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.

Cocktail Corner: Lights, Camera, Cocktails

Grassini's beautiful tasting room in El Paseo was one of our stops on the Eat This, Shoot That! tour. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg

Grassini’s beautiful tasting room in El Paseo was one of our stops on the Eat This, Shoot That! tour. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg

Wining and Dining With Eat, This Shoot That!

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg

Jamie Slone was a fun wine tasting stop on the Eat This, Shoot That! tour. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Jamie Slone was a fun wine tasting stop on the Eat This, Shoot That! tour. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Combining food and wine with photography is a great way to tour Santa Barbara, even for locals. We recently went on the new Eat This, Shoot That! trek through the Presidio neighborhood and the new Wine Collection of El Paseo and it was so much fun.

Led by photographer and foodie Tara Jones, owner of Eat This, Shoot That!, our tour met up at the historic De la Guerra Plaza, then we made our way to Hoffmann Brat Haus in Paseo Nuevo, where we were treated to a sausage sampler, including the classic German Hoffmann Brat, the Beer Brat, the Spicy Brat and the Mango Habanero, among others. Not only was the food tasty, but Jones offered some useful photo tips like, “when photographing food you should try different angles to put the plate in the foreground and the setting in the background,” and “spritz a little bit of water or lemon on the items to make them look even more appetizing.”

Our next stop was Jamie Slone Wines, (23 E. De la Guerra St.) a beautiful tasting room where, in addition to tasting limited production varietals from the best local vineyards, they also had visual aids—big, beautiful maps—to help explain the terroir and terrain and relate it to the excellent wines we were tasting.

Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat was our next stop, and his distinctive wines—we tasted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—didn’t disappoint. Nor did our much-needed nibbles at C’Est Cheese, just a quick walk through the Presidio neighborhood. As we walked the cobblestone pathways of this historic area, Jones offered local lore about the area’s rich culture, as well as pointing out a few short cuts that were new to me!

Some of the nibbles from C'Est Cheese. #regram @fit_lexy.

Some of the nibbles from C’Est Cheese. #regram @fit_lexy.

Margerum Wine Co. was our next tasting spot. Owner/winemaker Doug Margerum (one of the top local names in the industry) was there to greet us that day, which made our stop even more special. We also enjoyed tasting wines at Grassini Family Vineyards, (El Paseo, Suite 6) always a welcoming and charming experience, and Happy Canyon Vineyard, where Executive Winemaker Sean Pitts shared both wine and horse (the family is every bit as passionate about polo as they are about wine) stories with the group.

It really was a great way to spend the afternoon! To learn more, visit EatThisShootThat.com.

Cheers! Click here for more cocktail corner columns. Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on May 1, 2015.

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.”