After slumbering in a culinary siesta for years, the kitchen at Santa Barbara’s beloved Belmond El Encanto has woken up and come alive with exuberance, style and innovation.
How do we account for this? Is it new ownership, LVMH, exerting their luxe influence? Or the steady well-honed expertise of new manager, Janis Clapoff, whose eagle eyes and years of managing five-star properties could well be the reason things have shaped up so nicely. Or does credit go to Bruno Lopez, the new chef in charge, whose career has blazed through high-end resorts and hotels throughout the world. Whatever the chemistry, they have all combined for fireworks and success which is cause for cheers for locals and visitors alike.
Lopez uses a light hand in his cooking style and we happily have enjoyed his simple, sophisticated and delicately-seasoned dishes bursting with flavor. A complex, smoky tortilla soup, for example. Then crispy Pacific striped bass, atop a parsnip puree with horseradish and tzatziki sauce on the side. Or his juicy El Encanto burger, topped with cheddar bacon onion jam, saffron aioli, house-pickled vegetables on a brioche. We can definitely recommend the sharp Caesar salad and the excellent prime tomahawk steak with black peppercorn sauce. Chef Lopez’s take on London Style fish & chips emerges as beer battered cod, malt vinegar, tartar sauce, and your choice of spiced or sweet potato fries. Kombu Portobello Ramen Red cabbage, portobello mushroom, ramen noodles, scallions, sesame seeds, wakame was terrific. Stir Fry Noodles Buckwheat noodles, tofu, seasonal vegetables is a winner. His Maple Farms duck breast with roasted figs, wintergreens, and homemade Kennebec potato chips can’t be beat anywhere in town. Free-range chicken with braised Romanesco broccoli and confit lemon slices delighted. Braised black Cod with roasted baby fennel, Yukon gold mashed potato, and saffron essence deserves a special mention.
For sides we’d recommend artichokes “Southern France style” or roasted Brussels sprouts with pine nuts and caramelized onions. Desserts? Yes, bring ‘em on: enchanted floating island, tiramisu, cheesecake, or a Goleta lemon with Santa Barbara pistachios, white chocolate and yuzu mousse, all superb.
There is a super wine list at El Encanto by the glass, bottle or magnum. And a top notch sommelier, something you don’t often see nowadays. Come for the ocean views, starry nights and cool breezes on the terrace, stay for elegant dining. Service is crisp and genuinely friendly. This is a place for serious, well-thought-out cooking with a deep commitment for magical experiences. Congrats to all the team for reinvigorating the grand old El Encanto, 800 Alvarado Place, (805) 845-5800. www.belmond.com