Not even a torrential downpour could dampen our spirits as we approached beautiful El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel, Santa Barbara’s historic hotel that overlooks the ocean, nestled in a copse of eucalyptus, oaks and cypress. El Encanto has served up Hollywood glamor high in the Santa Barbara hills since 1918 and this iconic hideaway offers not only the best views of the American Riviera but unparalleled hospitality.

Spread across seven acres of secluded gardens, El Encanto has been part of Santa Barbara’s social scene since the doors swung open. The resort is gleaming and glamorous, yet relaxed and low key, the kind of place that invites you to recline poolside, breathe in the ocean air, and sip a glass of crisp local wine. The occasion for our visit: their Sundays on the Terrace Bellini brunch, a carefully-curated extravaganza of delicious delights served with endless Moet & Chandon cocktails.   

Seated comfortably and politely in the main dining room as inclement weather did not permit a table on the normally-sunny patio, we took in the gardens and as if by magic, abracadabra, our snappy waiter, appeared, bright and cheery, a well-groomed ball of energy dedicated to our every whim. He got the occasion going by offering us our choice of freshly pressed juices or a bracing smoothie concocted of beet, kale, carrot, apple, wheat greens lemon and ginger. Of course, we demurred the healthy stuff and opted for the more decadent course of action: bottomless cool bellinis and mimosas made with fine French Champagne.   

To pair with the fizz, then came Encanto’s Sunrise Bakery Basket, a fresh and warm bounty of ciabatta, caramelized onion focaccia, jalapeno bacon scone and cheese stick. These homemade breads paired nicely with the bubbles, so, naturally, we ordered another round. As we took in the guitar and singing that was gently coming from the bar area, a stunning platter of starters materialized: smoked salmon, mini bagel and cream cheese, Tiger shrimp cocktail, Carpinteria avocado carpaccio and heirloom cherry tomatoes in a zesty vinaigrette. This was a meal in itself, an indulgent taste and texture delight. It called for another round of Bellinis, but we segued to Mimosas just for fun. The “Bottomless” promise was true to form and they arrived in a flash.

Our brunch, far from over, was actually just getting going. We were then presented with eight very creative yummy selections for our main course: crab cake Benedict with pancetta, choron sauce, hash browns and shaved fennel; poached eggs with avocado, yogurt and paprika sauce; short rib hash with wilted spinach and sweet pepper; ricotta lemon pancake with seasonal berries; brux waffle with berry compote; flat iron steak with shallot fondue; moules frites with Hope Ranch mussels; and penne pasta with crushed capers.

The steak and the moules we tasted were perfectly prepared and delicious. It is obvious there is a lot of talent in the El Encanto kitchen. Our fellow diners were raving, too. Brunch here is a happy occasion, a culinary adventure, too. At $110 per person, it is fine value for the dollar, an experience to be savored. And the sun even came our as we prepared to leave. But, amazingly, we were not done: a selection of delectable sweets (including El Encanto’s legendary floating island) and sorbets soon were presented. You guessed it, we ordered one more gulp of Champagne. And we got the impression they would keep pouring if we asked for it.      

But sadly, we had to gather out wits and move on. By this time a majestic rainbow had arched over the wet hillside. We took this as a sign of hope, the beauty after the storm, a pot of gold and good fortune. Brunch at El Encanto was more than a memorable meal: we left with an all-embracing image of love and friendship. That’s a rare gift at any price. El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel, 800 Alvarado Place, Santa Barbara, (805) 845-5800,

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