SY Kitchen: chef Luca is a tremendous talent in Santa Barbara wine country


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We must pay great credit to Mike and Kathie Gordon, the owners of Toscana restaurant and Bar Toscana in Brentwood, for they had the vision and courage to open the terrific SY Kitchen. Located in downtown Santa Ynez, a charming wine country village just a short drive from Santa Barbara, the friendly and multi-talented chef Luca Crestanelli from Verona oversees a menu of Californian-Italian cuisine here and he commands the kitchen with deft acumen. We are all the beneficiaries for this is a restaurant that exalts in fresh, modern Italian farm-to-table dishes of originality. Toasted almonds, spicy peppers, smoked ricotta, marinated chick peas, fresh peas, walnuts, beetroot, pickled shallots–they all play a role in his inspired cooking. Start with a glass of wine from a well-curated list and some wood oven roasted olives done up with citrus and thyme and them let Luca go to work. From an open kitchen he will create composed salads of crisp perfection (one of our was a warm octopus salad, taggiasca olives, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and haricot verts; on another occasion it was Asian pears, arugula, goat cheese and pomegranate seeds in the most ethereal vinaigrette), pastas that are mixed with original ingredients (try Francobolli al Brasato, a postage stamp shaped pasta, short rib ragu, fresh peas, ricotta salata); and grilled meats and fish fresh from the sea. We asked about white truffles, Luca had them and shaved away generously over buttered ravioli. Fish was our quest and Luca brought out tuna received just hours before that he grilled for us over an oak fire. A plate of whole oven-roasted branzino around which danced lentils, taggisasca olives, cherry tomatoes wowed us on another visit. Talk about comfort food: Black Angus cheek with polenta was as comforting as an Italian Mother’s hug. Sit in the bar, on the patio or in the sun-lit dining room, and let the cheerful young staff spoil you. Pizzas are wood fired and delicious. Desserts are clever like fresh berries with coconut gelato, balsamic, and hibiscus. The upstairs of this farmhouse is a very attractive private tasting room. Alberto Battaglini, a long time Veronese friend of Luca is the resident Mixologist at S. Y. Kitchen and from behind the bar he creates his own infusions of spirits and bitters from a local bounty of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Francesco Crestanelli is the Sous Chef and Pastry Chef (all made in house) and is the Luca’s brother. Luca Crestanelli is a young culinary wizard in full command of his skills and the experience this restaurant offers is worth any detour. Perfect for any Romeo and Juliet but with a much happier ending. SY Kitchen, 1110 Faraday Street, Santa Ynez, (805) 691-9794, http://www.sykitchen.com

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