Four Tasty Takeaways From SB Restaurant Week
Pavlova at Sama Sama
By Rebecca Horrigan
SB Restaurant Week, the two-week dine-a-thon from Feb. 20 - March 6, showcased three-course menus priced at $25, $35, and $45 from some of the top restaurants in town.
In the spirit of learning more about our culinary backyard, I tried to experience as many meals as possible. Restaurants I thought I knew surprised me with new dishes, beverage pairings, or dreamy desserts. Those I’d never been to before dazzled me with an understanding of their vision distilled into three perfect plates.
The best part about restaurant week? Finding new restaurants to return to on the daily. Below are four things I gleaned from a few favorite spots, so you can try them out yourself. With a desire to expand taste buds and branch out of routine, every week can be restaurant week!
New Chef Adam Shoebridge Delivers Decadent Dinners at Cafe Ana
Cafe Ana, the darling of Anacapa and Anapamu streets, is bringing big flavors to their dinner menu with the help of Chef Adam Shoebridge who originally hails from North Carolina and was Executive Chef at Helena Avenue Bakery.
“Our food is probably best described as California cuisine -- multi-cultural influences and always centered on bright and fresh flavors and seasonally inspired,” said Katherine Guzman Sanders who owns the restaurant with her husband, Julian Sanders. “Chef Adam brings a Southern slant to the menu, warming things up enough to create nice and balanced dishes.”
For a sophisticated start to the meal, which has a home on their current dinner menu as well, try the salmon rillette served with seeded crackers and cornichons. For the main course, the wagyu bavette steak served with savory oyster mushrooms, which sprawled to nearly the size of the plate melted with each bite. The chocolate cherry cake, likened to the cake in Matilda by our server, but updated with toasted almonds and amarena cherries was a pure fudgy delight.
The cafe serves dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, but is open daily for a variety of upscale breakfast and lunch options as well as wine and beer. Their impressive wine program manned by certified sommelier Julian Sanders is the perfect opportunity to explore an exotic new glass amidst our locally lovely courthouse views.
Porridge, Pavlova and Pairings at Sama Sama
Sama Sama cunningly combines worldly offerings with local produce in their inventive Southeast Asian cuisine. “Most of our main veggie items are from our local farmers market,” co-owner Ryan Simorangkir, who owns the spot with Chef Tyler Peek, explained. Homegrown broccolini and carrots were beautifully showcased in their first course; a roasted vegetable gado gado, a new spin on their market gado salad from their regular menu. The veggies are nestled into an earthy peanut dressing I could eat by the spoonful. Enjoy it with their old school sama cocktail featuring bourbon, sweet jasmine green tea and lemon for an invigorating start to the meal.
The rich flavors in the sunchoke perkedel -- egg-battered sunchoke fritters, smoked duck, spring pea tobanjan and pickled celery perfectly paired with hints of berry and oak in the Tatomer Pinot Noir. Servers are always eager to help find the perfect beverage accompaniment to enhance the experience. “Our beverage menu changes depending on seasonal produce, and seasonal beer specials,” Simorangkir said.
Their porchetta and porridge dish left me in a comfort food cocoon. “Growing up in Indonesia, rice porridge was a common breakfast dish, and it’s one of my favorites,” Simorangkir said. The brown butter rice porridge, pan roasted porchetta, braised kale, poached egg, scallion, crispy shallots and smoky kecap manis sauce tasted like a bowl of pure love. For a dessert as pretty as it is tasty, try the pavlova, an ethereal nest of baked meringue, seasonal fruit medley, whipped cream, and strawberry puree.
Pasta Perfection at Bluewater Grill
With over 40 varieties of sustainably harvested seafood and premium ocean views, Bluewater Grill is an obviously excellent choice for those looking to indulge in fare from the sea. However, what most impressed me on their restaurant week menu was the gemelli pasta with shrimp and scallops.
“The secret is our house made pesto and rich parmesan cream sauce,” General Manager, Colin Lohenry said. “One of my favorites.”
I’m not always drawn to creamy pastas and am surprised to say it’s now one of my favorites as well. The noodles were cooked perfectly al dente and the hints of lemon, white wine, garlic and pesto brightened up the dish beautifully. The butter-like scallops, sauteed shrimp, oyster mushrooms and asparagus provided exciting flavors and textures with each bite. Paired with a refreshing glass of Margerum rose, this is a meal I’ll keep going back for.
Although the pasta most aggressively captured my heart and taste buds, all other dishes were a pure delight. The local rockfish ceviche complemented with hearty chunks of avocado and perfectly-cooked chipotle blackened swordfish with dirty rice and corn relish highlighted the restaurant’s meticulous attention to quality. As I cracked the sugar-torched top on my large creme brulee, I also had to reflect on the generous portions for each course of this well-rounded meal.
Gin & Tonics and Tapas at Loquita
Loquita knows the perfect beverage to keep diners cruising through an incredible array of tapas -- the Gin & Tonic.
“We try to keep everything very Spanish-themed,” General Manager Stephanie Perkins said. As one of the top gin-consuming countries in the world, Loquita pays homage to Spain’s liquor of choice with their cocktail program. A far cry from the simple, ice, lime and tonic recipe, these fancy orbe-like concoctions are adorned with herbs, spices, and flowers to enhance the botanicals in the gin.
The La Ensalada with seasonal greens, date citrus vinaigrette, candied almonds, drunken goat cheese, golden baby beets, fuji apple, and pickled red onion was immaculately accented by the Costa Blanca, kaffir-lime infused gin with tonic and blood orange. The Patatas Bravas with roasted garlic aioli, brava sauce, pimenton, parsley were comforting yet light, allowing us to graze with gusto through the entirety of the menu.The coliflor (cauliflower), dressed up with golden raisins, almonds, brown butter, sherry vinegar, and nutritional yeast and Gambas Al Ajillo, succulent black tiger prawns made us want to nestle into our white fur lined booth for the rest of the night. Since tapas are the perfect size for sampling, by the time our two ethereal desserts arrived from the heavens, we still had appetites to dig in.
“There are very few tapas places in SB,” Perkins noted. As we snacked away on our warm, crisp yet doughy churros with three varieties of dipping sauces (don’t miss the dulce de leche), I couldn’t help but feel grateful for this little slice of San Sebastian in SB.