Chef Courtney Ladin‘s new urban bistro Nuance—located at 119 State St., attached to Hotel Indigo—is a welcome addition to Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, serving a mouth-watering menu of globally inspired cuisine and cutting edge cocktails.
“I love to have a balance of flavors, so that everything that is on the plate is there for a reason,” says Ladin, when I ask about her menu inspiration for the restaurant, which opened in the spring. “I always knew I loved food,” says the chef, who graduated from Santa Ynez High and UCSB before heading to Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco. She spent the next five years training in Maui, Hawaii working for award winning Chefs Cameron Lewark and Lee Hefter at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago Restaurant, as well as at Capische Restaurant under renowned Chefs Christopher Kulis and Brian Etheredge, protégés of Thomas Keller at Bouchon, before returning to Santa Barbara, where she worked as both a private and executive corporate chef.
“It’s so amazing that this opportunity came my way. I love being able to do something that brings happiness to people,” she says. “Being a chef is unlike any career you can possibly imagine. It’s unique and it’s wonderful.”
Just like her food.
Everything we tried put us into taste bud heaven, especially the light and lovely Hamachi (featuring cucumber, Hass avocado, a French breakfast radish and Persian lime vinaigrette), the mouthwateringly yummy Loup de Mer (on a delicious bed of English peas, spring onions and shaved fennel) and the Grilled Salmon Creek Farms Pork Chop, a gorgeous concoction of Regier Farms peaches, Swiss chard, Anson Mills polenta, and whole grain mustard sauce—which my husband had to talk me into sharing (Yes, dear, that was a very good call!).
Other menu highlights include: Wood Oven Fired Focaccia with fennel seed, dried Calabrian chili and extra virgin olive oil; Beef Tartare, with pickled hon shemiji mushrooms, Fresno chili, mustard greens and hen egg emulsion; and Mary’s Organic Roasted Chicken, with Harissa honey lacquer, sweet corn pudding, fava beans, pickled Fresno chilies and charred baby leeks.
Then there are the desserts. I’m normally a chocolate or nothing advocate, but Ladin’s Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta, made with Straus Family Dairy, local citrus and Madagascar vanilla is enough to make me change my mind. Of course, the Valrhona Coeur de Guanaja Chocolate Ice Cream with dark chocolate sauce and Twenty Four Blackbirds cocoa nibs was also fabulous!
The bar is also a real treat. Ladin developed the food menu first, then worked with consulting Beverage Directors Julian Cox and Nick Meyer (the bartending team behind some of Los Angeles’ hottest bars) to come up with a cocktail program, led locally by Santa Barbara mixologist George Piperis, “that would be great within that space.
Indeed, the bar menu features handcrafted cocktails and artisan spirits that strike a balance between inventive libations (like the Painkiller, made with Pixie Tangerine, fresh pineapple, Pusser’s Naval rum, housemade coconut creme and grated nutmeg; or A Diving Bell, with micro-climate mescal, Plymouth gin, fresh lime, yuzu, caramelized pineapple and falernum cayenne) and classic favorites, like Harry’s Ramos Fizz and the Nuance Old Fashioned. Watching Piperis attack a giant block of ice to get just the right shape off the block was quite entertaining, as was the “bartender’s choice” cocktail he made me, featuring a Penicillin cocktail (usually made with scotch and honey) with mescal.
“I think that our bar is a beautiful space,” says Ladin, “but it’s also great when you get to kind of pull up and sit there; it’s almost a show.” The open kitchen also adds to that friendly, entertaining vibe. “It’s always a fun environment … and I’ve gotten a couple of comments about how happy my staff seems, so that’s great,” she says.
Your guests are very happy too, Chef Ladin. We’ll definitely be back!
For more information about Nuance, call 805.845-0989 or visit nuancesb.com.
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine on August 6, 2015.