When a chef creates a dish, a lot of thought goes into the combination of ingredients. There is a reason why a protein is selected and then why certain herbs, vegetables, sauces and sides are paired with it. At Barbareño in Santa Barbara, the story behind each dish takes it to another level.
Barbareño, a neighborhood restaurant located two blocks off of State Street, is a restaurant that honors the California Central Coast. It is owned by twenty-somthings Julian Martinez and Jesse Gaddy, who read a number of books, including historian Walter A. Tompkins’s The Yankee Barbareños: The Americanization of Santa Barbara County, California 1796-1925, while devloping the concept of the restaurant.
Like many restaurants today, Barbareño focuses on the farm-to-table concept and sources local and organic ingredients. But they also weave history into each dish on the menu. With all of the fun facts that they learned while reading books integrated into each dish, a meal at Barbareño is also a lesson of the history of Santa Barbara.
To begin with, the name Barbareño is an homage to the Chumash Indians. The local tribe had been named barbareños because of their language and over time, a barbareño is a person from Santa Barbara.
I took at seat at the bar where I could interact with the servers while enjoying my meal. There is also a lovely patio in front of the restaurant.
The menu is divided into three categories: Snacks, To Start, Mains.
The Snacks section has four items and three of them (the charcuterie plate is excluded) can be ordered in the Chef’s Plate. That is what I chose.
Egg-A-Muffin – Made with a cured egg, Seascape cheese and speck on a bellini, the Egg-A-Muffin is a gourmet play on the famous McDonald’s Egg McMuffin. That is because the Egg McMuffin was invented in 1972 at the intersection of State Street and Calle Real in Santa Barbara. It was created by Herb Peterson, a McDonald’s franchise owner in Santa Barbara, who took a poached egg, a slice of American cheese and a circle of Canadian bacon, and put them all on a toasted English muffin. I cannot say that I have eaten Egg McMuffins but ate all four of my Egg-A-Muffins and would eat more!
Santa Maria Carpaccio – Santa Maria BBQ dates back to the mid 1800s when the large cattle ranches throughout the Santa Barbara Valley would host Spanish-style feasts after every roundup. Then, in the 1950’s, tri-tip on the grill became popular. In these small bites, the classic dish of beans, tri-tip, garlic bread and pico de gallo are remade into a raw version with a garlic cracker, tomato coulis sauce, cold-smoked sirloin and bean sprouts. Fresh, bright and crunchy, I liked this light take on a traditionally heavier dish.
Pumpkin Soup – The pumpkin soup is made with miso, honey, cardamom, cinnamon and basil and embodies ingredients that are both local and seasonal.
Avocado Roulade – The first avocado tree to ever fruit in the U.S. was in 1871. They were produced by R.B. Ord on the corner of Canon Perdido and De La Vina streets, the same corner that is home to Barbareño today. In honor of those avocado trees, the avocado roulade is an avocado wrapped around hamachi crudo and served with nori lime vinaigrette, orange-vanilla gel and coconut oolong milk. As a big fan of avocados, I loved the ripe creaminess with the delicate hamachi and citrus vinaigrette.
Oak Tagliatelle – The Chumash diet included acorns used in porridge and made up 90% of their calorie intake. Acorns come from oak trees and red chanterelles grow under the oak tree. In this dish, the pasta is an acorn pasta and is served with smoked vegetables, including chanterelles and wild herbs. It is actually a very delicate and light pasta with very savory flavors.
As I was dining alone, I was too full to order anything from the Main section, which includes a traditional version of Santa Maria BBQ with tri-tip, red oak, pico de gallo and pinquito beans, which are grown exclusively along the Central Coast of California.
With regards to the wine list, Wine Director Lenka Davis has crafted a California-only wine list that matches the restaurant’s philosophy. The list features local, small producers from California who produce wine from lesser known sites and varietals with minimal intervention. There is a secret international list of wines available if you must have something from France or Italy. But with all of the amazing boutique wines being produced in California, I think you can happily stick with the main list and will find some real gems.
The staff at Barbareño is well-versed in the history of each dish and the ingredients utilized and they will regale you with stories as you enjoy the delicous food.