Travel Bites with Emily
If you’re a master glancer like me, you probably didn’t read what this blog is about. Well, let me manage your expectations. This is a blog mostly about food but it’s also about other awesome things cities have to offer. Now that you’ve got the disclaimer, here’s what I look for in a food scene: 1) whether the most acclaimed food spots live up to the hype and 2) where the hidden gems are located. It’s like shopping – you gotta mix the high-end stuff with TJMaxx because otherwise you’ll end up broke. I also like to highlight great hotels, good service, nice folks, and deals – because we could all use more of each in our lives.
Consider Santa Barbara, #SB, an extended review. One, because it was my honeymoon and I had a nice long week to eat whatever I found. Two, because Santa Barbara is one of the best eating cities I’ve visited in the U.S. So, with this SB review, you’ll get the overrated, underrated, and plenty of honorable mentions.
SB is a town that knows who it is and doesn’t need to prove anything to you. It’s clear from the manicured lawns and whopper homes that folks here are not living the hard life. That being said, folks in SB are pretty nice and down to earth. A lot of them had the attitude that they’d done the rat race, recognized that people came there to take a break from it, and were never going back to that shit. They empathized but didn’t sympathize. I can’t blame them. A few days in this semi-perfect climate (it was cold one day and a couple of nights #firstworldproblems), food heaven, and ocean air, I was ready to switch locations too.
Hype level: 5: Actual Score: 5!
I have no photographic evidence of this meal. At some level, I felt the fish taco hype was sort of ridiculous. I’ve had a lot of fish tacos and they were all fine. I’ve also had some pretty good mexican food. Los Arroyos improves upon both and does a mash-up. I really don’t know how to explain this other than you need to give yourself some time alone with your meal.
Hype level: 5 Actual Score: 4
Bouchon is a *very* popular upscale restaurant in SB that markets itself as “wine country cuisine”. Very popular, in that, people would not stop telling me to go there.
I don’t usually buy into hype (you’ll see) but this delivered. We ate so much, I won’t list it all but everything we had was delicious. My favorite was the duck. It was prepared two ways: a breast and confit. I’m not usually into duck but the breast was like velvet and the confit was perfectly fried. When I got done, I realized that wine country cuisine just means food you can’t stop eating. The ambiance at Bouchon is pretty cool too. The facade resembles much of SB – Moorish architecture (that I know little about) but makes you feel you’ve gone further than the west coast. Inside Bouchon, there’s lovely exposed brick that has a natural, “we didn’t try hard” look, which I always appreciate. I’d recommend outside or a table by the door. I was pretty impressed with the nighttime SB breeze. It’s flirty and fun. Meanwhile, the staff was cool. I liked that even though it was white table cloth, people were still somewhat laid back. Some of these white tablecloths are full of bots, and if you’ve seen Get Out, you know to be careful. Bouchon delivered fresh, well prepared and seasoned dishes while giving a relaxed beach town vibe.
Bella Vista at the Four Seasons
Hype level: 3 Actual Score: 5
No one really talked about how good the food is here, which I don’t understand. Everyone said the views were amazing and to “grab something while there.” Folks can’t be trusted. There are TWO reasons to go to Bella Vista. The views and the steak. Overlooking butterfly beach, the outside seating does indeed have a gorgeous view. And there’s a fire pit and heat lamps for those cool SB nights. We had things to eat besides the steak and they were serviceable. But the steak was the best filet mignon I’ve ever had. Prepared sous vide, the texture is like butter. The taste doesn’t suffer. As my husband would say, it’s a flavor bomb. I could come here for a variety of reasons: to celebrate a special occasion, date night, girls night, or to try to feel
Public Market (and cupcakes!)
Hype level: 3 Actual Score: 5!
Did I mention SB is a late rising town? If you’re an east coaster and never get used to time changes like me, this is a challenge. I don’t know why I can never sleep but I woke up at 5am the first couple of days looking for stuff to get into. By 5pm, I was like the walking dead rolling up to the hotel already asleep.
Anyways, very few things are open early in SB but the Public Market is one of them. It opens at 7am most days and has some breakfast vendors open. This was one of my favorite spots in SB – the hubs and I visited more than once. Not a large market by any means but a decent size for what it offers. Breakfast spots had chai and croissants – typical fair but done really well. Food options (later in the day) range from noodle bars to a beer garden with a full menu. I heard the noodle bar was amazing but didn’t get a chance to try it (eating your way around SB takes dedication). And no SB market would be complete without a wine store. This one takes up the back quarter of the market and is full of local selections. Locals mentioned the market but it felt like a perfunctory “bless your heart.”
Now for the real reveal: If you’re into desserts like I am, check out Enjoy Cupcakes. It’s all mini cupcakes and was my favorite spot in the market (and the reason we hit the market more than once). The salted caramel cupcake took me back to eating southern caramel cake as a kid. It trumps (sorry this word has become sordid) the ever popular Crushcakes. Plus, mini cupcakes are so much more satisfying than those huge cupcakes that make you feel like you need a fork.
Hype level: 0?? Actual Score 4
No one recommended Dawn Patrol. Most people said to go to Jeannine’s (more on that below). But the food turned out to be really tasty. Dawn Patrol has an easy vibe. No airs, no frills, just bountiful sunshine and hearty food. Everything I tried was tasty, including this hash that makes me want breakfast again.
Hype level: 4 Actual Score 3
Jeannine’s had good, solid breakfast fare. The pancakes were pretty outstanding. My biggest issue with it is that it did not fit the SB mold I’d created over my first 5 days there. The warm, laid back greetings were lost and replaced with hasty, judgment faces. It kind of reminded me of Sara Beth’s in Central Park. This probably wouldn’t have bothered me on the east coast or LA, but because I was in SB, I was perturbed. Don’t rush me. I’m on vacation.
The Hidden Gem
Lure Fish House
I don’t want to oversell Lure Fish House. Granted, it has 4.5 stars on yelp so it’s not really “hidden” but it does not get the same touting as the other restaurants above – likely because it is not in the downtown State Street area. It’s a little off the beaten path, near a mall, and a grocery store. But, as long as you have the way, you need to go and order one item: the charbroiled oysters. Don’t waste time getting one order of six. About 18 to start is the right math, then you can decide what you want to do with the rest of your night. Oh, really good, refreshing cocktails too.
Before planning our honeymoon, I didn’t realize how much of a wine area SB is. It’s perfect because if you want a beach on top of your wine, you can have it. While Santa Barbara definitely doesn’t have the volume of wineries of the Napa and Sonoma area, it was no slouch.
Sherene is the owner of Santa Barbara Classic Wine Tours and I liked her from the outset. She’s got a quirky personality and is all.over.the.place – in the best of ways. She also knows a ton about SB and LA (where she used to live). And perhaps most importantly, she can get you up steep mountains in a big sprinter van in rapid speed. The tour is intimate with front door pickup and drop off. She keeps the group small–there were seven of us. I could see how this might go really wrong but our group was awesome.
Up to Santa Ynez, we drove through the mountains to our first winery. It was a mom and pop winery called Mosby that focused on Italian wines. For a small shop, the wines were great. We then headed to La Fond, a larger winery with great views and lots of specialty goods like olive oil, chocolate, and tapenades. The highlight of the day was lunch at the second winery. Shareen set up our lunches on picnic tables with an exquisite view of the mountains. She also included some extra snacks that rounded out an awesome and scenic lunch.
The wineries continued to progress in size and views. Third, we went to Foley, which has a really neat tasting room with a fireplace. Our last stop was at Melville which had some of the best views of the day. I had to be sure to write these down for the blog….The all day wine tasting is not for the faint of heart. I enjoyed the pace of the tour and the amount of wineries. We got some variety but it wasn’t overly ambitious.
It felt like we laughed and chatted the whole way back. It was a good day.
Rookie Tip: If you’re exploring all over SB, not just State Street, get a bike with a motor. Yes, they’re real. You can pedal it like normal and turn on the motor for a nice pick me up. The hills are alive. You’ll thank me.