I use every resource I can think of when I travel to a place I have never been to before, or a place I have not been to in a long time. I used to go to Santa Barbara much more often, but it’s been years since I’ve stayed there overnight and with that much time between visits, I knew that my old standbys would need updating. (Sorry the photos in this post are a bit blurry and dark, but in deference to the other patrons, I took pictures without flash at the restaurants where I ate.)

My first “new” stopover was the Wine Cask which has the reputation for a fine dining spot where the food was paired perfectly with the stellar local wine selection. The ambiance is welcoming and upscale, with excellent service and beautiful decor.

I was very hopeful when I ordered the whitefish, supposedly done “medium”, with fingerling potatoes, sauteed mustard greens, and anise grilled caviar for $28. My first bites of the fish were good, but as I ate more than one bite, I realized the fish was woefully overcooked, to the point of being dry and tasteless. The snap peas were wonderful and the carrots were done al dente, but since the main course was the fish, I can not say that this was a good dish and after three bites I stopped eating it. The busyboy came by to see if I wanted it removed, but I told him I wished to speak to the waiter and instead the hostess came back to ask what was wrong. I told her the fish was overcooked and she promptly offered me something else on the menu.

I chose the salad Lyonnnaise, made with proscuitto, smoked egg white, spinach, and a warm mushroom-bacon vinaigrette for $12. This was wonderful, with a glass of Pinot Noir which my waiter said would compliment this dish. I left with smiling with the level of service and delight in finding a dish I enjoyed here. I would definitely go back, but order a dish that did not require a light hand (like fish).

Wine Cask Restaurant on Urbanspoon

During my stay I wanted to try Pierre LaFond’s Wine Bistro since it is one of the Santa Barbara places I used to love when I came here regularly. I was glad to “rediscover” it since it was easily the best meal of my stay.

Pierre LaFond’s bakery was an institution on State Street for decades, but he has now branched out to a wine bistro and a clothing store and although I miss the old place, the new ones are very nice replacements.

One of my friends ordered the seafood stew for $23 . The seafood was slightly overcooked, but the liquid was rich and hearty and the bread was wonderful, so if you are looking for a hearty seafood dish, you will like this, made with mussels, scallops, wild rice, and salmon in a spicy broth.

My other friend ordered the roasted flatbread with summer squash, goat ricotta, flowering herbs, and roasted heirloom tomatoes with a hint of truffle oil. This was a tasty “pizza” with a chewy crust and superb toppings for $13. 

I chose a spinach salad with roasted red pepper, red onion, blue cheese, spiced pepitas, toasted sunflower seeds and a sherry vinaigrette with a grilled bistro steak for $22. I devoured this plate, savoring every bite of both the freshly dressed salad and the delectable grass fed steak done “bleu” as I requested!

I was the only one to order dessert, a chocolate chip cookie, but instead we were served an oatmeal cookie, which we all enjoyed, with just enough chewiness and cinnamon to cap our meal.

We drank a bottle of a local Santa Rita Pinto Noir with our meal and toasted revisiting old friends in new places:)

Pierre Lafond on Urbanspoon

No journey is complete without a chocolate ending, and Chocolats du CaliBressan were the perfect place to end my Santa Barbara visit. Who could resist chocolate “lips” of  dark and milk chocolate ganache flavored with tangerine and covered in white chocolate? If you want other flavors or designs, there are little “buddhas” of salted soft caramel covered in dark chocolate, or “fish” filled with dark chocolate ganache and peanut butter. For purists (like moi) they also have 67% pure Madagascar dark chocolate, and for those who don’t want to eat chocolate, they even sell cute t shirts with “chocolat” designs in all sizes in the back of the store!

These “French kisses” are a very delicious way to tell someone you’d like to add some romance to your relationship;)

Chocolats Du Calibressan on Urbanspoon