Eatery - Julienne (CA)
138 E Canon Perdido St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Pricing - $$/$$$ | Dining - Dressy Casual | Cuisine - New American
On our infrequent excursions to visit spots, my friends and I always want to get at least one "nicer" dinner in, and our short trip earlier this year to Santa Barbara resulted in a reservation at Julienne to experience the tasting menu. The restaurant prides itself in serving seasonal, local flavors which highlight the bounties of the Santa Barbara Farmers' Market, a community-loving concept that we all support. We had read up on there being a chef's tasting menu that would allow us to explore what the popular restaurant had to offer so it was with that in mind that we sat down in the intimately-lit space to dive into the dishes. I tried my best to take what photos I could then in the dimness without disrupting the meal experience for guests around us so please forgive the following pictures for not aptly depicting the delicious adventures I describe afterward!
What was interesting about this chef's tasting menu which I hadn't really encountered before was that it wasn't a traditional prix fixe. Whereas most restaurants would state that the chef's tasting menu is 3/4/5 courses that come out at the same time and arranged by the chef's whim, Julienne favors customer choice and only sets guidelines. There are some dishes you cannot choose in a certain order for your sequencing but the entire menu is generally fair game. If you opt for three courses ($45/$65 with wine pairing), four courses ($55/$80), or five courses ($65/$95), everyone at the table must do so as well but because the dishes are open to just about everything, you could easily explore the entire menu as a table by planning properly. We tried to organize our choices that way in order to get the full experience of Julienne via the four-course option. I have listed prices below of the full-sized menu items in the description.
To begin, from Charcuterie, I went with the Duck Rillette ($10 - chive waffle, frisee, and maple) which was an ice cream scoop sized portion of their housemade rilette atop an unimpressive waffle. Though the rillette itself was fantastic, I wish that it had been accompanied better as a soggy waffle is not a texture anyone likes. From the Appetizers menu, one friend chose the Foie Gras & Donuts ($18 - torchon of foie, sourdough donut, and strawberry balsamic preserves) which presented very nicely. The foie was a creamy morsel that was just large enough to share and paired well with the preserves. The donut left a little to be desired but overall, gave a good texture for the fattiness of the foie to butt up against. Our remaining part of the first round of courses unfortunately was a dish I cannot remember the name of but I do recall really enjoying the pickled shallots and arugula.
In order to feel less guilty about our third and fourth upcoming courses, we decided that our second round would have to be from the Salads and Vegetables section. Our picks: Grilled Market Squash ($13 - pickled onions, burrata, and pumpkin seed pesto), Frisee and Crispy Pig Ears ($13 - soft cooked egg, shaved onion, and mustard vinaigrette), and Papas Bravas ($12 - sunny side egg, rajas, quesco fresco, and smoky tomato sauce). My usual rule of thumb is that burrata on the menu means an automatic order but there were also crispy pig ears which is usually an automatic yes as well. Luckily, one friend desired the grilled market squash and the whole table was extremely glad that she went that direction. The slightly charred squash sections were noticeably fresh and well-flavored, paired smartly with silky burrata and an impressive unique pesto. It's sure to please the vegetarian at the table as well as someone wanting a savory vegetable dish.
My pick of the frisee with crispy pig ears was generous in size and took a bit of time to consume. While the flavors were well-balanced and the runny egg a welcomed addition, the frisee could have been sliced at least in one or two places to avoid making a mess on the corners of my mouth while eating. The ears themselves were nicely crunchy and just seasoned a touch, giving way to the full flavor of the mustard vinaigrette. As for the papas bravas, they were certainly hearty and heavy. Taking the tomato sauce to the next level with a bit of smokiness made a worthy difference in the overall flavor profile so cheers to the chef for that decision.
Our third of four courses were all entrees by choice. However, we did not expect the size of our portions when they arrived on the table. With plates like these, how could one consume a fourth and even fifth course? Round Three consisted of Local Rockfish ($28 - shrimp, mussels, bok choy, snap peas, radishes, tobiko, and lemongrass broth), Ricotta Ravioli ($24 - crispy sweetbreads, mushrooms, scallions, and sherry cream sauce), and Pan Roasted Ocean Trout ($26 - lentils, artichoke, arugula, whipped garlic, and dashi broth), all impressive looking dishes full of tempting ingredients and combinations we would not have originally come up with ourselves. The rockfish was lusciously light, flaky to the touch, and a fine star for the dish with the backup dancers of a hearty lemongrass broth, seafaringly fresh shellfish, and playful tobiko. The fish just about melted in your mouth, flooding it with the subtle but complex tastes of the broth.
My ricotta ravioli had just the appropriate amount of stuffing inside each housemade pasta pillow, and the addition of crispy sweetbreads was an indulgence. Each of the pieces had the right amount of crunch on the outside but smoothness on the inside without too much of the typical gamey taste that some sweetbread preparations give. Large slices of mushrooms provided more umami to the dish, and the cream sauce rounded everything up into a neat package. As for the trout, just look at the perfection that is the pan-roasted skin on it. Seasoned nicely, this hefty piece of fish was not the only inspiring part of the order; the whipped garlic took us all by surprise and resulted in a frantic fork battle over who could get more of it. Dolloped around on the lentils, it was an airy element with garlic poignancy that really made the dish shine that evening.
Once the last course came around, we were already quite stuffed but the excellent experience so far gave us incentive to continue. There was a repeat dish on this last round though as two of us went for their 6oz Top Sirloin ($28 - grilled asparagus, roasted potatoes, and sauce bearnaise) and the remainder for their Duck Confit ($25 - broccoli, root vegetables, spring onions, duck wontons, and XO sauce). Unfortunately, there was not much that stood out for the steak other than that it was cooked to the correct doneness (which doesn't always happen in restaurants) and that the sides were grilled/roasted well. We steak orderers finished our pieces without much fanfare but everyone did get to try the duck confit and revel in that. The roasted skin on the duck breast pieces were crisp and glazed well, and the duck wontons were happy packages of extra duck indulgence. It was a solid dish for those wanting some more Asian-inspired profiles.
Though having had the majority of Julienne's menu, our table was not ready to leave without trying out their housemade ice cream; the flavor of the day was a honey lavender. How does one say no to that? Their scoops came a little more icily than we were hoping but once the scoops melted a little, the sweet floral notes of the treat were enough to satisfy and close out the meal. Overall, it was a good experience at Julienne and certainly one that will give any diner a value-driven but still remarkable meal. If eating local and fresh is important to you and you're in Santa Barbara, they might should be your next stop (reservations recommended, of course).
Photography by Minerva Thai.