Julienne: Family-Run, Market Driven + More in Santa Barbara [CLOSED]

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California Cuisine Santa Barbara

For a city like Santa Barbara, which is situated in one of the best produce growing regions in the U.S., it’s kind of surprising that the most revered restaurant was and is La Super-Rica Taqueria, a good taqueria, for sure, but one that seems to better symbolize Mexico City than Santa Barbara given its seemingly small reliance on local produce. It couldn’t just be that one-time Santa Barbara resident Julia Child anointed the restaurant her favorite, could it? Well, probably, but to me, it always seemed like Santa Barbara deserved its own Chez Panisse, or better yet, Chez Panisse Cafe. Downey’s has been a destination since it debuted, but that’s more fine dining. Where was the mid priced, market-driven restaurant that would grab the attention of locals and tourists alike? That restaurant may just be Julienne.

At Julienne, Emma West, previously with The Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara, heads the front of the house, and chef/husband Justin West, most recently a line cook with San Ysidro Ranch, helms the open kitchen. The Wests are both in their twenties and met at culinary school in San Francisco, at California Culinary Academy. He began cooking at age 11 in his father’s five Eugene, Oregon, restaurants, none under 80 seats. He moved to Santa Barbara, saying, “The culinary scene in Eugene is lackluster at best,” and ended up at the Wine Cask, where he became known as “mil usos” for his thousand uses, including bartender, dishwasher, assistant GM and beverage director.

The couple opened their glass-fronted, art-lined, mustard colored restaurant in August 2008, in the former home of Dish, and more recently, Le Bon Café, across the street from El Presidio State Historic Park, the birthplace of 227-year-old Santa Barbara. Another fun fact: the neighborhood was Chinatown in the late 1800s, when a two-block stretch of Canon Perdido housed restaurants, laundry, a junk builder, herbalist and private club. As for the name Julienne, after getting married, walking down the aisle, Julienne was the name Justin immediately suggested for their first daughter, citing a “human name with a culinary spelling and connotation.”

Michael Cervin, the local critic from the Santa Barbara News-Press, blessed Julienne with a full-blast five-stars for food and service. Then culinary celebrity Anthony Bourdain recommended the West’s restaurant in front of 3600 people, and Julienne was well on its way to success.

Our meal coincided with Menu Number One Hundred & Eighty Eight, which spelled out how they’re “constantly seeking to use local, seasonal and sustainable products to bring you fresh and creative meals.” Emma West said they changed their menu every night of the week we ate there.

They divide the menu by Firsts, Salads, Pasta, Game, The Sea and The Land. Tasting menus are available in three courses ($45), five courses ($65) and seven courses ($85). We were supposed to receive five courses, but with all the passed plates, it ended up vaulting into double digits.

Wine flowed throughout the meal, and my favorite glass involved local Tyler Pinot Noir, which is rarely offered by the glass and paired well with Julienne’s often-comforting, market-driven food.

Foie Gras Santa Barbara
A cool medallion of foie gras torchon appeared with grilled sourdough, sweet strawberry preserves and julienne mint, a fairly simple and rich starter that was best subdivided.

California Cuisine Santa Barbara
Smoked halibut brandade was an interesting derivative of bacalao, with a different fish and a different preparation. The rich, warm spread was lavished with breadcrumbs, plated with toasted ciabatta and not nearly as salty as its initial salt cod-centric inspiration.

California Cuisine Santa Barbara
There was a lot to like about the cuts of braised pig tongue with tangy pickled julienne beets, crisp fennel and shaved red onion on cream of wheat. The be-toqued logo for B&G Foods probably wouldn’t have thought to top cream of wheat with pig tongue, but he should have.

California Cuisine Santa Barbara
Julienne offered a fairly aggressive flatbread, slathering on spicy harissa, lemon oil and salt cured sardines with pink flesh and silver skin. The flatbread itself was thin, pliable and pita-like.

California Cuisine Santa Barbara
The height of salad-dom arrived in the form of Roots Farms’ Spicy Mix with plump smoked mussels, flatbread croutons, garlic aioli and lemon olive oil. The spicy greens with smoky supple shellfish, supple flatbread “croutons” and acidity really worked in harmony.

California Cuisine Santa Barbara
The Wests continued to display a mastery of salads by combining baby arugula with thin-shaved, salt-kissed sheets of smoked pork tenderloin, tangy black currants and garlic sherry vinaigrette. A simpler but still satisfying salad consisted of BD’s Farm Lettuces, a creamy avocado slab, shallots, crispy garlic croutons and creamy, mildly pungent gorgonzola dressing.

California Cuisine Santa Barbara
Sheets of pappardelle hosted wild ramps, mushrooms, rosy crumbles of pork sausage and a pig-rich jus that benefited from the addition of chile flakes.

California Cuisine Santa Barbara
Penn Cove Mussels were small and sweet, accented with melted onions, market herbs and tiny roasted (and spreadable) garlic cloves, set in a slightly briny sea broth. Crispy pomme frites were good on their own and damn near amazing when run through the broth.

California Cuisine Santa Barbara
Chef West delivered an interesting rendition on one of my favorite game birds, plating juicy, seared pan-fried quail ($21) on earthy with red lentils and more house made pork sausage. The sausage had good flavor, but the coarse texture of the sausage probably would have played better on a pizza than gracing quail.

California Cuisine Santa Barbara
Chargrilled halibut was thin-cut and juicy, plated in a light garlic and shallot emboldened broth with fava beans, fresh English peas, bitter bits of radicchio and olive oil.

California Cuisine Santa Barbara
Duck Reuben was a memorable play on a Jewish deli classic, featuring fat-rimmed slices of pastrami cured duck breast, sauteed cabbage, a crispy rye crouton medallion, fried Russian dressing and waffle cut potato chips.

Dessert Santa Barbara
Our parade of appetizers and entrees were often memorable, but their glass of chocolate mousse was gummy and rich and not especially creamy, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and served with a single shortbread cookie.

Dessert Santa Barbara
Scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream were intensely minty, with a sharp, almost medicinal quality and bitter chocolate, which worked for me. The seasonal accompaniment was a bowl of sweet-tart strawberry sorbet.

Chef Santa Barbara
On April 19, we ended up running into Justin and Emma West, who were shopping at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market. This further reinforced their commitment to fresh, local produce, which should continue to serve them well if they do indeed become Santa Barbara’s seasonal beacon.

Note: This meal was part of a media trip sponsored by the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau. Everything was on the house.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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