Restaurant Rescue: Chef Pink Brings Solvang’s Root 246 Back to Life

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo

Chef Crystal DeLongpré makes doesn’t mince words when she describes what lured her into the kitchen of Solvang’s well-known restaurant, Root 246.
 
“There’s been a quality lapse and some dissidence in the ranks,” says the foodie better known as Chef Pink. “They’d been chef-less for years, and that hurt them, and it hurt their reputation.”
 
Chef Pink in action
Indeed, the Solvang restaurant that enjoyed its heyday in 2009 when celeb chef Bradley Ogden opened its doors with an inspired wine country menu was a different spot to eat when Chef Pink took over in late 2017. Chef Ogden had left in 2012 and, in the years that followed, an apparent lack of focus and investment led the Chumash-owned eatery inside the Hotel Corque to fall from grace.
 
When new management sought to revamp Root 246’s reputation, the timing seemed right for Chef Pink, too. The 20-year restaurant industry veteran’s resumé already included kitchen stints from Hollywood to New York to Paris. In Santa Barbara, she’d cooked at Epiphany and Square One. And TV appearances on SpikeTV and the Food Network had already allowed her to sport the title, celebrity chef. When a fallout with her landlord led her to shutter Bacon & Brine – a hugely successful food spot in Solvang that she ran with wife Courtney for five years – Chef Pink was on the hunt for something new.
 
“I knew [Root 246] was a beautiful space, and the kitchen is amazing,” she says. But before she could pay any attention to the menu, “the staff was the main thing.
 
“Finding talent in this [Santa Ynez] Valley is an incredibly challenging thing – we’re not flushed with great cooks,” she says. “We don’t have a reputation yet for being great, though we will in a few years. It will take work and training.”
 
And for her entire first year at Root 246, that’s exactly what she did. She found a few people “with a hunger for great food” and put them from through rigorous training. Lots of one-on-one -- even a six-week crash course on all things culinary with visiting chefs from San Francisco. And a year later, in late 2018, when Chef Pink finally felt she had “a team that wanted to be at work every day and that was inspired and happy,” official word of her new tenure at Root 246 began to spread.
 
photo credit: Chef Pink
Cost is a clear focus at the new Root 246, mainly to expand the client base, locals in particular. “Accessibility and affordability matter here,” says Chef Pink of the restaurant that seats 171. “When I used to do fine dining, I’d look out over the dining room and could see that only a certain amount of people would come in and eat the food – it was too socially unbalanced. I’m creating a place where more people can have access to the same quality food and larger portions.”
 
Appetizers range from $4 to $14 and entrees cost between $14 and $28; the outlier is an impressive 24-oz. Dry-Aged Bone-In Rib Eye that comes with potatoes fried in beef fat and sells for $68.
 
The Root 246 menu changes seasonally and is totally ingredient-driven. All meats are sustainable and humanely raised. All the chicken is free-range. Seafood is all local except for the octopus, which comes from a small Spanish source. And the produce is 99% local. “It’s almost all from the Santa Ynez Valley,” says the chef. “I want to support local farmers and their vision.”
 
photo credit: Chef Pink
The Spring 2019 menu launched just this month with 14 new items, including the Ajo Blanco Soup, made with garlic, almond, spicy radish, grapes and chervil, and the Aguachiles, featuring local halibut, tangerines, cucumber, pickled pequin chilis, grapes and limes.
 
Among Chef Pink’s personal favorite starters on her regular menu is the Oak-Grilled Heirloom Carrots ($11). Sourced from Sunrise Organic Farm in Buellton, the carrots are grilled over an open fire  -- “It helps elevate the sweetness and floral aspects of the carrots,” she says – and served on the plate with a homemade turmeric yogurt, pistachios and fresh dill. The Organic Chicken Liver Paté ($12) comes with crispy shallots, a house-made IPA vinegar and grilled bread and the Grilled Wild Shrimp ($14) features a peanut mole and cilantro. The popular Grampa’s House Focaccia ($4.50) is presented with organic California butter and sea salt.

 
On the entrees list, Chef Pink is a fan of the Impossible Burger ($14), the vegan alternative that’s remarkably close to the real thing; it comes on a potato roll with fries. “When I was in culinary school, I could only dream of vegan fine dining – it wasn’t done back then,” she says. “This type of product now gives me the freedom to showcase food that’s plant-based and produce that’s local.”
 
For the real thing: the 8-ounce wagyu Creekstone Ranch Burger ($18) comes with sharp cheddar and a bacon aioli; the American Lamb Burger ($18) features Bellwether Farms ricotta cheese and a spicy tomato jam; and the Neiman Ranch Pork Osso Bucco ($26) is accompanied by braised bay turnips, preserved lemon and a prune gremolata. Like all meats, the 12-ounce USDA Prime NY Steak ($28) is grilled over an oak wood fire. Seafood finds include the Braised Octopus Stew ($22), presented in broth with cannellini beans and house bacon, and the Santa Barbara Halibut ($26), butter-basted and doled out with fresh herbs, roasted potatoes, olives and lemon in a smoked tomato broth. A vegetarian favorite is the Roasted Kabocha Squash ($18), served with red wheat, spicy pepitas and an almond-coconut reduction.
 
Sides, all priced at $7, include the Slab o’ Cornbread, Sautéed Kale & Garlic and Baby Japanese Turnips.
 
“Everything I put on the menu is something I’d want to eat, myself, so the focus is on incredible flavor,” says Chef Pink. But I also want to make sure everyone gets the variety they need. Not everyone comes in for the same experience, and our demographic in Solvang is different than it was just five years ago. As restaurateurs, we need to remember that. We are in the hospitality business, after all.”
 
Chef Pink recently launched a Chef’s Table inside the expansive Root 246 kitchen; seating for up to 10 by reservation for a five-course, hand-curated meal is priced at $65.
 
The Ultra Lounge, right next door to the Root 246 dining room, has quickly become a popular destination for fans of cocktails and all things casual. Chef Pink recently introduced a 19-item bar menu to accompany the top-shelf whiskeys, craft beers and signature cocktails, as well as a wine list that’s heavy on the Central Coast, including the Chumash tribe’s proprietary label, Kita. It serves food until midnight and adult drinks until 1:30am on Friday and Saturday nights.
 
Root 246, 400 Alisal Rd., Solvang. 805-686-8681. Dinner Tue.-Sun. from 5pm. Lounge opens at 4pm. Sunday brunch 10am-2pm. root-246.com.

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Shoreside Showstopper: Caruso’s at the New Rosewood Miramar Elevates Santa Barbara Dining

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo

Chef Massimo Falsini has a real love affair with Mother Nature.
 
“Caruso’s menu in entirely built on Mother Nature’s will,” says the chef behind one of the year’s most anticipated restaurant openings in Santa Barbara. Caruso’s is the flagship restaurant inside the new Rosewood Miramar Beach resort, named after the man who dreamed it up, L.A. developer Rick Caruso.

Chef Massimo Falsini
Chef Falsini on his ingredients: “The perfection of Mother Nature is right under our eyes, every day. We just forget how to look at it, how to spot it. Take a Romanesco cauliflower, observe its geometry, really look at it. Then you will know.”
 
The chef’s affection for food is certainly defining the culinary experience at Caruso’s and, by extension, the Santa Barbara dining experience itself. Seasonality and regionality reign supreme here, and the menu follows their lead, even if on a daily basis. “The menu is alive and dynamic, with constant changes, tweaks and adjustment,” says the chef. “At times we have ingredients that are available for a couple of weeks, or even a one-off from a micro farm. We always take the opportunity to find room in our dishes.”
 
Chef Falsini’s gastronomic approach is also enhanced by a unique sense of place. It’s not lost on him that nostalgia is very much part of the Rosewood Miramar experience – a wistfulness about this rambling 16-acre Montecito property wrought by a history that stretches back to the 1890s. Caruso’s location right on the beach – right on the sand, almost – plays a role, too.
 
“From the moment you sit on our patio, you feel the caress of the wind and the salinity of the air,” says the chef. “You can have the most casual, laid back brunch in the late afternoon with a glass of rosé, or you can have…a six-course tasting menu and wine pairings! The best part is that you might sit at the same table, but the restaurant, the ambiance, the feelings and sensations are completely different. It is like traveling in space within the same day.”
 
Seafood is the crux of the Caruso’s offerings – “only local and sustainable seafood supporting small fishermen and divers,” says the chef. It’s a focus defined by his own passion for seafood sustainability, and his ongoing work with the James Beard Foundation’s Smart Catch program. And it’s driven by the bounty that thrives, quite literally, right outside the front door. From the starters list, the Striped Sea Bass ($20) comes with oranges and cucumbers; the Baja Kampachi Crudo ($20) with lemon verbena and a rosehip tea, and the Tuna Tartare ($25) with lemon, olives and an almond granita. The ultimate homage to fare from local waters, the American Riviera Seafood Platter (M.P.) features Santa Barbara spot prawns, spiny lobster, stone crab, oysters and sea urchin.
 
Seafood pastas include the Risotto di Mare ($26), with rock cod, prawns, mussels and clams; and the Tagliolini ($25) with sea urchin, breadcrumbs and basil. Entrees with a seafood slant include the Crispy Monterey Salmon ($32) and the Pan Roasted Petrale Sole ($48). The Santa Barbara Harbor Cioppino ($45) features octopus, calamari, cod, clams, mussels, spot prawns and Dungeness crab.
 
The ocean inspiration here is further buoyed by Caruso’s striking décor. Located in the resort’s Beach House, just on the other side of the train tracks that slice across the property, it’s festooned with rich hues of maritime blue and elegant jewel box touches. The rooftop bar above emulates the polished wood deck of a luxury yacht.
 
The balance of the menu is inspired by Chef Falsini’s own Italian background, plus a 30-year career at restaurants throughout Europe, the Middle East and North America, from the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai to the Waldorf Astoria Orlando to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi; it was at the legendary Harry’s Bar in Rome that Chef Falsini earned a Michelin star.
 
“Mediterranean cuisine is my forté…but spending time in the Middle East, South East Asia and Hawaii has definitely influenced my way of looking at food and finding harmony and balance in flavors,” says the chef. He adds, to put his move to Santa Barbara in context, and with a fair share of romantic flare: “So, I am just a cook – a cook that has been cooking like my ancestors used to; a cook who comes from the land of myth, a land of explorers, poets and artists, where erupted landscapes meet the sea and the sky, just like the American Riviera."
 
The Stone Baked Ancient Roman Pie, Mr. Falsini’s inspired take on flatbread, comes with multiple toppings options, like foraged mushroom, Piave DOP cheese and rosemary ($21) and prosciutto, arugula, Crescenza cheese and parmigiana reggiano ($24). The Rocky Canyon Chicken ($28) comes with crispy sweet potato, broccoli Romanesco and salsa verde; the Sonoma Lamb Rack and Meatballs ($42) is accompanied by a Neapolitan croquette and almond artichoke crema; and the Steak and Potatoes…My Way ($55) features a Snake River Gold Wagyu New York Strip alongside potato, foraged mushroom, bone marrow and a syrah jus.
 


To call any of these a signature Caruso’s dish, of course, would be a mistake. “We actually do not have a signature dish, because Mother Nature does not either,” says Chef Falsini. “We are just following the changes of the seasons, along with the expert and dedicated hands of our hardworking fishermen, farmers and ranchers.”
 
Winemakers play a role, too, he adds. “The wine is the product of the land transformed by the knowledge of man…and wine should always go with the food.” The Caruso’s list is a hand-picked mix of high-end local and European finds. An extensive selection of top shelf spirits offers plenty of pre- and post-dinner sipping options.
 
Chef Falsini helms a brigade of 80 chefs and 25 stewards, including Chef de Cuisine Paul Osborne and Pastry Chef Benjamin Kunert. He puts the spotlight, however, squarely on his guests. “There is nothing more joyful for a chef than to have happy guests and friends in the restaurant,” he says.
 
The Caruso's dining room
And when he paints a picture of the experience he’s striving to deliver for his sophisticated clientele, Nature is the only mother on his mind.
 
“I remember Mamma on Sunday bringing the bowl of fettuccine al sugo prepared all morning with the pin, made carefully and wisely with the best ingredients from the market, all selected by her choosy hands,” he reminisces. “That particular moment of the delivery of the dish – pride and joy permeated the dining room. That is the same feeling we are striving for at Caruso’s.”
 
The Rosewood Miramar’s culinary offerings also include all-day dining and afternoon tea at the indoor-outdoor Malibu Farm at Miramar, the first at any California hotel for the popular organic dining brand; the opulent Manor Bar, decked out in candlelight and curated works of art and featuring creative cocktails and live music; the Cabana Bar at the swanky, zero-edge adults-only pool; and the Scoop Shop at the family-friendly Manor Pool, which doles out burgers as well as ice cream flavors by Rori’s Artisanal Creamery crafted exclusively for the resort.
 
Find out more at rosewoomiramarbeach.com.
Caruso’s at Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort, 1759 S. Jameson Lane, Montecito. 805-900-8388. Dinner Sun.-Thu. 6-10pm, Fri.-Sat. 6-11pm.
 
 
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Hello Rosalie: This Beer is for Wine Lovers

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/28/19


This part of the Firestone-Walker story comes full circle inside a pretty pink can that bears the name, Rosalie.

Wine is in the Firestone family’s rear view mirror these days. Brooks Firestone launched winegrowing on the family’s Santa Ynez Valley ranch in the 1980s, a project that flourished under the generation that followed until the brand was sold to magnate Bill Foley in 2007.

By then, Brooks’ oldest son, Adam, was 10 years into his side business, making beer. He’d launched his brewery as a joint venture with his brother-in-law, David Walker, making beers right in the vineyard and fermenting the early brews right inside wine barrels. Today, with brewmaster Matt Brynildson at the helm, Firestone Walker Brewery is the success story that keeps in going.

Its latest project, a beer rosé dubbed Rosalie, is a wonderful marriage between the company’s wine-inspired past and beer-fueled future. It springs, actually, from something called the Terroir Project, a two-year-old venture to explore beer-wine hybrids. Rosalie – delightfully pink in hue, with a flirtatious fizz and a wonderfully unique flavor profile, all housed inside a slender aluminum can sealed with a pull tab – breaks ground in the way it integrates wine grapes into beer making.

For the wine part: chardonnay, viognier, sauvignon blanc, riesling and muscat grapes were sourced from popular Castoro Winery in Paso Robles, the Central California town that's home base for Firestone Walker’s operations. The grape juices were delivered to the brewery for cold storage.

For the beer part: hops and a light pilsner malt were procured to produce wort, the liquid extracted during the brewing process. A souring technique was used to elevate acidity.

Wine part and beer part are blended, and co-fermentation begins.

There’s a remarkable extra ingredients in all of this: hibiscus flowers. “This is similar to how we might typically add hops to the whirlpool, except in this case we are using hibiscus,” says Brynildson. “This gives is a classic rosé coloration with a suggestion of rose petals in the aromas. The hibiscus also contributes a touch of natural citric acid that enlivens the palate.”


Rosalie in, in fact, a delightful hybrid sipper that will delight wine fans and beer buffs alike. It’s wine upfront, with that familiar bounce on the palate and flavors of berries. And it’s beer on the back end, with a subtle hops essence and a refreshing effervescence. It’s pretty pink in the glass, too, and at five percent alcohol per volume, prime for a second pour.

So it seems David Walker is right: “Our roots are deep in the wine culture,” he says. “If any brewer can actually take wine and beer and bring them together, it’s us.” 

Rosalie is hitting the marketplace right now in six packs, with draft to follow next month. Find out more at firestonebeer.com.


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This is the New Irish Food: Celeb Chef Offers Glimpse Into Ireland's Culinary Revival

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/14/19


UPDATE March 20: Catherine Fulvio was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for her 6-part "A Taste of Ireland" series that aired on Recipe.TV. Also in her category: Giada de Laurentis, Valerie Bertinelli, Molly Yeh and Pati Jinich. The awards are handed out May 5th in Pasadena, California. Good luck, Catherine! Read the Irish Times article here.


My visit w/Catherine Fulvio at Ballyknocken in February 2019
“You come here, you experience Ireland in one fell swoop.”

Chef Catherine Fulvio is talking about Ballyknocken, her childhood home in Ireland’s County Wicklow and, today, one of the island nation’s premier culinary destinations.

“When we welcome guests,” she continues, “it gives us a chance to share our passion for all things Irish – our culture, our home, our food.”

Mrs. Fulvio is a well-known personality in Ireland, a bona fide celebrity chef, with six Irish TV series and six cookbooks to her name; American audiences will recognize her from Netflix’s popular cooking show, “Lords and Ladles.” Her celebrity, certainly, has bolstered Ballyknocken’s success as a place to stay – a sprawling 280-acre estate less than 40 miles south of Dublin that’s embraced by the undulating Wicklow Mountains and a rippling green landscape as far as the eye can see.

But the appeal of Ballyknocken – home to a seven-room bed-&-breakfast and Chef Fulvio’s popular cooking school, or cookery school, as the Irish call it – may lay more with the genuine experience it offers its visitors, who come here from all over Ireland and all over the world.

“This is personal for us because it is our home, and I’m caring for it for the next generation,” says the mother of a 16-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. “So guests who come from America are blown away with the experience because they get to see inside a real Irish home: the loud fire burning, the vintage furniture and, of course, the meals. It’s just part of that Irish hospitality. We have a great curiosity for people, and we love making a connection with them.”

The word, “ballyknocken,” stems from Gaelic and means, “home on the little hill.” Chef Fulvio’s family estate sits at the foot of Carrick Hill and was founded 50 years ago by Mrs. Fulvio’s mother – one of the first B&Bs in Ireland, set in a Victorian farmhouse that dates back to the 1850s. The chef remembers her as “a real entrepreneur” who was the first in Ireland to specialize in “hill-walking holidays” and who wrote her own book on walks across the surrounding countryside. Today, Ballyknocken still offers packages – from one to seven nights – that include picnics and treks across the Wicklow Mountains, where views include neighboring Wales and the picturesque Irish Sea.

Mrs. Fulvio’s mother was also her first gastronomic influence. “I grew up cooking with my mum, who cooked three meals a day for guests,” recalls the chef who, at age six, would be tasked with picking fruits, gathering eggs, milking cows and making butter. “We were always food producers,” she says, “who understood where food came from and what good, quality food is all about.”

Ballyknocken
That connection from the farm to the plate remains an integral part of the Ballyknocken persona. Right outside Mrs. Fulvio’s cookery school, once her father’s milking barn that’s now a demonstration kitchen flanked by various student stations, the garden blooms year-round. Rhubarb, rainbow chard, kale, broccoli, beans, artichokes, zucchini and squash grow seasonally. Herbs range from lemon verbena and cilantro to rosemary and sage. Edible flowers in a cavalcade of color abound. And in the greenhouse she erected just last summer, heirloom tomatoes, chilies, eggplants and even bananas grow undeterred. Sheep and cows graze along the hills. Trout swim the rivers nearby.

Chef Fulvio's Beef & Stout Pies w/Potato Pastry Topping
“Ireland has always been an agricultural nation,” says Chef Fulvio. A blend of rain and sun create a lengthy growing season, produce flourishes, grass thrives and animals feed in the great, wide open. “You need to understand how Ireland operates as an agricultural nation to appreciate how good the food is.

“But,” she continues, “perhaps we’ve been slow to get the message out. For so long, we have told story of our famine and emigrants, and Irish stew and soda bread – don’t get me wrong, I love them! But we are so much more than that in Ireland!”

Leveraging her notoriety, Chef Fulvio is among a new generation of Irish culinarians who are, indeed, getting the message out. A culinary revival is afoot in Ireland, and places like Ballyknocken have become ground zero. Customized, food-centric vacations for groups small and large take place year-round. And cooking classes, scheduled around Mrs. Fulvio’s traveling and filming schedule and offered to both B&B guests and drop-ins, are hands-on. Usually held on Saturdays and Sundays, they’re priced at €140 (about $157), last four hours and include a sit-down meal and a treasure trove of recipes. The current spring schedule includes themes like “Mastering Fish and Sauces,” “Fabulous Mains and Desserts” and, inspired by the chef’s husband’s roots, “Southern Italian Kitchen.”

I made this with Chef Fulvio, and it was awesome: Chocolate Beetroot Guinness Cake w/Ganache & Raspberries
Click here for the recipe!
Chef Fulvio incorporates a lot of her own family history into her classes and demos, including recipes that have been passed down for five generations. “Old, traditional recipes of baking and cooking to be sure,” she says. “And yet at the same time, it’s fresh and modern. This is what we’re producing now. This is the new Irish food.”

For more information, visit ballyknocken.ie.

Check out Chef Fulvio's recipes at catherinefulvio.com/recipes.


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Dinner Is the Show: At The Silver Bough, Culinary Theatrics Create Santa Barbara’s Most Expensive -- and Special -- Dining Experience

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo,
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 2/28/19
 
You don’t make reservations for dinner at The Silver Bough. You buy tickets. This is, after all – from the intimate seating to the multiple acts to the stars on stage – culinary theatrics at their best.
 
The Celtic myth that inspired Montecito’s newest dinner haven, The Silver Bough, tells of a mortal’s ability to enter the world of the gods by touching the silver branch of a blossom-bearing apple tree. The lucky human would be treated like a god himself – treated to a fantastic feast where he'd eat tantalizing foods to his heart’s content, until he fell asleep. He would awaken back on Earth, the silver bough gone, hidden once again by the gods for another lucky mortal to find.
 
The 18 courses that are the heart of the dinner experience at Chef Philip Frankland Lee’s newest creative project are presented in three acts. Pre-show drinks and conversation in a private nook off the lobby of The Montecito Inn are followed by prologue of sorts, as guests are escorted through the kitchen to a private, dimly lit, secret space.  The kitchen is buzzing, as it’s prepping orders for diners at The Monarch, the restaurant Chef Lee opened with his wife, pastry chef Margarita Kallas-Lee, in August. But behind the non-descript door, another world open. Guests – a maximum of eight on any given night – stand around a centerpiece rectangular table decked out in river stones and a singular, shiny, decorative silver tree sculpture. The experience is immediately multisensory, as ethereal music begins to play and the hostess, under a spotlight, recounts the Irish tale of the silver bough. Soon, guests notice that what appeared to be colorful decorative pieces camouflaged among the stones are, actually, the evening’s starters. On a recent night, on what was only the 11th performance at The Silver Bough since it opened in January, those canapés included diminutive versions of wagyu tartare with parmesan cream, local honey and black truffle; rye mousse with apple meringue, candied lemon peel and toasted hazelnut; and whipped butter and salmon roe tucked inside a chive and matcha sponge cake.
 
And now, Act I.
 
Suddenly, the red curtain parts and the night’s epicurean theater is revealed: an intimate, elegant kitchen where a cast of five -- Chef Lee and his team of chefs and beverage experts, along with a bevy of ingredients – await. Eight pre-assigned settings are decked out in stunning dinnerware atop a 16-foot counter slab of smooth, gleaming Brazilian quartzite. Guests sit, and the show begins.
 
A bit of a dramatic build-up here? Sure, but an appropriate one. Fact is, the culinary experience that unfolds over the next three hours at the Silver Bough, unhurriedly and with plenty of dramatic turns, is unlike any other in Santa Barbara. The near one-to-one ratio of diners to staff is unheard of. And the food – from the creative impulses behind it to the way it’s presented to how it tastes – is exceptional. This is not by accident, of course. Chef Lee, part of Zagat’s “30 Under 30” and Global Cuisine Award’s Chef of the Year for 2018 for the success of his Scratch Restaurant concepts in L.A., has a lofty goal in mind: Santa Barbara’s first ever 3-Star Michelin restaurant, inspired by the likes of The French Laundry in the Napa Valley.
 
Chef Phillip Frankland Lee has the night's lead role at The Silver Bough
“This is not a restaurant for everybody,” he admits, “but the demographic of the hotels in this area certainly overlaps with ours.” He’s referring to the San Ysidro Ranch, the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore and the newly opened Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort, with rack rates in the hundreds and thousands per night, as well as the Montecito Inn, whose guests get preferred ticket access at The Silver Bough. “And in this sphere of dining, ours is actually one of the least expensive restaurants.”
 
Indeed, the ticket price at The Silver Bough has been much buzzed-about, both in the local community and in the national foodie press. Dinner here is $550 per person, making it the most expensive culinary commitment in town. “An exercise in opulence,” Chef Lee calls is at the start of the aforementioned performance. And he adds, during a subsequent interview, “Once you get past the sticker shock, you can look at the value,” says the chef.
 
Tasting menus at Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, in fact, can run well more than $550 per person. They often command reservations months in advance, if not a year. And they do, clearly, cater to a very specific clientele.
 
As Chef Lee aims to position The Silver Bough at that echelon, he points to the exclusivity of his ingredients, for one, many of which won’t be found anywhere else in Santa Barbara or, in a few cases, anywhere else in the country. Wasabi root is flown in from Japan, crabs legs from Russia and dark chocolate from Peru. The venison is on the menu is, in fact, a super-venison, an animal raised in open land somewhere in upstate New York that’s half-deer and half-elk. And the beef is actually Olive Wagyu, sweet, tender meat from cattle reared on just a handful of farms in southwestern Japan and sold exclusively to private individuals; The Silver Bough is only restaurant to feature it on its menu.
 
Then there’s the showmanship behind the Silver Bough experience. Chef Lee and his team stay in the kitchen and mingle with guests throughout the evening as they cook, describe and present course after course in movements that, though scripted and choreographed, seem fluid and seamless.
 
Act I is “The Sea,” starring ingredients like caviar, lobster, crab and Santa Barbara-sourced sea urchin and snapper that make repeat appearances, in creatively unique ways, over five courses. The Spiny Lobster Tartare is prepared with meat from the crustacean’s tail while it’s still raw and served with urchin, salted cream, puffed quinoa and green tea soy. The Kinmedai Snapper Crudo is lightly warmed to express fat and presented with fermented matsutake mushrooms and ginger. The Lightly Grilled King Crab comes with urchin emulsion, tangy gooseberries, sourdough bread crumbs and caviar.


Act II is “The Land,” with a supporting cast of Carpinteria-bred King pigeon and that uber special venison and wagyu. Again, superior ingredients in myriad delicious manifestations. Take the pigeon: its breast is barbecued, pistachio-crusted and served with salt-roasted beet; the same animal’s liver and heart become a tartlette topped with a cherry reduction, for spreading on a mini Parker House roll; its leg, flavored with Granny Smith apple and black truffle, “should be sucked like a lollipop,” the chef tells his guests; and a tea made from its crushed bones, along with a pigeon egg yolk, accompany butter-roasted chanterelles in the Venison Tenderloin course. The Olive Wagyu Ribeye Cap comes with pink pepper skins while its Center Cut Ribeye – “the piece de resistance,” Chef Lee calls it, for the way it’s almost like a protein candy and melts in the mouth – is served with mashed potatoes and truffles, alongside Little Gem lettuces with candied pecans.
 
Act III – and this is the part in the Gaelic tale where the privileged mortal, after relentless and lavish feasting, begins to feel the onset of sleep – is “Desserts,” in four courses: Andazul goat’s milk blue cheese on fried sourdough with warm honey and black truffle; blood orange sorbet with citrus tea emulsion, basil blossoms and black lime; duck liver mousse with strawberry granita, macerated strawberries and nasturtium petals; and a chamomile custard that’s a refined rendition of tea and honey, with shaved truffles, candied bee pollen and 24-karat gold leaf.

 
The $550 ticket price is all-inclusive, which means beverage pairings for each course, each one in its own luxe glassware, come standard. The current liquid lineup includes top-of-the-line sparklers, sake and wines from Germany, Italy, France and California, including Santa Barbara. The drinks matches are particularly innovative and impressive on the non-alcoholic pairing option, which knocks the entry fee down to $450. Mixed between courses and in expert fashion by the night’s dedicated bartender, who’s part of the kitchen team, the drinks feature house-made juices and teas that pull back on sweetness and deliver plenty of fresh flavors, intense aromatics and a clean, refreshing mouth feel; the mushroom-garlic-thyme tea served with the aged venison saddle is remarkable.
 

Me hanging with the Silver Bough team
Chef Lee and his team spent 60 days experimenting, producing and perfecting the Silver Bough experience before it opened to the public. He plans on a “12-17% change in the menu every month,” to offer repeat audiences something fresh. And he recognizes that welcoming back curious locals about twice a year “is a realistic goal;” the rest of the patrons, who’ll fill the eight seats Thursday through Sunday nights year-round, will be far-flung foodies willing to make the trek to Santa Barbara for what is, without a doubt, the most unique culinary experience in town.
 
"At this point, I think we're doing exactly the job we set out to do -- providing a fantastic time and making sure the food tastes really good," says Chef Lee. "That’s what we're about."
 
For more information, and for tickets, check out silverboughmontecito.com.
 
 
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