The Black Sheep SB Brasserie in Santa Barbara is a triumph!

Santa Barbara has many restaurants but few rise above the level of mediocrity. We see a familiar pattern here: they open with a bang, there is an initial surge of clientele, standards slowly ebb, the chef loses interest and starts to delegate the cooking and voila, as soon as you can say amuse bouche, the food slips, morale wavers, the supply chain gets mucked up, people stop going and they close, kaput.

There is hope, however, for lovers of fine dining: a new restaurant called The Black Sheep has opened and it is full of promise. Premised on a French brasserie, The Black Sheep has a bold and ambitious chef, Jake Reimer, and menu that thrills with dishes not seen here in decades.

The Black Sheep occupies a soaring two story space in a building that boasts a rich history of French restaurants and saloons dating back over a century. You can ascend stairs and sit in the balcony overlooking the restaurant if you like a bird’s eye view with your meal or cozy up in a soft banquette or large table by the windows.  The very talented Kelly Jo Frazier has done a great decorating job in crisp Deco-inspired shiny black and mirrors. A long handsome bar provides seating for those who eschew a table. Candlelight warms the rooms.

The staff is attractive and eager to please. They know their food, too. Perez is there at the door with an easy smile to greet and seat you. He’s a pro, having earned top reviews at his original Santa Barbara Black Sheep restaurant that flourished blocks away. 

The menu is divided into Raw Bar (Santa Barbara uni with quail egg, smoked trout roe, seaweed and Koji mignonette, crudo du jour, A5 Wagyu Tartar), Petite Plats  (pommes frites with cornichon aioli, soup oignon, Santa Barbara stone crab beignets, cauliflower soup with Thai curry and apple, butter gem and endive salad with dates, fromage blanc, cara cara and Banyuls, winter beet salad with almonds and verjus); Plats Principal (a daily catch, 48-hour braised Santa Barbara lamb with piperade, serrano, egg, espelette, hand rolled ricotta cavatelli with foothill mushrooms and nettle pistou in a white port sauce), and a vegan ramen with maitake, yamagobo, radish, noodles, market greens, seaweed.)

We can vouch for the dishes we were gracefully served: warm complex cauliflower soup in a mini-tea cup, unimpeachable olive oil poached tuna,  translucent delicate crudo scallops, a rich uni bowl, hearty cavatelli with wild succulent mushrooms and a poached bass finessed with a light butter sauce. 

These dishes and their exotic ingredients give some idea as to chef Reimer’s adventurous spirit. The spices and aromatics he uses play delightfully together and the results we tasted awakened our taste buds and spirits.  Here was cooking unlike any other in Santa Barbara–fresh, vibrant, clean and exciting.

We were tempted by the “Ceramic Pots” on offer: coq au vin with Japanese turnips, cipollini, parsnip garlic confit and carrots, choucroute with crispy kurabuta pork belly, boudin blanc and picked red cabbage, and cassoulet—our cold weather favorite—with tender duck leg confit, merguez sausage and corona bean ragout. Who does cassoulet today? No one. It’s too much work. But Reimer makes it a scrumptious masterpiece effortlessly.

What else is on the menu here? Traditional steak frites just like Paris, a brasserie burger with secret sauce and onion jam, and garnitures like potatoes Dauphinoise, broccolini, caramelized sweet potatoes and braised collard greens. There is no end to the kitchen’s creative energy. And if a special occasion is called for, “The Chef’s Table,” a one-of-a-kind degustation tasting of the very best of Santa Barbara cuisine paired with world class wines, will astonish with gastronomical surprises. Four people minimum, call in advance for this most unique dining experience.

Pondering what to drink with all this bounty, we were handed a list like no other in town: lagers, ipas, stouts, Belgian style ales and ciders, 17 options in all. The well-thought-out wine list tempted with cocktails, mocktails and bubbles, whites, roses and reds hailing from France, California, Germany, and Spain. This is no ordinary wine list heavy on California wines; they are represented well with Napa, Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Santa Rita and Los Olivos represented, but Perez obviously loves wines and the Loire Valley, Languedoc, Corsica,  Burgundy, Rhone Valley, Rhone, Bordeaux are in abundance and not at a king’s ransom, either. A good glass of Chablis is $16; a Saint-Estephe Bordeaux at $17 per glass. Sure, if your Grandfather just died and left you a bunch, you can order the 2016 Cos d’Estournel at $325, but most bottles are in the $50-$80 range. Hats off for generous pours, and at proper temperatures, too.

Desserts? We didn’t have room to explore, but a dreamy crème brulee arrived by magic. It was superb.

All in all, we couldn’t find fault with anything at The Black Sheep. Service is as smooth as the opening of Parliament, the cooking is peerless and innovative. We would walk the length of State Street to find such heroic dishes that soar like fireworks. Messers. Perez and Reimer have things down to a fine art: The Black Sheep is a triumph. We once heard that the best things in life are free and the second best things are very, very expensive. The Black Sheep proves this quite wrong: their prices are quite reasonable for such high quality. The Black Sheep SB Brasserie, 18 East Cota Street, Santa Barbara, (805) 319-2498,

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