Kid Hit Menu Items: The Julienne staff got major points for bringing us a special order of fries, pronto. Seriously, they were on the table before we knew it. And they were lovely, 1/4 inch frites, which we got to experience again later in the meal with an order of the Penn Cove mussels soaked in a sweet smoky fennel and saffron laced broth. Julienne’s market-based seasonal menu includes a couple of pastas, which may or may not play well to the whole crowd. We lucked out with delicate gnocchi carefully paired with chicken sausage, spinach that was ever so slightly exposed to heat, and romesco (easily separated from the other components if need be). Spring unmistakably asserted itself in the pappardelle with wild mushrooms, ramps, pork sausage, a touch of chili flakes, and “porky jus” that prodded those earthy flavors to perfectly coalesce. I lost most of the farm egg placed atop the crisp duck confit leg paired with artichokes and potatoes to an eager 19-month-old’s appetite.
Adult Perks: Santa Barbara would seem an obvious place for restaurants whose seasonal menus are high on the hog of sustainable and locavore ethics. You think it’d be full of them. That’s not exactly the case, but since 2008 Julienne has served high-end food in, you guessed it, a casual setting appropriate for a seaside town where many residents rarely change out of flip-flops. This is a grown-up restaurant that locals must be psyched to have around; for us tourists, it was the just about food highlight of our trip. (Close tie with Hitching Post II steaks.) Chef Justin West applies a skilled hand to a range of proteins (often starting with the whole animal) and seasonal produce that’s sourced from the Santa Barbara/Central Coast area. The meal leaped from pleasure to pleasure, starting with those fries, to the house-made charcuterie plate, to a shaved asparagus salad with tangy champagne vinaigrette and a restrained amount of cured pork loin and Parm, to heartier pastas and meats. Next time we’ll attempt the tasting menu without the entire family, because during our two-hour dinner that started at 5:30 with two kids and four adults, on average only two members of our party were actually seated at the table during any given moment.
Pros: Attentive and down-to-earth service is steered by co-owner Emma West. Our dinner there coincided with the publication of SIV’s very positive L.A. Times review; “it’s been busy,” Emma West said when I asked her about the day’s telephone traffic. The used bookstore down the street is a great source of picking up some new reads to get through dinner. A cheap animal counting book provided much entertainment, and has become part of the bedtime story lineup. Casa de la Guerra and the Presidio are located directly across the street, although those landmarks are better saved for a separate excursion rather than as a mid-meal diversion.
Cons: As you’ve probably figured out by now, Julienne is a cozy affair. For now it’s dinner only, perhaps they’ll be able to add lunch some day.
Changing Station: No. It’s a wind your way through the kitchen to get to the bathroom situation.
High Chairs: Yes
Parking and Access: Street parking, also nearby city lots.
Other Tidbits: Move down a checklist of qualities that a casual neighborhood restaurant committed to stellar local ingredients and serious — but not overly self-consciously so — cooking should have, and Julienne marks them all off. Kind front of the house service. Detailed but not overly florid menu descriptions. Open kitchen. Money spent where it counts, not on fancy details but on the food itself and wine list. The chef’s well-worn food volumes and cookbooks unpretentiously doubling as elements of the décor. Dining room filled with the din of lively conversation. Buttery warm colored walls with non-commercial, original art on display. A sensible mix of comfortable wall-mounted banquette seating and basic wood tables and chairs. And being nestled into a low-slung 1920s vernacular building across the street from some of the city’s most historically significant sites sets the right tone. Just like the Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara, the corner space’s large windows emit a warm, mellow glow that’s a much happier Edward Hopper-esque scene, fueled by seasonal cooking and good wine (plus foodie class privilege) instead of stale diner coffee and ennui.
138 E. Canon Perdido, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.; Sunday 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.