Continuing our 2 week driving trip down to SoCA and back again. 28 meals, plus our fav Monterey bakery where we order ahead and then bring it all home:
~ Part 1 posted separately in this forum: Monterey #1, Cambria ~
~ Glendale/Burbank restaurants posted to LA forum ~
SB was a huge disappointment. Lovely area, but we just didn't pick the right places. Almost all the restaurants are downtown, but there's no parking. Map out your hotel carefully and walking distances to everything; next time we'll know better.
Trattoria Uliveto, Orcutt - We stopped here on the way down to Santa Barbara to meet up with a friend. It's a pleasant Italian place. We should have followed her lead on the Sole Piccata, her entrée was far superior to what we ordered.
Finch & Fork - Food fads galore abound here. Rest assured if something has been written up as a hot trend, F&F has it on the menu, or some variant of it. The chef has talent, but he also has a bad case of "kitchen sink-itis" - everything he makes needs 14 ingredients or more on a plate. Some people just don't know when to leave well enough alone.
Renaud's Patisserie - At first we thought we'd found a place as good or better than Monterey's Parker-Lusseau, our long-time fav. But outside of the croissants, Renaud's was erratic and/or more style than substance. The first day the individual quiche Lorraine was to die for. The second day, it dropped half a level. The service ranges from glum to grim, and you don't always receive what you ordered. The lines are unreal and inefficient. For croissants (not the fruit tarts, which are God-awful) and coffee, they're great. But nothing else (we didn't try the macarons, not being big fans of them. Renaud's is famed for theirs).
Gelson's Supermarket - A small upscale specialty chain, they carry some of Renaud's pastries in a corner of their store. For simple take-out you can walk 50' and buy the macarons and croissants at Gelson's, instead of fighting your way into the postage-stamp-sized patisserie shop. Their take-out sections looked yummy and the produce looked good, so keep them in mind for a picnic.
Stella Mares - This French restaurant colored our entire view of Santa Barbara. Spouse called it "the worst French food he's ever eaten, anywhere." I'd call it the second worst, but I'm sure Stella Mares is trying hard to be worse. This place embodies everything that ever went wrong with French food and gave the entire cuisine a bad reputation. Ugh!
Artisan: Much is made of Artisan*. We can understand why, the chef is talented. But he's young, and there is very little discipline or elegance in his cooking. Il Cortile was more our style and frankly, Artisan needs to learn that less is sometimes much, much more.
* no relation to Artisan Bistro in Lafayette, Contra Costa Cty
Il Cortile: If there was one restaurant we could pack up and take home to Northern CA, this would be the one. We loved the relaxed simplicity that celebrated great quality and outstanding execution. Nothing extraneous, no silly little piles of unknown ingredients plopped down like spastic blobs of paint on an overpriced canvas. Spinach gnocchi. A perfect veal chop. Espresso strong enough to wake the dead. Absolute perfection.
Panolivo: Spouse liked this little neighborhood hangout more than I did, but it's definitely worth stopping in. Lunch and breakfast are just enough above average to keep you coming back, and a surprisingly large menu - B/L/D are all available, all day long - means no matter what you feel like eating, you can find something here. Invaluable for a group, and the service was stellar.
Bouchee: Ever reliable and remains our fav French restaurant. Their variant of Filet Rossini is a winner. Even a simple green salad is a work of art, with wine-poached pears and a flawless vinaigrette.
Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar: A stunner, and another new restaurant we must add to our list of "must do's" when down here. Chef Jeffrey Weiss studied charcuterie in Spain and is a terrific cook. Who would have thought there was such a difference in octopus varieties? But there is, and we learned it here. And the eggplant fries made us both swoon.
Lucia @Bernardus Lodge: Replacing the upscale Marinus restaurant, Lucia is more casual but still upscale. Nicely remodeled décor, we weren't impressed with the food until we tasted the pizza. It was an amazing pizza, with the perfect crust made from great quality flour that is so unmistakable. We agreed we would come here again just for that pizza...okay, and to hang out by that cozy fireplace.
Fifi's: We made our fourth and final visit here for lunch. Just as good a meal, and really impressive for such a simple, casual bistro. The cooking has definitely jumped that critical half-level upwards at lunch, and now matches dinner. Spouse has finally become a fan of trout, having tasted this great little freshwater fish cooked properly.
Parker Lusseau Patisserie: Always our final stop, as we picked up quiches, croissants, and caneles to bring home. Yum!