Santa Barbara may have gotten quite a bit of press in the past year for becoming the new home of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but the destination on California’s Central Coast is making a new kind of headline right now: for its culinary offerings, which recently caught the attention of the Michelin Guide for 14 of its restaurants in and around the city.
Just an hour and a half north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is popular with people who want a quieter way of life on one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline the state has to offer, and with visitors who are looking to experience a more laid-back version of California’s wine country. Santa Barbara County has hundreds of wineries, especially in Santa Ynez Valley, rightly made famous by Sideways for its excellent (but less widely known than Napa) wines.
But no other spot on the Central Coast has gotten the kind of recognition that Santa Barbara has. The city’s proximity to agricultural lands mean chefs aren’t just able to cook with the season, but with the week or even the day. Its closeness to wine country — the Santa Ynez Valley is just around 35 miles away, but there are noteworthy wines being made within the city too — means the wine doesn’t just complement the food, it’s an integral part of the culinary experience.
At Caruso’s at the Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel, another of the restaurants recognized by Michelin this year, Italian-born Executive Chef Massimo Falsini isn’t importing his pasta from Italy, or even the flour to make it. He’s hand-grinding California-grown durum wheat into his own flour for fresh pasta, and serving it as part of a locally-infused prix-fixe dinner menu that changes nightly, but could include charred Pacific octopus e fagioli, spinach gnudi with quince, gnocchetti sardi abalone amatriciana, or “our waters” zuppa di pesce. It’s not just food served in Santa Barbara, it’s food made, grown, caught and prepared in this very moment. And that’s something to savor.