When two twentysomething chefs showed up on the downtown Santa Barbara scene and pledged to improve classic Central Coast dishes like tri-tip and pinquito beans, most folks responded with sideways glances.
But with Barbareño, the restaurant they opened in October 2014, Jesse Gaddy and Julian Martinez have realized their dream. Each night these friends, who met at Claremont Colleges in California, serve delicious food and local lore, supported by a knowledgeable staff. The well-manicured wine and beer list, managed by Lenka Davis, the wine director, highlights younger producers of low-alcohol, high-acid wines.
“We knew we wanted to pay homage to the area, but we didn’t want to serve just California cuisine and have the same buzzwords that everyone had,” says Gaddy, who runs the front of the house. Martinez, who has been cooking since he was a
teenager and has worked at top restaurants like The French Laundry, handles the kitchen.
“We want to hyper-focus on Santa Barbara and the Central Coast and dig in and do our research,” says Gaddy. “So we look to which ingredients have history here, and then we do modern interpretations of them.”
For their most popular dish, the Santa Maria BBQ, that means cold-smoked, sous-vide Wagyu tri-tip with those small, creamy, pink pinquito beans, pico de gallo and garlic bread.
Eggamuffins star on the Snacks menu, a nod to McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, which was invented in Santa Barbara. “Not many people know that,” says Gaddy. “It’s a little more silly, but it has the same flavor profile, with a mini pancake, Seascape cheese mousse, speck and cured egg yolks.”
The duo trained their servers on the dishes and their stories for three weeks prior to opening, but they’re mindful to not oversell the underlying theory.
“It’s conceptually heavy, but we’re by no means trying to shove it down anyone’s throat,” says Gaddy. “There is a definite balance.”
- 3 avocados, peeled and pitted
- 1 cup chopped sweet basil
- 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
- 1/3 cup chopped red onion
- 1½ tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon togarashi (Japanese chili-spice blend); more for garnish
- Salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- Minced shallots, for garnish
- Basil blossoms, for garnish
Combine all ingredients except garnishes in blender with 1 quart water. Purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until cold. Serve in small bowls or cups. Garnish with minced shallots, basil blossoms and togarashi. Serves 6–8.
“This dish calls for a wine with lively acidity to match the high tones of white balsamic, while complementing the subtle bite of red onion and togarashi. It also needs enough weight to harmonize with the creaminess of avocado,” says Davis, who recommends Graham Tatomer’s “Meeresboden” Grüner Veltliner.