Friday, January 23, 2009

Epiphany in Santa Barbara

Epiphany Restaurant and Bar

Where: 21 W. Victoria Street, 805-564-7100

What: New American cuisine that, like America, takes its inspiration from the best the world has to offer to create exciting combinations

How much? Appetizers from $7-$19; Entrees from $21-$32; Desserts from $8-$12

The dish: Epiphany is not the place to take your loud-talking, hard-of-hearing grandparents, but perfect for a date night intended to win big points with a significant other--and with your credit card’s rewards program.

Since the Independent doesn’t pay for dinners, just the reviews of them, I went to Epiphany with a few financial backers (aka. very supportive family members) since it is one of the more expensive restaurants in town. I haven’t been very impressed with Santa Barbara’s pricey places—the only restaurant in the County that did impress me is Ballard Inn, and that’s, well, in Ballard. However, Epiphany is one of the few high priced Santa Barbara experiences that is worth the money.

My aunt and uncle arrived first, and reported that the instant they walked through the door, before the momentum of walking up the short steps even slowed, the hostess apologized for keeping them waiting (waiting?) and showed them to their choice of tables. At 6pm on a Saturday night, the place was almost empty. When I arrived with my Mother a few minutes later, I saw only one other couple in the front room, canoodling in a dimly lit corner.

As I walked up the front step to the house-sized door, I instinctively looked for a doorbell and felt a hesitancy like I was outside a private home, which is exactly what the building was in the 1800s when Santa Barbara’s first female doctor lived there. The interior also has that house-feel, with dark oak floors that look like they’d creak but don’t, and brick walls that are unadorned with artwork or draperies. The minimalist décor makes the most of the red brick archways and square windows painted white, lit by candlelight and simple sconces. From my vantage point by the white fireplace, I could see the light from the kitchen fires flickering orange on the far wall and across the white tablecloths.

The restaurant is deceptively large. From the entrance and front room where we sat, the two rooms appeared to be the whole dining space. However, Epiphany also has a bar area, secluded dining nooks, and a patio where they serve cigars along with port, brandy, and late night snacks (like parmesan truffle fries…yum).

The Service
When I go to a fancy restaurant, I almost expect the wait staff to do their jobs like poltergeists, barely visible. The kind of service that, through sleight of hand, disappears your plates, replaces them with others, and refills your wine glass without you noticing they were there. But our waitress, Devon, was fun from beginning to end. Her over-careful pronunciation of the Japanese, French and Italian names on the dinner and wine menus was so studied--I’m sure I couldn’t have done better. She did however, manage to refill our wine glasses so often and so subtly, that we all drank a bit more than intended—which was in no way detrimental to the evening. The wine list includes a number of local wines, like Lafond and Foley, as well as imported bottles with various French-sounding names. Most bottles are surprisingly affordable; our Foley Chardonnay was $40 (it costs around $30 at BevMo).

Devon’s pronunciations struck me as funny, not because they were wrong, but because they were very correct. One of the hallmarks of native Santa Barbarans is how we routinely force our own pronunciations onto foreign words; so much so that if you pronounce any of the street names in correct Spanish, no one will understand you. Similarly, Pierre Lafond has a pronounced “D” on the end, instead of the nasal, le francais “Lafon’,” which our waitress anxiously attempted. Lafond has been a Santa Barbara fixture for years through his restaurants and more recent wine-making, so I’m sure by now he even pronounces his name the Santa Barbara way. No need to Francophile it up for us locals. As the evening went on, Devon got less stiffly formal and was a completely charming and very attentive hostess. Though she did get a bit worried when she realized I was writing everything down for my Indy review. No, I never tell the restaurants I’m reviewing them, but observant people tend to catch on when they see a notebook and pen at the ready.

The Food
The attention lavished on each carefully prepared morsel makes the meal worth the cost.
Every evening, the chef creates a small amuse bouche for the first course which is served with herbed bread baked fresh each morning. Our amuse bouche were wafer-thin slices of Granny Smith apples topped with creamy brie, truffle honey and candied walnuts, and the toasted table bread smelled like rosemary and lavender. For an appetizer, we split the filet mignon carpaccio four ways which was a lovely light way to begin our evening of eating. I’m not a carpaccio expert, but I was told by my Uncle, who is, that this was an excellent one.

Our entrees brought together continents. We ordered five for four people because we all wanted to try the Kobocha squash in pasta purses (agnolotti) dressed with a light citrus sauce. We ordered the lamb spiced with North African ras al hanout, served over parsnip mash with a sweet pomegranate reduction; the slightly crispy and thick duck breast with foie risotto and dark rich cherry sauce; and the smaller portioned gnocchi, for my mother, who is constantly on a diet. The truth is, I can’t remember the gnocchi, because my attention was focused entirely on the Kobocha, duck steaks (they shouldn’t be called breasts, more like duck mignon) and the lamb.

We split a couple desserts: the Baily’s cheese cake with orange zest, topped with blueberries, and on the recommendation of our waitress, tried the vanilla and lavender crème brulee. Devon’s preamble to the crème brulee is what sold us on trying it. She said “the gentlemen generally don’t want to order the crème brulee because they’re afraid of losing their masculinity; but if they’re brave enough to try it, they’ll love it.” Even for my Mother, who doesn’t like crème brulee and shuns fatty cream in general, the crème brulee was a surprising hit. This is crème brulee like you’ve never had it before; it’s what crème brulee should be—I might even call it, an Epiphany.

You should eat:
Filet Mignon Carpaccio: seasonal greens, parmesan, sherry vinaigrette, truffle oil. $14
Kobocha Squash Agnolotti with yuzu thyme brown butter sauce and pecans $21
Duck Duo, pan seared breast, confit, foie risotto, sour cherry gastrique $28
Grilled Lamb Rack dusted with ras al hanout, served with roasted garlic parsnip mash, pomegranate reduction and candied pistashios $30
Vanilla and Lavendar Crème Brulee

You should drink:
Foley 2005 Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, Rancho Santa Rosa $40

1 comment:

Jessi said...

That restaurant sounds delicious! Especially the Vanilla and Lavender Creme Brulee... wow! :D
And by Kobocha do you mean... Kabocha? ;)