Santa Barbara Food Finds: Barbareño and Bettina

I always jump at every opportunity to drive to the secret gem of Central California, Santa Barbara. The iconic sunset amidst the palm trees is unforgettable as well as its coastal cuisine leaves you wanting for more. This time around, my quick trip in Santa Barbara led me to discover California-inspired Barbareño from executive chef/owner Julian Martinez and the family-friendly pizzeria, Bettina, from owner Rachel Greenspan.

Barbareño - Californian cuisine at its finest
California cuisine is characterized by an emphasis on fresh and seasonal ingredients. Local farmers' markets and specialty food purveyors are a staple of California cooking, and many of the state's top restaurants, like Barbareño, are known for their commitment to using locally-sourced, seasonal produce and sustainable seafood. These are evident in all their dishes that I tried -- each of which had a unique story that leaves a memorable experience for any type of diner whether you're solo dining, like I did with my dog in their outdoor seating, on a date or with friends.
Big eyes tuna crudo uniquely presented with jalapeño chili foam evokes an unexpected sweetness from the thinly sliced Fuji apples.
Chanterelles that sprouted from the early January rains. Can't go wrong with mushrooms with croutons adding a crunchy texture to this dish.
Another hallmark of California cuisine is its use of fusion cooking. This style of cooking combines elements of different cuisines to create unique and interesting dishes that incorporate a wide variety of flavors and ingredients. At Barbareño, the ricotta dumpling appetizer and sea bass entree featured some Indian spices, such as masala and chai, respectively. This fusion of flavors and ingredients is a reflection of the diverse cultural background of California's residents, and it has created a cuisine that is both inventive and delicious.
ricotta dumplings
Ricotta dumpling with a surprising masala flavor and a slight hint of rosemary.
sea bass
Sea bass was the market fish of the day marinated in miso sake for 24 hours on a bed of paella rice infused with chai. 
Ended the night with a too-stunning to eat beehive. 
All of the dishes above have one of the most recognizable features of California cuisine in its usage of herbs and spices. Fresh herbs, such as basil, thyme, and rosemary, are used to add depth and complexity to dishes. Incorporating these herbs, like lavender, to a dessert that has a backstory to boot certainly ended my experience at Barbareño on a high note. The beehive dessert gives an ode to the legalization of cannabis with lemon, hops, and lavender flavor, and the striking presentation alone reminded me of fond memories watching Winnie the Pooh.

Bettina - Neapolitan-style pizza for the entire family to enjoy
Located in the family-friendly Montecity Country Mart is the bustling Bettina pizzeria. I came here on a weekday night and found many kids and adults enjoying wood-fired pizza. I, of course, couldn't resist to try their margherita pizza-- simply decadent with an added saltiness from anchovies that I opted to add on. 

I grazed my meal at Bettina to enjoy the lovely outdoor seating area adorned with pale pink tables and black chairs and sip a refreshing Riviera sunset cocktail with Lyre apertif, a non-alcoholic Italian spritz, reminiscing the beautiful Santa Barbara sunset I witnessed earlier.
Simple yet satisfying margherita pizza with anchovies paired with Riviera sunset.

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