I prefer places where it's least likely that there would be kids in the crowd.

            Maybe I should reconsider SY Ranch...How would you compare dinner there against Tre Lune?

            Tre Lune
            1151 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

            1. re: johnblacksox

              Haven't been to Tre Lune but my friends and family in Montecito have, an enjoy it.
              It's quaint trattoria..with great food.

              San Ysidro Ranch is in another league for its sheer beauty of how things used to be and it's so wonder JFK honeymooned here..
              Stonehouse and Plow &Angel is a great place to have drinks, dinner and just absorb it all in.
              Walk around the grounds..
              Make sure you have drinks in the bar at the Four Seasons Biltmore before sunset..

              Go have breakfast at the local hangout..Montecito Coffee Shop..where all the celeb's and powers that be have breakfast and lunch.

              Super Rica in SB is one of the best taco shops ever and its worth the wait.
              Cold Spring Tavern up the mountain is a wonderful rustic place with good food too.
              Have fun and report back!

              1. re: Beach Chick

                The Montecito breakfast spot is the cafe next to the San Ysidro Phamacy in the Upper Village, not to be confused with the Montecito Cafe in the Lower Village.

          3. Reviewing your laundry list again, the only one that hits most points you have already pre-judged to be out of the question: Downey's. Put on some dress-up clothes, accept that you don't eat the decor, sit back to be pampered and indulged in the most gracious way with good/great service, ambiance, wine, fresh local food and wine, in a California setting and not care about the price. The only one that has it all besides Julienne, is Downey's. Less creative or edgy offerings than Julienne. More subtle inspiration and refinement that pleasantly satisfies rather then exhilarates or shocks.

            3 Replies
            1. re: glbtrtr

              glbtrtr, thanks very much for your detailed reply, and rundown of all the possible places!

              So aside from the menu, what is Tre Lune like? That's why I was complaining about the lack of website, it's impossible to tell. Would it meet my criteria?

              re: Downey's, I didn't mean to imply that I don't like to dress up, I do. I just assume that at most places these days, a jacket is overdressed, even with jeans.

              And I'll agree to disagree with you about the decor, to each their own, but personally a restaurant's style and ambiance are almost as important to me as the food. I acknowledge that is my own personal bias, but what can I say.

              Tre Lune
              1151 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

              1. re: johnblacksox

                Tre Lune is casual, but stylish and for lunch at least it is a Montecito "power" spot for local notables. "Service" in most Santa Barbara restaurants is less professional than maybe you are looking for. This is a town with a lot of college students who work part time in the restaurant industry and will be well-meaning at best, an a little more functional at worst.

                Downeys is the one restaurant where the staff training and oversight can often be counted on to be good to great - that is their tradition and they do stay a cut above because the owners understand this is part of the entire dining experience they are offering and not just a place for an eager but unskilled part time worker. There is a Culinary Arts program at our local community college so every once in a while at the more high end places you find a few who are choosing dining and hospitality to be their career so that is where you get closer to this lever of service care. Those students would consider it a feather in their cap if they got to work at Downey's.

                But I will repeat, the food is more traditional subtle and refined, than edgy and creative. However, they do have the best desserts in town - sophisticated entries; not just heavy, fatty and sweet. But rather seasonal, fresh and compelling touches to their more restrained version of a full dining experience.

                Both owners (husband and wife) are hands on and it is an invitation in to their dining world. I hope they do not even think about retirement because there never will be another Downeys in this town. They were among the first to bring fine dining to our sleepy meat and potatoes burg several decades ago and they have endeared themselves to most old timers who seek them out for all their special occasions and know they will be personably remembered for a long, long time.

                BTW: can't compare Tre Lune with San Ysidro Ranch - one a bistro the other is very high end dining.

                1. re: johnblacksox

                  I don't think you'd enjoy Downey's - I found it technically capable but uninspired. Terrible ambience, important to me also, service OK but not up to par with the prices. However if yu want to feel like a young whippersnapper...