My wfie and I spent last weekend (April 20-22, 2007) celebrating our anniversary in Santa Barbara. We stayed at the San Ysidro Ranch and had been looking forward to dinner at the Stonehouse restaurant. We had been there about three times in the fairly distant past and had considered it one of our most favorite restaurants. My wife relished the Vegetarian section of the menu and I, a true chowhound, typically concocted my own multi-course "tasting menu" because I could never decide what to order. The restaurant recently reopened after a very lengthy shut down attributable, I think, to a fire. The "new" version is not worthy of the San Ysidro Ranch. What a disappointment. We had reserved two dinners there, but canceled the second. The food was not "bad," it was very basic and just average. The menu had virtually no creativity. Main courses were two types of steak, two fish, grilled tofu, and some other mundane stuff I can't recall. I'm a prety good cook myself, and we had only one dish that I could not have done as well or better myself. That was a portobello ravioli with duck confit and a beet cream sauce. The ravioli and duck were well done, but the consistency of the sauce was more like spreadable cream cheese than a sauce. Desert was forgettable too. The service was efficient but our waiter was and obsequious ("excellent choice, sir" etc. etc.) and too pushy. Even my wife, who gets restless when our dining time reaches an hour and a half (I prefer three hours for a nice meal) felt rushed. Although we loved our room at the ranch, we will not eat at the restaurant unless/until they make a change.
On a positive note, we had lunch and then breakfast the next day at Tupelo Junction Cafe on State Street. I can't say enough good things about that place. Check out the menu on their website. We had to wait both days but the hostess was right on the mark about how long the wait would be (15 minutes one day; 25 minutes the next), so we wandered around and got seated immediately upon our return. For lunch, I had the lobster and corn chowder which was tasty (although the stock was a little weak) and chocked full of "stuff" (lobster, corn, carrots, potatoes). Then I had the mac and cheese with collard greens/bacon. Tremendous rendition! For breakfast the next day, I had the crab cake "hash." Really good. Not the best crab cakes I've ever had but the combination of crab cakes and hash browns covered with a pretty good guacamole (not spicy enough for me) and two perfectly poached eggs really hit the spot. We started with the apple -cinnamon beignets (top notch!). The service was friendly and efficient. We will definitely go back.
We had dinner on Saturday night at Epiphany which was very good. Way better than Stonehouse. Very creative menu with our dishes executed quite well. Service was "spot on." We also had a direct view of the kitchen where we were able to see the chef expediting all the dishes. It's nice when the chef is in the kitchen doing some actual cooking and looking over every dish before it's sent out. I had an asparagus salad (tasted like the asparagus had come from the day's farmer's market) and the duck dish. My wife had aspargus (obviously in season) soup and the ahi tuna tartar two ways. Everything was quite flavorful. I'm a duck snob and this preparation was a 7 on a scale of 10. The "fois gras" risotto was tasty, although I'm not sure I would have been able to identify it as "fois gras" risotto without the menu. We ate next to a couple who were in their 70s if not older. When the hostess asked them how everything was at the end of their meal, the woman complained that her tarragon chicken was not to her liking. The hostess deducted the cost of that dish from their bill. That tells you something about this place's commitment to customer satisfaction. I'd recommend this place. We paid $108 with tip and one glass of wine. (Our disappointing dinner at Stonehouse was nearly twice that with only one glass of wine there too . ... although I will say our waiter "topped off" my glass with a generous 2nd pour at no charge.)
Interested to hear other views of these places and others in SB.