Santa Barbara is known as “America’s Riviera” for good reason. The lush Mediterranean climate, picturesque Pacific coastline, red tiled roofs and sophisticated culture make you feel like you’ve been magically transported to Spain or Italy. In addition to all of this, it also holds the title for having the most restaurants per capita on the central coast – 450 to be exact.
My wife and I were lucky to call Santa Barbara ‘home’ for the entire month of January. And we had one goal – to try as many of Santa Barbara’s restaurants as possible.
First on our list was Brophy Brothers, a Santa Barbara staple for the past 30 years that is located right in the harbor with views of mega-yachts and playful sea lions. Brophy’s wins the Best Seafood title year after year, but it’s their award-winning Brophy’s Clam Chowder that keeps the locals coming back. My bowl was brimming with big chunks of clam, russet potatoes, onions and celery in a perfectly creamy base. Top all of this off with a basket of warm sourdough and a local craft brew and I was in heaven.
For Taco Tuesday we ventured out in search of a Cali-Mex restaurant that served homemade chips and salsa, fresh flavors and strong margaritas. Walking up State Street, we came upon Sandbar, an outdoor restaurant with fire pits, heat lamps and a wonderful ‘come as you are’ vibe. The stars were aligned again as we were pleasantly surprised to hear that Happy Hour included 2-for-1 margaritas and $5 appetizers. Sandbar became our weekly ‘spot’ for the rest of our Tuesdays.
On our final weekend (with my sisters in tow), we visited Paradise Café – the first and only Santa Barbara restaurant to grill their prime steaks and fresh seafood using live wood oak. Live oak imparts the unique and pungent flavor to meats, seafood and vegetables while allowing the quality of these ingredients to come through. The savory flavors brought out by the oak allow them to keep additional seasonings to a minimum. For an appetizer, we ordered the fresh local mussels steamed in wine, butter, garlic and Pernod. Unbelievable! In addition to the flavor, each mussel was literally the size of a silver dollar. No two ways about it, we just had to order another bowl!
Although we didn’t make it to all 450 restaurants, we did put a dent in the list. You can bet that we will be picking up where we left off next year. While at home, I make this New England Clam Chowder and imagine we are harbor-side at Brophy’s.
- 2 (10 oz) cans clams, with juice reserved or 2-3 pounds fresh clams
- 2 cups bottled clam juice
- 4 cups seafood broth
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups onions, small dice
- 2 cups celery, small dice
- 2 carrots, small dice
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cups potatoes, peeled and medium dice
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Salt and pepper
- In a Dutch oven, over medium heat, sauté onions, carrots and celery in butter, until translucent, about 6-7 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and bay leaf and sauté for 1 minute more. Add potatoes, seafood broth, reserved clam juice and bottled clam juice. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked - about 20 minutes. Add clams and heavy cream and cook another 5 minutes. If soup is too thin, mash a few of the potatoes to thicken. Season with salt and pepper.