“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 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.”
|Chef Massimo Falsini|
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|
“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.