The Table is Set: New Dining Concept at Santa Barbara Wine Country's Ballard Inn Hinges on Shareable Dishes

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Tenley Fohl
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/31/17

The Gathering Table
Chef Budi Kazali’s latest culinary project was actually 13 years in the making.
“We knew right from the start that we would want to do a remodel,” says Mr. Kazali, who, with wife Chris, bought the Ballard Inn & Restaurant in 2004. “But when you’re open 364 days a year – every day except Christmas – there’s never a good time to stop.”
Remodel or not, the Kazalis’ property in the historic Ballard Township, close to Los Olivos and Solvang, has become a destination all its own over the years. The inn, with its 15 uniquely themed rooms, all with plush bedding and lovely country d├ęcor, is one of the top-rated places to stay in the Santa Ynez Valley. And the restaurant, with a season-centric menu and region-centric wine list, and with Mr. Kazali’s notable reputation, is one of the very few AAA 4-Diamond restaurants in Santa Barbara County.
Today, the property is finally enjoying a facelift.
The couple took a leap of faith earlier this year when they shut down for 17 days. The focus was almost entirely downstairs; the rooms, most all on the second floor, had seen sporadic upgrades over the years. This overhaul focused on the inn’s reception area and living room, and in particular on the restaurant’s dining room. “It was complete chaos,” laughs Mr. Kazali, recalling the round-the-clock project that had construction teams working overtime and even living at the inn. The toughest phase was the flooring. “After it was waxed and stained, there was no standing on it for five days – it halted everything!”
The revamped dining room at the Ballard Inn
The new and improved Ballard Inn & Restaurant features a succinctly fresher feel, with a muted palette of colors and elegant furnishings. Quaintness and comfort prevail, though, “in that wonderful New England bed-and-breakfast style that Chris and I love,” says Mr. Kazali.
The crowning jewel of the project is Chef Kazali’s reimagined restaurant, which he’s deliberately dubbed, The Gathering Table. “We wanted a dining concept based on food that’s shareable,” he says. “It’s the way I like to eat: I want to try every plate that comes out!”
The eatery’s centerpiece communal table fits up to 14 people, “perfect for a large party,” says the chef. “But when we’re seating different guests, we only serve up to eight, so it doesn’t get too cramped.”  The rest of the 40-seat dining room features round tables and booths, but the white linens are gone. “We’ve gone more cozy, less fine dining. More casual and even kid-friendly. We don’t want to be labeled as a once-a-year spot but, instead, a place guests and local can visit a few times a month.”
The new menu, which mirrors the chef’s famous knack for Asian-French fusion, is arranged from lighter to heartier dishes. Portions are smaller – five to six ounces, generally – to encourage not only sharing, but also personalizing. “A couple can create their own tasting menu and order, maybe, five things off the menu,” says Mr. Kazali. “A larger party can really have fun by ordering a lot of different things.” And prices have been brought down.
Grilled Filet Mignon
Desserts rotate regularly
Among the new highlights at The Gathering Table: Oysters on the Half Shell ($24 a dozen); Cheese Fondue ($7); Manila Clams with chorizo and garlic toast ($13); Octopus Sashimi with squid ink vinaigrette and spicy yuzu aioli ($15); and Sliders with white cheddar, housemade pickles and shoestring potatoes ($7 each).

Chef Budi Kazali
Several signature Kazali dishes, including larger stand-along entrees, remain, like his Hamachi with avocado and soy vinaigrette ($15); a Pork Belly with Napa cabbage fondue ($14); the Hudson Valley foie gras with caramelized cherry and port glaze ($18); the Duck Breast with spring vegetable medley ($22); and his Marinated Hanger Steak with spicy charrd Brussel sprouts ($23). The kitchen, which Chef Kazali shares with three longtime cooks, also features daily specials. And the chef’s well-known predilection for what’s fresh, including working with regional purveyors and visiting farmers’ markets weekly, continues.
The new menu, though, has allowed Mr. Kazali to “move away from more traditional cooking, like always having to do starches and sauces,” and create dishes that are lighter and that allow guests to experiment.
“People have become more conscientious about what they’re eating,” says the chef.  “They understand food more and they ask all the right questions. It’s good -- it keeps me on my toes and makes me push the envelope.”
The shareable slant to the food has also spurred greater interest in wines-by-the-glass. “Guests can try different wines as they order more things – it’s very pairing-driven,” says Mr. Kazali, who’s managing the wine list until a sommelier joins the team. The beverage program at The Gathering Table includes signature cocktails and premium sake, though the wine list remains Santa Barbara-inspired; about 80% of the rotating selection is local.
The Gathering Table at The Ballard Inn, 2436 Baseline Dr., Ballard. 805-688-7770. Wednesday-Sunday 5:30-9pm.
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1 comment:

  1. My husband Dan and I recently had the great new dining experience with Chef Budi Kazali at the Gathering Table. It is nothing less than awesome and confirmed his permanent place on our top ten list of the greatest Central Coast restaurants with an amazing wine list that supports our great local wineries.