- Spectacular ambiance
- Extremely expensive
- Food is the weak link
- Special occasion destination
- For the experience try lunch
The San Ysidro Ranch
If you love all things Santa Barbara – great food, world class wine, wonderful climate, and spectacular views – then at some point you’ll be drawn to the San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito. It would be hard to find a more beautiful spot. Precisely manicured gardens, some providing fresh produce for the hotel’s restaurants, lush fruit trees (the SYR used
to be a citrus ranch) and picture perfect cottages. Rich in history, you can stay in the same cottage where JFK and Jackie honeymooned. Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier were married here. The SYR was named Travel + Leisure’s 2011 No. 1 hotel in California and No. 4 hotel in the world. You get the picture.
The Stonehouse Restaurant
We guessed that a hotel this great would have a restaurant of equal stature. Indeed, The Stonehouse at SYR had some pretty impressive reviews of its own. So after checking the dinner and dessert menus online and with admittedly high expectations we booked a table on a recent Saturday night. Even arriving on a relatively cool, dark winter evening does not disappoint. The place looks fantastic. I mean it’s really beautiful. The flowers, the grounds, the twinkling lights, a crackling fire in the dining room; it’s all a perfect mood setter.
Although we arrived right on time, our table was not quite ready so we were asked to wait a few minutes and enjoy a drink in the lounge. Ok, no problem, except as soon as we sat and got comfortable we were told our table was now ready. Forget the offer to have a drink, it’s up and to the table. I thought excellent service would mean we should at least have been given the choice, no?
Turns out this wasn’t the only service glitch. The highly rated service was good but seemed done as a matter of form. The waiter goes through the motions but his delivery is fast and to the point. You know he’s done this a thousand times before and it’s hard to keep it interesting. But that’s his job, right? There’s no give and take, no attempt to tell you what they have that’s really special and why. All your choices are “excellent”. You get the sense he needs to move on. By comparison, the Sommelier is a master. Friendly, engaging, he puts us at ease and helps us get exactly what we want from the extensive and expensive wine list. The waiter seeing our selection declares it “excellent”. Really.
The food starts out on a high with the appetizers. The Smoked Muscovy Duck and Avocado Spring Roll is amazingly good, as is the special Artichoke Soup. The entrees are another matter. Although the pork chop is deemed “great”, the SYR House-Made Fettuccini Carbonara with Pata Negra, one of the reasons we came to The Stonehouse, is a big disappointment. The poached egg on top of the pasta is pretty unappealing in person, and the star of the dish, the Pata Negra, is almost a no-show. This is not about portion size. It’s about the quality of the dish and at $42 you expect more than a plate of pasta with a few tiny specks of ham. The Steak Diane is a little better but nothing special.
For dessert the SYR Meyer Lemon Tart is so loose it simply oozes all over the plate when cut into the crust and needs to be eaten with a spoon. The waiter, I think because he is rushing although I’m not sure why, gets the coffee and drink orders wrong. When it comes time to leave we’re ushered out to the lounge and left alone with nobody to get our coats. We have to go find the waiter. Fortunately we have “excellent” coats.
You begin to realize that the SYR is more about the ambiance, the history and the hotel than the food at The Stonehouse. No matter how beautiful the setting we couldn’t help coming away disappointed. It’s easy to see that this is a “special occasion” destination: engagements, birthday parties, anniversaries. Lots of flambéing tableside – when was the last time you saw Crepes Suzette, Cherries Jubilee and Bananas Foster all on one dessert menu? But The Stonehouse is a restaurant, not an event space, and a very expensive one at that.
You shouldn’t get the impression that the food was bad. A few things were fantastic, some were just OK, some were really disappointing. You should know that the overall quality of the food did not in my opinion begin to match the ambiance or justify the price charged, conservatively $150 per person, and much, much higher depending on your wine selection. No matter how beautiful the space, an expensive restaurant has to deliver food worthy of what’s being charged. which at these prices means something truly special. In my opinion the SYR doesn’t do that. It’s really a question of value. There are a lot of great places to eat in SB and if you’re willing to pay this price you can have your pick. So why settle?
If you’re looking for a place to propose, the SYR may be perfect. If you’re popping the question you’ve got a lot more on your mind than the food, which you aren’t likely to remember anyway. But if you’re just looking for the finest gourmet dining, I’d pass. If your heart is really set on the SYR I suggest lunch at the Plow and Angel, the hotel’s slightly more casual restaurant. Lobster Tacos will still set you back $57 but you’ll be able to enjoy the grounds more during the day and for the SYR, that’s what it’s all about.
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