I went to S.Y. Kitchen for my first time last summer and loved it. So, when I drove up to Santa Barbara wine country for the weekend recently, I knew I wanted to go back. I remembered that the chef and sous chef are Italian brothers Luca and Francesco Crestinelli and I have actually known Luca from when he lived in Los Angeles and worked at Vincenti and then Bar Toscana. Luca hadn’t been there the last time I was in so this time we got a chance to catch up. But, suddenly, I realized that I was surrounded by Italians – the chefs, the bar manager Alberto Battaglini and many of the waiters. The wine director Emily Johnston is American but, like me, an Italo-phile. I almost felt as if I was in Italy.
I took a seat at the bar and started with cocktails (and wine). SY Kitchen is one of the only places in Santa Barbara wine country to get well-made cocktails. And, truth be told, after a day of wine tasting, a cocktail is what is needed. Bar Manager Alberto Battaglini focuses on fresh ingredients and makes all of his own garnishes. There is a wall of jars with candied citrus, herbs and other housemade garnishes. Alberto has created a good menu but really likes to hear what guests want and he has trained his staff to do the same.
For a first drink, Alberto created a drink for me made with pepper-infused simple syrup, arugula, rum with vanilla, lemon and lime. The edible garnish of arugula, raddish and pepper was on the side of the drink, rather than inside it. This herbaceous and spicy drink was perfect to wake up my palate.
After my first drink, I switched over to wine to enjoy with a few dishes. Wine Director Email Johnston has developed a list that features both Italian producers and small local producers. I went with a local producer and had the 2013 Notary Public Chenin Blanc. With notes of apricot and white peach, this wine has great minerality and was a great pairing with my first dish.
With drinks in front of me, it was time to focus on food. Using local ingredients, the main menu remains somewhat consistent. But, on the wall is a chalk board menu of seasonal specialties that can change daily.
On this visit, I ordered primarily from the specials board, starting with the Moro Bay Abalone. Fried abalone and mushrooms with fried arugula was amazing! The fried arugula has a creaminess that I couldn’t get enough of. I loved this dish so much that I went back the next night to have more!
The Calamari was some of the biggest pieces I have seen. Freshly flown in from Italy, this meaty calamai was served in a broth with asparagus and potatoes.
There is really nothing better than handmade pasta. The long threads of tender Fusilli are served with mushrooms and butternut squash and then covered with black truffles but I was surprised with white truffles….and lots of them!
It was time for another drink and I ordered The Rancher (mint, yellow chartreuse infused with vanilla, bourbon, lemon and honey) from the menu. Combining the rich warmth of bourbon with herbacious notes and sweet notes from the honey, this drink is a very balanced sipper.
Since I went back the next night again, I ordered a few dishes off of the regular menu, as well as the Fried Abalone.
The Yellow Beat Salad with shaved Beetroot, pickled plum, hazelnuts, goat cheese and fresh lemon thyme is a very light dish with a little tang from the pickled plum.
When an Italian pizza is done well, it makes me so happy. And, the Margherita Pizza is cheesy happiness with a thin, flavorful crust.
When it comes to dessert, the exquisitely light desert of coconut gelato, chocolate bread crumble, persimmon, raspberry, blackberry and maraschino cherry is ideal after a filling meal.
But, if you like Tiramisu, don’t miss the one at SY Kitchen. This tiramisu ranks as one of the top 3 I have ever had (and the other two were homemade tiramisu in Italy)
The rich vanilla flavors and smooth creamy texture of the Homemade Vanilla Panna Cotta with caramel and ladies kisses crunch makes this another great dessert to share.
S.Y. Kitchen is definitely on my go-to list whenever I am in Santa Barbara wine country. Buon apetito!
1110 Faraday Street in Santa Ynez, California
½ block east of Sagunto Street on the south side of the street.