Local Lowdown: Bibi Ji

Collin Dewell, courtesy Bibi Ji.

Collin Dewell, courtesy Bibi Ji.

The new restaurant from James Beard Award-winning sommelier and winemaker Rajat Parr and acclaimed Chef Jessi Singh (of the popular Babu Ji restaurants in San Francisco, Manhattan and Melbourne), Bibi Ji, takes its name from an Indian term of endearment for women in the family, and pays tribute to the formative women in both Singh and Parr’s lives who cultivated their love for food and hospitality.

This innovative take on Indian food paired with locally made wines and locally sourced seafood with Australian influences all adds up to what is easily one of the most exciting new restaurants to hit downtown Santa Barbara in a long time!

Collin Dewell, courtesy Bibi Ji.

Collin Dewell, courtesy Bibi Ji.

Drawing from his Australian and Indian roots, Chef Singh (who now lives in Santa Barbara) has created a menu featuring his self-proclaimed “unauthentic take” on many traditional American seafood dishes, with a strong focus on using local Santa Barbara purveyors. Currently on the menu are SB UNI biryani, made with local sea urchin and fried rice; local oysters with green mango pickle butter; delicious Hope Ranch black mussels in a curry broth; and melt-in-your-mouth Aussie lamb chops with mint and dill raita and apricot chutney; as well as a zesty array of “unauthentic curries.”

Collin Dewell, courtesy Bibi Ji.

Collin Dewell, courtesy Bibi Ji.

The Chef’s Tasting Menu—offering a variety of favorite appetizers, curries, naan, rice and dessert for $50 per person—is an excellent way to savor a variety of these exciting flavors.

Bibi Ji, 734 State St., bibijisb.com, 805/560-6845.

Leslie Dinaberg

This story was originally published in the summer 2018 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Local Lowdown: Mizza Artisan Pizza and Italian Cuisine Opens in La Arcada

Buratta + Heirloom Tomato at Mizza Artisan Pizza and Italian Cuisine, courtesy photo.

Buratta + Heirloom Tomato at Mizza Artisan Pizza and Italian Cuisine, courtesy photo.

“Our goal is to be an Italian pub, no white linen, but a white linen level Italian dining experience without the white linen,” is how owner Brendan Searls (of Viva!, Dargan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, and Pizza Mizza fame) describes his newest restaurant venture. He and his wife Kourtney decided to open Mizza Artisan Pizza and Italian Cuisine (“Mizza”) when a prime location with a State Street front patio became available in the historic La Arcada Plaza, which is also home to their Mexican restaurant Viva!

“This part of town is going through a renaissance, and this was a unique opportunity that doesn’t come up very often,” says Searls. The newly renovated restaurant space—formerly home to La Arcada Bistro and Barcliff and Bair before that—features handmade artisan pizzas, handmade pastas, salads and a selection of carefully selected house specialties using local fresh produce, locally caught fresh fish, free-range chicken and Harris Ranch CAB meats.

Tagliatelle + Mussels at Mizza Artisan Pizza and Italian Cuisine, courtesy photo.

Tagliatelle + Mussels at Mizza Artisan Pizza and Italian Cuisine, courtesy photo.

Mizza is “ideally situated in the 1100 block of State Street, with beautiful patios on both sides of the restaurant,” says Searls. “We will be striving to provide Santa Barbara with a reasonably priced but a casually excellent dining experience.”

With 80 outdoor patio seats and full bar service available, Mizza is sure to be a popular spot on warm summer afternoons and evenings. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner service daily, with brunch service on Saturdays and Sundays. Mizza Artisan Pizza and Italian Cuisine opened on June 1, and plans for a wine bar are also in the works for later in the summer.

Arugula + Prosciutto Pizza at Mizza Artisan Pizza and Italian Cuisine, courtesy photo.

Arugula + Prosciutto Pizza at Mizza Artisan Pizza and Italian Cuisine, courtesy photo.

Mizza Artisan Pizza and Italian Cuisine, 1112 State St., Santa Barbara, at the entrance to the beautiful La Arcada Plaza.

Leslie Dinaberg

This story was originally published in the 2018 summer issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Local Dish: Finch & Fork Welcomes New Chef

Finch & Fork Executive Sous Chef Peter Cham, courtesy photo.

Finch & Fork Executive Sous Chef Peter Cham, courtesy photo.

Santa Barbara native Peter Cham recently took over the kitchen at Finch & Fork, when longtime Executive Chef James Siao left to expand his culinary horizons overseas at one of Kimpton’s international properties. Lucky for us, Cham has served as Siao’s right-hand-man for more than two years, and is eagerly up to the challenge of taking over the culinary helm at the Canary Hotel’s signature restaurant.

Finch & Fork's Salmon, with preparation, which included beluga lentils, asparagus, pancetta, green peppercorn hollandaise, capers and baby turnip, courtesy photo.

Finch & Fork’s Salmon, with preparation, which included beluga lentils, asparagus, pancetta, green peppercorn hollandaise, capers and baby turnip, courtesy photo.

If our recent meal is any indication, Cham is more than up to the task. We put ourselves in his capable hands and sampled an excellent array of flavors, including delicious Blistered Shishito Peppers with charred lime aioli, crispy quinoa; Cauliflower with romesco, hazelnut dukkah and lemon (even my “vegetable adverse” husband liked these flavors); and a mouthwatering preparation of Burrata & Spring Peas with preserved lemon, pickled shallots, mint, tangerine, sunflower seeds and grilled artisan bread that I’m still dreaming about. Not only was this dish perfectly balanced, a portion of its proceeds are even donated to No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit movement of teachers, chefs, community leaders, parents, lawmakers and CEOs with a shared belief: no kid in America should go hungry.

Finch & Fork's Burrata & Spring Peas with preserved lemon, pickled shallots, mint, tangerine, sunflower seeds and grilled artisan bread, courtesy photo.

Finch & Fork’s Burrata & Spring Peas with preserved lemon, pickled shallots, mint, tangerine, sunflower seeds and grilled artisan bread, courtesy photo.

Also on the No Kid Hungry donation menu is a melt-in-your-mouth Short Rib with parsnip purée, radish, gremolata and dandelion greens. We also really enjoyed the unusual Salmon preparation, which included beluga lentils, asparagus, pancetta, green peppercorn hollandaise, capers and baby turnip.

Finch & Fork's Short Rib with parsnip purée, radish, gremolata and dandelion greens, courtesy photo.

Finch & Fork’s Short Rib with parsnip purée, radish, gremolata and dandelion greens, courtesy photo.

Other highlights on Cham’s most recent dinner menu include Fresh Ricotta Cavatelli with house made sausage ragout, braised Tuscan kale, crème fraiche, fennel pollen and parmigiana; Kanpachi Crudo with avocado and cilantro crema, pickled pearl onions, jicama, yuzu and jalapeño; and Sea Scallops with gold beet relish, grapefruit, chorizo vinaigrette and sliced avocado.

Finch & Fork's Cauliflower with romesco, hazelnut dukkah and lemon, courtesy photo.

Finch & Fork’s Cauliflower with romesco, hazelnut dukkah and lemon, courtesy photo.

A culinary grad from City College of San Francisco, Cham has worked and staged at some of San Francisco’s most notable restaurants, including Radius, Coi, Quince and Fifth Floor.

“There’s no better chef to take over the kitchen at Finch & Fork,” says James Siao. “Chef Cham is a natural leader who is extremely talented and passionate about what he does. He has always been invested in Finch & Fork and Santa Barbara’s community.”

Cham returned to Santa Barbara from the Bay Area in 2015, where he took post at the popular Hungry Cat before calling Finch & Fork his home. He says he plans to stay true to the high quality menus we’ve come to enjoy at Finch & Fork—”seasonally driven dishes served in simple, unfussy presentations with a touch of whimsy.”

Finch & Fork’s cocktail, The Drive Home, courtesy photo.

Finch & Fork’s cocktail, The Drive Home, courtesy photo.

Finch & Fork’s cocktail, Rattle and Hum, courtesy photo.

Finch & Fork’s cocktail, Rattle and Hum, courtesy photo.

Finch & Fork’s Fire Roasted Milk Shake is a great way to top off your meal, courtesy photo.

Finch & Fork’s Fire Roasted Milk Shake is a great way to top off your meal, courtesy photo.

Finch & Fork, Canary Hotel, 31 West Carrillo St., Santa Barbara, 805/879-9100. For more information, click here.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on June 6, 2018.

Wine Dinner Series at Belmond El Encanto Continues

Belmond El Encanto. Courtesy photo.

Belmond El Encanto. Courtesy photo.

Belmond El Encanto‘s delicious wine dinner series continues this week, with an exclusive dining experience featuring Daou Vineyards and Winery of Paso Robles on Wednesday, June 6.

Regionally inspired cuisine from Executive Chef Johan Denizot is paired with a fantastic selection of wines. A welcome reception begins at 6:30 p.m., followed by a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings. For a peek at the menu, click here.

The series continues on August 23, featuring Santa Barbara County’s own Au Bon Climat.

On September 20, it’s Venetian Night: Evolution of Amarone (In Italian, the name Amarone literally means “the Great Bitter,” and is a typically rich Italian dry red wine made from the partially dried grapes of the Corvina , Rondinella and other approved red grape varieties).

Finally, Ridge Vineyards, featuring wines from Sonoma County and the Santa Cruz Mountains, is spotlighted on November 1.

The Daou dinner on Wednesday, June 6 is $120 per person. For reservations, call 805/770-3530.

Belmond El Encanto is located at 800 Alvarado Pl., Santa Barbara. For more information about the resort, click here.

Leslie Dinaberg

Cocktail Corner: Santa Barbara Wine Country’s Vintners Festival

Courtesy Santa Barbara Wine Country’s Vintners Festival.

Courtesy Santa Barbara Wine Country’s Vintners Festival.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg 

This weekend is the 36th Anniversary of Santa Barbara Wine Country’s Vintners Festival on Saturday, April 21, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the beautiful River Park in Lompoc (CA-246 & Sweeney Rd., Lompoc).

The festival is a wonderful opportunity to taste a prestigious list of wines from more than 100 local wineries and savor delicious bites from a bevy of local foragers, farmers, and restaurants. In addition to the beautiful setting, there’s also live music and culinary demos throughout the day, as well as Bubba, the prized Parker Ranch bull of The Bear and Star, the excellent Los Olivos restaurant specializing in “refined ranch cuisine” that is intrinsically intertwined with the 714-acre Fess Parker Home Ranch.

Festival attendees will have the opportunity to meet Bubba and learn how the team at The Bear and Star and its celebrated Chef John Cox sources farm to table from their own ranch, including fresh produce, wagyu beef, chicken, rabbit, and duck. Alongside that, The Bear and Star will get your mouth watering with their 30’ smoker where they will showcase Smoked Wagyu Beef Albondigas with Guajillo Chile and Queso Fresco.

Bubba is the prized Parker Ranch bull of The Bear and Star, a Los Olivos restaurant offering a “refined ranch cuisine” that is intrinsically intertwined with the 714 acre Fess Parker Home Ranch. Courtesy photo.

Bubba is the prized Parker Ranch bull of The Bear and Star, a Los Olivos restaurant offering a “refined ranch cuisine” that is intrinsically intertwined with the 714 acre Fess Parker Home Ranch. Courtesy photo.

Additional food purveyors include:


555 Bar and Lounge “By Marriott”
Bara’s Fresh Almond Pate
Biker Spice
Black Bow Sweets
Bottlest Winery, Bar & Bistro
Brasserie Solera
California Coast Naturals
Cattaneo Brothers
Cecco Ristorante
Central Coast Specialty Foods
Frankland’s Crab & Co.
Heritage Fine Meats & Sausage
Hippy Pop
Hitching Post II
il Fustino
Imlakesh Organics
Industrial Eats & New West Catering
Jessica Foster Confections
Le Sorelle Imports
Leonardo’s Cucina Italiana
Lori’s Lemonade
Los Olivos Olive Oil and Olive House
LunaOlivo
Mesa Salsa Company
Quality Time Dinner
Santa Barbara Popcorn Co.
Santa Rita Organic Farm
SB Paella Catering
Scratch Kitchen & Bar
Solvang Olive Press
Succulent Café
Suro Cha Inc
Three Flies On A Knife
Valle Eatery
Valley Grind Coffee
Winfield Farm

Some of the tasty bites available at the Santa Barbara Vintners Festival. Courtesy photos.

Some of the tasty bites available at the Santa Barbara Vintners Festival. Courtesy photos.

Participating wineries include:

Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards
Ampelos cellars
​Au Bon Climat
Babcock Winer & Vineyards
Baehner Fournier
Bernat Winery
Bien Nacido & Solomon HIlls
Brander Vineyard
​Brewer-Clifton
Bottlest
Brick Barn Wine Estate 
​Bridlewood Estate Winery
Brophy Clark Cellars
Buttonwood Farm Winery
Ca’ Del Grevino Estate and Winery
Carr Winery
Casa Dumetz
Clos Pepe Estate
Cambria Winery
Chamisal Vineyards
Cnagy wines
Coquelicot Estate Wines
CrossHatch Winery
Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards
Dragonette Cellars
Ferguson Crest
Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard
Fiddlehead Cellars
Flying Goat Cellars
FOXEN and foxen 7200
Gainey Vineyard
Grace & Vine
Grassini Family Vineyards
​Hilliard Bruce
Hitching Post Wines
Imagine Wine
Jaffurs Wine Cellars
Jamie Slone Wines
J. Wilkes
Kaena Wine Company
Ken Brown Wines
Lafond
Lieu Dit Winery
Lions Peak Vineyards
Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards
Lumen Wines
Malene Wines
Margerum Wine Company
Martian Ranch & Vineyard
Melville Winery
Montemar Wines
Municipal Winemakers
Nielson
​Pence Vineyards & Winery
Presqu’ile
​Qupé Wine Cellars
Rancho Sisquoc
Refugio Ranch Vineyards
Riverbench
Roblar Winery
Rusack Vineyards
​Samsara
​Sanford Winery & Vineyards
Santa Barbara Winery
Spear
Stolpman Vineyards
Sweetzer Cellars
Temperance Cellars
​The Central Coast Group Project
Toccata wines
Toretti Family Vineyard 
Tyler Winery
Zaca Mesa Winery

This year’s festival also includes the Bubble Lounge, a unique and playful opportunity to enjoy a bubble machine and DIY bubble bottles! Sip on world-class bubbles while you blow some bubbles into the wind to melt your cares away. The line-up includes:

Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards
Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard
Flying Goat Cellars
Imagine Wine
Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards
Municipal Winemakers
Pence Vineyards & Winery
Riverbench Winery
Sanford Winery & Vineyards

The Rent Party Blues, one of the top blues bands in California, performs alongside another local favorite, The Bryan Titus Trio.

Can’t get enough of Santa Barbara County wines? This weekend you can also visit up to 12 tasting rooms on an all-inclusive wine tasting pass with a Vintners Visa Wine Country Tasting Pass  for unique and complimentary offerings at your choice of twelve participating tasting rooms from Thursday – Monday.  Over 40+ wineries and tasting rooms are participating in this program. An opportunity that is truly unsurpassable.

Need a bit more incentive? The Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation also has a silent auction that benefits the Enology/viticulture program at Allan Hancock College (hancockcollege.edu ) as well as DirectRelief.org  and its medical relief activities at home and around the globe. Local vintners are digging deep into their cellars as well as creating unique private events to compile an unprecedented offering of auction lots for this year’s Santa Barbara Vintners Festival Silent Auction. Only Vintners Festival Grand Tasting attendees will have access to the array of unique wine lots including over two dozen impressive large format bottles such as a double magnum of Brewer Clifton Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills and a 5 Liter bottle of Qupe 2013 Syrah, Bien Nacido Vineyard “Hillside” Estate.  Among the one-of-a-kind collections will be a 6 bottle sampler displayed in an engraved wooden box from Kenneth Volk Vineyards. Bidders will also be able to access private events including a private tour and tasting for 4 at Presqu’ile Winery’s beautiful hilltop winery overlooking the Santa Maria Valley and a private vineyard tour, tasting and lunch for 4 at Martian Ranch & Vineyard. Proceeds from the silent auction will provide scholarships for two Allan Hancock Enology/viticulture students as well as a grant to the Enology/viticulture department.

“In addition, this year we are working to raise money to support Direct Relief in the replenishment of their First Responder Backpacks. Participants will have an opportunity to donate directly towards the items to fill these kits, many of which were used during Direct Relief’s response to the Thomas fire and Montecito mudslide in recent months. Visiting the Silent Auction pavilion is a great way to get your hands on some great wines as well as support the community,” says Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation President, Elaina Kroll. 

For more information about the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation, go to sbvf.org.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit sbvintnersweekend.com.

Cheers! Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie believes variety is the spice of life. Send your suggestions to Leslie@sbseasons.com.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on April 19, 2018.

Local Dish: Smithy Kitchen + Bar

The outdoor patio at Kitchen + Bar is a beautiful place to dine, day or night. Photo courtesy Smithy.

The outdoor patio at Kitchen + Bar is a beautiful place to dine, day or night. Photo courtesy Smithy.

There’s nothing better than good food in a beautiful setting, and the new Smithy Kitchen + Bar (7 E. Anapamu St.) has both! I’ve dined on the lovely outdoor patio—under its gorgeous canopy of 100-year-old olive trees—twice in the last few weeks—once on a cold night and once on a warmish one—and the well-placed heaters make it a comfortable and cozy spot to be in almost any weather.

Designer Steve Hermann has redone the former Somerset space in an upscale yet approachable style, with a more “Santa Barbara” vibe and every day price point. Originally a blacksmith shop, hence the name “Smithy,” this prime downtown location (near the Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Public Library and Sullivan Goss Gallery) is now a great spot for lunch, dinner with friends and family, nighttime drinks and bites or a leisurely Sunday brunch. There’s also a special Easter Brunch menu, if you’re eager to check it out this weekend.

Smithy's "Baby I'm a Star" cocktail and roasted sunchokes with chanterelles, brown butter hazelnuts and butternut squash puree, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Smithy’s “Baby I’m a Star” cocktail and roasted sunchokes with chanterelles, brown butter hazelnuts and butternut squash puree, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Chef Lauren Herman’s new menu is delicious, and nothing is over $20. We loved the mussels and clams with shallot, garlic, crispy pork belly, and bok choy served with grilled toast. The sauce was so savory we asked for extra toast (homemade) to lap up every last bite. The pastas were also terrific. Try the Cavatelli combined with pork ragu, mustard greens and tomato confit for a hearty dish. The squid ink casarecce in lobster bisque with uni and nori breadcrumbs was also fabulous.

The vegetables really shine as well. We loved the fried delicata squash with cauliflower, bagna cauda, calabrian chili and anchovy aïoli, as well the roasted rainbow carrots with spiced cashew butter, coconut yogurt and carrot top pistou. I also enjoyed the sunchokes, roasted with chanterelles, brown butter hazelnuts and butternut squash puree. Overall, everything was tasty and ideal for sharing.

Smithy's Polenta Dumplings and Mushroom Flatbread. Photo by Kay Cheon, courtesy Smithy.

Smithy’s Polenta Dumplings and Mushroom Flatbread. Photo by Kay Cheon, courtesy Smithy.

Partners in life and in the kitchen, Lauren Herman’s wife, Christina Olufson, is a terrific pastry chef.  The flourless chocolate cake with crushed honeycomb was amazing, as was the butterscotch pumpkin cake. Our friends at a nearby table also raved about the brioche doughnuts, so those are definitely on my list to try next time. 

The cocktails are also worth noting, with creative names like “Ortega Undead II: The Resurrection”  (tequila blanco, lime , thai chile, wild elderflower, falernum and chili-salt rim), “From Tokyo to Mars” (iwai japanese whiskey and bittered grapefruit cordial) and “Baby I’m a Star” (pear and fennel, vodka, fino sherry, absinthe, lemon and peychauds bitters) that are just as delicious as they are irresistible for wordsmiths.

One of several communal dining tables at Smithy Kitchen + Bar, courtesy photo.

One of several communal dining tables at Smithy Kitchen + Bar, courtesy photo.

While I loved the aesthetic of Somerset, Smithy is definitely a more welcoming space, not to mention significantly less expensive. The building’s original exposed brick walls with white weathered board and batten walls, rustic reclaimed table tops, and original school house chairs create a beautiful restaurant that is both airy and open, yet still feels intimate. As is becoming a trend, there are three separate communal tables and bar seating, as well as an additional 130 seats located inside and out, offering a myriad of dining possibilities. The nights I was there, there were large groups of people (both young and less young), lots of couples and smaller groups, as well as some solo diners.

Smithy's Kale Salad. Photo by Kay Cheon, courtesy Smithy.

Smithy’s Kale Salad. Photo by Kay Cheon, courtesy Smithy.

“We want Smithy to provide a dining oasis in the heart of Santa Barbara,” states owner and designer, Steve Hermann.  “We hope to become that bar/restaurant that feels like home for all of our guests’ dining and drinking needs, whether small or large.  Our food is delicious yet accessible, and our environment is welcoming and comfortable.  We’d like to create a new history with Smithy that matches the history of our iconic Santa Barbara location.”

Smithy is located in downtown Santa Barbara at 7 East Anapamu St.  Call 805/845-7112 or visit Open Table for reservations. The restaurant is open Monday through Friday for lunch from 11:30 – 2:30 p.m.; dinner from 5p.m. – close; and Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.  Happy hour runs daily from 4 – 6 p.m.

Leslie Dinaberg 

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on March 29, 2018.

Interior shot, courtesy Smithy Kitchen + Bar.

Interior shot, courtesy Smithy Kitchen + Bar.

Bar interior shot, courtesy Smithy Kitchen + Bar.

Bar interior shot, courtesy Smithy Kitchen + Bar.

Cocktail Corner: Spring Delights at S.Y. Kitchen

Fennel & Raspberry Sour (fennel vodka, fresh raspberry, lemon, lime, simple syrup and dill) is one of the new spring cocktails at S.Y. Kitchen. Photo by Elisabetta Antonacci.

Fennel & Raspberry Sour (fennel vodka, fresh raspberry, lemon, lime, simple syrup and dill) is one of the new spring cocktails at S.Y. Kitchen. Photo by Elisabetta Antonacci.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg 

S.Y. Kitchen Mixologist Alberto Battaglini takes his spring cocktail inspiration from local market produce, herbs and botanicals. He’s created three new seasonal cocktails to delight your senses.

The Fennel & Raspberry Sour—made with fennel vodka, fresh raspberry, lemon, lime, simple syrup and dill—has a nice balance of sweet and herbal flavors, as does the Pineapple & Basil Mojito—made with the Real Mccoy three year Private Barrel Rum, pineapple, basil, lime and sugar. Mescal is one of the hottest ingredients in cocktails right now, and Battaglini combines it with tequila, basil, jalapeño, cucumber and salt to create La Gritona, a handcrafted blend designed to pair perfectly with S.Y. Kitchen Executive Chef Luca Crestanelli‘s seasonally driven Italian cuisine.  

Pineapple & Basil Mojito (with the Real Mccoy 3 year private barrel rum, pineapple, basil, lime and sugar) is one of the new spring cocktails at S.Y. Kitchen. Photo by Elisabetta Antonacci.

Pineapple & Basil Mojito (with the Real Mccoy 3 year private barrel rum, pineapple, basil, lime and sugar) is one of the new spring cocktails at S.Y. Kitchen. Photo by Elisabetta Antonacci.

A native of Verona, Battaglini dreamed of a restaurant career when he was still in elementary school. Attending Scuola Alberghiera, he learned the fundamentals of cooking and food service, and soon learned that being a chef was not for him. He did, however, start his ardent love affair with spirits, which took him to Gatwick, London where he met his mentor in mixology, Ian Slater. Battaglini then further honed his mixology passion and skills in Spain and Mexico before meeting up with his old school friend Chef Crestanelli at Bar Toscana in Brentwood.

This spring, as one of the few finalists in the western division, Battaglini competes for the regional win for the United States Bartenders Guild which moves on to the national competition in June.

La Gritona (tequila, mescal, basil, jalapeño, cucumber and salt) is one of the new spring cocktails at S.Y. Kitchen. Photo by Elisabetta Antonacci.

La Gritona (tequila, mescal, basil, jalapeño, cucumber and salt) is one of the new spring cocktails at S.Y. Kitchen. Photo by Elisabetta Antonacci.

Battaglini says, “The soul of mixology is found in all the old recipes that we twist with modern ingredients and tools, to play with tastes and to give every customer an extraordinary experience.”

Check them out at S.Y. Kitchen (1110 Faraday St., Santa Ynez), and let us know what you think.

Cheers! Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie believes variety is the spice of life. Send your suggestions to Leslie@sbseasons.com.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on March 20, 2018.

Local Dish: Islands Restaurants Sails to Santa Barbara

Islands Hawaiian Burger, courtesy photo.

Islands Hawaiian Burger, courtesy photo.

Family-friendly and surf-inspired, the new Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks is a great fit for La Cumbre Plaza (3825 State St.). Probably best known for specialty burgers, fresh cut fries and tropical drinks, we tried Islands out recently and it didn’t disappoint.

The 4,900 square-foot restaurant (formerly occupied by Marmalade) features an open layout, beach-vibe décor, including surfboard-inspired booths, and a large outdoor patio area, equipped with heaters and a cozy communal fire table.

The expansive menu emphasizes burgers, including the classic Big Wave (your basic burger ingredients), the Hawaiian (topped with fresh grilled pineapple, teriyaki sauce and Swiss cheese), and the spicy Kilauea (a Jalapeño & black pepper crusted burger with pepper jack cheese, chipotle aioli, lettuce, tomato and Island Reds, which are fried onion strings), among others, along with tacos, bowls, fresh salads and fresh-cut Island Fries.

Islands Big Wave, courtesy photo.

Islands Big Wave, courtesy photo.

In the mood for something sweet? Don’t miss the Kona Pie, made with mocha almond fudge ice cream & cookie crust topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream, roasted almonds and a cherry on top!

Islands Kona Pie, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Islands Kona Pie, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

I can also vouch for the tropical drink selection. Mojitos, Mai Tai’s, Long Island Ice Tea’s, Margaritas, they’ve got it all, as well as locally sourced wine and beer. They have happy hour weekdays from 3-6:30 p.m., with discounted offers on sliders, nachos, beer, wine and cocktails, as well  an all-day happy hour in the bar area as part of March Madness basketball games, in addition to all-day happy hour for Women’s NCAA games for the Final Four (March 30 & April 1). 

Islands Mojito, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Islands Mojito, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

“We’re incredibly proud to open our first restaurant in Santa Barbara, an iconic beach city that resonates with our own coastal culture and origins,” says Michael Smith, president of Islands Restaurants. “We look forward to being a part of this close knit community and offering a spot for visitors to grab great food and drinks with family and friends.”

It’s right in our neighborhood. Perhaps we’ll see you there.

Islands Taco and Onion Rings, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Islands Taco and Onion Rings, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Photo courtesy Islands.

Photo courtesy Islands.

Islands Cheddar Fries, courtesy photo.

Islands Cheddar Fries, courtesy photo.

Islands Hula Burger with Island Reds, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Islands Hula Burger with Island Reds, photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on March 22, 2018.

Cocktail Corner: Spyglass Bistro & Bar

Courtesy Spyglass Bistro & Bar.

Courtesy Spyglass Bistro & Bar.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg 

It’s always fun to find great cocktail spots in unexpected places and Spyglass Bistro & Bar definitely fits the bill.  This modern rooftop bistro bar offers lunch, craft cocktails and small bites, with a breathtaking panoramic view of Goleta, Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Surprisingly, this unexpectedly hip gem sits atop the new Hilton Garden Inn, right in the heart of Costco, Best Buy, Home Depot, etc.

Spyglass Bistro & Bar cocktail. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

The Spyglass Martini at Spyglass Bistro & Bar. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Featuring creative shared plates from Executive Chef Michael Blackwell (formerly of the Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch and Montecito Country Club) to be enjoyed in cozy fireplace groupings under the stars, this is a lovely spot to enjoy right now and even lovelier once it gets a little warmer.

The cocktail menu includes the Spyglass Martini, made with absolut elyx—a premium, copper crafted vodka—and goat cheese stuffed castelvetrano olives (yum!), and it comes it a very cool copper martini glass, something I’ve never seen before. Like a Moscow Mule, the cool cup is part of the fun of this drink, and it doesn’t disappoint!

Spyglass Bistro & Bar cocktail. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Pinas Y Pinas cocktail at Spyglass Bistro & Bar. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Local favorite Cutler’s Vodka is featured on the cocktail menu and in the High Solstice, made with Cutler’s Vodka  and pedro ximenez sherry, briottet peche de vigne, lemon and angostura bitters. I also liked the Jalisco Sunshine, made with olmeca altos tequila plata, grapefruit, line, agave and cilantro; the Whiskey Blues, made with Redemption rye, lemon, blueberry, honey and laphroaig spritz; and something called the Passion Flower, with cyrano armagnac, st. germain, lime, passionfruit, agave and pico sea salt.

Spyglass has a daily happy hour from 4-6 p.m. which includes $2 off specialty cocktails and beers, as well as discount “samplers” which are $15 and include wine or a cocktail and your choice of sliders, fish tacos or pork wing confit (which is delicious).

The view of Spyglass Bar & Bistro, photo by Dan Levin.

The view from Spyglass Bar & Bistro, photo by Dan Levin.

The restaurant is located at 6878 Hollister Ave., on the rooftop of the Hilton Garden Inn in Goleta. Live music is often scheduled on weekends. Check their Facebook Page for updates. For example, coming up soon they have a fun St. Patrick’s Day party scheduled from 2-10 p.m. on March 17. 

Spyglass Bistro & Bar cocktail. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Spyglass Bistro & Bar Jaliscso Sunshine cocktail. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

We’ll be back soon, and hope to see you there. Cheers! Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Courtesy Spyglass Bistro & Bar.

Courtesy Spyglass Bistro & Bar.

Spyglass Bistro & Bar. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Spyglass Bistro & Bar. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

 

Spyglass Bistro & Bar cocktail. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Spyglass Bistro & Bar Whiskey Blues cocktail. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

 

Spyglass Bistro & Bar. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Spyglass Bistro & Bar. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on March 9, 2018.

Local Dish: Bibi Ji

Bibi Ji interior, photo by Collin Dewell.

Bibi Ji interior, photo by Collin Dewell.

By Leslie Dinaberg

An innovative take on Indian food paired with locally made wines and locally sourced seafood with Australian influences all adds up to what is easily one of the most exciting new restaurants to hit downtown Santa Barbara in a long, long time!  

Bibi Ji, the new restaurant from James Beard Award-winning sommelier Rajat Parr (who also makes his own wine labels—Domaine de la Cote and Sandhi—nearby in Lompoc) and acclaimed Chef Jessi Singh (who’s been lauded for his inventive “unauthentic” Indian cooking at the popular Babu Ji restaurants in San Francisco, Manhattan and Melbourne) opened this month at 734 State St., a beautiful location across from Paseo Nuevo with an outdoor courtyard overlooking De La Guerra Plaza.

Bibi Ji Coconut Curry with Shrimp, courtesy photo.

Bibi Ji Coconut Curry with Shrimp, courtesy photo.

The name Bibi Ji—an Indian term of endearment for women in the family—pays tribute to the formative women in both Singh and Parr’s lives who cultivated their love for food and hospitality. 

Drawing from his Australian and Indian roots, Chef Singh (who now lives in Santa Barbara) has created a menu featuring his self-proclaimed “unauthentic take” on many traditional American seafood dishes, with a strong focus on using local Santa Barbara purveyors. With the Santa Barbara Farmers Market just steps away, Singh is excited to change his menu regularly depending on what’s available in the market that week.

Currently on the menu are SB UNI Biryani, made with local sea urchin and fried rice—a dish so beautiful plated it looks like a mythical sea creature; Local Oysters with green mango pickle butter (from famed Santa Barbara fish monger Stephanie Mutz); delicious Hope Ranch Black Mussels in a curry broth; and melt-in-your-mouth Aussie Lamb Chops with mint and dill raita and apricot chutney.

Bibi Ji interior, photo by Collin Dewell.

Bibi Ji interior, photo by Collin Dewell.

We also enjoyed a zesty array of “unauthentic curries,” such as Beef Korma with beef short rib, curry leaves, cashew and hearty shiitake mushrooms; Unauthentic CTM, Chef Singh’s delicious riff on chicken tikka masala; Coconut Curry with turmeric and mustard seeds and pink shrimp, a dish I’m still dreaming about, even though I normally am not a coconut lover; Chana Masala, with chickpea, dry pomegranate and green mango powder; Punjabi Kadhi, with fenugreek and turmeric yogurt curry; and Bibi Ji Daal, with ginger, garlic and tomatoes.

Bibi Ji's SB UNI Biryani, courtesy photo.

Bibi Ji’s SB UNI Biryani, courtesy photo.

Favorite dishes from Singh’s Babu Ji restaurants in New York and San Francisco are also on the menu, like Mr. Tso’s Cauliflower, Indo-Chinese style cauliflower in a tomato & chili sauce, and Gol Gappa, delicious tangy crispy stuffed shells.

The Chef’s Tasting Menu—offering a variety of favorite appetizers, curries, naan, rice and dessert for $50 per person—is an excellent way to savor a variety of these exciting flavors without having to make a lot of decisions.

Crudo from Bibi Ji, courtesy photo.

Crudo from Bibi Ji, courtesy photo.

In addition to a “serve yourself” assortment of beers which made my husband’s heart sing, Bibi Ji’s carefully curated wine offerings are designed to complement the playful menu. The wines focus on highlighting organic, biodynamic and natural wines from artisanal producers in Europe, Australia and Santa Barbara. At the moment, producers include Gonon, Jean Michel Stephane, Allemand, Metras, Laporte and Richard Leroy, with varietals ranging from Gamay and Syrah to Riesling and Chenin Blanc, which pair well with the spices in many of the dishes.

Nearly all of the wines at the restaurant will also be available at Bibi Ji’s bottle shop, which is located inside the restaurant and offers an esoteric collection of more than 100 bottles.

Bibi Ji patio, photo by Collin Dewell.

Bibi Ji patio, photo by Collin Dewell.

The inviting interior, designed by Chef Singh, features a 40-seat dining room with exposed brick, high ceilings adorned with hanging golden chandeliers and a skylight that brings natural light into the space. A brown leather banquette spans along one side of the restaurant, and on the other side is the 15-seat bar. Pops of color come from red-cushioned dining chairs and bar stools, as well as from the vibrant Indian artwork that decorates the walls. Empty wine bottles, sourced from Parr’s personal collection, are showcased throughout the restaurant.

Bibi Ji is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, visit bibijisb.com or call 805/560-6845.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on March 2, 2018.