Spent a few days working in Santa Barbara. My work was centered around UCSB, and breakfasts were at the hotel, lunches on campus, so none too exciting.
Dinners, however, were worth reporting on:
Hungry Cat: I had not had a good travel day, dallied longer than planned at my daughter's place in LA and then had hotel issues when I finally arrived in SB that left me feeling less than welcome and in need of a drink and some great comfort food for a late dinner. I was so anxious to get out of the hotel for a while that I started driving around without checking Chowhound. Usually a bad move, but I noticed a small place with an open kitchen that looked inviting, walked in, and realized I was in the SB branch of a place that I had read about on the LA boards: Hungry Cat.
Took a spot at the counter, and proceeded to have what was one of the best meals I've had in quite a while. First of all, it was surprising to read (later) that others have reported poor service here: everyone, from the host, to the line cooks (great view of the cooking action from the bar), to the servers and bartender, were friendly and welcoming. Even better than the service was the delicious tomato based stew of house made chorizo and clams with white beans and black kale. Comfort food supreme. I also enjoyed the special appetizer of grilled asparagus salad, topped with a soft egg and perfectly dressed.
I liked Hungry Cat so much that I went back two days later. This time I made it in time for happy hour; all specialty cocktails were half price. Again, I sat at the bar; again, service was stellar. This time I made a meal of various appetizers and starters: local oysters, halibut ceviche, cod fritters (a special), meyer lemon parfait. All were very good, though the parfait was a bit heavy (lemon curd layered with fresh whipped cream and topped with crumbled butter cookies). The fritters, set on a layer of red pepper puree, with a frisee salad (again, perfectly dressed) was probably my favorite dish of the evening. I tried two cocktails, both were very good but both a bit too sweet for my taste.
Bottom line: I loved Hungry Cat and look forward to a chance to try it again. Definitely recommended, and don't miss the chorizo and clams.
My third dinner was a work event, and one of the guests of honor requested an ocean view and seafood. The local organizers chose Harbor Restaurant, right on the Pier. I was quite apprehensive about such a touristy spot, but as it turns out, while it certainly wasn't great, it was fine. The valet parking was free, the view was beautiful (we were seated right by the window), service was very good and efficient, it was quiet and well-suited for work conversation (there weren't that many people dining there, which I presume would change in season). And the food wasn't bad. In particular, I enjoyed my crab Louie: prepared with large chunks of sweet Dungeness. Our guest of honor was happy with her grilled ono and with the view. Wouldn't go out of my way to eat there, but I would go back.
The Hungry Cat
1134 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101