I imagine The Dining Room and Terrace at El Encanto hotel — high up on a hill overlooking the city of Santa Barbara — is a lovely place to enjoy an expertly crafted meal. The hotel, which opened in March and is the first West Coast location for Orient-Express Hotels, offers what look like spectacular views of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean. I wouldn’t really know because I haven’t actually been there. But I have had Chef Patrice Martineau’s nicely executed and delicious food.
Martineau and the El Encanto team recently hosted a tasting in Los Angeles (now that’s what I call service), and it was so impressive that I now have a trip to Santa Barbara on my list so I can enjoy one of Martineau’s meals in its native environment. We tasted some of the regular menu dishes, as well as some special bites, including some aged cheddar made from the milk of El Encanto’s own Holstein cow, Ellie.
We started off with a crab salad, which was served alongside cranberry gelée, chilled ginger verbena hollandaise sauce and a raspberry vinegar glaze. The sweet crab meat was tempered with the tartness and acid in its accompaniments, creating a perfect balance.
Next up was the slow-baked organic Scottish salmon in a yuzukosho crust served with baby vegetables and glazed gnocchi in a smoked bonito orange broth. The yuzukosho, a fermented Japanese seasoning made from chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt, gave the salmon an interesting Asian twist complemented by the bonito broth.
We also had Martineau’s braised short ribs, which are braised in white wine instead of the more common red wine, which lightened the flavor of the meat up — a nice touch, given the heaviness of short ribs. Roasted fennel, crushed celery root, basil, tomatoes and roasted tombolina carrots rounded out the dish.
Ellie’s Silver Mountain aged cheddar, served with fresh figs and cream of balsamic vinegar on a bed of edible wheatgrass, was a tasty was for us to get ready for the sweeter desserts, which included chocolate truffles and little almond berry tea cakes. But the main event was the Manjari Chocolate “Florentine,” a classic chocolate mousse topped with almond and hazelnut nougatine. While the dessert wasn’t really a florentine, it contained the flavors of the classic Italian dessert (I guess that’s why its name has quotation marks in it), and with the chocolate mousse made for a rich ending to a lovely meal.
Note: The meal was hosted.