I had no doubt that master sommelier Brian McClintic and vino-seasoned business partner Eric Railsback would deliver a compelling wine program to Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchants, a business that’s new to Santa Barbara’s emerging Funk Zone neighborhood. What took me by surprise were the small plates from chef Weston Richards, a one-time colleague of Railsback’s at The Wine Cask, a Santa Barbara institution. You’ll only find a few options per day on the blackboard, and as soon as they sell out, a staff member flips the board over, revealing a mirror instead of chalk. My favorite small plate at the copper bar consisted of Smoked Local Mussels ($10).
Chef Richards steams, shells and brines the small mussels overnight. He smokes the plump results with hickory, but only for 7-8 minutes, so as not to overpower the bivalves, tosses them with herbs and olive oil, and serves them in a jar with sliced baguette. Paired with a bright Roark Wine Company 2012 Chenin Blanc, life is good in the Funk Zone.