April 8, 2005
Santa Barbara, CA
There’s something discerning in the knowledge that this restaurant sits only a few hundred yards from the county’s second largest source of raw fecal bacteria, Arroyo Burro Creek. The first-place honor goes to East Beach at Mission Creek where, with similar wisdom, there are no less than four restaurants lining the shores of what the non-profit Heal The Bay describes as water steeped in contamination from the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals.
Now let’s get down to the meal. Our beachfront perch afforded an excellent platform to enjoy the first spirits-based beverage of this fourteen-week lunch-review odyssey. For The Manta, a bloody mary helped take the sting out of the biting sea spray that whipped off the whitecaps. I chose a gin and tonic. “Gin, always Gin,” Martin Landau once advised.
My lunch companion has never had much tolerance for the open-faced sandwich. “It’s like the White Man’s tostada,” he said blandly. Our waiter kindly assured him that the grilled fish ciabatta could be had with an additional slice of, well, ciabatta. He offered a visual wherein he pressed his two hands together, assumingly demonstrating what could be done upon arrival of the sandwich. The waiter suggested the sea bass, but The Manta chose sturgeon. The only thing I know about sturgeon is that we dissected one in 8th grade biology. Or was that a lamprey? Regardless, it caught the server off guard, and he confided that only East Coast people like the sturgeon. Having once been to Rhode Island, The Manta persisted.
I chose the lobster tacos, which I was pleasantly surprised to discover came three to a plate, as opposed to the usual two. Our drinks arrived, a tourist opened her flip phone and began prodding her Michigan relatives to guess where she was right now, and we stared at the angry sea, watching huge Hope Ranch poodles prance in the surf.
The wind shifted and a healthy waft of fish-head soup floated over from the lagoon. It paused long enough to remind us that this beach is unsafe for swimming more often than not, and then pushed out to sea.
Our food was good, the gin was better. The server was the epitome of Santa Barbara City College-cool. He didn’t need us, but he was helpful. Being at the Brown Pelican on a cloudy day made me analyze the food for the first time, as I’m usually more taken by the …uh… scenery of the beach. We both noted that this was the best meal we had ever had here and vowed to return.
As we shuffled down the shoreline together, gently shifting the weight that now filled us, we took notice of city crews manipulating a huge skip-loader into position to dredge the stagnant water. Maybe with time, less E. Coli and more sturgeon, the Pit, as surfers have affectionately christened it, will live down its name.
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