As Santa Barbara’s wineries have burgeoned, so too have places to dine, creating a synergy between chefs and vintners. Nowadays, there is an abundance of excellent restaurants, complete with superlative wine lists.
Situated in the Funk Zone, Santa Barbara’s vibrant arts district north of Stearns Wharf, this sophisticated restaurant serves seasonally inspired cuisine that employs ingredients from local farms. Named after Southern Pacific’s overnight train that ran between Los Angeles and Oakland up until 1968, The Lark has integrated design elements from that time.
For example, tables positioned in antique train booths offer a more private dining experience. Everything on the menu sounded delectable, and since the plates are intended for sharing, we were able to try a significant number of dishes. The crispy Brussels sprouts, served with medjool dates, serrano chile and lime, were simultaneously sweet and tangy, but the caramelized sunchokes accompanied by shavings of aged Spanish Garrotxa cheese, dollops of rosemary yogurt and toasted walnuts were a standout. The chestnut pappardelle with butternut squash and chanterelle mushrooms was delicious, but the crowning glory of our meal was caramelized diver scallops served with sweet Dungeness crabmeat, crispy parsnips and snap peas.
While the wine list is quite extensive, we were enticed by the unique drink menu. For dessert, we chose the Humble Pie cocktail created with brown butter, mezcal, aquavit, Bonal, sage and carrot. It was a well-balanced mélange and a perfect end to our meal. Closed Monday.
131 Anacapa Street. Tel. (805) 284-0370
This upscale Spanish restaurant in the waterfront district serves innovative tapas on a lovely patio warmed by a hearth or in a dining room appointed with brass chandeliers, exposed white-brick walls and colorful Spanish patterned tile floors.
We began our meal with a tortilla Española, a thick omelet made with potatoes and caramelized onions and served cold with an herb aioli; traditional gambas al ajillo (black tiger prawns in a spicy tomato, brandy and garlic sauce); and tender grilled octopus tentacles over a bed of mashed potatoes with black-garlic aioli. Though our starters were outstanding, the highlight of our meal was the paella, with its roasted free-range chicken, spicy chorizo, gigante beans, hen of the woods mushrooms and grilled lemon and arugula garnishes. The key for a perfect paella is the socarrat (the toasty bottom where the rice caramelizes on the base of the pan), and the one at Loquita did not disappoint.
The unpretentious and authentic cuisine served here makes diners feel as though they have traveled to Spain for an evening, and everything from the sangria to the Spanish coffee, served with 12-year-old El Dorado rum and Frangelico whipped cream, to the wine list, broken down into Catalunya, Galicia, Andalucia, Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Santa Barbara sections, made this restaurant one of the high points of our trip.
202 State Street. Tel. (805) 880-3380
Located three doors down from the Mission Revival-style Arlington Theatre, dating from 1931, Jane is on the main drag of State Street, in the heart of downtown. This restaurant was named after the current owner’s grandmother Jane Moody. The dining room décor is refreshingly unassuming. Walls are simply appointed with original black-and-white photographs of Moody’s lively past, and wood tables feature fresh flower centerpieces.
The mood is simultaneously elegant and casual and ideal for a peaceful lunch. This restaurant attracts a clientele of younger families, and the high-caliber contemporary bistro fare is approachable yet refined. Lunch offers creative salad bowls that are seasonally inspired, such as the butter lettuce served with papaya, fresh Dungeness crab and toasted almonds in a light curry sauce. My dish was composed of seared ahi and garlic-crusted prawns served atop cucumber noodles, daikon sprouts, watercress and butter lettuce, which was then heightened by a homemade sesame vinaigrette. More-substantial staples are also available, including a chicken piccata in a white wine-butter sauce, and grilled salmon with a mango relish.
Dinner offers a more expansive menu of bistro classics, including grilled rack of lamb, and steak frites, but I have been warned that dinners can get noisy because of the open bi-level space. Whether you are there for lunch or dinner, do not leave without ordering one of the famous homemade cakes or sundaes. I recommend the coconut chiffon cake served with a sauce anglaise. Closed Sunday.
1311 State Street. Tel. (805) 962-1311